Medellín has plenty to satisfy visiting families, from a state-of-the-art public cable car system to a world-renowned flower festival. Planning is key to ensuring that your vacation fulfills your desires, but we’ve made it easy by listing 10 venues that top our must-see-and-do list. To further prepare for your family getaway in Medellín, check out this article on traveling in Colombia with kids.
Ride the MetroCable to Santo Domingo
Don't miss Medellín’s extensive public transport system. It includes thrilling rides high above the hillside barrios (districts) using the efficient and modern gondola-style Metrocable. With large wraparound windows, you and your kids will love the grand 360-degree views of the city. The best route is to the former no-go Barrio Santo Domingo, now spruced up and safe, and easily reached from the Acevedo Metro station. The area has fascinating graffiti art plus a skateboard park, and the views from the hilltop Biblioteca España—a dramatic cubist library cantilevered over the hillside—are incredible.
The Metrocable stations and trains are well-policed, safe, and operate with Swiss-clock precision. That said, stick to the main streets while exploring this area.
Parque de los Pies Descalzos & Estación Antigua del Ferrocarríl
La Alpujarra—the administrative center of Medellín—is surrounded by striking buildings to wow parents while kids delight in its spacious plazas and parks. The top draw is the tranquil Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park), with its sandpit and bamboo labyrinth. It's best enjoyed barefoot, as intended, before splashing about in the spacious water fountain. Some 500 yards to the east, the city’s early 20th-century railway station displays an antique steam train in its outdoor courtyard café.
Museo del Agua (Museum of Water)
On its surface, the idea of a museum dedicated to water doesn't engender much enthusiasm. But to visit the Museo del Agua (located on the northeast side of Parque de los Pies Descalzos) is to have your expectations pleasantly subverted. The impressive museum promotes conservation using interactive high-tech exhibits, covering everything from the Big Bang to water-sports. You'll need to know at least some basic Spanish, as there's no English interpretive signage. One added benefit is that this is one of the more inexpensive museums in Medellín to visit, so bringing the whole family won't break the bank.
Who can resist celebrated Medellín artist Fernando Botero’s 23 voluptuous bronze statues that dominate this lively plaza—also known as Plaza de las Esculturas (Sculpture Plaza)—in the heart of the city? Kids will particularly appreciate Gato (Cat), Perro (Dog), and Hombre a Caballo (Man on Horseback). Also here is a colorful market, plus clowns and roving jugglers who add further amusement. On the plaza’s north side you'll find the Museo de Antioquia, where adolescents can learn more about Botero’s works plus enjoy the interactive educational exhibits on Colombia’s cultures. Works by Picasso, Rodin, and similarly famous international artists are also displayed.
Parque Explora and Jardín Botánico
There’s enough at Parque Explora to keep families entertained for days. Housed in four futuristic red buildings, its many interactive exhibits guarantee a fun-filled experience intended to teach about biology, geography, media, physics, and technology. Located upstairs is the world-class aquarium, featuring electric eels, piranhas, and massive catfish swimming in giant tanks. Plus a vivarium displays fascinating creatures like the tiny, banana-yellow Phyllobatis terribilis—the world’s most toxic frog—and a gamut of snakes both harmless and venomous. Life-size replicas of ancient dinosaurs are another highlight. Kids (and maybe adults) will delight in crawling inside the massive jaws of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
And if you're interested in things botanical, you'll love the Jardín Botánico, just steps away to the south of Parque Explora. Covering 40 acres, with separate sections spanning deserts to rainforests, this botanical garden has plenty to entertain and edify kids, from bug-eating carnivorous plants to a walk-through butterfly enclosure.
Bicycle Parque Arví
You don’t have to travel far from the city to be one with nature. To arrive at the lush forest of Parque Arví, transfer to Metrocable Line L in Barrio Santo Domingo. You can also drive to the village of Santa Elena, headquarters for the park, via the Medellín-Bogotá highway. However you arrive, this mountaintop nature reserve is a great place to escape the city bustle. Its attractions include a butterfly enclosure and cultural exhibits by local artisans. But the principal attractions are the miles of well-manicured trails.
A great way to explore is by joining one of the park's guided bicycle tours running from between 11 am and 3:30 pm. Choose either a short 2.5-mile ride on a battery-assisted bicycle or a slightly more challenging and longer (four-mile) ride on traditional mountain bikes. If you prefer a little trekking, you can roam the trails alone or on an hourly guided hike. Families can even participate in tree planting—a good way to teach children about ecotourism and conservation.
Zoológico Santa Fé
Colombia is a tropical Eden at the apex of the two American continents. As such it's as rich in fauna as anywhere else in the world—about 10% of all animal species on earth can be found here. For example, no other country has as many birds: some 1,885 species, including 73 endemics, are found only in Colombia. Zoológico Santa Fé is a great place to see many of these species up close. From scarlet macaws to toucans—with their banana-like beaks—plus monkeys, tapirs, and jaguars—the king of the South American jungle.
Climb El Peñol de Guatapé
For a great day trip from Medellín, head to the mountain resort of Guatapé, a two-hour drive away. One of Colombia’s most scenic attractions, the Embalse Peñol de Guatapé (reservoir) was created in 1978 by a dam. The exquisite emerald lake, studded with isles, is best viewed from atop El Peñol—a 656-foot-tall granite monolith rising over the lake like Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf Mountain. As you clamber the long winding staircase (located inside a fissure), have kids count the stairs (649 total) that coil to the top.
After you’ve climbed the rock, head to the nearby village of Guatapé. Colorful as Crayola crayons, this quaint colonial village is considered one of Colombia’s most beautiful. Note its cobbled streets adorned with hanging flowers and zócalos (extended walls below windows) featuring bas-relief frescos. To avoid the crowds, visit during a weekday; however, the festive atmosphere of the village is quite fun on weekends.
Refugio Natural El Cañon del Río Claro
There’s something to please everyone at the Refugio Natural El Cañon del Río Claro, a nature reserve amid the scenic canyon of the jade-colored "Clear River." Located just off the Bogotá-Medellín highway, it’s a fabulous place to spot mammals, reptiles, and birds, such as toucans, herons, and motmots, plus agoutis and howler monkeys. The geology fascinates, too, with its towering limestone formations and underground tunnels good for caving; the reserve offers guided excursions. A highlight is Cueva de los Guácharos, named for the endemic and nocturnal ‘oilbirds’ that nest here by their thousands.
Many Paisa (people of Medellín) families flock on weekends for Class 1 rafting, gentle enough that children as young as four may participate. A zip-line canopy tour with three short cables is perfect for children as young as eight. And adolescents can work off some energy by rappelling.
Parque Temático Hacienda Nápoles
With a couple days to spare you can combine the Refugio Natural El Cañon del Río Claro with Hacienda Nápoles (located 10 miles east of Río Claro). This former country estate of infamous drug baron Pablo Escobar is today a theme park focusing on family entertainment. The narco's legacy is still there, however, such as his Piper aircraft (used for smuggling) atop the entrance gate, and his now-rusted car collection. So, too, is Escobar's exotic wildlife collection, which includes hippopotamus, zebras, rhinos, and Bengal tigers. Kids will particularly enjoy the wild river water park, and Aventura Jurásica, with recreations of dinosaurs.
For more fun things to do in Medelliín, check out this article.