Medellin was once famed for being one of the most dangerous cities on earth, but a lot has changed since the dark days of the 1990s, and it has become a hugely popular tourist destination in recent years. But why visit Medellin? Here are 15 great reasons why you should experience ‘The City of Eternal Spring’ at least once in your lifetime.
This seems like an obvious one, but the fact is that it would not have been considered smart or safe to visit Medellin once: during the 1980s and ’90s it was a dangerous city, with a murder rate that was once considered the highest in the world. The very fact that you can now visit Medellin in safety and enjoy its beautiful weather, lovely people and fantastic attractions is reason enough to pay the city a visit.
The weather in Medellin is just about perfect, hence its rather lyrical nickname of ‘The City of Eternal Spring.’ With average year-round temperatures of around 22°C (72°F) and daily highs of over 30°C (86°F), Medellin’s climate is about as good as it gets. It does rain a fair amount – as in any tropical country – but it basically never gets cold. If warm weather and a nice climate are important to you, then Medellin ticks all the good weather boxes!
Medellin is located in a bowl in the Andes mountains, meaning that wherever you go in the city you are basically guaranteed a view of mountains and stunning landscapes. The city is also home to some lovely parks and gardens, including the Botanical Gardens, and miles of hiking trails in Parque Arvi. You can even spot Scarlet Macaws, Iguanas and even wild monkeys within the city itself! Not only is Medellin an innovative urban space, it’s also home to some wonderful nature at the same time.
Medellin was named ‘Innovative City of the Year’ by the Wall Street Journal in 2013, and that amazing innovation is visible throughout the city. You can ride the Metrocable cars to previously isolated neighborhoods, visit the many science and library parks dotted around the city, or explore Comuna 13 neighborhood with its series of urban escalators. Medellin’s policy of social urbanism – aimed at incorporating previously alienated citizens into the city and investing heavily in progressive architecture and education – has been heralded worldwide, and the chance to experience it firsthand is a great reason to visit the city.
Paisas – as the folks from Medellin and Antioquia are known – are famously welcoming and friendly people. Colombia is generally known as a country full of friendly people, but Medellin is definitely up there among the friendliest of the lot – people will often smile at you in the street and even strike up random conversations (and boy, do they love a bit of small talk in Medellin!). It makes for a pleasant atmosphere throughout the city and is another great reason to visit.
Antioquia department is one of the most beautiful in Colombia, home to amazing nature, beautiful little towns, coffee farms and even Caribbean Coast. It’s not all close to Medellin, but within an hour or two from the city you can visit some truly lovely little towns and get a wonderful sense of how diverse Colombia really is. Gorgeous pueblos like Guatape, Santa Fe de Antioquia, Jardin, Tamesis and many more can all be visited on day trips or long-weekends from Medellin, making the city an excellent base from which to explore Colombia in more depth.
One of the principal reasons that many travelers choose to visit Medellin is the city’s enviable nightlife. The popular backpacker neighborhood El Poblado is full of quality bars and nightclubs, but that’s not all there is to partying in Medellin. With plenty of live music venues, regular festivals and a true love of celebration and socializing, Medellin is easily one of the best cities in Colombia in which to enjoy a night out.
There are more and more excellent restaurants and cafes to enjoy in Medellin, and some delicious local dishes to sample as well. The top choice has to be the bandeja paisa, the traditional regional dish of meat, beans, rice, plantain and avocado, but there’s more to Medellin gastronomy that the local dishes. Neighborhoods like El Poblado and Laureles are full of brilliant restaurants serving a variety of international and regional fare, while cafes like Pergamino and Revolucion serve the best Colombian coffee available.
Medellin is home to some of the finest museums and exhibition spaces in Colombia. The Museo de Antioquia has a huge exhibit dedicated to Fernando Botero (Medellin’s most famous artist), while the unique and interesting Carlos Gardel museum pays homage to the legendary tango singer who tragically died in a plane crash in the city. For a more immersive experience, the Parque Explora science and technology park is packed with interesting interactive exhibits, a 3D cinema, aquarium and vivarium.
The Medellin Flower Festival is the city’s biggest cultural event of the year: for over a week during the month of August, the city welcomes people from all over the world to celebrate the vast array of colorful flowers grown in the surrounding countryside. It’s a huge part of the city’s identity, and there are public events and flower displays all over Medellin in August. It all culminates in the famous silleteros parade when local flower growers march through the city displaying unique flower arrangements carried on their backs. It’s one of Colombia’s most unique festivals.
Getting around in Medellin is a doddle thanks to its innovative and extensive public transport network, which includes the Medellin Metro and the Metrocable cable car system. Locals take particular pride in their metro – it probably helps that Bogota (a real rival for Medellin) doesn’t have a metro yet – and it is always spotlessly clean and well organized. Tickets are cheap too, meaning that a day exploring the city doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg in taxi fares.
Colombians are pretty obsessed with football, and paisas are no exception. It also helps that Medellin is home to one of the country’s best football teams, Atletico Nacional, who have won the Colombian league 16 times and the continental Copa Libertadores competition twice. They are also the current South American champions, and one of the most popular things for travelers to do in the city is to go and watch a live match in Atanasio Giradot Stadium. The atmosphere is always electric and if you’re a football fan it’s another excellent motivation to visit Medellin.
Colombia’s most famous artist was born in Medellin and is inextricably linked with the city. There are Botero museums and exhibitions in other Colombian cities, but Medellin is the number one place to discover Botero’s unique style for yourself. From the series of giant ‘exaggerated perspective’ sculptures in the Botero Park to the extensive exhibition in the Museo de Antioquia, Medellin’s connection to Botero is strong.
With hostel beds available for as little as US$10, good value food and drink, very reasonable rent (should you be considering moving to the city) and cheap and well-organized public transport, a visit to Medellin needn’t blow your whole budget. Naturally, it’s not as cheap as traveling rural areas but compared to other popular cities like Bogota and Cartagena, Medellin is great value for money. It also helps that many of the most popular tourist attractions – Parque Botero, the Botanical Gardens, the Metrocable – are either free or very cheap.
Not everyone carries the same preconceptions about Medellin (and Colombia in general), but it’s incredibly common to still meet people who associate the city with nothing but violence and danger. Even people who are more well-informed are often taken aback by the beautiful, friendly and innovative city which they discover when they visit. Perhaps the best reason of all to visit Medellin at least once in your lifetime is to see for yourself how much the city has changed for the better.