It’s been a shocking turnaround. A pleasant one, of course, yet still quite a surprise. Medellín, once considered the most violent city in the whole world, is now one of the best places to live in all of South America. It’s safer than many U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Detroit, and even New Orleans. It’s an innovative city with forward-thinking environmental policies and a modern transportation system. While people are now returning to—instead of fleeing—the heart of the city.
The City of Eternal Spring, in the Aburrá Valley along the Andes, was founded as a Spanish village in 1616. By the 19th century, the capital of the Department of Antioquia had become an important commercial center based on gold and the production and exportation of coffee. Drug lords ruled the second-largest city in Colombia by the 1980s though, and people lived in fear of being kidnapped or murdered. Medellín is still trying to change that image.
El Poblado is a good spot to start. The neighborhood, along the Medellín River in the southeastern part of the city, has become one of the main shopping areas. Coffee shops and boutiques, restaurants and bars line the streets of Las Manzanas de Oro (The Golden Apples). Parque Lleras is a perfect place to watch artists and people. Music, drinks, and dancing flows late into the night. While a boutique hotel has captured the neighborhood’s social vibe.
The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel is across the street from Parque Lleras. Even from the outside, you can tell this isn’t your typical cookie-cutter hotel. Irregular-shaped balconies, overflowing with green plants, crisscross to form an interesting pattern on the front facade. The greenery doesn’t end upon entering the concrete, glass, and wood building, where you’re met with living walls. Rotating exhibits—featuring paintings, photographs, and sculptures by Colombian artists—fill the rest of the lobby. Even the garage and the stairwells have brightly colored street art.
The rest of the hotel is just as edgy. Your suite features Balinese furniture, a crystal chandelier, and more original artwork. Most of the bathroom—from the floor to the shower to the sink—is made of stone. Plus you have a view of the park from your own balcony. Elsewhere, you find Lucia, a hip Italian steakhouse, and a rooftop pool surrounded by lounging pods. The rooftop is also the home of Envy, a chic outdoor bar with candlelight, couches, and a view of Medellín.
You’ll have your pick of electronica, reggae, or rock when you leave for the clubs later. But right now, you start with a Maracuya Mojito. The music gets louder as the sky darkens and the city starts to sparkle. It’s glow is extending farther than ever before.