We really loved our life and routine in Medellín. Most of our time in Medellínwas about getting some work in and enjoying normal life in a world-class city. We maintained our routine of eating out three nights a week: cheap night, fancy night and healthy night. I don’t think we had a bad meal in Colombia, despite warnings about the food being bland and/or fried. Medellínis a global city, so we often ate other cuisines – Korean BBQ, sushi, etc. We also got KFC and watched the (truly boring) Superbowl, per our American traditions.
And, of course, we made time to do some fun activities while we were there. In fact, not long after our arrival, the universe told us we needed to make more time for fun when both our computers were simultaneously out of commission for several days. Well, Chad’s was a planned outage – he had a pixel out on his screen that he wanted to fix while his Macbook was still under warranty. So he set up an appointment to drop it off at an Apple repair shop. But literally as he was out dropping his computer off for several days to have the screen repaired, my computer suddenly died, mid-sentence as I was typing up a fundraising plan for a client. After a little research (because mine is a PC, we couldn’t take it to the same place) we discovered Monterrey Mall, which is full of technology stores and repair shops. We found a great one – Dr. Portatil – and dropped my laptop off as well. And there we were with a forced vacation! We used the time to go out for cocktails and wander the city that night and then check off most of the central tourist sites the next day.
Medellín Center City
For our central sightseeing day, we started at Parque San Antonio then walked over to Parque Berrio, and the Museum Antioquia and Botero Plaza (named for the Colombian sculptor, we enjoyed seeing his works around the plaza). We skipped going into the museum, choosing instead to take the metro to the Museum of Modern Art (we can generally only handle one museum a day). We really enjoyed the art and the lovely roof garden, though I now regret skipping the more traditional art at the Museum Antioquia. Next time we’re in Medellin we’ll have to visit that.
Our must-do activity for Medellín of course was seeing a futbol match. If you know us personally, you know Chad and I are avid soccer fans. Colombians are said to be the most soccer-mad people in the world, so there was no doubt that we had to see a professional match while we were there. Medellín has two teams – Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín. We decided to go to an Independiente match for the reasons I mentioned in my prior Medellín post.
It was a great match – 1-1 draw, with Independiente coming back to snag a point near the end – and the fans were certainly passionate. I understand the Atletico matches may have better atmosphere since they are more likely to be in the title race (Independiente was struggling). But we had a fantastic time. If you like soccer at all, seeing a match in Medellín is a can’t-miss experience. I’ve included the details and logistics of our experience below.
Arvi Park is one of those must-see attractions not just for the park itself and view from the top, but also the journey up to it via Medellín’s public transit cable-car system. We picked an early Saturday morning for our Arvi Park hike. We enjoyed the cable car up and had an exhilarating hike at the top with great views of Medellín. We even met a local villager whose family lives in the park, which was interesting. Although there are maps that we photographed, the trails are not well marked and we got pretty lost at one point as we tried to make a loop out of a couple of the trails. But, we made it back to the cable car station, tired and a hungry, and found that a farmer’s market had been set up, so we had the opportunity to try a few things for our lunch. This was our first (and only!) taste of the fried, bland Colombian food we’d previously heard about. I actually liked the chicken pastels (a fried pastry with chicken and potato in the center), but I tend to like bland food and Chad swore he’d never eat it again. But it hit the spot after a long hike and gave us the energy to reverse course down the cable cars and across the metro to get home.
Other Parks – Cerro El Volo, Nutibarra, Botanical Garden and El Salado
Medellín certainly didn’t disappoint on access to nature (although we could have used a few larger parks in our direct neighborhood). In addition to Arvi Park, we had nice visits to Cerro El Volo and Nutibarra Hill, which were both walking distance from our apartment (though we took a taxi home from Nutibarra, having expended all our energy walking up to the top!). We also enjoyed a lovely (though rainy) visit to the Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe, which was very nicely cared for and featured huge iguanas.
When we went out to the rainforest (see here in my Rio Claro post), we had been hoping to see monkeys, but didn’t. So I Googled monkeys near Medellín and discovered Parque Ecológico El Salado. Although a small entry fee is charged, it was well worth it and fun to see all the families there enjoying picnics by the creek that runs through it. Like all the other parks in Medellín, it involved a climb, but we really enjoyed our walk there. And, we saw monkeys! They were playing in the trees, like you’d expect monkeys to do. Going out to El Salado also gave us the opportunity to check out the neighborhood of Envigado, which had been a contender when we were choosing our apartment. It was a really nice neighborhood to walk around in and we had a great lunch of Peruvian food there before heading back, but we preferred our homebase of Laureles (review of our Laureles Airbnb is below).
Going out to Guatape
Finally, right before we left Medellín, we went out to Guatape, which I believe is the most popular day trip. The attraction is La Piedra del Peñol, a large rock you climb up for a great view. You can take a bus (leaves every half-hour or so) from either of two companies; buy tickets day of. We traveled on Transoriente and definitely had a good experience. The bus dropped us (and most of the other tourist riders) at the bottom of the hill leading up to El Peñol. There are clean restrooms right there for a small fee if you want before you ascend (we did!). At the top of the hill is the base of El Peñol, where you purchase tickets to climb the stairs to the top (18000 pesos per person or about $6). It is an intense climb up the steep stairs (I got lightheaded once), but the view is incredible. There is food and drink at the top, but we just enjoyed the view for a bit and caught our breath before descending (way easier).
We took a tuk-tuk into the town of Guatape for $4 and had an amazing lunch at a restaurant called Guatacrep that specializes in crepes and lasagna. Chad got the beef lasagna and I got vegetarian and both were phenomenal. We wandered the town a bit – it is really charming and cute and known for these little wall tiles on the outsides of the buildings that depict various scenes and objects, often connected to the lake (created through the damming of a river) that the town sits on. We had a really enjoyable afternoon wandering around Guatape before catching the 3 p.m. bus home. Pro tip: we followed the advice I’d read on another blog and bought our return ticket before lunch since the seats on the late afternoon busses back to Medellin tend to fill up. Several people who bought last-minute tickets had to crowd onto a couple of small benches at the front; others waited for the next bus.
Medellín was a great homebase for us in South America and it was easy to see why digital nomads like it so much. I also think it would be a great winter vacation destination for someone who doesn’t want beach but instead wants interesting culture, plenty of outdoor activities and delicious, affordable dining out (try Crepes and Waffles; it is the best chain). I hope we’ll be back someday. I think we will.
This apartment was a wonderful home for my husband and me for a little over a month. The building staff was very friendly and helpful. It is nice to always have someone at the front desk when you go in and out. The neighborhood was perfect – so many restaurants and lovely to walk around. We had no trouble at all with noise at night when we shut the bedroom door (we were in apt. 303). The bed and furniture are comfortable and the kitchen is functional for light cooking. We were delighted that the host chose to make a few upgrades during our stay, such as improving the already good Internet access and adding a tv to the living room area. Communication was good and she even assisted with airport transportation on our last day. I highly recommend this apartment. It far exceeded our expectations. (See listing here.)
Independiente Match Logistics
I did a lot of research into getting tickets and never managed to find very clear instructions no matter how many blogs, forums, and message boards I read. I can definitively say there is no way to buy tickets online. Most people I read bought tickets from scalpers on the day of the match, but I didn’t feel super-comfortable with that either. Apparently, tickets to each match only go on sale two days in advance, so our first attempt to buy tickets about a week out failed – no one at the box office. Luckily, we lived near the stadium, so we found ourselves there the day before the match. With a little effort, we found the correct box office line. However, it moved really slowly (if at all) and after 20 minutes we gave up because we had work to do. The morning of the match, I walked up to get in line as the box office opened. The opening time came and went and there was no one at the box office, even as more and more Independiente fans lined up. After I’d been there for an hour, I gave up again, knowing at least we could get tickets from a scalper.
But, the night of the match, getting box office tickets was shockingly easy. We had to run a gauntlet of scalpers to get to the ticket line, some of whom insisted their prices would be way better and we were foolish to get in line. Some of them stood near us in line and kept trying to sell us tickets. One told us the match was sold out and we wouldn’t be able to buy tickets at the counter. This was very off-putting, so at that point, we knew we wouldn’t be purchasing from a scalper except as a last resort. Happily, when we reached the front we easily bought the exact tickets we wanted for the price we expected (pay cash). After going through security (separate lines for men and women like in Turkey, and don’t bring a backpack or wear a belt!), were in. Concessions are delivered in the stands themselves (only non-alcoholic beer, just like in Brazil) and we especially liked the coffee vendors shooting coffee into little cups from their backpacks.