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233km (145 miles) NW of Bogotá; 473km (294 miles) SE of Cartagena

Few cities have rewritten their narrative with quite such bold vision and dazzling ingenuity as Medellín. Just 20 years ago, if you told anyone that you were heading to Colombia’s second city, they would think you were crazy. And they had a point. In the 1990s, Medellín was the cradle of drug lord Pablo Escobar, with a murder rate of 435 per 100,000 residents, incessant car bombings, kidnappings, and ruthless gang wars. With the death of Escobar in 1993, followed by a series of inspired reforms ushered in by progressive mayor Sergio Fajardo, the city has been truly reborn from a society on the brink of collapse into a dynamic, creative, and safe city.

The world now talks of the “Colombian Miracle.” At the heart of Fajardo’s “social urbanism.” Blighted comunas (shantytowns) that were ground zero during the drug war are now connected to downtown by a flashy Metrocable (gondola) system. Library parks, sport facilities, and playgrounds form community hubs for the city’s once abandoned neighborhoods.

A new cultural effervescence ripples through the city’s verdant streets and avenues. There are steel mills reimagined as flashy modern art museums, lively plazas filled with sculptures, and iconic buildings rising from ramshackle barrios that cling to the mountainside. Each week a sophisticated new restaurant raises the culinary stakes and a hip boutique showcases works from the city’s flourishing creative class. But for all its overtures to cosmopolitanism, Medellín remains ever true to its Paisa roots.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more glorious setting for a modern metropolis: nestled in the lush Aburrá Valley, framed by majestic Andean peaks, and reveling in its famed salubrious climate. Just outside the city, the traditional Antioquian lifestyle—unchanged for centuries—holds sway, with whitewashed colonial towns, glistening lakes, and coffee plantations providing rewarding day trips from the city.