Medellin and its numerous activities to discover
Medellin, the 2nd largest city of Colombia, is a name that can frighten you due to the terrible incidents occurred in the 90’s. This time is over and the city began its economical, cultural and touristic renewal ! It is well appreciated from expats and got everything to enjoy the stay in the city we called « the city of eternal spring ».
Colombia has 6 main regions : Andine region, Pacific region, Caribe region, Orenoque region, Amazonia region and Insulaire region. Among them are divided 32 departments which you might hear the name of Antioquia, Choco, Bolivar, Guajira or even Santander.
Medellin is the capital of Antioquia’s department. Within it is divided in 6 zones where 16 districts are shared, called Comuna in Spanish.
The zone 1 in the northeast is composed of districts 1 (Popular), 2 (Santa Cruz), 3 (Manrique) et 4 (Aranjuez).
The zone 2 in the northwest is composed of districts 5 (Castilla), 6 (Doce de octubre) et 7 (Robledo).
The zone 3 in the center east is composed of districts 8 (Villa Hermosa), 9 (Buenos Aires) et 10 (La Candelaria also called El Centro).
The zone 4 in the center west is composed of districts 11 (Laureles-Estadio), 12 (La América) et 13 (San Javier).
The zone 5 in the southeast is composed of district 14 (Poblado).
The zone 6 in the southwest is composed of districts 15 (Guayabal) et 16 (Bélen).
In each Comuna is more divided in Barrio, we can translate it by neighborhood.
As you can see, Medellin is a very big city. And it has the metro which changed completely the daily basis of its inhabitants called Paisa. The city has become a source of modernity thanks to its many ways of transportation. In addition to the metro, the city has 5 lines of cable cars and a 6th under construction, 1 tramway line and 3 rapid buses lines plus all other local buses.
The activities to do in Medellin
Medellin has many cultural, natural and gastronomical activities everywhere in the city. You will have to use local transportation to get there because they are far away from each other.
1. Discover downtown
The downtown is full of history and count many museums and theaters you can enjoy. I suggest you to discover it with a guided tour. There are several in Medellin but I prefer the ones based on tips, because why pay for something we didn’t like … I recommend RealCityTour which is very well done. The guide will take you in the whole downtown area (Comuna 10) which is located around San Antonio and Alpujarra stations.
Unfortunately, I don’t recommend you walking alone there and even less at night. Personally, I didn’t felt comfortable but I am glad I went there with a local.
2. Salsa lesson
Colombia is known for parties and especially dancing salsa ! At week-ends you will hear music everywhere with people dancing. There are many types of danse in Colombia but the famous one is salsa. This a very respectful danse where this is nice to dance with … anyone ! The opposite of night clubs …
To have fun in salsa club/bar, I suggest you to take some classes before to know the basics steps of salsa. And if you can go dance with locals at night, this is even better. Only them know the best places away from touristy ones. And you will see … Colombians know how to dance !!!
3. Climb Cerro Volador
This is a hill in the middle of the city and where you can get a 360° view over Medellin ! The best way to get there is to go down at Estadio Station or Suramericana (line B) then walk about 30 minutes until the summit. It is very steep, so perfect for early Sunday morning footing for example !
4. Botanical Garden
The garden can be visited in 1 hour. There is several zones inside depending on species and plant categories. This is a free parc so a perfect idea for low budget traveler. Unfortunately, I went there on a holiday in Colombia, so it is a privileged place for Colombian families to go out.
Universidad Station – Line A
5. Memorial Museum
This free museum is about passed tragic violent events occurred those past 50 years in Colombia but also in Medellin or Antioquia region. An audioguide is available by downloading an app on PlayStore or iTunes.
Tip : do not forget your earphones (not like me)
Bicentenerario Station – Tramway T-A
6. Pueblito Paisa
The Pueblito Paisa is a reproduction of a paisa village (of Antioquia region). Nobody lives there, it is only for touristic purpose. It is located on Nutibara hill.
Industriales Station – Line A
This is a barrio located in the richier part of Medellin. This is a ideal zone for couples and families because the area is very residential. So pretty quiet then. The downside is this is a bit far from the nearest station Estadio (line B).
You will find there some of the trendiest cafés, restaurants and clothing shops. I highly recommend Café Cliché which is owned by French people settled in Medellin. Si you miss France, go there ! They also sell French products to take away.
This is the ultimate touristy « gringo » barrio. Honestly, I don’t really know it very well. I only went there for the Santafé Mall and El Castillo museum.
9. Parque Arvi
It is located precisely in Santa Elena, in the uphill of Medellin. Now, there is a direct access from cable car which connects Santo Domingo to Santa Elena so directly inside the park. This is a huge natural park where a lots of walking treks exist.
It is more chill up there especially when the sky is cloudy or at the end of the day. Bring a vest with you.
10. Take Spanish classes
Medellin is an amazing spot to learn Spanish. Thanks to its ideal temperature, its unique ambiance, its numerous activities, why not stay to take some Spanish lessons ? There are several schools, mostly at Poblado, but I would like to tell you about the school I chose : Elefun School !
The school is located in Comuna 11, and precisely in Florida Nueva barrio. Easily accessible with metro line B, Estadio station, and not so far from Laureles. The school is located in a quiet residential area. It is super clean and got amazing teachers !
The school is pretty affordable and less expansive than others most known in Medellin. You will have several options : group classes (10 or 20 hours/week), individual classes and even lessons through Skype if you cannot come.
The + of the school :
– free activities included in the price every afternoon (from Tuesday to Friday)
– discover tasting of local food every Wednesday mornings
– free airport pickup to your stay in Medellin (if booked 3 weeks and more)
– discounted price starting from 3 weeks of classes
– different teacher every week to vary the hearing of Spanish
As for me, I stayed 1 month in this school. I saw a real improvement of my Spanish. I am now able to express myself and understand what people say to me. Of course, I will not become bilingual in a month but with I got the basis of conjugaison and grammar so I can manage to make myself understand and talk to people.
The lessons are a mix of theory, exercices practices speaking, hearing as well as games. So you will not be bored all along your hours of classes.
So worth it … I highly recommend !!!!
11. Comuna 13 Tour
So, this tour is special because you will only do the visit of a small part of the real Comuna 13, where the famous part of it is made of graffitis and electrical stairs. I recommend you the agency Inside Medellin Tours with Sergio (@lafuerzaestaenti) who was amazing ! This is a real local guide who lives inside this Comuna. He will take you a little bit out of normal other tours to explain you more about Comuna 13 and its stakes. This is a tip based free tour.
12. El Castillo Museum
This is a castle located in Poblado, with a French style. Build back then and inhabited but now it is only reconverted into a museum. You can visit the inside with a guide who will tell you the sad story of the family who lived there. This is a pretty quick visit, including its garden. The entrance fee is 13 000 COP.
Where to stay in Medellin ?
This is THE big question ! Unfortunately, no matter where you choose to live, you will have to move to discover all the places/activities of the big city ! My biggest advice is to stay nearby a metro station ! In fact, there is only 2 lines but they serve every major places of Medellin. Be careful of distances because the remote barrios get to the metro stations by walking several tens of minutes !
The neighborhood the most liked among tourists/travelers :
– Poblado (comuna 14) : the ultimate gringo barrio ! All prices are high. This neighborhood is so big that everything is not easily accessible. The metro is located on the west side so if you are at the opposite side, it might be complicated. Despite that, there are many cafés/restaurants of any kind to satisfy tourists from all over the world, especially around Parque Lleras.
– Laureles (comuna 11) : a quiet residential area with many bohemian cafés/restaurants. It is not well served with metro, you will have to walk 20-30 minutes for Estadio station, depending on which part of Laureles.
– La Candelaria or El Centro (comuna 10) : a cultural neighborhood with a lots of museums, theaters, the botanical garden … The area is big as well, so be close to a metro station. But it is not a safe place at night … even during day time, in my honest opinion !
– San Javier (comuna 13) : a booming neighborhood where you can find the end of metro line B. This is the start of the famous Comuna 13 tour. If you are looking for a more traditional neighborhood, this is for you.
– La America (comuna 12) : I put it here but it is absolutely unknown from tourists. I am one of the only rare people in the streets. And I choose to stay in Calasanz barrio, 5 minutes only from Floresta station. So I was 10 minutes only from downtown and in Poblado in 30 minutes. The neighborhood is very residential and safe. You have everything close by Carrera 80 (restaurants, supermarkets, ATMs ..). Anyway, I find it perfect because it was truly an immersion into Colombian life !
As I mentionned higher, there are many different neighborhoods ! Travelers also chosen to stay in Belen (comuna 16). Envigado is becoming a popular spot among them with metro line A.
I spent 1 month and a half in Medellin, and I have to stay I wasn’t expected to love it so much. Even though the city is not really pretty like ours in Europe, it offers much to do and to escape around. This a modern city that keeps changing fast and I am sure, it will become more and more popular in the years to come.
Give it a chance to like it because once, you will manage it, you will love it !