Laureles is the coolest neighbourhood in the world, at least according to British magazine Time Out. The international ranking outlet placed Laureles at the top of a list of the world’s 40 coolest neighbourhoods in 2023, beating out contenders from the US and Europe.
On the one hand, Paisas are proud that their beloved neighbourhood is receiving the recognition it deserves. The Time Out magazine has a fantastic reach which will likely help bolster tourism in the sector. On the other hand, the polarizing discussion of gentrification continues to go viral throughout the city. Last year, 2022, was a historic one in Medellín as it logged its highest number of international visitors ever. This year will likely set another record as Medellín continues to impress within highly influential rankings.
While gentrification and tourism are beyond the scope of this write-up, we want to chime in on the discussion of this neighbourhood, comuna 11 – Laureles. Is it really the coolest in the world? Let’s take a step back actually, is it even the coolest in Medellín? What about El Poblado? If Laureles is the coolest neighbourhood in the world and therefore, by extension, the coolest in the city – why does El Poblado continue to garner the most foreign interest when looking to vacate or move to the city? Let’s have a look. Before though, we will explore the early formative years of Laureles and how it shaped it to be what it is today.
TThe Territory That is Laureles...
Covers an area of 7.4161 square kilometres, Commune 11 is home to an estimated population of around 124,000 people and encompasses 15 neighbourhoods officially designated by urban planning. These recognised neighbourhoods include Los Colores, La Cuarta Brigada, Carlos E. Restrepo, Estadio, Suramericana, Velódromo, Florida Nueva, Naranjal, Bolivariana, San Joaquín, Lorena, Laureles, Las Acacias, La Castellana, and Conquistadores (as per the information provided by the City Hall of Medellín in 2020)
However, the local residents also identify with and consider two additional neighborhoods, Arrabal, situated to the west of the San Joaquín neighborhood according to official urban planning, and Florida Nueva Las Mercedes, which is located in the upper part of the Naranjal neighborhood.
Furthermore, Commune 11 is characterized by three institutional areas, which, while geographically part of the commune, are categorized as city areas by urban planning. These areas are the Unidad Deportiva Atanasio Girardot, Cuartel de la Cuarta Brigada, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. It is worth noting that the residents not only recognize these areas as integral to their community but also hold them in high regard as significant cultural assets.
Laureles Was Designed With Purpose
You see, the neighbourhood of Laureles is different to that of every other in Medellín, and this is by no mistake. Anyone that has traversed the streets or attempted to localize an address will know, first-hand, just how unique Laureles is with its circular street design.
From the very get-go, Laureles was designed to include all the elements of an attractive, communal, family-centric neighbourhood district. It was engineered to be unlike all other comunas within Medellín – even more ‘Americanized’ by some standards. It represented a new city model with its wide, fresh, tree-lined streets in which you could walk safely through blocks where you couldn’t see the ‘corners’ due to their circular shape.
The neighbourhood, as convoluted as its circular streets may appear, all orbit the focal attraction which is still UPB – one of the best universities in not just Medellín but all of Colombia. Follow any of its ‘carreteras’ south and that is exactly where you will end up. This intentional design, coupled with the fact that Laureles is distinctively flat in a city characterised by mountains, has resulted in what is the most walkable neighbourhood in the Aburra Valley. Sprinkle in an exciting gastronomical offering packed throughout its streets and you can see some of the reasons as to why Laureles is beginning to prosper as an expat/digital nomad magnet.
Laureles also boasts an impressive canopy. Around 30% of the neighbourhood’s land is covered by trees, making it one of the leafiest comunas of the city. The importance of green space was acknowledged even in the first days of the neighbourhood’s conception. This is why you will find some of the city’s best parks and streets lined with mature trees – some of the biggest in the city.
A Look Into The History of Laureles
In the early 1940s, during a period of remarkable expansion in Medellín, what is now the western district was an undeveloped expanse adorned with artificial laurel trees. This distinctive landscape contributed to the district’s present name, having previously been referred to as ‘Otra Banda’ or ‘the other side.’ Memo Ánjel, a researcher interviewed in Memoria Visual de Medellín, vividly described this area as once featuring swamps, mosquitoes, and occasional visits by individuals engaging in petty thefts like chicken or cattle.
In this early period however, there was already the Pontifical Bolivarian University, constructed a few years earlier in 1936 on the former ‘La Palestina’ estate. This development acted as a catalyst for the Employee Cooperative’s visionary project, which aimed to establish a residential community for the labour force of burgeoning textile companies in the city.
In 1943, the neighbourhood’s design was entrusted to the accomplished artist and architect Pedro Nel Gómez, celebrated for his artwork, murals, and contributions to several sites that have now achieved cultural heritage status. Gómez’s plans were notably influenced by the French concept of a ‘Garden City,’ originally conceived by the Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, with an emphasis on creating a harmonious environment for raising families. This departure from the conventional Spanish tradition of grid-like streets centred around a church was a groundbreaking departure.
Laureles initially attracted professionals and skilled workers from Medellín’s traditional neighbourhoods such as Boston, Prado, and Buenos Aires. They sought a more contemporary way of life in Laureles, distinguished by its distinctly educated and enlightened populace, leaning towards US influences in contrast to the rest of the city, which remained very much steeped in Spanish traditions and conventional values.
This unique blend of characteristics gradually solidified Laureles’ reputation as the most desirable place to reside in Medellín at that time. It represented a pioneering urban model with its broad, verdant, tree-lined avenues where residents could confidently traverse block after block, with corners discreetly concealed due to their circular layout. Over time, Laureles became linked with the already-established Pontifical Bolivarian University and experienced expansion alongside the development of fourteen additional neighbourhoods. Together, these neighbourhoods now form Commune 11, collectively bearing the name Laureles.
The Legacy of Fernando Botero in Medellín Transcends his Own Life
Fernando Botero left an indelible mark and legacy on Medellin, Colombia, and the art world at large through his unique and internationally acclaimed “Boterismo” style. His voluptuous sculptures can be found all over the world, including Dubai, Germany and the US. Nowhere, however are they in such abundance as they are in Medellin. Botero’s importance to Medellin and beyond can be understood through several key aspects of his artistic and cultural contributions:
1. Distinctive Artistic Style: Botero’s “Boterismo” style, characterized by voluptuous and exaggerated forms, became iconic and instantly recognizable. His ability to create art that was both aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking contributed to his lasting impact.
2. International Recognition: Botero’s work gained international acclaim, making him a prominent figure in the global art scene. His art served as a cultural bridge, introducing audiences worldwide to Colombian art and culture.
3. Social Critique: Botero’s art went beyond the superficial perception of “fat” figures. Instead, he used his distinctive style to embody a sensual and humorous voluminosity that served as a form of social critique. Through his monumental figures, he explored complex human truths, including themes such as torture, greed, pleasure, despair, absurdity, and more.
4. Representation of Colombian Identity: Botero proudly referred to himself as the “most Colombian artist living.” He fearlessly depicted both the positive and negative aspects of Colombian history and culture in his art. Despite personal safety threats, he used his work to shed light on both the good and bad nature of his homeland.
5. Development of Neo-Figuration: Alongside fellow Colombian artists Débora Arango and Pedro Alcántara, Botero played a pivotal role in developing Neo-Figuration in Colombia. This artistic movement combined pleasing figurative art with the courage to satirize and challenge political corruption and oppression. It provided a platform for artists to engage with and critique societal issues.
6. Cultural Ambassador: Botero’s work effectively served as a cultural ambassador for Colombia, introducing the world to the country’s rich artistic heritage. His art helped break down stereotypes and offered a deeper understanding of Colombian culture.
Is Laureles Really the Coolest Neighbourhood in Medellín?
Well, yes, and not just in Medellín. Laureles is the coolest neighbourhood in the entire world, according to Time Out. Their reasoning was that despite remaining an authentically ‘traditional’ Colombian neighbourhood, it still boasts everything from great nightlife over at La 70 and is also home to major sporting facilities such as the Girardot Stadium. They praise the central location of the neighbourhood, its improved culinary scene and its abundance of nomad-friendly coffee shops.
In the ranking, they also draw upon the fact that Laureles offers the best of both worlds; despite all it packs, it is still very laidback and authentic. If you want to have a read of the Time Out rankings, you can do so here.
Now, of course, the system in which these neighbourhoods are selected is entirely arbitrary. The ranking serves as a means of promoting tourism and a place like Medellín, which is still only just opening its doors, will be greatly affected by such coverage. Although we can’t corroborate any claims that Laureles is the coolest neighbourhood in the world, I’d argue that Laureles is indeed potentially the ‘coolest’ neighbourhood in the Aburra Valley. Allow us to make our case:
1. Unique design: The design of Laureles as a neighbourhood was given more care than any other in the city. Unlike parts of Medellín that suffer from ‘invasions’ (illegal settlements), Laureles is the result of excellent and unique urban planning. It is the only neighbourhood in Medellín with a ‘European design’ and is also the only neighbourhood that is circular. Fun fact – the first roundabout in Medellín was built in Laureles (segundo parque de Laureles).
2. Centrality: Unlike El Poblado which is located at the south-east of the Aburra valley, Laureles is located within the ‘centro occidental de Medellín’. This means that unless you are going south to somewhere like Envigado or Sabaneta, Laureles is likely to be much closer and more accessible to wherever you want to go. Traffic can be relentless throughout the valley which can further emphasise the value of being well-positioned.
3. Gastronomic offering: As mentioned by Time Out, Laureles is home to an ever-growing selection of eclectic restaurants. Everything from the traditional to the exotic; from Bandeja Paisas to delicious Pho dishes. The gastronomic offering in Laureles is likely to please most, even those with a discerning palate. Whether it’s better than El Poblado, this is a topic of contention. I would likely give the edge to Poblado but Laureles is a close second. There are also many great co-working spaces/cafes. Expect to pay a bit less in Laureles, too.
4. It’s FLAT: This is a pretty big deal in a city dominated by mountains. El Poblado, despite receiving the greatest number of expatriates and tourists, is not flat at all. This can be especially restrictive for older expats or retirees. Laureles, by contrast, is flat! This means that there is fantastic cycle infrastructure, and it’s well-used within the community. You’ll also see more people walking as a means of transport as everything is much more accessible. It brings life to the streets of Laureles in a way that you do not see in El Poblado.
5. Cheaper than El Poblado: Given the world we live in today, prices are going up everywhere. Laureles is no exception. Furthermore, as word continues to spread about the popularity and desirability of a place like Laureles, this too contributes to raising prices. However, it remains more affordable than El Poblado – our estimates put Laureles at 15% less expensive than El Poblado. Bear in mind that the quality of life in Laureles is practically equal and that 15% is a pretty impressive number. It may be harder to find another neighbourhood that offers a higher quality of life for its price.
6. Community: This is an element where Laureles highly beats out El Poblado. The local community appears to be much more intact throughout comuna 11. Go for your morning/evening stroll and you’ll start to identify common faces – and they’re all friendly. I think that the flatness of the neighbourhood contributes because people are always outside. The foreign/international community is more refined than it is in Poblado. Unlike Poblado, which is where almost everyone is immediately drawn to, Laureles attracts those who have done their due diligence. Those who want to immerse within the neighbourhood and embrace the local atmosphere. The digital nomad community is active and strong, too, thanks to the abundance of coworking spaces.
7. Activities and facilities: Fancy partying? You’ve got the famous 70th street, lined with clubs, bars and all sorts of nocturnal activity. I prefer it to the nightlife in Poblado as it is more local and authentic. Need a place to crack on with work? You’ve got an abundance of options all within walking distance. Laureles boasts some of the city’s best co-working spaces and cafes. Need to get a workout in? You’ve got an abundance of private and public gyms (which are totally free). You’ve got the Estadio area which offers everything from Olympic swimming pools, free weights, a skatepark, diving boards, football courts and more. Not to forget, you’ve got the Girardot Stadium which is used by Medellín’s biggest team, Atletico Nacional.
8. Greenery: What you might expect from a tropical ‘Ecociudad‘. It must be said that most of Medellín is covered in trees and greenspaces but Laureles is home to numerous mature laurel trees that were planted at the time of the neighbourhood’s conception in 1942. These are some of the biggest and most impressive trees you’ll find in the city. Laureles is also home to the famous Primer Parque and Segundo Parque. These are my two favourite parks and are surrounded by some of the neighbourhood’s best restaurants, bars and co-working spaces. From 2016 – 19, the city established strategically selected green corridors to mitigate the effects of pollution and rising temperatures throughout the valley. The results of this labour are clearly seen throughout Laureles with lush tree-lined roads and streets. All this lends to a relaxed atmosphere.
Laureles May NOT Be So Cool If...
Unfortunately, just like anywhere else, Laureles does possess its share of problems. We’ll keep it real with you. Laureles may not be the coolest neighbourhood for you if the following are big issues:
1. Crime: Armed theft and robberies are higher in Laureles than anywhere else in the city of Medellín. Its central location and large roads make it ideal for opportunistic robbery and theft. Now, that doesn’t mean you should have undue worry. The chances of being robbed are not high in the grand scheme of things but it is one of the biggest concerns that residents have. There was no mention of this in the Time Out rankings, yet it is something that should be made aware for anyone considering making a move there.
2. Pollution: This is a problem throughout the entirety of the Aburra Valley. PM2.5 levels are often in the amber but can and do make it onto red/high alert during dry spells. The geography of the valley makes it hard for the pollutants to be away in times of high pressure. Laureles, being in the basin of the valley, can experience particularly high levels of pollution. Something to be aware of.
We’re happy to see Laureles featured at the top of Time Out’s ranking of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods. It’s certainly my favourite in Medellín, beating out El Poblado. It is considered the best neighbourhood in Medellin for walking and cycling. If this is something you value, then you too may find Laureles to be the coolest neighbourhood in the city. Likewise, if co-working spaces, sports facilities, and community are all things you’d like to see crammed into your neighbourhood, then Laureles is worth checking out.
As always, if you have any questions about this beautiful place, don’t hesitate to get in contact.