Medellín, Colombia: It’s WAY More Than Pablo Escobar Mary Zakheim September 2, 2016 South America This post was most recently updated on September 1st, 2017You probably recognized the name Medellín for its connection to Pablo Escobar. The infamous drug lord called the Colombian city home and his criminal empire was known as the “Medellín Cartel”. Escobar and Medellín are heavily featured in the hit Netflix show Narcos . But forget that version of the city. Though only two decades removed from its notoriously violent past, Medellín is now widely considered one of South America’s safest big cities. Situated in a picturesque valley, the cosmopolitan town is surrounded by jutting mountain peaks and boasts pleasantly moderate temperatures year-round. So if you haven’t started thinking about Colombia as a vacation destination, it’s time to start, because the country has a lot to offer. From towering mountains to placid lakes to ritzy cities… We’re ready to pack our bags and go right now (actually, we’re gonna binge watch Narcos first). Because we think everyone should be headed south, we’ve curated a perfect to-do list for each and every kind of traveler. Ready, set, Medellín! The Adventurous Athlete Just an hour outside of the city lies a must for any adventure junkie: super affordable paragliding. Other easily attainable activities include mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking and catching a soccer match — but don’t do the latter without picking sides first. In Medellín, there are two teams, Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín, who are bitter rivals. The fans sit on opposite sides of the stadium and yell, cheer, sing for 90 full minutes as the soccer game unfolds in front of them. If you’re on the losing side, better head out of there quickly and grab a beer at a local watering hole. The Insatiable Know-It-All Sure, you could go on a bunch of Pablo Escobar tours… But then you’d be missing some of the best parts of Medellín history! Nestled in a valley in the mighty Andes, the city dates back to the early 1600s, when Spanish colonists began constructing the foundations of the town. Since then, the city has been ever vibrant and evolving: beautiful colonial gems sit next to sparkly modern skyscrapers, all of it framed perfectly by the cutting cliffs of the surrounding mountain chain. Appreciate the sprawling history of Medellín by checking out its amazing parks and plazas: Plaza Botero, Parque Berrio, Jardín Botánico, Parque Explora, Parque Arvi are all must-sees for any visitor. And a trip to Medellín wouldn’t be complete without stopping by Museo de Antioquia and the Modern Art Museum Medellín. Make sure to take a ride on the Metro Cable — a recent project that connects the poorer housing sites in the hills to the rest of the city (it also provides some of the best views of Medellín when you reach the top). The Ravenous Foodie Don’t poke fun at it for its lack of spice — Colombian food still packs a punch. Try dishes like bandeja paisa (meat, eggs, plaintains, the works), ajiaco (a potato-based soup), mondongo (tripe soup, for the daring) and cazuela de pescado (a perfectly seasoned filet of fish). And don’t forget where you are — coffee country! Colombia has a Starbucks-like country-wide coffee chain, Juan Valdez, which serves up a great cup of coffee. But when in Medellín, you’ve got to check out the growing list of small mom-and-pop shops that are crafting delectable espresso drinks as well as curating a super cool, undeniably modern Colombian vibe. Oh, and all this dining out will only set you back $5 for a full meal at a smaller restaurant, though the prices at the ultra-fancy restaurant normally only top out at around $25. For a night or two of the best meal of your life? Worth it. The Devilish Dancer The average price for a private lesson in Medellín comes in at a shockingly low $20. So, yeah. You’ve got to take one. If you prefer to let the music be your guide, you’ve come to the right place. In the trendy neighborhood of El Poblado, the party never stops. Music continues to play all night long, especially on the weekends, and visitors and locals alike twist and trot through the always-full watering holes. The most popular place to get your dance on is the trendy Parque Lleras, where the party starts on Thursday and doesn’t end ’till the weekend’s over. Outside of the expat-laden El Poblado, though, are plenty of other salsa bars. Check out local favorites El Eslabon Prendido, Patio del Tango and Son Havana for a hoppin’ time. The Cosmopolitan Socialite Any socialite from Medellín knows that the poshest place to stay is just east of town: the ritzy El Poblado neighborhood — where the city’s elite fled to escape the violence of the town in the nineties. Now, though, expats are a welcome addition and the neighborhood is pumped full of lush trees, boutique hotels and up-all-night clubs. Modern art galleries and cafes line the twisting streets, giving the South American city a decidedly Western feel to it. It also plays host to the must-go spot for bars, restaurants and nightlife, Parque Lleras, where locals and travelers alike dance the night away to traditional salsa or the increasingly popular techno beats. Like some of the posh locals, the cosmopolitan visitor should make a day trip outside of the city on the weekend, to colorful places like Guatape, Envigado or San Feliz. Ready to make your way to Medellín? Start by figuring out your fare!