Ever spent Christmas in Colombia? Specifically Medellin, the City of Eternal Spring. This business city turned tourist hub may never be able to shake away the memories of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, but that’s okay. History builds character and the modern Medellin has become one of the safest (and most fun) cities in the world. Plus there are many more memorable things to see, do, eat and enjoy around the city nowadays — like experiencing a colorful Christmas in Medellin.
Imagine wandering around a city illuminated by over 30 million Christmas lights, including over 800 kilometres of rope lights and tens of thousands of glowing figures and displays. Known as El Alumbrado (“the lighting”) this unique tradition is truly one for the bucket list.
A Colorful Christmas in Colombia
Although public lights displays in the city during the holiday season date back to the 1850’s, it’s really only been during the last 50 years that the modern light show has evolved. Beginning the first week of December and lasting until mid-January, the Christmas lights of Medellin have become such a big event that in recent years more than four million people from around the world come to Medellin to experience El Alumbrado. Nowadays there is a different theme every year — and gets a little bit more grandiose every year. Past themes include “Colombia is Light” “Our Christmas” and “Values Illuminate Christmas”.
The entire event is focused around the lights over and along the Medellin River, which cuts right through the center of town. Colorful lights flow across the water and illuminate its surface. It truly is a magical sight to behold.
According to numbers on last year’s El Alumbrado, the Christmas lights are estimated to use 0.8 gigawatt-hours of total electric power over 45 days, which is equivalent to about 50 minutes of total power consumption in city of Medellín over the entire year. The entire event has been coordinated by the Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) since 1967, so we can expect even more extravagant lightings as they approach the 50th anniversary.
A Feast for the Eyes and the Stomach
While the lights of Medellin may be the main highlight of the Christmas season, the food comes in a close second. Here are some of my favorite Colombian consumables that every visitor needs to try:
Buñuelos – Fried cheese balls. Unconvinced by that description, need I say more? These juicy treats are so delicious that you can find them year-round in many parts of Colombia. However they are much more common (and addictive) during the Christmas season.
Hojuelas – Because frying makes everything better, hojuelas are also a popular winter pastry. They come in many different forms, from elongated fried crisps to triangluar shapes that resemble samosas and even more elegant designs, such as flowers.
Natilla – This custard pudding comes in a seemingly never-ending variety of shapes, colors and varieties depending upon where you try it. Served cold it may look unappealing at first try it but trust me — nothing with this much sugar in it can be bad.