Is Medellín a Safe City in 2021?

When you mention Colombia as a place to visit or call home images of its infamous past come to mind.  A history of legendary drug trade governed by ruthless Cartels. But the days of the infamous Escobar cartel of Medellín are, as I said, in the past. The city where the heart of the most dangerous cartel of the country was located, rose from the ashes of its dark history and is now one of the most attractive destinations in Colombia for travelers and expats.

Still, you must be wondering: how safe is it now? How have things changed? Which precautions do I need to take? Let’s dive into it.

What are the safest areas in Medellin?

First, let me tell you about some areas of the city that are great to visit and live in, this way you’ll get to see the best that the City of Eternal Spring has to offer, while remaining as safe as you can be. Stick to the following Medellin ‘comunas’ and you’ll be free of nearly all worries:

El Poblado

Photo: Willy Gil/FlickrCC BY 2.0

If you want to be in the thick of the action, Poblado is the place to be. This wealthy neighborhood is the center of nightlife in Medellín, with tons of bars and clubs; but Poblado is not just about its night scene. The restaurants, shopping malls, and cultural landmarks give it a vibrant energy all throughout the day.

You’ll always have something to see or do in El Poblado, and you can do so safely, because the popularity and wealth of this neighborhood means there’s more security. You can rest assured that you’re far from the gang related violent crimes, but remember to stay aware of your belongings because of pickpockets in the area.

Laureles

Photo: Transito Medellin/FlickrCC BY 2.0

If you’re looking for a calm place to live or stay in for a trip, Laureles is the perfect option. It’s not as much of a tourist hotspot as Poblado, but it’s just as culturally and visually interesting, and much calmer.

Laureles is a very convenient neighborhood if you want a laid back place to stay, but still want to be near the more lively parts of the city. There’s easy access to buses that connect with the metro station and the rest of the city.

The area itself is a place that will make you feel like a local, with lots of locally-owned restaurants and supermarkets, but conveniently, there are also many chain stores if you’re looking for something familiar.

Envigado

Photo: J Daoss/FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0

This area is very rural, and not technically in Medellín, but it’s only about 30 minutes away from it. If you want to be closer to nature and stay in a very relaxed environment, go here.  

There’s lots of outdoor activities and stunning architecture all around if that’s more your style. And you can have very little concerns about your safety when you stay here because it’s actually one of the safest places in Colombia.

Belén

Photo: SajoR/Wikimedia CommonsCC BYSA 2.5

This middle-class neighborhood has been on the rise in recent years, making it a great place to visit. It’s home to one of the must-visit tourist landmarks of the city: Cerro Nutibara, the tallest hill in Medellín, where you can catch a stunning view of every corner of the city.

Belén also has low rates of violent crimes just as the other neighborhoods I mentioned, and it is more central than the rest, so from there you have easy access to public transportation and the rest of the city.

Crime rates in Medellín have gone down

The Medellín of today is far different from the city that was once known as the most dangerous in the world. In the past 25 years, violent crime has plummeted to a rate 82% lower, making it safer than some US cities like New Orleans, St. Louis, and Baltimore.

Medellín and Colombia’s homicide rates over the years. Source: Colombia Reports.

But how did crime go down? With game-changing strategies and policies, such as treating violence as a public health problem. This means that rather than just using repression by law enforcement, city officials focused on solving their crime problem by reinforcing prevention like they would with any other wide-spread disease.

Medellín pioneered a crime prevention tactic called “urban acupuncture”, where they used strategic urban design to solve social problems. In one impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhood, the city built a cable car to help residents reach the rest of the city. This helped them find better jobs and feel like they belonged to their city. 

In the rest of the city, there were lots of investments in basic services, especially in education. And so, treating crime like a disease, counteracting the symptoms AND tackling the root, Medellín managed to become the safe and attractive city it is today.

Your only real worry is petty theft

The most violent crimes that still happen in Medellín (at a much lower rate) are usually far from where you’ll find the most points of interest. So you can safely travel through the areas I mentioned before without even the slightest fear for your life. 

But do fear for your pockets. You gotta be aware all throughout the city, since petty-theft rates are high. The best way to avoid it is following the local Colombian saying “No dar papaya”, which can roughly be interpreted as “don’t put yourself in a position to be taken advantage of” or simply, don’t let your guard down.

Some practical advice to be as safe as you can in the city is: 

  • Avoid doing or wearing things that make you stand out from the locals. This means don’t wear a typical tourist look of sandals, shorts, and a fanny pack — locals don’t dress like that. And of course, don’t flaunt wealth by wearing expensive jewelry, this will make you an easy target for pickpockets in busy and crowded areas.
  • Keep your belongings safe and close to you at all times.
  • Stick to the safe communes I mentioned before. Other communes have touristic points of interest, and these are okay to visit with the necessary caution (like the precautions we mentioned before), but do not by any chance wander off to shady areas at night. Check out this map by Colombia Reports to know the alert level you must have around each part of the city.

This knowledge, plus some common sense, is enough to keep you safe in Medellin.


So what are you waiting for? There’s no reason to fear going to Medellín, what you should be scared of is the possibility of not getting to know this amazing city. To know more about what’s waiting for you in Medellín, check out my upcoming YouTube video with an overview of the city.

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