Medellin has an enticing energy that extends beyond its city limits. Before I even reached the edge of the city, I was already being pulled in by the strength of its magnetism.
There’s a unique kind of aliveness in Medellin; a spirit that you find in a cities that have come out of a struggle and are determined to redefine themselves on their own terms. Out of all the big cities I visited in Colombia, Medellin was easily my favorite. Here’s why I liked it so much:
The Openness and Sense of Community
There’s a refreshing realness about Medellin. As a tourist, you don’t feel like anyone is bending over backwards to make you like the city, but that if you want to get inside the local community, you can find your way in. Public places like parks, public transportation stations, and busy sidewalks had a warmth that felt akin to Mexico City — subtle, genuine, and enticing.
Medellin has a large population of people from the heavily Afro-Colombian Chocó Department on the Pacific Coast. There, like in Cartagena and most places I visited in Colombia, many people thought I was Colombian. But regardless, my interactions were always friendly in Medellin. It was a relief after my Cartagena experience. Locals would often engage in casual small talk with me, and when they learned I wasn’t from there, they’d continue to be pleasant and ask me about my travels and my thoughts on Colombia. People were helpful and it was easy to have conversations with locals.
Efficient and Easy to Use Public Transportation
I’m not the best at figuring out foreign public transportation systems, but I had the Medellin Metro system down in a day. It’s incredibly straightforward and easy to use. One ticket costs 1800 Colombian pesos (about 1 US dollar) and it will take you anywhere you want to go until you exit a station. You can even use the same ticket to ride the cable car lines where you’ll get wonderful views of the city.
It costs extra money to ride the cable car to the mountain-top Arvi Park, and unless you have the time to visit the large park, it’s not necessary to take this line. I did it because I didn’t know any better at the time, but I enjoyed it because I made some new travel friends while riding it.
Tip: If you know you’ll be riding the Metro multiple times, it’s wise to buy extra tickets in advance. During rush hour, the ticket queues can get pretty long and you can avoid them if you already have extra tickets on hand.
Equality- and Social Justice-Driven Innovation
While a lot of the world is still caught up on the city’s recent traumatic history, Medellin is rapidly moving forward, making impressive and deliberately inclusive changes. I rode the cable cars for the views, but thousands of residents ride them daily to get to and from their homes in the poor barrios that climb up the steep hillsides on the outskirts of Medellin. The cable cars provide residents of these communities with quick access to the center of the city where the bulk of the jobs are, and overall, they make the city feel like a more connected place.
Another thing you’ll notice in Medellin are the architecture and public art projects purposely placed in marginalized areas. In Santo Domingo, one of the hillside barrios, you’ll find Parque Biblioteca España, a large public library with an award-winning design that puts an emphasis on providing a variety of services for the local community. At Plaza de Cisneros, there’s Parque de la Luz, a light installation comprised of 300 columns that are illuminated at night. Walking through here, you can see that this area is still depressed and somewhat dangerous, but this square that was once a heavily crime-ridden no-go is now home to unique public art and the Department of Education.
While it’s clear that Medellin still has long way to go, it’s inspiring to see a city that isn’t shoving out the poor or leaving people behind, but building bridges between formerly isolated groups and creatively tackling the issues head-on to create a more equal society.
Eternal Spring Weather
When you travel through equatorial, mountainous Colombia for length of time, you’ll find yourself on a roller coaster of too hot and too cold weather. Medellin is just right. You’re closer to the equator than the hot and steamy Cartagena, but you’re at just right altitude for it to be a pleasant temperature year round. It’s easy to live life outside in Medellin and I enjoyed that.
Great Food Options
The one thing everyone recommends eating in Medellin is the Bandeja Paisa, so I tried it. While I thought it was perfectly fine, it didn’t offer new flavors and it seemed that its main appeal is that it’s impossibly big. There is much more to the city’s food offerings than a huge plate of food, however, and there’s a fledgling culinary scene in Medellin.
I often ate tasty empanadas from street food vendors and tried various typical meals at casual restaurants in the neighborhood I was staying in, but I did venture over to El Poblado for some fancier eats. One day I was roaming around El Poblado at lunch time and I came across a street that was full of different types of restaurants packed with fancy business people having lunch. I opted for Peruvian food at Pisco y Marisco and ended up with this incredibly delicious lunch of ceviche and seasoned seafood rice.
I arrived in Medellin in time for end of the week revelry and it lived up to its reputation as a great party city. I stayed at a very friendly hostel in Laureles where I met some travelers in the know, so I have them to thank for ending up at some very fun establishments — a brewery that throws tasting parties with live music, a rooftop lounge, and dance club that was randomly inside a mall where I learned a local dance from a group ladies who were having a girls’ night out. While we mainly went out in El Poblado, being out in Laureles at night was also a lively experience. Our Metro stop was next to the stadium, so when there were games, the sidewalks were full of a dynamic concoction of street vendors and enthusiastic soccer fans.