We have all heard how Medellin was the most dangerous city in the world. Foreigners couldn’t visit without extremely high risks of being kidnapped, or not ever returning home again. Mostly due to an infamous criminal (Pablo Escobar) and the Cartels. Currently there are big changes happening in Medellin and the city is undergoing a huge transformation. It’s actually safer now then some cities in the USA. I won’t go as far to say that Medellin doesn’t have issues, it still does and some of them are quite complicated, but if you use common sense and be careful then a visit here will go smoothly.
First off the cityscape of Medellin is really quite something to see and we have never seen a city like this one. It’s in a huge valley surrounded by the Andes and the city stretches far up on the mountainsides.
On our first day in Medellin we did a free walking tour with Real City Tours. It’s provided by a group of locals and they rely only on donations for their salary. Our guide (Carolina) gave us great insight into Medellin’s past and the transformation that is happening now. She grew up in the scariest most dangerous times in Medellin but she has the most positive outlook. She was very open and forthcoming, in fact her stories raised a lot of emotion with us. The people in Medellin and the Antioquia Department of Colombia call themselves Paisas and Paisas view themselves as being very different from the rest of the Colombians. They think that they are ‘special’ and that they ‘work harder’ and that they are ‘financially clever’…while she was sharing this with us, it kind of reminded me of an Albertan (ha ha just kidding). In actuality there might be a bit of truth to how the Paisa’s view themselves because Medellin is the only city in Colombia with a metro 😉 Everything we visited in Medellin related back to what Carolina shared with us making it a great thing to do on our first day.
We took the metro to the Alpujarra Station and our walking tour started at the Alpujarra Administrative Center.
We continued on to the Square of Lights. This area was once a ‘no go zone’ for the people of Medellin, it was just far too dangerous to come here. The area has since been revitilized with a library, beautiful lights, and benches set amongst bamboo. Now people come here regularly to enjoy it.
On the other side of the Square of Lights are buidings that housed many horrors. Instead of tearing them down and rebuilding, they turned them into something better, the Ministry of Education. They believed that tearing the buildings down would only allow people to forget but changing them into something positive gave people the vision that ‘everything can change for the better’.
We then made our way to Palacio Nacional, formerly headquarters of major government institutions but is now a gorgeous shopping center.
We walked through the downtown area when our guide explained to us not to ‘give papayas’. Give Papayas? What she meant was, don’t leave your valuables accessible in your pockets and make sure you hang on to your camera.
We made our way over to Veracruz Church, it was a colourful area and the church was beautiful.
Close to the church was Botero Square, a huge public space that houses many Botero bronze sculptures. The sculptures were donated by Medellin’s own Fernando Botero many years ago and put into place during 2002, the sculptures are famous worldwide.
We also visited the Metropolitan Cathedral and around it was a large flea market
Our last stop was at San Antonio Park. It was an emotional stop because in 1995, during a music festival, a 22-pound bomb filled with shrapnel was placed beneath a Botero bird sculpture. The bomb killed 28 people and injured 200. The city was going to scrap the bombed out sculpture but Botero intervened and made a new sculpture to stand beside the damaged one as a symbol of peace.
After our walking tour, we took the Metro to the station that intersects with the cable car system to Santo Domingo (formerly a very dangerous area). The cable car was built to link the Comunas (slums) to the core of Medellin. This infrastructure really fed the transformation of Medellin, it made everyone feel like they are part of the city. The metro is meticulously kept, there’s no graffiti to be seen anywhere. It’s a lifeline for Medellin and the people respect that, it’s a sign of hope for them. In Santo Domingo they have built one of the largest libraries in the city to help facilitate positive changes in the comuna.
While we were in Santo Domingo, there was a major thunderstorm so they closed the cable car for quite some time. It was pouring, so we ran into the first streetside cafe/bar that we saw. It looked like a cute enough place and there was another young foreigner couple in there waiting out the rain. The bar was fine but lets just say that one of the products (not coffee) that Colombia is well known for, was alive and well in the bar…it was not being hidden at all. So not exactly a place you would want to be when the sun goes down and it was getting very close to sundown. Thankfully the storm stopped and the cable car started operations again. We arrived safe and sound to our hotel in El Poblado which by the way is a great and very safe area to stay.
The next day we took another cable car just for the views.
We then visited Comuna 13, the most dangerous area in Medellin but yet a tourist place as well. They built escalators here to link the community to the main road and also they have created sort of a trendy atmosphere with street art and a walking street. This area is still completely controlled by gangs but there’s lots of security around so it’s relatively safe to visit during the day.
In Comuna 13 along the new promenade, Gordon spotted…but nice to see they are painting new murals.
On our last day we took the metro and visited the Botanic Gardens. It was a nice walk through the park and we saw a lot of iguanas, turtles, birds, and of course plants. What was really nice was seeing all the locals come here, lay a blanket down, and have a picnic with their families.
What really stood out for us in Medellin is that the people have now had a taste of what it’s like to be safe, in relative terms, and they have gained momentum from that. They really want to leave the bad days behind them and focus on the future. There is much more to Medellin then their past reputation of drugs and brutal crimes. We truly believe things can only continue to be better for them and we think it’s a great time to come and visit.
Where we stayed: Novelty Hotel 👍
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel