In the last 1.5 years of nomading around the world, I have been to 16 countries. Yet somehow I ended up spending 6 months in Colombia with 5 of those in Medellin. Something about that math seems fuzzy, but I double checked.
I began my nomading journey in Medellin and have little doubt it will also be where it ends. I remember the first time as we came out of the tunnel driving from the airport and seeing the city lights... how the music was getting louder as we were getting closer to Provenza... Like a river flowing to the sea, I keep coming back. As I sit in the airport waiting for my flight to CDMX, I reflect on how the hell it is my sixth time coming back.
Here is my (gringo) take, unfiltered and raw.
Once you get to know Colombians better, you start recognizing them as Paisa , Costeño, Rolo, etc. The Paisas come from the Northwest of Colombia, where Medellin is home to the largest city in the region. They rightfully have a reputation as some of the most welcoming and kind people you will ever meet, and that hospitality extends towards foreigners. They are proud of their culture and heritage and have moved on from their dark history. Sometimes to a fault of pretending it didn't even happen. I particularly get a kick out of their selective memory, such as telling you how they absolutely crushed Argentina 5-0 in a historic football match... which happened in 1993 ;)
Colombians have got to be some of the happiest and most extroverted people I have ever met. Growing up in Iran where foreign music or any form of dance is illegal, Colombia is the antithesis to the religious extremism I grew up in which plagues my place of birth to this day. You hear music just about everywhere you go, see people dance on the streets, and don't have to think twice about holding your date's hands in public. In my second home of Canada, the laws might be liberal, but the culture is still conservative overall, maybe except Montreal. Still, it is nowhere near Latin America.
In Medellin I made a number of friends that I consider close friends. It is something you have to experience yourself first hand. The latino culture is generally warmer, and friendships are more real than my primary reference point of USA/Canada. Nowhere that felt truer than Medellin. Some of the best friends I made were while beating each other in MMA gyms, trying to learn Salsa, bar hopping around town, or at language exchanges especially my favourite Gringo Tuesdays!
Metropolitan area of Medellin is actually a collection of several cities. Nicknamed the city of eternal spring, it really is the greenest city I have stepped in thus far. The weather is more or less a pleasant 25c everyday with varying rainfall throughout the year. There are plenty of attractions worth checking out. There are many scenic hikes in and around the city for all levels. The subway system in Medellin is modern, affordable, and fairly safe. Ubers are safe and widely available. It also has some of the most surprisingly large and modern shopping malls I have seen. Huge bonus point, you can drink the tap water and it's tasty!
The national sport of Colombia is Tejo, which is basically cornhole with explosives! Yup, you read that right. It is a "blast" to play, and while Bogota has the real deal, you can certainly give it a go in Medellin. Check out Anthony Bourdain playing Tejo here.
Oh, and the coffee scene. Just amazing.
As a tourist, chances are you will spend the bulk of your time in a particular area in Medellin called El Poblado. It certainly has been my favourite neighborhood. The nightlife is second to none with 6 blocks of streets packed with bars, restaurants, and clubs. My favourite spot for going out ever is located here, and I cannot recommend it enough: Mad Radio.
The nightlife is one of the best things about Medellin, and there are plenty of hotspots around town. It has this amazing energy and vibe to it that you just need to experience. El Poblado is the largest neighbourhood and where I spent the majority of my time, but I have been to Laureles and Buenos Aires neighbourhoods as well and they are certainly worth checking out. Getting on a chiva bus is a must, it is one of the most outrageous and funnest things you'll do, and one that certainly wouldn't pass insurance in most countries :)
It is however a huge bubble and most people who stay in Medellin for longer tend to graduate to other neighbourhoods at some point, primarily Laureles. For your first visit I highly recommend staying in El Poblado. It is a good mix of locals and foreigners, fairly safe and walkable, and if Spanish is not your forte, then there will be plenty of help available in English.
Now that I gave you all the rainbows and sunshines, here are some of the negatives about Medellin. The traffic during rush hour is rough. There are areas where you should not go wandering around, certainly not by yourself. You may have heard about one of the scariest drugs known to mankind, Scopolamine and while with some precautions you should be fine, it does happen to the unsuspecting tourists who venture out of depth. Despite a strict gun ban, firearms in the hands of criminals is not rare, and stories about getting pickpocketed or robbed are all too common. While I absolutely love the accents in Colombia, some of the words in general use (ahem... marica) feel extremely wrong and not ones you would ever hear me say.
Here is what I can say about the above, those are hardly negatives that only apply to Medellin. I could've just as simply with a few small changes had been talking about any other major city, including some of the rougher parts of the richest nation ever, the United States. In the vast majority of countries, wandering around without some prior planning is not a smart choice.
Medallo is absolutely beautiful, but it has thorns. Some sharper than rest. Enjoy all it has to offer but keep your guard up.
I am acutely aware that my rose-colored glasses are heavily influenced by my experience as a visiting foreigner. While I have spent quite a bit of time in Colombia, I have only observed the life experiences at a distance, which importantly includes working locally. Nor have I had to deal with what daily life as a Colombian truly entails. Probably if I had to commute daily in traffic, had a corporate job in an office, needed to file taxes, etc, I wouldn't have liked it as much as I do. That said, I try to keep a balanced view of places I go, and for all that Medellin offers at its cost of living, it is thus far my preferred city to settle in for the long-term.
Now if it only had a beach, pretty sure I would just never leave!
Nos vemos pronto 😍