Medellín is packed with tons of exciting activities to keep visitors entertained – from picturesque parks, cultural museums, salsa dancing, community tours and a vibrant nightlife, the City of Eternal Spring is never short of goings-on. And while Colombia is generally considered cheap, the majority of travelers and expats can relate to being low on funds and frantically searching for things to do that fit their budget. Luckily, Medellín is also home to a number of places that have don’t have an admission cost, so you don’t have to compromise your social life while waiting for payday. Here are the best free things to do in Medellín:
Calle 73 #51D-14
Located a short walk away from Universidad metro station, Medellín’s botanical gardens stretch over 13.2 hectares and are completely free to enter. Here, visitors can wander through the lush greenery, admiring the colorful plants and soaking up the sunshine. There’s equally a cactus garden and butterfly house, plus ponds and animals like iguanas and turtles along the way. Come prepared with a picnic (visitors are welcome to bring in their own food and drink) and spread out on the grass, watching the world pass by. The gardens are open from 9 am – 4.30 pm every day.
Carrera 110, San Javier
A must-see on many travel itineraries also happens to cost nothing. Comuna 13 is an area of Medellín once plagued by violence and gangs which has undergone a huge transformation. The introduction of escalators – covering 384 meters – in the hillside meant that once-isolated residents became more connected with downtown Medellín and significantly improved social mobility. Nowadays, Comuna 13 draws crowds of tourists to experience its rich culture, including incredible graffiti art created by locals, panoramic views of the city skyline, live music, street performers and food carts. While there are no charges to visit Comuna 13, the area is still very much developing and it’s recommended to support the community where possible.
To get to Comuna 13, take the train to San Javier metro station and from there, either a 10-minute taxi (around $5,000 COP) or bus (turn right when you exit the station and take number 25). Active people can also walk (roughly 20 minutes) but be warned that the streets get very steep.
Casa de la Memoría
Parque Bicentenario, Calle 51 #36-66
Similar to Comuna 13, Casa de la Memoría is an important symbol of change in Medellín – telling the city’s story from the view of the people who have been most affected by the conflicts. The museum has a variety of exhibitions that represent the human and cultural cost of Medellín’s troubled past, as well as celebrate its newfound stability. The museum encourages a dialogue with its visitors, so some of the works are interactive and there are additionally free events and talks that take place here. Guided tours are available in English every Tuesday and Friday, and there is no admission fee.
A great choice for people who don’t have time to explore the smaller pueblos in Antioquia, Pueblito Paisa is perched atop Cerro Nutibara and is a model version of a Colombian town. The area features a colonial church, school and different houses, all of which are open to the public and provide a snippet of life from the past. The brightly-colored architecture is the perfect backdrop for photos, or visitors can wander beyond the town for stunning views over Medellín. Meanwhile, real history buffs can check out the Museo de Ciudad: a museum documenting the city’s growth and change over the years; entrance is $2,000 COP per person and is well worth the small fee to learn about Medellín’s expansion. The museum is open from 10 am – 6 pm daily.
Industriales is the closest metro station to Pueblito Paisa – to walk takes roughly 35 minutes and is uphill. Taxi is the easiest mode of transport and shouldn’t cost more than $10,000 COP from Poblado.
Over in El Centro, Plaza Botero is a square showcasing the works of Medellín-born artist Fernando Botero. The space is dotted with huge sculptures of Botero’s famous disproportionate caricatures, set in front of the beautiful Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe – a grand chequered building recognizable from postcards of Medellín. Currently, the palace is a cultural center with a tranquil courtyard and cool lookout points onto the bustling streets. Entrance is free.
Plaza Botero is a unique mix of locals and tourists alike and is normally very busy and loud. The energy of the square is part of its charm, and visitors here can spend hours people-watching or taking photos with the cheeky statues. If you have time to spare, stroll through the market streets off Plaza Botero – you’ll be sure to find a bargain. To arrive, ride the metro to Parque Berrío and walk under the bridge towards the palace.
Arguably the best free activity in Medellín is taking advantage of the incredible landscape and exploring up in the hills. There are a number of popular hiking routes throughout the city, all ranging in duration and difficulty. Cerro de las Tres Cruces and Cerro El Volador are both relatively easy hill walks that boast fantastic sights over the city rooftops and are normally filled with locals flying kites or enjoying a beer at the top. Arenales is set in the Envigado hills and takes hikers through narrow forest trails to a waterfall, Cerro Pan de Azúcar is to the east of Medellín and has a clear path up to Santa Elena, while El Morran is in the north and is one of the hardest routes with the steepest elevation.
If you’re looking for other people to explore with, the Medellín hiking group organizes regular trips.
Free walking tour
El Centro (meeting point at Alpujarra Metro Station)
No matter how many times you take it, the Real City free walking tour is like discovering a whole other Medellín. The tour – which lasts around 3 and a half hours and is given in English – goes through the El Centro region around the parks, squares, shops and hidden gems. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable, and through their storytelling, Medellín feels even more special. Plus, with a different group of people on each tour, you’re guaranteed to hear new perspectives on the city.
Although free to register, attendees are expected to tip their guide at the end of the tour. The tours are very popular and must be booked in advance.