People from all facets of life—foodies, culture-seekers, entrepreneurs, and creatives—are flocking to laid-back, balmy Medellín (Colombia’s second biggest city with 2.6 million inhabitants), and with good reason. Shedding its gritty past, the city has emerged as a dynamic —and safe—artistic hub. It’s full of beautiful buildings (many with magnificent rooftop pools and bars) and lush green streets, and with the Andes Mountains all along its outer edges, the skyline is simply spectacular. There are so many neighborhoods to be explored, and most easily navigable with a private guide so you can experience as much of the city as possible.

1259 feet of outdoor escalators bring visitors into the heart of Comuna 13, a once dangerous enclave that has morphed into a street art mecca. The lively neighborhood is full of innovation, as well as dancers, rap artists, painters, and storytellers who enliven the alleyways of this bustling labyrinth. The three neighborhoods within Comuna 13 are synonymous with resilience and a tour is a definite must-visit for travelers in Medellín. Travelers might want to do a bit of dancing of their own while in Medellín, too. The city is home to jostling neon bars and salsa clubs that thump and sway into the early morning.

One of the best places to eat authentic Colombian dishes is along the tree-lined avenues of Laureles neighborhood, filled with many restaurants and food courts (we highly recommend jumping on a food tour of Medellín to get a taste of it all!).

Medellín is full of parks and plazas, including Botero Square, named after the famous Colombian artist, known for his drawing and statues of oversized people. You can explore 23 of his works here—and it’s always vibrant, packed with street performers, museums, and artists. Plaza de Bolívar—another urban park—is home to the Cathedral of Medellín where local tango singers folk together. And, If you really want to get in on the action, seeing a fútbol match here is spectacular. Medellín has two local teams: Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín.

But there’s a more serene, green side to the city as well. A cable car swings up to Arvi Park, an ecological nature preserve threaded with 54 miles of trails and a sweeping view of the city framed by lush trees and fragrant orchids. The Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden) is another nature haven, growing 35 acres of over 1000 different plant species, including a vertical garden and tropical forest. It’s this interesting juxtaposition of creative chaos and soothing natural beauty that makes Medellín such an inspiring urban retreat. A jungle in the city—if you will—where you can learn about Colombian biodiversity.

Across from the Jardin Botanico is Parque de Los Deseos (the Park of Wishes), another great addition to any city visit located next to the University of Antioquia (an interesting museum that’s home to numerous pre-Colombian works as well as national and international works by famous artists‚ including many pieces by Botero). The urban park is a popular spot to hang out, attend a concert, or watch a free outdoor movie on a big screen. This is one of Medellín’s best examples of social innovation.

Our favorite accommodations in Medellín

Other areas to explore in Colombia

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