Anyone who has heard me talk about my travels to Colombia knows the trip was inspired by a classic case of Love Gone Wrong. My interest in the city came before the Colombian guy, sure. But as much as I hate to admit it, it took an on-the-ground contact to inspire me to buy my ticket to Medellín.
Why? In the United States, we still associate Medellín with drug-related violence, gang-based terror, and wild shootouts on alternating weekends.
With such a stained reputation, it’s no wonder my family was less than thrilled when I announced my travel plans. I didn’t encounter the lawless city I’d expected. Instead, I found a city full of amazing qualities, like the ones below.
Warm, enthusiastic hosts
“A la orden” echoes throughout the city, and street vendors shout the phrase while passersby use it reassuringly when asked for directions. This translates to “At your service,” and this declaration of servitude immediately made me uncomfortable. I asked my companion about the phrase, and he seemed confused by my confusion. “We’re here to help,” he replied. “It’s the polite thing to do.”
Throughout Medellín, I encountered nothing but kind locals who were eager to help spread a good word about their city. An example: I was staying at The Garden of Blues Hostal in El Poblado, and after my unsettling breakup, I decided to leave Medellín a few days early. I’d already paid my room in full. I told the sweet ladies at the front desk I’d be leaving early, and they insisted I take a refund for the nights I’d already paid. Their reasoning? Because “I’d been through enough.”
Social and self-awareness
Paisas don’t deny their city has a tumultuous past. In fact, they’re eager to talk with tourists about it. That is, so long as visitors also listen to all the amazing ways the city has grown in recent years. Medellín’s public transportation is an excellent example of this. It’s the only city in the country that has a Metro system, and it’s pretty darn comprehensive and economical.
Awarded “Innovative City of the Year” in 2012 by Citi and WSJ. Magazine, Medellín’s creativity in the face of adversity can most easily be seen in its Metrocable system. This free gondola system connects mountainside Comunas with Medellín’s Metro line. By connecting these lower-income neighborhoods with Medellín’s commercial epicenter, the city demonstrates its holistic commitment to creating a better Medellín for all.
I wouldn’t say Medellín is a touristy city yet. For travelers who crave detailed itineraries and days full of activities, Medellín might not be the most enticing place. However, for travelers who prefer to absorb a city, this one is unbeatable. Free, public art is abundant, and open-air plazas can be found in almost any barrio.
From the Jardín Botánico de Medellín Joaquín Antonio Uribe to the famous Plaza Botero, Medellín’s commitment to making beauty and art accessible to the general public is unparalleled. The city also features an abundance of museums and graffiti, which guarantees every outing will expose visitors to an example of Paisa expression.
I’m no expert on why we perpetuate Medellín’s ghastly past. What I do know, though, is that Medellín is one of the most captivating and intriguing cities I have visited in the Americas. Like any metropolis with millions of residents, there’s bound to be some crime. However, I don’t believe the city’s history should deter visitors from visiting this amazing space any longer. I’ll certainly be back!