When I was doing research leading up to our trip to Medellin, I had a helluva time finding any results when I searched for “best ‘rooftop bars in Medellin’ or “best views of Medellin” or even ‘best photo locations In Medellin’. With its setting in a river valley surrounded by the Andes, Medellin boasts one of the best locations for panoramic views and spectacular overlooks, so not seeing recommendations for where to find them became more than a little frustrating. Luckily, with enough persistence and after questioning practically every local person we met, I was able to find some of these gems, which I’m happy to share with you, along with some of the photos that we took.
Ranging from vertigo-inducing views from suspended cable cars to glittery panoramas from classy cocktail lounges, here are 10 recommendations for where to enjoy the Best Views of Medellin – and what to do while you are there.
1. Mirador de Las Palmas
Hands-down, THE best panoramic view of Medellin by day or night, is on the road leading to and from the International Airport, Via de las Palmas. There are two pullover spots leading out of the city with great overlooks (miradors) where in early evening many Medellin locals flock to watch the sunset. It’s definitely an ‘Inspiration Point’ for young romantics, but the Mirador is also a family-friendly place where local vendors sell hot sausages, cold drinks and ice cream, especially on weekends when young and old come to enjoy the views. After the sun drops behind the western hills opposite, the city lights illuminate the valley, transforming it into a giant, sparkling treasure chest. I just don’t know anywhere else in Medellin where you could top this view.
TIPS: You need a car to get to the Mirador, so take a cab or order an Uber (both super-cheap in Medellin!). Although there are two pullover areas, the first one has views blocked by trees, so be sure to get out at the second, larger overlook, for unobstructed views of the city.
It can get cool after the sun sets, too, so bring a jacket.
2. San Javier Cable Car Station
Riding the cable cars that are part of Medellin’s Metro system is definitely one of the best ways to see the valley, regardless which side of the river you visit. The best part is that almost every cable car route is included in the regular fare, which costs next to nothing (a Metro ticket runs about $1.25 Canadian). The cable car to San Javier station is on the west side of the river, and takes you up and over the hill and then on to the last stop. Once there, the platform where you exit the cable car is a great place to enjoy a panoramic view, especially if you time your visit around sunset. Then, once you’ve had your fill of the night scene, you can ride right back down to the city without paying another fare since you haven’t left the station.
3. Santo Domingo Hill
For the most impressive vertical ascent in the Medellin valley, my money is on the cable car from the Acevedo metro stop, that takes you up the northeastern hillside of Santo Domingo, which not only offers a spectacular view of the valley, but a great birds-eye view of the colourfully-painted rooftops of the neighbourhoods you are floating above.
Enjoy the views on the way up to the Santo Domingo station, or if you want to get even higher up, take an additional cable car and continue on to Parque Arvi, another one of the natural jewels surrounding Medellin.
4. Parque Arvi
Parque Arvi is part of a large forested area located in Santa Elena just on the other side of the Medellin valley. Set aside as a nature preserve and archeological site, the 16,000-hectare Park offers a tranquil breath of fresh air less than half an hour by transit from the downtown core of Medellin. To get there, you’ll need to take the Santo Domingo cable car to its last stop, and then transfer to the Parque Arvi Metrocable. This is one of the only times you’ll need to pay an additional fee beyond your regular Metro fare, but it is well worth it as you are in for an even more spectacular view of the Medellin river valley and area.
Climbing higher up the Santo Domingo Hill, until it eventually goes over the other side, the Arvi Metrocable continues on for about 15 minutes, floating above tall pine forests where if you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the giant blue Morpho butterflies who flutter around here in the mornings. (We saw one of these iridescent blue beauties that was easily as big as my head!) Either way, the views are as fresh as the air in this 8,000-ft-high forest.
TIPS: Parque Arvi is a favourite place for locals to escape for a little nature, especially on weekends when the park can get quite busy, so try to time your visit on a weekday.
HIKING: There are plenty of hiking trails here, but you will be advised to join an accompanied hike for safety reasons (too many people get lost as the trails aren’t really well marked, plus this is still Colombia after all!). The whole experience can be a little confusing if you don’t speak Spanish, and the guides have very limited English, but Henk and I did enjoy a 2-hour hike that took us along a piece of an ancient indigenous trail, past a small pond and to the edge of the hill where we could just glimpse Medellin below.
FOOD: Vendors in the park are located at the entrance near the Metrocable station but snacks sold here are exorbitantly priced even by our standards. Better to pack your own. If you would like a more affordable cold beer after your hike, there is a funky outdoor bar 50 metres up the road just outside the park, where Kevin, the local entrepreneur/owner serves up craft brews and interesting conversation from a thatched-roof kiosk.
5. Plaza Botero (from the Nutibara Hotel)
One of the most recognizable landmarks in downtown Medellin is the checkerboard-patterned Palace of Culture, an impressive Gothic Revival building built in 1925 that is the centrepiece of Plaza Botero, seen here behind the city’s elevated Metro line that runs just just behind it. We wanted to capture this juxtaposition of the old and the new that characterizes Medellin, but in order to do that, we needed to find a unique vantage point: the Hotel Nutibara.
After noticing the height of the hotel on the opposite side of the Metro track, Henk and I figured it might just offer us the perch we needed for our shot, so we did what many other visitors wouldn’t: we went to the hotel and very politely asked the manager if we could go up the elevator and out onto their upper balcony to take a photo. They agreed, which just goes to show you that it always pays to look around, and it never hurts to ask!
TIP: Apparently, on the top of Nutibara Hill – which is nowhere near the hotel – there is a reproduction of a typical Colonial village called Pueblito Paisa, from which you can also get a great view of Medellin. (Henk and I didn’t go there because it sounded like too much of a tourist trap.)
6. El Tesoro Mall
Yes, you read that right – if you want to combine a great view of Medellin with another favourite pastime (shopping), head to the El Tesoro Mall in the Poblado neighbourhood, one of the city’s biggest and best. Besides its many retail tenants, which range from high-end and international fashion brands to more affordable local designers, the mall has an amusement park built right into the grounds with a kiddy train, babbling brook and carnival-type rides. There’s even an indoor skating rink!
But it’s from El Tesoro’s open-air terraces facing back towards the valley that you’ll get a great view of Medellin, as this mall is located fairly high up on the hillsides of Poblado, giving it a prime location for viewing the city.
TIP: Sunday is the most popular day for Medellin residents to visit the mall, so it can get very busy especially in the restaurants/food courts – which also offer great views while you eat. But if you’re just here to shop, the mall is large, so the crowds aren’t a problem.
7. Museo El Castillo
Right in the heart of El Poblado is a castle, now museum, known as Museo El Castillo. Once a private residence of a local textile baron, the home was built in 1930 and designed to look like a Medieval Gothic castle, and is surrounded by pretty formal gardens and fountains where classical music is piped in through speakers hidden in the trees. Strolling around the flower beds, you can catch some partial views of the Poblado neighbourhood all around the castle grounds, but much better ones can be had from the Castle’s second-floor terraces and balconies (accessible via a guided tour).
Henk took advantage of the lack of people in the garden to launch his drone, which provided the ultimate view of both the property and the neighbourhood.
TIP: Museo El Castillo is a great place to enjoy a little quiet in the city, or spend an unhurried Sunday afternoon. If you plan ahead, you can even order a prepared picnic to enjoy on the grounds. (Very grown-up, but knowing Spanish will help as the website is not written in English.) If you didn’t plan ahead for a picnic, there is always the guided tour of the interior of the Castle every hour or so, which gives you a glimpse into the luxurious lives of the former residents.
8. Rooftop Bar – Hotel Charlee’s Envy
Most people (and most search engine results) will point visitors to the Charlee Hotel in Parque Lleras, if you are looking for a rooftop bar. The Charlee is one of Medellin’s pricier boutique hotels and their pool/lounge, Envy, on the 10th floor is one of its nicest features. The glass-sided, raised pool plays centre-stage here almost like a giant aquarium when you enter the bar, and is normally reserved exclusively for hotel guests to use during the day. But occasionally the bar will host a ‘pool party’ in the evenings open to all bar patrons, many of whom don bikinis and walk around the pool, cocktail in hand. Even though that’s not exactly my cup of sangria, the bar itself surrounding said pool is nicely appointed, and the staff are attentive and not at all pretentious. Unfortunately, I found the high glass windows lining the perimeter of the main floor of the bar took away from the rooftop feeling and made it feel more enclosed than I would have liked. And with the lights/reflections on the glass, it was difficult to enjoy the view, let alone take a decent photo. Fortunately, there is another option nearby…
9. Rooftop Bar – Art Hotel
Bingo! I would have to say that my favourite rooftop bar in Medellin was at the Art Hotel, a few blocks south of Parque Lleras. Located on the 8th floor of a design-y new hotel with an industrial-chic vibe, the Art Hotel’s rooftop impressed me with its intimate, artisanal decor, and open-air views of Medellin. Hand-painted tiles decorate the huge bar in the centre, and there is a restaurant at one end (Vaggart) that is open for dinner, and where hotel guests enjoy rooftop breakfasts. Nestled on a comfy couch under a faux tree canopy in one corner of the bar, Henk and I couldn’t have found a better place to enjoy a swishy cocktail or two while admiring the city.
A stroll around the bar to take in the 360-degree view it offers brought me to the restrooms, where even the communal wash-station was funky-cool, with hammered vessel sinks, exposed copper piping and shut off valves for hot and cold water.
TIP: Medellin is very affordable by North American standards, but drinks at top-tier lounges like at the Charlee or Art Hotels will cost you ($9 – $12 for a glass of wine, for example, mixed drinks more). This is still cheap for New York City, but premium-priced by Colombian standards.
Finding the best views of Medellin was a bit of a task, but once we discovered where to go, Henk and I were rewarded with some pretty impressive vistas. Plus, our search gave us an great excuse to explore more of the city. Of course, one of the most spectacular views of all was the one from the plane – a beautiful, but bittersweet last glimpse of the Colombian sun as we were heading home.