In the almost month that I’ve been in Medellin, I’ve been steadily compiling a list containing my favorite aspects of the city. Previously, I’ve written posts complaining about how I don’t feel like I fit in yet, am feeling restless, blah, blah. Now, I feel like it is time to discuss at length what I am enjoying and love about my home away from home. I’d like to get to the positive side and why I strongly suggest that others make Medellin a stop in their travels and what makes Medellin unique.
Without further ado and in no particular order:
Weather – Medellin is truly the city of eternal spring. It is never colder than 70 degrees. In fact, it is almost always in the 80’s. The sun shines more than it doesn’t and there is pretty much no humidity. I do tend to sweat and feel hot when I’m walking around but, I’d much rather have that than constantly shielding my face and wearing warm clothes in October. It also does rain somewhat often but usually just for a couple of hours in the afternoon. It doesn’t seem to deter people from continuing on with their days or plans. Medellin has that weather that makes you feel guilty for lying around hungover in your apartment all day.
View from our apartment window on a perfect partly cloudy day:
Food – I discover a new restaurant, tienda, street vendor or something almost every day on my same walk through El Poblado. I will be writing another post entirely on the food here in Colombia but I just want to point out that here in Medellin, you can find pretty much whatever you are looking for. Cheap, mid-range, expensive, international, Colombian, sushi, quick, vegetarian, local, full of foreigners, bar food, ice cream, coffee shops – it is all here. Not to mention that there are many different grocery stores and convenience shops that carry Colombian products but also some of the staples from home.
Dan at one of our favorite restaurants, Mondongos:
Metro and MetroCable – The only negative aspect of the metro is that I have to walk 20 minutes to get it. Other than that, it is extremely clean, safe, efficient, and affordable. Each time I’ve taken the metro, I haven’t had to wait for more than 5 minutes for it. It can get a little crowded during rush hour and actually at pretty much any hour of the day, but it is the only metro in Colombia which I think says a lot about how Medellin is progressing as a city.
I also can’t say enough good things about the MetroCable that has made the central part of Medellin accessible to the poorer neighborhoods so that they can have access to jobs, etc. Dan and I rode it during our second week here (we took it from the Acevedo Metro stop to Santo Domingo and then transferred all the way up to Parque Arvi). The cars were clean, people really seemed to respect it, and the views were pretty incredible.
Metro Cable beginning from the Acevedo station:
Views – Medellin and the El Poblado neighborhood specifically are very hilly due to the surrounding mountains. This can be very annoying when walking around but it does make for some pretty spectacular views. The apartment we are renting for the month is on the 10th floor and we can see the mountains and almost all the way to the Centro. I love just eating breakfast, drinking coffee or a beer and staring out our window. There are also many other areas and buildings throughout the city that boast great views including the MetroCable, Pueblito Paisa, and El Mirador de las Palmas (which I have yet to visit).
View from our window at night:
Culture – Medellin is home to history museums, art museums, a botanical garden, a castle apparently, and a ton of interesting history. There is so much to dabble in and so much information to learn. The downtown area (El Centro) is a great place to explore the culture of Medellin. There is the Parque de Las Luces, Plaza Botero with it’s disproportionate statues, Museo de Antioquia, and much more. We still have yet to explore a few of the museums and the botanical garden, but it is really nice to know they are there and that we still have more to do!
In addition to this, Paisa’s enthusiasm for futbol (soccer) is really entertaining. I don’t usually watch soccer but I do here because it is a huge event. Everyone gathers together in the bars or in the streets and cheers on their National Team. Their excitement is contagious and it is difficult not to feel in it with them!
The last cultural aspect I want to mention that I’ve grown fond of is the sacredness of Sundays. I’m not sure if it all started with religion but Sunday is a very important day for families to spend together and rest here in Medellin. Many of the shops and restaurants close their doors and the streets are virtually empty. It gives Medellin a more peaceful atmosphere and I love the emphasis that they put on spending time with family.
Cat in Plaza Botero:
Ciclovia – Speaking of Sundays, a lane in Avenida Poblado (and others throughout the city) are closed all Sundays and holidays to bikers, runners, people walking dogs and strollers – basically all pedestrians from 7 am to 1 pm. Dan and I have participated the past 4 Sundays and I love it. All kinds of people are outside, enjoying the weather, and exercising. They even hold free exercise classes along the path and vendors come out to sell fresh juice and water. I love it because it promotes fitness, gets people outside, and all that. But selfishly, it’s great because I feel so much less awkward being the weird, white girl running around the city and I tend to draw less attention to myself during Ciclovia.
Picture snapped fresh this morning:
Nightlife (Rumba) – I haven’t dabbled in this as much as I would like to (alcohol and going out burns a giant sized hole in our budget) but I have really enjoyed the nights I have gone out. In and around Parque Lleras in El Poblado, there are so many bars to choose from that you don’t even really need to plan where to go. You can just show up and find a million options. It is also legal to drink in the streets in Colombia so you can easily grab a beer from a tienda and just walk around or sit in a park.
Most of the bars and clubs are really lively with locals dancing salsa which is really fun if that is the kind of experience you are looking for. There are also a few places (Medellin Beer Company and Berlin to name a few) where you can just chill out and have a beer if you don’t want to be embarrassed by your dance skills in front of the locals.
My friend Jessie and I posing in front of the national liquor of Colombia, Aguardiente on our way to the bars:
Various Neighborhoods – Having lived in Chicago for almost 6 years, I was really spoiled to live in a city with so many great, unique neighborhoods. Although Medellin doesn’t have a Chinatown or Greektown, it does have many different neighborhoods or comunas in Spanish that all have a unique feel to them. A few that I have visited:
El Poblado is where Dan and I are currently staying, is usually the spot where a lot of travelers choose because it is safe and there is so much to do here. There are numerous bars, restaurants, shopping, basically everything you need. Some parts of El Poblado have a more upscale feeling to them (La Milla de Oro which is like the Michigan Avenue of Medellin) but you can also find more down to earth, local spots as well.
El Centro is the downtown area and has a very different vibe than anywhere in the city. It is complete chaos – tons of traffic, vendors everywhere, crazy themed stores, etc. I can’t even really describe it – you almost just have to see it to believe it and understand it. El Centro is definitely the best place to people watch.
Laureles is where Dan and I originally wanted to stay. It is a middle class neighborhood that has an up and coming feel to it so it is a little cheaper than El Poblado. It is also really safe and has great dining and going out options as well. Although we haven’t been yet, Laureles is also home to the Soccer Stadium in Medelllin.
Belen is right next to Laureles and the big draw here is the Pueblito Paisa which is a replica of an old Antioquian village. Although this is cheesy it is the views I’d recommend visiting it for. Although we mostly just took a cab through Belen, it has a similar atmosphere to Laureles but almost has a more blue collar feel to it. I’ve heard it is a good place to rent an apartment because of the low costs.
View at Pueblito Paisa:
Affordability – Including rent, our average spending per day in Medellin is under $60. Some days we only spend $30 and some we spend closer to $70. Our goal was to spend no more than $100 per day and we are easily succeeding at this in Medellin. We do watch our spending very closely but if we wanted to, we could easily spend less than we do now.
Rent – $580 for the month in El Poblado which comes to $21 per day.
Metro – 2,000 CP for a one way ride which is about $0.70.
Bus – 1,800 CP ($0.62).
Taxi – This obviously varies depending on where you are going but a 15 minute taxi ride costs about 15,000 CP ($5). The taxi from the airport which is about 45 minutes was 80,000 CP ($27).
Beer – At the grocery store, a 6 pack of the national Colombian beer usually goes for about 9,000 ($3). At restaurants or bars, the national beer is usually cheaper than water or juice coming in between 3,500 – 4,000 (about $1.30).
Coffee – I haven’t spent more than 4,200 CP on coffee yet ($1.50).
Cappuccino at my favorite spot in the whole city, Pergamino:
Great location to learn or practice Spanish – Medellin has quite a few options for learning Spanish – Toucan (where Dan goes), EAFIT University, UPB University, and I’ve seen other Spanish language schools around. All of which are pretty affordable compared to taking Spanish classes in the States or in some other countries in Latin America.
Besides taking classes, many people that I encounter in Medellin don’t speak much English or no English. The majority of waitstaff, cab drivers, clerks at the grocery store, bartenders, etc. speak to me in Spanish. Usually on my travels, I’m encountered with English even when I want to practice Spanish but that really isn’t the case here. There are also many opportunities for meet-ups and social gatherings for English/Spanish language exchanges.
Sign in front of Dan’s school:
So as you can see, there are plenty of reasons to love this city and I had a tough time narrowing it down to just a top 10. From what I have seen, Medellin has come a long way from the city it was in the 80’s and 90’s as the people have been focused on improvement, progress, and change. It is a great place to spend an extended period of time because it has so much to offer and it is an exciting time to be here.