At one stage the violence spawned by the international cocaine trade and its deceased godfather Pablo Escobar threatened to destroy the city of Medellin and turn Colombia into a failed state. Fortunately, thanks to tough policing, impressive social projects and the work ethic of the hardy Paisas – as inhabitants of Medellin are known – Medellin seems to have turned the page on its dark past.
Deep in the Aburra Valley, Medellin is a proud city and sees itself as leading Colombia forward in terms of business and modernity. The metro system, inaugurated in 1995, is the envy of all other Colombian cities and, refreshingly, the locals here use it in an educated fashion. Visitors are advised to catch it out to another form of public transport, a cable car system that connects more humble barrios on the outskirts to the rest of the city.
Climbing up the steep valley walls, the cable cars allow for views of areas that would have been out of bounds prior to the city's urban regeneration. Former mayor Sergio Fajardo campaigned hard to make his city more inclusive and international aid money has been well spent in these areas, putting in libraries and infrastructure and allowing for social change. Annual events such as the Feria de las Flores and Colombia Moda have also started to draw a steady crowd of tourists to enjoy the masses of cut flowers, parades and fashion shows that are the highlights of these festivities.
Perhaps others are also attracted by its international accessibility and the seductive (yet surgically-enhanced) nature of many Paisa women. It is for no small reason that Medellin is one of the global capitals of health tourism, and cosmetic surgery here is moderately inexpensive. Glitzy nightclubs and unashamedly cool restaurants have also sprung up, with the barrio of El Poblado the place to be seen in.
With increasingly strong football teams and the construction of a huge sports complex to stage the 2010 Pan-American Games, Medellin is jostling with Bogota as a future seat of sporting prowess in Colombia. Meanwhile, vast bronze sculptures by one of the city's more prolific sons, Fernando Botero, fill the downtown district around the Parque Berrio and the Museo de Antioquia, making the area a must for every visitor to the city.
But perhaps it is Medellin's geographic location that makes it so desirable. The city is just a few hours from the lush rolling countryside of the Eje Cafetero, and is the jumping off point for flights to the infrequently-visited Pacific coast. The countryside surrounding the city in the department of Antioquia is a delightful mix of quaint but well-tended towns, such as Santa Fe de Antioquia, Rio Claro and Jardin. There are also lakes and hiking opportunities in places like el Peñón and Guatape.
Calle 20 N 44 16
Envigado, Antioquia, Colombia
Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia