Traffic in many parts of Medellín can be bad during the rush hours and also bad during lunch hour. It’s possible to run into traffic in Medellín anytime, particularly when there is some road construction or an accident.
The worst traffic in the city tends to be found in El Poblado and El Centro in my experience. Also the major roads going north and south tend to have more problems than roads going east and west.
In Medellín it seems there are countless motorcycles weaving between fast-moving cars, drivers who think nothing about making their own lanes and pedestrians who cross the road in the midst of traffic. This can make the goal of safer and more efficient roads in Medellín appear to be more of a pipe dream.
Traffic is one of the downsides of living in Medellín. But there are many upsides, including the climate, low cost of living, good healthcare and good public transportation.
Note the above photo is of traffic at about 5:30 pm on a Monday next to the large Bancolombia headquarters building.
The Traffic Problem in Medellín
Traffic is a major concern of expats living in Medellín. Our Medellín Living reader survey in December last year found that traffic is the number one concern raised by expats living in the city, see the above graphic.
Waze ranked Medellín with one of the worst traffic problems in Latin America in 2015. But in my experience, it is not as widespread of a problem in Medellín compared to the traffic issues in Bogotá. During a recent business trip to Bogotá I spent nearly five hours stuck in traffic. This was due to going to and from three meetings in three different parts of the city. This was also due to being stuck in both the morning and evening rush hours.
But Bogotá doesn’t necessarily have the worst traffic in Latin America. In my experience the much bigger cities of São Paulo and Mexico City have some of the worst traffic found in Latin America.
What is Medellín Doing About Traffic?
Starting back in 2009, Medellín began investing in a high-tech road monitoring system. The system is comprised of two centers from which a network of cameras and closed-circuit video feeds are used to monitor the traffic in Medellín.
Agents in these centers monitor traffic on monitors. And when traffic abnormalities occur they decide what action to be taken. This includes dispatching police and wreckers. Since the system was put in place the response time to incidents has dropped dramatically.
The municipalities in the Medellín metro area have also been investing in new roads and road expansions over the past several years. But in my opinion they aren’t building new roads and expanding roads fast enough, particularly in high-growth areas like Sabaneta.
Pico y Placa
Pico y placa is a rationing system implemented by Medellín to address the traffic problem in the city during rush hour. Pico y placa is essentially a rush-hour road-space rationing system used on Monday to Friday.
Under pico y placa you are currently restricted from driving in Medellín during rush hours on Monday to Friday from 7:00-8:30 am and from 5:30-7:00pm depending on numbers on your license plate.
For cars the restriction applies as follows for cars with plates ending with the digit:
- Monday: 2, 3, 4, 5
- Tuesday: 6, 7, 8, 9
- Wednesday: 0, 1, 2, 3
- Thursday: 4, 5, 6, 7
- Friday: 8, 9, 0, 1
For two-stroke motorcycles the restriction applies with plates starting with the digit:
- Monday: 2, 3
- Tuesday: 4, 5
- Wednesday: 6, 7
- Thursday: 8, 9
- Friday: 0, 1
Note that pico y placa changes from time to time, so the above list can change.
For cars the restriction is during rush hour twice per week and for two-stroke motorcycles the restriction is once per week. To avoid pico y placa I’m aware that some wealthy people have even bought two cars.
Tips for Avoiding Traffic
My first tip is to learn when the traffic is typically the worst as well as the short cuts and plan your trips according. In my experience the rush hour is worse in the evening than it is in the morning. So I try to avoid trips from about 5pm to 7:30pm.
My worst experience in traffic in Medellín was traveling home to Sabaneta from the José María Córdova international airport during the evening rush hour. This trip normally takes about 45 minutes. But during rush hour on a Friday evening it took me about two hours.
I also highly recommend the Waze app for smartphones. I have used this app for well over a year and it has saved me countless hours from being stuck in traffic. We also consider Waze to be one of the 15 best mobile apps to be used in Medellín.
Using Waze I can find out how long it will take to get to my destination and the best route to use. And in my experience Waze time estimates are pretty accurate. I use Waze on my cell phone all the time to avoid traffic and direct taxi drivers to alternate routes.
I did this recently on a Sunday when the Autopista came to a standstill returning to Sabaneta. All it took was pulling out my cell phone and Waze said there was an accident ahead with traffic not moving. And it estimated 50 minutes continuing that way. I had Waze look for an alternate route. And it recommended backtracking and going on Las Vegas, which we did and it only took 20 minutes.
Use the Metro as an Alternative
I also frequently use Medellín Metro system as an alternative. There are many places in the city I can go faster by metro compared to taking a taxi or by bus on the roads.
I am a frequent metro user. And I happen to live not that far from La Estrella station, which is on the southern end of Line A. So I can get on the metro at this station even during rush hour and still usually get a seat.
From my apartment in Sabaneta to Santafé mall in El Poblado it’s about 25-30 minutes by taxi without traffic. With traffic during rush hour this can take over one hour. But by metro and walking it can take me about 40-45 minutes. So during rush hour using the metro is my fastest option and is also lower cost.
If it wasn’t for the Medellín Metro system, the city’s traffic problem would be much worse. The Medellín Metro reportedly transports well over 160 million passengers per year.
What do you think of Medellín’s traffic problem? And do you have any additional tips for avoiding traffic in the city?