Situated in a narrow valley, Medellín packs the punch of a city twice its size. Its skyline reaches for the heavens, setting high-rise apartments and office buildings against a backdrop of jagged peaks in every direction. Its pleasant climate gives it its nickname – the City of Eternal Spring – and the moderate temperatures put a spring in the locals' steps, at work and at play. It's a bustling place of industry and commerce, especially in textile manufacturing and exported cut flowers. On weekends Medellín lets its hair down, its many nightclubs attracting the beautiful people.
The city sprawls north and south along the valley floor; slums hug the upper reaches of the hills. True to its paisa (people of Antioquia) roots, Medellín affects an indifference to the rest of Colombia, looking overseas for inspiration for its next great public-works projects.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Medellín.
This harrowing museum dedicated to the urban conflict in Medellín is a must-visit for travelers wanting to fully understand the city (and Colombia). There are interesting displays on the geopolitical origins of the conflict, but the most moving parts are the life-size video screens, where survivors recount their experiences as if they were standing in front of you, and the Wall of Memory outside, which pays homage to local residents killed in the violence, their names etched onto the bricks.
Once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Medellín, the Comuna 13, which clings to the mountainside above the San Javier metro station, has undergone an impressive transformation in recent times and is now considered safe to visit. The focal point of a trip to the comuna is the area around the escaleras electricas, the outdoor escalators that provide access to homes in marginalized barrios that were formerly isolated from the city below. A taxi from the metro costs COP$5500.
Located in the house where the artist lived and worked, this fine museum has an extensive collection of pieces by prolific local painter Pedro Nel Gómez (1899–1984), as well as occasional major exhibitions. It also organizes painting workshops for visitors (COP$80,000 per group) where you can take classes in the studio of the artist, which is adorned with a wonderful mural. Book in advance.
In the grand art deco Palacio Municipal, Colombia's second-oldest museum (Museo Nacional in Bogotá is the oldest) houses one of the country's most important art collections. The permanent collection spans 19th-century and contemporary Colombian art, as well as pre-Columbian pieces. The highlight is the 3rd floor, where there are many sculptures and paintings by native son Fernando Botero as well as other artists' work from his personal collection. Look out for the wonderful Pedro Nel Gómez murals around the building.
Set around a refurbished industrial building in Ciudad del Río, 'El MAMM' showcases changing exhibitions of contemporary art. The large new wing houses pieces from the permanent collection, which includes many works by local painter Débora Arango. It also has a cinema showing independent films.
Rodrigo Arenas Betancur, Colombia's favorite designer of monuments, has a number of pieces around Medellín, but the most impressive work is this one in front of the municipal building that tells the story of Antioquia in dramatically twisting metal.
This public space in front of the Museo de Antioquia is home to 23 large, curvaceous bronze sculptures by renowned local artist Fernando Botero, including some of his most iconic works.
The densely populated neighborhood of Moravia was once Medellín's municipal rubbish dump with an open-air mountain of trash surrounded by a large shanty town whose residents once rummaged through the detritus. However, it has since been transformed into a model urban center, with the mound of trash turned into a foliage-covered hillside. You can take a guided tour of the neighborhood and find out about the fascinating transformation by contacting the Centro de Desarollo Cultural de Moravia.
Adjacent to the Berrío metro station, this striking black-and-white Gothic Revival building designed by Belgian architect Agustín Goovaerts is one of Medellín's most interesting landmarks. Construction on the project began in 1925 although only a quarter of the original design was completed. Visitors are free to stroll along its majestic corridors and through the ornate rooms, some of which hold rotating art exhibitions.