We had heard that Medellin had changed a lot since those days, and by taking an excellent walking tour of downtown we were able to understand both how the city earned its dangerous reputation and how it has worked hard to turn things around. A key to the transformation has been turning criminal slums into public parks and libraries. Another key has been building a progressive public transport system, featuring Colombia’s only metro system as well as cable cars and escalators that enable poorer people in the hills to come to, and feel part of, the city. This urban planning resulted in Medellin being named as the world’s most innovative city last year. We found that the best way to appreciate the scale and impact of these initiatives was to ride the free cable car over the slums to the top of Medellin.
Paisas, the residents of Medellin and surrounding areas, have always been known as proud people (other Colombians would say too much so). We got the impression that Paisas are particularly proud of their city’s resurgence. The Medellin metro, a central symbol of the transformation, is the only public transport either of us have ridden anywhere that has absolutely no graffiti. Although we’re definitely not trailblazers (tourists have been increasingly coming to Medellin for over a decade), the locals still seemed genuinely pleased to be seeing us in their city, with many stopping to say hi. In-fact the closest encounter we had with a dodgy looking character in Medellin was a guy who approached our walking tour group and said, in intoxicated spanish, ‘I know I’m a junky but I just wanted to say hi and I hope you enjoy your stay’.