Medellin has changed a lot since the worst days of violence in the 1990s, and one thing that the city has become well known for around the world is its fabulous Christmas lights, also known as El Alumbrado. The Medellin Christmas lights might be competing against much more famous cities and landmarks when it comes to illuminating Christmas, but that hasn’t stopped the city, which always challenges with the very best. Indeed, in 2012, National Geographic named Medellin as one of the Top 10 cities in the world to see Holiday Lights. In their words: “This former drug town pulses with new vitality and, during the balmy holidays, fantastic lights. Tree canopies drip with oversize ornament shapes; giant 3-D figures twirl along Medellín River and above a carnival-like sidewalk packed with food stalls.”
Although the city staged its first-ever public lighting for Christmas all the way back in 1851, the Medellin lights really took on a life of their own beginning in 1955 when the Medellin public utility company – Empresas Públicas de Medellín – was founded. They began to contribute some Christmas lights to the city, which were strung along La Playa Avenue.
In 1967, EPM took over the role of creative director for the lighting, and since that time, the scale and scope of the ambitious project have only continued to grow (except for in 1992 when an energy crisis forced the suspension of the lights). While, traditionally, the lighting began on December 7th (known as ‘Day of the Little Candles’ in Colombia, and when the Christmas season traditionally begins), it has become such a popular tourist attraction that it has been moved a week earlier to accommodate the huge spikes in tourism that the city experiences.
The scale of the Medellin lights has also increased gradually along with their popularity (more than four million tourists visit the city in December to experience the displays). Back in 2006, EPM invested in 12.5 million lights; by 2016, that number had risen to a staggering 31 million lights! Yes, you read that correctly – 31 million! In addition to all of those lights, there are over 900 kilometres (559 miles) of rope lighting, around 200 tonnes of ironwork, and the whole thing costs north of US$10 million. While that may seem costly, the income generated through tourism is huge, and the positive publicity for a city with Medellin’s reputation is beyond priceless.
Medellin’s Christmas lights are a truly special part of the culture of the city and hold a special place in the hearts of its citizens. So if you happen to be visiting Colombia over the Christmas period, make sure to schedule a few days in ‘The City of Eternal Spring’ to take in some of the best Christmas lights you’ll probably ever see.