I moved to Medellin, Colombia in early 2020 and lived there for three months.
It was my first real experience with location independence and the digital nomad life, and it’s honestly one of my favorite places I’ve ever traveled.
But, I still remember how much my parents were up in arms when I told them I was thinking about traveling to Medellin.
After all, the picture most of the world has of Medellin is one of narcotrafficking, Pablo Escobar, and widespread crime.
But, is Medellin safe, and can you travel to Medellin now as a tourist?
I’m going to share my experience of living in Medellin, what tourists should know, and how to ultimately stay safe in Medellin if you visit or move there.
Is Medellin Safe To Visit? – Changing Times & Lower Crime
Medellin has a pretty dark history, and I’m not going to skimp over that reality.
In fact, Medellin used to be one of the most violent places on earth in the 1980s as Escobar waged his narcoterrorism war against the government.
However, much has changed since that time.
For starters, the deescalation of the war on drugs and the disarmament of several cartel and criminal organizations has helped lower crime.
Furthermore, Medellin has truly modernized as a city in the previous decade. It’s now renowned as being a topic digital nomad city, with an awesome metro system, booming expat and nomad scene, and growing tourism industry.
Now, it’s still not all butterflies and rainbows, and according to Colombia Reports, violent crime is increasing in Medellin once again after reaching an all-time low in 2015.
There’s also around 240 gangs with over 5,000 members according to reports. Street crime is also increasing steadily over the past few years.
However, this crime is largely related to gang activities and turf wars, not direct attacks on tourists or citizens.
There’s also been a reported severe drop in armed robberies, and violent crime and robberies are also highly centralized in the more dangerous areas of Medellin (which I’ll cover shortly.)
So, the bottom line is that Medellin is safer than it’s ever been, and the city has developed dramatically since the 1980s.
What I found in Medellin was a city that’s ripe for digital nomadism and tourism while also being full of friendly, welcoming people.
What Are The Dangerous & Safest Places In Medellin?
As mentioned, violent crimes and robberies, two of the most concerning types of crime if you’re thinking about visiting Medellin, are highly influenced by location in Medellin.
The geography of the city, which traditionally has poorer areas in the foothills and a richer downtown core, naturally creates these different neighborhoods with distinct characteristics.
So, if you’re thinking about visiting Medellin or moving there for a while and want to stay somewhere safe, here are the areas to go and some ones to avoid.
Safest Neighborhoods & Areas In Medellin
When I lived in Medellin, I stayed in two main areas: Bombona and around Laureles.
I also toured a bunch of the city and made some awesome local friends who live in Manrique.
From traveling to a bunch of different neighborhoods and hearing advice from locals, here are some of the safer areas in Medellin:
- Envigado: A more residential and chill neighborhood. Not great to walk around at night by yourself, but it’s generally safe.
- Laureles: This is a more “happening” spot in Medellin with lots of bars, coworking spaces, and expats. It’s also where I spent a lot of my days working. Petty theft is common in Laureles because of the wealth the neighborhood attracts but it’s very safe overall.
- El Poblado: This is another slight toss up. My friend would skate in El Poblado and was told to never walk home alone at night. But this is honestly many neighborhoods and true for any major city. Overall, El Poblado is another safe Medellin neighborhood that’s a bit more affluent and has its fair share of attractions, grocery stores, and nightlife.
In my opinion, getting an Airbnb somewhere around these areas and close to a metro is the best way to stay safe when visiting Medellin.
Dangerous Areas & Neighborhoods In Medellin
Medellin has so many neighborhoods, or comunas. Even after living there for 3 months I don’t know them all since some are very small and are easily glanced over.
But, there are definitely some dangerous Medellin areas you should avoid, especially at night:
- El Centro: Funnily, El Centro, which is Medellin’s downtown, is one of the most dangerous areas of the city because of the amount of drug deals and petty theft that goes on there. It’s a major metro hub and pretty safe during the day, but I’d honestly avoid living there if I were you. It’s also not that fun in my opinion.
- Comuna 13: Comuna 13 is a beautiful neighborhood in Medellin that’s known for its impressive graffiti artwork and murals. However, it’s a fairly dangerous area at night because of drugs and sex trafficking. It’s worth going for a day tour, but I wouldn’t get accommodations here.
- Bombona: My friend and I stayed in Bombona for a few days when we first got there because we didn’t know anything about the city. Apparently this is also a dangerous place in Medellin, and it’s also a tad far from a metro station. I personally liked the area but we were told it was a bad idea to stay there as tourists.
- Barrio Trinidad & Parque San Antonio: I’m mentioning these two areas since they’re near the Medellin Zoo, which is a very popular tourist attraction. I went to the zoo during the day which was fine, but these areas are dangerous at night and not somewhere I’d recommend living.
Again, the common sense you have to use here is to avoid walking home alone at night and to keep an eye on your possessions.
Medellin is very safe for tourists and residents, especially if you stick to popular areas and avoid some of the sketchier neighborhoods.
Transportation In Medellin & Safety
One of my favorite parts about Medellin is how easy it is to get around the city.
This makes finding safe accommodations more feasible since you don’t have to live right next to the action since getting there is pretty quick. Plus, it also increases Medellin’s safety since you can always find your way home at the end of the night.
Is Uber Safe In Medellin?
Uber is technically illegal in Colombia since the government banned it to protect the taxi industry. But even when I was living there, you could sometimes find an Uber ride by using the ridesharing app just like any city.
However, Ubers aren’t always available, so many Medellin residents use DiDi instead, a Chinese-based ridesharing app.
Didi is safe in Colombia and Medellin since it’s basically an Uber clone. You see the license plate of the driver who is picking you up and can track their progress and where you are on a map as you ride.
Are Taxis Safe In Medellin?
Taxis are one of the main ways to get around Medellin, and you usually see swarms of cabs on every street you turn to.
Taxis are also quite safe in Medellin. They’re also very cheap, and you can usually get around places in the city without paying more than $5 to $15, or even less if it’s a close drive.
However, there are still Medellin taxi scams you should be aware of and some safety measures you can take.
The first would be to use a taxi app to call a taxi when you can rather than hailing one on the street. EasyTaxi is one popular app, and you can order a taxi to your door just like Uber.
Another tip is to avoid paying with large cash bills since a tourist scam is to give you way less change since it’s easy to confuse bills when you’re new to the country. Also, make sure the driver resets the meter before you begin driving.
Finally, if you take a taxi very, very late at night after some party, it’s not a bad idea to record the taxi driver’s information.
My friend and I left a party in Manrique very late one night, and our friends took a picture of the taxi driver’s license plate so we knew his info. There’s an occasional horror story about a taxi dropping off tourists in a random part of town so they can be robbed, so precautions like this help avoid taxi scams.
Should I Rent A Car In Medellin?
If you’ve never driven in a busy city where traffic laws are a little bit more wild, renting a car in Medellin might come as a shock.
The city is full of bikers, scooters, buses, and cars that all navigate the roads in their own unique way. Seriously, if you’ve lived in North America all your life like me it’s not the sort of driving you’re used to.
That said, I know many people who rent cars in Medellin. But renting a car is normally for traveling to nearby attractions, like the mountainous town of Jardin or Guatappe.
The fact is Medellin’s metro and taxi system is so good that you really don’t need to rent a car or bike in the city.
Is The Metro Safe In Medellin?
Medellin’s metro is incredibly safe and is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to get around the city. You’re paying a few dollars at most for a round trip on it, and metro cars come by very frequently.
The main thing to know for safety on Medellin’s metro is to watch your belongings. Petty theft can happen, so keep your eyes on your bag, don’t leave valuables in your pocket, and make sure everything is zipped up!
Oh and one other thing, it’s important to understand the concept of Metro Culture.
Medellin is rightfully a proud city, and people love the metro. Because of the metro, invisible transportation barriers between neighborhoods have been reduced, and more people can access more jobs and opportunities than before.
So, be polite, quiet, and clean on the metro. Don’t eat food, keep to yourself, and just enjoy how smooth of a ride the Medellin metro is!
Is Medellin Nightlife Safe?
I think Medellin has some incredibly fun and interesting nightlife. Between the variety of bars, clubs, salsa bars, and interesting restaurants, there’s a lot to experience!
There’s also other fun local attractions, like soccer games, skate parks, outdoor gyms, and some famous neighborhood block parties that go until the sun rises.
Generally speaking, Medellin’s nightlife is safe if you take the right precautions.
Here are my Medellin nightlife safety tips:
- She’s Not Interested In You: If the most breathtaking woman you’ve ever laid your eyes on is chatting you up and laughing at all your jokes, she’s probably not interested in you man. I swear I read a story every month on various Medellin Facebook groups about someone bringing home a woman, waking up dazed and confused, and finding their Airbnb ransacked.
- Watch Your Drink: From the point above, watch your drink when you’re at a club or houseparty, just like you should anywhere in the world.
- Stay In Groups: When walking home or taking a taxi, always try to stay in groups, especially if some or all of your party members are intoxicated.
- Be Polite: While this isn’t an obvious Medellin safety tip, don’t cause problems when you’re out and about. You’re a tourist, so you don’t always know how things work, and the last thing you want is to cause a fight because you’ve been rude.
Anyway, some of the best nightlife spots in Medellin you can check out include:
- Parque Lleras
- Las Palmas
- La 33
- La 70 (I went to some really cool salsa bars here!)
Safety Tips For Visiting Medellin
I think Medellin is safe for tourists, expats, nomads, or anyone else who lives in the city.
However, here are my main tips to avoid crime in Medellin and stay safe while living there:
- Don’t Flash Wealth: Leave expensive things like watches, gadgets, and even very expensive designer clothing behind or at your accommodation. You shouldn’t display wealth because this invites thiefs to try and take your stuff.
- Don’t Carry Much Cash: Medellin is still a cash-based society to some extent and in some neighborhoods, but you don’t need to carry a lot. Use your debit/credit card where possible or cash, but don’t carry hundreds of dollars on you.
- Don’t Walk Alone At Night: I’m going to say it again: don’t walk alone at night or in sketchy neighborhoods!
- Don’t Buy Drugs: A lot of people come to Medellin to party and indulge, but don’t take part in illegal activity since this dramatically increases the chance you get into trouble or end up in jail.
- Don’t Get Super Drunk: You can have a good time thanks to Medellin’s nightlife, but keep your wits about you.
- Cooperate With Police: Medellin police are sometimes known to pull tourist scams, like to try and extort you for riding on a bike if you don’t have a helmet (which everyone does anyway.) Pay them, apologize, and chalk it up as a cost of doing business.
- Learn Spanish: I was very excited to see my Spanish improve slightly when living in Medellin for three months, and in hindsight, knowing the local language increases safety. You can understand people better, ask for help or directions, and you generally feel less lost.
- Lock Up Your Stuff: If you have a safe in your accommodation, use it! Lock up important things like cash or documents like your passport.
- Watch For Tourist Scams: I bought a fake SIM card from a small bodega my first day in Medellin. Research this sort of stuff and prepare ahead of time. Where are you staying? How do you get internet and a phone plan? Figure out stuff in advance and only shop at legit stores and never take a good that seems too good to be true.
- Watch Your Pockets: My phone was stolen out of my pockets in Medellin when I went to a music festival. It was entirely my fault, and even with my zippered pants, someone in the crowd was able to steal my phone. The lesson here is to use theft proof fanny packs or some sort of anti-theft device to store your stuff.
Again, I had no problems in Medellin except for getting my phone stolen at a music festival.
And, guess what: the music festival was the one time I wasn’t paying attention or being smart, so go figure!
Extra Reading – 50+ Best Nomad Quotes To Inspire Travel!
My Experience Living In Medellin
Living in Medellin was one of the best experiences in my life, and I really think it’s an amazing city.
The people are warm and welcoming, you can learn a new language, and there’s a seemingly endless number of things to do and keep yourself occupied.
I also felt safe in Medellin. My phone was stolen, but it was my fault for not paying attention at a music festival.
I also walked home alone at night occasionally but kept to safe neighborhoods, and nothing happened.
Yes, there were some sketchy moments like when our taxi broke down in a random neighborhood and we had to walk around to find our way home at night, but hey, what’s life without some adventure?
I think visiting Medellin is safe, and the city also becomes safer as your Spanish improves and you learn the lay of the land.
The main thing is to do your research in advance, use common sense, and stick to some of the safer neighborhoods for your accommodations.
Other Questions Travelers Have About Safety In Medellin
1. Is Medellin Safe For Solo Travelers?
Medellin is safe for solo travelers, and it’s actually a very common solo travel destination. However, solo travelers need to take extra precautions when traveling home at night and should avoid walking alone at night whenever possible.
2. Is Medellin Safe For Female Travelers?
Medellin is safe for female travelers, solo or not. Many of the nomads I met in Medellin were female, and as a whole, the city is a great place to meet interesting people from all around the world.
Female travelers should take the same precautions as anyone else: don’t walk alone, don’t flash your wealth, and use common sense.
3. Can You Drink Tap Water In Medellin?
So, is it safe to drink tap water in Medellin?
The answer is yes: it’s completely safe to drink tap water in Medellin. The city has a modern water purification system, so you can drink the water in your accommodation and also use it to wash fruit and vegetables.
Just note that eating food like fresh fruit from street vendors is a slight risk. I honestly ate street food all the time and never had any issues, but again, you never know how street food is kept. When possible, order food that’s cooked upon order so you get the freshest food possible.
4. Is Medellin Safe For Family Travellers?
Medellin is safe for families, but if you have young children, make sure you keep an eye on them when out and about since some areas have a lot of foot and vehicle traffic.
5. Is Medellin Safe To Walk Around?
Walking around Medellin is safe. However, like any big city, you should avoid walking alone at night, especially if you’re in a neighborhood you don’t know.
Taxis and DiDi are honestly so cheap in Medellin, it’s always worth calling one.
My friend and I each walked home alone at night on some occasions, but whenever possible, we always stayed with each other or a group.
So, is Medellin safe for tourists?
I think it is, provided you keep your wits about you and use some common sense.
At the end of the day Medellin is a massive city. And, as tourist, you don’t always know the dangerous areas or way of life in certain places.
But my time in Medellin was incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, and again, the people are so welcoming and kind.
Between the amazing people, climate, food, and sights, I definitely recommend adding Medellin to your Colombia travel plans!
If you’ve been to Medellin, I’d love to know about your experience in the comments!