A view of Medellin, Colombia.
Alexander Cherkashin—Getty Images

Today, nearly 30 years after Pablo Escobar’s death, visitors to Colombia’s second largest city enjoy trendy cafés and vibrant nightlife in upscale neighborhoods El Poblado and Laureles. They take in street art, break dancing, and freestyle rap in district Comuna 13, the former epicenter of violent gang warfare. Medellín’s radical turnaround (during Escobar’s reign, news outlets labeled it “the most dangerous city in the world”) into one of Latin America’s most innovative cities is often described as miraculous.

It’s been a long time coming. In 2004, a “social urbanism” strategy launched by Mayor Sergio Fajardo invested in infrastructure, services, and architecture to connect the poor, isolated informal settlements on the steep hillsides to the city’s economic center. For visitors, this story of renewal is part of the experience. For about $0.65, join locals on the public cable-car system soaring through the Aburrá Valley for stunning bird’s-eye views of the sprawling metropolis. It boasts six lines and seamlessly integrates with an efficient 19.4-mile metro.

At boutique 902 Showroom, shop an eclectic collection of traditional handicraft and modern furniture by emerging local artisans and designers.

Educational tours help visitors dive deeper. With Zippy Tours, guides (the majority of whom were born and raised in Comuna 13) explain how its “library park,” a multipurpose learning/community/recreation center, plus 384 m of public outdoor escalators, were pivotal in revitalizing the infamous district into a safe, creative hub—now one of Medellín’s most popular attractions. Real City Tours take inquisitive travelers to a comuna not frequented by tourists, providing unique insight into modern-day Colombia and its ongoing transformation.

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