Medellin had a reputation for its wild past in the 80s and 90s that made it the center of Colombia's battle with powerful drug cartels. At some point, the city was, in effect, run by the infamous Medellin cartel. Medellin also used to be the world's murder capital with 356 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The city has come a long way since, which has been dubbed the 'Medellin Miracle'. It now provides a striking assemble of contrasts to visitors. The Medellin Metro is clean, safe and efficient. The extension of the cable car all the way into the National Park is impressive. Many public areas are perfectly safe (but others are not).
Medellin is all about contrasts – the quiet, well-designed botanical garden and the choking diesel exhaust directly outside. El Poblado has tree-lined streets and parks that are as good as urban life can get. Venture into other hillside neighborhoods and things can turn nasty day or night.
For the visitors this means advance research. Find out where in the city is safe and interesting to visit BEFORE you head out. Random exploring in this city is a bad idea and sometimes downright dangerous.
Here are my Medellin favorites:
– El Poblado around Carrera 37, especially around Cafe Pergamino (lots of good food options there as well)
– The mall triangle of Santa Fe, Oviedo and Rio Sur
– Jardin Botanico and the nearby University of Antioquia
– Calle 70 (from Metro Estadio)
– The area around Parque Berrio during the day
– The cable car ride up the hill and the Parque Arvi
Medellin isn't the easiest city to explore and especially not for inexperienced travelers. But it's a fascinating place with culture, friendly locals, a rare geography and climate.