When I look back at what made me fall in love with backpacking, Medellin comes to mind. Colombia was the first country that I ever solo backpacked to, further amplifying the liveliness and chaos of this vibrant Latin American country. The excitement that Medellin offered a wide-eyed newbie traveler like me can’t be put to words. To this day, Medellin remains as one of my favorite cities in the world. Colombia is a special place, and while Bogota is the capital, the vibrant city of Medellin is arguably the heart and soul of Colombia. The colorful city of eternal spring nestled in the lush, rolling hills of Colombia will undoubtedly win your heart as it did many travelers before you.
I know backpackers tend to avoid big cities, but Medellin should be an exception. It’s an excellent city for backpackers, boasting a plethora of activities and a sizzling nightlife scene. Medellin is also as budget-friendly as it gets. For travelers on a budget, you can’t dream up a city better than Medellin. Solo travelers will find that it’s easy to make friends in this city, whether it’s with the friendly locals, other backpackers, or any of the expats that call Medellin home. I can gush on and on about Medellin, but let’s get to the important stuff.
How To Get to Medellin
As Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin is easy and affordable to get to. International flights to and from Medellin are often as cheap as they are to the capital city of Bogota. Copa Airlines is one of the major airlines that services Colombia and the rest of Latin America from the United States. You’ll likely have a layover in Panama City, but this flight will probably be the cheapest without sacrificing too much quality. I’ve seen that budget airlines like Spirit now fly to Colombia as well. May God grant you the bravery to fly internationally with Spirit Airlines, because I sure don’t have it.
If you’re already in Colombia, domestic flights within the country are usually very cheap. You don’t have to book these flights too far in advance either, so it’s possible to wing it and go with the flow.
Traveling overland in Colombia is an option, although I’d recommend flying if you can. The roads, especially during rainy season, can often be treacherous. I’m a big fan of night buses in other countries, but I’ve met a few people who have had bad experiences with night buses in Colombia. I haven’t personally taken a night bus myself, but I’ve heard of buses getting robbed by bandits and travelers being relieved of all their valuables. If you can fly, I’d recommend flying.
Where To Stay in Medellin
Medellin is a big city with many different neighborhoods. Choosing the right place to stay in Medellin can greatly improve your experience in the city. When people complain about not liking a city, I think it mostly comes down to not finding which neighborhood is right for you. Medellin is no different. If you’re a young backpacker looking to party, then maybe Envigado isn’t for you. Each neighborhood has its pros and cons, and it all comes down to choosing which one fits your style of travel the best.
For backpackers, you’ll likely be staying in El Poblado or Parque Lleras. If you’re planning on staying in Medellin for just a few short days, El Poblado is definitely sufficient. However, it is quite touristy and much pricier than the rest of Medellin. This is where the majority of hostels are, though, so I recommend getting your bearings in El Poblado before deciding whether you want to venture elsewhere in the city.
The nice thing about Medellin is how well-connected the city is thanks to its efficient and modern public transportation systems. The metro can take you pretty much anywhere, so even if you choose to stay in a quieter part of the city, you’re only a short ride away from all the action.
Here are a few hostels that I’d recommend for backpackers in Medellin. Once you’ve got your feet set in the El Poblado and Parque Lleras neighborhoods, feel free to explore what else Medellin has to offer.
Purple Monkey Hostel – El Poblado
Los Patios Hostel – El Poblado
Hostel Rango Boutique – Parque Lleras Neighborhood
Casa Kiwi Hostel – Parque Lleras Neighborhood
Black Sheep Hostel – El Poblado
Selina Medellin – Parque Lleras Neighborhood
As an affiliate of Hostelworld, I may receive a portion of your booking fee at no extra cost to you.
Things to Know Before Going to Medellin
Is Medellin Safe to Visit?
This is likely the biggest question people want to know before going to Medellin or Colombia. Although Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror ended decades ago, his hometown of Medellin is still suffering from his infamy. I never felt in danger in Medellin, but I always tend to err on the side of caution. Well, not really, but when my Spidey sense starts tingling, I’ll see myself out.
One thing I despise is other travel bloggers and YouTubers clickbaiting people into thinking that Medellin is still extremely dangerous. They’ll go to the (now) super touristy Comuna 13 and title it something along the lines of “wandering around South America’s most dangerous barrio” knowing damn well that it lost that title years and years ago. It perpetuates the idea that Colombia is still dangerous to visit, while simultaneously stroking their ego that they’re so brave and ~ unlike other travelers ~. Like sir, I roamed there alone before it became a tourist hotspot and the worst thing that happened to me was losing a pick-up game of soccer to a bunch of little kids.
Medellin, like any other big city in the world, is dangerous if you put yourself in sketchy situations. You can get pickpocketed or robbed in any city in the world. Keep your wits about you and you won’t have any more of a problem in Medellin than anywhere else. It never hurts to have good travel insurance handy while you’re out adventuring across the world, though. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month anywhere in the world.
Public Transportation in Medellin
Get yourself a public transportation card. Even if you’re staying for just a few days, you’ll get your money’s worth and save time on buying tickets every time you need to use the public transport system. Medellin has an amazing public transport system. From high speed trains, buses, to cable cars, you’ll want to take advantage if you want to explore as much of the city as possible.
Average Daily Budget for Medellin
Accommodation, food, public transportation, and activities all taken into account, you won’t need to spend more than $40 USD on any given day. If you’re traveling on a shoestring, you can easily halve that cost. By cooking your own meals, walking everywhere, and picking the cheapest hostel, you can honestly live off $10-15 per day. You can still find hostels for as cheap as $6 a night in parts of Medellin. Medellin has an abundance of free things to do, from museums, parks, and hikes. You won’t need to spend too much money to enjoy yourself while you’re here.
The Best Things To Do In Medellin
Medellin has a little bit of something for everyone. There are hikes outside of the city for the outdoorsy traveler. Medellin has museums and art galleries galore to browse. For the aimless wanderer, Medellin is paradise. Street art is everywhere, and there’s always something new to be discovered. Here are a few must-do things in Medellin.
Roam the Colorful Neighborhood of Comuna 13
Okay, back to that barrio that everyone goes to. Yes, Comuna 13 used to be one of South America’s most infamous neighborhoods during the peak of the cartel days. Now, it’s a vibrant neighborhood filled with street art and colorful murals. It’s a must-visit while you’re in Medellin for a number of reasons. The street art is a big draw, as are the bright orange escalators that have modernized this hilly barrio. The higher you go, the better the views, too. I visited back in 2016, and I was the only solo traveler there. I stuck within shouting distance of a guided tour group of three people, but didn’t have any issues then, so I can’t imagine you’d have any issues now that it’s become even more popular. If you’d prefer going with a local guide, there are some great Comuna 13 tours out there.
Go Paragliding Over Medellin and the Colombian Andes
This was my first time ever paragliding, and boy, was it an experience. The views you’ll get are nothing short of incredible. Taking to the skies is really the only way to really grasp the size, scope, and beauty of Medellin. It is a bit pricier than other activities, but if you want a bucket list experience, you can’t go wrong with paragliding over Medellin.
Glide Through the Skies on Medellin’s World-Class Cable Car System
If you want an aerial view of Medellin without shelling out the big bucks for a paragliding flight, simply take to the cable cars. I love cable cars as a mode of transportation. They are so much more fun and scenic than sitting in traffic for an hour. Los Angeles, take notes. Cable car systems have revolutionized South America’s cities, and Medellin is a shining example of that. Beyond just being a fun way to see the city, they’ve helped the traffic and congestion problem monumentally. If you feel like going for an aimless wander, just hop on the cable car and let it take you anywhere.
Visit the Colorful City of Guatape
An essential day trip for anyone visiting Medellin is to pop over to the village of Guatape. It is one of the most colorful places in the world. Instagrammers, eat your heart out. This popular tourist town is about 50 miles away from Medellin, and you can get here by bus or take a guided tour. The guided tours usually lump together a few different activities, including a visit to Pablo Escobar’s abandoned mansion nearby. It’s a good way to knock out a few things at once, but I remember the tour I did only allowed us less than an hour in Guatape town. If you prefer the freedom of exploring and taking pictures on your own time, then I recommend coming by bus.
Climb El Peñol (The Rock of Guatape)
No visit to Guatape is complete without climbing the massive monolith nearby. Known as El Peñon de Guatape, you’ll have to conquer a few hundred stairs to get to the top. 649 steps to be exact. The views up there? Worth it. You’ll get a stunning panoramic view of the lush, green landscapes intertwined with the sparkling manmade lake. I’m a simple man. I see big rock, I climb it. If you’re up for the challenge, make your way to the top.
Catch Some Views from Pueblito Paisa
This might just be the cutest place in Medellin. Nestled atop a hill overlooking the city, Pueblito Paisa is a tiny plaza popular among tourists and locals alike. To get here, head over to Cerro Nutibara and follow the road to the top. You can go by taxi or take the metro to Industriales station and hike up.
Experience the Cafe Culture of Colombia
Colombia is well-known for having some of the best coffee in the world. The cafe culture in Medellin and Colombia is one of the best in the world. You’ll have no shortage of coffee shops to choose from, which perhaps is a big reason why so many digital nomads and remote workers have started to flock to Medellin. Nurse that hangover and start your day with some freshly brewed Colombian coffee. Aside from cafe-hopping, you can also go on a coffee tasting tour which will take you outside of Medellin into the heart of coffee country.
Admire the Unique Works of Fernando Botero at Plaza Botero
Fernando Botero is one of Colombia’s most famous artists. Medellin takes huge pride in this artist who was born and raised in the city. His works are instantly recognizable by their… chubby statures. Plaza Botero in Antioquia is home to 23 of these sculptures. It’s surrounded by the Museum of Antioquia and the Palace of Culture, so you can knock out three of Medellin’s top attractions in one go.
Browse Through Parque Explora Science Museum
I’ll never forget this place because it’s the first time I ever saw an axolotl. Parque Explora is an interactive science museum, and pretty entertaining for people of all ages. It’s definitely targeted more towards kids, but hey, I’m young at heart. There’s a lot to see here, including South America’s largest freshwater aquarium. It’s a cool place to hang out, and easily accessible by public transportation.
Nightlife Guide to Medellin
Medellin is a lively city on any day of the week, but the city truly comes to life at night, especially on the weekends. Parque Lleras in El Poblado is where you’re guaranteed to find a good party on any given night. This is where I drank the brunt of my Aguilas in Medellin because most of the party hostels were located nearby. Minimizing the length of your drunk walk home? Sober me looking out for drunk me, ya feel? While El Poblado may be Gringo Central, it’s also home to some of the best parties night in and night out. The nice thing about El Poblado is the variety that it offers. If you’re the type to go wild like me, bumping and grinding to salsa music all night, you’ll find a salsateca for you. For those of you that prefer sipping on a beer with good conversation as a backdrop, you’ll find that, too.
Of course, Medellin is a big city and home to arguably the best nightlife in Colombia. There’s more than just Poblado and Parque Lleras. You will find parties all throughout Medellin. The other main nightlife hubs of Medellin are Barrio Colombia, La 33, La 70, and Las Palmas. While my fellow backpackers might prefer rooftop pub crawls and cheap drinks, the option to dress up and look fly is there, too. Treat yourself to a booming night out at a megaclub with Medellin’s finest people. Salsa and reggaeton are hugely popular in Medellin, but you’ll also find that this party city attracts world-class electronic and house DJs. There’s something for everyone in Medellin. Let Medellin’s nightlife take hold of you and go with the flow. You’ll have a good time, I guarantee it.
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