Living in Medellin: 23 Things I Learned in 100 Days

Medellin, Colombia is quickly becoming the go-to spot for tourism, entrepreneurship and the digital nomad crowd.

If you’ve done research about this city, there’s no doubt you’ve seen your fair share of lists explaining how and why folks chose Medellin (I even wrote my own blog about the 5 reasons I moved to Medellin).

You will learn a lot in the first 100 days living in any new city.  Today, I'll share the 23 things I learned during my first 100 days living in Medellin.

  1. There are 32 provinces in Colombia. Antioquia is the name of the province/department that houses the city of Medellin. This is important because you will hear the word “Antioquia” A LOT.  Photo below courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

The 32 Provinces of Colombia. Antioquia (in the purple) is home of Medellin.

 

 

2.  There are specific nicknames for Colombian people from different parts of the country.  For example, people from Antioquia (refer to #1) are called Paisas.  From the capital city of Bogota? You are a Rolo.  From a coastal town? You are a Costeño.

3. The water here is drinkable.  Drink it.  I drink it everyday. It has drastically reduced my horrible habit of buying plastic water bottles. My two favorite reusable water bottles are the Yeti or Camelback.

4. There’s a money exchange in the baggage claim area. If you have dollars, it’s a safe bet, but you do get charged a hefty fee. A better bet is to wait until you exit customs. There are two ATM’s near the bathrooms.  They have a better exchange rate and smaller fee compared to the money exchange.

5. The public transit (specifically the metro) is amazing.  Buy a Civica card when you get here. Each ride is $2000 mil (approximately $0.68 cents). It’s cleaner and larger than the public transit system in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois.  The buses are good, clean and safe as well.  For me, it took a bit longer to get understand them, but it’s another great and reasonably priced option.

 

6.  It rains at random.  Pack an umbrella and bring it with you everywhere.

7.  When in an Uber or taxi, be very careful not to slam the doors. The cars are lighter and smaller than what I was used to.  By accident, many people from the states slam the doors shut assuming they are the same weight as car doors from home.  They are not and it can damage a smaller, lighter car.  Be aware, it is not appreciated.  Close with caution.

8.  Paisas ask each other for directions when they are lost. It’s normal.  If you’re lost – ask for directions nicely and you're bound to meet a sweet lady (or gentlemen) that will walk you to your destination. Yes, I’ve had it happen.

9.  There’s a reason folks need to ask each other for directions. It’s because the addresses are confusing. I’ve had many taxi drivers get lost even after living in Medellin for years.  So what do you do? Be aware of the landmarks near your hotel or apartment.  Popular landmarks include the malls, parks or churches. You’ll learn the staples (Parque Poblado, La Cancha or Santa Fe Mall).  However, knowing a key landmark near your residence is helpful.

This is Iglesia El Dorado - the church near my first residence. It was a common landmark I used when taking taxis.

10.  Google Maps is not the best in Colombia. Waze is better and more accurate. Download it.

11.  Fresh, green, delicious juice is cheap and abundant. In Chicago, I could pay up to $10 for fresh juice. In Medellin, I pay $2 - $4. Check out a local chain called Cosechas.  I suggest asking for the juice “sin azucar” (or without sugar).  This will prevent them for adding additional sugar. I find the natural sugars from the Colombian fruit suffices.  Many local cafes also serve delicious smoothies.  My favorite directory of Medellin cafes is listed in Catalyst Weekly.

 

12.  There’s tons of free WIFI. The town of Envigado actually has it’s own free network.  Many popular parks (Parque Lleras and Presidente Park) also have their own networks.  On a local hike up Volador Hill , I was still able to find free WI-FI! It's everywhere.  If you're a digital nomad and need reliable wi-fi, check out this guide to some recommended cafes with solid internet.

13.  There are three main options for alcohol: Cervezas (beer), Aguardiente (Nicknamed Guaro) or Rum & Coke (Nicknamed Cuba Libre). In gringo bars, additional options are available. However, these three are the most common.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bottle of Aguardiente - often called Guaro.

14.  Speaking of alcohol - if you love liquorice, you're in luck!  The most popular liquor in Medellin is called Aguardiente.  It is everywhere and will likely be at the center of your table next time you bar hop.  It’s tradition, it brings people together and accept it when it’s handed to you.

 

15.  The hills & mountains are no joke.  Neighborhoods like Laureles or Envigado tend to be flat, but be prepared to walk up a lot of hills while visiting Medellin. Pack a pair of comfy shoes. You will use them.

One of the many hills I climbed - but worth it to see this view.

16. Iced coffee is rising in popularity, but many places still view it as a dessert beverage.  Ordering a cold brew may be your best option if you want an iced coffee similar the ones served in the states.

17. Salsa music is everywhere.  Take private salsa classes while you are here.  Salsa dancing can break out at parties, in the streets and when you least expect it.  You'll want to be prepared.

18.  In order to catch a bus, simply hold out your hand anywhere on the street and it will stop.  While on the bus, you can request to stop anywhere, not just bus stops.

19.   Fitness is important in Medellin and it shows.  Not only are people in good shape, but there's outdoor gyms situated near every major park.  These outdoor gyms have 10 – 20 machines each. One of my favorites is in Parque La Presidenta in El Poblado. A close second is “La Concha” in Envigado.  Not only is there a large outdoor gym, but a basketball court and running track.  Added bonus? Gorgeous city views.

 

An outdoor gym in Envigado

20.  One of my favorite Paisa phrases is “Ave Maria Pues”. The word Pues is used in a similar fashion to “like”. It’s a filler word.  Use the phrase "Ave Maria Pues" to respond to something that’s shocking or lovely, and you’ll be sure get a smile from your new Paisa friend.

21. Paisas love leaving voice memos through Whatsapp. No need for senseless spelling, texting and grammatical errors when you can speak - right? Gotta admit, I kinda like it.

22.  One of the main lunch options at restaurants is the “menu del dia”. This is a pre-set lunch menu. You usually have a choice of meats (pork, chicken, steak) and the sides are set.  It comes with beans, rice, salad or soup. It’s delicious, authentic and 10,000 – 14,000 mil ($3 - $5 US dollars).

23.  The elephant in the room – Pablo Escobar. In my opinion, it’s a sensitive subject.  Many Colombians are ready to leave the past in the past.  It seems unfair that some tourists continue to define a country by one man who reigned supreme 25 years ago.  In my opinion? Don’t bring it up. The country is desperately trying to rid themselves of the stigma, and frankly, they deserve to.  There’s so much more to Colombia than its reputation of the past.  It's time we all move on.

There's no shortage of scenic views here in Medellin. This was taken after a hike in Envigado, near La Catedral.

 

Like what you've read??? Read more on Living In Medellin: Part 2. 

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Comments

Pantallas LED

This post is great. Welcome back to Medellin. Everything you mention here is so true, from door slamming to voice memos. Narcos has really woken up the interest in Pablo but I think that bad press is better than no press.. At least people find it cool to visit Colombia and see the transformation.

Malerie

Great feedback and information…I never even thought about drinking the water. I can’t wait to visit Medellin! Also thanks for the helpful tip on closing the taxi/uber doors. Can’t wait to hike the hills.

Lisa

I can’t wait to come visit you and see this all firsthand! These are fun, helpful tips – very well-written!

    lostinlinderland

    Gracias mi amiga. One could say that you were my first Latin friend and inspired this whole journey haha.

Stephanie

I had the same experience with addresses (or lack thereof) in Costa Rica, too. Landmarks are a must!! Great tips! This is perfect for prepping first time visitors.

Dorene

Good list lots of need to know stuff! Depends where you are in Envigado- it can be very hilly! We lived in Lomo del Esmeraldal and it’s a 40min walk down to la frontera! Same for laureles/Belen area — there are some good hills depending on where you are!

Mel Nogales

Where is the arepas, la aguapanela with chocolate, el café, las empanadas, el Raggaetón? Hahahahaha I loved this blog post, but I need a little more of the nightlife and multiple social and cultural activities here, Medellín has a wide range of it. Igual me encantó, ¡éxitos!

    lostinlinderland

    I agree. It is hard to include everything. I think I will make a list #2 because so many people keep giving me suggestions.

stephanie chamorro

I enjoyed visiting Medellin because of the great food, they have awesome cafes

George Stewart Duncan

Thank you for this list. I’m going to spend a month or so in Colombia, mostly in Medallin. Your info in much appreciated.

Shay Spence

Hey! You are so right about the door slamming…they are very aware of us forgieners and our hard hands on the car door haha.

Where are you sitting in the last photo? Looks awesome!

    lostinlinderland

    That was on the old helicopter pad of La Catedral (Pablo Escobar’s old prison). You can hike or drive up there.

William

I’m ready for to read the rest 77 seven things, excelent comments, and thanks for to see the positive side of Colombia. I see that you write every important moment in your life and you enjoy whereever you are. I like your memories. Thanks

Däniel

Me gusta tu publicación y las cosas que dices de medellín. Lo de las puertas muy buen dato, me sacaste una sonrisa. Espero que sigas escribiendo de Medellín y sus alrededores.

Manish

Good job. Very informative. I’m waiting for the second list. More interested in the night life and restaurant culture.

Oscar

Very good information you are sharing! Simple tips many people will appreciate while they visit Medellín or anywhere else in Colombia. I am from Cali and apart of our accent, we are quite similar in other ways to the Paisas jeje.
General speaking in Colombia people are tired of the stigma Pablo Escobar left us, but it’s part of our history, a history full of blood and sadness to millions of people.
I grew up in Cali when all the madness were happening between the cartels and after all I always knew we will come around again and have the chance to show to the world the real image of Colombia.
About the salsa, is not about to learn perfect the moves, is about to enjoy and follow the beat of the timbal and go with it 😀. As I come from the Capital of salsa is the best advice I can throw out there.
Thanks again for the good image you are sharing about my people.

Enjoy the other towns like Jardín.

Best,
Oscar.

jorn ludvigsen

Very interesting post. However, I miss some description of the cultural aspects. Have you ever visited museo Castillo, Museo Antioquia,the square in front of the cathedral with all the marvelous sculptures of Botero? Near by towns, El Penol. Guatape, Santa Fe de Antioquia, Jardin and and …

    lostinlinderland

    Yes I have. This post wasn’t so much talking about extravagant cultural things, but just little tips and tricks I’ve learned. I will save more cultural things for future articles.

Ellen

Great post, thank you! How bad do you find the air pollution and the traffic? Are there areas of the city you can live where these are minimized? Please post Part II!

    lostinlinderland

    Thanks Ellen. I have not had too much trouble with pollution. However, if you go into the mountains (Rio Negro, Santa Elena) the air does feeler cleaner. Traffic is not fun, however, I try to take the Metro to help with this. However, I am from Chicago so I am used to lots of traffic.

james landis

great article. Thank you. Very helpful. I have been living here with my son for over one year. We love it. We are opening up a B N B in the hills of Sabaneta. It is called Casa California and I have posted it on Air B n B.

    lostinlinderland

    Nice! Please send me the link once it’s ready. I was thinking about writing an article about AirBnB houses for long term visits or digital nomad type guests.

Mauricio Bohórquez

Woooow I love this post, I’m from Medellín and you’re so right, Thanks for writing about the city that I love. =)

Andrés

Hopefully you can join us on one of our tours soon and experience the best rated private tours on Trip Advisor.

John and Susan Pazera

Being travel bloggers ourselves, we compliment you on your writing skills. You have the magic of capturing your audience. Just read your article on Medellin Guru Blog regarding Comuna 13. We have been there and will be returning for the tour as you suggest in December.
Best wishes on your blog and safe travels!

Cheers,
John and Susan
Boquete, Panama

Alice

This is the best roundup of Medellín I’ve read yet!

Cynthia

I’m planning a trip to Medellin this February, and this blog was very insightful. I’ve been considering enrolling in a Spanish immersion program, to make the most of being in a Spanish speaking country. Have you tried doing anything like that or heard anything about any particular programs? I’ve seen many options, and I’m having a hard time narrowing down what choices I’ve seen thus far.

    lostinlinderland

    Hey Cynthia, yes I actually did Spanish classes/immersion at Colombia Immersion (colombiaimmersion.com). I liked it because it was in local neighborhoods (Envigado or Laureles) and they will help set up a homestay for you. Add me on Facebook at Stephanie Linder and we can message about it, I’ll help you out. I loved my time there though. The people you meet are great. Instant family.

bryan

hey there, cool read. I am from Chicago suburbs and grew up there as well.. I’m 31 and have been living in Medellin for 3 years now. I love it.

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