Comuna 13 is a “favela” type of settlement that developed along one of Medellin’s mountains and that up until 2004 suffered from big issues of violence provoked by different armed groups and gangs which formed in response to the insecurity ambiance that the country lived during the 1950’s and 60’s. With a 180° degree turn, nowadays this place, that used to be one of Colombia’s most dangerous locations, is blooming with street artists and tourism and has become one of the most popular spots to visit in Medellin. How did they achieve this you may ask? Well, it was a long and bloody process in which people living there got tired of the violence and insecurity of their neighborhood; this linked to the government’s decision to bet on its people and help them out in the development of basic services and instead of just doing that, they went overboard and by the people’s choice, a system of electric stairs divided in 6 sections was built to open up public spaces and to help the population of Comuna 13 with their mobility up and down the hill. This, along with the commitment of the people to make a true lasting change, has had a deep positive change, completely transforming the quality of life of the people living in the area.
To visit Comuna 13, we booked a graffiti tour around Comuna 13 on the app Free Tour. If you decide to take this tour you will get a local guide from the Comuna who will show you around and explain everything you need to know. The payment at the end of the tour is based on tips. The website offers two schedules one at 10 am and another at 2 pm in English or in Spanish. We did it in Spanish as it was a smaller group. The approximate duration of the tour is 2.5 hours.
Located next to El Poblado, this is the neighborhood with the bohemian, hipster and artistic mood. You can easily get there walking and explore around by foot as well. We went there looking for a recommendation to eat, which at the end didn’t convince us, so we went to the restaurant just next to it, Verdeo, where we had a great lunch. Keep reading until you get to the “where to eat” part of this article to get all the details of this must-try venue.
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín
We got there walking from Manilla after our lunch. The museum is situated in a neighborhood where lots of events are starting to happen and that the locals love. The area is not really charming but it is on its way to becoming a hype spot in the city. The museum has a wonderful architecture and a cool cafeteria where you can have a snack or your dose of caffeine. Inside, the experience of the museum will really depend on the exhibitions they have on display at the time, for us it was not our favorite place to enjoy art.
El Poblado is the trendy area in Medellin at the moment. It’s a modern and charming spot to spend some time, visit the green parks, and drink a coffee or a cocktail; you can’t miss this place if you want to experience the party scene and nightlife of the city. Also, if you happen to be fed up with the typical Colombian food, this will be your safe haven, showing off the best international food scene in the country, you will find meals for all types and from every corner in the world for sure. See our recommended addresses below.
We started the day early wanting to explore the city center. We took the metro from Poblado to Parque Berrio. If you get down at this station, you will find the main attraction of the center: Plaza Botero, that features 23 of the overweight sculptures made by the artist. It is really cool to see them in real size and animal lovers don’t miss to spot the fat cat or the chubby dog.
There is also the Museo de Antioquia, which showcases the artists and the history of the region, but we chose not go. Apart from that, there is not much to do. We walked to Plaza Bolivar, but we don’t really advise to go there, as this area is more dodgy, with homeless and prostitutes filling the streets and at the end there is nothing special about it.
Metrocable + Parque Arví
We quickly walked back to the metro station to take the train in the direction of Acevedo, the station where people can make the transfer to jump in the line K of the metrocable (cable car). Just the metrocable by itself is one of main things to do in Medellin, an aerial tramway inside a city! It was built to connect the people from the higher suburbs with the metro system and the other public services of transportation to give them the opportunity to commute to their jobs.
Apart from that informational capsule, this line of cable car is the one we needed to take to arrive to Arvì park. Line K will pass through several stations and will finish its trip at Santo Domingo station. From here you have to change to a special Metrocable that is not included in your metro fare and that only works to get you to the park and back. For this trip you will pay around 11000 COP / person for the round trip. This last cable car to go to Parque Arví takes a longer time and it transports you over the canopy of the forest, the views and the trip are very enjoyable. The park itself is a wonderful natural location to escape the noise and the agitation of Medellin; it offers a lot of activities such as trekking, biking, or canoeing where you can easily spend an entire day. We decided to do just a small hike and have a juice before taking the metrocable back to the city.
In the afternoon we chose to hang around the old neighborhood of Laureles (metro Estadio) which takes that name because of its proximity to the Atanasio Girardot football stadium. The area around here is very popular and is a very well known place to go out at night to dance salsa. That day specifically a match was held at the stadium, featuring the local team of Atletico Nacional, so it was packed with the team’s fans wearing their jersey waiting for the time of the match.
We found a French cafe where we had lunch and afterwards we took a bus to Parque de las Luces, a famous plaza in front of the city’s public library and other iconic buildings. We entered the library and went up to the terrace to have a nice view of the city and the mountains.
The last day we decided to do a day trip outside of Medellin and went to the town of Guatape, which is only a 1.5 hour bus away from the city. This town is a very charming place, full of color and activities to do around; you can see our photo essay of our day in Guatape here. Some people stay here to sleep, but for us it was better to start early, spend the day there and come back to Medellin in the afternoon.
How to go to Guatape ?
Go to Terminal Norte, get there by metro, you will need to get down in Caribe station, the bus terminal is connected by bridge, it is really easy to get there. There are two good companies that will take you there. We took the bus with Sotrapeñol at 6:55 am. The cost was 13 000 COP / person one way and you arrive in less than two hours.
What to do in Guatape ?
We decided to get off the bus at El Peñol (a huge rock that is the main attraction in Guatape) first and climb up the 750 stairs of the monolite, it is difficult, but totally worth it, you will be rewarded with an amazing 360° view of the lakes around. The cost of going up is 16 000 COP/ person. The Peñol is 4 km away from the town of Guatape, you can walk it but after the infinite staircase to go up the rock we decided to take a tuk tuk to get there (10 000 COP for the journey and you can fit 3 persons inside the tuk tuk to divide the cost).
In Guatape, there is not much to do, except hang around the city, chill and admire the vivid colors. We found a nice Indian restaurant to eat, offering only vegetarian meals (which is not so common in small towns in Colombia).
We came back on the 2:30 pm bus and spent the evening relaxing in Medellin.
How to move inside Medellin ?
Use the metro of course ! It’s very reliable, safe, and clean; it’s not underground, it’s outside, so you can still see the city on each trip you take. A one way trip anywhere will cost you 2400 COP / person this also includes transfers to the metrocable lines.
Where to sleep ?
El Poblado is your best option, there are hostels or hotels for all the budgets and it’s pretty much the place to be in Medellin. We were around Astorga in a quiet street at a walking distance from the most popular and animated streets in El Poblado. Lots of people choose to sleep in the hostels around Lleras Park, but be advised it can be noisy around here because it’s where all the bars and discotheques are located.
If you have less time in Medellin
Go to Comuna 13, take the metrocable, have a nice meal or coffee in Poblano.
Chef Burger – Presumably the best burger in town
Bao Bei – Amazing steamed buns filled up with a blast of Asian flavors. Vegetarian options available.
Where to have a coffee ?
> Pergamino – Big coffee place serving a delicious espresso,
you will find lots of young people working from their computers
> Al alma – Just around the corner in the street of our hostel,
the decoration of the place is cool and the breakfasts are great
> Café cliché – French owned, this place has a great mood and good coffee,
they offer a nice selections of drinks and cocktails as well
Where to have a drink / to party ?
> Gin Palace for great crafted cocktails
> Around Lleras park for big discotheque party, this is less our style but a good option to consider
> Carretera 35, you will find more hipster venues and cool bars to hang out