Don’t Believe the Hype
This post is part of Everything to Know Before Visiting Medellin, a collection of no-B.S., unique guides to how to have an unforgettable stay in Colombia.
You’d think these days with everyone sharing their experiences and reviews on the internet it’d be easy to plan the perfect trip. The cream rises to the top, right? Wrong. At least not based on our experience exploring all the Medellin attractions.
While we can’t get enough of Medellin overall—we’d say it’s “properly rated”—we found a lot of the “Medellin must dos” to be way overrated. At the same time, We found just as many underrated alternatives. And that’s what we’re covering in this post.
Why believe us and not anyone else? Good question. Believe us at your own peril. But ignore us at your own peril too.
Neighborhoods to Stay in
Laureles is fine, but it wouldn’t be our first recommendation to anyone visiting Medellin for just a few days. It doesn’t have a ton of character, it’s inconveniently located far from the Medellin metro, and if you don’t know where the best spots are it feels boring and empty.
Laureles has some of the best lunch spots and cafes in the city (find them with our mega guide) and is worth wandering around, but we wouldn’t recommend making it the base for your trip.
Properly Rated: El Poblado
If you’ve done any research on Medellin you’ll have heard about El Poblado already. You’ll have read that it’s the most upscale (and thus expensive), gringo-fied area in town, where you can easily get by without knowing any Spanish, and where many of Medellin’s top restaurants, cafés, events, and nightlife are located.
For party people El Poblado’s perfect. Same goes for novice and nervous travelers. But for people looking to stay a real Paisa cultural environment, it’s not ideal.
El Poblado is exactly as you expect it to be, so it’s properly rated.
We had barely heard of Envigado before coming to Medellin, but are telling our friends all about it now that we’re leaving.
(And we made an enormous guide to Envigado to convince them to go.)
The bustling streets in Envigado’s small center are packed with mom-and-pop boutiques, repair shops, mini markets, restaurants, and billiards halls. And there are no touts and dealers trying to sell stuff to tourists like in El Poblado.
Just to be clear, even though Envigado is underrated, it’s not for everyone. If you’re scared to attempt to speak Spanish with strangers, you’re better off not staying there. It isn’t ideally located either—about 5 km farther from everything than El Poblado is. But for an adventurous traveler looking to stay in and explore lesser-touristed parts of Medellin, it’s awesome.
(Plus it’s way cheaper.)
Pick Your Perfect Place in Medellin
The best way to decide where to stay in Medellin is by using our extensive neighborhood guide. It ranks the top neighborhoods in Medellin on 12 different categories including restaurants, safety, and convenience.
Overrated: Mondongo, sancocho, and ajiaco
In general, Colombian food doesn’t have very complex or rich flavors. These traditional Colombian soups are basically watery versions of that.
They’re not bad—though if you’re put off by intestine stay away from mondongo—but you’ll probably try them once, check them off your to-do list, and never order them again.
Properly Rated: Bandeja Paisa
Bandeja Paisa is exactly as it’s portrayed. It’s a gluttonous platter of various meats served with some rice, egg, arepas, and avocado. Even Chris, who has a sizeable appetite (especially since he fasts all the time), has a hard time finishing off a whole platter. And he has no chance at a place like La Gloria de Gloria or El Trifasico.
The taste isn’t fantastic, but the quantity and value are.
Underrated: Limonada de coco
We couldn’t believe that it took us almost two weeks in Medellin before we discovered limonada de coco. The coconut-lemon smoothie is the perfect refreshment for a hot sunny day walking around town.
Once we discovered limonada de coco, we realized it was everywhere. You’ll find it at most traditional Colombian restaurants and in just about any café, and you’ll notice tons of locals drinking it. It’s a big deal, but not amongst tourists. Yet.
Tip: If you don’t like super-sugary drinks, ask them to make it with little sugar, poco azucar, o none, sin azucar. The same goes for any juice or smoothie you order in Colombia.
Underrated: Menu del días
Eating is arguably the biggest part of traveling, and menus del día are the biggest part of eating in Colombia, so they should naturally be one of the biggest parts of your trip in Medellin.
Menus del día include soup, a big platter of food, a drink, and often a dessert. And they cost only 8-15,000 COP (3-5 USD)! Even “nicer” restaurants offer them at around these prices.
Not all menu del dias are created equal, so to find the best check out our extensive list, with ratings, of the top lunch specials in town.
Overrated: Parque Arví
Yeah, Parque Arvi’s a nice getaway from the madness of Medellin. And yeah, it’s cool to get there via the Metrocable, Medellin’s famous urban gondolas. But it’s just a park and, as you can see by lifting your head up and looking at the lush mountains that surround Medellin, there are plenty of other parks around Medellin.
There are better places to escape into nature and go hiking in Medellin…
Underrated: Every other park and hiking trail around Medellin
Medellin’s hills are full of lush jungle, swimmable waterfalls, and awesome viewpoints. And even if you’re deadset on Parque Arvi, there’s a much less touristed and more unforgettable way to hike there via the back door. (See our guide here.)
For info on all of our favorite easily-accessible hikes in Medellin, including hikes to waterfalls, caves, and up a mountain you jump back down, click here.
Overrated: Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa tops the list of overrated Medellin attractions. It’s not worth visiting.
There’s no reason to go to a replica Antioquian village when real ones like Santa Fe de Antioquia, Jardin, and Jerico (see below) are so close. And it’s not worth it for the views either. There are WAY better views to be found just as close by in the city. For instance…
Underrated: Cerro Volador and Cerro Pan de Azucar
If you really have to go up a hill in the center of Medellin to get a view, go up Cerro Volador instead of Pueblito Paisa.
Cerro Volador is located even closer to the center of the city and has even more unfettered, truly 360-degree views than Pueblito Paisa. It’s green, peaceful, and a great place to go for a run, walk, or workout (there’s an outdoor gym on top).
The best view of all, though, is on the top of Cerro Pan de Azucar, which is part of the back-door hike to Parque Arvi that any active traveler to Medellin should put atop their list. It’s number one on our list of recommended things to do in Medellin.
Overrated: The Metro
Medellin’s metro is efficient, clean, and safe, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of transport options that many (including us when we first came to Medellin) think it is.
The biggest problem is the stations are often inconveniently located far from many of the Medellin attractions and neighborhoods. For example, to take the metro from Parque Lleras in El Poblado to the central area of Laureles (around Primer and Segundo Parques), you’d need to walk over 20 minutes down to the metro station, switch lines downtown, then walk another 20 to 30 minutes to arrive at your destination. It takes over an hour. A taxi or Uber takes 20-30 minutes.
Uber isn’t as fantastic in Medellin as it is many other cities. (And there is no Lyft.)
On the plus side, Uber is cheaper than taxis and convenient if you already have the app and don’t speak any Spanish.
On the downside, it’s illegal in Medellin. As a result, there are fewer drivers and longer waits than elsewhere and you have to be a bit careful. You have to sit in the front seat and look for pickup spots away from taxi stands because taxi drivers won’t hesitate to aggressively and vocally share their anti-Uberness with you and your driver. Also, Uber apparently doesn’t train its drivers in Medellin, because many of them have a hard time using the app and following directions properly.
We, and others, still use Uber all the time in Medellin and you probably will too. Just lower your expectations.
Taxis are everywhere in Medellin. One driver told Kim there are 30,000 in the city, and they’re constantly introducing more in hopes of compelling locals to use them instead of their cars.
Medellin Taxis are cheap, they don’t try to screw you over (from our experience at least), and we’ve had some super friendly drivers. To our surprise, quite a few of our cab drivers even spoke decent-to-perfect English and were eager to practice with us. Taking taxis in Medellin can be an unexpectedly pleasant experience.
For those less comfortable with their Spanish, or worried about hailing taxis on the street, try the EasyTaxi app. It’s like Uber for taxis and it’s legal.
If you’re looking to save money by getting around Medellin on public transit and the metro isn’t convenient, consider taking the bus. You’ll have to ask someone to help you because most routes aren’t mapped online, but there are some handy routes worth considering.
For example, to get between Envigado’s central square and Parque Lleras in El Poblado, Google Maps’ directions say to take the metro. Since the metro stations are inconveniently located (as we wrote above), it takes 55 min. But if you jump on a bus on Avenida Poblado you’ll get there in half the time.
Overrated: Mercado Campesino del Poblado
El Poblado’s farmer’s market, or mercado campesino in Spanish, is all right. If you happen to be in the area on a Sunday, check it out for a breakfast of artisanal snacks. But it’s a lot smaller and has less mouth-watering and intriguing snacks and produce than we’d hoped.
It’s overrated and not worth going out of your way to see.
Underrated: Plaza Minorista
The Plaza Minorista, Medellin’s main market, was worth going out of our way to see. So much so that we went twice.
We found it best to go around lunch, when most of the stands were still open. That way, after wandering around gawking at and tasting all the exotic fruit and strange dried leaves, we could go for the menu del día at Aquí Paró Lucho, a sit-down restaurant smack dab in the middle of it all, followed by a lulo and lemon smoothie at Jugos Rigo.
Warning: Don’t walk to Plaza Minorista from Plaza Botero. It looks like an easy walk on the map, but it’s not. It’s a long, dangerous walk right through Medellin’s skid row. We all about “unconventional routes,” but this one’s not worth it. Take a taxi or Uber instead.
Guatapé is beautiful, colorful, and tourist-friendly.
So is Disney World.
Both are designed entirely to attract tourists. That’s not a bad thing—tons of travelers enjoy Guatapé (including many bloggers in our super Medellin travel guide)—but if you’re looking to take the unconventional route and experience something more authentic, there are better places to visit.
Underrated: Jardin and Jerico
If all the reviews of Jardin and Jerico are so positive, how can we pretend to say they’re underrated? Because barely any tourists go there.
For all that these two pueblos have to offer in—colorful houses, welcoming locals, traditional culture, and peaceful vibe—they should be a lot higher up on people’s must-do lists when spending time in Antioquia.
Judge the Medellin Attractions Yourself
Just because we called the above Medellin attractions “overrated” doesn’t mean you should avoid them. Consider “overrated” to mean, “check out the underrated Medellin attractions first… but do skip Pueblito Paisa.” It’s up to you obviously, but we bet your trip will be more rewarding, and certainly more unconventional, if you do so.
And if you’re interested in more unconventional tips and adventures, check out our Colombia travel page. There you’ll discover who has the best beer, aguardiente, and coffee in Colombia, things to know before coming to Medellin, and guides to unexplored destinations like the Pacific Coast.
How to Put Together a Magnificent Medellin Trip
And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions to share with other readers, please share them in the comments!