Thoughts on Medellín, Colombia as a Long-Term Travel Destination

Rooftop bar of Charlee Hotel, Poblado, Medellín, Colombia

Recently, my wife and I went to Medellín, Colombia (it’s Colombia, not Columbia) for eight days. When we were in Puerto Vallarta and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, we’d heard from other travelers that Medellín was a great place to visit. After sweating through our 2 1/2 summer months in Mexico, we were interested in places that were a) larger, and b) with better weather while still being Spanish speaking and offering cost arbitrage.

Medellín seemed to fit the bill. It is known as the City of Eternal Spring, and the weather is truly fantastic. While we were there, the highs ranged from 75-79 degrees Fahrenheit and the lows were generally in the low 60s. It did rain every day, and we did get caught out in quite the frog strangler (yes, I am from Georgia originally).

That’s normally a light gray t-shirt

According to Numbeo, the cost of living in Medellín, Colombia is about 69% cheaper than the cost of living in Fort Worth, Texas. We decided to check it out.

We stayed at the OBO Hotel in Laureles, which offered free breakfast as well as menu del día offerings – soup, a main meat like pork, salad, and rice – for about $3.75 per person. The rooms were a little small, but the hotel was in a good location right on the northeast end of Laureles about a 7 minute walk to the metro station and a 12 minute walk to the stadium where Atlético Nacional play their home matches. Their staff was amazingly friendly (the woman who served us at breakfast most days hugged both of us when we left after our stay). The price was $38.09 per night, and we felt like that was a very reasonable price.

We have discovered during our travels (this makes our fifth Latin American city that we’ve checked out) that the approach that works best for us is to stage exploration into three phases. We’ve yet to achieve a phase 3 in any city. We’ll keep trying.

The three phases are:

  1. Check out a city for a week. This is to get the lay of the land and determine two things: 1) do we want to stay for a month, and b) if so, where exactly do we want to stay. We will usually stay in a hotel for this phase.
  2. Check out a city for a month. This is to verify that we really like the city and would want to live there. We’ve said that we want to be in the city during the worst weather, because if we like it during the worst weather, we’ll like it during the best weather. This is when we will stay in an AirBnB because we want to actually live more like locals, go to the grocery store, do our laundry, set up the TRX (#aff), meet the neighbors, etc. We like to do this for a month because it takes a while to adjust to a new place and learn all the ins and out, and, as we learned from our friends at EarthVagabonds, lots of AirBnBs offer significant monthly discounts.
  3. Stay in the city for much longer. This is where we’d spend months in a city. Again, we’d probably go the AirBnB route, as we don’t want to deal with having signatories, without having an intermediary, etc. Yes, we’ll pay more, but sometimes, you pay more to buy peace of mind.

We’ve also discovered that we want cities that are bigger because we want to have things to do every day. When the highlight of the day is going to a restaurant for breakfast and then another restaurant for an early dinner and meeting friends for drinks, and that’s the same highlight every day, then it gets old pretty quickly. We’re also not beach people. I know the dream of some people (Doug Nordman, I’m looking at you) is to surf all day every day for the rest of their lives, but that’s just not where we are. After all, my lowest grade at West Point was plebe drowning swimming.

Having done our research (Desktop to Dirtbag has some excellent neighborhood guides for Medellín), we decided to stay in the Laureles neighborhood because, after having experienced the 20.3% incline to get back to our apartment in Puerto Vallarta, the hills of the Poblado neighborhood seemed daunting. In reality, they weren’t, but we did not know this a priori.

We spent our first couple of days wandering around Laureles, including visiting the Baselang Spanish school, where I am a student (#aff). As an aside, I am continuing to learn Spanish, and I’ve been very happy with their online offering. The physical school in Medellín is quite pretty, and if you want to go to school there, I think you’d be quite happy. More on this in a bit.

At the school, one of the people recommended that we check out Comuna 13, which was the neighborhood where Pablo Escobar was killed. We took a guided tour in Spanish from a wonderful guide. If you want to connect, please contact me, since I don’t want to put someone’s WhatsApp number all over the Internet to get spammed. We had a great time there. The neighborhood is nothing like what it was back when Escobar was alive. When we were there, the mayor had come to make an announcement about additional investment to improve infrastructure further out into the outer reaches of the Comuna. That said, only go during the day, and, if you want to truly understand what life is like and what life was like, go with a guide. It is very easy to reach by Metro.

One of my Baselang teachers lives in Centro in Medellín, so we decided to meet her and her husband for dinner one evening. They were very sweet people. She is from Venezuela and he is from Colombia, so it was interesting to get their perspectives on life in Colombia as well as how Colombians treat Venezuelans. Colombia has a lot of immigrants from Venezuela trying to escape the political situation there, and many of them come with very little, so they wind up begging or busking on the streets outside of restaurants. If you go, be prepared to be approached 3-4 times during your meal by people on the sidewalks either trying to sell you some small trinket or candy or begging for money.

They offered to meet us again the next day in a suburb of Medellín – well, it used to be a suburb, but now it’s a very large neighorhood – called Envigado. Their daughter had an orthodontist appointment, and they wanted us to meet their cute kids. Since we don’t have kids, kids have to be really cute for me to call them cute. These kids qualified.

We met at a mall.

I’m not normally a mall person. I hearken back to my middle and high school days, cruising Town Center Mall in Kennesaw, Georgia. High times.

The Viva Centro Commercial in Envigado is not what you’d think of as a mall.

Sure, the first three floors look very mall-like. They have department stores and boutique stores.

Then you get to the top two floors.

Yes, that’s live music from a bar where my wife had what she claims is the best gin and tonic she’s ever drank.

But wait! There’s more!

Go one floor up to find…

Yes, there were beach volleyball and futsal courts along with several more bars and restaurants.

This was a place where families and young people would go hang out for social events and outings. I would totally meet my friends here for a few hours.

There’s also an amusement park…inside the mall!

If anyone from the Simon Property Group wants to hire a consultant to figure out how to make malls in the U.S. work, they should grab whomever did this mall.

My buddy Gustavo, who is from Bogota, gave us some suggestions on what to do in Medellín. One of them was to visit the Museo de Antioquia in Centro, which has a lot of art from Fernando Botero and sits in front of Botero Plaza, where many of his statues are located.

We took the Metro (which seemed fairly safe to us, as we rode it several times without issue); however, Google Maps had us get off at the San Antonio stop and walk the remainder of the way, which put us through an extremely crowded section with some vendors and a lot of beggars. Given that our guide from Comuna 13 had told us to take care walking around Centro, our antennae were up. We didn’t have any problems aside from a couple of particularly aggressive beggars, but I would most certainly, no questions asked, not go there at night. The museum was very nice. I was unaware of Botero, and really enjoyed his art.

We also had a wonderful coffee at El Laboratorio de Café – probably one of the best lattes I’ve ever had, before departing through Plaza Botero to the Parque Berrío station, which was a much less harrowing experience.

Pro tip: if you want to take the Metro to Plaza Botero and the Museo de Antioquia (and you should), get off at the Parque Berrío station!

Having enjoyed our time at the Viva in Envigado and having read a great guide to Envigado from the same author of the Laureles guide, we decided to go check out Envigado. It was Halloween, and costumes were out in force, including on pets.

The police were even getting in on the action, making balloon animals for the kids.

We escaped the rain by having coffee in the Café de Otraparte, and once the rain was done, we explored a little more.

Envigado was the most pleasant, relaxed area of Medellín that we visited, and were we to come back for a longer trip, we’d definitely consider staying here.

Finally, upon the recommendation of our friend Gustavo, we went to Poblado and ate lunch at Elcielo restaurant. It’s a very high end experience and was WELL worth the money.

The exchange rate when we were there was roughly 4,000 Colombian pesos to the dollar.

After we saw the bill, the wait staff tried to soothe us with whisky.

In reality, the first bill was edible. This was the real bill.

After that, we wandered around Poblado for a while. We walked through three pretty parks. However, again, having heard warnings from locals about being out at night, we decided to go to the rooftop bar of The Charlee Hotel for a sundowner and some awesome 80s and 90s music.

There was a lot to like about Medellín. It was clean. It was beautiful. The weather was nice. Everyone we met was exceptionally friendly and hospitable. The price is right (more in a minute).

However, the constant warnings from locals about security weighed on our minds. Murders are rare unless you go looking for trouble. However, robbery, muggings, and pickpocketing are not rare. Yes, we’re savvy travelers, so we’re generally wise enough to avoid situations where we’re going to run into those situations. We returned with phones, credit cards, and passports in tact. That said, we weren’t always relaxed. It was a little stressful walking around some places. That’s not really how we want to live our days.

In a couple of years, if the personal crimes continue to go down, then we’d return to try again and see what we think. However, until then, we’re going to give it a pass.

If you thrive on chaos and are pretty street smart, then Medellín might be a place for you. Let’s see how much it cost.

Estimated Costs of Living in Medellín, Colombia

Our total cost for 8 days in Medellín, Colombia was $1,229.17. That included a $329.53 bill at Elcielo, which was quite a splurge (and worth it) and excluded the two meals that bought for my teacher’s family. We normally would not splurge like Elcielo every 8 days, but let’s budget a once in a month splurge like that. We also checked out AirBnBs in neighborhoods where we’d want to live, and there were some good ones available for about the cost of our hotel in Laureles, so we’ll consider that a wash.

Total Monthly Cost for 2 People: $3,870.50

Lodging: $1,158.49

Daily Living Expenses: $2,712.01

Remember, we ate out every day, but breakfast was included in our hotel. You might want to add $100 per person for breakfasts.

So, Medellín is a pass for us, but not a hard pass. We may return one day to see how things have changed.

Have you been to Medellín? What did you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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Jason Hull was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business. He held a CFP certification from 2015 - 2021. You can read more about him in the About Page. If you live in Johnson County, Texas or the surrounding areas, he and his wife are cash buyers of Johnson County, Texas houses.

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