Medellin, Colombia – Cheap Place To Live In South America
Most don´t register the thought “Colombia” when trying to escape the high cost of living in the U.S, Canada, Australia or England… but maybe more should.
Colombia has its share of worldly problems (crime, drugs, poverty) yet also has areas that have become mainstays on the travel circuit and become increasingly popular for extended stays or relocation to the country – such as the large metropolis Medellin (population 3 million).
Those who have moved to Medellin (second largest city in Colombia after Bogotá) not only love it, they rave about it.
Cited among its many virtues are: safe for a metropolitan area; nightclubs and nightlife; variety of things to do and places to see; friendly locals plus many International visitors living part of full-time in the area and last but not least… a low cost of living.
Note: Prices updated December, 2013
A small apartment on the outskirts of town can be found for $400 USD, and there are many shared apartments with rooms to rent for less. One highly-recommended place to stay while you adjust and look for housing is International House Medellin. They have rooms with cable T.V., shared living and kitchen facilities plus a rooftop deck with sauna for $350 USD per month (one month stay minimum).
If you make your midday meal (noon – 2 p.m.) the primary meal of the day you can eat-out often and on the cheap. Find a local neighborhood restaurant serving a multi-course set menu which will include a bowl of soup, some type of meat, rice, small salad and bread or fried plantains (similar to bananas but best eaten cooked, not raw) for $3 USD.
Large grocery stores such as Carrefour (grocery chain popular in Argentina also) are plentiful in Medellin. Shop as any budget traveller or daring ‘living abroad expat’ would buying low-end, local products and you are all set.
Note about Visas: You need to be aware that when arriving in Colombia and your Tourist Visa (the stamp in your passport) is for more than three months, you need to register within 16 days at an Immigration Office. More information on visas can be found here: Living in Colombia – Visas & Fees
Things To Do in Medellin
Traveling through the city to check things out and need a few things to do? To get an arial view of Medellin and its surrounds you can ride a cable car – The Metrocable - up above the city skyline and enjoy a coffee or meal.
Linea K of Metrocable spans the Santo Domingo neighborhood and is credited with virutually abolishing crime in the previously dangerous barrio as well as attracting many new businesses. A second line – Linea J – was then created to connect other outlying barrios with a hoped for similar effect; decreased crime and more economic opportunity. In addition to the great views, you may find yourself riding one or the other to simply get from one area of the city to the next.
There is a waterpark in Medellin (Juan Pablo II Waterpark), about 20 minutes by bus from center of town. I took my son when we passed-through the city for a few days and it is similar to large waterparks everywhere with a variety of slides, ‘river’ to relax on an innertube, showers, restaurants splattered throughout, etc.
More fun for families is the aquarium (el acuario in Spanish) with over 600,000 liters of water filled with saltwater and freshwater species. It is located in Parque de Explora – a science park with exhibits for children – next to the municipal Botanic Gardens. There is a zoo also – Medellin Zoo – located at Carrera 50 No. 20-63.
You can learn about the city’s drug lord ruled past by partaking in the Pablo Escobar Tour; visiting where he lived, where he was shot dead and meeting his brother Roberto.
Last but not least and still legal in Colombia is to see a bullfight. Bullfights are held in the La Macarena Show Center (Carerra 63 # 44A- 65) January-February.
Note about Safety: Medellin is considered fairly safe for a large city, but there have been attacks on foreigners, including murder in hostals. More information here: First-Person Account on Medellín Hostel Violence, and How to Stay Safe.
- What you would expect in a large metropolitan area with over 3 million people – many things to see and do such as museums, public parks, art galleries, large shopping complexes, sports facilities, etc.
- Cheap and efficient transporation system (busses, taxis and Metro) that make getting around easy.
- Many International visitors and expats to meet at a local pub and sit and have a beer or coffee with – speaking English!
- For all its improvements, the reality is Colombia has a high-level of people living in poverty and of drug abusers. Seeing folks crumpled up on pieces of cardboard boxes will be not be uncommon, and difficult for many to view on a daily basis.
- Air Pollution. Medellin is an industrial city and has along with it the resultant chronic in-city industrial smog and pollution.