Medellin, Colombia is a surprising place. It was once known for being the “murder capital of the world,” constantly mired in conflict thanks to Pablo Escobar’s narco-terror regime. But in the last 20 years the city has undergone a remarkable transformation. Today, it’s one of the most pleasant cities I’ve ever visited. Most travelers instantly fall head-over-heels in love with its perfect climate, friendly locals, and off-beat attractions. 3 days in Medellin is the perfect amount of time to spend on a short trip.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how to plan the perfect Medellin itinerary — from the best attractions to where you can get great coffee! As always, I’ll guide you to places that won’t break the bank but will help you get under the skin of this unique and fascinating city.
I also kept the pace of this itinerary pretty slow. Medellin is a place to experience rather than tick off bucket-list attractions in. Be sure to spend some time lingering at a coffee shop. Chat with the locals you meet. Crack open a cold beer in Parque Poblado in the evening and people-watch. These are the moments from your three days in Medellin that will stick with you far more than any museum.
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Arriving for your 3 days in Medellin
The first part of this Medellin itinerary is simply getting into the city. Luckily, Medellin has an awesome public transportation system, which makes getting in and around pretty easy.
You’ll want to check in to your hostel right when you arrive so you can drop off your bags. Most travelers stay in the neighborhood known as Poblado, a short walk from the Poblado metro station.
If you’re traveling by bus, you could arrive at one of two bus terminals at the beginning of your 3 days in Medellin. Terminal Norte is right on the metro (at the stop Caribe). This is where you’ll arrive if you came from the Caribbean coast, Bogota, or San Gil. Simply follow the signs to get on the metro. Buy your ticket from the office — 2,300 COP — and board a south-bound train in the direction of La Estrella. It’s nine stops to Poblado.
If you’re arriving in Medellin from Jardin, Salento, Cali, or other destinations in the Coffee Axis, your bus will take you to Terminal Sur. Unfortunately this terminal isn’t on the metro line. You could take a public bus for 2,300 COP, but it’s worth the 15,000 COP taxi ride directly to your hostel in Poblado.
Since Medellin is so far from many of the other popular destinations in Colombia, many travelers fly there. This is especially a good option if you’re coming from Cartagena or Santa Marta, where the bus trip could take almost 24 hours. The airport is well outside the city center. You’ll need to either take an expensive (70,000 COP) taxi or hop on a bus to Centro Commercial San Diego for 9,500 COP and change to the metro from there to reach Poblado. This will take you about an hour.
Medellin Itinerary Day One: Real City Tours Walking Tour
Once you’ve checked into your hostel, you’re ready to start your 3 days in Medellin!
If you took a bus to Medellin, you’ll probably arrive early in the morning on your first day. It’ll take you an hour or two to get into the city, drop off your bags, and freshen up. But don’t waste much time — Medellin has a lot to explore!
If you need a cup of coffee to get you going this morning, stop by Pergamino or Red Velvet. The lines may be long but they move fast. I highly recommend the cold brew at Pergamino. If you arrived a bit later this is a good time to grab some lunch before your afternoon activity. Check out my list of the best veggie restaurants in Poblado for some ideas.
Afternoon: Free walking tour
Once you’ve settled in, it’s time to start sightseeing! The main activity today is the incredible Real City Tours free walking tour. This is the ideal way to see most of the attractions in downtown Medellin, while learning about the history and culture of the city. It’s such a great experience that I wrote a whole post about it here.
You’ll need to join the 2 pm tour to make sure you have time to get into the city and get to the starting point. You need to book it in advance — registration opens 36 hours before the tour.
Tours depart from the Alpujarra metro station. Arrive 15 minutes early to check in. They last nearly four hours, with a few bathroom and snack breaks mixed in, and they’re worth every minute. You’ll see the Park of Lights, Botero Square, the main shopping streets, a few churches, and the Peace Bird sculpture, among other things. The guides also offer lots of tips for the rest of your stay — so come with your questions!
Remember to tip your guide at the end of the tour if you enjoyed the experience. 20,000 COP is a fair tip if you’re on a budget.
Dinner and drinks: Cafe Zorba
You’ll probably be hungry after spending your first of 3 days in Medellin walking all over the downtown core. So fill up on delicious pizza and mezze at one of Poblado’s most atmospheric dining spots, Cafe Zorba.
The back patio is a beautiful, laid-back, candle-lit spot for a drink. They have a full cocktail menu as well as many refreshing non-alcoholic drinks, like watermelon spritzers.
The pizza is top-notch, the hummus is to-die-for, and everything is meant for sharing (although solo travelers are welcome). They also have board games and cards you can borrow while you wait for your food.
The only downside is you’ll need to head directly to Cafe Zorba after your free walking tour. It gets really crowded and a line forms by around 6:30 pm. The wait is worth it, but come early if you can.
Dinner and a drink at Cafe Zorba will run you about 25,000 COP. Most of the menu is vegetarian-friendly and they have ample vegan options too.
Medellin Itinerary Day Two: Ride the cable cars
Now that you’ve gotten oriented with the Real City Tours free walking tour, you can spend the second of your 3 days in Medellin exploring independently. And what better way to spend it than with the city’s most iconic thing to do — riding the cable cars?
Medellin’s Metro system was fundamental to the city’s transformation into a safe metropolis. In particular, the Metrocable lines — connecting the poor barrios in the hills to the city center quickly and affordably — changed lives across the city. Many of these neighborhoods were once at the center of the drug conflicts, but today they have schools and libraries and many of their residents work white-collar jobs downtown.
For just 2,300 COP, residents and tourists alike can purchase a ride on the Metrocable and transfers to the rest of the Metro system. This is the cheapest DIY tour you can find in Medellin!
Today is a pretty low-key day. The cable cars take a few hours to explore, but you could easily squeeze in another activity or two. I’ll include some suggestions at the end.
Breakfast: Al Alma
Start your morning with a leisurely and delicious breakfast at one of Poblado’s most charming cafes.
Al Alma is a bit outside the center of Poblado’s activity, at the bottom of the hill in the middle of a very green neighborhood. It’s both a restaurant and an independent coffee shop/roastery. If you want the best of both food and coffee, this is the place to go.
Go early and nab a seat on the sunny patio. Order from a huge menu of eggs every-which-way (the eggs Benedict are amazing), French toast, pancakes, and yogurt/fruit bowls. Pair it with a cappuccino or latte. Everything is delicious and portions are huge.
A meal at Al Alma will run you about 17,000 COP — not the cheapest breakfast ever, but it’ll keep you full all day.
Metrocable Line J: The best view of Medellin
After breakfast, it’s time to hop on the Metro to explore more of the outlying sections of the city!
To start your Metrocable tour of Medellin, get on the Metro and go north to San Antonio station. From here, you can change to Metro Line B to San Javier. Beware that San Antonio is a very crowded Metro station, and keep an eye on your belongings here.
Once you reach San Javier, you’ll clearly see the signs to transfer to the Metrocable. You shouldn’t have to walk through the gates to leave the system — if you do, you’ll have to buy another ticket. You’ll see the cable cars and a line forming that you can join. A security guard controls the line and makes sure none of the cars get overloaded. They’ll group you with others and let you know when you can hop on a cable car.
Once you’re in, it’s an exhilarating up-down-up again ride through the mountains and valleys. You’ll get the best views of your 3 days in Medellin. But the real highlight is seeing the everyday life below the Metrocable. You’ll hear music from block parties, see women hanging out their laundry, and watch kids play in the streets.
You can get out at any of the four stations if you want to have a quick look around/take better photos. Just don’t walk through the exit gates or you’ll have to purchase a new ticket. Additionally, many of these neighborhoods aren’t safe for a gringo to wander around alone in.
Once you reach La Aurora, get out, take a few photos, and get the next cable car back down the mountain. Try to sit on the opposite side so you get a different perspective. The whole there-and-back ride takes about 90 minutes from Poblado.
Metrocable Lines K and L: To Parque Arvi
Continue your Metrocable tour by riding back to San Antonio station. Change for Line A going north, and ride until you reach Acevedo station — the connection point to Metrocable Line K.
While Line J has more spectacular mountain views, Line K has the best city views, and you’ll get up a lot higher. Unfortunately the platforms where you can take photos aren’t as well-positioned, but this line is still well worth a ride. I highly recommend getting off at the station Popular for some photos. It has the best views on this line.
At the last station — Santo Domingo — get off the Metrocable. From here, you can ride the final leg up to the very top of one of Medellin’s hills, to the massive green space that is Parque Arvi. This will cost you an additional 6,000 COP each way (you’ll want to disembark and explore the park, so you’ll have to buy all your tickets again). The views on this leg aren’t as good because you’re too high to really see much, but if you want to explore the amazing Parque Arvi, it’s worth the journey. This is also a great place to have lunch if you’re starting to get hungry.
Alternatively, if you want to save the cash or if you aren’t that interested in the park, simply head back down the way you came. You can get back to Poblado on the Metro. The round-trip ride up to Santo Domingo takes about 45 minutes.
Lunch: Parque Arvi or D’Andre Gourmet
If you decided to go to Parque Arvi, that’s the best place to have lunch on day two of your 3 days in Medellin. There’s a small market by the exit of the Metrocable and a few other local restaurants nearby. You can get a menu del dia for about 10,000 COP, including some vegetarian options. This area is safe to walk around on your own.
If you decided to head back to Poblado, grab lunch at D’Andre Gourmet. This Poblado mainstay is popular with the digital nomad population for its cheap-and-cheerful menu del dia. For 12,500 COP, you can choose between meat, fish or veggie dishes with an array of sides. Burgers, soups and salads round out the menu. They also have lovely outdoor seating.
Afternoon: Explore Parque Arvi, visit a museum, or lounge in a coffee shop
If you’re still up by the Metrocable cars in Parque Arvi, the best way to spend your afternoon is exploring this huge urban park. It has hiking trails, flower gardens and more. Some of the trails charge a small admission fee. You can also pick up a guide at the entrance if you like, but you don’t really need one.
Alternatively, use the afternoon to see one of Medellin’s downtown museums. Museo de Antioquia is the most popular. It includes works by Fernando Botero. Admission is 18,000 COP. The Museo de Arte Moderno is also great, but a little further out of the way. Admission is 10,000 COP and it’s a bit of a walk from either the Poblado or Industriales Metro stations.
But if you want to slow down your Medellin itinerary, perhaps the best way to spend this afternoon is simply by lounging in a coffee shop. Pergamino has the best atmosphere — snag one of the patio tables or a couch inside and wile away the afternoon with a good book (or some fast free WiFi). It may not be the most exciting of all the things to do in Medellin, but sometimes you just need a break from being a tourist — and Medellin is a city full of great places to take breaks.
Alternative activities on Day 2 of your 3 days in Medellin
Not up for a lazy afternoon? Want to pack in as much as you can to your Medellin itinerary? No problem! Medellin has plenty more activities and tours you can join, but these two are particularly popular.
First, you could go to a football game. There are regular afternoon matches, especially on Saturdays during the season. Football (soccer, for all y’all Americans) is a huge part of Colombian culture in general and Medellin’s culture in particular — during the darkest days of the drug wars, it brought people together. It’s also just a really fun way to spend the afternoon. You can go on your own, but many people prefer to book a tour that covers transportation, drinks, and some explanation. Depending on what tickets you book the cost can be in the 70-150,000 COP range.
Another of the most popular activities in Medellin is to do a graffiti tour. Comuna 13 is the most famous place to see the murals. A series of escalators takes visitors past dozens of murals depicting Colombia’s history, culture, and politics.
Technically you can visit Comuna 13 on your own — you’ll have to ride the Metrocable and then take a bus. But while the neighborhood has improved a lot in recent years, it’s still pretty dodgy, especially if you decide to walk from the Metrocable station. (It looks short on paper but is actually quite risky.) So most people go on a tour, which costs 70,000 COP. The biggest downside to visiting Comuna 13 — and why it’s not on my list of must-do’s — is it’s gotten extremely touristic in recent years, and the crowds can be overwhelming.
Dinner: Verdeo Vegetarian Restaurant
You can’t miss this place during your 3 days in Medellin. Verdeo is not just the best veggie food in Medellin — it may be one of the best vegetarian meals I’ve ever had.
Order from a large menu of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. Anything that comes with the pesto is guaranteed to be amazing. And whatever you do, don’t skip the rosemary potatoes as a side dish. My mouth is watering now just thinking about them.
Meals at Verdeo are in the 15,000-20,000 COP range. Even if you’re on a super tight budget while backpacking Colombia, this splurge is absolutely worth it.
Medellin Itinerary Day Three: Day trip to Guatape
On your last day in Medellin, it’s time to get out of the city. The nearby holiday town of Guatape is the perfect escape. It has cool mountain breezes, beautiful views of a lake, and the most adorable and colorful architecture you’ll find in Colombia.
The most important thing about doing a day trip to Guatape is to start as early as possible. Grab breakfast at your hostel if you can, or pick up some buñuelos from the bus station on your way. This will allow you to maximize your time in Guatape when it’s less crowded.
I wrote a whole post about how to visit Guatape without a tour here. So in this post I’ll just cover the basics: First, go to Terminal Norte on the Metro and buy a bus ticket for Guatape. It takes two hours to get there. Get off at La Piedra — the massive rock you can climb for stunning views over the lakes. Climb the rock, then pick up a moto taxi into town. Spend the afternoon wandering around, having a long lunch, sipping coffee from a balcony overlooking the plaza. Or take a short boat trip around the islands. You’ll be ready to head back to Medellin by 4 pm.
For your last meal in Medellin, choose this charming vegetarian cafe. It’s one of the best bargains in the city, with two menu del dia options including juice, soup, a main course, salad, and a dessert, for 12,000 COP. They have at least one vegan option every day.
The best thing about Marietta is that their menu del dia runs through the evening as well. They close fairly early — around 8 pm — but you can get a big and cheap meal right up until then.
Many of the dishes are quite creative. I tried their plantain lasagna — it sounds really weird but it was actually delicious. Their salad was also super-fresh and inventive; one of the best I had in Colombia.
Where to stay for your 3 days in Medellin
For your base in Medellin, you need to choose carefully. You want somewhere convenient to the main attractions and the Metro, which will naturally lead you towards Poblado. But the heart of Poblado is also very noisy at night and feels very much like gringolandia.
The perfect compromise, and the best place to stay in Medellin, is Black Sheep Hostel. This Aussie-owned hostel is just a few blocks from the Poblado Metro stop, a 20-minute walk from the main nightlife area. The neighborhood is residential and quiet, but totally safe at all hours, and it’s in a good location for visiting restaurants like Al Alma and Cafe Zorba.
Better yet, the hostel has fantastic facilities. You can sit on the roof deck or the front or back patio to hang out with your fellow travelers. They have computers to use and very fast WiFi. Guests can use their excellent kitchen, and they have free tea and coffee all day long.
Additionally, the bathrooms are the cleanest and nicest I’ve ever seen in a hostel. Seriously, they sparkle. There are plenty of toilets and showers for the number of guests.
Private rooms start at $25 USD, or you can get a dorm bed for $10. The hostel has a social vibe but it’s not an out-of-control party place, so you can still get a good night’s sleep and the halls are quiet by around 10 pm.
The one activity you should skip during your three days in Medellin
You’ll notice that there’s one very prominent Medellin activity I didn’t mention above — Pablo Escobar-themed tours.
I didn’t include a tour of the drug kingpin’s favorite spots in Medellin because such tours are extremely controversial among locals. Even saying Escobar’s name on the streets is so sensitive that the Real City Tours walking tour guides won’t say it — they call him by other names.
Many of the people who lived through the worst of the Escobar era resent that he’s now a tourist draw. They see TV shows like Narcos as painting an overly rosy picture of what was a horrific war to live through. They remember Medellin as the kind of city where you couldn’t walk down the street — even in broad daylight — without risking your life. They’re proud of the city’s transformation and are extremely happy that tourists are finally coming. But they want Medellin to be known for its friendliness, great weather, and incredible attractions — not the man who nearly destroyed their city.
What’s worse, many of these tours actually involve paying members of Escobar’s family or inner circle for access to the experience. Do you really want your money going into the pockets of the very same people who enabled the deaths of thousands?
There are plenty of ways to learn the truth about Escobar’s grip over Medellin. Don’t spend your money or time on a tour that satisfies your curiosity at the expense of locals’ comfort with tourists.
Escobar tours aside, Medellin has plenty of activities to keep you occupied for a few days — or much longer. After spending 3 days in Medellin, you’ll surely agree that this is one of the greatest cities on the planet!
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