What terrifying things we heard about Medellin from our friends and family. A murder city with an incredible high rate of crime. It’s incredibly unsafe, especially at night. You might be shot by some drug dealers or will at least be robbed. You must be crazy to go there.
Well, the city still has a very bad reputation due to the events in the 80’s and 90’s. The famous drug lord Pablo Escobar lived in Medellin. But he is just one of the famous persons involved in the drug war during that time.
Escobar was the first to industrialize the production and distribution of cocaine. In the beginning of the 80’s the Medellin cartel supposedly controlled 80% of the cocaine market and made about $60 million a day. Many members of the new class of wealthy drug lords bought enormous quantities of land to laundry money or simply show off their wealth, gaining a lot of political power, too.
To protect their wealth and economic interests they raised well equipped private armies, that fought each other and killed many people in the process.
A peak was reached, when the government signed a extradition treaty with the US allowing Colombia to extradite any Colombian suspected of drug trafficking to the US to be put on trial there.
This was a major problem for the cartels, as they had little influence in the US. The answer was an intensified war against the Colombian government in which politicians, journalists, judges, policemen, presidential candidates, competitors and many, many innocents were killed.
The victims of the drug war were counted in thousands throughout the country.
Times have changed in Medellin.
A lot of effort was done to reduce the rate of homicides and gang delinquency. Money was invested in city development and education with a focus on the poor parts of the town.
For example outdoor escalators were built in the „Comuna 13“ slum in Medellin, that was best known for gang violence and a 35 minutes uphill walk to get home. The new escalators cut down that time to 6 minutes and they are for free.
Not all is good of course, the crime rates have risen again lately, but large parts of the city are reasonably safe today.
As in every bigger town you have to take care. You simply don’t walk alone in dark alleys or make one-handed pictures with your smartphone on a crowded market place. An unwritten law says: If you give people the opportunity, they have to take it.
Having said this, we actually never felt unsafe in Medellin. We found people to be rather curious and nice. When we walked through the town with a tourist group (free walking tour, highly recommended!), we felt like WE were actually the attraction. Tourists are maybe not that common yet.
People were stopping and trying to understand, what the guide was saying, looking at us curiously, tugging at our sleeves, starting a conversation or simply trying to attract our attention.
We even went to the park, that is not recommended for tourists because of the subjects strolling around. And guess what? The people there were one of the nicest we found in Medellin, greeting, smiling and waving. Yes, lots of them are homeless or drug addicts and I’m sure they will take your money, if you don’t guard it, but they were also extremely friendly and happy, that tourists visit "their" place.
Another really interesting thing in Medellin: People have lived through so much bad things, that they focus on the good parts. E.g. the Metro in Medellin is the pride of the city, as it was the first Metro built in the country and an innovation during that time.
And it is also the pride of every single citizen, it seems. It is the cleanest place in Medellin - no graffiti, no cut seats, no litter. No one would even think of damaging it.
So yes, Medellin is a surprise in many ways.
Its a nice city with interesting places, lots of art and culture and extremely friendly people.
The locals try to forget the violent past of their city. And little by little visitors will hopefully
change its bad reputation.
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