Medellin Colombia – 10 Secrets Everyone Should Know (Especially #3)
For many years Medellin Colombia had a reputation of being an unstable and dangerous destination for expats and investors. However, there’s been a recent resurgence that has transformed this special city into a location that is filled with potential and promise.
Medellin is the second largest city in the country and the third most visited, after Cartagena and Bogota. Known as the “Land of Eternal Spring” and “Capital of the Flowers,” the area has enjoyed a phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes of a troubled past.
Discovering the secrets of this Colombian gem will reveal why Medellin is worth visiting. These important details about Medellin illustrate why it’s such a great option for expats and investors alike.
Is Medellin Safe? You Might Be Surprised.
The drug wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, fueled in large part by Pablo Escobar, gave Medellin the unenviable reputation as the most violent city on the planet. Since the fall of the cartels, the government and the people of Medellin have made a concerted effort to put the past behind them and work towards making the city a place to live and thrive in.
The effort has certainly paid off. By 2015, the murder rate was 20 per 100,000 – far less than St. Louis (49.91), Detroit (43.52), New Orleans (38.75) or Baltimore (33.84). Clearly, Medellin compares favorably, in terms of safety, with other metropolitan areas.
Getting There Is Easy.
It may come as a surprise to many that getting to Medellin, Colombia is actually easier that you might think. Many major U.S. carriers, such as Delta, United, and American, offer service to this Latin hotspot. Nonstop flights can even be found leaving from cities like Miami and Atlanta.
The José María Córdova airport in Medellin is a state-of-the-art facility that was built in 1985. It is capable of handling a wide variety of modern aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and 767, as well as the Airbus 380. To accommodate the growing influx of visitors, the facility is undergoing additional modernization to attract tourists as well as the airlines that bring them there.
Medellin, Colombia Cultural Offerings Are World-Class.
Medellin’s recent history has often obscured the fact that the cultural scene is actually on a par with (or, in some cases, surpasses) many other cities. From outdoor plazas and parks, to collections of art and sculpture, to historical tours, there are many options to expand your cultural perspective.
Imagine finding a Zen garden in the heart of a bustling, Latin American metropolis. The Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park) is exactly that – a quiet space filled with bamboo, fountains and sandpits where one can rest and revitalize from a busy day of sightseeing.
Art and sculpture are on full display in Medellin. The works of world-renowned artist, Fernando Botero, a Medellin native, are featured prominently throughout the city. The Botero Plaza contains 23 sculptures by the artist which dramatically demonstrate his signature style of “Boterismo,” depicting his subjects in large, exaggerated forms.
The Museo de Antioquia contains numerous paintings and sculptures by Botero and fellow Colombian artist, Pedro Nel Gómez. Located in the heart of the Plaza, this area can truly be said to be the cultural heart of Medellin.
For those interested in Medellin’s recent past, there is even a Pablo Escobar Historical Tour. Escobar has been called the wealthiest criminal in history, with a net worth believed to be $30 billion at the height of his career. Killed by authorities in 1993, he still remains one of the most controversial figures in Medellin, Colombia’s history.
To experience turn of the century Medellin culture, visiting Pueblito Paisa (Little Town) located at the top of Nutibarra Hill is a must-do item. Developed in 1976, this replica of a typical Antioquia village captures the feel of a small Colombian community.
Since its creation, Paisa Town has grown into one of the most popular tourist locations in Medellin. The outdoor market and various festivals transport visitors to a less harried place and time.
Medellin can rightly be said to on the cutting edge of an architectural revolution. Modernistic construction meshes with classic Colonial style buildings, creating a unique blend of the past and the future which complement each other quite well.
In 2013, Medellin won the prestigious Veronica Rudge Green Prize for Urban Design. As can be seen below, this award was rightly earned.
The Cost of Living in Medellin Is Less Than Imagined.
Perhaps the most important question that potential expats or investors ask about any tropical destination is: How much does it cost to live there? As Medellin Colombia draws more and more attention as a possible retirement location, it may come as a pleasant surprise that the price of paradise is not as steep as one might think.
Medellin vs. Panama City
Medellin is often compared with Panama City, Panama in terms of development and in importance to their respective countries. Medellin is the larger of the two with a population of 2,441,123 as opposed to Panama City’s 1,501,691.
Importantly, each city has undergone a resurgence following a period of unrest. For Panama City, it began after the fall of Manuel Noriega in 1989, while in Medellin, the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 marked its rebirth.
The following examples provide a good illustration of the difference in daily living costs in these two Latin American metropolitan areas:
- Consumer Prices in Medellin are 47.16% lower than in Panama City
- Consumer Prices Including Rent in Medellin are 58.09% lower than in Panama City
- Rent Prices in Medellin are 78.21% lower than in Panama City
- Restaurant Prices in Medellin are 62.75% lower than in Panama City
- Groceries Prices in Medellin are 52.63% lower than in Panama City
- Local Purchasing Power in Medellin is 11.65% higher than in Panama City
Put simply, you would only need $1,508.61 monthly to maintain the same lifestyle and standard of living that would cost you $3,600 in Panama City. It is clear that your money can go farther in Medellin than in other, similar tropical destinations.
Fun Things to Do in Medellin.
There are a lot of fun things that you can do in and around Medellin. Numerous celebrations, events, and special sights are all there to be experienced.
Festivals and Events
Perhaps one of the most popular events in Medellin is the El Alumbrado, or “The Lighting,” which features millions of Christmas lights and displays throughout the city. This annual display dates back to 1851 and has been run by the Empresas Públicas de Medellín, Medellin’s public utility company, since 1955.
The Festival of the Flowers, which occurs in late July through early August, may be the most important social event for the community. Established in 1957, the festival is a celebration marking the end of Colonial slavery.
During the Colonial period, indigenous Colombians were used to transport wealthy Spanish officials and their belongings on their backs. These servants were known as “silleteros” (literally “chair-men”).
Today, instead of cargo and passengers, modern day silleteros carry elaborate floral displays. From an original parade of 40 men, this celebration of freedom has grown into a festival that draws participants from all over the globe.
Those who enjoy taking in some stunning vistas while also getting a great cardio workout can take a short trip just outside of Medellin to Laguna Guatape. This man-made lake is actually a reservoir for the hydroelectric dam that supplies 30% of Colombia’s power.
Guatape is also the home to one of the most impressive sites in the entire country: La Piedra del Peñol, commonly referred to as “The Rock.” This ancient megalith rises some 700 ft and can be climbed by navigating the 740 steps that have been carved into its side.
Once the climb is made, the intrepid visitor can experience a awe-inspiring 360° view of the Lake and the village of Guatape itself.
World’s Best Coffee
Of course, no visit to Medellin Colombia would be complete without touring “coffee country.” Medellin is the capital of the Department of Antioquia which is widely acknowledged as the heartland of Colombia’s world famous coffee industry.
This is, by no means, the complete list of all the things that can be experienced in Medellin. Whether indoor sites, like museums or libraries, or outdoor offerings, such as parks, plazas, and sightseeing destinations, Medellin has something for everyone.
Medellin Is One of the Fastest Growing Tourist Destinations Worldwide.
One clear indication of Medellin’s growing popularity is the increase in the number of foreigners who make their way to this South American gem. According to a recent study by the World Tourism Organization, while international tourism in general has increased by a rate of 4%, Medellin’s tourism growth rate was an astounding 34%. That’s over eight times that of the rest of the world!
Although located in South America, the weather in Medellin is surprisingly moderate. With an average daily temperature of 72° F (22° C), Medellin rightly earns its nickname as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera,” the city of Eternal Spring. This comfortable climate has also contributed to the influx of visitors who come to experience all the city has to offer.
There Is a Thriving Expat Presence in Medellin.
For potential expats seeking to find kindred souls in Medellin, look no further than the neighborhood of El Poblado. It is known to locals as Las Manzanas de Oro (The Golden Apples) for its reputation as the main economic center in what has become the second largest economy in Colombia.
Established on March 2, 1616, at what is today El Poblado Square, this was the first European settlement in the Aburrá Valley. Originally known as San Lorenzo de Aburrá, the parish was renamed San José del Poblado in 1845.
First World Services and Amenities
As home to Medellin’s elite, it also became a natural drawing card for expats seeking the familiarity and comforts of a Western lifestyle. The Zona Rosa was established as an expat and tourist mecca filled with western style entertainment, shopping and business establishments.
Via Primavera and Via Provenza, both located in Zona Rosa, feature the kind of boutique shopping that could be found in major fashion-forward centers around the globe. The small shops offer a wide variety of styles and price tags for every taste and budget.
The addition of gourmet restaurants, outdoor cafes, art galleries and more, create a special cosmopolitan blend of western fashion and Colombian flair. With a growing expat population, modern amenities, and housing, El Poblado compares favorably with other high-end communities throughout Latin America.
Medellin Colombia Is One of the Most Innovative Cities in the World.
When one thinks of the most progressive metropolitan areas in the world, places like Los Angeles, London, and Paris immediately come to mind. In 2012, Medellin was included in a group of 200 cities, worldwide, for the title of Most Innovative City of the Year. One of the major reasons for this prestigious honor was the number of major advances the city has made in public transportation.
Its Metrocable is the first gondola lift system in the world dedicated to public transit. Since it began operations in 2004, the system has a ridership of 30,000 people daily to and from the city center to less-developed areas. It is also integrated into the larger Metro system.
The Metro rail system is, in and of itself, one of the most forward thinking transit systems in the world. While moving an estimated 500,000 passengers daily, the system also reduces CO2 emissions in the city by 175,000 tons yearly.
Perhaps the most important innovation is the creation of a unique transport system connecting Comuna 13 to the rest of Medellin Colombia. A 2,244 foot, orange roofed, outdoor escalator now makes it possible for residents of this once troubled neighborhood to easily get to the heart of the city. This ability has promoted a sense of unity that has helped bridge both social and economic divides.
You Can Own Property in Medellin.
A major concern for potential investors and expat is whether foreigners can buy, sell, and own property in Medellin Colombia. The short answer is: YES!
Like many Central and South American countries, Colombia allows foreigners to own property with the necessity of obtaining a residency visa or a Colombia National ID Card (Cédula de Extranjería). In fact, real estate transactions can be carried without with nothing more than your tourist stamp on your passport.
As Colombia continues to recover from the turmoil of the late 1990s, the country has streamlined the process for foreign buyers to invest in the country. Non-Colombians now have the same property rights as Colombian citizens, marking a dramatic departure from the prior situation, where property rights were limited for foreigners.
The Buying Process
The first step in owning property is to identify both the location and the type of property you desire. New construction or a restoration project, modern amenities or a more authentic and rustic neighborhood – like everywhere else on the planet, Medellin property is all about location, location, location.
While the process has been simplified, it is still important to have the correct paperwork in order and to make certain that funds can be readily transferred. As is the case in many tropical countries, a legally established representative is required to ensure the successful transfer of property, title, and funds.
The Associated Costs
The following chart provides a guideline of the, relatively low, fees involved in a property transfer:
|Real estate Agents’ Fees||3% – 4% (+ 16% VAT)||seller|
|Costs paid by buyer||1.65%|
|Costs paid by seller||3.63% – 4.79%|
|ROUND TRIP TRANSACTION COSTS||5.28% – 6.44%|
|Source: Global Property Guide|
The fees are used to complete a number of necessary steps in the transaction process. Obtaining a certificate about the property’s history, a successful title search, the necessary tax certificates, and the property deed will take roughly two weeks.
Establishing a Colombian bank account will make the transfer of funds much easier. It is important to remember that the process of opening a new account can take up to two weeks. This can prevent delays when scheduling a closing date.
One additional point to consider is whether or not you want to hold title in your own name. While Colombia does not require the creation of an SAS, (like the U.S. LLC), it may be a prudent step for tax and other legal considerations.
Is Now a Good Time to Invest in Medellin?
For expats, retirees, and investors alike, having great potential for return on investment is the paramount issue in considering any move to a foreign country. Medellin’s emergence as both a tourist destination and an economic center make it well-placed to provide the kind of long-term, sustainable growth that many potential expats desire as a means of providing for a sunny retirement outlook.
Like other Latin American locations, Medellin may not be for everyone. It is a city in a state of resurgence and, as might be expected, there are growing pains that come along with that progress.
Do your research. Identify those items which are “must haves,” and then see how this Colombian jewel matches up with those requirements.
Discovering these facts about Medellin is only the start of the adventure. Plan a visit and explore what life there is like firsthand. You may just discover that the “Land of Eternal Spring” is the location of your own personal fountain of youth.