One event that Medellín is famous for is its annual Christmas lights display known as El Alumbrado. In December 2012, National Geographic included Medellín in its list as one of the 10 best places in the world to see holiday Christmas lights. Tourists and visitors come from around the globe each year to see the impressive Medellín Christmas lights display.
The Christmas lights display this year is expected to draw an estimated 4 million visitors. The Christmas lights display in Medellín in 2014 is massive and consists of over 30 million light bulbs.
The Christmas light display in Medellín changes each year. The light display is created by Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), the local utility company for the city, which generates much of its power from hydroelectric sources.
For the first time this year, EPM held an open call for ideas for a theme of the Christmas light show. Over 1,500 proposals were sent to EPM from which the company selected a proposal focused on peace and reconciliation, which is an appropriate theme considering the ongoing peace talks in Havana between the government and the FARC rebel group. The Christmas lights installation by EPM began in August by over 330 technicians.
The primary Christmas light display is found along 1.1 miles of the Medellín River, between the bridge of Guayaquil and the bridge of San Juan. Christmas lights are strung across the river with a walkway set up along the east side of the river with hundreds of booths selling food and drinks. Additional Christmas light displays can be found in many other parts of the city including Cerro Nutibara, Envigado, Parque Bolívar and Las Palmas.
Anybody who has made the trip to the city during the holiday season will tell you the lights are at their best along the Medellín River. Cerro Nutibara is also worth a visit as it is approximately 80 feet above the city streets. From this vantage point, you can see many of the city’s Christmas light displays – and it provides an especially good view of the Christmas lights along the Medellín River.
The annual Christmas light display in Medellín began in 1955, when EPM was consolidated as a public utilities company. Starting that year, part of the city was modestly adorned with special lights jointly contributed by EPM, the government, and the press.
By 1967, EPM assumed the role as the creative team for the Medellín’s Christmas lights each year and decided the design, performed the installation and funded the light display. Over the years, the annual Christmas lights were broadening in scope and have now become one of the biggest tourist attractions in Medellin.
The number of Christmas lights installed in Medellín has been growing each year. In 2006, it consisted of about 12.5 million lights; in 2008, it was about 14.5 million lights; last year it was about 27 million lights and this year the light display consists of over 30 million lights.
How to See the Medellín Christmas Lights Along the River
The event started this year on November 29 when EPM turned on the Christmas lights. The Christmas lights along the Medellín River can be seen every night through January 12 from 6 pm until 1 am.
Any taxi will be able to bring you to the Christmas light display along the river, just tell the taxi driver “El Alumbrado Rio Medellín”. But to avoid traffic it is also easy to take the Metro to see the Christmas light display. If you exit the Metro at the Industriales station, there is a stairway down to the west side of the river. From the metro station, it is a short walk to one of the bridges where the light display along the river starts.
There is a pretty large police presence along the Christmas light display along the river. However, take care as the large number of tourists along the river does attract some thieves.
Along the river is a carnival-like atmosphere with tourists and families on foot gazing in awe, with street vendors and hundreds of booths selling food, drinks and souvenirs. You can find cotton candy, all types of foods, beverages of every sort as well as many street performers and artists.
The bottom line is the Christmas light display along the river is a must see if you are in Medellín anytime in December or early January. If you ever wanted a reason to visit the City of Eternal Spring, the month of December is a good choice with the world-class Christmas light display in the city. Personally it is unlike any Christmas display I have ever seen anywhere else.