From bustling El Poblado and Downtown to the residential charms of Laureles and Belen, Medellin is the perfect location to spend many days exploring and/ or lounging.
Thankfully, if you are also on a tight budget, it is possible to make the most of your visit without splurging on expensive tours or museums.
The wonderful city that is Medellin has a lot of offer tourists absolutely free of charge whether you want to hike, get in some culture or simply spend time living like a local.
I recommend investing in a metro card and getting used to the metro, tram, cable car and bus lines. This is by far the cheapest way to get around the city and it is relatively speedy and well-organised (each journey will cost you around 2000 pesos so roughly €0.60 EUR or $0.68 USD). There is also many epic places to stay in the city, check out this handy post if you need any ideas on where to stay in Medellin.
So once you have your transport and accomodation sorted, it is time to get started on your cost-effective exploration of Medellin. Here is my ultimate guide to FREE things to do in this great city.
1. Hike to Cerro de las Tres Cruxes
This is a nice hike to do within the city and a place used by locals to get in some exercise. The hike takes thirty to forty minutes depending on your speed though it is quite steep so don’t underestimate it.
There is no tree cover and it tends to get pretty hot up there so take plenty of sunscreen and water. At the top enjoy cold juices, fruits and beverages while looking out over the spectacular view of Medellin.
Located within the department of Altavista, the easiest way to get there is to take metro to Industriales and then take the bus up Calle 30. From the last stop you can walk around 20 to 30 minutes to the base of the mountain.
2. Visit Casa de la Memoria
For further insight into the political and social atmosphere of the eighties and nineties in Medellin and how it affected civilians, it is imperative that you take a visit to Casa de la Memoria.
This really is a great museum hosted in an impressive building. It’s a bit out of the way but you can easily take the metro to San Antonio station and then hop on to the tram for three stops to Bicentario. The museum is just around the corner from the tram stop.
The main exhibition is a moving tribute to Colombia and its people that focuses less on the conflict itself and more on the people who were unwittingly dragged into it.
Something many visitors miss is that there is an app that can be downloaded from the App and Play stores which guides you through the main exhibition in either English or Spanish.
This really adds to the overall experience so make sure you bring your headphones. Downstairs is an exhibition about the geographies of Colombia and Medellin and how they were affected by the conflict.
The museum is well put together, accessible and weaves between being an outdoor and indoor exhibition space. All in all a great experience that will cost you nada.
3. Visit the botanical gardens
El Jardín Botánico de Medellín Joaquín Antonio Uribe is a stunning piece of nature located within the heart of the city. Nicely secluded from the road, the gardens offer a peaceful place to sit by a lake or perch on a bench to read a book.
You can enjoy the impressive sculptural canopy as well as a stroll through the exotic plants garden. The gardens are more of a park than bursting with flowers but with free entry you cannot go wrong with a visit here.
A full circuit of the park will only take ten minutes as it is not too big so bring some snacks and a book and just chill out.
4. Take a free walking tour
Though it is expected that you tip on these walking tours, there are a number of great ‘free’ tours on offer in the city so I have included them in this list.
Real City Tours do an unmissable downtown tour of Medellin which is a must if you are still getting to grips with the history, politics and culture of the city. I have a new found respect and understanding for the country after this tour and highly recommend it. It is regarded as one of the best walking tours in Latin America and people rave about it.
Though you can technically do the tour for free as payment is not a requirement, the suggested tip amount is somewhere between 20,000 Colombian pesos and 35,0000 pesos (and it is worth it).
Zippy Tours also do a free walking tour of Medellin’s infamous Comuna 13, formerly a very dangerous area of Medellin. This tour gives invaluable insight into the precarious situation of Medellin and Colombia in the nineties and early noughties as well as the experiences of residents during this time.
Our guide Laura had grown up in Comuna 13 and walked us through the neighbourhood with first-hand accounts of her experience growing up there and even took us to visit her family home.
5. Visit a free public library
As part of an initiative to clean up the city and provide vital services for residents and youths, dozens of public libraries were set up in various parts of Medellin.
Free to enter and explore, these museums were a powerful force for change giving opportunities to locals that they had never had before. Take in part of this history with a visit to one; enjoy some quiet time, free Wi-Fi or read a book.
I recommend Luis Echavarría Cultural Center-Library Villegas in central downtown where you can also enjoy the rehabilitated square, once one of the more dangerous parts of Medellin.
6. Visit the Mercado del Rio
Nestled amongst sprawling skyscrapers in the city’s commercial district is the upmarket Mercado del Rio.
Though its pricey to buy things in here, the architecture of the building and its pretty ceramic flooring are worth visiting alone.
Enjoy anything from sushi and paella to crepes, waffles, beer and fro-yo.
7. Do a free yoga class
Feel like a local and take a free class!
If you have some time to kill and would like to engage with locals, why not detox with a yoga class. Here is a list of the free classes available in Medellin (note that some request a voluntary contribution).
8. Enjoy free art in Botero Square
Bask in free artwork by the famous Colombian artist and sculptor Fernando Botero. As part of government initiatives to rehabilitate problem areas in Medellin, Botero donated a number of impressive sculptures to the city for free.
Enjoy the sculptures here at Botero Square in downtown amongst the impressive facade of the Palace of Culture and the Museo de Antioquia.
9. Hike to Pueblito Paisa
Perched on the top of Nutibaro hill situated casually in the centre of the city is the pretty reconstructed traditional town of Pueblito Paisa.
Spend twenty minutes walking up the hill to enjoy an impressive viewpoint of the city as well as pretty colonial buildings, local merchants and traditional markets.
10. Visit Parque Lleras
El Poblado is pretty much known as the gringo centre of Medellin but that doesn’t mean it should not be visited.
The main square is always bustling with life so take some time here to enjoy the atmosphere and take in the pretty tree-lined streets and buzzing nightlife of this busy neighbourhood.
11. Go to an outdoor workout park
Medellin is big on promoting fitness and has many outdoor exercise parks. Why not join the locals in the Parque Calistenia in El Poblado or go to the truly impressive park at Unidad Deportiva de Belén Andrés Escobar.
The latter park boasts an Olympic size pool as well as a running track and outdoor exercise facilities. You may even catch a free class in the mornings.
The pool is open to anyone midweek between one and two pm (make sure to bring a swimming cap and ID or you will not get in).
12. Visit Barefoot Park
Parque de los Pies Descalzos is a small park that encourages locals and tourists to get back in touch with nature in the midst of the busy city.
The area encourages guests to get barefoot and explore the nature and impressive sculptural archivecture. Enjoy a bamboo meditation space, two cooling pools to dip your toes and open spaces for picnics.
13. Visit Comuna 13
If you decide not to do the walking tour, feel free to head to Comuna 13 on your own. The area is easily accessibly using the metro to get to San Javier station and then simply follow a map downloaded to your phone to the public escalators to enjoy the tourist area.
I would recommend going in a group, especially if you are a solo female traveller though the area is considered safe in general during the day. For more information on heading here alone, check out my post on visiting this fascinating area.