Medellin was once known as the most violent city in the world. In the 1980s there was a major urban war here revolving around the infamous Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel. Since his death 20 years ago things have changed dramatically. Crime has declined significantly and the city has opened up more for tourism. Medellin is now known as the tourist capital of Colombia, south of the Caribbean Coast, with most travellers skipping the capital, Bogotá, for the warmer and better set up Medellin.
The second largest city in Colombia with 2.4 million people, Medellin is a 10-hour bus ride north-east of Bogotá on a winding mountain highway.
The best way to see the historical centre of Medellin and to learn about its history is via a free city walking tour. On the tour you learn that the people of this area were cut off from the rest of Colombia for almost 300 years because the valley is surrounded by the peaks of the Andes. This isolation led the community to thrive and grow, using the region’s main natural resource, gold, to fund different advances. It was this gold that built Medellin and not the drug money of Escobar, as many believe. The drug money actually caused more harm than good, killing hundreds of thousands in the urban war and giving Colombia a sour reputation that it would fight for years to overcome.
After Escobar’s death some of the more dangerous areas of the city were cleaned up and monuments erected to the ‘new’ Medellin. Monuments such as Plaza Cisneros and its many light columns. Each of the columns have strips of led lights on four sides that are lit up at night as a symbol of hope.
There are pretty places scattered throughout the city, such as El Palacio de la Cultura, but many of them have darker secrets, some more obvious than others.
The Medellin government in the 1920s didn’t like the gothic inspired palace causing the Belgian designer to flee the country after only having completing a third of it. Colombian builders didn’t bother to finish it, instead simply sealing the unfinished side with a plain white wall.
Then there is this pretty inner city church…
…surrounded by brothels, gambling houses and drug dealers, its visitors seeking to gain forgiveness for the sins they commit on a daily basis.
There are plentiful interesting sculptures dotted around the city, donated by a rich and locally famous artist.
After the darkness of the 80s and to foster education in the poorer parts of the city, grand libraries were built.
These structures stand out from the terracotta brick buildings of the surrounding city and is a symbol of freedom for the local population.
Overall, Medellin is an interesting city to spend a few days and is very much a party city for tourists making their way from the northern coast to the countries of the south.
Next I’m off to the Caribbean Coast and the city of Cartagena, famous for being plundered by the notorious Pirates of the Caribbean during the 1500s and 1600s.
The World Wanderer