I read a great post by Maverick Traveler that reaffirmed what I've always known about Colombia's second largest city, but have been too afraid to say.
It is HIGHLY overrated.
The city lacks personality. There's no beat to it. The food is inescapably average (you're much better off in Bogota, Cali or the coast if you want good food). People aren't particularly easy to connect with. Nightlife is good, but no better than other cities of its size and somewhat difficult to infiltrate. The cityscape is orderly but unremarkable. The cost of living -- while not high -- was not as low as I was lead to believe.
Basically, it is a very ordinary city.
All of this begs one question:
Why do so many travellers, particularly backpackers, fall madly in love with Medellin, Colombia?
I agree with all of the positive points that Maverick Traveler already laid out: it's an organized city with good people, high-quality water and a decent climate.
But that hardly warrants the praise it receives on travel blogs and in hostel common rooms across Latin America.
I believe the true reason that travellers can't stop talking about how much they love Medellin is because they are trying to cultivate an image for themselves.
Allow me to explain.
It wasn't too long ago that Medellin was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Public murders occurred daily -- hourly in some neighbourhoods. Needless to say, no tourist was in any rush to rent a summer home here. That was during the 90s. Nowadays, that reality is all but gone in Medellin, and many areas in the city are largely crime-free, or at least limited to snatch and grabs. However, despite this, Medellin still has a lingering reputation for gang violence among foreigners.
And that's the draw.
You tell the average person you've been to Medellin and had a hell time, and they think you're edgy. They think that you laugh in the face of danger and are not, in any way, a pussy. Medellin is the place travellers go to earn brownie points for boldness and courage without putting themselves in any danger.
That's why they won't shut-up about how great it is -- they need people to know that they've been to a "dangerous" city with beautiful women and came out unscathed because of their street smarts and the size of their balls.
And not only did they survive, they fucking loved it.
Colombia is highly romanticized by travellers young enough to still be fascinated by drugs and gang warfare. It is the mecca of cool for people who have seen Cocaine Cowboys and Blow a few too many times. But the truth is, Colombia is oversold. Sure, the women are beautiful, the people are friendly and the nightlife is decent.
But it's no Brazil.
And Medellin is no Rio de Janeiro.
Don't get me wrong, I still consider Medellin to be one of the top 5 cities for a young man to live in Latin America. I'm not here to say that Medellin is a shit city; it's affordable, has a great climate and is fairly safe. These factors make it a great city to move to if you telecommute or are looking to bootstrap an online business.
My problem, rather, is the vast discrepancy about what people say about Medellin and what it's actually like.
It is the most overrated city on the continent.
So, If you do choose to go to Medellin, remember to manage your expectations. It is a very manageable city, best suited for people used to mid-sized metropolises. If you find yourself more comfortable in a city like Denver than New York, then Medellin might be perfect for you.
Until next time.
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