As soon as I walked into a coffee shop and ordered a delicious Colombian brew, I knew I would love the city of Medellin.
Navigating the menu with my 5 words of Spanish was no easy feat, but I managed to order a coffee served chemex-style. Sitting in the outdoor seating area, the air was a perfect room temperature – so pleasant that I could sit there all day and never feel like I needed to add or retract from what I was currently wearing.
Medellin sort of felt like an odd combination of tropical paradise and mountain city. It had the drastic hills of many South American cities but with the palm trees and ferns of somewhere more coastal. It was an easy place to relax and explore at a slow pace.
I actually spent 3 full days in Medellin, but seeing as one of them was spent doing nothing but drinking coffee in Poblado (I regret nothing!), I’m whittling down my suggestions to 2 days of activities. Here’s the perfect itinerary for 2 days in Medellin!
Where we stayed:
Rob and I stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the Blux Apartments building, situated just up the hill from Poblado. This area ended up being a perfect place to base our stay in Medellin! Poblado also has a number of boutique hotels and budget hostels so it’s really a great spot for all sorts of travellers.
Morning: Visit Comuna 13
Medellin has somewhat of a dirty, violent, and corrupted history, so what better way to begin your tour of the city than by visiting what was considered one of Medellin’s most dangerous areas.
Tourists would never have ventured into Comuna 13 until a few short years ago. This hillside suburb was once under the control of the cartel, and there was a bloody battle here in 2002 when the military fought to regain control of the area.
Over the past few years, Comuna 13 has become much safer and has been revitalised with arts projects, education, and tourism. There are a few different operators who will take you there – I ended up going with the Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour which I booked online.
The tour started at the Poblado metro station. We met our guide then took the train to San Javier then a bus to Comuna 13. I really enjoyed taking public transport as we experienced the same journey that locals would take to get in and out of the city.
Before we arrived at Comuna 13, our guide took us for a ride on a cable car to one of the outer suburbs. We received an explanation of why this mode of transport is so important to Medellin’s poorer residents who live on the hilltops and would struggle to commute to their workplaces without it.
At Comuna 13, there are a set of staggered outdoor escalators that take people up the steep hillside. Most of the graffiti art can be found around these escalators, and at the top there is a large concrete walkway which features some large-scale murals.
We also had the opportunity to sample some Colombian street foods, including arepas or empanadas, crema/consuelo ice treats, and fresh fruit juice. I loved snacking on these local foods during our tour.
Some of you might wonder whether you can do Comuna 13 on your own without taking a tour. The answer is yes, but I think the tour is 100% worth the cost (we paid 70,000 pesos per person, which is about $25 USD) as you wouldn’t get the narrative of the area’s history if you went without a guide.
It’s also tricky to find on your own as the train + bus combo is somewhat confusing, especially for people like me who speak very little Spanish. Even once you get off the bus at the base of Comuna 13, you might not know where to walk to see the art. We met some other tourists in Medellin who had tried to find their own way to Comuna 13 but failed to locate it.
Honestly, I learnt so much about the city of Medellin on this tour of Comuna 13, and I would recommend this tour to every single visitor.
Afternoon/Evening: Explore Poblado
Poblado is known for a few things, including expats, coffee shops, food, and nightlife. This area is where you’ll find a lot of other gringos, though it still has plenty of Colombians. It’s basically a nice little gentrified part of Medellin that nearly everyone would enjoy.
The restaurants in this area are also some of the best in Medellin. We found some great vegetarian food in Lenteja Express (an excellent veggie restaurant).
If you’re still exploring Poblado in the evening and are keen to experience some Medellin nightlife, there are a few good places to drink. We tried the craft beer at Bogota Beer Company, and had some tasty mojitos at El Social.
Morning: Walk around El Centro
El Centro is the historical center of Medellin, and while I don’t think you need to spend a whole day there, it’s still worth a few hours of exploration.
The best way to see this area would be through a walking tour. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to do this activity, so we did a self-guided walking tour through El Centro instead. Here’s how to see the area on your own:
Start by catching the metro to San Antonio station, then exit the station and walk north towards Botero Plaza. Here you’ll see a selection of 23 bulbous bronze statues (Rob and I nicknamed them “the fat-stues”… get it?) by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero who was born in Medellin. Botero donated the statues to the city and they were installed in 2002.
Next to Botero Plaza is the Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture building, which was built in 1925 and has absolutely beautiful Gothic Revival architecture. Stop here for some photos as this building is one of the most photogenic in Medellin.
Next, walk south back towards San Antonio station via Carrera 52 (also known as Avenida Carabobo) which is lined with market stalls. If you are looking for souvenirs, this is where you’ll find them. Just be prepared for a few pushy salespeople around this area as its tourist central.
Before you head back to the station, walk to the nearby Parque San Antonio, where you can see a large statue of a bird (also by Fernando Botero) which was partially blown up by a bomb in 1995. The bomb was set off during a concert and killed 23 people, and the damaged statue was left in place as a memorial to the victims.
Afternoon: Go to a museum
Once you’ve finished with El Centro, you should definitely check out one of Medellin’s museums. There are plenty of museums for you to choose from, so I’ve narrowed the choice down to just 2:
We visited the Museum of Modern Art (Museo Arte Moderno Medellin) as both Rob and I are fans of contemporary art. The museum was cheap to enter at only 10,000 pesos (about $3.40 USD) and is open daily except Mondays. I loved seeing all the local art and would definitely recommend this activity.
Another option is the Memory House Museum (Museo Casa de la Memoria). I didn’t get the chance to visit this one but it was recommended by a few other bloggers as it touches on some of the nasty parts of Medellin’s history.