- Take a free walking tour. This is a fantastic introduction to Medellin because you walk through most of the best known sights in the city, and the guide will provide an overview of the complex history of Medellin. Many visitors will associate Medellin with the drug cartel headed by infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. While Escobar had an unmistakable mark on the city, there are many more reasons why Medellin has risen and established itself as “the most innovative city in the world” according to the Wall Street Journal in 2013. The tour guides from Real City Tours (http://www.realcitytours.com/), which we highly recommend, help explain this transformation in the context of history.
- Stroll through the Plaza de Botero. Experience the unique vision of artist Fernando Botero in this square, home to twenty-three bronze sculptures exemplifying his style of exaggerated proportions. See more statues and Botero painted works, as well as pieces from artists throughout the region, at the Museum of Antioquia on one side of the square. Admission to the museum is $5.
- Tuck into a bandeja paisa. This huge local dish (“bandeja” translates to “platter”), lives up to its name. The dish typically contains grilled beef, chorizo, blood sausage, chicharron (pork cracklins), rice topped with an egg, beans, arepa (local starch similar to a thick corn tortilla), fried plantain and often served with a thick soup to start. You can find this dish both in the tourist areas as well as small “almuerzo” or lunch spots throughout the city. Cost varies from about $6 – $12 US. Not to be missed!
- Ride the Metro and the Cable Cars. See most of the city and experience some of the best views from a public transportation system in the world. Construction began on the metro system in the 1990s during the midst of drug and political struggles, and for many Colombians is a symbol of hope and resilience. The public pride is evidenced by the lack of graffiti and overall cleanliness of the cars. The unique cable car section of the metro was constructed in order to connect those citizens living in the hilly, more remote and less affluent areas of the city with the inner community. You can ride the cable cars above old barrios in order to reach some tourist destinations, potentially sharing your ride with children coming home from school or mothers carrying home groceries. It is a testament to both the city’s past and its future. All that and some great views of the city, all for about 2 bucks.
- Take in the sights around Arvi Park. The park is located at the top of K line of the cable car system. The fifteen minute journey takes you high above the city, through a pine forest leading to an ecological preserve with hiking trails and vendors selling all sorts of local goodies. You can find woven hats and scarves, handmade jewelry along with fruits, empanadas, sandwiches and fresh fruit juice at the many small markets on the top. Vendors will call out “a la orden” translating to “at your service” good naturedly as you stroll along.
- Get your move on in the Ciclovia. Like many South American cities, Medellin closes off some of its streets several times a week in order to allow its citizens to ride, bike, jog or stroll – traffic free. Since Medellin is surrounded by mountains (described as bowl shaped), having a nice flat area to exercise is welcome. It can get crowded, as Paisas (as the Medellin people are referred to) embrace all sorts of sports activities. See a list of locations and times here: http://www.medellin.gov.co/transito/ciclovia.html
- Take a side trip to Guatape. This pueblo about a 1½ hour bus ride from the city is well worth the trip. The buildings are brightly colored and dotted with outdoor parrillas grilling up steak, fish and chicken. There is a large lake area where you can take a tour of the area while sipping on a michelada (beer mixed with fresh lime juice in a salt-rimmed glass). You can take a tuk-tuk from the town to the main attraction – the Piedra de Penol (rock of Guatape). This monolith has a 659 cement stairway to the top where you will be rewarded with stunning views of the area. From Medellin, grab a bus (they run hourly) at the North Station off of the Caribe Metro Stop.
- Commune with nature at the botanical park. After making your way through the crowded streets of downtown Medellin, the 40 acre Jardin Botanico de Medellin near the University is a welcome oasis. You can feed ducks by the pond, wander around in the tropical forest area or view a variety of butterflies at the mariposa exhibit. Best of all it’s free.
- Indulge in a hilltop BBQ with a view. Each night several outdoor picnic spots come alive at El Mirador De Los Palmas. Sample some amazing local BBQ while taking in stunning views of the evening lights of Medellin below. Lots of families along with local young couples enjoying the romantic scenery and drinking a local favorite “chocolatico” – a hot drink similar to hot chocolate. The local patrons will add in a dollop of soft salty melted cheese to the chocolate drink. A steak dinner with arepa covered in melted cheese, side salad and a little grilled chorizo to top it off costs about $4 US.
- Try paragliding in San Felix. Medellin is known for this particular sport. There are several outfits that will give both the novice and experienced paragliders a ride not to forget. Many families spend a lazy day in San Felix enjoying a picnic and sipping the favorite local spirit, aguardiente (licorice flavored “fire water”). There are several tour operators that will help you step off the steep slope and float your way down for about $45 US.
- Take a hike in Parque El Salado. The park is located in the Envigado area, about 7 miles outside of Medellin. It has several hiking trails lined with streams and natural swimming holes. Families flock here on the weekend to swim and BBQ. You can purchase a picnic party pack here consisting of large kettle and the makings for the famous Colombian stew, sanchoco, featuring chicken, corn, potatoes, yucca and other assorted vegetables.
Written by Jennifer Evans (http://www.venturists.net)