Whether you are traveling to Medellin, Colombia for the first time or whether it's your heritage country and you'd like to share your culture with your kids like me, there are many fun and exciting things you can do. Now, I may have a bit of an advantage, having lived there for many years and still having extended family that can update us on the ins and outs of the city. Luckily, this means having some insider information that you may not get through a regular travel blog.
(me on the left with my daughter at the top of La Piedra del Peñol)
Here's what you need to know before you go to Medellin with kids.
1. What should you wear in Medellin, Colombia?
First, let me tell you that paisas (as the locals are called) are very bright and astute people. They can spot a tourist or non local a mile away. While most people are super friendly and yes, they will want to talk to you and talk about the wonders of their city, you don't want to draw unnecessary attention. This means to keep your shorts and flip flops tucked away. Instead opt for jeans (these are my faves), t-shirts, and comfy sneakers (my favorite comfy sneaker) for the whole family, and make sure if you walk around with a backpack it's in front of your body and visible and not behind you. Petty theft is most common in "el centro" or downtown Medellin, in the metro or public transportation, and anywhere with lots of people. Believe me when I tell you, if you get robbed in Medellin, you'll never know when or where it happened.
2. Be discreet with your phone and skip the kids' tablet in public.
In the U.S and many parts of the world we walk around with our phones in front of us 24/7. Depending on where you are at in Medellin, you may want to just use your phone for moderate picture taking and skip the constant need to check your phone. Phones are one of the easiest targets for petty theft so no need to put yourself or family at risk. If you do take out your phone, make sure you have some sort of external grip like mine that allows you to control your phone a bit more and less easy for a simple grab and go theft. The same goes for your kids. If you want to pack the tablet keep it for and at the hotel and not in public use.
3. Don't expect people to speak English.
While the younger Colombian generation is definitely better at speaking some English and you will find some English speakers in very touristy areas, most everyday people do not speak much English. Make sure that if you do not speak Spanish, that you have a Spanish app or Spanish pocket phrase book or cheat sheet to help you get around or you may end up having a harder time communicating. To get your kids prepped for Colombia, I highly recommend Tiny Traveler's Colombia Treasure Quest, a beautifully illustrated book that will get the kids excited about Colombia.
4. Be wary of taxis and if possible use Uber.
While I rode many taxis during my recent trip in August 2022 because I have a decent idea of where I am going in Medellin, I don't recommend tourists to just hail a taxi. Taxi drivers are notorious for driving around in circles and accidentally "getting lost" in order to charge you a lot more. I suggest that if you do not have a local tour guide or extended family member or friend to help you get around the city that you use the Uber app. While I never used the app myself there, my cousins would order us an Uber through their apps and we'd pay the driver once we arrived at our destination. Perhaps the hotel may offer you this service.
5. Pack some essentials for the family.
Medellin's weather is generally wonderful year round. That being said, depending on how far up or down you go in different mountain towns, you can experience quite different weather conditions. In general, I recommend that you pack an umbrella or light rain jacket, a hoodie, hat, sunscreen with high SPF (my daughter got sunburned on a cloudy day in Guatape), anti nausea medicine (especially if you're going on 1 day bus tours through different towns), bug spray, antibacterial wipes and tissue for public bathrooms, and antacid medicine (Colombians love fried food...while delicious, it can be hard on the stomach).
Now that you know the basics, here's the fun part...
What to do in Medellin, Colombia with Kids:
1. Spend 2-3 days in Guatapé and climb the rock, La Piedra del Peñol.
(the view from the top of La Piedra del Peñol)
Guatapé, Colombia is an Andean resort town north of Medellin, about 1.5-2 hrs away. Although, if you travel during the weekend the trip can be as long as 5-6 hours due to heavy traffic and only 1 road. Guatapé was the highlight of our 2 week vacation in Medellin and my 7 year old's favorite.
There are so many things to do and see, it's definitely worth a few days. Here are some insider tips:
- Stay at Hotel Los Recuerdos.
(the view from our room at Los Recuerdos)
Located directly diagonal from La Piedra del Peñol, Hotel Los Recuerdos offers stunning views and amenities from heated pools, Turkish baths and sauna, gym, playground for the kids, restaurant, night club, and more. Just note that if you want a quiet hotel, this is not a quiet hotel.
(the hotel corridor facing La Piedra del Peñol)
(the infinity heated pool with lake view at the hotel)
- Climb la Piedra del Peñol.
(my daughter showing off La Piedra's magnitude)
It's 708 steps to the top but so worth it with the stunning views. Just take your time and in no more than 20 minutes you'll find yourself at the top.
Once at the top, enjoy stunning views, a crema, and a bathroom break.
(enjoying the view of Guatape)
(enjoying a delicious crema)
- Visit El Pueblo Viejo (Old town) and take a boat tour.
(a great photo op at the Viejo Peñol)
The old town is full of cute shops and photo ops. I encourage you to take the boat tours located on your way there. We wanted to take a boat tour and when I asked at the hotel it was 4 times the cost of the boats located at the old town. These boat tours will tell you all about the history of Guatape and you may even get a glimpse of one of Pablo Escobar's hideouts or J Balvin or Maluma's getaways.
(the replica church at the Old Pueblo)
(a view from our boat)
(a private boat is perfect for large groups)
- Spend a day in el pueblo and marvel at the zocalos.
(a colorful photo op in the town)
The pueblo in Guatape is worth seeing and walking to fully enjoy the picturesque baseboards of just about every house and business.
(an example of a zocalo, or picturesque baseboard, what the town is known for)
El pueblo is considered the most colorful town in Antioquia and offers photo ops just about everywhere, from the passage of umbrellas to the town's sheep icon or houses they'll offer your kids lots to do.
(the famous pasillos de sombrillas in el pueblo)
(The lamb, el cordero, is Guatape's icon after Jose Maria Parra Jimenez painted the the zocalo “Cordero de Dios quita el pecado del mundo” 'lamb of God that take away the sins of the world', in his baseboard in his house. He was the sought to paint many zocalos.)
A couple of insider tips, take a mini chiva (motor car) to parade you around town and walk two blocks from the passage of umbrellas to a wonderful playground the kids will enjoy.
(my daughter and her tia get ready to ride around town)
(an awesome playground located 2 blocks from the passage of umbrellas, perfect for kids' play)
2. Visit Medellin during Las Fiestas de las Flores (Annual Flower Festival).
(Picture of a silleta made up of flowers.)
Las fiestas de las flores are the city's pride and joy along with Navidad (Christmas). This festival is usually around early August. You can expect citywide concerts, flower expos, and lots of artesanias or hand made crafts throughout los centros comerciales or shopping malls. The festival concludes with El Desfile de Silleteros the Parade of Silleteros where dozens of men, women, and children, carry around their "silletas" a hand crafted display of flowers weighing as much as 200 lbs to show off their flower pride. Kids will love the annual Desfile de Mascotas or Pet Parade, where pet owners dress up their pets in traditional folkloric attire or flowers.
3. Visit the Jardin Botanico and Parque Explora in 1 day.
(display of award winning flowers during La Feria de las Flores)
Because we visited Medellin during the Flower Festival, we spent hours at The Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden) enjoying and seeing award winning orchids, flower displays, and the artistry and craftsmanship of local artisans. The Parque Explora is the city's science museum and aquarium that offers plenty of fun activities for kids. You can expect to spend a whole day if you want to enjoy both.
(my daughter smelling the flowers at the Jardin Botanico)
(I bought a hand crafted vase from artisan Diana that took almost 48 hour to complete!)
4. Visit El Parque Norte, Medellin's amusement park.
(The Parque Norte boasts a real airplane with flight simulator. This one is ok for smaller kids)
El Parque Norte provides a fun filled day full of children's amusement park rides, arcade, and fun eats. Don't expect an amusement park to the likes of Disney or Busch Gardens, but for kids wanting fun, this certainly fills that box. A note of caution if you have smaller kids. While rides have certain height and weight requirements, there are some rides not appropriate for smaller children (in my opinion) where small kids are allowed. Please use your best judgement. I discouraged my cousin from letting her 5 year old ride the extreme ride simulators and pirate boat ship. She was happy I did.
(The jungle boat ride was fun for kids of all ages.)
(The park has attractions geared for younger kids too)
5. Visit the Amazing Shopping Centers filled with kid's activities.
(The flower rug at Santa Fe is worth the trip.)
I must say that I was in awe with Medellin's shopping malls. They are ginormous and filled with stores, restaurants, and yes, kids' activities. Santa Fe, located in El Poblado, boasted a "flower rug," a beautiful display of thousands of flowers that covered the main floor. If you head up to the 4th or 5th floor, you will find a bowling alley, movie theatre, and arcade called Happy City that will keep even the littlest ones entertained for hours.
(Happy City in Santa Fe offers 2 floors of entertainment for kids)
Viva, located in Envigado is another huge complex with an amusement park with ferris wheel. If you plan on visiting both places make sure to keep your Happy City card so you don't have to buy a new one. The Happy City features multiple arcade games and rides. Again, use your discretion with small children as I felt some rides weren't appropriate for little ones even though they were allowed to ride.
(Viva Park located in el Centro Comercial Viva offers plenty of outdoor attractions for kids including a ferris wheel)
(my daughter taking in the Medellin view from the ferris wheel)
Another mall with plenty of activities is Los Molinos located in el barrio La America and El Tesoro located in el Poblado that also offers amusement park rides.. Though we didn't get to visit this one this time around, it was highly recommended by my extended family.
6. Take a ride on the Metrocable, Medellin's cablecar.
To be honest this was on our to do list and we simply ran out of time. My 7 year old was really sad that we missed this ride as this is something you don't do everyday. I was sad too. The metrocable takes you from the city center to the once hilltop city slums. Today the metrocable offers stunning views of all of Medellin and is very inexpensive. Stop by the Parque Arviand enjoy a cup of cafecito and pastry. You won't regret it.
7. Go with time.
There is so much to do and see in Medellin, all you need is time. We missed so many attractions because we simply ran out of time and yes we wanted to squeeze in some extended family time. If you do have time, other great sites I recommend with kids are, El Pueblito Paisa, Las Escaleras de la Comuna 13, El Castillo Museo y Jardines, El Planetario, and the Museo del Agua. Have the kids try a Chococono from Mimo's (chocolate dipped ice cream cone, an oblea with arequipe, split a bandeja paisa, and a jugo de Mora or Guanabana (Sour Sop or Berry Juice). Ready to pack your bags? Medellin awaits you and your kids!
Final Thoughts on Visiting Medellin, Colombia with Kids
Having been born in Medellin, Colombia, raised in the United States and going back during my teen years was a life changing experience. I love my birth city and am so happy I was able to share it for the first time with my 7 year old multicultural daughter. No pues, súper bacano!
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Bueno pues, hasta la proxima! No se le olivide pedir una bandeja paisa while you're in Medellin, lol.