If ever a city bursts with 21st century optimism, it’s Medellin. With a comfortable, mild climate and a cosmopolitan feel, this city of 3.5 million – the second largest in Colombia after Bogotá – hasn’t always had it easy. In 1988, Time Magazine declared Medellin “the most dangerous city in the world”. In 2013, The Wall Street Journal named it the most innovative metropolis in the world. Needless to say, a lot has changed in a quarter of a century, and this is no longer the city that was once in the grip of famed narco-trafficker Pablo Escobar. Instead, Medellin is packed with things to do for all types of travelers and packs a much bigger punch than most cities of its kind.
1 Plaza Botero and the Museum of Antioquia
Hometown hero Fernando Botero donated 23 of his life-size sculptures to the city of Medellin, and you’ll find them scattered throughout the aptly named Plaza Botero (near the Parque Berrio metro station). From rotten Roman legionnaires to crowded animals, these portico figures have become symbolic of downtown Medellin and are undoubtedly the most photographed works of art in all of Colombia. Their surroundings against the graceful black and white patterns of Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture only emphasizes the overall appeal.
You’ll find even more of Botero’s works – including famous paintings like La muerte de Pablo Escobar (The Death of Pablo Escobar) – at the Museum of Antioquia, located on the western edge of Plaza Botero, this three-story facility is the second to none second oldest museum in the country, including a wide range of works of art from pre-Columbian Colombia to modern masters such as Botero. If you only go to one museum in Medellin, make it this one.
Address: Carrera 52 #52-43, Medellín, Antioquia
Official site: https://www.museodeantioquia.co
2 The Medrocin Metrocable
Medellin is located in a large Andean bowl and the best way to take in the panorama is to simply hop on public transport and connect to the Medrocin Metrocable. These futuristic cable cars soar above the city into the surrounding hills, offering unparalleled views that are perfect for avid photographers. One option is to ride Line J over social housing towers and smaller slums to an excellent view at the last station La Aurora. However, a more popular thing to do is to take Line L Arvi Park, an urban oasis of forested hills that feels a world away from the city center. This expansive park is the perfect retreat for nature lovers, with peaceful walking trails and plenty of food and craft vendors to satisfy your every need.
3 The coffee shops of El Poblado
Colombia is the third largest coffee producer in the world and many beans come from the Antioquia hills around Medellin. Of course, you don’t have to leave the city to taste the different flavors of Colombian coffee. The trendy El Poblado neighborhood is a center of coffee culture and is full of hip cafes grinding strong local roasts. The granddaddy of them all is Pergamino, with hot and cold drinks made largely from beans grown on the owner’s farm. Across the street you will find the equally recommended Cafe Velvetwhile on the other side of the neighborhood (and much closer to the El Poblado metro stop). Urbania Café, with rotating art exhibits on the walls and a great selection of Colombian design and fashion magazines to read with your latte. Each of these cafes makes their own blends of regional beans and sells them by the bag for prices you’re unlikely to find at home.
4 Comuna 13
Comuna 13 was once the most dangerous neighborhood in Medellin. Now it is fast becoming one of the city’s top tourist attractions, with touring groups wandering the graffiti-filled streets. Why? An expanding system of open-air escalators connecting the communities that form Cliff at Comuna 13 has helped reduce crime and boost community pride. Many of the escalator operators are also street artists who have enlivened the edges of the escalator route with colorful murals that both reflect the neighborhood’s troubled past and offer hope for a promising future. To get the most out of your visit, it is best to take a tour with an English-speaking guide from a company like Comuna 13 Tours.
Official site: https://www.comuna13tours.com
There is so much to see and do within Medellin that it can be difficult to leave. However, one of the top-rated attractions among most visitors is actually 55 miles outside of the city. El Peñón de Guatapé is a monolithic rock formation that floats 200 meters above the surrounding landscape. Climb the 750 concrete steps to the top and your reward is 360 degree views of the Guatape Reservoir, a man-made lake with numerous tentacles full of vacation homes and hotels. The viewing platform at the top has plenty of drink vendors and shade tables to cool off before being blown back down. Numerous tour operators in Medellin offer this trip daily, and many excursions include a boat ride on the turquoise lake to view El Peñón from afar.
6 MAMM: Medellín Museum of Modern Art
This modern art museum is undoubtedly the top attraction of the emerging countries Ciudad del Rio neighborhood, a former industrial area on the Medellin River that has been renovated in recent decades and is now home to artists’ lofts, sculpture-filled gardens and top restaurants. Built in (and around) the renovated confines of a 1939 steel mill, MAMM showcases some of the stars of Colombia’s contemporary art scene, including pop artists Beatriz González and expressionist Débora Arango. Ride the elevator to the top floor of this five-story building and wind your way down for the best experience.
Address: #19A, Cra. 44 #16 Sur100, Medellín, Antioquia
Official site: https://www.elmamm.org
7 Museum House of Memory
You can explore Medellin’s sordid past, collective progress and promise for a better future at Museum House of the Memory. This striking (and free-to-enter) complex opened in 2012 to provide a place for victims of Colombia’s armed conflict to gather their memories and find dignity. The archival collections show the history of drug and paramilitary violence in the country, as well as the struggle for peace and unity. It is perhaps the best place in Medellin to get a handle on the history of Colombia’s history and put a face to the victims of Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.
Address: Calle 51 # 36-66 Bicentennial Park, Medellin
Official site: https://museocasadelamemoria.gov.co
8 Barrio Manila
Exceptionally green and effortlessly chic, this pocket-sized barrio on the edge of El Poblado offers a quieter alternative to its neighbor. With a host of fantastic accommodation options to suit all budgets, Manila is also your go-to spot for some of the trendiest open-air restaurants in the city, including Tal Cual and Malevo (for chargrilled meat). Do you want a healthy breakfast? Go to Cafe Al Alma for a large bowl of muesli and yoghurt with local fruit. Are you in the mood for an afternoon pick-me-up? To attempt Hija Mia for one of the silkiest americanos in town.
9 The botanical garden and Parque Explora
Do you want to escape the noise of the city? Head to the botanical garden near the Universidad metro station, where 14 hectares of green space await. This extensive and freely accessible garden not only displays more than 600 species of trees and plants, but also has a herbarium, a lagoon and a popular butterfly garden.
Across the street from the Botanical Gardens you will find another must-see attraction: Parque Explora. This family-friendly complex features a vivarium (for reptiles and amphibians), a planetarium (for stargazing) and Latin America’s largest freshwater aquarium (home to many creatures from the Amazon basin). There are also three interactive areas, with educational exhibits on physics, neuroscience and communication.
Medellin Botanical Garden
- Place: Medellin, Antioquia
- Address: Cra. 53 #7375, Medellín, Antioquia
10 Plaza Cisneros
Plaza Cisneros is yet another example of an area of Medellin that was once full of drugs and violence, but is now a relatively safe and popular sightseeing destination. Walk past during the day, and it may not look like much, but go back after dark and the 300 light poles spread across the square are sure to leave an impression. These 24-meter-high beacons are like gigantic Jedi lightsabers that brighten the night sky. More than just pretty lights, this square is also home to some spectacular architecture, including the angular one Biblioteca EPM, a library with a small museum and free WiFi. Head down Avenida San Juan for more architectural wonders like the bumblebee-colored towers of Plaza de la Libertad.
Address: Cl. 44 #52-50, Medellín, Antioquia
11 Barefoot Park
One of the most bizarre – and beloved – attractions in Medellin is Barefoot Park, a Zen-inspired public park designed by local architect Felipe Uribe de Bedout. Visitors are encouraged to take off their shoes and wander through the green gardens, sandy pits and bubbling water fountains to experience the different textures and reflect on how they feel. The idea is to reconnect with nature in a way that people lost when we started wearing modern shoes. Equally fun for both kids and adults, the park has plenty of shady corners and cool waterways to beat the heat on a scorching afternoon.
Address: Cra. 58 #42-125, Medellín, Antioquia
12 Pueblito Paisa
View from the hill of Nutibara
This mock city on top Cerro Nutibara is like a living museum, where you can walk back in time to the turn of the century and experience life in the countryside of Antioquia. The village is set around a traditional town square with a church, mayor’s office, barber shop and one-room schoolhouse. Thanks to its hilltop location, it’s also a great place to easily get a bird’s-eye view of the city below. You’ll find plenty of souvenirs and craft shops here, in addition to some excellent restaurants where you can try the paisa cuisine of the Colombian Andes, including classic dishes such as bandeja paisa, a belly-busting dish of ground meat, pork crackling, fried plantains, and avocados served with rice and beans.
Read also:top tourist attractions in Marrakech