TLDR? Use your street smarts when traveling in Medellin.
Medellin is a top destination for tourists from around the world, and for good reason. Situated in the Andean foothills, this city of nearly 2 million people is famous for its year-round spring-like weather, rich culture, and vibrant nightlife.
However, when visiting, there are some things tourists should never do in Medellin. You can avoid any potential negative experiences and make the most of your time in this truly unique city by following these simple tips.
Keep reading as we explore the 10 things you should never do in Medellin.
What Not to Do When Visiting Medellin, Colombia
No matter what big city you go to, there are basic travel principles that should always be followed in order to avoid any mishaps. Medellin is no different, and there are specific things you should definitely not do while visiting.
However, since every country is different, what you might do in one country without any problem, could get you into a lot of trouble in another. Therefore, even if you’re staying in a large ex-pat neighborhood like El Poblado, it’s important to be aware of the cultural norms and avoid any potential trouble.
It makes sense that you want to visit Medellin. It’s a beautiful city and has so much to offer tourists. But you want your trip here to be unforgettable in a good way, not a bad way.
Some of these tips aren’t just about safety but also tips to help you enjoy your trip more. So let’s get started with the 10 things you should never do in Medellin.
1. Don’t Talk About Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cartel ruled over the city in the 1980s and 90s with an iron fist. His story is fascinating, and many tourists want to know all about it.
However, talking about Escobar is a sensitive subject for many people in Medellin. It’s estimated that he was responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 people, many of whom were innocent civilians.
For the families who lost loved ones during that time, it’s still a painful memory. So, unless you know someone (tour guide) who is comfortable talking about it, it’s best to avoid the topic altogether.
2. Don’t Buy Drugs
Due to Medellin’s past, it is a common interest for many tourists to want to buy cocaine while in the city.
However, it’s not a good idea for many reasons. First, while being in possession of small amounts of cocaine is not technically illegal, it’s still frowned upon.
In addition, if you’re caught buying it or consuming it, you will be looking into serious trouble. The extent of the consequences varies depending on how much you have and what you do with it, but it’s not worth the risk.
You’re not in your country anymore, and the laws here are different. The last thing you want is to be banned or stuck in a Colombian jail.
Plus, you never know what is in that cocaine. It could be cut with other substances that are much more dangerous.
Lastly, buying drugs or being involved in prostitution makes you vulnerable to being scammed or robbed. So, just don’t do it.
3. Don’t Be Dumb
This may seem harsh, but usually, when bad things happen to tourists, it’s because they didn’t use common sense. Not to say unfortunate and unlucky things can’t happen to anyone, but oftentimes they could have been avoided.
While Medellin is generally a safe city, making yourself a target by flashing money around or walking alone at night in a bad area is never a good idea.
Basic safety principles apply here just like anywhere else. Don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t put your phone on the table in a busy cafe, and pay attention to your surroundings.
Being smart about these things will help you avoid any potential trouble.
4. Don’t Go to the Wrong Part of Town
Some areas of Medellin are definitely best avoided, especially at night. The most dangerous neighborhoods are typically located in the comunas (districts) on the outskirts of the city.
Do your research before you go anywhere, and if someone tells you not to go somewhere, don’t go. It’s really that simple.
There are plenty of other places to see and things to do in Medellin that don’t involve putting yourself in a dangerous situation. When booking a hotel or Airbnb, research the best neighborhoods to stay at.
5. Don’t Over Tip
In the United States, there is usually an “add tip” line on the receipt for restaurants, and it’s customary to leave a 15-20% tip.
However, you won’t find that in Medellin restaurants. Instead, servers will typically ask you if you want to include a tip or say, “Servicio incluido?”. When you say “yes,” an automatic 10% tip is added to your bill.
If you have good service and want to leave a bigger tip, that’s perfectly fine. But don’t feel like you have to over-tip just because it’s customary in your country.
For street food, taxis, and other services such as haircuts, it’s not required, but it is appreciated if you leave a tip. Rounding up the fare is usually sufficient.
The exchange rate is around 4,000 COP is $1 USD, so it won’t break the bank if you leave a little extra.
6. Don’t Flush Toilet Paper
This may sound gross, but it’s a common practice in Medellin and most of Latin America.
The explanation is that most of the country has septic systems instead of city sewers. Toilets are connected to a septic tank that collects all the waste.
If you flush toilet paper, it can block the system and cause serious problems. So instead, there is usually a small waste bin next to the toilet where you can deposit your used toilet paper.
It may take some getting used to, but it’s really not that big of a deal. Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands afterward, and you’ll be fine.
7. Don’t Get Taxi Scammed
Taxis are inexpensive and convenient in Medellin because they are everywhere. You can flag one down on the street or call an Uber.
However, if you decide to use a taxi verse a rideshare app like Uber, you need to be careful. There have been reports of taxi drivers overcharging tourists or taking them on a longer route to inflate the fare.
The best way to avoid this is to agree on a price before getting in the taxi. Also, if the taxi uses a taximeter, make sure it is turned on before taking off.
For safety and to avoid scams, you can order a taxi from Cabify or Easy Taxi. These are both reputable companies, and you can pay with a credit card, so there is a paper trail if something goes wrong.
Using other rideshare apps will also take away the risk of getting scammed as the fare is automatically calculated and you can see the route before you get in the car.
8. Don’t Get Caught Without A Raincoat
Medellin is nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring for a reason. The weather is beautiful year-round with an average temperature of 72 degrees.
However, it rains year-round with showers almost every day during the months of April-November.
So, pack a raincoat or umbrella because you will definitely need it. Heavy rainstorms are common in the late afternoon during April and May, so it’s best to plan your day accordingly.
9. Don’t Expect Locals to Speak English
In countries like Mexico, you can meet plenty of people who speak English. But that’s not the case in Medellin.
While you will find some locals who can understand and respond to a few English phrases, don’t expect them to be able to hold a conversation.
That’s why it’s always good to learn at least some basic Spanish before traveling to another country. You can take Spanish classes or download a language learning app like Duolingo.
Just a few words and phrases can go a long way and make your trip much more enjoyable. In the meantime, download a translator app like Google Translate to help you communicate with locals.
10. Don’t Be Upset If They Are Late
It is not uncommon for paisas to show up late to appointments or social gatherings in Colombia.
So if you have a date or meeting with a Colombian, don’t be surprised or offended if they show up 15-30 minutes late.
It is still a good idea for you to show up on time or even a few minutes early. Just don’t be upset or surprised if they aren’t as punctual as you are.
Medellin is a beautiful city with a lot to offer tourists. From the stunning scenery to the delicious food, there is something for everyone.
By following these simple tips, you can avoid some common mistakes and make the most of your trip. Have a great time, and enjoy your time in Medellin!
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