10 Things to Know About Medellín

How the "most violent city" transformed into "the most innovative city in the world."

By Benjamin H. Smith

When asked about Medellín, Colombia, Cartel Crew’s Michael Corleone Blanco calls it, “A beautiful place, the most beautiful women in the world, the only thing is, you got 10-year-olds with .38s.” While Blanco’s impressions are tainted by his personal experiences growing up as the son of “Cocaine Godmother” Griselda Blanco, who was gunned down there in 2012, he is not alone in thinking the worst. In actuality, however, the city has made a major comeback since the death of native son Pablo Escobar, and “The Medellín Miracle” has made it a major tourist attraction. As the ladies of Cartel Crew get ready to visit, here are 10 things to know about Medellín.

City Of Refuge

Founded in the early 1600s by Spanish Conquistadors, Medellín grew slowly over the ensuing centuries, and was home to significant numbers of Basques and Sephardic Jews. In the 1950s, during a period of civil unrest in Colombia known as “La Violencia,” the population exploded as people from rural villages moved to the city to escape violence. It is now Colombia’s second largest city with a population of 2.5 million.

The City of Eternal Spring

Located in a mountain valley in the northwest of Colombia, Medellín is known as “The City of Eternal Spring,” due to its temperate conditions. Temperatures fluctuate between a comfortable 60 and 80 degrees year-round. People from Medellín and its surrounding region are called Paisas, and are known for being welcoming and talkative, with a love of art, culture and food.

The Medellín Cartel

Unfortunately, most people’s impressions of the city are colored by the notorious drug cartel, which called it home. From the mid-1970s until the early ‘90s, the Medellín Cartel were the premiere cocaine traffickers in the world, controlling 80% of the cocaine trade in the United States and generating as much as $4 billion a year, according to the Wall Street Journal. They built their enterprise by monopolizing drug supplies, pioneering new avenues for drug smuggling, and dispensing of the competition with an unmatched level of brutality. Among their ranks were some of the most infamous drug lords in history, including...

Pablo Escobar

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Colombian Narcotics Trafficker Pablo Escobar

The so-called “King of Cocaine” grew up in a tight-knit working class family in Medellín and never forgot his hometown roots. While earning the enmity of the Unites States and Colombian governments as head of the Medellín Cartel, he presented himself as a champion of the country’s poor, building soccer fields in disadvantaged communities and investing in local football clubs, which also happened to be a convenient means of money laundering. He was also incredibly violent, and is credited with ordering numerous assassinations and acts of terrorism, including blowing up a passenger airplane in 1989 and the bombing of a Bogota shopping center in 1991. Escobar was so successful as a drug dealer, he made Forbes magazine’s billionaires list from 1987 until 1993 and Celebrity Net Worth named him the “Richest Drug Dealer of All Time”. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. In 1993, Escobar was killed during a shootout with police. On the run for over a year, he had decided to hide in plain sight, living anonymously in a middle class neighborhood in his native Medellín.

Griselda Blanco

griselda blanco cartel crew

For every king, there must be a queen. While Pablo Escobar built up the Medellín Cartel back home, cohort Griselda Blanco helped establish distribution points in the United States, first in New York City, and later Miami. Known as “La Madrina,” The Godmother, Blanco grew up in Medellín and was just as deadly as her boss, allegedly committing her first murder at the age of 11, according to a profile in Maxim. She is widely considered to be the instigator of “The Miami Drug Wars” of the early 1980s and was reportedly worth $2 billion. After a decade in U.S. prisons, she was deported to her hometown and gunned down in Medellín in 2012 by motorcycle riding assassins, a murder technique she allegedly helped pioneer.

“The Most Violent City”

In 1988, at the height of the drug war, Time magazine proclaimed Medellín “the most violent city in the world”. In 1989 it had the highest murder rate in the country, with over 2,600 killed in drug violence, according to the Associated Press. In recent years, however, its homicide rate has fallen to historic lows.

Medellin Makes Peace

After the fall of the Medellín Cartel following Escobar’s death, numerous factions vied for control of the city’s drug trade. Adding to the chaos was political violence between leftists aligned with radical guerilla army FARC and right wing paramilitary groups. The Colombian Army was eventually called in to help quell the violence. The ensuing years saw a marked decrease in violence, which was strengthened with the 2016 peace accord with FARC. Weary Paisas, however, worry about maintaining the fragile peaceafter so many years of bloodshed.

Rapid Transit Saved The City

In 1995, the Medellín Metro opened, connecting people from not only different parts of the city, but different socio-economic groups as well. The Metro and MetroCable ensure the city’s rich cultural heritage, which include world-class parks, museums and libraries, are easily accessible to both rich and poor. The rapid transit system has been credited with helping the city’s resurgence, which is often referred to as “the Medellín Miracle.”

Colombia’s Premiere Tourist Destination

In 2014 the place once known as “The Most Violent City” was named “The Most Innovative City in the World” by the Wall Street Journal and a “must-visit” destination by travel guide Lonely Planet. Tourists have begun to flock to the city, drawn to its arts scene, its pleasant climate, and its thriving nightlife.

Leave The Past In The Past

While Medellín has made great strides since the heyday of Colombia’s drug cartels it unfortunately remains tied to its bloody past, especially following the success of Netflix’s Narcos series, which chronicles the exploits of Escobar and crew. The last thing most Colombians want to discuss are its days of violent conflict, and most guide books implore you not to ask about it or visit sites associated with the drug trade.