What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Medellín, Colombia? Right. I am afraid that it has something to do with white powder. That is probably the result of the popular Netflix series Narcos. However, when driving towards this beautiful city I was soon to be overwhelmed by its size (it – is – HUGE) and the hundreds of modern skyscrapers. Add to this that it is situated in the Aburrá valley, nestled in the foothills of the Central Cordillera, and you get a wonderful, dynamic Colombian city. Put this city on your wish-to-visit-soon list. Let me tell you what you cannot miss. The best part: it is low budget!
FREE WALKING TOUR IN DOWNTOWN MEDELLÍN
Costs: Tip for the guideWhen literally every fellow backpacker you meet tells you about this amazing free walking tour, you must be out of your mind to ignore it. At least, that is what we thought. That is why we looked up the website of Real City Tours Medellín, for a free walking tour on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday. However, joining this tour is not that easy since it is really popular. Please note the following facts (and remember them!):
There are no free walking tours on Sunday nor Monday!(Monday is a public holiday)
You can sign up for the free walking tour 1.5 day in advance from 6:15 PMThe tour is extremely popular, so set your alarm. Want to book for Thursday, go online on Tuesday at 6.15 PM. Got it?
There are Morning Tours and Afternoon Tours from Monday till Friday
8:54 AM at Poblado Metro Station or 9:14 at Alpujarra Metro Station
2:19 PM at Alpujarra Metro Station
There is a Saturday Morning Tour
Leaves from Alpujarra Metro Station at 9:49 AM
The tour takes about 4 hours
The tour doesn’t focus mainly on the drug-cartel history!It is really nice to learn that there is way more that makes Medellín such an interesting city.
Unfortunately, we were already too late to sign up for tours on Friday and Saturday. On top of that, we didn’t know there was no tour on Sunday nor Monday (I guess travelers only remember what to do, and not what conditions apply to the tour).No panic! After we checked in at our hostel on Thursday afternoon at 12:30 PM, we quickly bought some lunch and went to Alpujarra Metro Station. We got there around 1:50 PM. At 2:00 PM Daniela and her colleagues showed up in their red t-shirts. She was so kind to put us on the waiting list.After waiting for about 30 minutes, we got great news: we were in!The walk led us to and through historic squares, buildings and parks. The personal stories of Juan made it an extremely good and eye opening tour. Definitely a must do, and the good news: it is based on tips, so you can decide what to pay for it.
RIDE THE METROCABLE UP TO LA AURORA OR PARQUE ARVÍ
Costs: $2.300 COP ($0.75) for a one-way metro ticket $5.000 COP ($1.65) extra if you want to go to Parque ArvíSince Medellín is spread out on foothills and also partially in the hills of the Central Cordillera, you can imagine you can get a great view once you incline. The easiest and most fun way to do so: take the Metrocable. The gondola liftis a must to see the city from a bird's eye perspective. It is a complementary transportation service to the Metro, and the good news: changing to the cable-car is free!You only pay once for your Metro ride. A very low budget option. In this way, it gives the people living in the poorest comunas up the mountain a cheap and easy way to reach other parts of the city. In peak hour they even line up for 45 minutes to take the Metrocable! We took the Metrocable to La Aurora.In order to get to La Aurora we took the Metro to San Javier and changed to the gondola (Línea J) there. Since it was raining we didn’t get out to check this barrio, but just enjoyed the beautiful view and some nice conversations with locals in our gondola. Friends told us that Parque Arvíis also worth a trip. If you are tired of the city, go there for some beautiful nature. You will have to go to Línea K (Santo Domingo) and change for Línea L (ticket costs $5.000 COP). It will take you about 30 minutes to get there.
WALK ONE OF THE MAIN STREETS ON CAR-FREE SUNDAY MORNINGS
Costs: FREEI love the concept of Ciclovía. This means that every Sunday morning and public holiday from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM a lot of main streets in Bogotá, Cali and Medellín are car-free. As a result you can walk, skate, cycle or run on highways that are usually packed with cars. Only walking the streets already puts a smile upon your face. On top of this, you canjoin one of the many (free) yoga or aerobics classes. You can find them in certain parks or on squares in front of the big commercial shopping centers. Along the way you also find refreshment areas, with free water to clean up, and a lot of food and drink stalls.It is the perfect start of your Sunday.
GO ON WILD-LIFE SAFARI IN JARDÍN BOTÁNICO
Costs:Entrance is FREE$2.300 COP ($0.75) for a one-way metro ticketNext to Metrostation Estadio you can find Jardín Botánico de Medellín Joaquín Antonio Uribe. This botanical garden makes you easily forget that you are in the heart of a city with almost 2.5 million people. The park is not extremely big (about 14 hectares), but full of big trees and a lot of green. It is large enough to find a nice spot to relax.We went on our very own wild-life safari here and found a couple of iguanas (look up in the trees), tens of turtles, many beautiful butterflies (there is a butterfly garden), a lot of birds and also a lot of cats. Unfortunately, in spite of our efforts, we didn’t spot the sloth.There are some nice cafes in the park for a good lunch. Also good to know: every Sunday there is free yoga for beginners at 10:00 AM (bring your own mat and/or towel, and be prepared: it is in Spanish and she talks pretty fast).
VISIT THE COLORFUL COMUNA 13 BARRIO
Costs: Entrance is FREE$2.300 COP ($0.75) for a one-way metro ticket$1.050 COP ($0.35) for a one-way bus ticket to Escaleras EléctricasComuna 13 used to be one of the most notorious neighborhoods of Medellín.Since it is situated close to the San Juan highway, it was a good location for the storage and transportation of for example drugs, money and guns. Not only drug dealers, but also guerrilla and paramilitary were active in the overpopulated area. However, the citizens were getting tired of years and years full of violence and fear, and from 2002 and on they started to turn the tide. How? By art. With a lot of hip-hop music and graffiti as a result. Comuna 13 changes slowly and it is still a very poor district, but it is absolutely worth it to visit this colorful barrio. Local people are very welcoming and they are very curious to hear your story.The trip to Comuna 13 is easy and we didn’t feel unsafe. Take the Metro to San Javier ($2.300 COP). There you can visit the library (it is a nice pit stop with a garden and some grafiti) or immediately take bus 228 ($1.050 COP). Ask for the Escaleras Eléctricas. You can walk there as well, it is about 1 kilometer. If you took the bus, you get dropped off on a cross-road. After walking straight for about 200 meters, you will find the orange roofed outdoor escalatorthat leads you all the way up in the barrio. Every platform offers beautiful graffitti walls, some art galleries and nice street food. On the highest platform you have a great view on the city. This is a great way to explore the real Medellín.It was definitely one of our highlights!