Some articles on Desk to Dirtbag (and just what is a dirtbag, anyway?) contain affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase through these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Thank you for reading!
Medellin tourism has exploded in recent years as this once formerly off limits destination comes to the forefront for travelers to South America in a city full of friendly locals, urban innovation, affordable prices, and pleasant weather. I’ve called Medellin home for more than two years now and have gotten to experience much of the best that Medellin and the surrounding area has to offer, so if you’re looking to hit the ground running, here are what I would consider the best Medellin tours which will give you a great perspective on this incredible city.
In this article we will cover a wide range of Medellin tours both within the city limits and those that you can do as a relatively easy day-trip nearby.
Free Walking Tour Medellin
Real City Tour Medellin puts on what is one of the best Medellin tours, no doubt, and incredibly the tour is also free! Well, it’s actually donation based, so you are free to give whatever you like as the tour wraps up at the end.
This great tour explores the sometimes intimidating downtown of Medellin, and will also provide you with a great overview of the ups and downs of local history (which goes beyond the drug trade and Pablo Escobar).
You’ll need to make a free reservation online, 1.5 days before you want to take the tour. Expect to spend about four hours walking through the downtown core, so where your comfortable walking shoes.
The tour is conducted in English and offers a great opportunity to meet other travelers as well.
Santa Fe de Antioquia Tour
Santa Fe de Antioquia sits a few hours west of Medellin, at an elevation about 1,000 meters lower, making it much hotter than Medellin. Here you will find one of the best preserved colonial pueblos in all of Colombia, right up there with Barichara and Villa de Leyva.
You’ll find small plazas, cobblestone streets, and colonial architecture. Santa Fe de Antioquia is where many Colombians go when they want to soak up some heat and sun while lounging beside a pool.
If you go with a tour, you can expect to hit the town’s highlights, including the famous bridge that hangs over the Rio Cauca.
Guatapé and El Peñol Tour
Guatapé would probably get my pick for the best day trip from Medellin, where you will find colorful buildings, a stunning reservoir, and a large and imposing rock monolith known as El Peñol.
Here you can hit the water for a boat tour of the reservoir, including the bombed out ruins of a Pablo Escobar mansion and here the story about the town that they flooded.
Then you can climb the 800+ stairs to reach the top of the rock monolith which offers up one of the best views that you’ll find in all of Antioquia. It’s tough work, but totally worth it!
Comuna 13 and Graffiti Tour
Comuna 13 has become one of the parts of the city that best exemplifies the progressive and innovative approach that Medellin has taken in terms of the underserved parts of the city. Here you will enter the so-called slums, where you’ll find a poor and once crime riddled (not to say that things are perfect now) part of the city that has cable cars and electric escalators to help residents move about better.
Part of the character of this neighborhood has been the urban artwork or graffiti that brightens up what might otherwise be sad or dilapidated buildings, houses, and structures.
You can explore this interesting and evolving part of the city with a local guide or local graffiti artist who will lead the way.
Medellin Coffee Tour
Ah yes, Colombia and coffee, they go hand in hand. If you’re going to be visiting Colombia’s coffee axis to the south then I would say to wait until you get there (here’s the awesome Salento coffee tour we did), but you can also take an awesome coffee tour on the outskirts of Medellin.
Here you will be able to visit a coffee plantation, learn more about this delectable drink, what makes for a good cup, and so much more.
I’d consider a coffee tour a must-do for any visitor to Colombia, even if you don’t particularly love coffee (but what’s wrong with you?!). Couple the tour with your own DIY tour to the best coffee shops in Medellin and you can come back home as knowledgeable about coffee as one of those obnoxious, snobby baristas.
* Wish you could travel more and more affordably? Click here to grab my free course and resources that will show you exactly how I've been able to travel for more than four years.
Exotic Fruits Tour
Colombia isn’t just coffee, there is also a ton of amazing Colombia food to explore and perhaps nothing shines quite like the fruits. An exotic fruit tour will take you to the Minorista market, a sprawling and traditional market downtown, where you will explore the sights, smells, and tastes of tons of exotic fruits that you probably wont find back home…
Things like cherimoya, granadilla, guanabana, lulo, mamoncillo, maracuya, pitahaya, and many, many more… Fresh fruit and amazing fruit juices are always at hand in Colombia, so don’t miss a tour to get know the wide variety available.
Medellín ATV Tour
Fancy peeling down dirt roads through the lush green hillsides surrounding Medellin on the back of your own ATV? Then this dose of adrenaline might be just what you need to experience Medellin from a perspective that few see or experience.
Expect an excursion of about half a day and don’t forget to bring your camera.
Medellín Paragliding Tour
ATVs sound a little lame in terms of adrenaline? Then maybe soaring high above the city would be more your style. Paragliding is a blast, and there are some reliable thermals, particularly around San Felix, where you can strap in with an experienced pilot and see the city from a new perspective.
If you have never been paragliding before, then I’d highly recommend doing it! Make sure your pilot will do a few corkscrews where you swing out nearly sideways and feel a bit of those G-forces.
You can get round trip transport from your hotel or hostel up to San Felix along with a 30-minute flight above the city for about $75.
Pablo Escobar Tour
As yes, Colombia’s most infamous son and one of those tours that is often at the top of the list for many visitors to Medellin thanks to the Netflix series, Narcos. This Medellin tour is one that I would NOT recommend doing though…
Pablo Escobar is a major sore spot for the people of Colombian, a terrorist who killed thousands of innocent people and who destroyed the reputation of their beloved country, even to this day, more than 25 years after being gunned down. And then to rub salt in those wounds, dozens of shorts and flip flop wearing tourists come take these tours and seemingly idolize or venerate this monster.
By taking a Pablo Escobar tour you are often enriching people who were complicit in his crimes or those looking to profit off his infamy. The history is still very recent and many people in Medellin still live with those memories of insecurity.
You be the judge, but I wrote more about why you shouldn’t take those Pablo Escobar tours that are offered to every foreigner… Rather than doing that, I would recommend you do your own DIY tour (details are in that previous link) or, better yet, take a tour to Hacienda Napoles which is the former estate of Pablo Escobar.
At Hacienda Napoles you will find some strange attractions like the African safari he created there, including the now wild and free cocaine hippos. But more importantly, you will also find the ruins of his former mansion which has been turned into a museum that doesn’t glorify him but rather explains the atrocities he committed against his country, all in the name of the almighty dollar.
Read more about my visit to Hacienda Napoles here, and make it a point to visit this fascinating place. Believe me, it’s much more memorable than just looking at a bunch of old, normal buildings where history unfolded or seeing his grave.
More Medellin Tours
Those are what I’d consider to be the best Medellin tours, and ones that any new visitor should be sure to do if they’ve got the time and budget to do-so. But there are many other Medellin tourist attractions and interesting tours which one can take.
Also don’t miss out on my comprehensive guide of things to do in Medellin so you can pack your time full of awesome stuff and great memories. You’re sure to be busy whether you are visiting Medellin for a few days or a few weeks (or even longer, like me).
Traveling to Medellin? Be sure to book your hostel or hotel from Booking.com now to save.
Read Next: 35 Things to Do in Medellin, Colombia
Colombia Travel Guide
Read Next: My Massive Guide to Traveling to Colombia
Did you enjoy this post about the best Medellin tours? Take a moment to share it on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter. Thanks!
Latest posts by Ryan (see all)
- November 2018 Monthly Recap and Income Report - December 2, 2018
- 21 Most Incredible Places to Visit in Colombia - November 11, 2018
- Travel Hacking Essentials: How to Meet the Credit Card Minimum Spend - November 9, 2018
- Travel Hacking 101: How to Save Thousands on Your Next Trip - November 4, 2018
- 2018 Best Gifts for Adventure Lovers and Travelers - November 3, 2018