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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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