The image of Medellín has suffered internationally from stories of the drug cartels and Pablo Escobar. Not too long ago, it was the most dangerous city in the entire world and completely off limits to tourism.
The city is still trying to move past the violence and negative publicity but things have changed dramatically. When I visited, I saw a relatively safe, innovative, and modern city with welcoming residents, great food, and incredible nightlife. There are many places to visit in Medellín, but there are still several areas that tourists should stay away from.
Medellín has a beautiful setting in a valley surrounded by green mountains. High rises built up into the hills tower over the city. There are good museums and beautiful new plazas with public art installations. Medellín springs to life with the annual Feria de las Flores, a spectacular celebration of flowers.
Getting to Medellín is easy. There are several flights into both airports, José María Córdova International Airport, which serves domestic and international routes to the US, Spain, Peru, Ecuador, and Panama, and Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport which serves regional flights. The international airport is a good 45 minutes from the city center while the regional one is right in the city.
Hostal El Hangar
If you need a place to stay near the international airport, Hostal El Hangar is a great option. It’s just 1km from the airport and offers free shuttle service, making it an excellent choice for late night arrivals or if you have an early morning departure. There are private rooms and dorms with a restaurant on site. My room was clean and comfortable, and the staff was able to accommodate me for an after midnight arrival. In addition to the hotel, there’s a restaurant on site and long term parking for the airport.
There are two bus terminals in Medellín, both connected by a bus between them if necessary. Terminal del Norte and Terminal del Sur. Terminal del Norte serves the Caribbean cities to the north and Bogotá along with the popular tourist attraction El Peñol and towns such as Guatapé and Santa Fe de Antioquia. It’s connected to the metro system at the Caribe stop.
Terminal del Sur is located next to the regional airport and serves cities to the south such as Cali and Pereira, as well as some of the scenic villages in Antioquia south of Medellín, including Jardín and Jericó. It’s located near El Poblado but a taxi is necessary to get there. I took a bus from Pereira using Flota Occidental. It took about six hours with a half hour stop for lunch. The cost was COP$37,000. Other companies running from Pereira’s bus terminal are Empresa Arauca and Flota Ospina. If you can get on a Kia with Flota Ospina the ride will be much faster.
Getting around the city is very convenient with a modern, safe, and clean metro system. The Metroplús takes you pretty much near anything worth seeing in the city. An adult fare during my visit was COP$2,200. It was possible to buy a metro card with as many rides as you need or a single ride ticket. With the metro card, press the card to the sensor to enter the platform. On your last possible ride, the machine will beep and you insert the card into a slot to enter.
Cable cars (Metrocable) have also been installed as part of the transportation system to make things easier for its citizens. Line L is popular with tourists to visit Parque Arví for nature and stunning views of Medellín on the way up and down.
For shopping, I’ve visited two great malls in El Poblado. Centro Comercial Oviedo is very beautiful and has an outdoor portion. There is a good food court and cinema with some upscale shops and department stores. Centro Comercial Santafé is a bigger mall with tons of stores. It had an ice skating rink during our visit at Christmas.