Christmas in Medellin

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We spent Christmas two years ago on the beach in Gokarna, India – a Hindu pilgrimage town with no signs of festive cheer whatsoever. So we were glad to see that our location this year – Medellin, Colombia takes the Christmas season seriously. Throughout December the city is lit up with colourful lights known as El Alumbrado Navideño.


Although we had seen lights decorating houses and a particularly impressive display in Parque Lleras near our apartment, we heard the best exhibit was along the river. We had no idea where to go exactly, so a few days before Christmas we asked a taxi driver to take us to the best place to see the Alumbrados. After warning us three times to be careful with our camera he dropped us off amongst an immense crowd of paisas (locals of the city).

We hadn’t expected it to be such a full on party. The highway was shut to traffic so people could walk beside the river and enjoy the spectacle. The river itself was full of spinning lights squirting out water, but the main attraction was a series of displays that people could wander through.

Each told a traditional children’s Christmas tale, although we weren’t familiar with all of them, like the odd tale of a little girl who was afraid of Santa so blocked the chimney and left him a note to leave her presents on the roof.

Alumbrado Medellin

The crowds were huge, music was blaring and there were hundreds of food stands. They stretched on endlessly selling popcorn, beer, fresh sugar cane juice, toffee apples, and a full range of meat-based Colombian junk food. The amount of people was a bit overwhelming but it was a unique experience to wander amongst the gaudy displays with Colombian families.

Presents, Alumbrado Medellin

Some of the tales represented included Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Matchstick Girl where we walked through a sea of matches.

Matchsticks, Medellin Christmas lights

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol included a huge ominous Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, and a cheery, enlightened Scrooge at the end of the display.

Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come at Medellin Alumbrado

If you are in Medellin in December you should definitely head down and check out the Alumbrado display.

Our Christmas Day

Our tropical Christmas dinner
Our tropical Christmas dinner

With the temperature in the mid 20s, no Christmas tree, no presents and no oven for a proper roast dinner is was quite hard to feel festive on Christmas Day in our Medellin apartment. Still, we made an effort to listen to cheesy Christmas music, watch Christmas films, talk to our family on skype and eat too many sweets.

Christmas lunch was a rather unconventional vegetarian version of Peruvian causa. We tried to recreate the dish we enjoyed so much at AlmaZen: avocado, mango, and onion salad in a tangy lime and chili dressing on a bed of spiced mashed potatoes. Not a traditional Christmas meal, but a tasty tropical alternative eaten in the sun on our balcony. We even went for a swim in the afternoon.

Another great thing about the Christmas season in Medellin is free entrance to museums and parks, so we’ll be taking advantage of this before the offer finishes in January.

We hope you all had a fantastic Christmas wherever you are.


  1. Wow! I’ve just started planning my backpacking trip to Latin America, but after reading this post I’ll try to make sure that I spent at least a week in Medellin in December, if not longer! Great post :-D

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  2. I love the city of Medellin but never realised they have such a festive display, I shouldn’t be suprised really! I spent Xmas in Taganga (near Santa Marta) once & there were 20 other backpackers there so we all cooked a big Xmas dinner together after spending Xmas Day on the beach. Colombia is such a fabulous country!

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  3. Awesome light show. I love the first picture. If you ever get to Taiwan, they do something similar for Chinese New Years.

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  4. Holy lights, those Colombians really get into Christmas! Chileans, hmmm, not so much. I wish we’d get even half that amount of decorations down here!

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  5. Even though I’m from the city, I try to go to see the lights at the late night (after 10 pm) or on early January, when there is little people, because all the experience can be overwhelming!
    I’m glad you are enjoying our city, please feel free to contact me if you need anything (I live in Bogota, but I am expending the holydays with my family).

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  6. Merry tropical Xmas to you! Spent Christmas day driving back to Jakarta… so, not a typical Christmas day for us. We even went without the usual gorging ourselves silly on food… But got to spent time with fam this year and that’s always nice :p

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    • What a shame you didn’t get to eat lots on Christmas! At least you got to spend time with family though. We missed ours this year.

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  7. really love your photos here (and Dave’s on his site). I didn’t take too many when I was there, so my post is going to be quite tame in comparison.

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    • I think Dave did a really good job. A lot of mine didn’t come out because of the low light and it was extra tricky trying to avoid the crowds. I am sure your post will have your usual unique twist =)

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  8. Wow, these Christmas light displays look amazing – like in the States :-) Who knew that there were such big displays in other countries, too.

    We spent Dani’s Christmas (24th when it is celebrated in Germany) hiking up a mountain and Jess’ Christmas (25th) exploring the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, and the surrounding jungle (yikes, they have BIG spiders here!!). Dinner was very unexciting as the place we chose to eat at wasn’t very good (but there wasn’t a lot of choice…)

    How are you guys going to spend New Year’s Eve? We decided to stay in Honduras and celebrate at a peaceful lake here instead of rushing to Nicaragua where we thought we’d spent NYE. Have a happy new year!!

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    • I think it’s probably the biggest light display we’ve seen – the city really goes for it! Your Christmas sounded like a good one, although the “problem” with travelling is that it’s difficult to make a day special when every day is!

      We will be in Medellin still for NY and I think we’ll take advantage of our prime location in a tall building on a hill to watch the firework displays at home. Enjoy the rest of your time in Honduras!

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  9. Awesome photos! Merry Xmas! Seems a lot more festive than mine. No lights but my housemate did open a present under the banana tree in the backyard. :-)

    All the best for 2011, hope we cross paths sometime soon!

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    • Merry Xmas to you too Kirsty! Our Christmas day was actually a little less festive as we had no tree, decorations or presents. Hopefully we’ll meet up in 2011. Take care!

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  10. I never get tired of light displays.

    Christmas was a bit odd for me too, in the end I ate a shrimp dip for dinner. Not very festive but oh so delicious.

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  11. Glad you tried to make the best of Christmas in Colombia! After being away from home for 2 years, I really began to appreciate being home (with my family) for the holidays.

    PS – I thought the xmas lights were gaudy too!

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    • Although we enjoyed the lights we might have to make the effort to spend Christmas with our family next year. Glad you had a good one!

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      • Loved the lights – and especially love the possibility that you may come back to see your family over Christmas next year! Gets my vote and we’ll happily put on a veggie Christmas in December 2011!!

        Mum xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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