One of the city’s highlights, the essence of the new Medellín can be distilled into the compelling Metrocable (cable car) ride from Acevedo metro station to Santo Domingo. During the 1980s and ‘90s, Santo Domingo held the inauspicious rank as one of the most dangerous barrios on the continent. Now, French/Swiss-engineered gondolas soar over revived neighborhoods that have been at the forefront of the government’s scheme to connect the city’s slums with downtown. It’s hard not to be inspired and moved as you look down on bands playing, bouncy castles, corrugated tin rooftops sporting elaborate shrines and the odd maxed-out paddling pool, and cafes bustling with a mix of locals and tourists.

The three geometric structures that form the now iconic Biblioteca Española ★★ (Spanish Library) stand as glorious testimony to the concept that renewal begins with social inclusion. Designed by the Giancarlo Mazzanti (and with a hefty financial contribution from the Spanish government), the “library-park” was completed in 2007. The three massive slabs of black slate, which seem to erupt organically from the mountainside, provide a hub for community programs based on learning and social engagement; resources include a day center for kids and a free Internet suite. The Spanish Library certainly hasn’t been without controversy. Due to structural problems, the three buildings have been intermittently covered up with black cloth since 2013.

As you exit the Santo Domingo station, there’s a palpable energy and jubilation to the barrio. It’s just a 5-minute walk to the new mirador, which provides sweeping panoramas of the city below. Even without the noticeable police presence (the area is considered a “secured” tourist attraction), the area is now very safe during the day.