Walking Tours have become one of the best ways to explore a city. If you look for the best things to do in Medellín on TripAdvisor sightseeing tours are #6 and there are 105 from which to choose!
A critical factor in the success of these walking tours is often the use of locals to guide these tours. This adds a realism and more personal touch to the tours that provides a stronger understanding of the dynamic of a city.
As a frequent traveler, walking tours have become my favorite way to explore a new city. While in Medellín I did two absolutely brilliant walking tours. And both were guided by locals.
Note the above photo is Plaza Botero and Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture in El Centro in Medellín.
Real City Walking Tours
Real City Walking tours are ranked the #1 tour on Trip Advisor for Medellín. They operate under the now very popular model that they are free. You can make the decision to make payment after you have done the tour. I like this model as you tend to get a more enthusiastic delivery from the guide.
All Real City Walking tour guides are born and raised in Medellín. And they can best be described as story tellers rather than guides. This was certainly the case with my guide Julio. His engaging and enthusiastic presentation skills made this tour absolutely enthralling. Normally I am ready for the end of the tour and a coffee/wine a couple of hours in – with Julio I genuinely could have listened to him speak for several hours!
I took this tour on my second day in Medellín so Julio served as my introduction to the city I was to call home for the next month. Julio began the tour by having us all sit down as he gave us an overview on his city of Medellín. He did an excellent job explaining the complex environment of politics, extremist groups and drug traffickers that have unfortunately characterized Colombia for many recent decades.
Julio did a great job explaining the sensitivity that surrounds this complex environment in Medellín, particularly when it comes to the city’s most notorious son, Pablo Escobar. Indeed, he explained that he would not use Pablo’s name during the tour as if he did we may get locals interrupting the tour to either express their support for Pablo or their vehement opposition to any ventures that might in any way glorify Pablo. This history is very recent and understandably sensitive for the residents of Medellin.
We then moved on to the Alpujarra Administrative Center, a plaza with key government buildings. Here we got a run down on Colombian politics and saw some fantastic brutalist architecture. This was followed by the extremely impressive Square of Lights.
Plaza Cisneros (aka Parque del las Luces or Lights Park) serves as a great example of the wonderful regeneration efforts that have gone on in recent years in Medellín. This was once a derelict square which would have been avoided by locals. The government decided to change this through art. They installed over 300 light masts that are over 72 feet (22 meters) tall. This square serves as a great example of the innovative rejuvenation of Medellín.
We then walked around the commercial El Centro. We learned that Iglesia de la Veracruz (Veracruz Church) is the unlikely location nearby for a small Medellín red light district (easy for post liaison confessions!). And we were able to stop and try some of the local food – I highly recommend the donuts inserted with araquipe!
The stunning Plaza Botero and its amazing sculptures and many hawkers were next up. This is one of my favorite places in Medellin. The generosity of Medellín son Fernando Botero is quite staggering. He contributed all of the park sculptures as well as the sculptures and paintings in the Museo de Antioquia for free to help rejuvenate the city.
We took in several other city center streets and parks before finishing up at San Antonio Park and our last two Botero sculptures – replicas although only one is intact. Julio shared the dreadful story of the bombing that took place at a concert in this park in 1995, which reportedly killed 23 people and damaged the sculpture. Botero himself insisted that the damaged sculpture stay in place as a reminder of this awful event. He then provided a replica free of charge.
This park is now popular with local workers particularly on the weekends where you can easily get a beer, street food and watch whatever football game is currently on. In addition, they still sometimes hold concerts in this park.
Toucan Medellin Street Food Walking Tours
EDITOR NOTE: Toucan Spanish School is closed so this tour is no longer offered.
After such a great walking tour with Real City I was hungry for more! We met our guide Diego in El Poblado for Toucan’s street food walking tour and then quickly headed out. During the tour I was able to experience many of the Colombian street foods we recently wrote about.
Our first stop was not far away near Parque Poblado for some Buñuelos. This tasty mix of corn and cheese is made into a dough and then deep fried. This popular snack is available across Medellin but the Buñuelos Supremo near Parque Poblado is apparently one of the best – as attested to by how busy it was at 9am on a Sunday Morning!
We then hopped on a metro train and headed to San Antonio station. Here we met Maria and had one of the highlights of the tour and my time in Medellin – ripe mango slices in fresh lemon juice and salt. These are AMAZING!!! They come in a plastic cup that is in a plastic bag. Once the lemon juice and salt is applied take the cup and flip it into the plastic bag. You then eat the slices from the plastic bag – fully coated.
Locals tend to have their mango slices unripe but this was a bit much for my European taste buds. It is apparently a popular after school snack – so healthy! There were also other fruit options available.
We then took a tram followed by a cable car to go up to Villa Sierra for some great views and some sweet treats. On our way back down we came across some fantastic street art and were introduced to arepas. It seems that arepas are probably the staple street food snack of Colombia.
There are several versions of arepas. An arepa is generally a mix of corn and the bland white cheese so beloved in Colombia. In one version, they are merged together into a dough and then fried for an oozy cheesy center. The second version is the arepas de chócolo which is a sort of corn patty that is then topped with cheese. The final version we tried was a cheesier version of version one but topped with condensed milk – yum!!!
Next up was a local market (very photogenic) and some amazingly fresh fruit juice. This was then followed by the Obleas. This snack starts with a wafer. The basic version then has arequipe (caramel) and then another wafer on top for a sort of caramel wafer sandwich. The next level is to add some type of blackberry jam and some grated cheese. Or if you are really hungry you can go with 3 wafers and 2 layers of topping.
There were also some empanadas at some point but I am afraid that I ran out of room!
Finally, we ended up at Club Colombia near San Antonio station for some Aguardiente. This is Colombia’s signature white spirit. We had a shot which I found pretty awful! However, the bar is super cool and has loads of characters. On Sundays, it has salsa dancing as well!
Some of the street art seen on the street food tour
Walking Tours Logistics
The Real City Walking Tour tends to meet at a metro station in the city center. You will be advised of the details via email once you have booked online.
Make sure you pre-book online for the Real City Walking Tour or you won’t know where to meet! Bookings open 1.5 days ahead of the tour. They run a morning and an afternoon tour in English and they tend to sell out fast.
For the Real City walking tour the majority of people do pay or tip after the tour. The standard amount is about 30,000 pesos. The tour runs about four hours.
The Toucan Street Food Tour costs 100,000 pesos and runs three days a week – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. This street food tour includes all public transportation, street food at six points, a juice and a bilingual guide. Basically, the only other cost you need to pay is a tip.
The Toucan street food tour can be booked on line or in their office in El Poblado on Calle 10. Payment is upfront. It leaves their office in El Poblado on Calle 10 at 9am and runs for approx. 4 hours.
Walking Tours Tips
Here are my eight Medellín walking tour tips:
- Do a city walking tour like Real City first – and as early in your stay as possible. It will give you the best feel for the layout of the city and a sense of what you might find interesting. The tours are both great at suggesting other ideas for your stay so you don’t want to go at the end when there is not time to take them up on these!
- There are water and bathroom stops on both tours but it is always good to start off with those needs catered for!
- Check with the guide about the etiquette before taking any photos of locals.
- For the best photos take afternoon tours – as late as possible. These tours are also great for video – particularly the street food tour.
- Don’t forget sunscreen.
- Bring some extra napkins for the street food tour.
- Both Real City and Toucan run some other really interesting tours – from exotic fruits to Guatapé.
- If you really enjoyed your tour do write a brief review on TripAdvisor – these can make a massive difference to these organizations.
Tours in Medellín
We have covered several different tours in Medellín:
- Two of the best walking tours in Medellín – walking tours are one of the best ways to explore Medellín, especially a tour of El Centro by Real City Tours.
- Self-Guided Metro Tour: A City Tour of Medellin – a self-guided tour of Medellin using the Medellín Metro system.
- Graffiti Tour of Comuna 13 – a community that has been transformed by improved accessibility, street art and community solidarity.
- La Sierra Tours tours – in the La Sierra barrio in Medellín – this community is being transformed with improved accessibility and investment.
- Pablo Escobar Tours – is a controversial Escobar tour worth going on? We do not recommend or endorse activities that appear to glorify Escobar.
- Urban Coffee Tour – a coffee tour in Medellín.
We also provided a recommended tourist itinerary for a day in Medellín.
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Editors note: updated on August 7, 2021 with information that Toucan Medellin Street Food Walking Tours are no longer available.