Medellin, Colombia has emerged from a turbulent past and evolved into a modern city on the forefront of technology and public transportation. There are many free things to do in Medellin for all ages. Here are some of my favorite free activities in Medellin.
1. The Botanical Gardens
Check out the iguanas at the Botanical Gardens.
The Botanical Gardens provide a small sanctuary right the center of the city. Located diagonally across from the Universidad Metro stop, it houses an array of ecological systems and is just a great place to unwind, let your children run loose, and have a relaxing picnic. Stroll around the jungle and desert areas, grassy knolls, and a lake with ducks and iguanas running around. (The iguanas are huge!) There are also a few restaurants and food vendors on the property, and you can easily get the food packed up to go sit by the lake and picnic. Sometimes there are street musicians or small artisan fairs in front of the property. This is a great place for a family outing or a romantic afternoon. The mornings are best, as it can become a bit more crowded once school gets out and on the weekends.
2. The Outdoor Escalators
The outdoor escalators are a high-tech contrast to the surrounding neighborhood.
The Outdoor Escalators are a short bus ride from the San Javier metro stop and are the first outdoor escalators in the world to be used as part of a daily public transportation system. Built up the side of a mountain in Communa 13 – one of Medellin’s poorest communities – the series of 6 escalators turns what was once a 35 minute climb up steep mountainside stairs, into a 5 ½ minute ride. The views from the top are outstanding, and the escalators are totally free to use (for residents and tourists). They are also covered to help protect people (and the machinery) from inclement weather. Completed in July, 2012, the surrounding areas are still being beautified. A lookout deck is under construction at the top of the escalators and should be ready for your visit.
3. The Metro Cables
The Metrocable provides sweeping views over the city.
Medellin is home to two metro cable lines – similar to gondolas at ski resorts or other tourist places. The difference in these lines, is that they were the first in the world to be built solely for use as part of the daily public transportation system. At the San Javier metro stop in the west of the city houses one line weaves up and down the hillside neighborhoods.
Jump off at any stop to see amazing views and get a feel for the living conditions of the poorer families in Medellin. The other metro line is located off the Acevedo metro stop in northern Medellin. It climbs up the hillside into the eastern barrios. At the top of the official metro stops, pay $5,000COP ($2.50 USD) to continue this line into Arvi Park (the $5,000 is the entrance fee into the park).
4. Pueblito Paisa
(Photo source: Luz Andriana Villa A., Flickr)
Pueblito Paisa is a replica of a traditional Antioquian small town (pueblito) that is built in the heart of the city of Medellin. There are many actual pueblitos (Santa Fe de Antioquia, Guatape) that are an hour or so bus ride out of Medellin, but if you don’t have the money or time to go on a day or overnight trip, in a couple of hours you can go and see Pueblito Paisa. This miniaturized town (it is only a few building around a town center type square) will give you that authentic Colombian small town experience.
Located at Calle 30A No. 55-64 on Nutibara Hill, Pueblito Paisa is a nice, relaxing area to spend an afternoon. The weekends get more crowded, but it is a little oasis from the bustling, westernized city below. It is also a family friendly place for those traveling with children.
5. Pequeño Teatro (The Little Theater)
The theater is a favorite among locals but not well known by visitors. The best part about this theater is: SHOWS ARE FREE. After a performance for 2 people and 498 empty seats figured it needed to change its plan. The struggle of selling tickets and filling seats, which climaxed with the 2 person audience, made the theater realize that this is art, and art should be free to the public. Now, all shows are free and if you like the show, you can voluntarily (or not) contribute at the end. Because of this change, the theater now packs a full crowd for each performance, and gets to expose a greater community to this wonderful art.
All performances are in Spanish, but even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still enjoy the shows. This is also a great place to meet locals and make friends. Pequeño Teatro is one of Medellin’s best kept free local secrets.
Bonus Free Thing – The Estadio Outdoor Pool Complex
The gorgeous setting of the Estadio Pool Complex.
These are just 5 free things to do around Medellin, but in reality there are dozens of free things – many of them family oriented. One of my personal favorite free places is the free Estadio pool complex. Just off the Estadio metro stop are 7 FREE pools. A few of these are for practices only, but the 2 main pools are open to the public, along with a high diving pool that also offers SCUBA lessons, and a smaller family pool in the back. They also offer swimming lessons here. With just your ID and a swim cap you can get some exercise, relax, and cool off. (The swim cap is mandatory for everyone. If you don’t have one, you can buy one just outside the pool entrance for $3.000COP / $1.50USD)
There are also walking areas, places to skateboard, and a slew of restaurants just down 70th (the main road). This complex is in the heart of Medellin, so it is easy to reach by public transportation and cab. Very few tourists know about this place.
Dani Blanchette is a music and travel photographer who sold everything she owned and left on a one-way ticket to South America in September of 2011. She is the creator of the anti-tourism, music heavy travel blog Going Nomadic.