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Medellín is a city that surprises people. In 1988, Time magazine named it the Most Dangerous City in the World; in 2013, The Wall Street Journal dubbed it the Innovative City of the Year, a contrast that perfectly illustrates how the city has reinvented itself. Once a spot plagued by drugs and guerrilla warfare that’s slowly become a modern, safe, cultural haven, Medellín is the perfect place to explore if you want to soak up the Colombian culture and interact with friendly paisas. Here’s why you should plan a visit to this exciting city.
1. The Weather’s Nice All Year Long
Nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring, Medellín has a year-round average temperature of 72° Fahrenheit. Though you may see some rain depending on the time of year, Medellín’s mild temperatures ensure that you can visit at any time of year and still have great weather.
2. You Can See the City’s Innovations Firsthand
The fact that the city has such a wonderful metro system sets it apart from other Colombian cities like Bogotá, which has to move its eight million inhabitants by bus and car. In the early 2000s, a cable car was built as an extension of the Medellín metro system, connecting the underdeveloped favela-style slums in Comuna 13 high on the mountain to the city center, giving the locals living there access and jobs in other parts of the city. Before that point, they would have had to undergo an arduous journey equivalent to climbing a 28-story building just to get from their homes to the neighborhoods down below. The cable car, as well as other community driven initiatives like cleaning up the streets and neighborhoods, offering locals paint and other materials to spruce up their living quarters and creating safe public spaces in rougher neighborhoods, have all helped to drop crime rates.
Taking a ride on the cable car — which, by the way, is included in price of your metro ticket — can be a wonderful way to see this innovation and understand the dynamics of Medellín better. Of course, it also offers amazing views. Though you should, as always, keep an eye on your belongings in the cable car, I felt absolutely zero danger when using them.
Besides the cable cars, an increase in public and green space has made Medellín a pleasant place to live and visit. The eco-árbol, a tree-shaped air purifier that processes more than 775,000 cubic feet of polluted air every hour, and Orquideorama, a statue created from flower and tree structures in the botanical gardens, are innovations that make Medellín a better place. Recently, Comuna 13 got a large public library where the internet and computer usage is free of charge. It also provides programs for children and teens and hosts cultural exhibits.
3. Nature is Never Too Far Away
Yes, Medellín is a sprawling urban metropolis with a population of three million people, but you can easily escape to more natural landscapes. The city’s location in the Aburra Valley means it’s surrounded by mountains, so there’s always something to do both in town and just outside. An easy and cheap way to enjoy the day is to head to nearby Arvi Park, where you can have a picnic, ride horses, bike, zip-line, rent a paddleboat or go for a hike. Guatape is a day trip slightly farther away from Medellín where you can climb a 700-step giant monolith for gorgeous views of the lush countryside. If you’re in the mood for something more adventurous, paragliding in San Felix is a great way to get your adrenaline pumping. El Salado Ecological Park is also a great weekday getaway — it can get very crowded on weekends — where you can hike, zip-line or swim in the river and streams.
4. Get Your Salsa On
Cali may be the capital of salsa, but Medellín is definitely a hotspot if you want to bailar. Many dance schools offer Cali-style salsa lessons, as well as for other Latin dances like bachata, tango or rumba. You can likely find a private class for around $20, which is a steal, or sign up for a group class if you’d like to spend even less. Try Santo Baile Latino or danceFREE, which later turns into a club, just some of the studios that are particularly good for beginners. Or, if you just want to soak up the vibe, head to one of the many nightclubs dedicated to salsa, which likely has live salsa music — cover is usually between $2 and $5. While some of the best nightlife can be found around Parque Lleras, there are also salsa spots throughout the city, so stop by Son Habana or El Tibiri to dance alongside the locals.
5. There’s History and Culture Everywhere
It’s no secret that Medellín has a complicated past. If you’re hoping to learn more, visit the Casa de la Memoria, an interactive exhibit dedicated to educating visitors about how Colombia’s past violence has affected its citizens. Created by the Victims of Armed Conflict Care program, the museum is one of the most important in Colombia.
If it’s art your after, the Antioquia Museum has a large and well-curated Fernando Botero collection. The surrounding square also has 23 Botero statues, like the one pictured below. His oversized statues will also make you feel much better about the bandeja paisa you’ve just consumed — a Medellín specialty with pork, beans, ground beef, egg, plantains, arepas, chorizo and avocado, among other delicious ingredients.
Graffiti tours are also an interesting way to check out the city’s hip street art scene and help give back to communities such as Comuna 13. The tour organized by Toucan Café is led by a hip-hop artist from Casa Kolacho, a community center that uses hip-hop, breakdancing and street art to educate local youth and promote nonviolence.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Medellín? Tell us about them, below.
Featured image of Medellín by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.
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