“The main risk in Medellín,” you’ll be warned at every turn, “is that you won’t want to leave.” With its stunning setting amidst scenic mountains, fine dining and nightlife, glorious green spaces, and perfect climate characterized as “eternal spring,” its no wonder that this city of three million is fast becoming one of Colombia’s internationally coveted destinations.
Once among the most violent cities in the world, Medellín has settled quite comfortably into an artsy sophistication that seems its birthright. Vibrant plazas, eclectic public art and ultra modern museums make this a truly marvelous city from the grungy downtown to the upscale Zona Rosa.
Though Medellín is Colombia’s second-largest city, it has an outstanding mass transit system that includes light rail and cable cars, which means that nothing is far away. Take taxis at night, particularly in the city center.
Day One: Commune with Botero
Upon arriving in Medellín, head to Plaza Botero, where 23 voluptuous sculptures by Medellín’s favorite son are displayed for all to enjoy. Touching, climbing, and composing somewhat vulgar photo ops around the smoothly polished statues are all openly encouraged, which makes for some seriously world-class people watching. Be sure to visit the Museo de Antioquia early on in your visit, as it presents a fine introduction to the city.
Be sure to stroll over to Plaza Bolivar for a glimpse of the Metropolitan Cathedral, largest in South America. The busy pedestrian walkways between the plazas are overhung second-story restaurants, breezy escapes from the somewhat gritty street scene below.
Day Two: Get Out In Nature
Take a break from the big city and enjoy the lush natural world of Medellín’s eternal spring. Serious hikers can catch the Cable Arvi up into the mountains, and explore several kilometers of trails through the cool fern-strewn forests above; there’s even a hotel if you’d like to spend the night.
Less ambitious adventurers could head over to the University of Antioquia and Medellín Botanical Garden, and oasis of orchids and other flowers in the center of the city. The quiet campus and nearby museums could make for an enjoyable afternoons.
Day Three: Celebrate Medellín
By now, this most livable of Colombian cities may be starting to feel like home. If you’re curious about the people who made Medellín all that it is to day, you could visit Pueblito Paisa, a model Spanish village that celebrates the culture of colonial Colombia. Alternately, you could go on Pablo Escobar tour, visiting the highlights and lowlights of the ultimate cocaine kingpin’s bloody (but complicated) life.
No matter what, end you last day with an evening out at Parque Lleras, Medellín’s premier nightlife district. If you aren’t staying in the pretty, posh Poblado District, try to arrive a little early and explore its shady parks, sculpted shopping centers, and relaxed vibe, in the waning afternoon.