Things to Do in Medellín
On the shores of the Guatapé Dam and surrounded by lush islands, the 19th-century town of Guatapé is one of Colombia’s most photographed sites. It’s not hard to see why—the town’s brightly painted buildings and serene natural setting make for some stunning shots.
A short train ride from the skyscrapers and international art galleries of modern Medellín’s El Centro is Pueblito Paisa, a monument to Colombia’s colonial past. The little village (pueblito) is a re-creation featuring traditional white-washed houses, a picture-perfect central plaza, and spectacular views of Medellín’s surrounding mountains.
You’ll see his art everywhere around Colombia: large women, round-faced children and wide-eyed animals. It’s the life work of Fernando Botero, the beloved Colombian artist famous in his home country and around the world.
A visit to Medellin, where Botero was born, provides the chance to see these works in larger-than-life surroundings. The appropriately named Botero Plaza, opened in 2002, is an outdoor park that forms an important cultural space in the city. It’s also close to other important museums, like the Museum of Antioquia with art from all over Latin America, and the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture, where exhibitions and concerts are held.
The 80,729 square feet (7,500 square meters) of Botero Plaza are home to 23 giant bronze sculptures (donated by Botero himself) within reach so that people can touch them—some people even climb on them! These sculptures, created using the lost wax method, are organized into five main types, focusing on body parts; relationships between men and women; animals; and mythic creatures like the sphinx. The sculptures tend to have short names that are direct and dynamic, like Woman with Fruit, The Hand, Man on Horseback, Maternity and Roman Soldier.
The busy plaza is also a great place to try local foods, like obleas, empanadas and green mango cut in strips and served with salt and vinegar. It’s also a good place to browse for souvenirs and do some serious people-watching.
Medellin’s Metrocable is far more than just a public transport system. Built to transform the war-torn city in the wake of Pablo Escobar’s reign, the urban cable car helps those living in the poorer hilltop barrios to access the city. Use Metrocable to explore formerly unreachable parts of the city.
An escape from the urban jungle of Medellín is only a gondola ride away. Arvi Park (Parque Arvi) and Piedras Blancas Park (Parque Piedras Blancas), neighboring parks in the mountainous countryside east of the city, are crisscrossed by hiking trails and dotted with lakes, scenic lookout points, and wildlife museums.
Lleras Park (Parque Lleras) forms the social center of the upscale neighborhood of El Poblado, a haven for gourmet restaurants, trendy cocktail bars, and youth hostels. The area is undoubtedly one of the safest Medellín neighborhoods to explore by night, when strings of lights illuminate the park and bars spring to life with DJs and young, fashionable Colombian crowds.
Set in Plaza Botero, a square that showcases the disproportionate sculptures of Medellín-born Fernando Botero, the Antioquia Museum (Museo de Antioquia) houses a fascinating collection of classic and contemporary art. The third floor is dedicated entirely to Botero and exhibits such controversial works asThe Death of Pablo Escobar.
Barefoot Park (Parque Pies Descalzos) is a fun, interactive space where travelers and locals can quite literally kick off their shoes and play. This sensory experience for your tootsies consists of three separate zones—Sand, Forest, and Water—each with different surfaces and textures to provide a natural foot massage.
Medellín Botanical Garden represents the city’s radical recovery from war-torn terror, as well as its innovative use of space. Brimming with more than 5,000 plant species and wildlife from Latin America, the garden—which spans an impressive 40 acres (0.4 hectares)—provides a welcome break from the bustle of central Medellín.
With its modernist façade, bright red roof and funky urban design, it’s clear from the outsetthatExplora Park (Parque Explora) is a museum for the modern age. Fun, interactive and engaging for all ages, this is one of Colombia’s most popular science museums, with an incredible 120,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibitions.
The museum hosts over 300 interactive displays and activities, based around the themes of neuroscience, physics and communication, plus a 3D projection hall, a planetarium and an
impressive display of 22 animatronic dinosaurs. Another highlight is the indoor aquarium center, the largest freshwater aquarium in Latin America, where visitors can learn more about the Amazon region, spot over 400 different species of fish and see the world's most poisonous frog.
More Things to Do in Medellín
Families won’t want to miss the Medellín Planetarium, where science and space come to life through immersive film screenings and interactive exhibits. Explore the scale of the solar system, learn about the Mayas, and much more.
Medellin, birthplace of sculptor Fernando, Botero, loves modern art. The remodeled Medellín Modern Art Museum (MAMM) debuted in 2009 in a converted steel mill with a theater to show independent films and lots of space to show off its growing collection, including works by local painter Débora Arango.
While visiting Medellin, don’t forget to stop by this unusual museum—a living museum, in a cemetery. San Pedro Cemetery Museum(Museo Cementerio San Pedro) is an unusual open-air museum of funeral art, filled with beautiful sculptures, monuments and mausoleums in marble and bronze. Much of the work was done in Europe by talented artists and brought to Colombia.
The cemetery got its start in 1842 when 50 wealthy families from Medellin wanted to have a private cemetery for their loved ones. Over the years, many famous people have been buried here, including politicians, businessmen and artists.
Due to its artistic richness, San Pedro Cemetery(Museo Cementerio San Pedro) was declared a museum in 1998 and Cultural Heritage of the Nation in 1999. It’s a cultural experience to see the historical and artistic content of its mausoleums and all of the art designed to honor the dead.
This traditional graveyard draws many people for its special beauty. Visits include school field trips; night tours; and music, dance and theater under the light of the full moon.
Jardín, a town in the mountains just four hours to the south of Medellin, preserves a colonial appearance that seems unchanged by the modern advances of this century.
The town’s name is no mystery—its beautiful garden-like atmosphere and lush green landscapes enchant visitors. Enjoy the peace and calm in this laid-back town that is not on the typical tourist trail. The beautiful tree-lined plaza is perfect to relax and observe daily life. The main square is lined with cafes and restaurants with colorful tables and chairs, and the striking neo-Gothic Basilica Menor de la Inmaculada Conception is close by. Whitewashed colonial houses in town have brightly painted doors, balconies and hanging baskets.
There’s also plenty of scenery to take in. There are trout farms for fishing and an old-fashioned cable car above the river that extends across the valley and up into the mountains. At the lookout point there are views of the town and a café to have something to eat. Visitors also have the opportunity to walk around the farms.
The Cave of Splendor (La Cueva del Esplendor), a waterfall within a cave, is a six-hour roundtrip trek along narrow, steep, mountain paths. Along the way, admire the mountains with their banana and coffee plantations. It’s recommended to go with a guide who knows the terrain.
Visitors to Poblado, a wealthy area in the green hills of Medellin, are in for a surprise. Behind heavy iron, Gothic gates and amid trees covered in Spanish moss, there’s a 17th-century castle in the style of those in France’s Loire Valley.
Built in 1930, it was later bought by Diego Echavarria and his wife. This wealthy family’s passion for art and culture is obvious in their home, where French and Spanish artwork lines the walls. But the story behind the castle is even more interesting than the building itself. On free tours you will learn about the family’s history, including the death of their daughter and the kidnapping and death of Echavarria himself shortly after.
After these tragic events, the house and possessions were donated to the city of Medellin, and the castle was opened to the public as a museum in 1971. Everything has been preserved just as the family left it, and tours include glimpses of the bedrooms, the dining area with a 10-seat dining table and porcelain dishes, the library with all of the family’s books and many other personal items.
Outside, the immense garden has fountains, exotic plants and wildlife, and a view of the city of eternal spring with its mountainous backdrop. The museum also serves as a cultural center for dance, music, crafts and arts.
Officially called the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Medellín Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the largest brick buildings in the world and the largest cathedral in South America. Designed by French architect Emile Charles Carré and completed in 1931, the tawny towers took 56 years to construct.
You don’t have to go all the way to Argentina to experience the passion of tango. Tango’s second city, Medellin, where the famous tango singer and musician Carlos Gardel died in an airplane accident, keeps the seductive art form alive.
One of the main stages for tango in Medellin is the Tango Patio (Patio del Tango), one of the most emblematic restaurants that showcases this music. The steakhouse does indeed feel like a patio, and the decoration is typical of a Buenos Aires tango dive. Artwork on the walls shows tango dancers from Buenos Aires, and of course, Carlos Gardel.
There are live shows Thursday through Saturday nights with singers, guitarists, dancers and quartets with various instruments performing on the small stage.
At this restaurant, steaks take first place, but don’t miss the delicious desserts such as flan and tiramisu. While you’re in Medellin, visit the Tango Patio to get a feel of the city, known for its passion for tango.
La Rueca Restaurant offers a taste of Argentina in the heart of Medellin. Although it serves sizzling Argentine barbecue all week, the restaurant really comes alive Thursday through Saturday, when live tango shows are performed by some of the best musicians, singers, and dancers in the city. hot spot
The expansive San Antonio Plaza, which overlooks the mountains of Medellín, was inaugurated in 1994 as a cultural center. The plaza was struck by tragedy the following year when a bomb detonated during a concert and killed innocent people. Today, the square functions as an important memorial to Medellín’s turbulent past.
Medellin has been declared one of the most innovative cities in the world, and a project that demonstrates that innovation is the Santo Domingo Savio Library(Biblioteca de España).
North of town, up in the hills, a neighborhood called Santo Domingo Savio experienced an amazing change from one of the most economically depressed areas of the city to a prospering one, all because of a project to build a library.
More commonly known as the Spain Library (Biblioteca España), because it was built with a grant from the king of Spain, it is composed of three modern, black cubist buildings. Inside, the library not only has books but also computer rooms with free Internet and library assistants to provide help. This has given the local residents a space for social gatherings and access to information that was formerly unavailable.
This library, now an icon of cultural revival, has changed the reality for area residents. The access to information and education has meant more development, more locally owned businesses and more opportunities. The library is fully supported by the community and is kept in spotless condition. And one of the great things about this library is that you get there by Metrocable, the cable car that is the extension of the public transportation metro system, designed to join the poorer sections of Medellin to the rest of the city.
Please note The Santo Domingo Savio Library is currently closed indefinitely for renovation.
Surrounded by the green mountains and the bright blue skies of Antioquia, the 984-foot (300-meter) Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West) spans a vast river that once divided the region and tells a story of ingenuity, creativity and the strength of the human spirit.
The Cauca River divides the area and impedes access to other parts of the country, long isolating the inhabitants of the area. In the late 1800s, the need for a bridge was obvious, and the suspension bridge that was built over the river is considered one of the most important civil engineering projects in America at the time it was built.
Colombian José María Villa studied engineering in the United States and later participated in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the early 1880s, he returned to Colombia and decided to take on the task of building a series of bridges. One of those was the Bridge of the West. Construction started in 1887 and lasted five years.
The problems Villa faced and the creative ways he solved them show the extraordinary vision of the engineer. With limited technical resources and many challenges due to the mountainous terrain, he came up with a design that overcame all the difficulties.
Colombia lists the bridge on its UNESCO World Heritage tentative list due to the value of Villa’s design, which was one of the most advanced projects in Latin America at the time, combining sound construction with a particular beauty. Originally one of the longest suspension bridges in South America, it played a key role in the development of the region and the country.
North of Medellin, in the mountains, there’s a little piece of the past that seemingly hasn’t changed in centuries. Santa Fe de Antioquia, founded in 1541 as a gold-mining town, seems to have changed little since then. In fact, due to its perfectly conserved colonial architecture, it was declared a national monument in 1960.
Many of the local residents make their living farming corn, beans and coffee. The town comes alive with frequent festivals and tourists who visit to see the town’s living history and the perfectly preserved architecture that gives it the feeling of being suspended in time. Cultural activities abound, such as food tours that introduce visitors to staples of the region likeguandolo,orchata, tarmarind,tamal,arepa andempanadas. The Metropolitan Cathedral, the Archiepiscopal Palace and small museums also draw visitors. In addition, there are nearby vineyards and waterfalls as well as the fascinating Bridge of the West and Plaza Mayor Juan de Corral.
For those looking for action, there are opportunities for horseback riding, walking, rafting down the Cauca River, cycling, paragliding, tennis and paintball, as well as a free Theater under the Stars and plenty of parties.
Medellin is the second world capital of tango (after Buenos Aires), and tango music can be heard throughout the city. This is due in large part to Carlos Gardel, a famous tango musician who died in 1935 in a tragic plane accident in Medellin while touring Colombia. Gardel’s death spurred a movement that lives on to this day. In fact, the International Tango Festival, held in Medellin every June, commemorates Gardel’s life with dancers, singers, musicians and faithful followers of this musical expression.
To celebrate the music of a man who changed Medellin, the Gardeliana Museum (Museo Casa Gardeliana) opened in 1972. Dedicated to tango, this museum has projects, programs and services that are all about teaching tango dance, singing and music. They have collections that include photos, recordings and documentaries about how tango has influenced life in Medellin. There are guided tours and special day and evening performance programs. This is small, unique museum in Medellin for those who want to get a glimpse at Gardel’s life and influence on the world of tango.
Carlos Gardel was a famous tango musician whose music and voice thrilled lovers of tango all over the world. In 1935, while touring Colombia, he was involved in a tragic airplane accident in Medellin that took his life. That event sparked the love of tango in Medellin, and to this day that love is kept alive.
One of the places it lives on is at the same airport where Gardel lost his life, the Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport. A plaza and sculpture were erected in 2003 to remember Gardel, his life and his works. The statue, made by artist Salvador Arango from the state of Antioquia, shows the elegantly dressed Gardel singing and playing the guitar while a couple dances tango behind him.
Tango events take place at this site during the year, and visitors come from around the world to appreciate the art of this beloved singer and musician.
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