Medellín is the second largest city in Colombia and was once infamous for being one of the most dangerous cities on earth. But, over the past few decades, Medellín has achieved a remarkable turnaround since the dark days of the 1990s. And it may even be the greatest urban comeback story of our generation.
Banner image credit: istockphoto.com/Markpittimages
All other image credits: Jeff Paschke
Medellín is now one of the most livable cities in South America with a low cost of living and its perfect climate. In addition, it has become a hugely popular tourist destination.
You’ll find all of the main attractions listed in travel guidebooks. Yet, the city has a plethora of off-the-beaten track sites worth visiting. Here are seven hidden gems in and around Medellín that won’t be flooded with foreign tourists…yet.
Cerro de las Tres Cruces for amazing views of the city
Cerro de las Tres Cruces (hill of three crosses) is a hill in Medellín boasting panoramic views of the city – yet you won’t find it in many English travel guides.
View of Medellín from Cerro de Las Tres Cruces
It’s located west of Medellín and looks upon the city which is surrounded by mountains. Hiking to the top will only take 30 to 45 minutes for most people, but it really depends on what pace you fancy going at. Quench your thirst at one of the stands selling delicious juices either at the top or midpoint.
As you stare across the vistas from the top of Cerro de las Tres Cruces, see if you spot the outdoor gym!
Parque Sabaneta tops my list of parks in the Medellín metro area
Most travellers visiting Medellín head for Parque Lleras in El Poblado – a small park surrounded by restaurants and a bustling nightlife.
To experience a more genuine aspect of Colombian culture, take a trip to Parque Sabaneta. It’s an underrated alternative that you won’t find in guidebook bestsellers and is my favourite park in the city.
Parque Sabaneta is located in Sabaneta, a separate municipality in the southern part of the Medellín metropolitan area. It really comes alive on weekends where locals flock to the park. Along the streets adorning the park, you’ll find numerous stands selling arts and crafts and traditional Colombian street food. Full disclosure: I live in Sabaneta and absolutely love living here, as you can probably tell!
Museo Universidad Antioquia is a must-see museum in Medellín
Medellín has a variety of museums often visited by culture-hungry tourists, including Parque Explora.
However, guidebooks often miss several of the best museums in the city. As a result, one of the best museums in Medellín is rarely visited by tourists: the Museo Universidad Antioquia (MUUA).
Inside Museo Universidad Antioquia
MUUA is a sizeable anthropology and natural sciences museum located on the University of Antioquia’s campus in Medellín. It’s a hidden gem worth visiting with a huge collection of nearly 40,000 archaeological and natural history artefacts.
In addition, the museum is free to enter and is located near the beautiful Jardín Botánico. I’ve been to MUUA on several occasions and the natural science exhibits are fantastic. However, it’s the diverse archaeology on view that continues to amaze me every time I go back.
Piedras Blancas provides a tranquil getaway from Medellín
Piedras Blancas is an eco-park located in Santa Elena – a short 45 minute drive from Medellín.
This park allows you to enjoy nature in all its glory, with hiking paths, a lake complete with rowing boats, an insect museum, and much more. It’s very child-friendly too!
Piedras Blancas ecological park
Piedras Blancas isn’t as well-known as nearby Parque Arví. But, it’s certainly worth visiting. It has a full range of amenities, including a small resort-style hotel with great views and an accompanying restaurant and spa.
Grab a thin crust pizza at Pizzeria Central
Since Medellín has a metro population of about 4 million, there is no shortage of restaurants.
Most visitors head to restaurants in El Poblado, the popular tourist neighbourhood full of hotels and furnished rental apartments.
Pizza at Pizzeria Central
However, there are some excellent restaurants to be found in other parts of the city. One of my favourites is Pizzeria Central located in El Centro. It specialises in exquisite thin crust pizzas cooked in a brick oven. With its outstanding handcrafted pizzas, this pizzeria has a very loyal local customer base.
Tour La Sierra neighbourhood
There is no shortage of tours for visitors to Medellín – from popular Comuna 13 graffiti tours, to visits to coffee farms and walking tours.
The cable car line to the La Sierra neighbourhood
One of the newest tours in Medellín is La Sierra Tours, which is a walking tour of La Sierra, a neighbourhood hidden in the mountains on the east side of Medellín. This neighbourhood has been transformed with improved access via an integrated metro cable car and electric tram lines.
During the 4 to 5 hour tour, expect a unique cultural experience away from the tourist trail. This tour takes you high above the hillside neighbourhoods and truly off the beaten track. It enables travellers to enrich their understanding of the cultural, social, and economic transformation that Medellín has undergone.
Take time for the pueblo of San Carlos
A typical visit to Medellín will include a trip to a nearby pueblo (small town) such as Guatapé and Santa Fe de Antioquia.
One of several waterfalls near San Carlos
San Carlos, a four hour drive from Medellín, is one such pueblo you won’t find smeared across guidebook pages as must-do. It’s a small pueblo surrounded by mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and tranquillity.
It’s the perfect destination for a weekend getaway from the city, with plenty of water activities and hiking available in the surrounding area.
Medellín has become a global tourist destination since the demise of Pablo Escobar and increase in safety. Its popularity lies in its wonderful architecture, valley location, and cultural eccentricities. While these travel advantages are well documented, there is still so much to explore off the beaten tourist trail.
From its tranquil parks to nearby pueblo retreats, it’s an up and coming city with a lot to offer in 2018 and beyond.