Essential Guide to Medellín

With the temperature sitting pretty around 75 degrees at all times, walking around Medellín is pure pleasure. To get a deeper understanding of the history of and life in Colombia, don’t miss the Museo Casa de la Memoria, which recounts Colombia’s brutal civil war. After, head to the Parque de los Pies Descalzos, where you get to kick off your shoes and, like all the other kids and adults, run through fountains. For a stellar view, hop a Metrocable car to the neighborhood of Santo Domingo.

Cl. 73 #51d-14, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Medellín’s botanical garden is a 35-acre oasis of green amid the bustling city. Stroll through lush tropical vegetation, towering trees, and flowering bushes to a quiet, picturesque pond amid the gardens. Or peek into a butterfly farm, a maze, and an orchid exhibit beneath an arbor. The gardens are a public space for all sorts of activities like yoga, martial-arts classes, and outdoor movie screenings; a farmers’ market for organic goods takes place the first Sunday of every month. The park is also home to one of Medellín’s best restaurants, In Situ, which in addition to its normal gourmet fare sells lunchtime picnic baskets—complete with red-and-white-checkered blankets and a bottle of wine—to enjoy on the garden grounds.
Carabobo, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
At the center of Medellín, Plaza Botero gets its name from Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who donated 23 of his much-loved, disproportionate-bodied bronze sculptures to the city. There’s a huge chubby head, a reclining woman, and an oddly small man with a bowler hat riding a horse, plus good old Adam and Eve. The Museo de Antioquia abuts the plaza and houses other pieces by Botero as well as works by other artists. By day the square is vibrant and lively, but do take appropriate precautions after dark.
Medellín’s urban renewal, following decades as one of the world’s murder capitals, has drawn international attention. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the revival more than the Metrocable, a system of cable cars that connect the city center to steep hillside neighborhoods that were once reckoned to be the city’s most dangerous. Grab a ride on Line K up to Santo Domingo and treat yourself to spectacular views. Once on the ground again, take a short wander around the neighborhood for a taste of the real Medellín and its friendly residents (known as Paisas), and see the small shops and the beautiful library whose original benefactor was the government of Spain. From Santo Domingo, another cable car continues to Parque Arví, an expansive nature reserve and weekend escape favored by overheated locals.
Cl. 10 #25-18, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
The Parque Lleras neighborhood is the throbbing heart of Medellín nightlife. The namesake park is tiny, but its surrounding blocks are packed with bars, restaurants, and clubs, many featuring terraces. Wherever you choose to go, it’s usually a high-energy, loud affair with thumping music and fruity cocktails. The area is ground zero for Medellín’s young, hip partyers, out to be seen; weekend dancing rarely ends before sunup.
Parque Bicentenario, Cl. 51 #36-66, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
This sobering museum reminds visitors that Colombia’s beauty, natural and otherwise, has often coexisted with civil war and its brutal violence. Galleries present stories and images as well as survivor, victim, and ex-combatant testimonies. Many artists have contributed portrayals of the war—but perhaps the experience with the strongest emotional impact at the museum is simply watching the videos in which victims of the violence tell their stories.
Cra. 12 #9-70, Santa Fé de Antioquia, Santafé de Antioquia, Antioquia, Colombia
Located about an hour from Medellín, Santa Fe merits a detour for its lovely, well-preserved colonial architecture. The town was Antioquia province’s capital before Medellín, from 1584 until 1826, and time seems to have stopped here amid cobblestoned streets and whitewashed structures. Horseback tours lead to nearby waterfalls and the Cauca River.
Cra. 58 #42-125, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
The name of this park, which alludes to going barefoot, is both description and invitation. Take off your shoes and tread among nature’s sublime textures in the park’s sandpits, Zen garden, fountains, and leafy grasses. You’ll also find a bamboo forest and an interactive science museum, but the biggest attraction is people-watching: children splashing in fountains, teens pitching woo, everyone soaking up the sun. A guided (barefoot) park tour offers insight into its history as part of a citywide renovation program.
Cra. 53 #7375, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
The four huge red cubes set amid the verdant mountains around Medellín will seize your attention and pique your curiosity—they are pavilions that architect Alejandro Echeverri designed to house Parque Explora, a science museum that is rather a monumental toy itself. The goal was to strike a proper balance between wonder and learning—and to avoid at all costs the sort of place that quickly grows obsolete. The result offers a nice sort of carnival or market feeling in its wide-open spaces. Inside, the pavilions, aquarium, planetarium, and cool science and tech exhibits keep both wee ones and grown-ups entertained and awed.
Cl. 71, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
This two-auditorium space—with adjacent performance venues—is a lot more than simply a place to catch great concerts. Part of Parque de los Deseos and constructed opposite the city’s planetarium, it emerged from a citizen initiative meant to reanimate Medellín’s social and cultural life. The idea is to foment learning and create awareness about various musical disciplines. It offers a number of free musical and dance training programs; children’s orchestras from underserved neighborhoods also present memorable open-air recitals here. Casa de la Música is one part of an equation that, little by little, has allowed life to improve in complex and marvelous Medellín.
Carrera 40 # 10A-22, Medellín, El Poblado, Colombia
Whether you are celebrating a special occasion or just for a spontaneous night of indulgence: Medellin is blessed with romantic dining spots. El Cielo, just opposite Parque Lleras, is as well-known throughout Latin America as its creator Juan Manuel Barrientos—a young chef synonymous with creating unforgettable experimental cuisine. Dishes are separated into ‘moments’ and are all created by his team of chefs and designers in his food lab. Diners can choose from either 10 or 15 ‘moments.’ Each dish has a lifespan of three months, after which it is replaced by a new, vastly different dish. Meanwhile Carmen, located a few blocks away, offers not only high-end, diverse cuisine but also a seductive interior and some extraordinary cocktails.
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