Medellin, Colombia Review

This is my third time visiting Medellin, Colombia and collectively I’ve spent a total of 10 months in the city of eternal spring. I’ve gotten to know the city pretty well at this point and will give a quick overview of what the city is like for expats and digital nomads alike.

Medellin, Colombia is probably the most popular Colombian city for foreigners to visit. The weather is the best I’ve ever experienced (it has a spring like weather all year round, thus its nickname, “city of eternal spring”), it’s surrounded by mountains which gives the city a unique look, it’s cheap and affordable, has solid infrastructure, and for men the women are gorgeous.

Visas

I’m a US citizen so this section will be written from perspective of US citizens. If you’re not from the USA, check out http://www.visahq.com/ to see how visas will work out for you.

If you’re a US citizen and you’re looking to visit Colombia, you can simply visit on a tourist visa. You can stay in Colombia  for 180 days total (6 months) per calendar year. When you land, you’ll be given a visa for 3 months which you can then extend after your 3 months are up. To extend your tourist visa, all you have to do is either leave the country and re-enter (Panama is popular for this) or go to the immigration office and pay around $30 for the extension.

Speaking of, if you want to stay in Colombia for an entire year on a tourist visa, you can come here in June, stay for 6 months, and then stay for another 6 months starting from January to June since your visa limit will reset in January.

If you’re looking to stay even longer, there are other options as well like the student visa, investor visa, business visa, and etc.

Apartments and Lodging

Most foreigners tend to utilize services such as Airbnb to find temporary lodging. Apartments and rooms are plentiful on Airbnb but you’ll be paying the gringo-tax. A room in a decent neighborhood will cost you somewhere around $300 – $500 per month and an entire furnished apartment will cost you $1,000 per month and up if you go the Airbnb route.

If you’re going to be staying here for a few months, and you want to save money, it’s probably best if you book an Airbnb or a hostel for the first few days and then try to rent locally. There are two ways to rent locally.

The first way is to rent from a local. If you rent an unfurnished apartment, the rents for a 3 bedroom apartment will cost you around $500 per month – $800 per month, depending on the neighborhood and how upscale of an apartment you want. However, you would need to furnish the place (which isn’t ideal if you’ll only be staying for a few months), set up utilities, and such. Also, you’ll need to rent for an entire year rather than month to month. However, if you’re looking to stay in Medellin long term, this is probably the ideal way to go since it’ll be more economical.

Second way is rent furnished apartments. You can either find foreign rental agencies that cater to foreigners or you can find Colombian rental agencies that will also rent out furnished apartments at affordable prices. Generally speaking, you want to rental agencies that cater to foreigners since they’re more expensive. If you deal with Colombian rental agencies, the prices will be much cheaper. I didn’t end up renting a place, but I found great deals for 3 bedroom apartments in nice neighborhoods like Laureles that was fully furnished at around $800 per month on a month to month basis. The only inconvenience of dealing with Colombian rental agencies is that you’ll need to speak Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, try asking a local or a fellow expat to help you out. http://monopolioinmobiliario.co is one such Colombian rental agency.

Third option is to go to local hotels and ask for monthly rates. Many locally owned hotels have empty rooms that they’re happy to rent out at a monthly rate. I’m staying in one right now and it’s costing me $1.2 million Colombian pesos per month, which is around $400 USD at the time of this writing, for a unit with 2 rooms, bathroom and a kitchen. I find it to be a good deal.

Fourth option is to go to a coffee shop where a lot of foreigners hang out and ask around. A lot of information on short rentals are passed around by word-of-mouth. So you can find some gems if you simply ask around.

Internet

You’ll be able to get 10mb/s down in most places. The fastest speed I’ve seen is 20mb/s, which is fast enough for most things. I do software development for a living, so that is plenty fast for me.

The fastest internet speeds will generally be available in co-working spaces and high end AirBnB places. Also, most foreigner owned cafes have speedy wifi if you want to work somewhere public.

Neighborhoods

During my time in Medellin, I spent a majority of my time and lived in three neighborhoods.

  1. Poblado – This is the most upscale neighbhorhood in Medellin. It’s very touristy with lots of foreigner-friendly restaurants with great options for nightlife if that’s your thing. It’s also the most expensive.
  2. Laureles – I lived and spent the majority of my time in this neighborhood. It has a more traditional Colombian feel. There are still great options for dining out and nightlife, and the neighborhood is centrally located in the city, which makes it easy to get around Medellin.
  3. Envigado – I lived in Envigado for 3 months, mostly due to learning Spanish. I lived in Laureles for the first 2 months but found that it wasn’t conducive to learning Spanish due to the sheer amount of foreigners in the area. Envigado has a more “family” feel to the neighborhood and way more Colombian feel to it than both Poblado and Laureles. Also, at the time I was living there, there weren’t as many foreigners, so living here was more conducive to learning Spanish than either Laureles or Poblado.

Food

Below is a picture of Bandeja Paisa, a traditional Paisa/Colombian food.

I’ll straight up say it. I don’t like Colombian food. It’s bland, almost everything is fried, and it feels like all Colombians eat are rice, beans, plantains, and meat (chicken, beef, or pork). Sometimes I feel sorry for the people who have to grow up in this country eating such bland food.

After a few months, you do get used to it, and you do appreciate the quantity of food you get for such low prices (the above meal would probably cost around $3 USD), but still it does get boring after awhile.

Even the foreign options aren’t that great. For example, if you go get sushi, you’ll get Colombian version of sushi, which is just rice filled with cheese and fried fish. SUSHI IS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE CHEESE DAMN IT!!!

Fruits here are amazing. I find the pineapples in Colombia to be juicier and more filled with flavor than the ones we eat back in the United States. Also, eating healthy is really cheap if you don’t mind cooking. You can buy a ton of vegetables and natural foods for a few dollars, enough to last you a week.

At any rate, the food is average at best. On the bright side though, it’s super cheap.

Language

If you want to truly enjoy Colombia, or Latin America in general, you’ll have to speak decent Spanish. I did not speak any Spanish at all for the first two months when I first arrived and frankly put in zero effort into learning the language. It was only after a trip to the hospital (traveler’s diarrhea) that I thought “hmm, maybe I should learn this language so that I can at least communicate my thoughts).

Once I learned enough Spanish to be conversationally fluent, I suddenly found myself enjoying living in Medellin more. I could understand what I was ordering in restaurants, I could talk to people about interesting topics, I could go on dates and have normal conversations, and etc.

So with that said, if you truly want to enjoy Medellin, I recommend learning Spanish. And I don’t mean half assing it with apps like Duolingo. I mean taking intensive classes for a few months to bring your Spanish up to at least a conversationally fluent level. Once your Spanish improves, you’ll enjoy Medellin immensely more.

Travel within Antioquia

For those of you who don’t know, Medellin is the capital of Antioquia. And Antioquia is kind of like one of the States like Virginia in the United States. If you’re going to stay in Medellin for a few months, I highly recommend traveling within Antioquia.

I’m one of those people who don’t really like nature. I prefer cities, sleeping in a comfortable bed, and etc. But even I have to admit, Antioquia is beautiful and is worth exploring the pueblos (little villages) that surround Medellin.

Some examples of pueblos include Guatape, Jardin, Santa Fe, and the likes. Just to show you a picture of Jardin (my favorite), one of the pueblos that’s 3 hours bus ride from Medellin…

With all that said…

If you’re a nomadic individual and is looking to visit South America for a few months, Medellin, Colombia is one of the best options out there. I haven’t been to every country in South America (yet), but so far I’ve been to Mexico, Peru, and Colombia, and I think for long term stay, Medellin is the best city I’ve been to in South America.

Feel free to contact me or leave any comments if you have any questions. I’d be happy to answer them.

About the Author Chris Jeon

Software developer currently focusing on Android development.