Jan 23

Medellin’s Best Tour – The Free Walking Tour

medellin free walking tour

 

Walking tours can be pretty hit-and-miss as far as I’m concerned – you either end up with a fascinating insight into a culture or moment of history (e.g. Bogota’s excellent graffiti tour or, the best walking tour I have ever taken, the civil war walking tour of Sarajevo in Bosnia), or a long, uninspiring trudge through a city centre. They tend to either be memorable or forgettable from my experience. So when I booked the Real City Tours free Medellin walking tour for myself and two visiting friends last weekend I was really hoping for the former. It turns out I was in luck…

First. a bit of background: the Real City Tours free walking tour of Medellin is the city’s most popular tour, at least according to its No. 1 spot on TripAdvisor, and is usually the tour that people recommend most strongly to tourists visiting the City of Eternal Spring. It’s a free tour, in that the guides work for tips and don’t earn a salary – the recommended tip for a 4 hour tour is somewhere between 20-35.000 COP, a very reasonable fee for the hard work and dedication of the guides (it works out to roughly between US$6-12). The tours run twice daily from Monday to Saturday, morning and afternoon. Booking is required though, as this tour is so popular that it would probably be swamped with tourists otherwise. You can visit this webpage to book your chosen tour: be aware, booking opens 1.5 days in advance of each tour, and they fill up fast, so make sure to be online and ready. The form requires your name, email address, how many spaces you require (up to 3), and the name of your hostel or hotel (so that they can suggest the best meeting point). Once you register you will receive an email asking you to confirm your booking, guests, and names: you must reply to this promptly or you risk losing your booking. Once you’re all booked and ready just turn up to the metro station they suggest at the suggested time (it’ll be either Poblado or Alpujarra station) with a copy or screenshot of your booking code and you’re ready to go…

 

real city free walking tours medellin
Medellin is looking upward, towards the light these days…

 

If this sounds a bit complicated that’s because perhaps it is: but trust me, it’s worth the minor hassle for such an excellent tour. We met our guide, Camilo, at Poblado metro station and set off on a 3-stop ride into the centre of Medellin. After a brief introductory safety chat we set off on our walking tour. The tour focuses on the history and culture of Medellin, dealing with the story of paisas, Medellin’s glory days, and the dark period that has come to define the city. Medellin’s most unfortunately famous son, Pablo Escobar, is never mentioned by name to avoid misunderstandings with locals, but the guides do not shy away from his legacy. No question is off-limits, which is the right way to approach a tour of this nature through a city with such a complex and dark history: the mistakes of the past won’t be remedied by burying our heads in the sand.

 

real city free walking tours medellin
Camilo explaining Medellin’s chequered history to our group

 

Often these types of tours hinge on the knowledge and enthusiasm of the guide. We were in luck here too: Camilo has led around 250 of these tours and was just about the most engaging and entertaining walking tour guide I have ever been lucky enough to have. My friend Jim, by his own admission not the most engaged participant in tours normally, was captivated by Camilo’s narrative and his instinct for performance. He made the tour at times funny, poignant, emotional and always enjoyable. We ended the 4 hours alongside Botero’s twin dove statues, one blown apart by a terrorist attack in 1995 and the other bright and new, symbolising Medellin’s revival of fortune. It felt like an appropriate ending for a tour that casts a critical eye on Medellin’s past, but always has one eye on the city’s bright future, and is in my opinion Medellin’s best tour…

Chris

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