Medellin: From Drug Capital to Model City

Once the fiefdom of drug lord Pablo Escobar, Medellin is an example of how far the country has come. There are still problems, but the community's pride in its aerial cable cars is an example of the new normal.

slums of Medellin, Colombia

Word gets around fast: Colombia is emerging as a hot new destination for travellers. But because of the country’s decades-long reputation for civil war and as a killing ground for drug lords and desperate thieves, we at World Nomads are often asked, "Is Colombia Safe?" We've done our best to answer this in previous posts, but in case you missed it – the Colombian government has done a great job of combating crime and the country is nothing like it was 20 years ago. And Medellin is a perfect example.

It can still be “hairy“ in rural regions (the entire south is off-limits according to some foreign government advisories) and some gang-infested cities, but if you stick close to the popular destinations for visitors (and follow the usual travel safety rules) you should be fine.

Medellin: Drug Capital to Model City

Medellin was once the home of Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel. This was the biggest criminal network in the world at one time and responsible for smuggling 15 tons of cocaine a day. Outlaws ran the town and the city was without law. Murder, shootings, kidnappings and general mayhem made it a dangerous and unpleasant place.

The drug barons are gone now. The last of them were rounded up in 1993, but the city still has its crime problems, mostly to do with systematic poverty rather than drug trafficking, which has allowed the Aguilas Negras (gangs) to flourish. In 2009 there was a sharp increase in homicide with more than 2000 killings in a city of 3 million.

Despite this, there‘s one institution in Medellin that is off limits to criminals and gangs … their metro and cable car system. Pride in the public transport system has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Riding the Medellin Cable Car

If you decide to travel to Medellin and ride the cable car, remember you are going into an impoverished area. An obviously wealthy foreigner poking around and taking photos on a camera worth a year‘s salary might not be appreciated. Here in the Safety Hub you‘ll find an excellent piece on travelling in the favelas (slums) of Rio, handy tips which you‘d be wise to follow before heading into Medellin‘s slums.

There are no warnings or alerts or government advice which would prevent you going to Medellin, so generally (if you‘re sensible and cautious) your travel insurance should cover you if anything happens while you‘re there.

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