Want to avoid the crowds? Head to a city or country on the State Department watch list. Want to avoid crowds and stay safe? Head to a city that used to be.
History moves faster than the travel industry and the best places to visit are often yesterday's war zones. The main reason the pendulum swings so far so fast is that tourists are a tremendous boon to struggling economies and are generally welcomed with open arms in places where unrest has led to instability. That makes traveling to formerly dangerous places smart for both selfish and humanitarian reasons.
Why You Didn't Want to Go: Through the eighties and nineties cartels – notably Pablo Escobar's group, which was named for the the city – ruled this genteel metropolis on the Andean slopes of central Colombia. Tours were conducted largely against the will of captured tourists and crime was rampant.
Why You Want to Go Now: Medellin has become the unlikely poster child for the resurgence of modern Colombia. The city's revolutionary Metrocable system, which employs gondolas instead of subways to hoist locals and visitors up the valley's slopes, is one of the most notable successes of modern urban planning and the city is thick with art and memorable architecture. The botanical garden is one of the most beautiful public parks on earth, the ideal place to try a Colombian hot dog (think: much salsa) in peace.
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