Due to its location between the mountains and situated at an ideal altitude, Medellin is also called the city of spring, with generally pleasant temperatures. But it is also the city of transformation. For years, the city was controlled by the drug cartel and regime led by Pablo Escobar. The city suffered from violence and criminal rule and people lived in fear. When the cartel fell apart after the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993, the city was able to start rebuilding again. Slowly the city changed and from an unsafe place, Medellin has been transformed into a popular city of many tourists. What is there to do in Medelling? How and where can you best experience the transformation of the city? And how do you get there and back?
The district and the place of transformation is the district Comuna 13. Medellin is divided into several districts and each district has its name (and number). Comuna 13 is a neighborhood where many opportunities have arisen in recent years, where especially young people are given many opportunities to develop. The neighborhood starts immediately when you arrive by metro at San Javier station. But the residential area is often not the part that is referred to when people talk about Comuna 13. Just before the neighborhood starts up the hills, the core of the neighborhood starts. Here are schools, universities, (dance) academies, libraries and there is room for expression in the form of murals, graffiti and street performances.
You can go to Comuna 13 yourself and take in the atmosphere, but it is recommended to join a tour. A well-known free walking tour is that of Zippy tours, but there are also several paid tours that can be booked. A tip for the guide (especially with the free tours) is recommended. The advantage of going on a tour is that you learn more about the history of the neighborhood and city, you get to hear the stories behind the murals, learn why graffiti exists and you get to hear about the possibilities for the young people in the neighborhood . Also, the tours are often given by local people, and often also people who grew up in the neighborhood. They know what they are talking about and the money you give goes to a good place. By going with a guide you really experience the neighborhood, because you get personal performances and people show the beautiful places of the neighborhood. Each tour is often a little different, but the core is the same.
The Zippy tour is held daily, twice a day, at 10am and 2pm. You have to sign up online, which can be done via their social media or WhatsApp. The tours often last about 3 hours and end in Comuna 13.
Medellin isn’t just Comuna 13. There are more neighborhoods and ways to get to know the city. A much-used free walking city tour is the tour of Real City Tours. With that, you will walk through the center of the city and learn more about the history of Medellin in general and hear stories about the time when the city lived under the authority of Pablo Escobar. You register online via social media or WhatsApp (number can be found online) and the tours can be followed twice a day, at 9.30 am and 2.15 pm. The tour starts at Alpujarra metro station.
Other city tours include exploring the city by bike, looking for graffiti and murals, trying different kinds of street food or visiting multiple markets to taste many fruits. Some tours are paid, others are free (with a tip for the guide recommended).
Medellin is also known for its cable cars. The cable cars are not built as a fun attraction, the cause is a bit more complicated. Even after the disintegration of the Pablo Escobar cartel, the city and parts of it remained under the leadership of (drug) gangs. Organizations such as the FARC arose to rebel against the military and government. Mainly the poorer neighborhoods, built against the mountains on the sides of Medellin, were targeted by the gangs. In order to get in and out of the city, people were forced to pay the gangs. When the mayor of the city heard about this, he decided to build cable cars in 2004 to make it easier for people to get in and out of the city. The mayor initially received little support for his plan, but persevered. And later the formula turned out to be a success. While the cable cars are still used daily by local people, tourists also find the cable cars a great way to explore the city. And that’s right, from the cable cars and the stations, you have a beautiful view of the city.
The cable cars are located in the north of Medellin and are part of the metro system (see photo below, under ‘How do you get there and back?’). Several funiculars have been built, but the best known are Lines K and J from metro station Acevedo. Line J goes up west and Line K goes up east. Line K is the line most people take and goes from Acevedo station to finally Santo Domingo station (with 2 intermediate stations and takes about 20 minutes). It is recommended that you stay in the cabin until you reach Santo Domingo. Here you can change to Line L if you want to continue your journey to Park Arví (see below). Leaving the stations in these neighborhoods is not always safe. You can therefore just sit there until you are back at Acevedo. If you already came by metro and transfer to the funicular, you don’t have to pay for that anymore, otherwise you pay 2,900 pesos/€0.70 for a ride (get off at a station, you pay again later) .
Park Arví is a large natural park located in the mountains, east of Medellin. The park has many well-maintained hiking trails and you can really escape the city for a while. It is a bit unclear whether or not you have to pay for the park. If you want a guide you pay at least 40,000 pesos/€10 per person. You can also reach the hiking trails without paying. The park is a nice quiet place, but it is advisable to go there if you still have enough time that day for a nice walk.
You arrive in Park Arvi by cable car. First, take Line K (cable car) from Acevedo metro station. If you already came by metro you don’t have to pay anymore, otherwise you pay 2,900 pesos/€0.70 for the ride (one way). At Santo Domingo metro station, change to Line L. This line is a direct line to Park Arví and costs 11,500 pesos/€2.80 (one way). You go over beautiful green landscapes and the ride takes about 30 minutes. If you only want the cable car experience, you can also choose to go with Line L and not get off. Then you only pay 1x 11,500 pesos to Park Arví and back to Santo Domingo.
To really get a taste of the city’s atmosphere, you can go to a football match. Medellin has two football teams, namely Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín. They both play football in the same Atanasio Girardot football stadium. So it depends on when you are there, which team is playing. The matches can be found online and you also know which team is playing when.
You can join a tour to a football match. Several hostels and tour operators offer tours. You pay about $36 per person, which includes transport, guidance, your ticket and facial decoration. You can also go yourself. How to buy tickets for the football teams in Medellin? If you want to go to an Independiente Medellín match, you can buy your tickets via the DIM app. This is the football team application. If you go to an Atlético Nacional game, you can buy your tickets in a ‘Tienda Verde’, those are the Nike stores. Not all Nike stores sell tickets, so search specifically for ‘Tienda Verde’. In the store you have to register with Atlético Nacional. This goes online and the staff in the store are very helpful if you can’t figure it out. For registration you have to fill in your ‘cedula’, which is a personal number that all Colombians have. Since these are just numbers, our passport number doesn’t work. However, you can, for example, use the 8 numbers of your phone number. If you are registered you can buy the tickets. Prices start at 25,000 pesos/€6.25 and go up to 100,000 pesos/€25. The prices depend on the place in the stadium. The cheap tickets are on the occident side, without a roof. Would you like to sit dry under the roof (oriente) then you pay 100,000 pesos. The hard core of the teams is in section Sur. Tickets for that are almost impossible to get.
It is good to know that you should never show/scan your ticket/QR code before the official entrance. Also avoid buying tickets at the stadium on the night itself. Most of the tickets are invalid. In addition, it is forbidden to bring alcoholic drinks, this is also not sold in the station (only alcohol-free) and that it is checked at your seat.
About 2 hours drive from Medellín is the colorful little village of Guatapé. It is not only known for the colors, but mainly for the large rock that is located slightly outside the town: Piedra del Peñol. A nice destination for at least 1 day that is easy to travel from Medellín. Do you want to know more about Guatapé and what you can do there? Then read on here.
How do you get there and back?
Medellín has two major bus stations, Terminal del Norte and Terminal del Sur. Depending on your destination, you will depart from one of these bus stations. If you come from further afield such as Cartagena or Bogotá, you will arrive at Terminal del Norte. For example, if you want to go to Guatapé, you leave and arrive at Terminal del Sur.
Medellín is the only city in Colombia to have a metro system. It is not an extensive metro system and the trains also only run above ground, but using the metro you often move from A to B faster than with a taxi or bus. You can see the metro lines on the map below. You can buy tickets for the metro at the counter or at the machine. Tickets cost 2,900 pesos/€0.70 per ride, regardless of how long your trip is. Once you get out of the station, your ticket is no longer valid. You can also buy a metro card (at the machine). This is rechargeable and often saves you a lot of time if you have to stand in line to buy a ticket. The metro card costs 6,000 pesos/€1.50 once and can then be recharged at both the machine and the counter. If you travel together, you can also use the metro card together, by taking turns scanning it.
There are many taxis in Medellín. It’s a very easy way to get from A to B. Many taxi applications also work in Medellín such as Uber, Didi or Beat. But the ‘regular’ yellow taxis also work well. It is always advisable to agree on a price in advance with these taxis. There are almost no metered taxis, and if they have one, a fixed price in advance is often cheaper. Do you want to know more about the different taxi applications and which one is the best to use? Then read the article about transport in Colombia.