I’ve now spent a month in Medellín, Colombia. I have a few weeks left here in this place I’ve come to think of as more than just a temporary home. The Medellín of the 80s portrayed by Netlix’s Narcos is almost hard to imagine compared to the warm and welcoming city it is today. If you have the chance, I recommend a visit sooner than later before this place explodes in popularity.
My Motivation to Visit Medellín
To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Over the past few years I’ve heard how great Colombia can be to visit. I saw pictures and met people that confirmed the internet rumors; they went, they saw, they all wanted to go back. I read some good things about Medellín on forums like Nomad List and r/DigitalNomad. Perhaps I was simply following the trends.
Somewhere along the way I started telling people I was going to move there but it never seemed like a reality. I had bought a house in Philly and was fixing it up myself. Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t escape that house mentally, physically, and/or financially intact. Talking about moving to Colombia made it feel okay. But I still wasn’t making the progress I needed to get out until a friend challenged me to set a date and ditch the house one way or another. I didn’t hit the date we discussed but I believe that conversation is what got me to commit to leaving Philadelphia.
Confirming the rumors about Medellín as best I could, my main drivers in choosing my destination were:
- Cost of living.
- Reliable internet access at a reasonable speed.
- Spanish. Quiero hablar español.
That was basically it. It didn’t hurt that the climate is supposed to be near “perfect” year round. After all, they do call Medellín “la Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera” (the City of Eternal Spring). ¡Vamos a Colombia!
Getting There and Finding a Home
A week after quiting my job (more on that later), I found a one-way ticket from MIA to MDE for about $100. The decision was already made. I quickly entered my details. June 8, 2017. Ticket booked. This is starting to get real.
I didn’t really think about it much more. I was kinda busy selling my house and traveling around the US during August and September. Honestly, after I had the ticket I didn’t see much point in researching this place. I figured I’d just go and see what would happen.
I even put off finding lodging in Colombia until September 30, barely a week before my departure. Eventually, I pulled the trigger and requested an AirBnb with a good location, clean looking room, private bathroom, and no reviews. Zero feedback or evidence of legitimate habitation. I reserved the room for seven nights which seemed like a reasonable starting point to land on my feet.
Beatriz, my host, responded promptly, accepted my AirBnB request, invited me to connect on LinkedIn and sent a warm welcome message. I knew everything was going to be alright when she sent me the following email with the subject “Waiting to know you”:
My english is not to good but I will alway try to help you in every thing you need about my City. Welcome to your home and my [country].
Beatra ended up being a wonderful host, possibly the best in Colombia. Just as her email said, she was eager to show me her city and help with any issue I had, no matter how small. On our first day together, we walked around the neighborhood as she showed me the local shops and restaurants where I could find food and whatever else I might need. She introduced me to strangers. She showed me the new beautiful park nearby that is being constructed along the river. She made sure I bought sunscreen to protect my white skin. She made me feel comfortable in a foreign place and forced me to get over any fear I may have had speaking Spanish.
After a couple days, I confidently extend my stay with Beatriz without hesitation. I had found my home. We ate breakfast together most days and often lunch as well. At night, we’d drink beers and watch whatever telenovela was on tv before I would go out walking to explore this infamous city and never felt unsafe. We even went on a day trip to La Ceja, her favorite nearby pueblo just to see what life was like there.
Eventually, I signed up for Spanish immersion classes at the local university, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana or UPB. My days mainly revolve around school. I continue to explore the city and practice my Spanish whenever possible. I found an outdoor gym about a mile from my home that’s free and has anything you could possibly want to achieve your very own fantasy island fitness experience. There are tons of parks and dogs everywhere, everyone is friendly. I don’t think I’ll run out of things to do anytime soon. Plus, I have some friends coming to visit and I’m excited to share this place with them. I know my current time here will end quickly but I hope I will be able to return and continue to learn and love the paisa lifestyle that seems to be just the right pace for me.
List of Things: Surprises, Tips, etc.
Everybody loves lists, right? Here’s some quick info I’ve found noteworthy during my time here:
- The water is drinkable and tastes great. I fill up my camelback most days and get strange looks at school but I stay hydrated for free.
- The electric outlets are the same as in the US. They electricity works great in general. No issues and no adapters needed. I kept meaning to check this before my visit but I guess I didn’t. And lucked out.
- WiFi. Is. Everywhere. At the park, the mall, the airport, and most restaurants, you’ll have access to an internet connection. I still haven’t gotten a cell plan for this reason (even though they are very affordable). I’m always connected when I want to be.
- The internet is pretty solid. It’s fast and reliable enough for my needs. Here are the results from a speed test taken at the university:
- If you want to study at one of the universities, like UPB, get a student entry visa when you enter the country. This makes things much easier and can be handled with some quick correspondence with a program coordinator. However, the visa rules are currently changing so make sure you check an up-to-date source on this.
- Menu del dia. Most restaurants offer an affordable ($2-$4) three course meal that rarely disappoints. Sometimes it’ll even include some amazing fresh squeezed juice and/or dessert and coffee. This is one of my favorite things about Colombia.
- Breakfast, another favorite of mine, is simple but so good to me. I go to the same place often and get scrambled eggs with veggies and cheese, coffee and, of course, an arepa. All for about $1.50.
- The weather. It’s pretty much as good as they say and this has supposedly been the bad (rainy) season. I can only imagine how nice it can be here.
- Biking. There is way more than I expected. Cycling is the second most popular sport in Colombia behind soccer. I should have brought the brompton. But, luckily, they have a free bike share!
- Colombians are proud and friendly and want the world to know how great they are.
- It’s cheap here. Seriously. Even cheaper than I expected. Depending on level of comfort, I think it would be reasonable to live off of $1,000 a month.
- Credit Cards are not a problem. I didn’t use them much at first but now I do. It’s easier than cash and probably safer in the long run.
- No one wears shorts. Except gringos. I don’t care. I still wear shorts everyday. I’m not blending in anyway.
- Movies are cheap and popular. They have most of the big American movies, either dubbed in Spanish or with subtitles (my preference). I like the theater at the Unicentro mall. Tuesdays are half off. They have both salty and sweet popcorn. I usually get a little of both.
- Uber is better than taxis. The taxi drivers often get lost and the uber rates are better anyway. Ridesharing is not 100% approved in Colombia so the drivers prefer that you sit in the front to minimize any unwanted attention.
Review of Costs
- Flights. $451.80 round trip.
- $74.61 flight to MDE
- $40.99 bag fee
- $414.49 flight to PHX
- $181.71 change fee
- +$260 credit after switching flight to Thanksgiving
- Housing. $495.99 for seven weeks.
- $65.24 for the 1st week
- $162.40 for 2nd and 3rd weeks
- 800,000 pesos ($268.35 = $132.65 + $135.70) for the remaining month
- [Updated] ATMs. $606.18 for food and walking around money
- Gotta get those pesos.
- Oct. 11 = $101.96
- Oct. 14 = $101.71
- Oct. 23 = $102.67
- Nov. 2 = $102.17
- Nov. 7 = $98.18
- Nov. 12 = $99.49
- $364.10 at UPB for Spanish classes.
- $75.99 on 26 Uber rides.
This total has been updated to include the full costs for my 7 week trip. If you remove the airfare and university tuition, it is quite reasonable to think one could live off $1,000 per month. But cost isn’t everything. There are many cheaper places to live in the world but I have hard time imagining a place that can match the quality of life here at a similar cost of living. Please let me know if you’ve found it.