Getting around safely in Medellin consists of more or less of the same common sense you’d use in any major city—whether you speak the language or not—but there are certain quirks and courtesies to be mindful of when you arrive.
How to get around Medellin Colombia safely:
- For taxis and cabs: know your address, have cash on hand and don’t slam their doors.
- Download Uber and Cabify. The former is convenient most of the time while the latter can save you money during peak hours.
- For solo travelers: get Picap. It’s like Uber for scooters and motorbikes.
- Rent a scooter yourself. They’re not hard to ride, but Colombian drivers are aggressive.
- Get Google Fior to buy data if you plan to travel for a long period of time.
- Don’t wander around drunk and alone.
- Listen to the locals’ advice and suggestions for getting around.
When I told my friends and family about moving to Medellin, Colombia, I was met with the same incredulous expression and a soft gasp, immediately followed by concerned words of safety and precaution. I admit I was a bit wary myself when I first arrived, but Medellín today has become a lot safer and friendlier for foreigners.
It’s 2019. You have a smartphone (if you don’t, I don’t know what to tell you), so use it. Although Colombia is a rapidly developing country, Medellín has particularly transformed a lot in a short amount of time to keep up the pace with its influx of tourists.
Taxis and Cabs
Taxis and cabs are widely available here as much as any city. They’re easy to hail and fairly cheap since the conversion rate is about 3,000 COP to 1.00 USD. A two-mile cab ride costs around 10,000 COP or a little over three dollars. Be clear when you give the driver your destination, but if they don’t know where it is, you can offer directions, or you can give them the address and they can plug it into their phones.
Remember that there’s still traffic here though. It usually starts around 7:30 am to 9:30 am and picks up again around 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
And don’t slam the taxi doors! The drivers will not hesitate to shout or curse at you. Treat their vehicles with care and gently close the door after you, rather than forcefully shutting it.
Uber and Cabify
Uber exists in Medellin! You can even use the same app from the United States, but just like in the states, be wary of the surcharges during peak hours. One important thing to take note of regarding Uber in Colombia: it’s technically illegal. Everyone still widely uses it, but always sit in the front passenger seat rather than the back.
You should also download Cabify—it’s a mobile app that calls nearby cabs to your location. You can add your credit card payment on the app or pay in cash. The best part about Cabify is that the fares don’t fluctuate like Uber because they’re regular taxis you merely contact through your phone if you’re in a more secluded area without easy access to cab service.
It’s nice to have both apps on hand because Uber can be cheaper and more convenient than regular taxis, except during peak traffic hours. But there’s a third option that’s my favorite and highly recommended to solo travelers: Picap.
Picap, Scooters, and Motorbikes
Picap was recommended from a friend and it’s honestly the smartest thing I’ve come across in a long time. It’s basically Uber on a scooter, but a lot cheaper and the price doesn’t fluctuate. You can request a ride, then they can confirm based on your destination and come to your location with an extra helmet in hand. Grab on to the back handles outlining your sear or you can wrap your arms around the driver (if you ask politely).
The drivers are extremely professional, friendly and most importantly, they’re fast. Being on a motorbike for the first time can cause a little anxiety the first couple times, but you quickly realize that they’re great drivers. And passing through traffic is a huge plus. They only accept cash though so make sure you have small bills available.
If you know how to ride one, you can also rent a scooter or motorbike for fairly cheap and can be the most convenient for couples. You can slip through clogged lanes and experience more mobility on where and when you want to visit places but be careful of other drivers. The same traffic rules and courtesies from the states don’t exactly apply to Colombia. Drivers are more aggressive, and they don’t always follow the lanes. Oh, and they rarely yield to pedestrians so, if you’re not driving, don’t jaywalk.
There are several modes of public transportation you can utilize to get around Medellin. The Metro and MetroCable system is pretty innovative systems. The Metro runs across the main quadrants of the city. All you need to do is purchase Univiajes, which are single passes for one-way trips, and you can buy multiple passes at once if you plan to use the Metro frequently.
The MetroCable leads you to more of the newer attractions, or you can simply ride it to drink in the beautiful views of the city. Another option is riding public buses that cost as little as 1,600 to 2,200 COP, which is less than one U.S. dollar, but routes can be confusing so make sure you check your map or ask a local if you’re unsure of your direction.
Get Google Fi
This only applies to those who plan to stay in Medellin for more than a couple weeks, or plan to continue their travels for a longer period of time. Google Fi offers one plan that can adapt to your personal needs at a very cheap price, starting at $20/month for unlimited calls and texts and an additional $10/GB for data—and you can roam internationally for the same price. This is extremely affordable, especially for those who are traveling for a while, because we know we barely use data, but it is admittedly really handy to have.
If you’re like me, you would’ve initially thought $10 per gigabyte was a steep price, but I took a look at my phone bill before I moved out here, and I was shocked to see I barely used a full gigabyte per month for a year. Think about it. The hotels you stay in, the café’s you read at, the museums you visit, and even public areas all have complimentary Wi-Fi access—Internet is not a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity and an expectation.
Paying around $30 every month to have data and a mobile number is honestly worth it. I used to pay 85.00 USD for my AT&T plan for 3GB of data. Now, I pay 65,000 COP (around 22.00 USD) for a domestic mobile plan from Avantel that offers unlimited calls and texts with 20 GB of data.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
- Don’t wander around alone or without a phone.
- Try not to be completely inebriated in unfamiliar territory.
- Make sure you have your phone and wallet near you.
- Don’t buy drugs from strangers.
- Be extremely cautious in public buses and trains—wear your backpack in the front and check your pockets.
- Don’t walk with your headphone and eyes glued to your phone. Look around. Know where you are.
Is Medellin safe for tourists?
Medellin in present times isn’t as dangerous as it used to be during the Escobar era. In the last five or ten years, Medellin has invested in plenty of domestic attractions and has been building countless new apartment complexes and condominiums to keep up with inbound tourism and expats. In fact, Medellin hasn’t even ranked in the top 50 most dangerous cities anymore. Do you which U.S. city is in the top 25? A neighboring city of our country’s capital: Baltimore, Md.
Do they speak English in Medellin?
Yes, but not everywhere. It’ll definitely benefit you to learn some Spanish or at least try to familiarize yourself with some of the more common phrases. A little goes a long way. Just remember that the Colombian-Spanish slightly differs than the Mexican-Spanish we were taught in high school.