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Colombia has a bit of a reputation for its recent violent past, and that stigma hangs over Medellin more than any other place in the country. Just as things have calmed down nationally, Colombia’s second city is once again safe to visit. Medellin hasn’t just emerged from the stranglehold of narco-violence; it’s thriving. The Urban Land Institute, which is the preeminent authority on municipal governance, last year named Medellin the world’s most innovative city.

What sparked Medellin’s turnaround? The condensed, not too wonky version is that the city has had three outstanding mayors in a row and is home to Colombia’s only metro system. Smart growth centered around mass transit and expanding transportation equity has opened Medellin to its own people, and the world.

Rail is supported by MetroPlus (a dedicated bus lane), a conventional public bus system, the incredibly cool metro cable system that takes you up and down the mountains that surround the city, and the 385 meter escalator that provides urban access to the Comuna Trece, the most dangerous and infamous neighborhood in the city.

Even with all of the progress made, Medellin is not out of the woods yet. I looked forward to visiting the escalator to the slums only to find out that it is controlled by an organized crime syndicate that charges a fee and kills people, including children, indiscriminately. Downtown isn’t safe at night either, but you are free to take in its many cultural sites during the day.

Over the first 10 days of August each year, Medellin hosts the world-renowned Feria de las Flores, or “flower festival.” Fortunately, my trip overlapped with the festival and I was able to take in this unique cultural celebration.

The flower festival is peak tourism season for Medellin and this year’s festival ended on a Sunday, adding to the normally incredible demand. Every single hostel in the city was booked and had been charging far above the usual rate.

Arriving on short notice (I booked my accommodation and plane ticket the day before), I tried Airbnb and totally lucked out. I ended up getting a private room in a guesthouse in Los Alpes, a safe, quiet area on the MetroPlus line for less than what hostels with poor reviews were charging for dorms. My host Daniel and his mother are wonderful people and made me feel at home in their city.

Although I was limited on time, I made a day trip to Guatape on Daniel’s strong recommendation, and it turned out to be my favorite place in Colombia.

While Cartagena was extremely hot and humid and Bogota too chilly for my liking, the climate in Medellin was just right; so were the people. For a place with a bad reputation, the people of Medellin more than go out of their way to be kind, friendly, and welcoming. If I had to pick just one city to visit again in Colombia, it would be Medellin.

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