Things to Do in Medellin, Colombia

We were very pleasantly surprised by Medellin. Despite its dark history with Pablo Escobar, the city and its people have prospered greatly in the past 15 years. They’d also like to move on from the past and not have people reminding them of the scar Pablo left on the city. So moving on from that, there are many lovely things to do in Medellin. Here are a few that we squeezed into the three days we had there.

Plaza Botero:

This Plaza, in the Centro Histórico of Medellin, features the famous sculptures of Colombian artist Fernando Botero Ángulo. He is known for the style of sculpting figures of large exaggerated women, men, and pets.

Here you can roam around the plaza taking pictures with and of his many sculptures of plump naked women and men and also a dog and horse. His paintings and sculptures are easily recognizable by this unique style and can be see in galleries around the world.

Metro stop: Parqu Berrio A line

Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture:

Hovering over the Plaza Botero is a black and white checkered palace, once home to the Government of Antioquia and named after Rafael Uribe Uribe a General for the Colombian Liberal Party. It was designed by Belgian architect Agustin Goovaerts.

It’s gothic design was meant to be even more elaborate, but it ended up more modest than the original plan. It is now used as a cultural building to host expositions of art and music. It houses the largest historical library in Medellin and the host concerts and shows.

We happened to wander inside to find it’s free to enter. The current exposition features art work by international students at the University of Art in Medellin. The artwork featured was very talented.

There is also a room with history and artifacts from the origins of the building and city. Then you can climb up to the balcony at the fourth floor for a view over the city. Behind all the buildings are the rolling green mountains speckled with the red clay roofs of the communities that live up in the hills. You can also watch the very modern metro train go by under a famous painting by Botero.

Same metro stop!

Jardín Botánico:

North of the Centro Historico, you can visit the Botanical Gardens open everyday from 9am to 4:30pm except during special events. It is free to enter.

You can wander around the park visiting the tropical tree forest, the desert gardens, the orquídeorama (orchid and tropical flowers under a beautifully designed canopy meant to resemble the canopy of a tree), and the lagoon with turtles, ducks, and an enormous iguana.

The place is peaceful and strangely full of feral kittens that just roam around and visit with the people picnicking in the grass. We joked that they were baby jaguars and panthers.

They also host concerts on the grass in the warm months. It’s worth a meandering afternoon to visit for free and see the trees, flowers, and wildlife. There’s a butterfly garden as well that was under construction.

Metro stop: Universidad A line

Parque de Las Luces:

Unveiled in 2005 to clean up the Plaza de Cisneros, Plaza de Las Luces features a cluster of tubes reaching about 65 feet tall with 300 total lights in them. They are used to illuminate a park that once housed homeless and drug addicts in the city.

It is right in behind the Biblioteca EPM. You can enjoy a romantic stroll here at night or bring the kids to run around. It looks like a cluster of light sabers.

Metro Stop: San Antonio B or A line

El Castillo Museo y Jardines

Built in 1930 by architect Nel Rodríguez in the gothic style to resemble the medieval castles of Loire, France, this castle features French-style gardens with hedges and fountains overlooking the skyline of the city. There is also a large library and expositions as well as concerts held in the castle now.

The history of the castle includes the original owner Jose Tobón Uribe, who lived there until 1943. Then rich businessman and philanthropist, Diego Echavarría Misas purchased the castle for his family to live in. He and his German wife, Dona Dita, raised their two daughters in the home.

After Diego passed away in 1971, Dona donated it as a museum to the city. They left the home intact to display their lives as an exposition of the history of the castle. It is clear the family loved to travel as there is an enormous collection of silver teaspoons from all over the world. The youngest daughter also had a cabinet full of porcelain dolls from every country the family visited.

The museum is open Monday through Friday 9-12pm and 2-4pm and on weekends 10-5pm. It costs $4 to enter.

Metro Stop: Aguacatala but it’s a long walk up and requires a cab to the top or 1 hour walking.

Also worth visiting in town:

We were limited on time so we didn’t get to visit everything. There are many great museums like the Museo de Antioquia and the Planetarium. You can also visit the sculpture gardens at Nutibara Hill. We also would have liked to take the cable car up into the hills and learn a little more about the history of the poorer neighborhoods. We will have to save those all for next time.

Day trip from the city-

Piedra el Peñol y Guatapé:

A place we did save time for was the Piedra el Peñol or Peñón de Guatapé and Guatapé. This is an easy day trip from Medellin and well worth it. Just two hours outside of town, this little gem will take your breath away, literally.

The rock formation that sits between Peñol and Guatapé has disputed ownership between the two towns hence the two names Rock of Peñol or Rock of Guatapé. It was first scaled in 1954 and now features sturdy cement steps, 675 to be exact. For only $6, you can climb these zig zagging steps to the top of the rock for a spectacular view at 650 feet high. Your view is of the network of lakes weaving between mini green islands.

At the top you can climb a tower lookout to make a total of 740 steps, but it was closed when we visited. There are restaurants and gift shops as well selling ice cream and micheladas with mango. We of course had to try one.

Half way up the rock there’s a lookout point with the Virgin Mary statue. I stopped here for a breath. It’s a great climb with an even better view. There’s a separate stairwell to descend.

At the bottom, catch a Chiva bus for only $1.25 to Guatapé town. In the town you can zip line across the lake, go out on party/dinner boats, enjoy water sports, and just peruse the tiny, colorful tourist town. The buildings are very colorful with borders of bright yellow and green featuring farmers and their horses painted on them. The window sills are bright green, blue, yellow, and red.

There’s a lovely square, where we sat on the bright painted steps to listen to jazz musicians and sip coffee. The main square features a fountain spurting water shows in front of the bright white and maroon trimmed cathedral. Enjoy the local Medellin dish of Bandeja- rice, beans, fried egg, plantain, and your choice of meat, at Kennedy Restaurant and Bar on the plaza to people watch.

Even the tuk tuks are colorful with depictions of the rock and Guatapé. You can take one to the mirador of the lakes and the rock. You could spend a night here at one of the many hostels or fancy hotels on the lake, or just visit for the day like us.

Transportation info: Go to metro stop Caribe then walk to the Terminal Terreste Norte. Find either window 14 or 9 to buy your ticket. They cost $4.50 each way. They leave every hour at 45 past. It takes two hours with no traffic. Hop off at the rock it’s hard to miss. Then head into town and the bus station sells tickets every 20 minutes up until 7pm.

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