When most people hear Medellín, they think drugs, crime, and Pablo Escobar. But that was the Medellin 10-20 years ago. The city has done an incredible job changing and modernizing itself over the last 10 years. They have transformed plazas once known for murder and crime to beautiful public spaces with art and gardens. They have introduced public libraries to what was once the most dangerous areas in the city. They are the only city in Colombia with a intercity subway/train system.
Medellin’s paisas have all been impacted by the drug trade at one point or another. They all have stories or know someone with a story. Our tour guide’s family actually moved to the United States after someone in her family received a death threat. They eventually moved back to Colombia. She explained that the paisas like to forget this dark past and have done everything they could to move on.
In the last ten years, tourism has grown in Medellin and locals are excited to see foreigners. Our walking tour guide explained that we should try to understand that people are just happy to see us. They’re happy to know there are visitors interested in their city because not long ago, people were too scared to even consider visiting Colombia. Many came up to us during the tour to say hi or Feliz Navidad.
Real City Free Walking Tour
We learned all of this on our free walking tour. The guide was super informative and engaging. I highly recommend this! Also make sure to reserve online. See more of what I learned in the photo captions:
The paisas are a proud people and they are incredibly proud of their transit system. They see it as a representation of themselves. Back in the 1980s, the world basically laughed and told them that building a train during such a dangerous time would be impossible. But as resilient paisas, they forged on and made it happen. This is the reason the train has no graffiti on its walls, no gum on its floors, and no trash in its cars. It’s one of the cleanest subway systems I’ve ever seen.
Medellin is located in a deep valley. The higher you go, the poorer the neighborhoods tend to get. A lot of these people in poverty were the ones that got involved with the drug cartels because they didn’t know of any other options in life. Many of the kids growing up in these areas had no other options. As part of the reconstruction of Medellin, they built public libraries in these areas and extended the transit systems out there to provide these people opportunities they never had before.
While trying to find the bank of elevators, we accidentally got on the Metrocable. Since we were on it, we decided to take it to the top of a hill. You could really see the poverty below us as we rode higher and higher. I couldn’t imagine life before the introduction of the Metrocable.
Bank of Escalators
The bank of outdoor escalators is another product of Medellin’s social experiment – creating easier access to places that were difficult to get to. There are literally 6 or so escalators outdoors that take you to the top of the hill. Along the way, there is a lot of beautiful street art. (It reminded me of our route to LKF in Hong Kong except in HK, it isn’t a social experiment, just a bunch of drunk expats). There’s also an awesome view at the top.
This is a great way to see Medellin from above. The views were incredible but ll three of us got really bad motion sickness. We had an option of doing 10 or 20 minutes – 20 minutes may have been a bit long. Totally worth it though!
Medellin is definitely worth a visit! I learned a lot about Colombia here and the city itself here. It’s got a great story.