Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, has been on our South American bucket list for a while. We finally made a whirlwind trip there last week, and my goodness, what a fabulous place. We crammed as much as we possibly could into four days, so much that I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one blog post. Here’s the first of a few installments about our visit.
To many people, the name “Medellín” conjures plenty of negative and downright scary associations: the Pablo Escobar drug cartel . . .the FARC guerilla war . . . the hopelessness and violence that come with poverty and isolation. Not so long ago all of those things applied; in fact, at one point Medellín had a reputation as the most violent city in the world.
What a difference a couple of decades can make. The Medellín Cartel is gone, and since the late 1990s the city’s homicide rate has decreased by 95% and extreme poverty by 66%; in fact, Medellín is now considered safer than many U.S. cities (thank you, Wikipedia, for those facts and figs!). And just before our trip, the Colombian government announced that it has signed a peace accord with the FARC, signalling the end to many, many decades of civil conflict. Some of the locals we talked to, including our tour guide, were skeptical – but it’s a huge step in the right direction.
All of these developments have breathed new life into the city and birthed a tourism industry that is still in its early stages, but growing fast. Clearly Medellín is on the move and building a new reputation as one of South America’s most progressive, modern, and scenic cities, and it’s beginning to draw visitors from all over the world.
Here are some of our general thoughts about Medellín:
- It’s pretty. Medellín and its surrounding communities lie in a deep valley surrounded by two mountain ranges, offshoots of the Andes, that reach 8,000-plus feet.
- It’s a bargain. Although we wouldn’t recommend our hotel for a variety of reasons, it was still clean, modern, and upscale, and set us back about $55 a night including breakfast. A fantastic filet mignon lunch in the outlying city of Sabeneta, including a bottle of wine, was about $36. We used Uber extensively to get around and paid no more than $3 (and that was for a long trip). We also rode the Metro light rail system extensively and paid no more than $8 total over our four-day visit
- It’s incredibly clean. With just a couple of exceptions, we never saw trash thrown ANYWHERE in Medellín and environs, including the roadsides. Anyone who’s done extensive traveling in Latin America knows what a rarity that is.
- It’s a huge city (pop. 2.5 million) that’s working hard to keep things on an approachable, human scale. There are leafy and walkable neighborhoods and parks everywhere, and the city has invested in some very beautiful and impressive public spaces. One that we visited, the Parque de Los Deseos (Park of Wishes) is a huge and modern plaza with a music hall, planetarium, and plenty of activities – like water parks and cultural events – for families and kids. And of course there’s Botero Plaza in the heart of downtown, displaying 23 bulbous sculptures by one of Colombia’s most famous artists, Fernando Botero. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of his art, but we got a kick out of seeing all of the local citizens out for the day, taking selfies and otherwise interacting with the sculptures.
- Also on the theme of approach-ability and human scale, Medellín has one of the best public transportation systems we’ve ever experienced, anywhere. In the past decade, the city has made a big investment in a modern Metro rail system as well as cable car lines and even escalators designed to unite and modernize the barrios clustered on the surrounding mountains.
We loved Medellín and can’t wait to return for a much longer visit next time. Stay tuned for more posts and pics!
Medellín is on our South America list as well. You did pack a lot in, but looks as though you were both having a great time. Thanks for the report and the pictures. Hasta pronto, Mariah
Looks like you had a great trip – enjoyed the photographs. Interesting to see two familiar scenes (from India) – the old men with typewriters and the sugar cane juice vendors. Half a world away – amazing.
Looks like you had a great, exciting time. Very interesting to hear about the City. Thanks for posting!
I always enjoy reading your blog posts. It’s fun to see your adventures. Miss you!
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks, Liz! We miss you too.
What a beautiful city. We had planned a trip to Medellin in March, but then we read that two American tourists had been killed in Medellin and I got cold feet, so we went to Cartagena, instead. After seeing these parks, we will definitely return. The Claro phone charging center is fantastic. Now, I can’t wait to hear about your mini-adventure parasailing. What a whirlwind of a trip.
Hmm – we did not hear about those murders. But not knowing any facts, I’d wonder two things: were they in an unsafe area? and were they doing something they shouldn’t?
We try to use common sense wherever we travel – avoid areas that are questionable, be aware of our surroundings, watch our valuables, etc. We felt completely safe in Medellin – and honestly, I’d rather be a tourist there than a black person living in any U.S. city at the moment.
I came across your blog from the Our Third Life – Pedasi blog. You got an honourable mention. I’m curious if you’ve considered Santa Marta, Colombia as a place to live for a bit?
It’s warm, less expensive than Cartagena, and is less hectic than Medellin.
Hi. An honourable mention? We’ll have to check that out!
We have not been to Santa Marta but we’ve heard it’s a very pretty area. We would rule out any city on the coast simply because it’s just too hot, and we don’t want to live in air conditioning. The perfect year-round weather in Medellin is one of the things we love about it!
Here’s an article we found that compares Santa Marta to Medellin. One person’s opinion, of course.
Thanks for reading our blog!
Wow, now I want to go too. I love all the color and activity in the streets. Thanks for the great photos
Thanks for your post…Reginald has been there but I have not, so I enjoyed taking your virtual tour!
Wow what GREAT photos! That amazing iPhone camera! Looks like a fun and exciting place to visit. I want to go too!
Pleasant pictures a debt of gratitude is in order for share…I dependably appreciate perusing your blog entries. It’s enjoyable to see your enterprises.
I have fallen in love with that city! Cannot wait to experience it.
Thanks for your reply and the link to the Medellin vs Santa Marta comparison.
I like the warmer temps, but more than that, love being close to water.
If Medellin had a major lake super close by, I’d probably be living there.
For my next trip, I want to visit Minca, with its higher elevation it should be cooler than Santa Marta for a brief change, and not too far from that city. Do you happen to know of any expats living in Santa Marta?
After reading the article in the link you sent, I am a bit concerned about the zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. I wonder if locals have to wear insect repellent each and each day.
Can’t answer your question about Zika. You might want to check out Guatape, a two-hour bus ride from Medellin. It’s in a beautiful lake district. Sorry, we don’t know any expats in Santa Marta but we do know a few in Guatape. Here’s the blog we did about our visit there: http://latitudeadjustmentblog.com/2018/01/29/charming-guatape-colombia/
Hi folks and welcome to Medellin. I’m Steve Tuggle. My wife, Paulette and I live in Poblado. May 2nd will be our 1-year anniversary in Medellin. We love it here, and I can’t see moving any time soon. We also lived in Boquete from May 2016 through September 2017.
If you would like, we could meet for lunch and see if we have any friends in common. My WhatsApp is +57 314 312 6487. Or you can reach me by email.
Hi Steve! Sorry for our late reply but we just got back from a very busy trip to Texas. Interesting that we were in Boquete at the same time but our paths never crossed!
Let’s definitely get together. We live in Laureles but get to El Poblado pretty often. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org and John’s WhatsApp is +57 314 847 2293.
So interesting to learn about all the places we must check out, and from your first visit there, since it is our first now. The sculpture park looks up my alley!
Visiting Plaza Botero is a must! We also highly recommend the free walking tour with Real City Tours – outstanding.