Everything You Need to Know to Plan a Trip to Medellin, Colombia’s Hillside Metropolis

Known as Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin is also one of the world’s most innovative.

Nicknamed ‘The City of Eternal Spring’: the weather is generally good year around. Most travellers fall head-over-heels in love with its perfect climate, friendly locals and offbeat attractions.

On the whole, we found Medellin to be beautiful.

It’s one of the most photogenic cities in Colombia.

Spaniards first arrived in the Aburra Valley in the 1540s, and Medellin itself was founded in 1616.

Is Medellin Safe?

First things first, let’s address a key concern for many visitors- is Medellin safe to visit?

Once known as the ‘murder capital of the world’, the city used to be in constant conflict with Pablo Escobar’s narco-terror regime.

The past 20 years, especially the last 8-10, have seen Medellin undergo a massive transformation, as locals try to shift its stigma to increase tourism.

That said, it’s well known which parts of the city are safe (for expats or locals), and which should be avoided.

Talking to expats during our stay, any who had been victims of petty crime all said it happened during situations that weren’t ideal- alone, late at night or using phones in plain view in the street.

All this to say, Medellin is fast changing.

Now, it’s a digital nomad haven, and somewhere I’d seriously consider living for a while one day.

The community is a big attraction for digital nomads. There’s a huge, and extremely active expat community. And, the Paisa people (Paisa is the term used for people who hail from Medellin) are warm, welcoming, and a lot of fun.

My key tips for feeling safe in Medellin would be: Don’t walk alone at night; don’t pull out your valuables (camera, phone, etc.) on the sidewalk or street; don’t stand near the end of the sidewalk while waiting for a light to change; and don’t visit neighborhoods that aren’t trafficked by other expats, or recommended.

What to Do

I visited Medellin, mostly to work and drink Colombian coffee. But, on a few days, we set out to explore the city.

6 Must-Do Activities in Medellin

Going on a Comuna 13 tour

Just a few years ago, Comuna 13 was considered the most dangerous area in Medellin- itself, the most dangerous city in the world.

Tourists didn’t dare set foot here- they had no reason to- and many locals, our Comuna 13 tour guide told us, were too ashamed to admit they lived in the ramshackle suburbs.

Now, it’s a different story.

Over the past 6-7 years, especially the past few, Comuna 13 has undergone a complete transformation. It’s no longer known for gang violence, police raids, cartels or illegal trafficking.

Comuna 13 rose to notoriety in the 1980s and 1990s at the height of Colombia’s drug and gang era. Because of its location on the edge of the city and the way its built, the barrio became a transit point for drug traffickers, guerillas and gangs.

In 2002, a government raid, spearheaded by President Alvaro Uribe, was launched to clean up the area. What unfolded was an incredibly violent assault that saw at least 20 people killed, and almost 250 arrested.

These days, Comuna 13 is more readily associated with graffiti, street art and walking tours. New infrastructure, including a metro cable and six outdoor escalators, has made life in Comuna 13 a lot easier for residents and opened the area up to tourists.

Many people view Comuna 13 as a true sign of Medellin’s transformation.

There’s a misconception that Comuna 13 is one barrio- it’s actually 12 neighborhoods, making up one of the city’s six zones. It’s a huge commune.

Some neighborhoods are okay for tourists to visit, while others should be avoided.

Most tours focus on the Las Independencias and the 20 de Julio area, where most of the area’s street art is found.

One of the most important changes for Comuna 13 came in 2011, when the government installed a series of outdoor escalators to offer an alternative to the 350+ steep steps, making the entire area more accessible.

Modelled after the ones in Hong Kong, the accessibility they offered help reduce stigma over time. Since then, it’s been a slow journey to revitalising the area for the benefit of locals and tourists alike.

There are dozens of large-scale murals, mainly concentrated around the area’s escalators.

One of my favourite graffiti motifs found throughout the Comuna was the presence of elephants- the elephants represent Comuna 13’s pledge to never forget the events of the past.

What’s more, many families have painted their houses bright colours to match the murals, making the whole area feel vibrant.

Graffiti is actually illegal in Medellin. For a local artist to create a mural, they first need to obtain permission from the area’s chief artists as well as the building’s owners. Murals in Comuna 13 aren’t just for decoration- they memoralise the past and express hope for the future.

You can visit Comuna 13 on your own, but it’s better to go with a guide and support the community. Dozens of companies in Medellin now offer tours, we went with Comuna 13 Graffiti Tours.

As more and more people visit, commercialization of the community’s grief is coming to light as a serious issue. It’s something you should keep in mind when booking a tour, and be respectful of while on your tour.

Every family in Comuna 13 has been negatively impacted by violence. By taking a tour, you’re not only supporting the local guides and businesses in financial terms, you’re also helping people shed the stigma.

Families from Comuna 13 were openly discriminated against in the past. That reputation changes with every tourist group that visits.

Some of the best views of Medellin can be found in Comuna 13- the higher you go on the escalators, the better. At the very top, the ground evens out, offering a short walk with a beautiful view.

While you’re in the area, don’t miss trying mango street popsicles- served with a bit of lime juice, they’re a must eat.

Our tour to Comuna 13 included a ride on the Line J metrocable, which offers spectacular mountain views.

When you ask locals when things across the city really started to change, they all say the same thing- it wasn’t really Escobar’s death. It was the building of public transit across Medellin, specifically the metro cables connecting hillside communities.

We couldn’t believe how high the cables go.

When people talk about Medellin’s transformation, they talk as if it happened so many years ago. But in parts of the commune, ceasefire was only two years ago.

Floating high above the villages in cable cars, you’re able to see the stark differences between villages. Ones like the village shown above still have ramshackle homes. It’s only the villages that have been rebuilding for longer that have newer housing and amenities (running water, electricity).

If riding Line J, I’d recommend getting off at the Popular station for photos- it has the best views on this line.

Taking a free walking tour of downtown

Book with Real City Walking tours- they’ve got multiple tour options daily. During the tour, you’ll learn more about Medellin’s history, and see some of the downtown area’s key sights, including Plaza Botero and Parque de Las Luces.

Riding the metrocable to Parque Arvi

Arvi is a gorgeous, expansive park. To get there, you’ll take the Line K metrocable, which boasts some of the city’s best views. Once at Arvi, go for a hike, enjoy a picnic, or try to sign up for a guided walk (check the schedule before going for ones offered in English, as they don’t always occur).

Watching the sunset from a rooftop bar

We weren’t surprised to find swank rooftop bars with insane views and a packed pool in El Poblado. Envy’s Rooftop has gorgeous views of the area, and is best visited for sunset.

Trekking to Guatape for a half day tour

We weren’t able to do this, because of conflicts with tour departure/return times and work schedules, but I would have loved to go with Toucan Tours.

Their excursion to Guatape, includes a stop at El Peñol. At El Peñol, you’ll climb 700+ steps to the top of the rock for one of Colombia’s most iconic views- of an amazing, man-made lake. From there, you’ll head to the nearby town of Guatape, which is adored for its colourful zocalos that adorn the local houses.

colombia's+guatape+guide+by+laidbacktrip+_+piedra+del+penol+guide

Image credit for Guatpe: link

We made a conscious choice to note partake in any Pablo Escobar branded tours

Colombia’s own brand of dark tourism, ‘narco tourism’, is becoming a thriving industry.

What many partakers don’t realise though, is just how offensive locals find it. For many, the pain and terror is still raw. Going on a tour that amplifies and capitalises on those events and emotions felt unimaginable to us. There are other ways to learn about the city’s past.

Two other activities to enjoy while you’re in Medellin- the city’s lively salsa culture, and a bustling, football game. There are regular afternoon matches, especially on Saturdays.

Where to Drink Coffee

In Medellin, it’s not a question of ‘where can I find the best cafe’. The question really is – ‘which one should I choose?’

Coffee shop culture has well and truly taken hold in Medellin. With locals and visitors drinking it so reliably, Colombia’s coffee industry is no longer just about export.

Many of Medellin’s cafes offer great, local speciality coffees, delicious snacks, and WiFi stable enough to work. 

At newer cafes, you’ll find a handful of power outlets scattered throughout, and a space designed with ample seating in mind.

Over the course of our two weeks in Medellin, we visited a bunch of cafes. Inevitably, there were favourites, which we returned to time after time.

Whether you’re in Medellin to live and work as a digital nomad, or there for a visit, these cafes are perfect for getting a bit of work done, or just chilling out with a cup of good brew.

EL POBLADO

Hija Mia: Tucked away in Manila, one of the fastest growing areas of El Poblado, Hija was a 2 minute walk from our Airbnb. It’s the greatest bits of Aussie cafe culture with awesome flat whites (plus nitro cold brew) and heaping portions of delicious avo toast. 

Pergamino: Hailed as the best coffee in El Poblado, Perg quickly became our afternoon spot. Pergamino is huge- there’s upstairs, outdoor and communal seating. Power outlets are scarce, but you can find one to use in a pinch.

The WiFi was stable enough to see us stop in just about every day, but the main reason we rated Pergamino was for their extensive coffee, tea, juice and cake menu.

Botanika Lounge: We didn’t dislike Botanika, but we also didn’t love it.

The best part, in our opinion, was the vibrant, leafy decor, and the fact there was great WiFi and power outlets under every table.

We didn’t care much for the menu- it was on the trendier edge, and more expensive in comparison to Poblado’s other cafes. Also, as the evening drew closer, it got decidedly scenier. If you’re down to have a cocktail while working, you may enjoy Botanika. We usually prefer to work from chiller spots, where the focus is more on great brew and less on a trendy space.

Cafe Velvet: It’s not hard to see why Velvet is popular with nomads. It’s a bit dark and moody, but in a cool way. 

As with many places in Poblado, we enjoyed the dual indoor/outdoor aspect of Cafe Velvet. Especially since here, the outdoor portion has tons of plants and mountain imagery- it’s easy to feel as if you’ve escaped the city for a bit.

Al Alma Coffee Roasters: A Colombian coffee chain, we liked Al Alma more than Juan Valdez because it felt smaller and more personal. It’s a popular spot with locals and visitors for Western-inspired brunch. 

A few other spots in El Poblado we liked:

  • Juan Valdez in Parque Lleras (Colombian Starbucks)
  • Como Pez En El Agua (go for brunch)
  • Urbania Cafe (good breakfast and nice coffee menu, a bit further away from the main bits of El Poblado, which kept us from visiting more than once)

Coworking space wise, there are tons of spots in El Poblado. We only checked out Selina, a hip hostel that doubles as a coworking spot. We liked it, but no more than our favourite cafes in the neighborhood.

LAURELES

Semilla Coworking: Looking for a cafe we didn’t realise had closed, we stumbled upon Semilla. From the outside, it looks like a trendy cafe with minimalist, Scandi-inspired design. Inside, you’ll discover it’s built for those who need a remote office. There’s loads of spaces to sit or lounge, enclosed conference rooms, lockers, a kitchen with coffee and food, plus fast WiFi.

Cafe Revolucion: Located on the main road, it’s a popular spot for all day brekkie. There’s your usual coffee fare, plus loads of fresh juice and smoothie options. 

Cafe Zeppelin: Although it doesn’t open until noon each day, I loved Cafe Zeppelin so much, I’d consider moving to the Laureles ‘hood if I lived in Medellin just to have continual, easy access. The cafe is huge- there are tons of corners to curl up in with a good book, or post up at with a laptop. There are two outdoor areas, in the front and back, which lend different vibes to your experience. I really enjoy this aspect of places, as it means they pretty much always feel fresh.

Best yet, the non-coffee options. I love brew, but sometimes, need a break- especially mid-late afternoon, as I’m starting to wind down for the day. We had incredible limonada de cocos at Zeppelin- in fact, we agreed they were the best we’d had in all of Colombia.

Two other cafes we liked in Laureles, less for work and more for hanging out:

  • Cafe Tales (tiny, quaint cafe)
  • Cafe Cliche (French owned, quirky mismatched furniture)

CIUDAD DEL RIO

Cariñito Cafe: Lured here by the promise it’d be quieter than Poblado cafes, we were impressed with the size of Cariñito- ample indoor seating, plus a huge terrace, and with the abundance of in-floor power plugs.

Not in the mood for coffee? Big fan of the limonada de coco here.

// The Best Cafes in Medellin for Digital Nomads & Bangin’ Coffee //

Where to Eat

Most days, we worked, and ate a cafe brunch (see above recos :)). We also budgeted for 2-3 coffee/juice drinks daily, and a mid-afternoon snack.

Dinner was usually street food and fresh fruit.

We saw very few vegetables during our time in Medellin, sans grocery stores where they were fairly expensive. Colombian fare is definitely meat and bread heavy, with tons of tropical fruit sprinkled in.

We didn’t eat at restaurants, per se, much, but felt that was the best way to experience both of Medellin’s worlds – it’s upscale cafe scene, and delicious street food.

Arepas were our favourite things to eat for dinner, we thought the style of them was much better in Medellin than in Cartagena. Thicker shell, saliter cheese- just delicious.

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Arepitas Pa Mama was our favourite place for savoury ones, and Las Chachas had the best sweet arepas, or arepa de choclos (corn shell with creamy cheese).

In Poblado, we also liked Veg Station, Marietta and Helecho Cocina Viva for their healthy vegetarian and vegan offerings.

Also recommended to us: Cafe Zorba for a pizza fix.

Where to Stay

With tourism increasing, both of the digital nomad relo variety and holiday-goers, hotel builds are fast popping up. And, like other places in South America, there’s a plethora of Airbnbs available.

The most popular neighborhoods for digital nomads to live are to the south and west of the city- El Poblado, Envigado, Ciudad del Rio, Laureles, Floresta and Estadio.

El Poblado is the most developed, and thus the most popular for vacationers and nomads.

We stayed in El Poblado, which gets flack for being too developed- even the Paisa population that lives here is fairly affluent. Of the areas to stay in Medellin, Poblado has the highest concentration of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops.

We also loved Laureles- it’s green, flat, and has a more chill, residential vibe. There are still plenty of places to eat, drink and party, but it’s much less chaotic than Poblado.

If I were coming to Medellin for holiday, I’d stay in El Poblado. And, if I were moving to Medellin, I’d probably start my trip in Poblado, and likely look to move flats mid-way to experience living in Laureles as well.

Extra Colombia Travel Tips

Language: Transactional English is spoken at upmarket stores and restaurants, but expect it to be limited.

Throughout Colombia, and South America and Latin America, you won’t find many people who are fluent in English. With Spanish as the national language, it’s best to pick up a few key phrases, or have Google Translate at the ready.

Currency: Colombian Peso

I withdrew from bank ATMs. Look for Visa and Mastercard images on an ATM- that means it’s global, and only withdraw from a bank one (there’s less of a chance your card will be skimmed). I’d advise carrying cash on you- some purchases are so small, you won’t meet the card minimum if the place you’re at even takes cards.

Budget: We were surprised by how affordable Medellin was- we knew it was oft hailed as a budget destination, but couldn’t believe just how well we could live for such a low cost. 

Our Airbnb was $13 USD per night per room in a shared space (four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen and balcony). We rented two rooms, so we’d have space to live and work. We were in the Manila neighborhood, which is a newer part of El Poblado. Other rooms we found on Airbnb started at $30-35 USD and up per night in El Poblado. For how nice our space was, the cost was a good deal, and why we decided to rent two rooms. We visited during the high season for tourism, and so, two rooms in a shared space was still cheaper than getting our own place.

Accommodation covered, we had no issue living very nicely on $12-15 USD a day to cover coffees, juices, fresh fruit, brunch and dinner.

We walked everywhere for the most part- especially in El Poblado and Ciudad del Rio. Whenever we took taxis, it was always under $2-4 USD per ride, and metro tickets were even cheaper (under $1 USD per ride, ~$0.70).

Getting There: Unless you’re flying direct from Orlando, Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you’ll likely layover in Florida or Panama en-route from the northern hemisphere. 

Heading to Medellin, I flew from Orlando via Spirit direct.

Once at the airport, you can grab a taxi to wherever you’re staying in town. The construction of a new tunnel through the mountains makes the drive easier than ever, only taking ~30 minutes, instead of the usual 60+.

There’s also a shuttle bus that drops off at a mall, and I’ve heard there are oft taxis waiting around the area to take visitors to their final destinations.

We chose to have our Airbnb host arrange a taxi for us both ways, as it was slightly cheaper than taking the official airport ones (~$15-17 USD each way), and easy.

Getting Around: We walked everywhere in Poblado, and even to Ciudad del Rio (~20-30 minutes from Poblado).

To get to other parts of the city, we took a taxi, which you can hail via the Cabify app, or the metro.

Our taxi rides were usually $2-4 USD, and when we used the metro to cover longer distances, tickets only cost under $1 USD.

The metro is modern, but be careful with your belongings- it can get crowded and pickpockets are notorious. If taking the metro from a popular station, like Poblado, during rush hour, come early. The ticket lines are looooooong.

When to Visit: We visited in early February, when temps are warm, but not too hot. Most days, it was 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, it was often 50-60 degrees, which was perfect for sleeping comfortably. 

Most Airbnbs unless they’re newly renovated won’t have air-conditioning- ours didn’t. We felt fine with the fan we had, but the city can be hotter at other times of the year. If you’re the kind of person that absolutely needs air-con, I’d look at newer hotel properties- there are loads of trendy, modern ones popping up across the city, especially in El Poblado.

Tipping: Tipping is common practice in Colombia. Be prepared to add ‘con diez’ or ‘con quince’ to your bill. 

Wifi Access: Most cafes had free WiFi, and of good quality. Although we had Tigo SIMs and weren’t too worried about being connected. 

SIM Card Options: There aren’t official sellers in the airport, but a friend tipped us off that we could buy one from a convenience store on the second level of arrivals, across from the ATMs.

We went with Tigo, which cost $6 USD for 2.5 GB of data. Not super cheap, but also not too expensive, and much less hassle, buying at the airport, than trying to find a seller in the city.

Have you ever visited Medellin? Is it a destination on your list of places to visit one day?Would you add anything to this guide to Medellin?

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The Best Cafes in Medellin for Digital Nomads & Bangin’ Coffee

Ah, Medellin.

In the digital nomad community, there are certain places around the world you hear about often- Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpar, Bali, Da Nang, Sai Gon, Sophia, Belgrade, and Bucharest, just to name a few. Most of these famed places are in Asia or Eastern Europe.

Don’t get me wrong- there are plenty of great cities and countries around the world to work from remotely, but Asia and Eastern Europe often top lists for the affordable cost of living and speedy internet.

Southeast Asia, especially, is a popular choice for its climate, proximity to tropical getaways, and abundance of fresh fruit and cheap street food.

Planning to spend a few weeks in Central and South America at the beginning of 2020, I found myself a bit shocked at how expensive air travel from country to country looked.

Of course, overland is the cheapest way to get around, but that kind of travel also means you need to be time rich. At this stage in my travels, taking a few days off simply to travel country to country- let alone actually exploring- just wasn’t of interest to me.

As such, I decided to focus on two or three places, and really take my time in those destinations than bounce around.

The cost savings were appealing, but also, after a year of traveling all over Europe, Asia and Oceania, I needed a bit of slowdown.

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Mexico City wasn’t even a choice, really. I’ve been dying to get to CDMX for years, and with a move to Ireland on the horizon, it seemed like no better time to spend a few weeks in Mexico’s capital.

Colombia was also of high interest to me.

Although most digital nomads don’t wax poetic about South America to the same degree they do Asia (because of the region’s better travel / work infrastructure), Medellin seemed to be an exception.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard countless recommendations for visiting, and working from Colombia’s second largest city, which is also one of the world’s most innovative.

Most travelers fall head-over-heels in love with Medellin’s perfect climate, friendly locals, and off-beat attractions.

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Calling Medellin a digital nomad haven would be an understatement- there are expat groups on Facebook, meet-ups, co-working spaces, and cafes galore. Plus, speedy internet and low cost of living. It’s a score on all fronts.

What’s more, the community itself is a big attraction for digital nomads. Medellin has a huge expat community, and the Paisa people (Paisa is the term used for people who hail from Medellin) are warm and welcoming. 

The most popular places for digital nomads to live are south and west of the city centre: El Poblado, Envigado, Ciudad del Rio, Laureles, and Floresta. 

During our two weeks in Medellin, we stayed in El Poblado, where the majority of the digital nomads live and the Paisa population is fairly affluent. As such, this neighborhood has the highest concentration of bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops.

We visited Laureles a few days to work, and also enjoyed its chill, residential vibe. In comparison to El Poblado, land of steep hills, Laureles is green and flat. There’s still plenty of places to eat, drink and shop, but it’s much less trafficked than El Poblado.

In Medellin, it’s not a question of ‘where can I find the best cafe’. The question really is – ‘which one should I choose?’

Coffee shop culture has well and truly taken hold in Medellin. With locals and visitors drinking it so reliably, Colombia’s coffee industry is no longer just about export.

Many of Medellin’s cafes offer great, local speciality coffees, delicious snacks, and WiFi stable enough to work. 

At newer cafes, you’ll find a handful of power outlets scattered throughout, and a space designed with ample seating in mind.

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Over the course of our two weeks in Medellin, we visited a bunch of cafes. Inevitably, there were favourites, which we returned to time after time.

Whether you’re in Medellin to live and work as a digital nomad, or there for a visit, these cafes are perfect for getting a bit of work done, or just chilling out with a cup of good brew.

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14 Cafes You’ll Love in Medellin, Colombia

EL POBLADO

Hija Mia: Tucked away in Manila, one of the fastest growing areas of El Poblado, Hija was a 2 minute walk from our Airbnb. It’s the greatest bits of Aussie cafe culture with awesome flat whites (plus nitro cold brew) and heaping portions of delicious avo toast. 

The owner is super friendly Kiwi, and likes to get to know his repeat customers, which makes this place feel homey in a good way. It’s on the tiny side, and can get crowded- especially around meal times- but if you come early, you won’t have a hard time finding a seat near an outlet.

The only thing we didn’t like? The WiFi can be a tad glitchy, but it wasn’t bad enough to keep us from coming here just about every day.

Pergamino: Hailed as the best coffee in El Poblado, Perg quickly became our afternoon spot. Pergamino is huge- there’s upstairs, outdoor and communal seating. Power outlets are scarce, but you can find one to use in a pinch.

The WiFi was stable enough to see us stop in just about every day, but the main reason we rated Pergamino was for their extensive coffee, tea, juice and cake menu.

A few can’t miss items: The cold brew (it’s served in a variety of ways), chocolate cake, iced mangosteen green tea, and any of the frappes (especially on a hot day).

Botanika Lounge: Before coming to Medellin, we heard absolutely rave reviews for Botanika. And, so maybe, we were expecting too much. 

We didn’t dislike Botanika, but we also didn’t love it.

The best part, in our opinion, was the vibrant, leafy decor, and the fact there was great WiFi and power outlets under every table.

We didn’t care much for the menu- it was on the trendier edge, and more expensive in comparison to Poblado’s other cafes. Also, as the evening drew closer, the cafe got decidedly scenier. If you’re down to have a cocktail while working, you may enjoy Botanika. We usually prefer to work from chiller spots, where the focus is more on great brew and less on a trendy space.

Cafe Velvet: It’s not hard to see why Velvet is popular with nomads. It’s a bit dark and moody, but in a cool way. 

As with many places in Poblado, we enjoyed the dual indoor/outdoor aspect of Cafe Velvet. Especially since here, the outdoor portion has tons of plants and mountain imagery- it’s easy to feel as if you’ve escaped the city for a bit.

The coffee menu here is extensive, and WiFi was pretty good. Although, we didn’t spot any plugs on the one afternoon we worked from Velvet (we also didn’t look too hard for them, or ask staff).

Al Alma Coffee Roasters: A Colombian coffee chain, we liked Al Alma more than Juan Valdez because it felt smaller and more personal. It’s a popular spot with locals and visitors for Western-inspired brunch. Their El Poblado location didn’t have WiFi when we visited, but there was good cold brew, so we’ll call it a win.

A few other spots in El Poblado we liked:

  • Juan Valdez in Parque Lleras: Colombian Starbucks, good for a quick caffeine fix or if no other cafes are open -they’re open early/late
  • Como Pez En El Agua: Go for brunch
  • Urbania Cafe: Good breakfast and nice coffee menu, a bit further away from the main bits of El Poblado, which kept us from visiting more than once

Coworking space wise, there are tons of spots in El Poblado. We only checked out Selina, a hip hostel that doubles as a coworking spot. We liked it, but no more than our favourite cafes in the neighborhood.

LAURELES

Semilla Coworking: Looking for a cafe we didn’t realise had closed, we stumbled upon Semilla. From the outside, it looks like a trendy cafe with minimalist, Scandi-inspired design. Inside, you’ll discover it’s built for those who need a remote office. There’s loads of spaces to sit or lounge, enclosed conference rooms, lockers, a kitchen with coffee and food, plus fast WiFi.

If I was staying in Medellin longer, I would have definitely looked into coworking space options as I did in Bali. But, what I appreciated about Semilla, is how easy it was to just drop in for a few hours. There aren’t day rates, per se. Instead, you’re given a WiFi code that’s good for four hours when you order something to eat or drink. We didn’t stay longer than that, but I’d imagine if you needed to, and kept ordering things, there’d be no issue in getting another code.

Cafe Revolucion: Located on the main road, it’s a popular spot for all day brekkie. There’s your usual coffee fare, plus loads of fresh juice and smoothie options. The WiFi is stable, there are power plugs underneath the booths inside, and there’s a resident floof. What more could you ask for?

Cafe Zeppelin: Although it doesn’t open until noon each day, I loved Cafe Zeppelin so much, I’d consider moving to the Laureles ‘hood if I lived in Medellin just to have continual, easy access. The cafe is huge- there are tons of corners to curl up in with a good book, or post up at with a laptop. There are two outdoor areas, in the front and back, which lend different vibes to your experience. I really enjoy this aspect of places, as it means they pretty much always feel fresh. Plus, power plugs are scattered throughout, and the WiFi is great.

Best yet, the non-coffee options. I love brew, but sometimes, need a break- especially mid-late afternoon, as I’m starting to wind down for the day. We had incredible limonada de cocos at Zeppelin- in fact, we agreed they were the best we’d had in all of Colombia.

Two other cafes we liked in Laureles, less for work and more for hanging out:

  • Cafe Tales: Tiny, quaint cafe
  • Cafe Cliche: French owned, quirky mismatched furniture

CIUDAD DEL RIO

We didn’t explore this area much, but did walk over to one cafe on an afternoon in El Poblado, where we were looking to explore a bit.

While the stretch of Ciudad Del Rio we visited is walkable, you may want to consider taking a taxi if it’s late at night. For most of the walk, you’re along major highway, where there aren’t a ton of other people on the sidewalk with you, as you’d have in more populous areas of Medellin, like El Poblado.

Cariñito Cafe: Lured here by the promise it’d be quieter than Poblado cafes, we were impressed with the size of Cariñito- ample indoor seating, plus a huge terrace, and with the abundance of in-floor power plugs. Additionally, the WiFi was easy to access, the coffee menu was extensive, and atmosphere was cheery, despite being less busy than most of our usual haunts. Not in the mood for coffee? Big fan of the limonada de coco here.

Have you ever visited or lived in Medellin? Did you visit any cafes you’d recommend to others? 

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The Ultimate Guide to Colourful Cartagena

Cartagena is one of the most beautiful and colourful cities I’ve ever visited.

Situated on the Caribbean coast, it’s got a decidedly different vibe to other places in Colombia.

Pronounced Car-tuh-hen-uh, there’s truly something for everyone in the city, whether you’re visiting to roam the pastel streets, shopping or sailing the Caribbean coast. 

What to Do

Wander the Historic Old City: The Walled City, also known as La Ciudad Amurallada, is a World Heritage site and the heart of Old Cartagena. Its buildings date back to the 16th century, and nowadays, many of them operate as shops, restaurants and boutique hotels.

Strolling the historic Old City is like stepping back in time and losing yourself in the shaded, historic plazas and vibrant, cobblestone streets. 

A few streets, in particular, we loved:

  • Calle de Don Sancho
  • Calle de la Iglesia
  • Calle 38 (look for the pink house), also Carrera 8 between Calle 38 and 39
  • Carrera 9
  • Calle de Don Sancho
  • Plaza Trinidad
  • Callejon Angosto (covered in bright umbrellas)
  • Calle de la Magdalena (umbrellas and swaying flags)

Walk Along the Top of the Fortress: Located along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, Cartagena de Indias was once an important port of Colonial Spain.

In effort to protect the city from pirates, Spaniards built a massive 11-km-long wall,  turning the city into a fortress. Today, you can walk along the top of El Castillo de San Felipe fortress. 

Snap a Photo With Cartagena’s Fruit Sellers: You’ve likely seen them splashed across Cartagena travel guides. If you wander the old town, you’ll most definitely spot the palenqueras- the Afro-Caribbean fruit sellers are one of the most photographed icons of Cartagena.

Direct descendants of the world’s first free African slaves, the Palenqueras represent an incredible feat of human resistance.

Today, these make women make their money posing for photos, but this wasn’t always the case.

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Back in 1961, San Basillo de Palenque, a small village southeast of Cartagena, was ruled entirely by runaway African slaves. The town, independent from Spanish colonial powers, was the first free town of the Americas, and the men and women who lived there were known as Palenqueros and Palenqueras.

Although Palenque had achieved what no other town around it could, it was cut off from the rest of society, and thus- extremely poor.

The women of Palenque decided to sell what they had in abundance around them- tropical fruit. They’d pack their baskets full with fruit, put on their traditional African dresses, and head to Cartagena by foot.

In the city, they’d sell fruit until their baskets were empty. Over time, the practice became a steady income source, and as more and more Palenquera traveled into Cartagena, they became one of the city’s biggest icons.

Today, the Palenqueras sell less fruit- instead, making money by posing for photos with travelers.

Not many visitors actually know what these women represent- they’re respected figures, seen as courageous, hard-working mothers, and reminders of a thriving Afro-Caribbean heritage.

If you decide to take a photo with them, or of them, be sure to tip them appropriately. Remember- this is a job for them.

h/t to The Culture Trip for the background info on the Palenqueras- so many blogs I read about Cartagena mentioned taking photos with them, but provided no context on the significance of who they are.

Watch the Sunset Over the City: We dug the Movich hotel’s views of the city and sea beyond. While we certainly weren’t the only ones there, it also wasn’t as crowded as other well known bars.

We’d head a lot about Cafe del Mar, a bar build into the historic wall that’s famed for its sunset views. But, we’d also heard it gets insanely crowded and cocktails are lackluster, so we skipped checking it out.

Take a Day Trip to Islas Rosario: Cartagena’s proximity to the equator means it’s hot and humid throughout the year. Humidity levels average around 80%, with the temperature hovering between 25°C and 30°C. 

Even during the cooler months, from January to March, sunshine reins supreme, and the days are warm enough to warrant a dip in the ocean.

When planning our visit, we knew we wanted to spend time seaside, but weren’t sure what’d be the best way to do so.

The beaches adjacent to historic old town will suit if you’re just after a quick dip, but aren’t exactly the stuff lounging in the sand dreams are made of.

We’d read Playa Blanca on Isla Baru was one of the most popular beaches to visit. With colorful beach shacks, pina colada stands and beautiful turquoise water, Baru makes for a pretty great day trip. What’s more, it’s easy to reach- friends told us they’d coordinated a day trip return taxi for $50-60 USD. But, with its popularity comes vendors selling things up and down the sand.

Another thing we considered was a day at Blue Apple Beach. Thirty minutes from Cartagena by boat, on the southern shore of Tierra Bomba Island, Blue Apple is a private beach club. Space is limited, so you’ll need to book in advance and specify if you want space by the pool, beach or a cabana.

In the end, we decided we really wanted to visit the Rosario Islands on a boat trip.

If we had another day, we would have likely gone to Baru or checked out Blue Apple Beach. But, with only one day to spend seaside, we decided a sailing trip would be best since it didn’t require much planning from us, and meant we could just lounge on a boat all day with food and drinks taken care of.

When looking into tour providers, we saw some recommendations to charter our own boat. But, with only two of us, that’d be quite a costly option.

Thankfully, we found Bona Vida Catamarans.

Bona Vida offers a beautiful day at sea, without being crammed onto a boat with a bunch of strangers.

The catamaran sails to the Islas Rosario, an archipelago of 27 coral rich islands, part of Colombia’s most important national park. Each of the islands are beautiful and diverse in their own way, and have something to offer for everyone.

If you’re visiting Cartagena for a week or so, you may want to consider spending a night or two actually on one of the islands- the resorts and beach huts we sailed past look like the epitome of relaxation.

On your day at sea, you’ll make two stops- one to snorkel and swim, and another on a private beach, where you can swim up to the coast. A morning snack, lunch, fresh fruit juice and water are provided as part of your booking.

All up, it was a beautiful day. Our sailing tour was seamless and simple, allowing us to truly unwind and enjoy the beautiful national park we were in.

// A Day in the Sun, Sailing Cartagena’s Rosario Island //

Salsa the Night Away at Cafe Havana

No explanation needed, really. If you come to Colombia and don’t dance, you’re doing it wrong. 

Where to Eat

We were only in Cartagena for three days, and each one of those days, only at in restaurants for one meal- sometimes two, if we did a quick/cheap early morning breakfast. Otherwise, we took to the streets for arepas, because, when in Colombia.

That said, I don’t have a bunch of restaurant recos, but you know, quality over quantity.

  • Maria Bonita: Creative cocktails and great tacos
  • Pasteleria Mila: Best for banana bread and fresh juices
  • Beiyu: Don’t miss the acai bowls
  • Cafe de la Manana: Ace for breakfast, more on why we loved it below

We didn’t have a chance to check Bohemia out, but it came highly recommended as a foodie destination. Same for Alma at Hotel San Agustin.

Also, Alquimico was recommended to us for drinks, but we decided to stay in and chill the night we’d thought about going. However, it was described to us as a bar with a different cocktail experience on every floor, which sounds pretty cool.

Where to Drink Coffee

Even though Cartagena isn’t anywhere near Colombia’s coffee-growing region, you will find a few spots that rival spots in coffee-central spots, like Medellin and Bogota.

From small espresso bars to speciality shops with a slew of awards to show for their brews, any coffee lover will find something to enjoy in Cartagena.

With only three days in Cartagena, we didn’t work and thus, can’t vouch for any of these spots being good for nomads.

However, we were able to connect to WiFi at most of them, and found them perfect for cooling off with a cup of coffee, or refreshing fruit drink.

Cafe de la Mañana: Ace for breakfast in the old city. We loved this spot so much, we came twice. 

It’s small, but spacious. Expect to wait a bit for a table during peak meal times. There’s WiFi for those without cell service, and overhead fans to help cool the air.

We thought the vegetarian breakfast, which came out to ~$7 USD per person was priced well for how touristy Cartagena is. It included scrambled eggs, arepas or hummus toast, fresh fruit and vegetables, plus fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee, which you can asked for iced.

Here, we tended to linger for a bit after breakfast, reading and relaxing. Usually, we ordered another round of fresh fruit juices to try.

Already familiar with guanábana (soursop) from my time in Asia, as well as lulo and granadilla from my time in Medellin, I was delighted to find another tropical fruit here to try on their menu- corozo, which has a berry taste, similar to strawberry.

Abacao Libros y Cafe: Bookstore meets cafe, always a favourite combination of mine.

Here, you’ll find great iced coffee, tall glasses of limonada de coco, and cold brew cocktails.

The air-con is strong, WiFi is available, and there are plenty of seats at the bar, as well as a selection of small tables.

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Cafe San Alberto: Operating off the belief that coffee is a science, brews here come from a family farm in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region.

The staff knows their coffee stuff and is eager to help explain their brews to ensure you select the best drink.

Of course, I had the cold brew. Super good, definitely among one of the better cups I’ve tried over the years.

Cafe del Mural: The definition of a hidden gem in Cartagena’s up and coming, hip Getsemani ‘hood.

Tucked down a side street, the cafe’s decor is vintagey and beautiful. If you prefer to have your coffee alfresco, there’s ample outdoor seating amidst a garden area with loads of cool street graffiti.

A few other spots we enjoyed:

  • Libertario Coffee Co. & Roasters: Third-wave coffee and great croissants, good spot for brekkie on the go if you’re staying in the Getsemani ‘hood
  • Folklore Colombian Coffee: Good brews and breakfast
  • Boundless Coffee: Cafe meets mezcal bar
  • Juan Valdez: The Starbucks of Colombia, good for those times when you need a caffeine fix early or late, or just need WiFi while on the go

// A Guide to Cartagena’s Best Cafes, Perfect for Cooling Off //

Where to Stay

A few years ago, it wasn’t considered safe to roam the Getsemani neighborhood. Now, it’s one of Cartagena’s trendiest areas, packed with cool cafes, restaurants and street stalls.

We stayed in an Airbnb (private room, en-suite bathroom) along Parque Del Centenario, which meant we were next to both Getsemani, and only a 5 minute walk from Old Town.

This location felt utterly perfect- the best of both worlds. And, because we were near one of the main roads outside of Old Town, there were always taxis milling about. Grabbing one to go to the airport for our flights was a cinch.

Extra Colombia Travel Tips

Language: Transactional English is spoken at upmarket stores and restaurants in the Old Town area. 

Throughout Colombia, and South America and Latin America, you won’t find many people who are fluent in English. With Spanish as the national language, it’s best to pick up a few key phrases, or have Google Translate at the ready.

Currency: Colombian Peso

I withdrew from bank ATMs. Look for Visa and Mastercard images on an ATM- that means it’s global, and only withdraw from a bank one (there’s less of a chance your card will be skimmed). I’d advise carrying cash on you- some purchases are so small, you won’t meet the card minimum if the place you’re at even takes cards.

Budget: We found Cartagena to be a lot more expensive than other parts of Colombia. Compared to Medellin, things were at least 2-3x the cost, and usually not as great of quality. That said, I’d still class it a budget destination if you’re visiting from the US or UK. 

In Medellin, we had no issue living very nicely on $12-15 USD a day to cover coffees, juices, fresh fruit, brunch and dinner. In Cartagena, we upped our daily food/coffee budget to $20-25 USD per day, which usually covered brunch, street food for dinner, ~2 coffees/juices, and fresh fruit from a street vendor.

Getting There: Unless you’re flying direct from Orlando, Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you’ll likely layover in Florida or Panama en-route from the northern hemisphere. 

Heading to Cartagena, we flew from Medellin, and on my way back to the US, I flew Spirit to NYC, stopping in Fort Lauderdale for a few hours.

Once at the airport, you can grab a taxi to wherever you’re staying in town. If you’re flying international, there’ll be automatic reservation machines in the airport. If you’re coming in on a domestic flight, there’s an agent and ticket booth outside of the terminal, and to the left. Both ways, if you’re headed to Getsemani, it shouldn’t be more than 14-16 COP ($3-4 USD).

Getting Around: The historic centre and its surroundings are walkable, so if you stay in that area, you can plan on getting around by foot. 

If you’re covering a larger distance, taxis are plentiful on the street. Be sure to agree on cost before getting in- Cartagena taxis don’t have metres.

When to Visit: We visited in early February, when temps are cooler and there’s usually a nice sea breeze to cool visitors off. 

Before going, friends had warned us it would be unbearably humid, but we actually felt cool at times- especially in the evenings. Mosquitos also weren’t an issue as it was the midst of Cartagena’s dry season. 

Tipping: Tipping is common practice in Colombia. Be prepared to add ‘con diez’ or ‘con quince’ to your bill. 

Wifi Access: Most cafes had free WiFi, although we had Tigo SIMs and weren’t too worried about being connected. 

SIM Card Options: We we entered Colombia earlier in the month in Medellin, we bought sims from a convenience store in the Medellin airport.

We went with Tigo, which cost $6 USD for 2.5 GB of data. Not super cheap, but also not too expensive, and much less hassle, buying at the airport, than trying to find a seller in the city.

In Cartagena, we needed to top up our SIMs, and found an arcade, full of Tigo and Claro shops just outside the old town. We walked around, saying, ‘Recarga?’, and eventually had one vendor offer to help load us back up. To find this arcade, just Google search, ‘Tigo store, Cartagena’ – there’s only one map location near the old town.

Have you ever visited Cartagena? Is it a destination on your list of places to visit one day?Would you add anything to this guide to Cartagena?

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Four Cafes in Cartagena, Perfect for Cooling Off

Cartagena is one of the most beautiful and colourful cities I’ve ever visited.

Situated on the Caribbean coast, it’s got a decidedly different vibe to other places in Colombia.

Whether you come for sightseeing, shopping, or the coast, there’s something for everyone. However, being on the coast, it’s hot and humid in Cartagena throughout the year.

Average humidity levels are around 80%, with temps hovering between 25°C and 30°C. We visited in early February when the temps are on the cooler side, and the sea breeze cools down the city. But, from friends who’ve visited in spring, summer or fall, I’ve heard Cartagena can get quite hot and sticky. 

Even though Cartagena isn’t anywhere near Colombia’s coffee-growing region, you will find a few spots that rival spots in coffee-central places, like Medellin and Bogota.

From small espresso bars to speciality shops with a slew of awards to show for their brews, any coffee lover will find something to enjoy in Cartagena.

With only three days in Cartagena, we didn’t work and thus, can’t vouch for any of these spots being good for nomads.

However, we were able to connect to WiFi at most of them, and found them perfect for cooling off with a cup of coffee, or refreshing fruit drink.

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Four Cafes in Cartagena, Perfect for Cooling Off

Cafe de la Mañana: Ace for breakfast in the old city. We loved this spot so much, we came twice. 

It’s small, but spacious. Expect to wait a bit for a table during peak meal times. There’s WiFi for those without cell service, and overhead fans to help cool the air.

We thought the vegetarian breakfast, which came out to ~$7 USD per person was priced well for how touristy most of Cartagena is. It included scrambled eggs, arepas or hummus toast, fresh fruit and vegetables, plus fresh-squeezed orange juice, and coffee, which you can asked for iced.

Here, we tended to linger for a bit after breakfast, reading and relaxing. Usually, we ordered another round of fresh fruit juices to try.

Already familiar with guanábana (soursop) from my time in Asia, as well as lulo and granadilla from my time in Medellin, I was delighted to find another tropical fruit here to try on their menu- corozo, which has a berry taste- similar to strawberry.

All up, this is a great spot for brekkie and a refreshing drink. Although, as there’s not air-con, I’d imagine it gets quite hot in the city’s warmer months.

Abacao Libros y Cafe: Bookstore meets cafe, always a favourite combination of mine.

Here, you’ll find great iced coffee, tall glasses of limonada de coco, and cold brew cocktails.

The air-con is strong, WiFi is available, and there are plenty of seats at the bar, as well as a selection of small tables.

Best part?

They’re pretty lenient about letting you browse books while you sip your drinks.

Cafe San Alberto: Operating off the belief that coffee is a science, brews here come from a family farm in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region.

The staff knows their coffee stuff and is eager to help explain their brews to ensure you select the best drink.

Of course, I had the cold brew. Super good, definitely among one of the better cups I’ve tried over the years.

The cafe, itself, has two levels, and strong air-conditioning. There’s also WiFi and tasty pastries (we liked the guava roll).

Cafe del Mural: The definition of a hidden gem in Cartagena’s up and coming, hip Getsemani ‘hood.

Tucked down a side street, the cafe’s decor is vintagey and beautiful. If you prefer to have your coffee alfresco, there’s ample outdoor seating amidst a garden area with loads of cool street graffiti.

Three other spots we enjoyed in historic, city centre:

  • Folklore Colombian Coffee: Good brews and breakfast
  • Boundless Coffee: Cafe meets mezcal bar
  • Juan Valdez: The Starbucks of Colombia, good for those times when you need a caffeine fix early or late, or just need WiFi while on the go. The location at 3-158, Cl. 33 #396 has a small terrace that overlooks the old town wall

Have you ever been to Cartagena? Did you visit any cafes while you were in the Caribbean city? 

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A Day in the Sun, Sailing Cartagena’s Rosario Islands

Located along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, Cartagena was once an important port of colonial Spain.

It’s a beautiful city- colourful, vibrant and buzzing with activity.

Its proximity to the equator though, means it’s hot and humid in Cartagena throughout the year. Humidity levels average around 80%, with the temperature hovering between 25°C and 30°C. 

Even during the cooler months, from January to March, sunshine reins supreme, and the days are warm enough to warrant a dip in the ocean.

When planning our visit, we knew we wanted to spend time seaside, but weren’t sure what’d be the best way to do so.

The beaches adjacent to historic old town will suit if you’re just after a quick dip, but aren’t exactly the stuff lounging in the sand dreams are made of.

We’d read Playa Blanca on Isla Baru was one of the most popular beaches to visit. With colorful beach shacks, pina colada stands and beautiful turquoise water, Baru makes for a pretty great day trip. What’s more, it’s easy to reach- friends told us they’d coordinated a day trip return taxi for $50-60 USD. But, with popularity comes vendors selling things up and down the sand.

Another thing we considered was a day at Blue Apple Beach. Thirty minutes from Cartagena by boat, on the southern shore of Tierra Bomba Island, Blue Apple is a private beach club. Space is limited, so you’ll need to book in advance and specify if you want space by the pool, beach, or a cabana.

In the end, we decided we really wanted to visit the Rosario Islands on a day long boat trip.

If we had another day, we would have likely gone to Baru or checked out Blue Apple Beach. But, with only one day to spend seaside, we decided a sailing trip would be best since it didn’t require much planning from us, and meant we could just lounge on a boat all day with food and drinks taken care of.

When looking into tour providers, we saw some recommendations to charter our own boat. But, with only two of us, that’d be quite a costly option.

Thankfully, we found Bona Vida Catamarans.

Bona Vida offers a beautiful day at sea, without being crammed onto a boat with a bunch of strangers.

The catamaran is huge, with the ability to hold up to 100 people. On the day we sailed, in the midst of peak season, we had about ~50 people on our boat, so while there were people milling about, it never felt too full. There were always spaces to sit, in the sun or shade.

Venturing out with Bona Vida is a full-day event, you’ll depart around ~8 am, and return to the harbour at 4:30 pm.

Included in your day are ice cold drinks whenever you fancy one, lunch cooked on board, snorkeling equipment, floaties and fun music.

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The catamaran sails to the Islas Rosario, an archipelago of 27 coral rich islands, part of Colombia’s most important national park.

Each of the islands are beautiful and diverse in their own way, and have something to offer for everyone.

If you’re visiting Cartagena for a week or so, you may want to consider spending a night or two actually on one of the islands- the resorts and beach huts we sailed past look like the epitome of relaxation.

Our journey started with an hour and a half long sail from Cartagena de Indias, gliding past the city’s spectacular skyline.

During this part of our journey, we sipped fresh watermelon juice and read books, while sprawled out on cushions adorned with pillows.

The bar on board offers different kinds of drinks, at an additional cost, but watermelon juice and water are free throughout the day.

In the morning, there was a fried dough snack, which I skipped because it looked to have either meat or nuts inside it. Plus, we’d grabbed coffee and croissants at Libertario Coffee Co. & Roasters, plus fresh cut watermelon from a street vendor, before boarding so we weren’t hungry until lunchtime rolled around.

Our first stop was snorkeling. The water was crystal clear and warm, but unfortunately, the reef was mostly bleached, and there wasn’t much to see.

Nonetheless, it was beautiful to swim.

We alternated lounging on the catamaran’s net, and jumping in the ocean for nearly two hours.

While we swam at this stop, local fisherman paddled over, offering fresh lobster for purchase. We didn’t try it, but it seemed to be popular with others on the boat, who raved about how delicious it tasted.

Next up, we sailed for about a half hour to our second sto