Medellín 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 Medellín? Here are 15 great reasons why you should experience ‘The City of Eternal Spring’ at least once in your lifetime.
With Culture Trip, you can enjoy a guided walking tour of Medellín with a local insider as part of our our epic eight-day Colombian Andes adventure.
This seems like an obvious one, but the fact is that it would not have been considered smart or safe to visit Medellín 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 Medellín in safety and enjoy its beautiful weather, lovely people and fantastic attractions is reason enough to pay the city a visit.
The weather in Medellín 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), the climate is about as good as it gets. It does rain a fair amount – as in any tropical country – but it rarely gets cold. If spring is your favorite season of the year, you’ll be spoilt rotten in Medellín.
Medellín 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 Medellín an innovative urban space, it’s also home to some wonderful nature at the same time.
Medellín was named ‘Innovative City of the Year’ by the Wall Street Journal in 2013, and that amazing innovation is visible throughout the city today. 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. Medellín’s policy of social urbanism – aimed at integrating 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 Medellín and Antioquia are affectionately known – are famously friendly people. It’s not unusual to feel welcome anywhere you go Colombia, but in Medellín you get the sense that people genuinely are very happy to see you there. They’ll often smile at you in the street and even strike up random conversations (whether you speak Spanish or not). It gives the city a pleasant atmosphere 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 coastline. It’s not all close to Medellín, but within an hour or two’s drive of the city you’ll discover some lovely little towns and a wonderful sense of how diverse Colombia really is. Gorgeous pueblos (towns) like Guatape, Santa Fe de Antioquia, Jardin and Tamesis can all be visited on day trips or long-weekends from Medellín, making the city an excellent base from which to explore more rural parts of Colombia.
One of the principal reasons that many travelers choose to visit Medellín 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 Medellín. With plenty of live music venues, regular festivals and a true love of celebration, Medellín is easily one of the best cities in Colombia to experience nightlife.
There are countless excellent restaurants and cafes to enjoy in Medellín, and delicious local dishes to sample in all of them. The top choice has to be the bandeja paisa – a traditional regional dish of meat, beans, rice, plantain and avocado – but there’s more to Medellín gastronomy than local favorites. Neighborhoods like El Poblado and Laureles are full of brilliant restaurants serving a variety of international fare, while cafes like Pergamino and Revolucion are known for serving the best Colombian coffee in town.
Medellín 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, an aquarium and a vivarium.
The Medellín 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 Medellín 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 Medellín is easy thanks to its innovative and extensive public transport network, which includes the Medellín Metro and the Metrocable cable car system. Locals take particular pride in their metro – it probably helps that Bogotá (a real rival for Medellín) doesn’t have a metro yet – and it is always spotlessly clean and well organized. Tickets are cheap too, meaning 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 Medellín 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. 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 reason to visit Medellín.
Colombia’s most famous artist was born in Medellín and is inextricably linked with the city. There are Botero museums and exhibitions in other Colombian cities, but Medellín is the best place to discover Botero’s unique style. From the series of giant ‘exaggerated perspective’ sculptures in the Botero Park to the large exhibition in the Museo de Antioquia, Medellín’s connection to Botero is very strong.
With hostel beds available for as little as US$10, excellent-value food and drink, reasonable rent (if you’re considering moving to the city for a while) and budget-friendly public transport, a visit to Medellín needn’t break the bank. Unsurprisingly, it’s not as cheap as traveling within rural areas but compared to other popular cities like Bogotá and Cartagena, Medellín is great value for money. It also helps that many of the most popular tourist attractions – such as Parque Botero, the Botanical Gardens and the Metrocable – are either free or very cheap.
Not everyone carries the same preconceptions about Medellín (and Colombia in general), but it’s very common to meet people who associate the city with nothing but violence and danger. Even people who are better-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 Medellín at least once in your lifetime is to see for yourself how much the city has reinvented itself.