Planning a solo trip to Medellin? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Second largest city in Colombia, with about 2.5 million inhabitants.
- Formerly known as the capital of Colombia’s drug war.
- Currently known as one of Colombia’s busiest, best cities at the height of its modernity.
- Nickname: City of Eternal Spring (and lives up to it!)
- Currency: Colombian Peso (COP)
- Spoken languages: Spanish
- Best time to visit: summer is a perfect time (there is more rain in the spring and fall months).
- Arriving via airport: José María Córdova International Airport serves Medellín from the nearby city of Rionegro, about an hour away. Taxis to El Centro can set you 60.000 COP back, while the bus costs about 7.500.
WHERE TO STAY
- Best hostel for solo travelers in Medellin: Black Sheep. To this day I still remember my stay here – perfect (safe) location, helpful staff, and super clean rooms/facilities. Lots of opportunities to join events and socialize – if you want. An easy choice in a sea of competition – just book ahead to reserve your spot!
- The budget traveler can look toward El Poblado for affordable hostels – this is actually an expensive part of town, with some top-notch hotels too.
- The cheapest places are hidden – you should have the name of a specific hostel in advance since wandering around last minute for an inexpensive option will be difficult.
- El Centro has some quieter mid-range options, but isn’t the safest part of town at night.
- Laureles is another area popular with expats and nomads, while Envigado is perfect for a more local experience.
- The Metro is one of the best train systems in Latin America. Stations are clean, wide and easily accessible. Fares are 1.800 COP per ride.
- Cycling in Medellín is popular and can be a great way to see the city, but isn’t for newbies. Traffic in the Centro is hectic, so make sure you’ve got a helmet and lights.
- Colectivos (small buses) carry passengers anywhere and everywhere for 1.600 COP a ride. Just hail one down and talk to the driver if you need help with directions. Locals in Medellín are famous for being friendly!
- The minimum taxi rate is 4.500 COP and should be called ahead of advance instead of hailed. All taxis in Medellín are metered – make sure the meter is on as soon as you get in.
- While Uber is technically illegal in Colombia, it remains a popular option with locals and visitors alike.
- Drinking age is 18 (not always enforced), last call is at 2 AM (some clubs stay open until 4 AM).
- El Poblado is an upscale nightlife district, and is popular with foreigners.
- Try a salsa lesson in La Zona Rosa, or just watch the masters at work!
- Parque El Periodista is where Medellín’s varied alternative crowds gather at night, and is lined with rock, reggae and art bars.
- Great bars in Medellin to have a drink: El Social Tienda Mixta desde 1969 (salsa bar), Jura Kub ($$$ – unique Amazonian food and drinks), 3 Cordilleras, Patrick’s Irish Pub, Pub Visagra, Pub Rock, Foxey Pub, and La Deriva (rooftop views).
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Los Alumbrados are holiday lights that decorate public downtown areas from December to January. Unlike regular Christmas lights, these displays are creative, quirky and playfully luminous.
- The Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe is a pleasant green space with a plaza roofed by a honeycomb-like design. Highlights include the orchid collection and the cozy cafe.
- Across the street you’ll find the Parque de los Deseos, an expansive square blended with scientific sculptures and bordered by a food complex and theater. It’s a fun, relaxed space teeming with students.
- Plaza Botero (also known as Plazoleta de las Esculturas) is a sculpture park that pays homage to Medellín’s artistic son, Fernando Botero. The square features many of his original works and is packed with people. Hold on tight to your camera.
- Take the Metrocables cable car Metro extension all the way to the top for the absolute best city views. The little pods carry visitors to the hills so when you arrive, try walking down and stopping at the little cafes that line the street. Just don’t go too far: you can’t walk all the way back to the city center this way and some neighborhoods here can be unsafe, so hop on the Metrocables stop of your choice when you’re ready to head back.
- Stroll along Carabobo Street for a good introduction to Medellín. In the heart of downtown, it’s lined with colonial-era churches, modern art museums and typical Colombian life unfolding in every eclectic way possible.
- To get off the beaten track, walk along the hilly, historic streets of Envigado, a neighborhood outside El Centro bordering El Poblado. This typical barrio is a sight within itself, where hometown bars filled with character line cobblestone streets. The edge of town is full of typical suburbs and big box stores, so don’t wander too far off the charming center.
- Colombians are generally incredibly friendly, so it’s easy to strike up conversations with locals. Beware: at night, many of the friendliest people may be prostitutes or drug dealers. Politely turn down anyone who tries to hassle you, and continue on your way.
- Great restaurants in Medellin that locals love: il Castello (Italian), Mamasita Medallo, OCI.mde ($$$ – fine dining), Mondongo’s on 70th, Rocoto, Café Zorba, Restaurante Creta (Lebanese), La Matriarca (Traditional Colombian).
- Where to find good cheap eats: everywhere! Check out the menu del dia at any neighborhood restaurant for a set lunch (this is usually the cheapest option). Colombian food comes in big portions and will leave you stuffed. Fast food (hamburgers, hot dogs, arepas) is even cheaper and sold at street carts during the night. Just stay out of El Poblado – and you’ll quickly save money on meals.
- Dangerous areas: avoid El Centro at night, especially when walking alone. Stick to well-lit streets, and don’t flash your expensive jewelry or electronics! The numerous shantytowns sliding down Medellín’s hills should also be avoided.
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days