For C, and anyone else considering a visit to this enthralling city.
So you’ve got four days in Medellin. Having spent four months there, this is what I’d do with four days.
Get your bearings while sightseeing from Medellin’s famous public transit system. Avoiding rush hour if possible, jump on the metro at Estadio. Remember to take water because once you’re in the system there isn’t anywhere to get it. Tap water is fine to drink. Also remember to carry loo paper with you, as it’s not always provided. (If you do find yourself on the metro at rush hour it’s perfectly safe, just unpleasantly crowded.)
Swipe my green Tarjeta Civica at the barrier and take note of the balance on the little reader; each journey costs about 2,000 pesos. Board a San Antonio-bound train at the front. At San Antonio go down the stairs/ escalator, change to a Niquia-bound train and get off at Acevedo. Note the total lack of graffiti etc. The entire metro is above street-level, so on the way to Acevedo you’ll see some of the main central sights through the window. Once at Acevedo, follow the very clear signage to the ‘metro-cable’. Note that you don’t need to swipe out. At the top of the line you have a choice. Either change to a second cable car (for which you do need to swipe again) up and out of the valley to Parque Arvi, or just stay on and go back down again! Going over the top is pretty cool but the scenery of Arvi itself isn’t really comparable to what you’ll see elsewhere, so it may not be a priority. Of course, you can always ride the second cable car to Arvi and just stay on that one for the ride back! No-one will make you get off.
When you get back down to Acevedo get straight onto a La Estrella-bound train and this time get off and swipe out at San Antonio. At street level swipe into the tram (tranvia) boarding-area. Ride the tram to the end stop (Oriente) and follow signs to the metro-cable. Marvel at the integrated transport! Again, at the top you have a choice to get out or just go back down again. If you do get out there is a little shop at the top of the ramp where you can get a beer or tinto (coffee).
Note that wherever you go people will say ‘A la orden’ to you. This just means ‘at your service’. If you don’t need whatever product or service they are selling a smile or ‘gracias’ is more than most locals respond with.
It’ll be lunchtime by now. Every restaurant offers a ‘menu del dia’, which almost always costs 10,000 pesos (£2.50). Sometimes the options and price are written on a blackboard but you can’t really go wrong if you just sit down and say ‘hay un menu del dia?’ Unless the place seems unusually fancy you don’t really need to bother asking the price of a menu del dia; if it isn’t 10,000 it’ll be between 8,000 and 12,000. The menu is almost always soup, meat/rice/trimmings and a juice. It’s rare not to be (verbally) offered a choice of meats (beef, pork, chicken breast or chicharron) and a choice of juices. Often a choice of soups too. There is literally nothing you might be offered that won’t be nice except ‘mondongo’ (tripe), but it’s rare for that to appear in a MdD. Fish is rarely offered unless you go to a costeno restaurant.
Some specific things to try that aren’t usually offered in a ‘menu del dia’ are a ‘bandeja paisa’ (sausage, chicharron, mince, egg, beans, avocado), a cazuela (beans in a bowl topped with various meats), and ajiaco (absolutely delicious main-course sized soup with chicken, potato, corn and avocado). In the centre you’ll see some large, popular restaurants with huge photographs on the walls of their many options; these places are great for trying things like cazuela. Honestly, while Colombia is not Mexico food-wise, you’re unlikely to eat anything that isn’t good. Bakeries tend to be underwhelming, however. If you want hot sauce, ask for ‘aji picante’.
Something you’ll see everywhere are shops and stalls selling jugos. Colombians drink more juice per head than any other nation. Most are offered ‘en agua o en leche’ and lots of sugar is added. ‘En leche’ I love mora (blackberry), guanabana (custard apple) and tomate de arbol. Maracuya (passionfruit) and lulo are good in milk or in water. At the very least try these five. They almost never seem to mix fruits.
Except in hipster areas not many places sell really well-prepared coffee, but see below for a couple of recommendations. Colombians drink ‘tinto’ (weak black coffee with sugar).
Club Colombia, Aguila and Pilsen are standard lagers. For something a bit more interesting look for the slightly more expensive Tres Cordilleras (Medellin) and BBC (Bogota) ‘artesanal’ beers. I especially like the Tres Cordilleras ‘mestiza’ (American pale ale) and the BBC IPA (pronounced ‘ee-pah’). The cafe on the corner (El Buho) sells Tres Cordilleras beers 'para llevar', if you fancy putting some in the fridge. Aguila Zero is a decent alcohol-free lager.
After lunch, head west to ‘San Javier’ on the metro. Here you have a choice. Either take the third and final metro-cable for a different view of the city (this one goes up-down-up), or head to the Comuna 13 escalators instead. For the latter, swipe out of the metro and get on a small green ‘Metro’ bus (you’ll need to ask for ‘las escaleras’ - everyone will know). Swipe onto the green bus with the green card! From the bus it’s a very short walk to the start of the escalators. You’ll know you’re in the right place because there are lots of shops selling Comuna 13 souvenirs, and lots of other gringos! At the top of the escalators most of the nice graffiti is to be found by walking right along the pedestrian walkway. It’s not necessary to join a ‘graffiti tour’ unless you want a local guide. Retrace your route to Estadio and home. ‘La 70’ is lively in the evenings, or perhaps my peeps can point you in the direction of some cool queer/ feminist happening or other.
By now you’ve seen the city from several angles and spent less than a fiver!
Check out the main sights of the city centre. Be sure to do this one on a week day as the centre’s a bit dead at the weekend. There’s a company that does tip-only walking tours in the centre. Guides wear red t-shirts and from what I overheard seem good. Or you can just self-guide. I’d suggest the following route.
By the way, don’t hesitate to take a yellow taxi if you are tired. Just don’t slam the door - they hate that! The meter starts at 3,200 and you’ll never pay more than about 10,000 (£2.50) within the city. If taking a taxi home it’s probably easiest to say ‘Estacion Estadio’ and walk round the corner. Going anywhere else make sure you have the full address. Uber is also very popular.
Take the metro to Alpujarra and start at Parque de las Luces. By now you’ll have realised that pretty much all public parks/squares have free wifi, though most of the metro stations don’t. To the south you can see various government buildings and the old railway station, to the west the city library. Note that there are free public loos (rare) underneath the library. The library is well worth going inside; you just need to show some ID. Southwest of here are a few parks/plazas/civic buildings, but none of them are especially exciting.
From Parque de las Luces head north up pedestrianised Calle 52. There are lots of eating places along here. When you get to Plaza Botero, check out the sculptures. There are many Botero sculptures and paintings inside the adjacent museum, which you might decide to do on Day 4. Next, walk a couple of blocks to Parque Berrio, which has a great atmosphere and is a good place for a juice (as elsewhere, typically served in a plastic jug and costing 2,000/50p for a litre!). (If you haven’t had enough of leafy squares, from here it’s a short walk to another pedestrianised street, which I think is Calle 48. Head north til you reach Parque Bolivar and the brick cathedral.)
Next, get back on the metro and head north to Universidad. Here you’ve got Parque de los Deseos and the (free) Botanical Garden with its rather spectacular orchid house. I didn’t get to Parque Explora (science museum) but the building is cool. The mall opposite Parque de los Deseos has a good food court on the first floor.
Day 3 (or 4)
If you didn’t do the Comuna 13 escalators on Day 1 you might want to do them this morning. (If you've noticed the card balance is running low just queue for a ticket window and say 'cinco mil' or whatever.) Then relax and enjoy leafy Laureles. From home you can walk along ‘La 70’ (a bit tacky but very much for locals) and up Circular 5 to Primer Parque de Laureles. Opposite Orale Mexican restaurant is Ruta 69, run by a lovely woman called Marta. She does lunches. Not far from here are two very nice cafes (both likely to be on google maps), Cafe Zeppelin and Cafe Cliche. The mostly residential streets round here make for pleasant wandering.
Put some effort in on Days 1 and 2 and perhaps you’ll have yourself a Tinder date tonight ;-)
Day 4 (or 3)
Culture! I’d suggest choosing either the Museo de Arte Moderno (Industriales metro and a bit of a walk) or the Museum of Antioquia. I love the former, which is comparable to top notch contemporary art galleries anywhere. However the latter has old and contemporary stuff plus a whole wing of Botero, and is more central. (I went to a couple of other museums btw, so if you have questions about any others, just shout.)
Next, DO NOT MISS Museo Casa de la Memoria (free). Take the metro and tram as far as Bicentenario or just take a cab. Allow a couple of hours for this superb museum.
You may need a drink afterwards, so head downhill a couple of blocks to Parque el Periodista and a little queer-friendly bar called El Guanabano.
Two popular things not to bother with are Poblado (full of gringos and wealthy locals) and the Pueblito Paisa.
¡Que te vaya bien!