5 Top Things to Do in Medellín
Although Cartagena may be the most popular place for tourists to visit in Colombia, you are missing out if you don’t give Medellín a chance. Guest blogger Sam from My Flying Leap had the opportunity to go to both on a recent trip. They couldn’t be more different and both are amazing she shares her top 5 things to do in Medellin here.
Cartagena is a tropical Caribbean city with a quaint and historic old-town city center. It’s charming and quite beautiful, but the people mostly live outside the city center. It gets quite crowded with tourists.
Medellín has a more authentic feel to me and anywhere you go is where locals live. You get a true taste of life in Colombia visiting Medellín. Though both have a lot of appeal, I really fell in love with Medellín. Here are my five favorite things that I did during my trip.
Stroll Around Botero Park
Botero Park is one of the top attractions to see in Medellín. Fernando Botero is an internationally renowned sculptor and painter known for his exaggerated images. He is a local hero born and raised in Medellín. You may not be familiar with his name, but you likely have seen his work.
This park features 23 of his donated sculptures. It’s a nice place to wander around to admire the art while taking in the beautiful year-round springtime weather Medellín has to offer.
Museum of Antioquia
If you haven’t gotten enough of Botero, visit the Museum of Antioquia to see more Botero statues as well his art in another medium, paint. There is a large collection of his work in this museum as well as some beautiful views of Botero Park from the huge windows in the stairway to the upper floor.
An interesting piece of trivia about his paintings—it is said that the nude paintings of a dark-haired woman with a mole on her right buttock is his wife.
Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture
Also located in Botero Park is the Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture. This recognizable building was designed by Belgian architect Agustin Goovaerts and is home to the Institute of Culture and Heritage of Antioquia. You can go inside to view exhibitions, a historical photography archive and other artistic endeavors, or just stand outside and admire the building.
Visit Communa 13
Another top attraction in Medellín is a visit to Communa 13. Once one of the most dangerous and poor neighborhoods in the city, Communa 13 is undergoing a remarkable transformation through art. Here you can find some of the most incredible murals in the city, which is saying a lot as there are some talented artists throughout Medellín.
The best way to experience this neighborhood is with a tour by a local who grew up there. You can not only see the best of the murals and the street performers but also get an understanding of the history to really grasp the amazing transformation. Your heart will break hearing stories of the violence while it may burst from seeing the energy and talent that the people in the area have.
Take a Day Trip to Guatapé
Guatapé is one of the most beautiful Spanish colonial towns in all of Colombia. It is the most popular day trip from Medellín and a must-do when you visit. The colorful Spanish colonial center features a church at a large square and the homes all have zocalos, beautiful and brightly-painted carvings of life in the area. Guatapé is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you take a tour to Guatapé, you will generally also see el Peñol and Guatapé Lake. El Peñol is a monstrous rock with a convenient staircase to climb rising over 700 steps offering incredible views of the lake. It’s a hearty climb worth doing for the picturesque views.
Take a Free Walking Tour of Downtown Medellín
The best way to learn about Medellín is through the locals, so it makes sense to take a walking tour of the downtown (El Centro) area. They will show you the best places to go in that area and educate you about the history of the city and of the country. You really get a better perspective about the people and what Colombians have been through to get to today.
I highly recommend Real City Tours. Our guide walked us through El Centro including the most popular and historically-significant places while telling us what it was like living in Medellín in the 1980s and 1990s. Though the city is safe overall, he did make us aware of the areas where we should be extra vigilant. He advised us when to keep to the group and provided some great guidance to ensure our safety during our visit.
Eat Like a Local in Medellín
Food is an important part of the culture in Colombia. It is flavorful, includes massive portions, and is very cheap. There are two dishes that still make my mouth water that I’d recommend, bandeja paisa and ajiaco.
Bandeja Paisa is the quintessential meal of the local people, known as the Paisa. This dish is a gut buster including meat (usually ground meat, chicken, or chicharron (fried pork), white rice, red beans, plantain, arepa (corn cake), a fried egg, avocado, and a small salad. It’s very popular for lunch but it’s also served at dinner.
I recommend this as a lunch-time meal and will offer up the warning that you will not likely eat again for the rest of the day. And the going rate for this meal? Around 8k COP, or $2.50 USD.
Soups are very big throughout Colombia and this is a very traditional offering. It is a chicken broth with three kinds of potatoes, guascas (a green herb), and Peruvian corn (with large kernels). It comes with a number of sides that can vary but usually includes white rice, crema, capers, arepas, and hot sauce. It’s flavorful and took me three meals to finish it!
Final Thoughts about Medellín
Medellín is an amazing place to visit to get an authentic view of city life for the Colombian people. It offers lots of history, culture, and beauty with something for everyone.
Sam is a travel-obsessed animal lover with big plans to travel the world with her dog. When she’s not blogging about her travel adventures at My Flying Leap, you can find her volunteering with her pet-therapy cat and dog, on the top of a mountain, or enjoying a glass of bold red wine planning for her next trip.
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