Is Medellin safe to travel in 2022? Sure it is, but you need to be cautious.
Since 2015, I’ve been living in various areas of Medellin. And I’m still alive 😀
Reading this guide will allow you to visit the city safely, presenting you with the most famous scams & recommendations, such as the scopolamine or the famous “no dar papaya.” You will know what you can do and what you should not do.
And remember: no city in the world is entirely safe.
👉 Want to know everything about Medellín? Learn where are the best places, and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to Medellín.
The reality: Past vs. Present
The Medellin of yesterday is very different from the Medellin of today.
The vile Pablo Escobar
For decades, Medellin had to cope with a drug-dealer war spearheaded by late drug lord Pablo Escobar (police forces killed him in 1993). Those were days of terror, with shootings, bombs, killings, and kidnaps.
Escobar fought the establishment in an attempt to cancel the extradition of drug traffickers to the United States: “We prefer a tomb in Colombia than a jail in the U.S.” was their motto.
The Escobar squad and “Popeye,” one of his deadliest lieutenants, hired motorcycle hitmen to eliminate their opponents, either police officers, other drug lords, politicians, or civilians.
There was also a war between the Cali and Medellin cartels and paramilitary forces. Those days are over now, although Medellin is still not one of the safest cities in the world.
You may get in trouble if you buy or accept drugs.
Is Medellin safe right now?
Things have changed; nowadays, the most common risks are petty theft or thieves on motorbikes that can snatch your cell phone or laptop if you overexpose yourself.
Besides that, you can walk safely during the daytime, but you should know where to go and where not to go if you want to keep safe.
Usually, risky situations will occur for people looking for drugs or sex tourism.
The first semester of 2022 was the least violent in a decade, with an 11% decrease in murders. Yet, we cannot put aside the fact that crime rates are worsened because of COVID-19.
- Generally speaking, COVID-19 cases have decreased in Medellin. As of mid-October 2022, there was an average of 10 cases per week.
- There is no mandatory mask in the city.
- Nightlife, shopping, and daily activities are back to normal.
- Some people at the metro, the buses, or shopping malls still wear masks, but that’s optional.
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How to visit Medellin safely
Follow these tips to be better prepared to explore the city. And I recommend reading our article “Where to stay in Medellín“.
Districts and areas
Is Medellin safe? Some areas differ from others, depending on how well or how little you know your way around and the level of your Spanish.
The historic center and the business area are places you can visit during the day. You should avoid it at night, although there are a couple of good bars. If you go accompanied, you’ll be safer.
If you want to know the center and have no experience in other cities in South America, a better option is to hire a tour.
This area on the hills of Medellin was the epicenter of the mafia and gang violence days, but now it has turned into a tourist place where you can learn a lot about the recent history of Medellin.
You should avoid going there at night, though. Remember, there is petty theft everywhere.
It will be a good idea to hire a tour to learn the details of Pablo Escobar’s terror age.
El Poblado is the safest area in town, and it’s considered the best neighborhood in Medellin, the city of eternal spring.
This area gathers luxury homes, nightlife, fine restaurants, shopping centers, beautiful green areas, fantastic city views, and many foreigners.
Therefore, it is the best place to start if you don’t have experience in towns around South America.
Parque Poblado, Provenza & Parque Lleras are famous for their district vibe. Take the necessary precautions in Parque Lleras. This area was trendy a few years ago, but the environment is worsening with time (drugs and prostitutes)
I advise you not to walk in lonely, dark places at night, mainly if you’re unaccompanied.
This is the expat, digital nomad’s favorite area in the city. It’s mainly residential, with not many people on the streets.
The area has good restaurants, bars, and clubs, although scattered around the neighborhood.
Some places are safer, so always be aware of where you walk or go. Laureles contributes to safety in Medellin.
Envigado and Sabaneta
These two towns are near each other and on Medellin’s outskirts. They are residential areas with few tourists, where knowing Spanish is almost a must.
It’s not practical for a first-time visitor since all of Medellin’s nightlife and places of interest are far away.
Is Medellin safe? Be street-smart when visiting
The motto in Medellin and other cities is Colombia is “no dar papaya”. This local expression means not giving an easy chance to get robbed, such as taking out your expensive phone in the street, using a laptop in a park, or being too naive and careless regarding safety. It’s about taking into consideration basic safety tips like any city in Latin America.
- Don’t attract too much attention, like talking loudly in English, wearing too flashy clothes, or just showing a ‘sign’ of “hey, I’m a tourist.”
- Avoid using your smartphone to follow routes on Google Maps. Try to memorize your way instead.
- Be aware of motorcyclists. Many of the snatches or muggings are done by robbers on motorbikes. Walk the street in the opposite direction of the traffic to minimize the risk of having your purse snatched from behind.
- Don’t resist robbers. They can be violent.
- You may want to carry two wallets, one with a bit of cash, more visible, and the real one hidden in your clothes. The same goes for your cell phone; you may want to buy a cheaper one to carry around. And never carry your passport, just a copy of it.
- Don’t get scared if you see soldiers in the street. They’re serious-looking but kind.
Transportation in Medellin
You’ll see. It’s easy to move around the city of eternal spring.
Buses in the city are difficult to use, but the metro should not be a problem.
- It’s easy to use, and people keep it impeccably clean.
- Avoid using it during rush hours, between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., and between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., for trains can get very crowded.
- Be careful with your belongings. Wear your backpack on your chest and keep an eye on your wallet, pockets, and cell phone while on trains and stations without looking scared or worried, as you would on any public transport in Latin America.
- Buses are a bit more complicated to use in Medellin because there are many routes and weird names. Also, time schedules are not exact.
- Don’t be afraid to take a bus (and save money) to visit nearby towns such as Guatape, Jerico, Guarne, etc. It’s a suitable, affordable means of public transport.
Taxis and apps
It’s cheap and easy. Don’t hesitate to overuse it at night. It will prevent you from getting into trouble.
- These apps are supposedly illegal, but everyone uses them. Taxi drivers are very jealous of these apps.
- If you use an app, make sure you travel in the front seat, as if you were a friend, so taxi drivers or the police won’t bother you.
- These apps are practical and allow for a safe trip, for you know in advance who your driver is, the car’s plate number, and you can share the route with other people you know, so they’re aware of where you are on the map.
- Two of my favorite apps are Didi and Uber. Cabify is another option for shorter routes, although a bit more expensive.
- If you’re in a cab, lock your door and elevate the window if you use your mobile. It would be best if you didn’t use it, though, for it can be snatched through the window while stopping at traffic lights. Always exercise caution.
- Taxi drivers in Medellin tend to be more polite than in many cities worldwide.
- Taxi service is cheap.
- Make sure the taxi meter is working.
- Try to know the price of a specific service or distance beforehand so you won’t be charged an extra cost.
- For me, hiring a taxi driver for longer trips outside Medellin worked just fine (ask the driver for his WhatsApp number if you want to hire him later.)
- It’s possible to rent a car, although it’s not cheap if you have safety concerns. Taking taxis is more affordable. It’s not worth it for solo travelers.
- Traffic in Medellin can be unbearable if you always drive a car.
- If you drive, be careful with drivers that do not always stop at red lights at night.
Solo traveling in Medellin
Medellin is one of those cities where solo travelers can survive independently because people are amicable, and it’s generally safe.
Still, beware of over-friendly people, especially if it’s a beautiful, hot woman in a bar.
Women can travel alone in Medellin because “paisa” men are talkative and respectful. Solo female travelers shouldn’t be afraid of, for instance, going to a bar on their own.
You’ll get the most out of your experience in Medellin if you speak a bit of Spanish. Not every local person in town speaks English. You can enjoy Medellin if you go in a group or as a solo traveler. Always look for safer neighborhoods.
Going out at night in Medellin
- Most partying occurs in the El Poblado neighborhood on Provenza street, deemed one of the coolest streets in the world.
- Don’t be afraid to go bar-crawling around El Poblado or 70 street. There are different bars close to one another in these two areas, and it’s perfectly safe to walk around.
- If you want to visit different party areas in this beautiful city in one night or go somewhere away from where you’re staying, take a taxi. Avoid walking around lonely, dark streets while going to different bars or clubs.
- Once at the bar, never leave your drink unattended.
- Avoid places with prostitutes, for they are never safe.
- Try not to get too drunk.
- Avoid buying drugs. Selling and buying are illegal, and police set up raids from time to time or search tourists for drugs.
- There are certain places for adult entertainment in La Candelaria (Fase II), in the city center. The place can be fun and not that expensive, but solo travelers shouldn’t go there alone.
Girls in Medellin
Girls in Medellin are said to be the most beautiful and friendly in Colombia. And this seems to be true.
However, never trust hot girls that want to become friends or something else shortly after meeting them. Petty crime also uses hot girls as bait, so follow your common sense.
Scopolamine is a very commonly used substance by people who want to steal your money or belongings. This substance is also known as “burundanga,” and it’s usually administered in your drink if you leave it unattended.
Scopolamine is a substance that makes you lose your will and leaves certain negative side effects, such as dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, and limb weakness. Side effects usually last 12 hours, but heavier doses can kill a person, so always seek medical assistance if this should happen to you, or call 123, the national emergency number. You can also use your travel insurance.
To avoid getting drugged while visiting Medellin, be careful when accepting drinks or cigarettes from strangers, take care of your partners and friends, share a ride home or let your friends follow the taxi route in the app map.
Never invite strangers to your home or room. If you do, pour your drinks. At bars, take the necessary precautions. Remember: If a girl you meet at a bar is too good to be true, it’s probably a scam or a trap. Try always to stay safe.
A piece of advice: Even if “paisa” girls are friendly and nice, refrain from harassing them on the street.
Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but try to avoid these unnecessary dangers.
If you’re looking to date a Colombian girl for real, they are used to special treatment, so you should:
- Pay for most outings, dinners, and drinks (in Latin culture, men pay.) Some girls might see you as their sugar daddy. Cope with it.
- Treat her like a lady and take care of her.
- Do not get mad if she arrives late.
- Meet her parents quite frequently.
- Take care of your appearance (shower, deodorant, clean clothes.)
- Bear with the fact she will probably love drama (jealousy, need for attention.)
- Learn Spanish (few girls speak English.)
- Probably not meet her on tinder. Colombian Cupid should work better.
- Colombian girls are mostly Catholic, and it will take time for you to get to “that moment.”
Living in Medellin: digital nomads and expats
El Poblado is safe for digital nomads in solo or groups, although the neighborhood may lack authenticity (too much European atmosphere). Other alternate places are the close towns of Envigado and Sabaneta or Laureles neighborhood.
- If you’re working on your laptop on a cafe’s terrace, stay away from the edge near the street or the entrance because thieves might snatch your computer or tablet.
- Also, don’t leave your computer unattended on the cafe’s table.
- The nice spring weather, the city vibe, and the friendly people attract many foreigners and digital nomads. It’s safe for solo travelers. However, never get too comfortable because petty crimes might occur even in nice areas.
- If you buy things on online forums or Facebook (shopping, furniture, technology), always get the product first and pay for delivery.
- Airbnb options are generally trouble-free to rent and where you can stay safe.
- Don’t trust overly-friendly people that start asking too many personal questions beyond the normal curiosity or ice breakers.
Phone & internet
Local sim cards are cheap and practical. You can have home and internet service with good connection speed. They’re great for seeing maps, finding taxis, translating things, and communicating with family or friends.
If you can, use a VPN to protect your data (passwords, ID numbers, etc.) when you connect to a public network.
Depending on how long you stay, you can buy a “prepago” or “postpago” card. The former has a specific capacity, and you buy what you need, whereas the latter has a contract, and you pay at the end of the month.
- Withdraw money from an ATM, preferably inside malls or banks.
- Decline the ATM’s rate. It sucks.
- Put a daily or total limit on your credit card.
- If you want to play it really safe, use a decoy wallet and keep your credit card in your sock.
- You can pay in most places with your credit or debit card in Medellin.
- If you have a Colombian savings account, you can pay through a service called Nequi, by transferring directly from your phone or using the QR code of the establishment where you buy. This allows you to carry less cash.
Food and drinks
- It’s safe in Medellin to drink water from the tap, and street food can be quite an experience.
- Street food in markets or boulevards is usually excellent and cheap, although some items can be greasy.
- A variety of fruit is available almost everywhere on the street. These are safe to eat and cheap. Make sure you rinse them first, just in case.
- You can also get juices and other drinks as part of the delicious street food offered in town.
Readers often ask us about safety in Medellín. Here are our most common answers.
Is Medellin safe for tourists?
Yes, Medellin is a far cry from the violent city, murder capital it used to be in the 80s and 90s, the terror era of Pablo Escobar.
However, consider strengthening your awareness when you go to bars and meet too-hot-to-be-true girls or overly-friendly people.
Remember, there is petty theft everywhere if you give them a chance.
Is Medellin safer than Bogota?
Medellin and Bogota are big cities. Therefore they have to cope with safety issues almost in a similar fashion.
Perceptions may vary, and sometimes Bogota feels dodgier than Medellin, especially in Bogota’s downtown area (La Candelaria, Martires, San Victorino, etc., the latter two, some of the most dangerous neighborhoods and no-go areas.)
Bogota and Medellin are not the most dangerous cities in Colombia. Cali is. The three cities sometimes have armed robberies and violent crimes.
Is Medellin safer than Cartagena?
Cartagena’s walled city and the Getsemani neighborhood are very safe. Outside these touristic neighborhoods, things can turn a bit unsafe for tourists because there’s a lot of extreme poverty. Cartagena is not the most dangerous city, but you shouldn’t “dar papaya” and stay safe.
Is Medellin safe to walk around?
Medellin is no Disneyland, but, in general terms, you can almost walk anywhere during the daytime, even for solo female travelers. Street crime has kept at the same levels for the last decade.
The difference is that in Medellin, you shouldn’t walk around wearing expensive jewelry, with a fancy smartphone in your hands, or carry lots of money around.
You’ll see many homeless people too.
What are the safest districts in Medellin?
→ If you’re a first-time visitor to the city of eternal spring, you should:
- Stay in El Poblado. You have a lot of foreigners to hang out with, and it’s one of the safest neighborhoods, even for a solo female traveler. A high police presence in the area makes Medellin safe to visit. Of course, no place is extremely safe.
- Also, stay in Laureles neighborhood to see more of “the real thing” in Colombian culture.
- In these two areas, locals are welcoming and curious about outside visitors. Petty crime is not a big issue, and you don’t really have dangerous streets.
→ If you want to stay longer or live for a while:
- Envigado is a town next to Medellin where independent travelers can go by metro. The district is controlled by La Oficina (a drug cartel). It’s not a dangerous city because the drug lords want to keep the town out of trouble, and they don’t mess around with foreign visitors.
- Sabaneta is another town near Medellin and Envigado. It’s a safe city, and the surroundings are cool for extended stays. These Colombian cities present low levels of violent crime and offer great well-being.
Bottom line: Yes, Medellín is safe to visit
Colombian cities require you to be aware of your surroundings to avoid pickpockets and theft. Take cabs at night, avoid prostitutes and drug dealers, and be careful when you pick up women; everything should be fine.
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