Medellin History

Medellín is in the direct center of Colombia – equidistance from Bogotá, Cartagena, Bucaramanga, and Cali (the challenging landscape means land journeys between the cities vary considerably).
Sitting in the basin of the Aburrá Valley surrounded on all sides by mountains.

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Cable Car, Medellin
Cable Car, Medellin

*Looking for the best tours of  Medellin and its surroundings? You’ll find all the private tours here and all transportation options here!


When the city was first colonized it was relatively small and confined. Nowadays, the greater metropolitan area includes Sabaneta, Itagüí, and Envigado in the south and Copacabana and Bello in the north. Archaeological evidence indicates that Medellín’s metropolitan area was colonized before 8,000 bc amid a human expansion that took place throughout the Americas. The oldest evidence of farming and the making of pottery pieces indicates that at least some of the locals began adopting more sedate lifestyles around 3,000bc. Artifacts found in the valley indicate that three distinct cultures inhabited the valley around Medellín.The first written account about what is now Medellín’s metropolitan area is from Spanish chronicler Juan Bautista, who described the first encounter between the locals and an armed unit led by Colonel Jeronimo Luis Tejelo on August 24, 1541.

The Aburrá Valley (Medellín) although discovered in the 1540s, was not officially founded until 1616.
Francisco de Herrera Campuzano is the conquistador credited with establishing Medellín. He initially named the city San Lorenzo de Aburrá and focused development efforts on what is now the Poblado commune. The name was later changed to Villa de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Medellín in 1675, and finally to Medellín around 1813 when it was declared the capital of Antioquía. Unfortunately, few colonial buildings survive.

View from Pueblito Paisa, Medellin
View from Pueblito Paisa, Medellin

The second recorded encounter between the native population and the Spanish Conquistadors took place in 1615 when a conquistador named Francisco Campuzano created the San Lorenzo indigenous settlement where Parque Poblado is now located. In the second half of the 19th century, Medellín became the major cultural and intellectual center of the region and local authorities began developing the infrastructure. The municipal authorities devised their first development plan in 1890 and the first census in 1905 revealed that almost 60,000 people had now settled in the area.
It was not until the 1930s when urban development plans sent from Bogotá really began growing the city.

In 1951 Colombia had descended into a virtual civil war named La Violencia, a census revealed that the city had more than 358,000 inhabitants. In fact, the mass urbanization that turned Medellín into a major city in the second half of the 20th century was almost entirely due to violence and armed conflict in the countryside. Local authorities failed to respond to this mass urbanization, leading to unregulated expansions of the barrios in the north and the creation of a large informal economy, particularly between 1965 and 1975.

In the late 1970s, Medellín became the epicenter of Colombia´s drug trade as a consequence of alliances between local drug traffickers and regional elites that would form the Medellín Cartel in the 1980s. At the same time, escalating terrorism attacks by the cartel against the National Police and by the security forces against the residents of the poorer barrios made Medellín one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Pablo Escobar, Medellín
Pablo Escobar, Medellín

BnB Colombia Tours has designed a 4-day itinerary with the best activities in Medellin, click here and check it out!


 

Thirty-five years ago, Time magazine labeled Medellín the most dangerous city on earth. Pablo Escobar and his drug lords lived like princes while judges and policemen were regularly assassinated, paramilitaries invaded the barrios and ordinary people disappeared overnight without a trace. Even fifteen years ago, Medellín was a virtual no-go city. Violence reigned, civil society had been destroyed and no one seemed to know how to put Medellín back together again.
Fast-forward to the present and Medellín is a delightful place of law-abiding entrepreneurial citizens. With an economy that is among the fastest growing on the continent, it is one of the great success stories of Latin America.
Unbelievably in 2013, Medellín was hailed as the most innovative city in the world.


Comuna 13 is a set of low-income barrios located in the city on the side of a hill. One of the most historically marginalized and violent of places, in recent years it has undergone a remarkable transformation.

The history of Comuna 13 is rooted in poverty and violence. In the 1980s-2000s, it was plagued by political intensity, as well as ferocity related to the drug trade, guerrillas, and paramilitaries. The residents of Comuna 13, who were predominantly working-class, were caught in the crossfire and many were forced to flee. By the early 2000s, the situation in Comuna 13 had become dire, with high levels of poverty and crime and few public services or opportunities for residents. Comuna 13 was now completely overrun by guerrillas, including ELN and FARC.

In the past decade, Comuna 13 has undergone an amazing conversion. The city administration, in partnership with community-based organizations, has implemented a number of social and infrastructure projects aimed at improving the lives of residents. One of the most notable examples is the construction of a new public transportation system, called the Metrocable, which connects Comuna 13 to the rest of the city.

medellin cable cars
Medellin cable cars

Today Comuna 13 is expressing a completely different story. Now a vibrant and unique barrio that has undergone a momentous transformation. *You can visit the Comuna 13 and have a tasteful fruit and food tour, just click here to book!


Indigenous:
The first settlers in Antioquía are reputed to have reached the area from Central America 10,500 years BC. There is some evidence of human relics that may be twice as old. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, they discovered Antioquía populated by numerous indigenous tribes, especially the Caribs. Two distinct clusters of the Carib family were predominant in Antioquía. The Catíos and the Nutabes inhabited the Valley of Aburrá and the Tahamies who inhabited the region between the Porce and Magdalena rivers.

The first Spanish Conquistadors to discover Antioquia were led by Rodrigo de Bastidas who approached through the Darien in 1500. As the years progressed there were fierce battles between the Spanish and the indigenous tribes, who came off far the worst. Slowly their numbers and influence waned, leaving them with a very small presence. They suffered extremely high mortality due to newly introduced infectious Eurasian diseases, to which they had no immunity. Many of the surviving indigenous dispersed so as to evade the Spanish.
In Antioquía, the indigenous have disappeared almost completely. Today, the local population of Antioquía narrowly is half a percent of the total population.
The History of the Antioquía is illustrated by the long struggle of the Indigenous people facing the Spanish conquistadors.


Weather:
Medellín is famous as the City of Eternal Spring. This of course is thanks to its near-perfect year-round spring-like climate.

The temperature varies very little throughout the year, maintaining a delightful daytime high of 70f/21c and dipping to a pleasant 57f/14c at night. So as such, there are no hot or cold seasons.
Rain falls throughout the year in Medellín, with the most rain in May, with an average of 10¨/1,670ml. January has the least rain with an average of 4¨/62ml.
Humidity is never a factor in Medellín.


Get all the information you need to start planning your trip to this magnificent destination, check the weather and climate facts of Antioquia and Medellin here!


Activities:
As one would expect from a city such as Medellín there are numerous activities to be enjoyed in and around the metropolis.

Explore the many Parks and Plazas

Plaza Botero
Botero is a famous artist from Medellín best known for his drawings and statues of oversized people. The plaza houses over twenty of his sculptures. Street performers and artists of all shades can be seen here as well. Located in the Old Quarter, there are a couple of other museums too. *Plaza Botero is visited on the Medellín City tour, click here and book your day tour of Medellín. 

Botero Plaza, Medellin

Parque Lleras
Right in the center of Poblado, this park is always busy day and night. There are street vendors, food sellers, musicians, and people enjoying themselves in the early hours of the morning. It is a delightful place to people-watch and one of the finest places to have enjoyment in the city.

Parque Arví
Positioned in the mountains close to the city, you can take the gondola right from the subway to the entrance of the park. A charming ride through the hills that affords incredible views of the valley and city below.
The park spans some 16,000 hectares that include trails some of which date back over a thousand years. At the entrance is a small market as well as trails to hike. To explore you need to take a guide, with most trails between two and four kilometers. Bird-watching tours are also available and have a large variety to discover. *Parque Arví can be visited on a day tour included with a city tour, click here for more information!

Parque Arvi, Medellin

Comuna 13
This area was once the most violent part of Medellín, with murder, drugs, and violent crime rampant. Unless you lived there you could not enter. However, now thanks to community-based organizations that have implemented a number of social and infrastructure projects, it is safe and led to a rise in business and commerce.
Street art (which was a reaction to heavy-handed police raids) is spectacular and there has been a huge influx of visitors. It has really changed the fabric of the community with locals even going now, figuring that if the tourists are going, it must be good!

Comuna 13, Medellin
Comuna 13, Medellin

Take a Food Tour
If you would like to taste a sample of what Medellín has to offer, take a food tour. A wonderful way to get a taste of the local cuisine while learning the traditional methods of Colombian cooking in the process.

Food Tour, Medellín
Food Tour, Medellín

Day Trip to Guatapé
A colorful pueblo situated on the edge of a lake about two hours from Medellín, it is possible to take tours of the surrounding area by speedboat or party boat.
The main attraction is El Peñol, a massive granite monolith standing proudly over the lake. Stairs have been etched in its side so it is possible to climb to the top for breathtaking 360-degree views of the region. *Visit this magic town with BnB Colombia Tours, click here for more information!

Guatape, Medellín
Guatape, Medellín

Jardín Botánico
A quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, there are numerous events, concerts and festivals throughout the year held here. The gardens cover over fourteen hectares and are home to thousands of flowers and over one hundred different species of birds.

Lodgings:
Once one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Medellín has been reborn from the ashes to become one of the most vibrant places in Latin America and one of the safest and most visited cities in Colombia.
The Paisa capital is quickly growing into an important destination for business travelers, international tourists, and backpackers. New boutique hotels as well as hip hostels are constantly being opened in El Poblado.

The best area to stay in Medellín is El Poblado, especially if you are a foreigner or a first-time visitor to the city. Located some 6km/3.8m south of the city center is an upscale residential, business, dining, and shopping district. Almost a city within a city, this area is the best option for international tourists to Medellín, particularly thanks to its safety.
El Poblado’s shopping and entertainment section is home to the lively Parque Lleras. An area with many restaurants, bars, and nightclubs all of which come alive once the sun sets. This is the place to go dancing to the latest pop, reguetón, and Latin hits. Lots of great eateries and boutique shops also line Calle 10 and neighboring streets.

Close by La Candelaria is also very safe day and night. Here you will be able to experience some of the hottest nightlife in Medellín.

Itagüi is a municipality southwest of Medellín. Quiet and residential, this area is also home to the Centro de Convenciones Aburrá Sur, making it a good option for business travelers. Some excellent hotels are located in this area.

Envigado another township south of El Poblado, is also famous for its upscale residential developments and many shopping centers and is considered a safe area for tourists in the Medellín metro area. Several tremendous places to stay in Envigado.


*Planning your trip to Medellín?  See our lists of the top 3-startop 4-star, and top 5-star hotels in Medellín.


Gastronomy:

One of the most irresistible pleasures that locals and visitors who come to Medellín love to enjoy is being able to try the delicious dishes of traditional Paisa food. These dishes include indigenous ingredients from the Antioquía region and from the colonial era where the mix between the indigenous, the slaves brought from Africa, and the Spanish conquerors took place. This resulted in a rich gastronomy that has evolved over time, gaining recognition the world over. Staples such as corn, yuca, and beans of indigenous origin coexist with rice, wheat, and sausages brought from Europe and Asia. Likewise, the banana and watermelon of African derivation have been assimilated as important parts of the local diet. Antioquía is the most important nucleus of the traditions and gastronomic identity of the country.

Bandeja Paisa is the most famous Colombian dish and originated in Medellin. Beans, rice, ground meat, avocado, fried egg, antioqueño chorizo, and plantain or patacón are the principal of this dish.

Bandeja Paisa with Frijoles (beans)

Mondongo is an exquisite stew or slow-cooked soup, made from the belly of a cow, along with pork and chicken. Vegetables including potatoes, yuca, carrots, and onions are added to produce an incredible flavor.

Mondongo

Calentado Paisa is essentially an inexpensive and practical soup that will allow you to enjoy a nutritious and delicious breakfast. El Calentado Paisa is accompanied by rice, arepas, beans, meat, tomato, egg, and cheese.

Empanadas Paisas are a tasty and quick snack. Prepared from wheat or corn flour made into a dough, they are filled with different contents such as meat with potatoes, chicken, cheese, or pork rinds, folded into a half moon, and fried in vegetable oil. They are best enjoyed with a wide variety of avocado, garlic, tomato, or spicy sauces.

Empanadas

Buñuelos Antioqueños are made with cheese and cornmeal. Although they may seem they are a dessert-like snack, the reality is that the cheese provides an intense salty flavor and are totally delicious with coffee.

Typical Buñuelo from Antioquia and all around Colombia

Sancocho is a Creole chicken-based broth, to which green plantains, yucca, potatoes, corncobs, coriander, onion, and parsley are added. All chopped and cooked together, often on an informal fire set up on the street outside the family’s home.

Sancocho with beef

Tamal Antioqueño is a rolled corn flour cooked in banana leaves, which usually includes pork, beef, and chicken. In some areas, they include rice, eggs, and assorted spices.

Tamal Antioqueño

Natilla a delicious dessert is made with cornstarch, milk, cinnamon, grated panela, butter, and grated cheese. At times grated coconut or raisins are added.

Arequipe is a mixture of milk, sugar, vanilla, and caramel. Generally used as a spread and is very common in pastries, ice cream, and other sweet delicacies.

Arequipe

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