My girlfriend visited me for a week in Medellín and I felt a great responsibility to maximize her vacation experience. She had come all the way from Germany to visit, so I made sure that she experienced Medellín in all its glory. I lived for four months in Medellín and I crammed all the touristy activities in one week because my main focus was work and I didn’t want to do the activities twice.
I did extensive research and wrote the perfect travel itinerary in advance. It was important for me to find a good mix of action, culture and nature. The only activity outside of Medellín is the day trip to Guatape. I slightly tweaked the original itinerary based on my experience.
Day 1: Arrival at José María Córdova International Airport
The easiest option to get to Medellín is to take one of the white airport taxis lined up in front of the airport. The white taxis are bigger and more comfortable than the small yellow taxis and the ride costs $24. There are also cheaper options like taking a bus or a shared taxi.
Day 2: Coffee Farm Tour
Colombia is known for its excellent coffee and coffee is still a central element of the economy. As a hardcore coffee drinker, I wanted to know more about the production process of the black gold. Most coffee farms are in the countryside of Medellín and you have to drive for a couple of hours to get there. I was delighted when I found out that there is also a coffee farm in Sabaneta. Urbania Café organizes the tour. They empower coffee farmers by helping them to produce higher quality coffee. I booked the Coffee – From the seed to the cup tour on Airbnb experiences. As the name suggests, the tour covers the whole process of coffee cultivation and production and it takes 4 hours.
You can take the Metro to La Estrella Metro station and take a taxi from there to the coffee farm. You can also walk from the station. An American woman was the only other person taking the tour. Our guide Julian explained the harvest, the post-harvest, the milling, the roasting, the sourcing and the different forms of coffee preparation. He also explained the coffee business and the coffee market. We finished the tour with a coffee tasting.
$33 + Metro/taxi fare
Day 3: Walking Tour Comuna 13 and Paragliding in San Felix
Comuna San Javier better known as Comuna 13 is one of sixteen districts in Medellín. When tourists talk about Comuna 13, they usually mean the small area around the outdoor escalators on the hills. Once considered the most dangerous neighborhood of Medellín it is now a major tourist attraction because of its graffiti and its view over the city. There is plenty of security and police presence and I felt safe during the day. I recommend taking a free walking tour for a better understanding of the dark history of the district.
We did a free walking tour organized by Zippy Tour. We met at 10 AM in front of the San Javier Metro station and walked to the escalators with our local guide John. He talked about the history of Comuna 13, his personal story and the graffiti. We went to the viewpoint at the end of the escalators and our tour ended soon afterward. He suggested an appropriate tip and I recommend to be generous.
We wanted to go paragliding next, so we walked back to San Javier Metro station. We had booked a flight with paragliding medellín. They operate in San Felix just outside of Medellín and you have to take the Metrocable to get there. We took the Metrocable from San Javier Metro station to the last station called La Aurora. The Metrocable ride is an experience in itself. We had arranged a shuttle from La Aurora station with paragliding medellín. The owner Ruben aka “Ruben Fly” greeted us warmly and drove us in his van to his office. From there we had to walk up a steep hill to the launch site. The whole operation was very professional: We were insured and we had to sign a form and watch a safety video on an iPad.
It was my first time paragliding and I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out that paragliding is more relaxed than I thought. For the take-off, I had to run down the hill and we took off before reaching the abyss. The pilot did all the work and all I had to do was enjoy the view over Bello, a suburb of Medellín. My girlfriend and I had gotten walkie-talkies, so we chatted for a little bit. We circled up and down for 20 minutes and then we landed on the back side of the starting spot. I can’t imagine a better place for paragliding than the Andes. The experience was exciting and surreal at the same time. It’s like discovering a whole new world and it felt similar to scuba diving for the first time. We walked down to the office where Ruben drove us back to La Aurora Metro station. From there we took the Metrocable again. You don’t have to pay for a ride at San Javier Metro station because the Metro and the Metrocable belong to the same system.
Walking Tour tip $X + Paragliding $52 + Paragliding Shuttle $8 + Metro fare
Day 4: Memory House Museum, Botero Park, Jardín Botánico
Three sights might seem excessive for one day, but they are all in the same area and it’s easy to hail a taxi to get to the next one. You have to pay only the taxi fare because all three sights are free.
The Memory House Museum is dedicated to the victims of the armed conflict in Medellín. It’s a good place to get a better understanding of the different layers of the conflict and to learn about the perspective of the victims and their families. The Memory House Museum does a great job of explaining the timeline of the conflict in Medellín. I recommend starting with the Memory House Museum and doing more lighthearted activities afterward.
I was surprised that I didn’t see any tourists when we visited Botero Park. The center has a somewhat sketchy reputation, but during the day I felt safe. Botero Park is an outside park that displays 23 sculptures by Botero. I like his sculptures more than his paintings, so I enjoyed walking around and taking pictures. If you want to see a collection of his paintings you have to visit the Museum of Antioquia next to the park. After 30 minutes we took a taxi to Jardín Botánico.
I noticed people sitting on blankets on the grass in Jardin Botánico, which I hadn’t seen before in Medellín. In Europe, it’s common to see small groups of friends (mostly students) and families sitting on the grass and enjoying the sun in public parks. I didn’t sit down because the Iguanas caught my attention. After an hour of Iguana watching, we walked to the nearby Universidad metro station (Line A) and headed back home.
Day 5: Day Trip to Guatape
Guatape is most famous for its giant rock overlooking the surrounding lake scenery. The ride from Medellín to Guatape takes around 2 hours and therefore you should plan a whole day for the excursion. You can take a public bus or pay for a private shuttle to get there. Both options didn’t appeal to me, so I booked a guided bus tour with Tours Guatape. Normally, I am not a big fan of guided bus tours, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The tour was a bargain and cost $30. The biggest advantage is that you see more than just the rock. You also visit the towns Guatape, Marinilla and Peñol. Breakfast and lunch are also included in the price. My tour included a boat trip, but they have removed it from the program. A competitor called Viaje Medellín offers a Guatape tour with a boat trip for $45.
I recommend visiting Guatape during the week because the Rock of Guatapé is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Antioquia. A local family owns the rock and you have to pay an entrance fee of $6 to climb the stairs to the top. The view from the rock is well worth the $6 and a must for outdoor enthusiasts.
Guided Bus Tour $30 + Entrance fee $6
Day 6: Pablo Escobar Tour
The Pablo Escobar Tour is the only controversial item on the itinerary and I can understand people who feel uneasy about the current glorification of Pablo Escobar. I have to cringe at the thought of a group of clueless American and European backpackers doing a sensationalist Pablo Escobar Tour and buying a Pablo Escobar t-shirt afterward. But Pablo Escobar is also part of Medellíns history and you have to understand the past to understand the massive transformation of Medellín. I recommend visiting the Memory House Museum before to understand the negative consequences of his actions. It’s a balancing act and I was careful to choose a legitimate guide.
I booked the Pablo Escobar, the complete true story tour on Airbnb Experiences. The guide Camila was friendly and knowledgeable. The tour took three hours and had three stops: the Monaco building in Medellín, the cathedral jail in Envigado and his grave in Itagüí. The Monaco building was recently demolished to make room for a memorial. My highlight was the visit to the cathedral jail, which Pablo Escobar build for himself. The prison overlooked the city and had a helipad. The last stop was Escobar’s cemetery in Itagüí. I felt a bit uncomfortable about visiting the grave of a mass murderer. The grave itself wasn’t interesting, but the graveyard was impressive. It’s a large meadow with a beautiful view.
My girlfriend and I were the only ones taking the tour. The tour included a driver who picked us up at our apartment in the morning and dropped us of afterward. Camila presented us with different viewpoints about events so that we could get a better picture of the conflict. The American perspective is different from the Colombian one. And the narco perspective is different from the perspective of the government.
Day 7: Departure at José María Córdova International Airport
The most convenient option is to order a white taxi for the ride back to the airport. You can buy souvenirs like Colombian coffee and mugs at the small Juan Valdez Café inside the Airport.
If you don’t like an item of the itinerary you can replace it with one of the following items:
Cerro de Las Tres Cruces: A moderate hike with a great view of the city. Don’t go late in the day to avoid getting robbed.
Ciclovia: Avenida Poblado closes between 7 am and 1 pm every Sunday and opens for cyclists, runners and the general public.
Museo de Antioquia: The most renowned museum in Medellín with a large Botero section.
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín: Underrated museum for modern art.
Parque Arví: A popular nature preserve accessible by Metrocable.
Pueblito Paisa: A small replica town on Cerro Nutibara. The view from Cerro Nutibara is more impressive than the town.
Check out Catalyst Weekly if you want to find out about events during your stay.
Most people stay either in Laureles or in Poblado and I have written a comparison of both neighborhoods on Quora. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment during the week. Our apartment was on the 16th floor and had an incredible view. Our building was right next to Calle 70 in Laureles. A similar apartment in Europe or the States would have been out of reach for us. In the afternoons, we strolled around Medellín and I showed my girlfriend my favorite cafés (Café Naturalia, Café Revolución 2 and Café Zeppelin) and restaurants (Naan, Opera Pizza and Uno más Uno) in Laureles.
I researched the current prices carefully, but they can change slightly based on exchange rate fluctuations and price changes. The prices have already gone up since I did the activities last year. Medellín is still great value for money and I recommend to spend at least a week to get a feel for the city.
It’s tempting to cram as many activities and cities as possible into your itinerary to maximize your experience, but fast travel comes at the expense of depth. In particular, Americans tend to travel fast. I think it’s because they have less vacation than Europeans and therefore they want to make the most of their limited time. I tried to find a balance between action and relaxation. The itinerary has two full-day activities (Comuna 13/Guatape + Paragliding) and three more relaxed half-day activities. Now you know everything you need to know about traveling to Medellín for one week.
The rest is up to you,