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A Complete Guide to Medellín: Is it Safe?

Medellín is it safe
View from Comuna 13, Medellín

Once the world’s most dangerous city, Medellín has undergone a massive transformation and is now a hotspot for ex-pats and tourists. The city has a lot to offer from outstanding nightlife and international food to impactful barrio tours and museums. It’s famous for its beautiful women and if you mention Medellín to any man in the country, this is most likely the first thing they’ll tell you. On top of all this, I was pleasantly surprised by how safe Medellín felt.

Medellín has fantastic weather and the lush hills make it one of the most picturesque cities in South America. The vibe is more upbeat here compared to Bogotá, and I feel that Medellín encapsulates the transition that Colombia is going through.

The more developed neighborhoods of El Poblado and Laureles are full of trendy cafes, bars, and restaurants. Take a trip to the city center and you’ll see a different picture where drugs and homelessness are prevalent. Many of the barrios in the hills were once considered some of the most dangerous in South America. But, with the help of community leaders and the city government, the living standards have greatly improved. 

Related: 15 Things to Know Before Visiting Colombia

Staying Safe in Medellín

Medellín felt fairly safe compared to other cities in Colombia. The city center is the only frequented neighborhood to avoid at night. Unsurprisingly, most stories of robbery in Medellín involve a late night of clubbing.

Don’t make the mistake of walking around late at night, even in El Poblado. Uber and Didi operate in Medellín and both are safe and cheap. On a night out a money belt is a good choice because pickpockets are not uncommon.

Related: The 12 Best Things to Do in Cali, Colombia

What to Do

Barrio Transformation Tour – This incredible tour takes you to an overcrowded barrio built on top of a landfill. The guide, along with a community leader, tells the history of the barrio and how the living conditions have improved over the last 15 years. Real City Tours offers the tour for 90,000 Colombian pesos (COP). A part of the fee goes to the social improvement project for the barrio.

is medellín safe

Memory House Museum – A museum sharing stories of how the political and drug violence affected all walks of life. There are lots of videos from the news and first-hand accounts that are worth watching. The entrance is free and it’s closed on Mondays.

Comuna 13 Tour – Comuna 13 was the most dangerous barrio in Medellín in the early 2000s. In the following years, the city government invested in education and infrastructure to make it a symbol of the new Medellín. Here, you will see incredible street art and performances from local dance groups. I went with Zippy Tours, whose guides grew up in the comuna which made it an unforgettable experience. 

Comuna 13
Comuna 13 from below

Day trip to Guatapé – Visiting this colorful town is a must when you come to Medellín. Guatapé is 2 hours away and it’s a popular weekend getaway for Antioquians. The 694-step climb to the top of El Peñón is worth the struggle for the spectacular views of the lake. I highly recommend spending a night here if you have the time. 

Guatapé, Colombia
View from El Peñón

Parque Arví – Take the cable car to the park from Santo Domingo Station for the views of the city and hiking trails at the top. The trails range from 2 km to 20 km and you can hire a guide if you’d like. The cable car costs 10,600 COP each way and it’s closed on Mondays.

On your way back to the city, take a few minutes to walk down the main road of barrio Santo Domingo. Here, you’ll get a glimpse of how densely populated the hillside neighborhoods can be. To reach Parque Arví from the San Antonio metro station, take the A-line to Acevedo, then the K-cable car to Santo Domingo, then the cable car to Parque Arví. 

Medellín Cable car
View from the cable car

Antioquia Museum – A museum featuring local artists Fernando Botero and Pedro Nel Gomez. While you are in Colombia, seeing Botero’s art is a must. He’s known for greatly exaggerating figures to make everyone look fat. Even if you aren’t into art it will bring a smile to your face.

The entrance is 21,000 COP, and the museum also has a large collection of modern art and photography. If you’re only interested in Botero’s art, Bogotá has an outstanding Botero Museum with free entry.  

Death of Pablo Escobar
Death of Pablo Escobar by Fernando Botero

Hill of the Three Crosses – It’s safe to say that this steep 30-minute hike rewards you with some of the best views in Medellín. It’s not very accessible by public transport, but you can take an Uber to Colegio Padre Manyanet which is near the trail. 

Free walking tour – A walking tour is the best way to learn the history of the city and get tips from a local. Real City Tours gives a fantastic tour that tells stories about the impact of drug violence in Medellín and how the people are moving forward. 

Related: A Complete Guide to Villa de Leyva, Colombia

National Palace Mall – The former Palace of Justice is now a mall selling all sorts of things. You’ll find fresh juice, counterfeit designer goods, movies, and clothes made at factories down the road.

Go to a soccer match – Medellín has two of the country’s most successful teams, Independiente Medellín and Atlético Nacional. The atmosphere inside the stadium is incredible and tickets are as cheap as 30,000 COP. You can’t buy tickets online unless you have a Colombian bank account, but you can buy them at the stadium or official club tiendas around town. 

Paragliding – Although Medellín isn’t full of adventure activities like the town of San Gil, you can still get your adrenaline fix. A 20-minute flight over the city costs about 130,000 COP. 

Plaza Minorista José María Villa – Colombia has many delicious exotic fruits like lulo and mangostino. The Plaza Minorista market is full of stalls selling exotic fruit where you can do some tasting. Agencies sell tours to visit here, but it’s easy and cheap to do on your own by taking the metro or taxi.  

Pueblito Paisa – Walk 15 minutes up to this viewpoint with a replica of what a vintage Antioquian town looks like. The replica town is a bit tacky, but there are great views from up there. 

Museo El Castillo – A 1930s gothic castle where local elites resided in the past. It has a garden with nice views of the city and hourly tours in Spanish only. This is not something I’d recommend going out of the way to see, but if you are in the area it’s worth a visit. The entrance is 18,000 COP.

Related: A Complete Guide to the Lost City Trek

Where to Eat

Hacienda Junin– One of the most well-known traditional Colombian restaurants in Medellín. It gets pretty busy for lunch, so expect to wait for a table. 

Medellín is it safe
Bandeja Paisa at Hacienda Junin

Restaurante Mondongo’s – A restaurant so beloved by Colombians that a location in Miami was opened at the request of the large Colombian population there. Their famous mondongo soup is a huge portion of pork, potato, avocado, rice, aji, coriander, banana, and an arepa. They have locations in both El Poblado and Laureles.  

Zacatecas – If you need a break from Colombian food, Zacatecas undoubtedly has the best tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico. 

Crepes & Waffles – I was skeptical of this place even after getting a recommendation from a Colombian. I expected it to be your run-of-the-mill breakfast and dessert crepes, but it turned out to be quite the experience. The crepes here are delicious and range from Thai curry to cochinita pibil. 

Cafe Velvet – Along with Pergamino, this is one of the most popular cafes in El Poblado.

Empanadas Envigadeñas – A corner shop near the National Palace Mall with regional paisa empanadas. 

Nuovo Fiore Heladería Italiana – An ice cream shop with a very friendly owner offering marijuana-infused flavors.

Related: A Complete Guide to Visiting Jardín, Colombia

Where to Stay

The vast majority of tourists stay in El Poblado, which is very gringo-ish, but it has some of the best nightlife in South America. Laureles is a safe neighborhood with fewer hostels but a more authentic Medellín experience. Plus, there are plenty of bars and clubs on Laureles’ La 70. If you spend a week in Medellín, I recommend staying in both neighborhoods. 

Los Patios – Rightfully advertised as Medellín’s best hostel, their rooftop is the place to be if you’re looking to party. They also have a Spanish school and salsa dancing classes. Additionally, the amenities are fantastic for a hostel.

Purple Monkey – A hostel boasting a nice rooftop bar, but with a more relaxed vibe than Los Patios. It’s a solid choice if you want the option of a night out or a good night of sleep. 

The Wandering Paisa – Located in Laureles, this is one of the cheapest options in Medellín. They organize fun social events like language exchanges, salsa classes, and karaoke. 

How Long to Stay

I spent 6 days in Medellín and I had no problem keeping myself busy. I recommend at least 4 days to get a feel for the city, have a night out, and see the top attractions. It’s a safe bet that you’ll meet more than a few people studying Spanish or working remotely who stay in Medellín for weeks or months.

Where to Next

Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!

Guatapé (2 hours by bus) – The most colorful town in Colombia is also home to one of its top attractions, El Peñón.

Jardín (5 hours) – A laidback, authentic town with great coffee and short hikes.

Salento (7 hours) – A charming town in the coffee axis with the best day hike in the country and a tejo bar.

Cali (10 hours) – The world capital of salsa dancing is famous for its salsa schools and raucous nightlife.

Cartagena (16 hours) – A coastal city with an immaculately preserved old town and unique costeña culture.

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