For years I wanted to visit Medellin. I had heard so much about this city. January 2014 the day had finally arrived, as I touched down at José María Córdova International Airport with a few friends.
The following month I discovered what all the talk was about. Superb climate, stunning scenery, beautiful women, delicious food and fresh mountain air. What else can you wish for?
I was pleasantly surprised with the city. Medellin is often thought of as undeveloped and dangerous, a label that it is stuck with due to its turbulent past. I found this to be a misconception. Although there are some rough areas, most of the city is completely fine to visit and during my stay I never felt unsafe. The city also has a cosmopolitan feel to it, with modern avenues and large shopping malls.
Although Medellin wouldn't be on the top of my list of destinations to go to for a short holiday, I do rate it very highly as a city to camp out for a while. Here's why.
1 - Perfect Climate
Medellin is often called "the city of eternal spring." Its proximity to the equator and altitude of about 5000 ft result in an extremely stable and pleasant climate. With daily highs of around 80F (26C) and a refreshing mountain breeze present most of the days, it's warm enough to walk around in shorts and flip-flops while not needing an AC. At night, the temperature typically drops to around 60 F (15C), a very comfortable temperature for a good night of sleep.
2 - The Mountains
Medellin is situated in the Aburrá Valley, one of the most northernly of the Andes Mountains in South America. The city is surrounded by mountains, providing spectacular views of the city and nice fresh mountain air. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of look-outs around the city and numerous places to enjoy a stunning sunset.
Much of the city is build on the slopes of its surrounding mountains, making some parts almost impossible to reach by motorized transport. To connect these parts with the city, a gondola lift systems has been built. The Medellin Metro Cable system, as it's called, consists of three lines and carries 30,000 people per day. For visitors, it's a popular attraction as the views from the cable cars are spectacular.
3 - Cost of living
According to the Numbeo cost-of-living index, cost of living in Medellin is about half of that in New York. This puts it roughly in the same category as a typical eastern-european or Asian city, such as Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Kiev and Sofia. Medellin expert David Lee estimates his total monthly expenses at about $1500. Mind you, that includes living in one of the best areas in the city and eating out on a regular base.
4 - The People
Medellin is located in the "Paisa" region and the locals are called paísas. They are known for being very warm and welcoming to foreigners and when you visit Medellin you will notice this very quickly. Although people adopt to a “tranquilo” style of living, they are definitely not lazy. Paisas are known for their entrepreneurial spirit and it's not a surprise that Medellin was voted most innovative city in the world.
Medellin is often mentioned as a city with extremely good-looking women. One thing is for sure: the women in Medellin definitely pay attention to their appearance and will always try to look their best. Colombian society seems to dictate that female beauty in large part corresponds to a curvy figure. As a consequence, cosmetic surgery is quite popular and Colombia ranks number five in the world for physical adjustments. Liposuction, breast enlargement and butt-implants are the most popular procedures. The combination of these factors result in an above-average number of attractive, feminine looking women walking on the streets, specially in the Poblado area. This is nice for the single male visitors (and there are quite a few of them.) However, according to this article, visiting Medellin might have its merits for women too.
5 - Location
During my time in Medellin, there was only one thing that I missed: a beach. However, the city is located near some of the most tropical places on the planet. Viva Colombia offers low-cost flights to well-known beach resorts such as Cartagena, Santa Marta and the island of San Andres. In addition, Insel Air, the national airline of the Dutch Antilles, serves a direct route to the islands of Curacao and Aruba, right in the middle of the Caribbean.
Medellin is also perfectly located for jungle tours through the amazon, a visit to the famous Inca temple of Machu Pichu or an adrenaline-pumping bicycle ride on the world's most dangerous road in Bolivia.
6 - Food
Medellin offers a vast number of great food options that will exhilarate your taste buds, for very reasonable prices. Ribs are pretty popular in Medellin, specially in El Poblado. The best rib place I've found is called MU Medellin (Carrera 34 # 7-1 a 7-99, Poblado). It's not the cheapest place but still affordable compared to western standards.
For special occasions check out Carmen on Calle 36 / Carrera 10A. Another good option is Mystique on Carrera 33 / 7A. I had one of my best meals ever there.
A lot of restaurants offer great lunch deals. One of my favorites is D'Andre. The lunch deal includes a fruit juice, a soup, a small salad and a main for well under $10. Amazing value. The menu varies day-to-day, so if you become a regular (like I did) you don't have to eat the same thing every day.
If you are on a very tight budget, the Tiger Paw hostel has a daily lunch special for just a few dollars. Absolute bottom-price, but still reasonable quality food.
7 - Shopping
Medellin has some of the most modern malls I've come across and there are quite a few of them. Whether you're looking to empty out your new credit card, just want to stroll around or grab some lunch, the malls are good places to go. My favorites are Santa Fe mall, El Tesora Mall and Centro Commercial Los Molinos.
8 - Latin Dance
But no salsa dancing. For salsa dancing, go to Cali, another city in Colombia. In Medellin, it's Reggaeton that blasts out of the speakers of most nightlife venues. The good news is, it's much easier. Girls dance in front of the guys, grinding their behinds against the front-side of their partners body. I found it quite entertaining. If you have a hard time imagining this, here's what it looks like:
If you want to practice some regueton moves yourself, Babylon on thursday night is a safe bet. There are other options as well, you can read all about it in this extensive article on nightlife in Medellin.
Local tips & tricks
Convinced? Great, you won't regret it. Here's some practical information to help you get setup quickly.
Where to stay
If you're new in Medellin, a safe bet is to stay in El Poblado. It's one of the best neighborhoods in town and home to a lot of expats, foreigners and wealthy Colombians. It's near Parque Lleras, the cities main nightlife areas, full of bars, clubs and restaurants. If you plan to stay for long, you might want to move to other (more affordable) areas, such as Envigado, Belen or Laureles. This article may help you make a choice, written by Medellin expert Ryan Hiraki.
Addresses can be a little confusing sometimes. Streets are named "calle" and "carrera" in Medellin and are numbered. The calles run east to west, the carreras south to north. To refer to a location, locals usually name the cross-streets. For example, the address of restaurant Carmen is Cra 36 #10A-27, Poblado. This means it's on Carrera 36 number 27, near the intersection with Calle 10A.
Taxis are affordable and reasonably reliable in Medellin. The meter starts at 2500 pesos and a 10 minute ride will only set you back 5,000 - 1,0000 ($2.5 to $5). It's often very easy to find one on the street. To order a cab I recommend using a taxi app called Easy Taxi. The app is easily downloaded to your smartphone. You can set default locations such as "home" and "work". This way, you can literally order a cab with one click. The app shows you the estimated arrival time, the current location of your taxi and the number plate.
Colombians and Paisas in particular are extremely polite. They say "muchas gracias" (thank you very much) and "con mucho gusto" (you're very welcome) all the time and it's recommended you do this as well.
When talking to locals, it's best to avoid the subject of Medellin's notorious past regarding the drugs cartels and the FARC. The people of Medellin are happy that things have improved and generally don't feel like discussing these subjects.
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