Medellin recent economic growth and diverse culture have made it an international hub and a haven for the adventurous travelers. It used to be famous for its notorious drug cartels and one of the most dangerous drug lords and narcoterrorist – Pablo Escobar. It is now a vibrant city and a much safer place to visit.
Medellin has come from a long way since the days of Pablo Escobar, and in 2013, the Wall Street Journal granted it the Innovative City of the Year. Located in the central region (Aburra Valley), Medellin is the capital of the department of Antioquia and the second largest city in Colombia.
It is one of the favorite cities to visit in South America because of the diversity of attractions, Christmas decorations, and temperate weather. Also called “the City of Eternal Spring,” the name is not only for the weather but also for Medellin’s Flower Festival held every year.
Flights to Medellin
There are many direct flights from Miami and Cartagena to Medellin. I would advise taking Avianca Airlines instead of American Airlines because it is way cheaper and has a good track record for being on-time. Once you land in Medellin, take a local bus to the center of the city. Get off the bus at the Exposition metro station, and take the train or a cab to your hotel. The bus and train are less expensive than taxis.
Getting Around Medellin
The Integrated Transportation System (Metro, Metrocable, Metroplus, and Tram) is the best way to get around Medellin. It is the most affordable method to travel around and avoid the unbearable traffic jams. The metro runs, from 4:30 am to 11:00 pm on Monday through Saturday; and 8:30 am to 10:00 pm on Sunday and during the holidays. Train tickets cost around COP 2000 to COP 2.300.
Note: The metro gets very crowded. Do not be shy to push and shove your way to get on, especially during the peak hours. If you do not like packed trains, it is better to take a taxi.
Lodging and Food in Medellin
There are many lodging selections in Medellin. Airbnb and hostels are the most popular options for many travelers. When selecting accommodation, I suggest looking in El Poblado which is south of Medellin Laureles. Poblado is reasonably accessible by trains, buses, and taxis. You cannot go wrong staying in any hotels in that area. It is close to several upscale restaurants, stylish bars, and trendy nightclubs.
Hotel Merlott Lleras in Poblado is decent. However, this hotel is across from a nightclub and can get very noisy at night. The rooms away from the main street do not have any windows. However, it is in a great location and close to everything.
For traditional food, you can go to Calle de la Buena Mesa in the Manilla neighborhood. For better quality food, there are Parque Lleras and Milla de Oro areas in El Poblado. A traditional Colombian dish is made up of bandeja paisa and beans casserole. This plate consists of beans cooked with pork, white rice, ground meat, plantains, fried eggs, and chicharron.
If you are a vegan, do not bother ordering this dish. Instead, two great places for vegetarian and vegan food are Lenteja and Veg Station in El Poblado. The Como Peze café serves breakfast and sandwiches. It also has pastries, vegetarian dishes, and lattes.
Five Festivals and Fairs in Medellin
Medellin offers several activities throughout the year. Those festivals are the most famous and entertaining.
Held at the end of June through early August, the Flower Festival is the most popular festival in Medellin, held in the Metropolitan Cathedral. Thousands of people throughout the country and internationally flock to the city to attend that festival.
In the Flower Festival, you can go to several of the events: pageants, automobile shows, and music concerts. You have to see the Silleteros Parade, which is a favorite among the attendees. Where else can you watch forty men carrying flowers arrangements on their backs?
The Flower Show is a five-day event that also includes other activities like The National Trova Festival, fireworks and the Classic & Antique car parade.
International Tango Festival
Sexual, sensual and passion are the words that come to mind when I hear of the Tango. The International Tango Festival in Medellin is held in different part of the city, and free to the public. From June 18th to June 25th the festival brings many famous tango dancers to watch the best performers around the world.
Packages for the International Festival are available to purchase, which includes the hotel, ground transportation, workshops and VIP access. Sign up for the newsletter and register for the event.
Book and Culture Festival
If you love books, the Medellin International Book Fair is the place to be. The book fair features authors, editors, and speakers from many countries during the second week of September. Most of the events are in the Jardin Botanico, the Planetarium, and Parque Explora. It has a mix of cultural and academic activities and free to the public. You can expect to listen to talks, oral reading, and live music.
The Altavoz Festival is an event for young and upcoming musicians. The department of culture hosts this three-day festival every year in November to highlight and discover new artists. It is the place to hear every type of music: Rap, Rock, Punk, Ska, Reggae and electronic.
During the Christmas holidays in Medellin, the city lights up and has lots of celebrations. There is a different theme in each year. The hanging of lights attracts many visitors every year and make Medellin the place to spend your Christmas holiday.
Tango in Medellin
After the festivals, head to one of these venues to practice your Tango. Although Argentina is known as the birthplace of the Tango, Colombia’s history of the tango starts with the famous tango singer and composer Carlos Gardel.
- Patio del Tango is known for their live music, and dance performances.
- A Puro Tango, the ambassadors of tango culture around the world, is A place to learn the art and techniques.
- Salon Malago, a cozy coffee shop where people love go there to dance tango and listen to live music. You will enjoy the intimate feeling of this venue.
- Casa Cultural De Tango Homero has a different vibe than the other areas. It shows the true spirit of the tango dance, music, and art.
- Las Casa Gardeliana, located in Medellin’s Manrique sector, is a tiny museum that features Carlos Gardel. He is one of the most famous tango megastars and composer.
Tours in Medellin
There are many excellent affordable daily tours to take and here are my three favorite trips.
Free Walking Tour – This tour is so popular that you need to buy your ticket a day in advance and confirmation. You can get your ticket booth at the Poblado or the Alpujrra metro station at 8:45 am on Monday to Friday.
The Barrio Transformation Tour – You walk through a neighborhood that was once crime infested and is now turned into an artistic treasure. You learn about the history and struggle of people and their achievements.
Exotic Fruits Tour – This a walk through Medellin outdoor market and taste over fifteen different exotic fruits and juices.
Planning a longer stay, here is a step-by-step Colombia travel itinerary that you can follow for a 6-week vacation.
Medellin or Bogota? I prefer Medellin. The people are welcoming; the city is walkable and the weather is pleasant.
Drop your comments below! Which one do you prefer Medellin or Bogota?