In Part 2 of the changing face of Colombia I look back at my time spent there and why you should not waste another minute not buying that plane ticket.
Living in what was the world’s most dangerous city has its advantages. People think you’re genuinely an intrepid trail blazer and the bravest person they know, but it also has its disadvantages. You’re seen as totally crazy and everyone feels they have the right to tell u how dangerous it is and that u shouldn’t go. The problem with the latter is it’s often based on old information and in the case of Colombia its about 35 years out of date. Colombia’s reputation precedes her, but not without reason. The influx of paramilitary groups, the world’s most dangerous drug cartels and a corrupt government meant that in the 70s 80s and early 90s it was one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
The rise of the infamous Pablo Escobar and the fact he was the world’s most wanted man but made it into government says a lot about where Colombia was. But in 2017 it is not even close to that. The current president Juan Manuel Santos has just received the Nobel Peace Prize for cementing a peace agreement and disarmament between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), putting an end to “the longest running conflict in the Western Hemisphere.” This is not to say there still isn’t need for economic reform and there aren’t challenges ahead but it’s a far cry from where they were.
In 2014 I spent 3 months in Colombia, and I can assure you the most dangerous thing about it was the incredibly excessive amount of mosquitoes in Palomino. We did drive through military checkpoints and one time we were asked to get off the bus and provide ID, but it was all very routine. It would be remiss of the government to remove these checks especially as the drug trade does continue.
For 1.5 of those 3 months I lived in Medellin. I stayed with a host family whilst volunteering in the cute neighbourhood of Flores and was afforded the luxury of really getting to know Medellin. I genuinely never felt unsafe, not during the day or night. I actually found Medellin and Colombia to be one of the most welcoming places I have ever been to. Everyone is so keen to make sure you like Colombia, to rid themselves of that history, that u get asked multiple times a day “do you like Colombia?
Medellin, formerly the world’s most dangerous city is now a flourishing metropolis full of character. The people of Medellin bore the brunt of the violence along with Cali, but their impeccable Metro (the only one in Colombia) is proof they have moved away from the past and are firmly looking towards the future.
So why should you don your backpack and hotstep it to Medellin. Let’s start with the weather, it’s perfect, it is eternally spring, who doesn’t love an eternal spring?! There are people exercising at all times of the day, in parks, on the street and it has an aquatic complex the Sydney Olympics would have been proud to have. Then there’s that Metro. Clean, accessible, cheap and extremely convenient. Parque Lleras, where on any given night (coz you know the weather is perfect) you can find locals and tourists alike sitting and having a beer together. There are modern restaurants, bars, clubs and a week-long flower festival “Feria de las Flores” that needs to be seen to be believed. There are the beautiful Botanical Gardens and open-air venues regularly playing live music.
A short 2hr bus ride from Medellin is Guatape. A wonderfully quaint town that is filled with colourful houses and a giant rock called La Piedra that u can climb. Once at the top it gives you panoramic 360 views of the man-made lake below. If you so choose from here u can visit one of Escobar’s former residences La Manuela, where he famously flew his party guests up in the air for an hour while his wife turned up. When she left he brought all the guests back down to continue the party.
I have no doubt that there are still places that are dangerous and when in Colombia or Medellin you shouldn’t go, but everything needs to be seen in context. In your own city there are places that you wouldn’t frequent because the chances of being attacked or robbed are heightened. There are in fact places all over the world you wouldn’t go because they are dangerous after dark. However, that doesn’t stop you going to New York where muggings are common or to Barcelona where pick pockets are rife. Don’t let old information stop you from going to one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse countries.
Colombia and Medellin are full of natural beauty, wonderful people and incredible experiences. It takes a lot of courage to live through the trauma of a civil war and not lose your personality or zest for life. Colombia has lost none of that. It has well and truly shaken the old days and now deserves the reputation for its present not for its past.
© The Universe’s Bike
Want to explore Medellin? Real City Tours have a fantastic Free Walking Tour twice daily. I did this tour and it was invaluable to learn about life in Medellin, then and now. http://www.realcitytours.com