You've heard about Medellín. Most likely because you've watched the show Narcos. Contrary to what you may believe, Medellín is quite different from what you think and definitely from the drug filled days of the 1980's. Medellín is a safe city that is filled with beautiful people (and gorgeous women...seriously - the women in the city are a different species all together) that is on the rise. In 2013 Medellin was named the most progressive city in the world, it's no surprise why. There are museums, galleries, great restaurants, botanical gardens and more...but I'm here to tell you about all the other great reasons you should visit Medellín. But, before you go, you'll need to read through my Medellin Travel Tips. They will keep you safe and make it so you enjoy Colombian and not Gringo pricing.
Medellin Travel Tips
Medellin is the City of Eternal Spring
Although it is also called the City of the Mountain and the City of Flowers; its most accurate moniker is the one above. The average weather is 72°F. Yup, a beautiful mild 72°F. There's almost no humidity, and if it does get to the 80's, simply take a short rest under a tree to regulate your temperature. It gets a little chillier at night, so simply change from a dress to dress pants and a light sweater. It rains, but ,for the most part, the rain leaves as quickly as it comes. So all year round you should expect to be able to wear shorts, DON'T (more on that later) and short sleeve shirts.
Another nice thing about Medellín is how varied it is. You can be in Envigado and meet the locals, or you can go to
Gringolandia Poblado and meet plenty of expats. If you want to go hiking, it's just 20 minutes away. You can be in the middle of things one day, and in complete isolation the next. I prefer the first, but you make the choice.
Why visit Medellín?
Medellín is Cheap
At least it is if you're coming from the US or Europe. To compare this to my life in NYC:
Cost of Eating Out in Medellín
Main Course at fancy restaurant on the Park: I picked parks because I wanted to give a pretty similar experience. These restaurants offer an incredible setting, and are quite popular. I took these prices off the lunch menus to keep things fair.
- NYC - Loeb Boat House - Appetizer $12USD, Main Course $25USD, Dessert $10-15USD TOTAL=$47 minimum
- Medellin - In Situ: Appetizer $6USD, Main Course $11USD, Dessert $6USD
**I will add that I think the food at In Situ is better than the Boathouse (Boathouse is just tourist crap).
That being said, you won't be eating at fancy restaurants all the time. You'll probably just pick a local place (we had ours in Envigado - La Sazon de Martica - so good). The way to go here is the executivo. This is Medellín's version of the Prix Fixe lunch. For us, that usually meant soup (a big one), followed by a
plate platter of rice, beans, meat or chicken, salad, plantains, AND a freshly made fruit juice. This set us back about $10 for two people...and you will have leftovers.
Medellín is not as cheap as say Southeast Asia, but then again, the flight from the US is much shorter, the city is pretty darn safe, there aren't too many beggars (unless you go to Hamsterdam near the centro), and public transport works. It just feels much better than Southeast Asia, at least to me. Could be I am biased since I am Colombian born, but I like it there.
Cost of Groceries in Medellín
I used to shop at Whole
Paycheck Foods. Then I found Trader Joe's and that became my favorite market. Just to give you an idea for about $2USD, I'd get a whole basket of fruits for about $3USD. In NYC I've paid $5USD for an apple.
Supermarkets in Medellín
Carulla: It's like a Whole Foods. Probably the best choice of food, but you will pay a bit more.
Exito: Same company as the SIM card. It's like a Walmart.
Jumbo: Also like a Walmart. Cheap stuff.
Farmer's Market: It's on Sunday mornings in Parque de la Presidentia. You will save so much money here and it is the best place to get veggies.
Plaza Minorista: Go, but watch your purse and "no des papaya".
As a New Yorker, I'm spoiled by food delivery. While there is no Seamless, Delivery, PostMates, or Plated in Medellín, you do have Domicilios. It works pretty similar to a Seamless. You go on the site, place your order, and it gets delivered. Not all restaurants take credit card payments, so you need to have cash (which is pretty inconvenient) and you need to have exact change. So that needs to change. Also, the choices for delivery are crap...so while it is sufficient, this can certainly improve.
You do have another option. People are willing to pick up and drop off food. You just need to ask around your local places to find out who offers delivery via "Domicilio". Places to inquire are your pharmacy, cleaner, or local restaurant.
Housing is Cheap in Medellín
Cost of Long Term Renting in Medellín
If you do a yearly rental, you can probably get a nice 2 bedroom in a luxury building with a deck for around $700-1,000USD per month. To compare, a 2 bedroom in New York City in a similar building will cost you between $4,500 to $10,000 depending on location.
Cost of Short Term Rentals in Medellín
If you're visiting Medellín, chances are you'll either stay in a hotel, airbnb, or short term rental. Here's the breakdown on those prices:
- The Charlee Hotel: This is the swankiest hotel in town. Rooms will cost you between $200-400 USD nightly. Total waste of money because of the other options. This is more set for the tourist who just want to not think about things like laundry, getting keys, etc.
- Airbnb: This is one of the flats I rented for a month. I got a nice discount as well and the building had a gym, pool, and 24 hour doorman. It was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath with an incredible view in Poblado. This flat cost us under $89USD per night. Keep in mind that when renting on a site like Airbnb, you can save money on cooking, laundry, etc...
- Purple Monkey Hostel: Gotta preface, I don't do hostels, but this one is located in Poblado and highly rated. This will cost you $12USD per night. Great if you want to meet other travelers.
I can't speak for the hotel or the hostel, but I can speak for the two Airbnb flats that we rented. One was in a 5 story building in Envigado, the other was in a high rise in Poblado near El Tesoro mall.
Envigado: We had a three story penthouse. It was a 3 bedroom, 3 bath with a gorgeous deck. We'd go up at night, have a glass of wine and watch the mountains from the valley. It was lovely outside of two issues: loud music coming from the bars below (and don't get me started on the Christmas holiday - under no circumstances are you to stay in Envigado during Christmas/New Years - trust me), and water pressure issues. Apparently there's an issue with the city that if you are more than 3 storeys up, they don't guarantee water...which is why I recommend you go with a luxury rental like the one below.
Poblado: 30th floor, 2 bedroom, 2 bath with an incredible view. The flat had a pool, gym, 24 hour doormen...really kinda perfect. We stayed near the El Tesoro mall...this was a bit isolated, and while cab rides were really cheap, next time we plan to stay in Poblado proper next to Parque Lleras. I'll update the post once we do.
Transportation is good AND cheap in Medellín
Taxis: I would not dream of driving in Medellín. The hills scare the crap out of me, besides, taxis are dirt cheap. $5 will get you from Engivado to Poblado. Within Medellín proper, It's about $2 to go from a-b. You can also use Tappsi to call your cab or pick up an Uber (but that service is very expensive in Medellín). There is also the app Easy Taxi or Tappsi which will call a yellow cab for you. These cabs are the typical cabs. So expect small hatchbacks only good for 2-peoples' luggage.
Subway: There is also the Metro...however, it's not like NYC or Paris where the metro is everywhere. The metro is a destination in Medellin. It's out of the way, IMHO inconvenient. That being said, stop being lazy like me and take the metro. I took it, didn't get robbed, and it was fast. On hot days, it can get a little uncomfortable temperature wise, but like I said...it's cheap. If you're just going to see the major sites, they have an awesome guide on how to see them all via metro.
Gorgeous Women (the men...well)
I'm a lady...and I will tell you, there are no women more beautiful than women in Medellín. Imagine being in a city where every woman looks like Sofia Vergara, but prettier. This is Medellín. If I was a single man, I'd be in Medellín. If I was a lesbian, I'd be in Medellín. I'm a reasonably attractive woman, and I will admit that it was freaking annoying. Not only are the women beautiful, they are also perfectly fit. These women are engineered and even the most confident woman will begin to feel somewhat inadequate here. To their defense, most of them were incredibly nice. Damn it, I would have liked to be in a room with average looking women once in a while (I better hit the gym and step up my game before my next visit). Antonio had no complaints about this phenomenon.
To the men. I'm taken, so this is not an issue for me, but the men in Medellín are nothing like Italian or Brazilian men. The standard dress code is khakis and a polo. Under the polo is a soft belly. Did I mention mullets? Mullets are very popular in Medellín and the surrounding area. Sometimes there is a mullet-mohawk combination. Here's a PSA to Paisa men, that crap went out of style about 30 years ago, just shave your head, you will look better. The local men here don't have to try since there are so many gorgeous women all around. Granted, I'm not looking, but I would enjoy a little eye candy. Expats don't have to try either. They're expats and have money. This makes them prime meat. So, if you're a single straight lady you may have a hard time in Medellín.
Love to dance? You're in the right place (only Cali can beat Medellín in this area). Because Paisas are so friendly, you're pretty much guaranteed a good time no matter where you go. Paisas (on the most part) are friendly, love meeting people, and want to have fun. For Paisas the rule is the more the merrier.
You can also pick up a few beers and head over to Parque Lleras and people watch. This was a favorite of ours.
In some neighborhoods, people will bring their dining room table, chairs, and stereo out into the streets. This becomes an instant party and you're welcome to join. This can be good or bad...so beware.
Medellín is pretty Safe
If you are in Poblado, Laureles, or Envigado, you'll have no safety issues. I am a old woman and had no issues walking around in these neighborhoods. Antonio and I even tested going out with our Apple Watches and never had an issue (warning - this is called "dando papaya". This is not recommended. "No dar papaya" is the law of the land, but I gotta tell you, we had to test this out. No issues in any of the known safe neighborhoods.
However, the centro is another story. I did not feel safe going there alone during the day. Even to the plaza by the museum. Catching a taxi was a hastle and I would not recommend it. There is an area next to the highway near the centro that is pretty much just like Hamsterdam in the wire. People there are sad looking, drugged up...kinda looks like a Zombie invasion. Medellín politicians, if you are reading this - get on this. Those people need help and they are making your city look bad. Outside of the three areas mentioned above, I would recommend that you execute caution. Don't strut your stuff, don't walk around with jewelry or smart phones. Other than that, you'll be perfectly fine.
The Time Zone
I do a lot of Europe travel and the time zone difference sucks. Most of our users for Socialdraft are in the US (although we are gaining grounds in Europe), it is so nice to not be jet lagged and to be able to work regular hours. This is a BIG plus for me.
Live Like Royalty on a Budget
One of our places came with Cata. Cata is awesome. I want Cata to work for me forever. I miss Cata. Cata was our "cleaning lady", but she was so much more than that. Cata made sure the house was clean (she even gave personal attention to the plants). Cata did our food shopping, she helped us arrange things. Cata took care of the household. Cata did not cook, but recommended a cook that could take care of the cooking for us. Cata charged $17 USD. I miss Cata. I plan to hire Cata full time and pay her way more than that so she can work for me full time. I miss you Cata!
Young People Speak English
I have an unfair advantage. I was born in Colombia, so I speak fairly decent Spanish. That being said, locals automatically knew I was a "gringa". Paisas have a very specific accent and can tell a foreigner in seconds. However, Colombians have a love for the US (many of us have family in the US) and most will have some knowledge of English. Learn some and you will not only earn brownie points from locals, you will make your life so much easier with older Paisas who probably don't know much English. You can start off on Memrise (yup - they have a Colombian Spanish course), or take a class when you get there. there will be plenty of choices and the most you will pay will be around $100 USD per month. In case you are going, the above video will give you some nice basics to get you started. Here are some highlights she mentioned along with a few more of my extras:
Claro que si: This means "of course". This is not just a Paisa phrase. My mom is from Cali and this is probably her favorite expression. She almost sings is. Paisas will too.
Eso: The word translates to“that”, but in Colombian Spanish it means "yes".
Guevon: Guevos are balls (like huevos are eggs..you get the gist). If you speak with someone who is not in the room and you call him/her a Guevon/a you're calling them a ball sack. If you were to greet a friend with "Hola Guevon" you're good to go.
Jueputa: A shortened form of "hijo de puta" (son of a bitch). You stub your toe, you scream Jueputa. Someone robs you, Jueputa. Someone calls you a Jueputa, you throw down.
Parce: Buddy. This means this is a good friend.
Pues: I'm torn on this. Ever since I was little my family made fun of Paisas (all Colombian regions make fun of one another - there's nothing truly malicious here) by adding "pues" to phrases. I hardly heard it in Envigado or Medellin in the two months I spent there. That being said, you may hear it a lot. Take it as the "like" of Valley girls. It's there to solidify the fact that the person speaking is Paisa.
Que mas: Literally it means “what else”. It really means "what’s up?” in English.
When you book your hotel/airbnb/rental, ask what type of connection they offer. There's no "fast" internet in Medellín, but it will be sufficient for your needs. It's also nice that a lot of public places like restaurants and malls offer free wifi. Just ask. This is especially important for the next part of this conversation - smart phones.
There are multiple providers and they all suck. When you first get your SIM card, make sure that you've turned off cellular data and that your apps are not set to refresh on cellular. This can drain your credits in a day or two. Once you've turned off all the apps from cellular, and turned off location services. Otherwise you will find yourself purchasing a recarga very soon.
Go to any of the above and buy a SIM card. Then you can add data. You don't need minutes, just make sure you have either Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp and you'll be good to go.
How to Make Calls in Medellín
A weird thing I was told about Medellin is that a land line can only call a landline and a cell can only call a cell. Don't ask me why...on a good note, Skype seems to work for both.
If calling a landline from your cell, type 034 before the number from your cell. If you are calling from a landline to a landline, you don't need to add the 034.
How to Get to Medellín
You'll be flying into JMC airport, the tiny one in the city is private. It will take you around 45 minutes to an hour to get to Medellin proper in a taxi.
When you exit customs, you will be in the area where people meet each other. If you want an Uber, there is a tourist booth on the left. They have Wifi, so ask if you can use it if you want a nicer drive than a cab.
The cost will be about 65,000 pesos ($22USD) if you take the yellow taxi and 80,000 ($27USD) if you take the white ones. It's a flat rate and you don't need to tip, although the drivers do appreciate it. In case this changes by the time you read this, the price will be on the front windshield of your cab - look for "Aeropuerto JMC".
If you have no cash, look for an ATM, there are a few.
Shopping in Medellín
My favorite place to shop was Envigado. Medellín has some amazing boutiques and most of the really good ones will be here. You can get custom clothing for very cheap. Go and explore...but if you're not in the mood to explore and you want things to be a bit easier, hit up the mall. This is where most Paisas go.
Santa Fe: When my brother, his wife and my niece came to visit from Bogota, this was the first place they wanted to go. It's brand new, modern and there was an ice rink (we went ice skating). You'll find the Gap, the Limited, you get the idea.
Rio Sur: I was told this is where you go for nightlife. I say meh. Stay in Poblado. That being said, there was a really good Spanish (as in Spain) restaurant on the first floor. I was not a fan of this mall.
Oviedo: Walk across the highway from Rio Sur. I was surprised at how big this mall was and at how much it had to offer. Liked it way better than Rio Sur.
El Tesoro: Another really good mall (the Jersey girl in me loved it). Tons of restaurants (check out Cuzco and the incredibly hard to find Etero - neither is in El Tesoro, but they are within walking distance & worth it). Lots of great stores (both American and Colombian, and they had a snow globe thing (my niece loved it - I hated it, but I hate the cold).
Nightlife in Medellín
I need to preface this by letting you know the drinking age in Colombia is 18 years old, so in a good number of the clubs, you will see very young people (and some high schoolers will sneak in). I prefer an older crowd (since I am nowhere near that age) but I do love to dance. Start your night off at dinner, then head off to Parque Lleras (aka - Gringolandia). This is where you will find most of the nightlife spots. Yes, there are a lot of Americans there, but locals are a plenty. Like I mentioned before, grab a six pack, pick a spot on the park and people watch while you enjoy your crappy Colombian beer (Colombian beer sucks). When you get bored of this, you can head out to clubs and restaurants.
Babylon: Cra. 41 #922 - Poblado. It's busiest night is on Thursdays and they are open until 4am. Get some rest before you go. This place is a little more expensive than most, so the crowd tends to be a little bit older (not old, but older).
Bendito Seas: Cl 10A #3821 - Poblado. This place is known for its Thursday night Ladies. Great spot if you're a single guy.
Good view of the city, great date spot for drinks. There’s 4-5 other clubs here as well.
La Ruana de Juana: Cl. 10 #41-75 - Poblado. This place doesn't get going until about midnight, but if you get there early you can claim a table. There are some decent deals (like 2 for 1 bottles) some of the time.
Rio Sur Mall: Poblado - This mall was meh for the most part, but there are some great discos on the top floor, including Kukaramakara. The crowd here will be wealthier than that at most places as will that over at Delaire Skylounge, this is a nice rooftop where you can grab a drink and enjoy beautiful views of the city. Sixtina also has some great DJ's.
La 33: Laureles. This is a pretty main street in the Laureles area. There are tons of bars and clubs, but these will have more of a Colombian spirit than those in Poblado. They are also cheaper.
La 70: Laureles. This is another street full of nightlife in the Laureles neighborhood. I liked this one a bit more, since the crowd is older.
Things to Do in Medellín
Take a Dance Class: While Medellín is not a "Cali Pachanguero", it's still a great place to learn to dance (and it's cheap).
La Piedra Del Peñol at Guatapé: This is a trip outside of the city. There is a big rock that you climb. Your reward is an incredible view. Once you're done with that, you can eat some yummy food, go ziplining, and do watersports in the lakes.
Hop on the Metro-Cable: Great views and just a fun thing to do.
Check Out Plaza Botero: If you know a few things about Medellín, you probably know Fernando Botero. He's the guy that paints and sculpts those lovely rubenesque (pleasantly plump) figures. His artwork can be seen all over the world, but this Medellín born artist donated a bunch of statues to the city which can be seen at the Plaza. When you're done, go to the Museo de Antioquia where you can see a lot more of his art. One note, go during the day, the area is sketchy at night.
Check Out Ciudad del Rio
I say this is like the Long Island City of Medellin. A residential area, that is usually inhabited, but check out the Modern Art Museum, it has tons of pieces from Arango, an artist you should definitely get to know. On weekends, you can check out the park and see all the crazy kids who don't care about their bones doing tricks on their bikes. It's not the most lively area, but if you grab a glass of wine at the cafe in front of the museum, it makes for some good people watching. Also, make resos at night to go to Bonuar. One of my favorite restaurants in the city.
These are awesome. When you drive there the first time you may be put off by the area right outside. It's not the prettiest, but once you walk into the gardens, you're in heaven. It's huge and there are samples of almost every plant you can find in the area. There is even a butterfly house. There are a few restaurants to eat in, but where you want to eat is In Situ. We went there at least 4 times for lunch. The food is great and as mentioned before, it is quite affordable if you're coming in from a city like NYC.
I used my niece as an excuse to go here, but you don't need one. It's an awesome science center for kids with a HUGE aquarium. They do some really cool 3-d movies, and there are tons of cool things to play with while there. Make sure to wash your hands, kids means germs. The last thing you want is to catch a Colombian cold.
Medellin is a magical functioning city that has some small issues but if you are visiting as a tourist, digital nomad or just traveling it is great. The people are easy to connect with, though you will need Spanish unless you are in Poblado. The history of violence that plagued the city and Colombia in general has disappeared. You may see a few people smoking or a few old men with younger girls but that is almost cleaned up.
Imagine the views from one of the mountains,with a Club Colombia in your hands, you will see the mist rise in the distance and think "this moments". You will remember it forever and your travels through the "City of Eternal Spring".