Medellin

Travel Guide South America Colombia Medellin

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Introduction

Medellin

Medellin

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Medellin is Colombia's second largest city with around 2.5 million inhabitants in the city and a million or so more in the metropolitan area. It's located in the Aburra Valley at an elevation of almost 1,500 metres above sea level.

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History

Let's just get it out of the way up front: throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Medellín was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world for its size, and had a highly disproportional homicide and kidnapping rate. It was the home of the drug lord Pablo Escobar and the so-called Medellín Cartel, who virtually took over the city during that time. Since his demise in the mid-1990s, the cartel was disbanded and the city rebounded tremendously. In 1991 there were 6,500 murders in the city, by 2009 the murder rate decreased to 2,900. In 2016, there were a total of 534 homicides reported in Medellín.

Despite these relatively recent developments, it's safe to say that the city is better off today than 20 years ago. Paisas, the residents of this region, are proud of their city's progress, and are ready to move forward with vigor.

Medellín is a vast city built north to south in the Aburrá valley and surrounded on either side by majestic mountain ranges. The wealthier classes live in the well-protected hillside neighborhood of El Poblado, and the more traditional suburban neighborhoods, Laureles and Envigado. This is far removed from the action and commotion which are found in the city's center. There are the busy markets and a thriving street life that make up much of the city's charm. The city is home to a half-dozen universities, accounting for a vibrant cultural and nightlife scene fueled by thousands of young adults from all over the country. Medellín is also Colombia's largest industrial center, and home to factories making everything from designer clothing to Toyota SUVs. The city's northern hills are flooded with rural refugees from the ongoing civil war and their ingenuity in making a living is impressive. People sell anything from crayons to guinea pigs to garden earth in the bars in order to make a living.

As a relatively new city, the architecture has a decidedly modernist appeal, which goes hand in hand with the progressiveness of its residents. Medellín also has the first (and only) Metro system in Colombia. For international travelers, Medellín is perhaps most famous for the Botero Museum, whose namesake is arguably the most famous modern artist alive today. It is also known for its perfect climate with its nickname "city of the eternal spring".

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Neighbourhoods

Medellín is surrounded by 8 smaller towns and together they form the Area Metropolitana with almost 3.5 million people. These other towns are: Bello, Itaguí, Sabaneta, La Estrella, Caldas, Copacabana, Girardota and Barbosa. The neighboring town of Envigado does not belong to this administrative association even though it is closer than many of the mentioned above. Medellín is a true conglomerate of towns and you will find it difficult to tell the borders between these municipalities. Located east of Medellín is the valley of Rionegro which is larger and higher in the mountains. This area holds some of the most important factories, recreational grounds and suburbs of the city, as well as the International Airport.

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Sights and Activities

Botero Plaza

Botero Plaza is the place that many visitors head to when visiting Medellin. It is in this square that many of Botero's famous bronze statues are placed. Across from the plaza is located the Museo de Antioquia, which houses many more statues and paintings by Botero. The museum also shows many 19th and 20th century national and international artists.

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Paragliding

Medellin is possibly the best place in South America to either try paragliding, or to get certified in it. The mountains surrounding the city are often filled with paragliders. A week-long intensive course usually costs around US$400, including all the materials. It is worth checking that your teacher speaks fluent English!

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Events and Festivals

La Feria de las Flores (Flower festival)

This is the biggest and most prized festival of the local "Paisas". Consisting of a whole week of events, concerts, parades and parties it cumulates in the beautiful parade of the "silleteros" who design inspiring flower displays which they carry on their backs from the nearby municpality of Sana Elena to the centre of Medellín to cheers of the huge crowds. Not to be missed.

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Weather

Average high and low temperatures are very constant throughout the year: 27 °C or 28 °C during the day and 16 °C or 17 °C at night. Records are only 33 °C and 10 °C respectively, giving the city an almost spring-ish climate year round. Almost, because precipitation is relatively high as well, with 1,600-1,700 mm a year. December to February is the driest and and April-June and August-November the wettest months.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max27.6 °C27.9 °C28 °C27.6 °C27.5 °C27.9 °C28.3 °C28.3 °C27.7 °C26.9 °C27 °C27.1 °C
Avg Min16.8 °C17.1 °C17.3 °C17.5 °C17.4 °C17.1 °C16.7 °C16.8 °C16.7 °C16.8 °C17 °C16.8 °C
Rainfall65 mm80 mm126 mm161 mm199 mm158 mm119 mm148 mm178 mm212 mm147 mm94 mm
Rain Days121317222319171922242115

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Getting There

By Plane

José María Córdova International Airport (MDE) is about half an hour from the city. Destinations include Bogota, Miami, New York City, Panama City, Caracas, Lima, Quito, San José, Fort Lauderdale, San Andrés Island, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta.

By Car

There are four roads leading to Medellín from all cardinal points. From Bogota you can take Autopista Medellín and head west 7–9 hours with beautiful scenery. From Pereira, Cali and the south take road 25 towards Medellín. If coming from the Atlantic coast (Cartagena, Barranquillia) take route 25 south to Medellín (approx. 11 hours). Of note, there is no road connecting Panamá with Colombia.

By Bus

Medellín has two bus terminals (North and South) managed by the same company and share a single website. Both terminals have mid-size shopping malls in the premises. For a complete list of the cities check the webpage.

The North terminal is much larger and it is connected with Metro station Caribe and the rail system (Although passenger rail transport in Colombia is quite limited). It serves cities North and East of Medellín (Cartagena, Santa Marta and Bogotá included). Bogotá: 9hr30min - COP$60,000 -75,000 with Bolivariano, Arauca, Coonorte, Rápido Tolima and Magdalena. Guatape: 2hr - COP$13,000 with Sotrasanvicente and Sotrapeñol.

The South terminal is next door to the much smaller domestic airport (closest Metro station El Poblado but not within walking distance). Serves towns South (Manizales, Pereira, Cali). Cali: 8hr00min - COP$50,000 -68,000 with Bolivariano, Arauca, S26, Expreso Trejos and Magdalena.

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Getting Around

Most of the city of Medellín is built on a grid system. Carreras (streets) are abbreviated as Cr, Cra, K, kra or Crs and run parallel to the river from South to North. The calles (also streets) cross the Carreras and run from East to West. Calles are abbreviated as C, Cll or Cl. Avenidas, abbreviated as Av, are usually larger and main streets. The numerical system for the Avenidas is used but some have names that are more commonly used such as Avenida el Poblado or Avenida Oriental. There are a few streets called Transversales which usually refer to wide Carreras atop the mountains in El Poblado neighborhood. The most famous are transversal Intermedia, Inferior and Superior. Along Laureles neighbourhood you can also find Diagonales and Circulares.

Each address consists of a series of numbers, for example: Calle 50 # 65 - 8 which indicates that the building is on street 50 (Calle 50) 8 meters ahead from the intersection with street 65 (Carrera 65). The most central point, Parque de Berrio, is located by convention on the crossroads of Calle 50 and Carrera 50.

By Car

Taxis are cheap and plentiful. All taxis have meters, make sure they use them. Minimal fee costs about COP$4,600. Taxis should always be called by phone for safety reasons and not be hailed on the street. As in most Latin American countries, their driving can be harrowing, so hold on tight.

By Public Transport

Traveling trough the city is easy and quick, with the Metro system, you can go to anywhere in the city with The Metroplús (Bus extension to the Metro) and the Metrocable , a sky train or cable car that has revolutionized transport in the city. Trains run from 5:00 to 23:00 on workdays and from 7:00 to 22:00 on Sundays and holidays. Single tickets are COP$2,150, transfers between the Metro trains, cables and buses (Metroplus Line 1) are free. The Metrocable has a fare of COP$4,850 for the 4.5 kilometre trip up the mountains. Transfer is available at the Santo Domingo station of the Metrocable K line.

The Metroplus has 32 stations. Consists of long articulated buses powered with natural gas for a more environmentally friendly option. They run on exclusive roads and enclosed stations. Only the station Hospital offers transfer to the Metro.

There is also the TuriBus, a modern bus that goes around the city showing its parks, attractive neighborhoods, and historical parts; it only costs COP$15,000. While they do not guarantee this, many times their guides also speak English and are happy to translate for you.

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Eat

Colombian cuisine is varied and regional. The more typical dishes are referred to as comida criolla.

Some examples are: sancocho de gallina (chicken soup), carne en polvo (ground beef), arepas de choclo (fresh corn tortillas), empanadas (meat-filled fried turnovers), ají (hot sauce), ajiaco (Bogota's chicken and potato soup), bandeja paisa, natilla, buñuelos (fried cheese puffs), hojuelas (fried puff squares), rice with coconut, Antioquian beans, sobrebarriga (flank steak) mantecada (bun made with lard), papas chorreadas, pandeyuca (yucca bread) and carne desmechada (shredded meat).

A typical breakfast in Medellín consists of baked corn arepas (Flat unsweetened corn pancake) topped with butter and fresh white cheese, coffee or hot chocolate.

One treat that will leave anyone stuffed is the "Tipico Antioqueño"; arepa con queso (small flatbreads with cheese on top), beans, chicken, rice, fried eggs, chicharron (salted and fried unsmoked bacon) and patacon (deep-fried plantain pancakes). Topping that off with a Colombian beer and a cup of "chocolatte" (pronounced the Spanish way - it's milky, sweet hot chocolate) makes for an excellent meal. An excellent place to eat typical food is Hatoviejo.

There is a large variety of restaurants all throughout Medellín, especially concentrated around the ‘Zona Rosa’ which is in Poblado between Parque Poblado and Parque Lleras. You can find a fine display of places with whatever food you desire, with good quality for comparatively cheap prices compared to the US, although there is a shortage of authentic Greek, Indian and Thai restaurants. Sushi is increasingly popular and may be found at the larger malls or supermarkets that are more "international."

Colombia also has an incredible variety of tasty fruits. A few of these are: guanábana, lulo, zapote, mamoncillo, uchuva, feijoa, granadilla, maracuyá, tomate de árbol, borojó, mamey and tamarindo. Ask for a "Salpicón": a mix of fruits marinaded on orange or watermelon juice.

Colombia is well known for its coffee, and Medellín is no exception. As with any large city, there are the usual chain restaurants, however the American "fast-food culture" has not made a huge splash in the country. Mc Donald's, Burger King, Domino's Pizza and Hooters can be found there.

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Drink

There are a few districts for bars. Foreigners prefer Parque Lleras in El Poblado, safer, more upscale, nicer crowds. The middle class also mingle outside Museo de Arte Moderno, near Carlos E Restrepo neighborhood; and the so-called Urban Tribes meet at Parque del Periodista (downtown). Other areas with bars are: Carrera 70 near Estadio, Carretera Las Palmas and Avenida 33 in Laureles.

The area around Parque Lleras, (la Zona Rosa), has a concentration of restaurants, bars and is great for people watching. It is active on most nights and a must visit for those looking for Colombian nightlife. The major restaurants on the corner, El Rojo and Basilica are great for food, drinks and people watching. Occasionally they have live music or big screens when important football matches are played.

Parque Lleras is interesting any night of the week although admittedly Thursday, Friday and Saturday are far more lively. There are places, mostly electronic music venues open till 6 or 7AM outside of the city limits as the laws forbid any bar to remain open after 3PM. People however gather around Parque Poblado until dawn drinking, smoking and chating. You can buy cigarettes, alcohol and anything else you could wish for from the street vendors until the last man standing.

A more upmarket experience can be had at La Strada just south of Parque Lleras on Aviendo El Poblado. The centre features numerous bars, restaurants and clubs. La Strada has become the weekend destination for the more affluent of Medellín's residents. Expect to pay more for drinks and food than in la Zona Rosa, bars close at 1AM.

Just outside of Medellín, there are some venues in the neighboring towns of Sabaneta, Envigado and Itagui. Sabaneta has not yet caught on with foreigners, making it the place to go if avoiding gringos is your thing.

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Sleep

Most of the inexpensive hotels in Medellín are located in El Centro. It's a vibrant area during the daytime, but at night it becomes a dangerous "warzone" of the worst of Colombia. I.e. homeless junkies lighting up crack pipes in front of police, prostitutes, aggressive beggars that will follow you, robbers and junkies looking for targets, people going crazy on crack, etc. Unless you're a thug yourself, this is really not a place you want to go out at night. No joke.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes are easy to find in any city or town. Expect rates to run about $1,250-2,500 (around $US 0.50-1.00) per hour, depending on how much competition there is (i.e., cheap in Bogotá, expensive in the middle of nowhere). Quality of connections varies enormous and tends to better in populated places and tourist areas. Wifi is getting more and more popular in some hotels, restaurants and bars, but don't count on it and be careful regarding your privacy.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Colombia is: 57. To make an international call from Colombia, the code is: 005.

Using your own phone and SIM card is expensive so if you are planning to do quite a few calls, buy a phone or just a SIM card. It's simple enough to get a SIM card and even an unlocked phone at the international airport in Bogotá, although there is, of course, a price hike. They're not hard to find in any city either, just ask your hotel or hostel staff where to go. Topping up is also easy, and can be done pretty much on any street corner. The carriers you'll most likely see are Claro, Tigo, and Movistar. Claro is the most expensive (by a little bit), but has the widest coverage in the country, if you expect to get off the beaten path.

Post

4-72 is the unusual name of Colombia's postal service. They have post offices throughout the country, which are open usually from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturday mornings as well. That doesn't apply to all offices though, only the larger ones in the big cities. But for example along the Caribbean coast, offices tend to close between noon and 2:00pm. But even at the ones that are officially open all day long, it might be difficult to get anything done during those hours. For domestic services, sending letters and postcards is mostly reliable but takes days, for international services don't hold your breath. Eventually, a postcard or letter might arrive in the country of destination but it's almost not worth it. For parcels, you are better off using companies like FedEx, TNT, DHL or UPS.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 6.25129
  • Longitude: -75.575974

Accommodation in Medellin

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This is version 36. Last edited at 12:58 on Feb 22, 18 by Utrecht. 10 articles link to this page.

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