Medellin – A Budget Travel Guide

Medellin on a backpacking budget
Medellin at dusk. Photo by Brendan Van Son

Known for its awesome weather, thrumming nightlife, and friendly locals Medellin is a true Colombian gem.

Medellin, The City of Eternal Spring, is the second largest city in Colombia. Medellin sits nestled at the base of a rather narrow valley, surrounded in all directions by soaring emerald peaks. In February of 2013 Medellin was named the Most Innovative City of the year by the Urban Land Institute, beating out Tel Aviv and New York City for the honor.

Indeed, Medellin has gone through a metamorphosis following the death Pablo Escobar. Since the fall of the notorious drug lord Medellin has evolved from being one of the most violent cities in the world into a shining example of urban recovery.

Is Medellin Safe?

Gone are the days of rampant “narco-terrorism”, no longer do rival cartels battle one another on the concrete city landscape, forcing an entire population to live in fear of venturing into public spaces. Medellin has been reclaimed. The city’s innovations within the public sector, such as its Cablecar system which allows the poorest people in the most impoverished neighborhoods on outskirts of the city to reach the center easily, have deservedly earned it world wide acclaim.

This is not to say that the city is free of crime, and any visitor should take proper precautions when venturing into the city outskirts, or when traversing the streets at night, even in well-to-do neighborhoods such as El Poblado. Know where you are, and know what you are doing. This is pretty much solid advice for ANY situation, and it holds true here. If you stay aware and don’t do things you shouldn’t be doing at a time of night when you probably should be in bed, chances are you will have no problems in Medellin, and in most areas of Colombia.

Medellin still has its share of issues with crime, issues exacerbated by sex/drug tourism, which is all too common in Colombia. Know that if you journey to Medellin to explore vices such as cocaine or prostitution you will be directly contributing to the funding of criminal enterprises and their war against law and order.

That said, we lived in Medellin for a month and experienced exactly zero crime.

Medellin – A Travel Guide

backpacking colombia - medellin cable car system
Medellin’s famed MetroCable system was the first of its kind in the world.

Medellin on a Budget

Colombia uses the Peso as its currency, also referred to as COP (Colombian Peso). At the time of publication 1 U.S. dollar is roughly equivalent to 2,500 COP, which is close to an all time high for the dollar.

During our month long stay in Medellin, mainly in the neighborhood of El Poblado, we spent an average of $30.00 USD per day. It is possible to spend less than that if you try couch-surfing and make hostel dorms and kitchens. We opted for a private room in a mid ranged hostel, and cooked about 40% of our meals. When traveling in a group of 3 or more it pays to take a look at Airbnb listings in Medellin to try and hunt down a good value apartment.

Hostels and Hotels in Medellin

You can find  full range of accommodations in Medellin, from the dankest dorm room to the swanky high rise penthouses. Hostel dorms in El Poblado start at around 20,000 – 25,000 Pesos, and private rooms in hostels and small hotels begin at around 70,000 for two people.

Are you backpacking or traveling Colombia on a budget? If you want to book a hotel or a hostel in Medellin, Colombia we recommend using the following sites:

 1 2 3

medellin budget travel guide

Hostal Casa Provenza
Cr 36 No. 8 a 88, El Poblado, Medellin
+57 4 3119423
[email protected]

Our pick for best budget Hotel is Casa Provenza. Located on a leafy green street in El Poblado, we enjoyed our stay here so much we moved in for three weeks.

As the name implies staying here feels like you’re staying in someone’s home. This family owned hostel is run by friendly local staff, is super clean, comfortable, and has a relaxed vibe.  The kitchen is extremely well equipped with nearly any utensil or item you might need.  It’s also spacious and orderly, and is probably the best kitchen we’ve had access to while traveling so far.  The hostel also has two outdoor spaces with tables and seating, a living room with comfy sofas, and a large dining room table for meals.

Casa Provenza has nine comfortable and well appointed private rooms ranging in price from 70,000 to 120,000 Pesos per night.

Find Great Deals on Hotels Here!



Booking.com

things to do in medellin
Medellin from above the valley rim. Photo Credit – Felipe Carvajal Arias

Drinking and Dining in Medellin

The neighborhoods of El Poblado and Laureles are packed to the brim with dining options. From local fare to international cuisine you won’t have to travel far to find something yummy to eat. You can buy and gorge on anything from cheap empanadas and arepas on the street, or don your fanciest evening wear to visit a swanky five star restaurant.

Since both neighborhoods cater to tourists and Medellin’s upper class all manner of culinary delights are to be had, including sushi, Thai, Italian, Indian, French, BBQ, Peruvian, and vegetarian cuisines. Prices vary, of course, but be prepared to pay around 20,000 to 40,000 pesos per person for a sit down meal at mid-price restaurants in either area.

Inexpensive local Menu del Dia eateries will serve a plate of “typico” Colombian food (soup, salad, rice, and a fried plantain with your choice of meat) starting at 7,000 pesos per person. This will be the best value for your money, and it’s a tad (or a lot) healthier than most fast food options.

medellin nightlife, things to do in medellin
One of our favorite bars in the entire world, Eco Bar Medellin.

Nightlife in Medellin

Medellin is famous for its varied and energetic nightlife.

Sunday through Tuesday can be very quiet and mostly dead, but the night scene really gets going on Thursdays and reaches its desperately jubilant heights on Saturdays. There are tons of bar and club options to be found, but the most popular nightlife is around Parque Lleras and the Zona Rosa in El Poblado.

Salsa in Medellin

While the city of Cali is the salsa capital of Colombia (and maybe the world) Medellin has some great salsa clubs as well. Most of the salsa clubs are small, and can get rather packed, so bring a bottle of water and prepare to get sweaty. Check out this guide for salsa club recommendations in Medellin.

Eco Bar

One of the coolest bars we have frequented, Eco quickly became our favorite spot in the city for a beer. Located along a small public park in El Poblado, this bar oozes ambiance. Laid back music floats out from the small inner hall on nights when the live band isn’t playing, while most patrons sit outside on tree stumps drinking and chatting the evening away. If you are looking to have a few cervesas or some unique (and yummy) adult cocktails in a great outdoor atmosphere look no further than Eco Bar.

Medellin Budget Price Guide

We compiled a list of prices in Medellin, current as of October 2015. We have included daily items such as groceries, the average costs of certain meals, costs of going out at night, and costs of transportation. We hope the list gives you an idea of the cost of life in Medellin, and makes planning your backpacking or shoestring budget easier!

sunset in Medellin Colombia
Sunset over Medellin, as seen from El Poblado.

Accommodations in Medellin, Colombia

  • Dorm Bed in Hostel – 24,000 and up
  • Private Room in Hostel – 60,000 and up

Food & Drink in Medellin, Colombia

Groceries

  • Large (get size) Bottle of Water – 4,100 COP
  • Hass Avocado – .500 kilograms – 1,900 COP
  • Roma Tomato – .170 kilograms – 408 COP
  • Red Onion – .090 kilograms – 450 COP
  • Limes – .120 kilograms – 270 COP
  • White Onion – .230 kilograms – 552 COP
  • Jar Store brand Jam – 4,000 COP
  • Jar of Capers 125 grams – 2,750 COP
  • Banana .190 kilograms – 285 COP
  • Mango .350 kilograms – 717 COP
  • Baby Criolla Potatoes .390 kilograms – 1,424 COP
  • Baby Crillo Potatoes from Farmer’s Market .500 kilograms – 1,000 COP
  • Bottle of Beer – 1,750 – 2,000 COP
  • Bottle of PowerAde – 1,600 COP
  • Carton of Peach Nectar Juice – 3,950 COP
  • Small bottle of Rum – 14,800 COP
  • Small Bag of Pretzles – 2,900 COP
  • Red Bell Pepper – .145 kilograms – 493 COP
  • Fresh Mushrooms – .135 kilograms – 4,350 COP
  • 500 cc Orange Juice – 2,100 COP
  • Cucumber .310 kilograms – 620 COP
  • Brand Name Jam – 8,000 COP
  • 8 Flour Tortillas – 6,000 COP
  • Tofu – 1 kilogram – 6,000 – 8,000 COP
  • Tofu Cheese, 80 grams – 1,700 COP
  • 1 slice of Vegan, Gluten-free, Sugar-free Berry Tart – 4,000 COP
  • 5 Vegan Grain Arepas – 5,000 COP
  • 1 Large Bunch of Basil from Farmer’s Market – 1,000 COP

Eating Out

  • Vegan Burger Combo – 14,000 COP
  • Vegan Menu del Dia – 8,000 – 11,500 COP
  • Vegan Meal at Verdeo – 16,000 COP and up
  • Vegan Falafel Plate – 12,000 COP
  • Sushi Roll – 10,500 COP and up
  • Main Course at Royal Thai Restaurant – 20,000 – 30,000 COP
  • Menu del Dia Plato Typicos – 7,000 COP
  • Veggie or Chicken Burrito – 11,000 COP and up
  • 3 Beef or Pork Tacos – 9,000 COP
  • Fish & Chips – 22,000 COP

Drinks

  • Bottle of Beer – 3,000 – 8,000 COP
  • Cocktail – 10,000 COP and up
  • Glass of Wine – 5,000 COP and up
  • Pot of Tea – 4,000 COP
  • Cup of Coffee – 1,000 COP and up

Transportation costs in Medellin, Colombia

  • Taxi from the Airport to Poblado – 80,000 COP
  • Taxi from Poblado to North Bus Station – 17,000 – 20,000 COP
  • Taxi from Poblado to Laureles – 15,000 – 20,000 COP
  • Taxi from Poblado to Minorista Market – 10,000 – 11,000 COP
  • Metro Ride – 1,550 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Guatape – 12,500 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Bogota (approx. 9 hours) – 35,000 – 50,000 COP COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Bucaramanga (approx. 8 hours) – 50,000 – 75,000 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Cartagena (approx. 13 hours) – 50,000 – 86,000 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Santa Marta (approx. 15 hours) – 60,000 – 90,000 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Manizales (approx. 4 hours) – 30,000 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Armenia (approx. 6 hours) – 30,000 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Cali (approx. 8 hours) – 40,000 COP
  • Bus from Medellin to Popayan (approx. 10 hours) – 60,000 COP

Final Thoughts

Medellin is not the cheapest city in South America, but it’s also not incredibly expensive if you stay away from all things super swanky. In fact, we found it to be less expensive than Cartagena, which was surprising.

Our stay in the city was focused mostly in El Poblado, one of the wealthiest areas in all of Colombia. It’s important to keep in mind that El Poblado is not representative of Medellin as a whole, being the upper class sanctuary that it is.  Many of the sights, sounds, colors, and smells of the “real” Medellin are nowhere to be found in Poblado, and you will see far more police and way less homeless folk that almost anywhere else in the city. Ergo it is one of Medellin’s safest and most expensive neighborhoods. You could substantially reduce your daily budget staying elsewhere, if you are comfortable doing so.

A note on budgeting yourself – Expenses for activities you might want to partake in should not be factored into your daily budget. This becomes overly complicated. An easier way of going about things is to calculate your minimum daily expense and then set aside all left over funds you care to spend into an “activities” pool. Thus on a day when we went to the movies, on a walking tour, or had a few extra drinks in the evening we did not consider ourselves over budget even though we spent a bit more, we just subtracted it out of the “activities” pool.

Backpacking Colombia - Medellin travel guide
El Poblado, Medellin

 


 

Disclaimer – We have included a few handy little affiliate links in case any of our readers want to book accommodations. We receive a small commission for any sales made, without any additional cost to you, our dear reader.

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8 thoughts on “Medellin – A Budget Travel Guide

  1. Medellin has changed a lot. When I lived in El Poblado in 2002, there were very few places to stay and very limited food and dining options. I still loved it though. I can’t wait to return there.

  2. what a great website thank you so much for the info.I travel a great deal been going (10 yrs) now.
    My question is what is a good budget for a single guy in medellin? I’m not opposed to sleeping in cheap places or eating local establishments. Thank you

    1. Hey Tony, thanks for the comment and soooo sorry for the late reply. We had some issues getting notification of our comments.

      So, if you look at the starting price of Dorms and the Menul del Dia you can get an idea of how cheap it would be to eat and sleep in Medellin. Just pay attention to the current currency conversion rate as the dollar has gained a lot of strength recently and that could change.
      Also, staying in a dorm with a kitchen and cooking for yourself (and shopping at local markets) will help you live cheaply.

      Hope this helps.
      Randi

  3. What a great and helpful post this is of Colombia. I was born in Medellin and adopted and I’ve never been back since. Next winter my family and husband finally will travel to Medellin. So this post is very helpful to me! I love your positive take on the city while you keep it real and still warn for possible dangers. We need more people to write about Colombia so more people can start seeing Colombia in a different light. Because even though it changed allot I know that in countries as the Netherlands (where I lived) they still only report negative things about Colombia and people are still scared to go there. So keep up the good work and when we visited Colombia I will write positive articles about it on my blog too. Greetings from a fellow traveler.

  4. This is such a great guide! Thank you and glad to see the vegetarian/vegan food is decently priced! Is there a reason why you took taxis instead of Uber?

    1. Hey Christy,

      Uber is usually a bit more expensive than local flag down cabs. Could be a safer option, but will definitely cost more. When are you headed to Colombia?

  5. We’ve been in Medellin for three weeks now living in Laureles. We are not backpackers but a family of four on sabbatical and definitely on a budget. We’ve been to El Poblado twice now and if we had chosen that area to live, we’d of blew our budget completely. If you want close to state side prices, no Spanish speaking , high end malls and boutiques, then by all means Poblado is the place for you. Yes there are a lot of hostels there but the money you save on lodging might well be surpassed by what you’ll spend on everything else. If you want to see the COLOMBIAN city of Medellin, don’t pick El Poblado.

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