Practical Travel Tips: Medellin, Colombia.

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While we have been to Colombia, we have not yet visited Medellin. Colombia has improved a lot — so much so that the Wall St. Journal’s Marketing Services and Citi named Medellin the most innovative city of 2012. It is definitely on our to-visit list. Varud of Bicoastal Cooks, who last wrote about Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Lofoten Islands, Norway, Ushuaia, Argentina and Patagonia, Argentina is back with his practical travel tips.

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Embarrassingly enough, the first time I learned about Medellin was through the TV show Entourage’s story arc, where Vinnie starts working on a movie by the same name. To most people outside of the country, Medellin (and Colombia) is synonymous with drugs, violence, and Pablo Escobar. It was for that reason that visiting this country was initially out of my radar. But the more time I spent in South America, the more I met travellers who said that this country was a must-see. This country is working very hard to build anew from their bloody past and it’s easy to see that progress in the city of Medellin.

One of Botero’s pieces that can be found in Parque Botero, Medellin, Colombia - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

One of Botero’s pieces that can be found in Parque Botero, Medellin, Colombia – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

The Flight Deal already has an article that focuses on one of my favorite towns, Cartagena, in this country, so for this article we will be focusing on Medellin—a mix of modern, historic, and trendy culture.

Bandeja Paisa – a high caloric meal of meat, starches, and beans, a popular Colombian meal, Medellin, Colombia - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Bandeja Paisa – a high caloric meal of meat, starches, and beans; a popular Colombian meal, Medellin, Colombia – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Practicalities & Costs:

  • The exchange rate is favorable for foreigners and is one of the cheapest countries to travel in right now in South America—food (~$3 at markets and local spots, ~$8 for a sit-down dinner), public transportation (~$1), and activities are all reasonably priced [Editor’s Note – the exchange rate earlier this year was $1 USD = ~4,000 Colombian Pesos. It has stabilized now at around ~3,000 Colombian Pesos to $1 USD. Still a bargain.]
  • To get in from the airport, there are companies that offer a shuttle service (~$4) frequently from the terminals to a point roughly in the center of the city—there are then people waiting for you when you get off who will direct you to a cab in exchange for a tip.
  • Adding to these city-wide improvements are the reliable public Wi-Fi spot (no problems at my hostel or restaurant Wi-Fi) as well as tap water that is good for drinking.

Transportation:

  • This city is constantly improving and investing in itself with cultural areas and facilities. The metro system has won countless awards for being able to provide transportation options to a city with such a large population. I would recommend grabbing a “tourist card” for the metro, which will be used often to get around. The metro fares are the same unless you are also riding the tram to Parque Arvi, for which you would pay separately; if you are also riding a bus (I never had to during my visit), you can buy an “integrated” ticket, which will cover the cost of both at a slight discount. Lastly, the metro is really really busy during the work rush so I would avoid traveling during this time.
  • The system of ‘collectivos‘, or shared rides, isn’t as prominent in Medellin as other South American cities. So if not walking or taking the public transport, a taxi will probably be your best bet, which aren’t too expensive but it is still worth discussing your fare or ensuring the metered rate before hopping in [Editor’s Note: Uber is available in Medellin and is generally inexpensive].
Parque Explora and the surrounding area, Medellin, Colombia - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Parque Explora and the surrounding area, Medellin, Colombia – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Highlights:

  • Visiting Plaza Minorista is a great way to see a collection of South American and tropical fruits, such as dragon fruit, passion fruit, and custard apple
  • Eating at Mondongo’s, a restaurant popular with locals and tourists alike, is a great way to try some specialties, such as Ajiaco (a guasca or local herb-based soup) or Mondongo (a tripe-based stew)
  • Parque Explora is like an interactive Natural Science museum—I had a blast here despite being on my own here
  • If you are looking to escape the city, either head over to the Botanical Gardens or grab a ride on the tram up to Arvi Park
  • Parque Botero and Museo Antioquio are recommended for lovers of art
  • To truly understand the history of this city, go for a walk with Real City Tours (but first read the below)
  • For a night out in town, El Poblado and Parque Lleras are packed with clubs and bars

Safety:

This is the first article I am writing that includes a section on Safety and I want to say upfront that I hope my experience isn’t indicative of the true nature of this place. No one else I have spoken to, before or after my incident, shared a similar experience to mine:

I was mugged about halfway through my visit. As I was leaving my walking tour group at the plaza, a man put his arm around me, showed me a knife and asked me for valuables. In retrospect, I should have joined the tour group on the metro rather than walking alone. My only complaint is that the tour guide gave us the impression of safety in all the places we visited but unfortunately this was not the case for me.

So on the topic of safety, it is my recommendation that you:

  1. Base yourself in a local area like Prado, which is close to the Botanical Gardens and Parque Explora, or El Poblado–a trendier and more tourist-centric area.
  2. The warning for safety extends beyond the usual; just be careful and pay attention to your things to avoid being pick-pocketed. The city center of Medellin should probably be avoided, especially if alone and at night.
  3. Walk around the city during the day rather than the night.

About The Author:

Varud’s life is food–eating, reading, exploring, and creating. Voted Forbes 30 Under 30 for ‘Most Clueless Individuals’, he jumped ship from his management consultant lifestyle in October 2015 and embarked on a culinary journey to learn about cuisines around the world. His first book documented an experiment in Recipe Development (how to create and gain inspiration for original recipes) while his most recent novel narrates the journey of leaving the US to travel to Argentina and learn about Asado, or Argentine BBQ. Follow him on his blog, Bicoastal Cooks, instagram or Twitter.

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2 Responses to "Practical Travel Tips: Medellin, Colombia."

  1. Max G says:

    Medellin is awesome. People from Medellin, known as “Paisas”, tend to be more friendly than their counterparts from Bogota. Make sure to go to the sleepy town of Guatape about 2 hours from Medellin by bus, the view of the lake from top of the gigantic rock is well worth it.

    Reply
  2. Zach says:

    I just got back from Medellin for the second time. It is such a beautiful city and the people are very friendly. I much prefer Laureles to Poblado. A little less touristic but still very safe. I walked from the casino to my apartment at 12-3 A.M. regularly and went in and out of the ATMS with no problems at all. I look extremely white(because I am) but I also speak enough Spanish to have a conversation. If what is holding you back from going to Medellin is safety, please go. I concur that I would not advise for a gringo to be in Centro, especially at night.

    Reply

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