For nearly 3 hours one night in late December 2017, we walked among millions of lights in Medellin, Colombia while experiencing one of the top places to view Christmas lights according to National Geographic. Walking next to us were thousands of locals, families, couples, and tourists – all of them in awe of the miles of bulbs and displays that illuminated Parque Norte for more than a month this holiday season.
What are the alumbrados?
Running for the past 50 years (seriously, 2017 was their 50th year anniversary), the alumbrados or Medellin Christmas lights are the annual holiday light display that takes place at Parque Explora within the larger Parque Norte in central Medellin. With more than 30 million LED bulbs, this year’s exhibit definitely lived up to its title of “Five Decades of Lighting.”
To say the lights are a Colombian tradition would be an understatement – after 5 decades of the display with each year outgoing the previous, the alumbrados have graduated to the international stage and are now responsible for attracting nearly 100,000 tourists each year. Add this to the swarms of Colombians that include the lights part of their Christmas celebrations and it’s not hard to see why the alumbrados are responsible for contributing more than $3 million USD to the local economy.
How to view Medellin Chrismas Lights
The alumbrados open every year in early December and run through early January – the hours of operation are from 6 pm to 12 am daily.
Due to its central location, getting to the Christmas lights from anywhere in Medellin proper is pretty simple – you have two main options:
- Taxi/Uber: tell the driver “Parque Norte” (or find it via the app) and tell the driver “los alumbrados”
- Take the metro to Universidad Station and follow the crowd
Getting back can be a bit hectic depending on the time and crowds but we managed to find a taxi within 10 minutes of walking and the trains seemed to be running regularly.
Some images of the 2017 Alumbrados
How to experience the Medellin Christmas Lights
Due to their 50 year reputation, it’s almost certainly going to be crowded no matter when you actually view the alumbrados – the trick is knowing how to manage the crowd. The organizers have smartly created a circular viewing experience where you enter via one gate, walk clockwise around the lake, and then exit via a separate gate.
If you don’t know where the entrance is, just follow the crowd or ask one the many cops keeping order. There will be a line to enter the lights but it moves fast – security is limited and there are multiple aisles.
Once inside the park do whatever you can to get away from the crowd – there is literally no way (at least in 2017) to miss the lights so any space you can put between yourselves and the masses will only enhance the experience. In our case this meant walking on the dirt path whenever possible – it often runs parallel to the main paved path and is closer to the lake. Also, there are many vendors and booths selling beer, food, sweets, and souvenirs – almost everything had a line and we saved a lot of our sanity by avoiding those areas entirely.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t miss the light up floor right inside the entrance. We heard it was new for 2017 but it was definitely a ton of fun and will hopefully return next year!
The surrounding area
Luckily (for you all), we missed the entrance the first time around and spent about 30min exploring the surrounding area – it’s actually worth wandering through if you’re not in a rush, here’s why:
There is a serious food street outside of the alumbrados with 2-3 blocks of just stalls. Unfortunately, most stalls are selling the same thing but the food is cheap and we seriously enjoyed our a cheese arepa and chorizo.
Entertainers and street performers
There is no shortage of entertainment outside of the Christmas lights – we saw break dancers, mimes, people dressed as transformers, a few Santas, and countless people selling nick nacks and gizmos. Obviously, this part is more fun if you have kids, but we still enjoyed walking around and experiencing the atmosphere.