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Sifting Through TripAdvisor Reviews of Botero Plaza, Medellín, Colombia

If you are planning a visit to Medellin, you will likely read about Plaza Botero. This central square sits between the Museo de Antioquia and the Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe (yes, there are really two Uribes), and it houses 23 sculptures by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

If you are anything like me, you have probably read mixed reviews about the safety and overall quality of Medellin. I mean, look at these conflicting TripAdvisor reviews of Plaza Botero.

Tanggg’s trip to the plaza is an idyllic experience:

SirDrankalot’s name may not imply credibility, but he offers some words of caution:

Lastly, 365johnnyt claims that he was nervous at first, but found his fears to be unnecessary:

Who to believe? What to do? Well, I can only tell you my experience, from multiple visits spanning multiple months in Medellin. I definitely do not agree with Tanggg’s assessment, that this is a location displaying a spirit of triumph over a troubled past…I would describe Plaza Botero as a location in which to observe the still-rippling effects of Colombia’s past. In spite of his name, SirDrankalot hits the nail on the head.

If you do visit (and you should, because the people and sculptures are interesting), find the Laboratorio del Caffe (mentioned in 365johnnyt’s review), which has an elevated, fenced-off seating area from which to observe the plaza. There is life and joy in the plaza, but there are also jutting marks of pain: prostitutes, drug addicts, and the severely impoverished. There is a mild police presence, and this did not instill in me any increased sense of safety.

If you are travelling alone, I would recommend SirDrankalot’s advice to book a taxi to and from this location. However, if you have a companion, you can probably walk from the metro. Just keep an eye on one another, wear a money belt, don’t wear a backpack, and walk quickly. If you are a woman, I recommend pants and a shirt that covers your shoulders. Keep your cell phone and/or camera attached to your body.

You can walk through the square, but do not walk behind the Museo de Antioquia, on Carrera 53. My friend and I walked on this street for a few blocks, and it was flanked on both sides by teenage prostitutes.

Other sights include: a man (likely high on bazuka) wearing woman’s clothing and sloppily dancing while others formed a circle to jeer/cheer, two men sleeping on the pavement in the middle of the day with black eyes, people huffing glue from paper bags, and several women wearing only leggings and bras huddling around a man (likely a pimp).

The man in the blue sleeveless shirt wandered in aimless circles around the plaza, wearing only one shoe:

An elderly man wheeling a cart deposited this baby in the nook of a Botero sculpture. In the background, you can see a cluster of prostitutes:

The figure with the burgundy hair is a transgender prostitute. The woman in the blue dress rambled around the square for a while, holding a flower while talking to anyone who would listen:

It is so difficult to find accurate information about travel online. Most sources seem like they’re trying to sell a destination, painting it in a Disneyland-like light, rather than honestly depicting the pros and cons. For instance, an article from the Telegraph this year described Medellin as a “hipster” haven which has triumphed over its past. Yes, in many ways Medellin has triumphed, but there are still lingering, visually evident problems. It is utterly irresponsible to sell an idyllic location that does not exist. For the un-savvy, the Telegraph article may serve as the sole source of information prior to travelling…and then what would that poor soul do upon landing in the real city of Medellin, not the pretty one from the computer screen?

One must sift through streams of user reviews, trusting the opinions of people who do not financially benefit from lying. But there lies another problem: how can you determine who is idiotic and who truly observes?

Anyway, if you visit Plaza Botero, exercise a great deal of caution.