Once upon a time, Medellin was a very different place. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, violence reigned, drug barons lived like kings, kidnapping was rampant, and the homicide rate was five times the rate of New York. In 1988, TIME magazine christened Medellin the most dangerous city and cocaine capital of the world.
But within a couple of decades, Medellin has undergone a stunning transformation.
The city has gone from drug cartels and paramilitaries to sophisticated metro and cable car systems, modern museums and libraries, stunning architecture, and one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America.
For its incredible rebirth, Medellin was named the world’s most innovative city by the non-profit Urban Institute in 2013.
As Colombia sheds its dangerous reputation, tourists are flocking to La Ciudad de Eterna Primavera in increasing numbers.
As the country’s most popular destination behind Bogota and Cartagena, Medellin attracts around 2.5 million tourists a year – up from a mere 540,00 in 2002.
Medellin attracts not only off-the-beaten-track adventurers but also solo female travelers, families, and entrepreneurs.
What the statistics say
In the past 25 years, the homicide rate in Medellin has dropped dramatically.
From a homicide rate of 94.2 per 100,000 people in 2009, the number has plummeted by 78.8 percent in 2015, when the homicide rate was 20 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants – the lowest in decades.
To give you some perspective, Medellin now has a lower homicide rate than St. Louis, Baltimore, or New Orleans in the U.S.
Much of the city’s violence in concentrated in La Candelia or El Centro, Medellin’s downtown.
The safest communities in Medellin are El Poblado, which saw six homicides in 2017, followed by Popular and La Americana with 12 homicides.
As a foreigner in Medellin, your chances of being the victim of homicide are slim. In general, foreigner-targeted homicides tend to stem from involvement in the drug trade and prostitution.
The majority of crimes involving foreigners come down to phone theft and other petty crimes.
Safety tips in Medellin
The best advice for staying safe in Medellin can be summed up in the famous, oft-quoted saying, “no dar papaya.” Translating literally to “don’t give papaya,” the phrase stresses the importance of not giving anyone a reason to rob you.
In other words, don’t wave your cell phone or money around while walking alone at night, and criminals are likely to leave you alone.
Having lived (safely) in Medellin for many years, here are some tips for newcomers to avoid “giving papaya”:
- Avoid waving around cell phones, cameras, 100,000 peso notes, ect., especially at night in secluded areas.
- Withdraw cash from malls and grocery stores rather than street ATMs.
- Avoid carrying large sums of money and leave your debit card and passport at home whenever possible.
- Be wary of motorcycles, particularly those carrying two men – this is a red flag and illegal in Colombia.
- If you do become a target for a robbery, do not resist – many homicides were spurred by individuals resisting robberies.
Crimes can happen in every large city in the world, and a little common sense will go a long way in keeping yourself and your possessions safe.
Observe basic safety precautions in Medellin, y el riesgo es que te quieras quedar – the only risk you will face is wanting to stay.
What do you think? Is this city far more dangerous than I have portrayed? Is it far more safe? Sound off in the comments below with your own thoughts about safety and security in the City of Eternal Spring
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