Is Medellin dangerous? and which district do I choose for my stay?

In this article, I would like to try to answer the question “Is Medellin dangerous?”

Short, but not too short, premise. In recent years my travel choices have focused on South America (Quito and Ecuador, Bogotà and Colombia but also Perù), and it has been, I must confess, a real pleasure.

I am still very fascinated by Asia and its diversity (by the way I recommend Midnight Asia on Netflix, nocturnal stories of Asian capitals) but certainly by traveling in South America you feel a certain bond, a certain feeling, which resounds in the heart of an old European man like me. On my return home, however, the questions almost always focus on a certain aspect, the danger of the cities/countries where I have been.

medellin comuna 13
Medellin dangerous? the now-famous Comuna 13, the district where tourism, enterprise, and escalators have radically changed the local landscape. Obviously with the help of important changes in the city council expenditure

The theme is “Medellin dangerous” but first, we need to talk about South America and Colombia

I have already written about my opinion on the danger of Colombia. There is no doubt that for Colombia, even more than in other South American countries, the contrast between the 80s and 90s, told in Narcos through the rise and fall of the drug trafficker Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, and the current situation is absolutely evident and enormous.

It is true that I could still launch myself into an examination of the current cocaine market, of its sprawling dimensions and its ability to penetrate the civil society, envied by the Italian Rocco S. but I would be, I think, off topic.

On the topic of Medellin dangerous but especially of drugs, in this video by Vox we talk about the fight against the cultivation of the coca plant. The American war on drugs appears to have essentially failed. Recently (may 2022) Otoniel, the kingpin of the Gulf cartel, was extradited to the US and after that clashes between narcos and police/army have occured in the Chocò region, north of Medellin.

It should be enough to say that the cultivation and trafficking of cocaine still exist (see the desperate situation in Mexico in this regard) and indeed the figures released by the White House indicate a significant increase in the hectares of land destined for the production of cocaine in the period 2010 – 2020, having gone from 100,000 to 245,000 (this is obviously an estimate and if you are interested in it, it also applies to Peru, with the hectares planted with coca plants going from 53,000 to 88,000). So, in short, the narcos are still with us, alive and in better shape than ever but perhaps a little less bloodthirsty.

So are you telling me that it’s better to avoid Colombia?

No, I am not saying that. Coca cultivation and drug trafficking persist, political killings as well and we can add to it a big problem of reintegration of former FARC fighters as well as riots caused by other far-right and left-wing guerrilla groups. The point is, as a tourist you won’t notice.

Ergo, for the standard tourist, Medellin and Colombia are not dangerous. Of course, a moderate degree of attention is required, as indeed happens in almost all places in the world whose territory is not well known. The usual rules of conduct that every tourist/traveler should know:

  • don’t bring a lot of cash and don’t keep all your credit cards together (you need at least two cards)
  • Put your money in different places, not all in your wallet, and if your hotel seems safe to you (and I hope it is, otherwise why did you choose it?), always leave some in your room
  • Beware of handling your phone and camera in public
  • Always keep an eye on where you are and where you are going. Not on the map, I mean the street and the neighborhood
  • Going to the other side of the sidewalk is never a bad idea
  • No funny packs or pouch and never put something that interests you in the back pockets of your pants
  • In crowded places, pay close attention to the pockets in which you have put your wallet and mobile phone, the backpack could be carried facing the front
Il Museo di arte moderna di Medellin.
Is Medellin dangerous? a slightly dark photo of the Medellin Museum of Modern Art.. One of the reasons for the improvement in the quality of life and the security situation in Medellin is also that of investments in culture, which went from 0.68% of the city budget in 2002 to a percentage between 3 and 5 between 2007 and 2020.

If you are here on this blog you will already know all these things but just in case … I repeat them with pleasure. Now we are fully prepared and ready to discuss the question of whether Medellin is really dangerous.

Is Medellin dangerous? I would say… no more, and here you find out why

Let’s start with some good news: Medellin is today an example of how to change a city and integrate a part of it that was considered difficult or dangerous. The Medellin recipe is a complex but not complicated one, with ingredients well known to those interested in these things, be they architects, politicians or even social workers. Now it is time to throw the data and reasons that explain this change.

First. The city has decided to invest more in culture (the percentage of expenditure destined for cultural activities in recent years is always between 3 and 5% compared to 0.68% in 2002 for example), creating libraries, cultural centers, houses of music and recreational/sports spaces. In one case, for example, an open-air landfill, Moravia, was transformed in a cultural center that works through mixed public/private funding.

Medellin, vista dalla Comuna13
Is Medellin dangerous? a nice view of the city from Comuna 13.

Second. The city decided to invest in an integrated public transport system that could also allow those who live in the most isolated neighborhoods to move towards the center and beyond. This is done through a metro system but also with cable cars. To be clear, a lot still needs to be done if we compare it to Copenhagen but we are also light years away from the disastrous Transmilenio of Bogotà.

Third. The city decided to create a system of escalators that would allow the inhabitants of Comuna 13, one of the most peripheral and infamous neighborhoods of Medellin, to easily reach the metropolitan transport system. Comuna 13 remains a neighborhood with its problems but the years of marginalization and police raids with dead and wounded are far behind.

medellin graffiti
In fact, it is a bit of a cliché to talk about Medellin dangerous and the escalators of Comuna 13. If you have not been there, however, you cannot understand the difference that a system like this has made for the inhabitants of this area. Of course, the integration issue was also affected by national and international policies to combat drug trafficking and changes in the business model of traffickers, especially after the cocaine king Escobar find his death on the rooftops of Medellin.

Fourth. The gradual improvement of the security situation in the city has led to an increase in tourists who, if they can, invade every possible and imaginable place. A sort of positive loop has therefore been created between more security, tourism, and economic revenues linked to it. So much so that, you too will know, even the life and crimes of Escobar himself have become a matter of tours for the use and consumption of tourists.

Some bad news

Of course, since the issue is Medellin dangerous, we cannot hide one thing. We haven’t gone from the city with the highest murder rate in the world to some sort of heavenly love boat with Scandinavian countryside crime rates. In this regard, the number of armed robberies, especially in the richer and more touristic districts of Laureles and El Poblado, remains quite high. Extortion is also widespread throughout the city.

About 240 gangs remain active with approximately 5,000 affiliates. The most important of which is known as La Oficina, born in Envigado, today a suburb of Medellin but until a few years ago a separate municipality.

medellin graffiti
Is Medellin dangerous? now in the Comuna 13, you can also have a tour of the beautifully made graffiti of the district. Behind every one of them, there’s a story. Medallo is the nickname of Medellin by the way.

In any case, the steps forward compared to the dark years have been enormous and I would like to reiterate that tourists can now go around the city, and have fun, without fearing for their life or for their purses.

Is Medellin dangerous? we finish by going neighborhood by neighborhood.

The last part of the post on “Is Medellin dangerous?” comes with a small guide of Medellin district by district, just to give you the opportunity to orient yourself if you decide to spend a few nights in the Colombian city:

  • El Poblado. Without a doubt the most touristic and international district of Medellin. You can consider it as safe as a place full of tipsy and rich tourists would normally be considered safe. Bars, international restaurants, high-end hotels at decent prices, cappuccinos worthy of Milan or Rome. The mix of upper-middle-class Colombians heavily relying on the cosmetic surgeon and fun-seeking North Americans is literally explosive. Having said that, I, who don’t fall into these categories, stayed in Medellin, and for 30 euros a night I had a jacuzzi in the center of the room. Funny but I don’t think I would do it again, like DFW famously said. Too many tourists, too little Spanish, and too much English.
  • Laureles. You are close to the center of Medellin, to the Candelaria of Medellin, and you are in a slightly cooler and definitely more Colombian neighborhood of El Poblado, if you know what I mean. Laureles has many mid-high level hotels, a stadium where you can see a Colombian league match (perhaps the Independiente – Nacional derby), a well-known park (Cerro el Volador), and a classic shopping center. Public transport via metro runs through the central part of the district, so if you are staying in the north or south, count 15 minutes on foot to reach the station.
  • Envigado. Envigado is actually a small town of 200,000 souls which is located 4-5 km south of El Poblado and is connected to central Medellin via the metropolitan transport system. Perhaps precisely because it is the neighborhood controlled by La Oficina, it is also relatively safe, in particular the areas of San Marcos, Centro, El Dorado, and Magnolia. Envigado is quieter than Medellin and has a certain placid South American city feeling.
  • Medellin center (Candelaria). Without a doubt, at least for me, the most interesting area of Medellin but, alas, also the most problematic, especially at night. If during the day the historic center is alive and active (in fact you will find the Museo de Antioquia, the Palacio de la Cultura, and the very famous Plaza Botero), it is here that many of the economic activities of the city take place, at night the empty offices and deserted squares are not a good setting for a solo stroll. There are high-quality hotels at a good price but for getting around it is better to rely on taxis called by the hotels. Overall, unless you are a fairly daredevil and experienced traveler, I would not recommend staying in this part of the city.

And so I would say that this is more or less everything on the topic of “is Medellin dangerous?” Do not be shy and if you have something to say I will wait for you. I will always wait for your opinionated opinion. Even in the comments. Au revoir!

The post about Medellin dangerous has therefore come to an end. Here are some links for your … er … pleasure:

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