Medellin Could Be Your Shangri-La

Just about anyone who has been to Medellin, Colombia in the past 5 years will tell you that the city is about as perfect as it gets. I’m one of them.

Travel there yourself and you’ll find that it’s no understatement. Medellin is one of Colombia’s largest cities, set in a picturesque Andean valley that could probably pass for Austria on a warm summer day. Because of its altitude at about 1500 meters, coupled with equatorial climate, the temperature varies between perfect and near-perfect, 365 days a year. This is why they call it the City of Eternal Spring– year round warmth with very little humidity. You don’t need heat, you don’t need air conditioning, and the flowers literally grow like weeds. In short, it’s all the benefit of the tropics without the nasty weather or bugs. But there’s a lot more to Medellin than the weather. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, for some people, Medellin is definitely Shangri-La.

Here’s the type of person who I think would thrive here: – You speak at least basic Spanish and are willing to learn: Medellin is NOT an international city. It is very clearly Colombian, so the locals’ English skills are marginal at best. – You do not need to travel frequently: Colombia, in general, is a very challenging place when it comes time to travel. Check in times at airports generally take about 2-hours for reasons that I will discuss momentarily. – You like steady temperatures, not four seasons: Again, the weather doesn’t vary here a bit. – You have about $1,500 to $2,000 per month for living expenses: Medellin is not an expensive place. Sure, you could probably get by on $800/month, but for the range I quoted, you can be living a very active lifestyle in the nicest part of town. (note: if you’re looking to buy, property is pretty cheap. Even in the best part of town, you can buy property for under $1,000 per square meter, which is my usual ‘cheap’ threshold) – You like the outdoors: There is no shortage of outdoor activities in Medellin… it’s like Austin, TX without the infernal temperatures.

– Bonus points for single men: I could write volumes about this, but there’s enough information on the Internet about it. Suffice it to say that the women in Medellin live up to their reputation.

And now for the potential drawbacks that you would need to consider: First, the security culture can get fairly annoying, though to be fair, this is a national issue in Colombia. These people have spent decades dealing with paramilitary terrorist groups and drug violence, and while those issues are all in the past, the scars still remain. To be clear, Medellin is exceptionally safe… but people have a way of remembering.

Years ago, the government really stepped up security, and even though the threat has subsided, the security remains. You still see a lot of police in the streets and at the airports (this is why the check-in procedures take so long); even doormen at residential buildings are quite vigilant about security. People have simply gotten used to security as part of their lives… and it’s going to take time for the paranoia to heal. Security is not an impediment or obstacle in daily life, but it is noticeable.

Second, Colombia has a higher tax and bureaucratic structure than neighboring Panama. Most places in Latin America do. While Medellin is not an expensive place, I have found that the current tariff system generally limits the availability of import products on store shelves. Third, and this is the big one for me, depending on where you are in the city, the air quality can be quite poor on some days… though if you are from a big city like Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, or Houston, you probably won’t notice. A study conducted by the Panamerican Health Organization found that Carbon Monoxide is the most emitted pollutant, almost all of which comes from motor vehicles. In fact, according to the study, motor vehicles in Medellin are responsible for 58% of the city’s air pollution. Most comes from trucks and buses, which the local government has been phasing out in favor of natural gas vehicles. This should have a positive impact on air quality over the next few years.

One last potential drawback to mention, and this only affects some people– Medellin is not a walker-friendly city… not because there are no sidewalks, etc. Actually, the city is quite clean, you could almost eat off the streets. The problem is the topography: Medellin is just too damned hilly. A short walk down the street can be the equivalent of 20 flights of stairs. Think San Francisco on steroids. Taxis are such an integral part of the scene here that distances between two points are generally quoted by taxi fare… (“Oh, from my house to the bank is about 5,000 pesos”)

Written by Simon Black