The ultimate backpackers guide to Medellín, Colombia
I’ve never fallen for a place the way I fell for Medellín. There’s something magical about it. Medellín has everything you could need in a city. Lively streets, loads of food options, banging nightlife, easy public transport and cheap prices. But the people in Medellín, and Colombia as a whole, are truly exceptional. The locals are always welcoming and willing to help you and they’re kind when you’re practising Spanish.
This blog will help you have the best time experiencing this wonderful city with information on accommodation and areas to stay, tasty restaurants and cafes, the best nightlife, things to do, how to get around and other hot tips cause I’m nice like that.
Areas to stay
There are a couple of areas in Medellín, generally referred to as Barrios, I’d recommend staying in, depending on what you want. I spent most of my time across El Poblado and Laureles and loved both for different reasons. Medellín is a large city so I’m only giving you three options because I find it overwhelming when people give me too many, like when you go to a restaurant and there are 10 billion tasty choices and you get paralysed with fear about eggs.
El Poblado is the most popular barrio for backpackers. This area of the city is massive, safe and has everything you could ever need. It’s where I’d recommend you stay. You’ll constantly be in the heart of the action, within walking distance to some of the best coffee in the world, amazing breakfast options, unreal nightlife, great accommodation and lively streets. You’ll also have easy access to supermarkets, laundries, gyms, and any other life admin you need. As El Poblado is the most touristic area, it’s also the most expensive, although compared to other parts of the world, it’s still affordable.
Quick note, if you want a super local experience, El Poblado isn’t the place. It’s largely filled with backpackers and digital nomads who have moved to the area for a cheap and good lifestyle, but that’s also what makes it a blast. There is an awesome community vibe and loads to do, I loved it.
If you want a slightly more local, chill vibe, Laureles is the place for you. It’s about a 20 minute Uber ride from El Poblado and is far less busy. It’s another safe area, with many cute cafe options, supermarkets and nightlife, but you’ll be among the locals. There’s a big strip of bars where you can have a fun night out in Laureles and it’s far cheaper than El Poblado. I loved my stay here and it was a great place to slow down and have a routine for a while. If you’re into football, Laureles is where the stadium is too!
Envigado is in the south of Medellín and is far more local than Laureles and El Poblado. You can still get to cafes, restaurants and public transport but overall, it’s a suburban area where many locals live. It’s definitely the cheapest option of the three and you’ll get a ‘real’ Medellín experience staying here.
The best hostels
I bounced around the popular hostels and these are my favourites, all offering something different to suit every traveller. If you don’t want to stay in hostels, I met quite a few travellers who stayed in AirBnBs in a private room with locals or expats. This seemed like a more authentic way to see the city and when I go back to Medellín it’s something I’ll be doing. Definitely worth looking into if you’re on a budget, want a local experience or simply can’t be assed sleeping in a dorm with 10 other fuckers who cough and snore.
Los Patios Hostel
Los Patios has it all and is my top choice for hostels in Medellín. It’s spread across two buildings, a three minute walk from each other, so you get muchos facilities. The location is banging, you literally walk out the door to an abundance of food options, bars, cafés and nightclubs nearby. The staff are friendly and they organise activities for you to meet people every day and night. One building has a rooftop pool and a gym and the other has a cute rooftop bar with sweet views of the city, table tennis and a pool table. The beds are comfy as hell with curtains, shelves and USB sockets and the showers are lovely. Los Patios also has TWO amazing kitchens to cook in with free coffee and they give you a free towel!
Black Sheep Hostel
Black Sheep is a close second to Los Patios, for very different reasons. This hostel is the ultimate party hostel. You can bring drinks in, get up to no good rather freely and everyone sits at one big table having a great old time. If you want to make friends, have some white coffee and party, don’t bother going anywhere else. The facilities are rather basic compared to other hostels and the location is an Uber away from nightlife, but the kiwi owner and his Colombian wife know how to bring people together. There’s no food or bar on site but they sell cheap beers and there is a kitchen, making it a cheaper option than other hostels.
A little note, I think it’s good to stay here for max three nights. After a while, the constant turnover of people partying, coming in and out of rooms, sleeping in the dorms through the day when you want to make noise and the general hangover party vibe of the place gets a bit much. There’s not many comfy areas to chill when you’re hungover either, only three hammocks and some hard chairs. Not the best when you’re hanging out your ass. I’d stay here for a couple of nights, make friends, come back to party and then sleep in a nicer hostels in a better location.
Viajero has amazing facilities, including dark, cosy box beds, great showers, free fluffy towels and nice staff. There is an amazing coworking space too, big comfy couches, a ping pong table and a fancy rooftop with hot tubs. It’s also in a fab location, right near Los Patios so you can bounce around the hostels. I did find it a little harder to make friends here but if you already have mates around, it’s an awesome option.
Rango Boutique Hostel
Rango is a lovely hostel in Medellín. The building backs onto the river and park so you can hear nature while you sip a yum coffee. The beds are luxuriously comfortable, the showers are bougie with a rainwater head and the rooftop is banging with a cute pool. You also get free towels here (can you tell I love a free towel). There’s no kitchen though and it can be hard to meet people. It felt more like a hotel to me but sometimes that’s just what you need.
Masaya Hostel is a well designed, bougie hostel with, you guessed it, a great rooftop and pool. Like most of the other hostels in Medellin, Masaya has amazing facilities. They have a nice restaurant and cafe space on the lower level and they have a giant pool table for socialising. It’s yet another fantastic option. It can be a bit hard to meet people here too but again, an incredible hostel with incredible facilities!
Top 10 things to do
1. Visit Comuna 13, Pablo’s Escobar’s old drug running neighbourhood
Do a Zippy Walking Tour through the neighbourhood that was once the most dangerous Comuna in Medellín. It’s since been turned around by the local community to be an awesome tourist attraction full of incredible art and culture.
3. Paraglide and take in the city views
I didn’t do this but it’s super cheap and looks unreal!
4. Ride the cable cars
Go to the nearest train station and ask for a return ticket for the cable cars and have a lovely time taking in the gigantic, mountainous city. The people at the ticket booths are friendly and helpful if you don’t speak Spanish.
5. Visit Parque Arvi
Parque Arvi is a remarkable nature reserve nestled amongst the tallest mountains in Medellín. You can simply wander around and take it in, visit the butterfly sanctuary and the insect museum or you can hike the mountain range. It’s a wholesome day out. To get there you need to ride the cable cars up, two birds one stone!
6. Watch a football match
The football fans in Medellín are proper loko and hang off the railings, constantly chanting and doing bumps in the crowd, it’s a fun and awesome experience even if you don’t like football!
Hot tip for getting tickets: Going to a match with a tour gives you transport to and from the game, but it’s about four times the price of a normal ticket. If you speak Spanish, go to the front of the stadium and buy from a local there. It shouldn’t cost more than 70,000 Pesos ($22 AUD). The ticket sellers have to take you through the gate with your ticket so you won’t get scammed. Ask where you’ll be seated though, as some parts of the stadium are more dangerous and you want to be in the family/tourist section.
7. Do a walking tour of downtown Medellín
Downtown Medellín is an interesting place, with a couple of cool museums and cheap markets. The best walking tour to learn more about the history of Medellín and Pablo Escobar is BeyondColombia.
7. Visit the Santefé shopping mall
This five storey shopping mall is one of the largest in South America and you can shop and eat your heart out, totally blowing your budget. Plus, you can bring DOGS into the mall, there are even pet hooks in the changing rooms!
8. Hit up Gringo Tuesdays
Every Tuesday, gringos and locals gather for a language exchange and fun night out, aptly called Gringo Tuesdays. It kicks off at 4pm and you can party with locals and travellers well into the night, it’s an absolute blast.
9. Visit the modern art museum
Got some cool art, pretty self explanatory.
10. Just chill the hell out and enjoy this crazy fun city
Go out and party, wander the streets, find some cool thrift stores, taste some yum food, drink delicious coffee, chill in the amazing hostels. Chillin’ is an activity, you know.
The best bars
There are 100s of great bars and I’m sure you’ll discover more on your own but here are my faves. They’re all in El Poblado, because that’s where the best nightlife is in my humble opinion.
Tiendas: In Colombia, it’s common to drink from Tiendas (shops in Español). You buy your drinks in a small tienda and sit out on the street in plastic chairs and have a bloody good time. The drinks are SO cheap and it’s an entertaining, local experience. You’ll see this everywhere in Laureles too!
Berlin Bar 1930: A fun, dingey little bar resembling something of a German bar, filled with pool tables, candles and good music, this was one of my favourite places!
La Octava: This local bar has a huge ball pit you can dive into after a couple of bevvies and there’s an exciting DJ to dance the night away.
Carrera 43B: A charming street turned into a strip of bars with a tienda where you can sip cheap drinks, chat shit and listen to music.
The Store of La 9-43DD: This rad little bar doesn’t have a formal name but you can find the Google maps link here. It’s a tiny place where you can dance, listen to local music and have cheap as hell drinks. I had five beers here and it was 26,000 pesos (under $8 AUD).
Jimar Factory, pool bar: If you want to challenge your mates to pool or darts, head here. You have to pay to use the tables but they’re the best tables I’ve ever played on and the drinks are cheap.
Los Patios, Masaya and Viajero Hostel rooftop bars: These social rooftop bars are a great way to meet people while sipping a cocktail and taking in fabulous views of the city.
The best nightclubs
Salon Amador, El Poblado: My favourite of the nightclubs. Salon Amador has frequent resident advisor DJs, smashing house, techno and techno-house tunes and it’s a fucking sick time. Cover charge can be a little exxy, but well worth it!
Vintrash, El Poblado: Vintrash is the bomb.com. It has three storeys with different music playing on each and a sweet DJ on the rooftop.
La House Provenza, El Poblado: La House is right next to Vintrash so you can bounce between them, they’re both a good night out and have different events on for each day of the week.
Casa de Luna, Las Palmas (North Medellín): This place is open until 8 am so you can imagine the gremlins frequenting this club (me). You need to get an Uber there and there are three dance floors with house, techno and reggaeton music. One dance floor is outside so you can question your existence when the sun comes up and you’re still partying.
The best restaurants
El Altar Taqueria, El Poblado: The best tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico, right next to Los Patios
Alambique, El Poblado: Tasty food on a rooftop above an art gallery
Mamasita, El Poblado: Modern local cuisine on share plates
El Pielon Guarceno, El Poblado: Cheap, large and amazing meals of the day
Dim Sum Records, EL Poblado: Yum Asian food
Hello, Burgers and Beer, El Poblado: Burgers obviously
Philly’s, El Poblado: American style philly cheesesteak sandwiches
Mondongo’s, El Poblado: Traditional Colombian food
La Pampa, El Poblado/Laureles: Argentinean food, bit exxy but awfully delicious
Empanadas Boomerang, Laureles: Honestly the best empanadas you’ll eat in Colombia
Piccolo Pizza, Laureles: Delicious thin crust pizza
Taquería Cuernavaca, Laureles: More delicious tacos
The best cafes
Let me preface this list by saying 90% of the cafes in Medellín have AMAZING coffee, so I’m not writing it for each one, just assume the coffee will blow your mind (reason 435 to love Colombia).
Hija Mia, El Poblado: My absolute fave, owned by a kiwi. You can get a delicious breakfast (including a mean avo on toast) and coffee for under $12 AUD
Urbania Café, El Poblado: Chill vibes and a nice range of boutique coffee
YOLO, El Poblado: Attached to Los Patios Hostel and they do AMAZING sandwiches
Pergamino Café, El Poblado: Another gem with a fabulous range of breakfast and nice décor
Led Zeppelin Café, Laureles: As the name suggests it’s a little punk rock café with cheap tasty bagels
Semilla Café, Laureles: This is a coworking café but the breakfast is yum, it’s budget friendly and the staff are lovely. They always helped me with my Spanish too!
El Poblado is a walkable area and you can get to attractions, food options and nightlife on foot. Uber is also mad cheap across Medellín, I’m talking $3-5 for a 30 minute ride. Then, there’s the amazing metro system! The metro is safe, easy to use and the locals are friendly in helping you navigate it.
In terms of safety, I’d always get an Uber home if it’s late at night and you’re drunk. Most people were okay walking home in the busy areas, but if you’re staying at Black Sheep, don’t be a dickhead and just get a $2 Uber to stay safe. I cannot stand it when people whinge about getting robbed when they walked home drunk at 3am, discrediting a city’s awesomeness when it was their dumbass fault for putting themselves in that position.
Other very useful hot tips
– You can drink the water in Medellín! It’s another reason I loved this city after having to buy a million plastic bottles of water for five months. I have a sensitive stomach and I drank it all the time, so if I can, you can.
– If you need a special number for special deliveries to have a special time, give me a shout. I do not condone anything illegal though, that is wrong you filthy animal.
– For supermarkets, hit the WOW Exito supermarket. It’s a tremendous supermarket with a full food court, bars serving cocktails, mini beauty centre, big range of tasty produce, cocktails, clothes and more.
– Download Rappi. It’s like Uber eats but 100 times better. You can get groceries, pharmacy goods and any kind of cuisine you can dream of delivered super cheap. I used it way more than I care to admit but it’s so handy!
– If you’ve been travelling a while and need to do any life admin, Medellín is the place to do it. I saw an amazing dermatologist there for $60 AUD! You can get cheaper beauty products or treatments done (even high quality teeth whitening) so take advantage of it!
Fuck I love Medellín and I hope this helps you have the best bloody time there! If you have any questions, slide into my DMs.
Yours in enjoying the best city ever,