Medellin is besides Bogota probably the most famous city in Colombia. Due to it’s violent, recent past, guerilla fights and drug war, most people will have heard of Medellin. The past is one of the main reasons countless of tourists visit Medellin every year, wanting to do a tour through dangerous districts and learn more about Pablo Escobar.
To be honest, we are no supporters of this type of “dark” tourism and therefore prefer focusing on other things you can see and visit in Medellin, but for those that are really into the drug war history, there are countless district tours operating every day and many museums including a former house of Escobar that can be explored. One of the most visited districts, due it’s violent history, is called „comuna 13“. This is the only district tour, we decided to go for, as this district is full of impressive street-art and it was quite interesting to understand how the people in this area are trying to improve their lives and their district over the past years. Of course these tours can also help locals, as a source of income. What we didn’t like of it and this is also the reason we wouldn’t do it again, for us these type of tours give us a „zoo-feeling“, where the locals living there are being starred at and their houses photographed by tourists every single day….we also wouldn’t like to be starred at. In addition you cannot be sure that the money you pay actually ends up in the right pockets. Therefore we decided to leave similar tours out in the future, but everybody has to make their own decisions and experiences and we are not saying to anybody don’t do it, simply decide for yourself 😉
Besides that, there is way more to see in Medellin.
Medellin is a very diverse city, from really poor neighbourhoods to very modern and hip districts. It also is home to many foreigners and considered to be a hub for digital nomads. It changed a lot over the past 20 years and it is generally speaking safe to walk around and sightsee the city.
The city has a couple of nice parks, a beautiful botanical garden, several impressive museums in the city center, as well as the famous sculptures of Botero.
Most backpackers choose to stay in „Poblado“. Which is the hippest district in Medellin. It is a modern bar, night-life and restaurant area, with countless of hostels to choose from. This can be absolutely your thing or also the opposite, probably it depends on your preferences. We liked the fact, that after already being on the road for some time, we were able to eat something different for a change (there is an amazing Ramen place in Poblado). Poblado can feel a bit fake though, especially if you explore other parts of the city, that look completely different. Regarding the costs: As always in South America the hostel prices in bigger cities are a bit higher than in the rest of the country, expect a dorm bed to cost 10-15€ and privates to start from 25€ p. night.
Other districts that are fine and safe to stay in are Laureles and Belen. Laureles and Belen are a tiny bit cheaper, to some they might seem a bit boring compared to the very alive Poblado, but they are definitely more authentic. We don’t recommend staying directly in the city center. The center must be definitely visited by day, but at night it fills up with dodgy people you better avoid.
The main public transport is the metro. Which is very rare in a South American city. In fact Medellin was one of the only Latin cities that we have seen in 11 months that had a metro. Uber works fine too and is very affordable, expect to pay 2-3€ for a 15-20 minutes car ride.
A trip outside of Medellin we and most travel guides highly recommend is visiting the rock „Piedra del Peñol“. It takes more or less 3 hours from Medellin to Guatapé, which is the closest town. The views from this uniquely shaped rock are spectacular, although you will have to fight with countless other tourists to take a decent picture. The town of Guatapé should also be visited, even staying there for a night isn’t a bad decision at all, as it is very cute, full of colorful houses and small cafés = a great place to disconnect and relax.
To sum it up. Is Medellin worth a visit? We didn’t fall madly in love with it, as we are simply not the biggest fans of metropolitan cities, but Medellin should definitely be included in your Colombia itinerary. It’s probably one of the best places to get a better understanding of recent Colombian history.