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Medellín, Colombia: a miracle of reinvention

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I had my doubts about Medellín. Next time someone says “most dangerous city on earth”, I’ll pull a machine gun on them – that spurious claim was made over a quarter of a century ago, in Time magazine in March 1988.

Like Bogotá and Santiago de Cali, Medellín is a much wealthier, safer and more fashionable city these days, and its year-round summery climate, nearby forests and bird reserves and, indeed, the fact that it hasn’t been backpackered into oblivion – unlike Cusco, say – makes it a rather more desirable destination.

But I was also dubious about claims that the city is the epitome of the “Colombian miracle” – shorthand for the quelling of violence of the left-wing Farc and paramilitary forces. In just a quick glance around Medellín I saw sizable shanty towns, and the heavy presence of cops in the centre indicates that vigilance is vital to keeping up appearances.

However, on a balmy Sunday morning in the zen-inspired, “interactive” Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park), I started to believe that Colombia’s second city might have something interesting to tell me after all.

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