Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, Medellin was a byword for violence and drugs, a city with the highest murder rate in the world that most tourists wouldn’t think of venturing into. But a LOT has changed since the 1990s
There are many reasons that Medellin deserves a visit. The “City of Eternal Spring” (a very warm, June-like spring in my experience!) is beautiful, gritty, interesting, and diverse. Temperatures largely hover in the 70s and 80s year-round, and the city sits in a valley surrounded by green-covered Andes mountains. Since the tumultuous time of Pablo Escobar’s reign, the city has invested heavily in infrastructure, urban planning, architecture, and social services, working to connect the poor a reason Medellin’s outskirts to the main city.
And of course then there’s the reason we’re here—the coffee culture. Colombian coffee is world-famous, and Medellin has an abundance of riches when it comes to amazing coffeeshops and coffee farms nearby.
Consume Your Body Weight In Coffee
All the locals have their favorite, but one that most agree on is Pergamino, a charming cafe in Parque Lleras, within the El Poblado area. While Pergamino has several small outlets throughout the city (including in the airport), this is the one you want to visit. The variety and richness of the coffee at Pergamino means you could visit several days in a row and fall in love—and the simple pastry selection is pretty great too.
Another must-visit is Velvet Cafe, which offers delicious coffee and some heartier fare with an inside atrium that feels like an urban oasis. Velvet and Pergamino are both hotspots for the digital nomad community in Medellin.
If you’re wanting an amazing breakfast with your coffee, then Ganso y Castor should be your next stop. The coffee alone is worth a visit, but their breakfast is one of the best in Medellin, with perfect variations of eggs benedict, pancakes, and more.
Tour A Coffee Farm (Finca)
Now that you’ve sampled some of the best coffee in Medellin, it’s time to get out of the city to experience how it’s farmed and processed. There are many options for coffee farm tours, from a couple hours to a full day’s adventure. I chose to do a shorter visit combined with a few other day trip options.
Throughout the course of a couple hours, the soft-spoken farmer of Finca Rivera showed the way the coffee berries are harvested, processed, dried, roasted, and ground. It was a hands-on tour, with the chance to pick the berries and participate each step of the way. At the end you’ll have so much more insight and appreciation for your morning cup (or cups) of coffee.
Soak In Medellin’s Unique Culture
Now that you have your caffeine fix, it’s time to venture out into the city. Plaza de Botero has to be your first stop, featuring several pieces by Colombia’s most famous artist—Fernando Botero. Known for his voluptuous statues of people and animals, you can’t get to know Medellin without getting to know Botero. Wander through the plaza and take in some of his best-known pieces.
To get a small perspective on Medellin’s recent violent past, next head to Plaza de San Antonio. There isn’t a ton to see here except the exploded remains of a Botero bird statue. The statue was filled with dynamite and the resulting explosion before a big concert in 1995 killed 29 people and injured more than 200 more. This is an example of the anarchy and violence that the narcotraficantes (drugtraffickers) brought to their own people. Botero asked that the old statue remain and built a new one next to it, to symbolize the peace he wishes for Medellin.
Get A View From Above
One of Medellin’s greatest accomplishments is the network of cable cars that are part of the metro system, connecting the poorer slums up in the hills to the city below. It’s also one of the best (and cheapest) city tours in the world. On a sunny day, there’s no better way to see Medellin.
You can catch the cable cars by taking the metro toward Niquia, and then get off at the Acevedo stop to catch the cable car up to Santo Domingo. The signs are easy to follow once you’re headed in the right direction (you want Teleférico, which means cable car). Enjoy having Medellin spread out before you, and make sure to look closely at the flat rooftops as you go-many of them have brightly-colored graffiti adorning them.P
Get A Local’s Perspective
There are several well-regarded walking tours you can take in Medellin, but two to consider are the free walking tour that is almost famous – anyone who has been on it will tell you it’s an absolute must. Another to think about is the exotic fruits tour in Minorista Market, where you’ll get to learn about the market’s challenging history and taste over a dozen fascinating fruits.
Where To Stay
If it’s your first time in Medellin, then El Poblado is where you’ll want to base yourself. The Diez Hotel Catagoria Colombia is clean and nice, plenty comfortable and feels plenty safe for a solo traveler. The neighborhoods of Parque Lleras and Provenza have all the coffeeshops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife you could ask for, and everything is super walkable.P
Where To Eat & Drink
From traditional Colombian cuisine to all manner of international options, you won’t be disappointed by the food and drink options in Medellin.
One experience everyone should have is to watch the sunset from a rooftop bar, cocktail in hand. There are a few great options, but the one you’ll hear most often is Envy, atop the Charlee Hotel in El Poblado. It’s best to reserve a seat up against the windows, but if you stop by for the sunset you can still grab a spot to soak in the view.
Speaking of adult beverages, 3 Cordilleras Brewery is a unique option that many don’t consider. The craft beer scene is still developing in Medellin, but 3Cordilleras provides a fun way to explore it. A few nights a week, the brewery offers live music and several drink tickets for a flat fee, giving you the chance to try their different varieties and mingle with locals.
There are many places to splurge on dinner (such as swanky Carmen), but if you’re looking for a good steak and glass of wine, Angus Brangus offers both and a charming patio view.
Trendy and seductively dark Burdo, in El Poblado, has an interesting menu and very cool vibe. And make sure to find a traditional arepas con chocolo (fresh cornarepas), whether from a street food vendor or a cute bistro like D’Andre.
Take A Day Trip
Even if you only have a couple days in Medellin, it’s worth your time to spend a day outside the city. There are tons of interesting day trip options within just a couple hours of Medellin. Besides visiting a coffee farm, the other two that should be on every traveler’s itinerary are Guatapé and El Peñon. The two sites are very close to each other and can be visited in tandem.
The vibrant colors of Guatape are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. It’s not so much about what you do here, but rather just wandering the colorful streets, people watching, enjoying an excellent cup of coffee and cinnamon roll, and counting how many different zocalos you can find—the intricately-detailed tiles adorning each building.
Nearby, get ready to work that cinnamon roll off and climb the 700+ steps to the top of El Peñonde Guatapé, a 10-million-ton rock rising high above the surrounding plains. The view from the top is completely worth the sweaty, heart-pounding ascent. Treat yourself to some fresh and tangy unripe mango with lime and salt and take in the turquoise water and greenery of the reservoir-created landscape below. P
Even with just a couple days, this fascinating city of coffee can be yours for the taking!