Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, is becoming increasingly popular with both expats and digital nomads.
[ Check out this Digital Nomad Guide to Medellin for more information about digital nomad life in this city. ]
I just spent a month in Medellin myself with Venture With Impact, an organization that offers month long programs in several cities all over the world. I enjoyed seeing how Medellín is clearly becoming more and more international, with innovative start-ups, countless cute coffee shops to work from and plenty of coworking spaces.
In this Ask an Expat series I interview people living all over the world but outside of their home country. I try to help paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad, share tips for anyone thinking about moving abroad and information about what to see and do in the city, town or country the expat lives in.
Expat life in Medellín, Colombia
Location: Medellín, Colombia
Name: Maria Ranallo
Home town: St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
“After a short stint living on the beach in Costa Rica, having come from the crazy work life in San Francisco, I decided to do a bit of traveling before my return flight to the US. I was in need of another adventure and Colombia seemed just the place to make that happen. I landed in Medellin with the understanding that I would spend one week out of my four week tour of Colombia there. Three weeks later I was still in Medellin… I returned to the US for a bit of travel, to visit friends and to go to Burning Man, and then headed back to Medellin with the intention to stay for a while. That was 2.5 years ago and I still love living and working here.”
“Medellín is beautiful, it has such a great energy. And there are so many engaging initiatives to be a part of or to create. It feels like a breath of fresh air. I love the culture and the people. From the moment I arrived, I have been treated like family. After my first visit I left feeling like I already had a huge community of people I wanted to be around, and it just felt right to live here.”
What do you like about Medellin?
“The Paisas (people from this part of Colombia) have shaped this beautiful city. They are very warm, open individuals who speak loudly and passionately! Everyone has a dog that they treat very well. Nature is extremely accessible from the city, so you can escape and relax when you need to decompress. The metro stations have some of the best views.
I love that I can rent a washing machine that they will bring to my apartment. Transportation is not complicated, as long as you can read the sign on the front of the bus. The theater productions are high-quality and there are many amazing, small theaters for intimate shows. The rapid pace of change is incredible to witness and to take part in. The local soups and variety of restaurants always keep me well fed and busy planning my next meal out.”
What do you dislike about Medellín?
“I recognize that I have chosen to live in a country different from my own, and most of my complaints are particular to me missing things, like cheap, good cheese or sourdough bread. However, right now, the air quality in Medellin is not the best and it is disheartening to look out the window and see the city smothered in smog some days. If I had to say something else it would be the slow lines for checking out…. You can get gray hair standing in line waiting to buy your items!”
What is your favorite thing to do in Medellín?
“Find a good viewpoint and watch the lights twinkle or the sun set with my handsome Paisa.”
What is your favorite place to hang out (restaurant, bar, etc) in Medellín?
“Lately, my apartment. But, when our friends come to town we take them to Full Arabe or Opera Pizza, both in the Laureles neighborhood, and then head over to the Carlos E Restrepo neighborhood to hang out.”
What is the expat community like in Medellín?
“The expat community here is growing and from what I know and have seen, it’s very inclusive. The expats in Medellín are always reaching out to each other and soliciting advice or planning events. There is a large community of entrepreneurs and creatives. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all happy feelings and cookouts, but I find expats here to be fun, and fiercely protective of Medellín.”
Any tips for moving to / living in Medellín?
“Spend some time getting to know the city, live in different parts and look at all the questions that people have asked in the facebook groups. Ask questions, actively listen and don’t make assumptions. Get to know your Colombian neighbors and make as many Colombian friends as you can, they can show you untold wonders and the spots people, and many expats in Medellín, don’t normally know.”
Any resources you found useful during the process of moving to and/or building a new life in Medellín?
Is there something you just have to see or do when you are in Medellín?
“Go on one of Medellín’s walking tours, which give a wonderful overview of the history of Medellín. Check out the museums, Museo de Antioquia especially. Dance salsa. Eat Sancocho and cure a hangover with a Bandeja Paisa or a Consume de Pescado (trust me it’s delicious). Get to know your Colombian neighbors. Check out the tours from Project Cordillera.”
Maria is a Minnesota native who studied at university in Colorado. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia, and enjoyed the sweet life in San Francisco. Currently, her life in Medellín consists of her managing content for a software outsourcing company, PSL, guiding tours with Project Cordillera, working on her own writing projects and slowly but surely discovering the beauty of Colombia.
About Medellín, Colombia
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Medellín was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world for its size. For years Medellín was best known as the centre of the Colombian drug cartels and home of Pablo Escobar. And although Medellín still has its issues, a lot has changed and the city has rebounded tremendously. Paisas, the residents of Medellín, are proud of their city’s progress, and are ready to move forward with vigor.
Medellín is a vast city built north to south in the Aburrá valley and surrounded on either side by majestic mountain ranges. The wealthier classes live in the well-protected hillside neighborhood of El Poblado and Envigado (Southeast) and Laureles (West of downtown). This is far removed from the action and commotion which are found in the city’s center, where you can find the markets and a thriving street life that make up much of the city’s charm. The city is home to several universities, accounting for a vibrant cultural and nightlife scene fueled by thousands of young adults from all over the country. Medellín is also Colombia’s second-largest industrial center, and home to factories making everything from designer clothing to trucks. The city’s northern hills are flooded with rural refugees from the ongoing civil war and their ingenuity in making a living is impressive.
Innovation in Medellín
Medellin has the first (and only) metro system in Colombia and it was the first city in the world to use cable cars for mass transit. It is also known for its perfect climate for which it received its nickname “city of eternal spring”.
Medellín’s incredible skyline is dotted with skyscrapers, colonial buildings, and colorful homes. The city is famous for its street art, especially in Comuna 13 and you can go on a guided tour of this neighborhood to explore it all.
The Urban Land Institute awarded Medellín the Innovative City of the Year award in 2013, when it outranked both New York and Tel Aviv. Medellin was praised for its famous tramways and outdoor escalators, as well as for the city’s world-class art galleries, libraries, and public spaces. In 2016, Medellín won the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize because of the city’s transformation into an outstanding, liveable city.
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- A Digital Nomad’s Guide to Medellín, Colombia
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