Medellin is my favorite city in Colombia, perhaps in of all South America. The city offers vibrant culture, great nightlife and friendly people. In addition, violent crimes have drastically declined since Escobar’s heydays, and today’s Medellin is light years away from what you see in the excellent Netflix show Narcos.
To help you with your travel planning I have written this handy guide with 10 FREE things to do in Medellin. The list covers a wide selection of sights and activities and I think it’ll have something for everyone.
Ready to plan your Medellin trip? Let’s dive right in!
10 Free Things To Do In Medellin Colombia
1. Visit the Botanical Garden
Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Garden, or Botanical Garden of Medellin, is a 14-hectare botanical garden located in central Medellin. The garden has many different species of Colombian flora and fauna and is considered the lungs of the city. It’s the perfect place to enjoy some time with friends and family.
Here you can visit a butterfly house, a rainforest, orchids atrium, cactus garden, exhibition spaces and a lagoon (where you can spot Iguanas). More than 1,000 animals and 4,500 flowers can be seen here, and many have signs so you can easily identify them. There are also several restaurants and cafes in the park. In addition, this is where Medellin’s annual Oktoberfest is held every September.
The botanical garden is open from 9am to 4.30pm daily and you get here by using the Metro (station Universidad) or grab a taxi/Uber.
2. Dance Salsa in Laureles
Salsa is the most popular form of dance in Colombia and an important part of the local culture. Not only is salsa a good way to get some exercise, but visiting a salsa club is a great way to make friends with local people. In addition, many of the clubs are offering free salsa classes before they open up. Check their web page or contact the club directly for more information.
Colombia’s best salsa clubs are located in Cali but there are still plenty of options in Medellin. The Laureles neighborhood has some of the best clubs, and I can recommend Son Habana and Tibiri Salsa Bar.
3. Workout at an Outdoor Gym
Are you like me and want to stay in shape while you travel? Then I recommend to visit one of the many free outdoor gyms around Medellin. The neighborhood El Poblado has several, and the most popular outdoor gym is located on Carrera 36, just behind 37 Park.
Laureles also have some free outdoor gyms. The best gym is part of the Unidad Deportiva Atanasio Girardot sports complex, next to Estadio. This sports complex also have soccer fields, beach volleyball courts, pool and running tracks.
4. Eat at Smaller Local Restaurants
When you are in Medellin, don’t limit yourself to just the modern chain restaurants. Go visit one of the smaller family run restaurants serving affordable breakfast and lunches. Look for the spartan places with signs saying desayuno (Breakfast) and almuerzo (lunch). Here you can splurge on inexpensive and delicious local meals such as Bandeja Paisa, Ajiaco, Carne Asada and Sancocho. Also ask for Menu del dia (menu of the day). Your best bet is to head over to Laureles and check out the smaller sidestreets around Avenida Nutibara and you’ll find plenty.
5. Snap Selfies at Botero Plaza
Fernando Botero is a cultural icon in Colombia. You may have seen his art work featuring voluptuous men and women in different social settings. Not only does he paints, but during his decade long career he also produced a lot of sculptures. 23 of them are now on display in the popular 7,000 square meters Botero Plaza.
The park is open 24 hours but I recommend to only visit during the day due to safety concerns. Get there by using the Metro (station Parque Berrío) or grab a taxi/Uber.
6. Explore Old Colombia at Cerro Nutibara
Cerro Nutibara (Nutibara Hill) is a centrally located hill in Medellin. It features a sculpture park, an auditorium and Pueblito Paisa, a replica of a traditional Colombian town.
Be aware that Pueblito Paisa is a bit cheesy. It has the usual souvenir vendors and locals dressed up in traditional clothing. But the real highlight here is the amazing 360 degree view of Medellin. The entrance to Nutibara Hill is free but the small museum at the top charges a fee.
To get there, take one of the 3 hikes (about 20-25 minutes) or grab a taxi/Uber to the top. Be aware that the hike up can be a bit strenuous.
7. Ride the Metrocable to Parque Arvi
Parque Arvi (Arvi Park) is a nature preserve located northeast of central Medellin. The preserve covers an area of 16,000 hectares with 54 miles of hiking trails.
But the real highlight is the Metrocable ride which gives an amazing view of the city and the surrounding nature, as well as a rare glimpse into favela life below. Once you reach the park, you’ll find a visitors center and a food market. You can choose between a short, free (40 mins each way) self guided hike to a river, or longer guided hikes. Unfortunately the guided hikes are only in Spanish.
The entrance to the park is free, but you have to pay for the Metrocable tickets, which are inexpensive. To get to Parque Arvi, go to the Acevedo station and take the Metrocable Line K to Santo Domingo station. Thereafter transfer to Line L. The park is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm.
Tip: Buy your return ticket right after you’ve arrived. That way you can avoid the long line when buying your return ticket later.
8. Visit a Shopping Mall
If you love shopping you’re going to like this one. In recent years several large and modern shopping malls have been built around Medellin. For example the neighborhood El Poblado has several malls within walking distance. Some of the best includes Viscaya (which has a great Body Tech gym), El Tesoro, Santafé and Oviedo. If you fancy some great food head over to Mercado Rio that has an excellent food court.
9. Let Your Hair Down at Parque Llleras
Everything in El Poblado is centered around Parque Lleras, and here you’ll find Medellin’s best bars and clubs. Here you can party seven days per week and it won’t hurt your wallet as much as back home. If you happen to be in Poblado on a Thursday I recommend to visit Bendito Seas that has a good ladies night. You pay a 40,000 Pesos entrance and get free drinks all night. Ladies get in free.
10. Check Out Pablo Escobar’s Last House
In Laureles you can check out the house where Pablo Escobar was killed by the Search Bloc. The house is located at Carrera 79 #45 D – 94 in the Laureles Neighborhood. Today it’s a Spanish language school and not open to visitors. Pablo lived on the second floor (the third floor has been added recently), and he was shot on the roof (left of the house, above the wall with all the graffiti.) while trying to escape.
The house is a bit out of the way so I recommend taking a taxi or Uber there.
Bonus: Where To Stay In Medellin Colombia
For trips lasting more than a couple of weeks it makes most sense to use AirBnb. But for shorter trips, hotels are a better choice. And Medellin has plenty of good hotels to choose from.
The best hotel in El Poblado is The Charlee Hotel. It’s a great 4,5 star hotel located right next to Parque Llleas with all it’s nightlife. For those who wish to spend a bit less, a good mid range hotel is Art Hotel Medellin, which offers a good trade-off between price and quality. Finally, budget travelers will like Element Hotel, a great hotel that will be easy on the wallet.
Laureles also has some great hotels. In my opinion the best hotel is Inntu Hotel, a 4 star hotel located just next to Segundo Parque. But if you’re on a budget and looking for something more affordable, you may want to check out Hotel Vivre, an affordable 3,5 star hotel located one block away from Setenta. This is an ideal location if you want to be close to the best nightlife in Laureles.
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