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Living in Medellin

A comprehensive guide about living well in Medellin

Medellin, located in the Aburra Valley, is the second largest city in Colombia and life in Medellin has gone through an incredible transformation in the last few years. Safety levels have vastly improved, as has the local economy after the city embraced industrial dynamism at the start of the 21st century.

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Life in Medellin

Medellin is now ranked as one of the top South American cities for expats to live in and it has even been named the most innovative city in the world. Medellin’s nickname is the City of Eternal Spring due to its pleasant climate all year round and around two million people live in the city.

Transportation in Medellin

The North Transportation Terminal and the South Transportation Terminal are the two main transport hubs in Medellin, with the local public transport system including diesel buses and taxis, as well as the only metro system in Colombia. The metro has five lines, including Line J – an air cable car that is locally known as Metrocable — that links the city with hard to reach areas.

Medellin also benefits from its own recently built bus rapid transit service, which runs on a dedicated road and is a similar system to the one in operation in Bogota.

Sustainable transport is very important in Colombia and the work that has been done in Medellin in recent years has helped the city to be given the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award by the Institute for Transport & Development Policy.

Olaya Herrera Airport is the city’s domestic airport and there are regular flights to the Colombian capital city Bogota, which is the busiest route the airport runs.

Some 29 km east of the city is Jose Maria Cordova Airport, located in Rionegro. From here, expats living in Medellin can reach cities such as Miami, as well as destinations in Europe and the Caribbean.

Jose Maria Cordova Airport is also vital in terms of western Colombia’s infrastructure as the airport handles a large proportion of the region’s flower exports, which are crucial to the local economy in the area. 

Medellin is built on a grid system and streets (carreras) run parallel to the river from south to north, while other roads (calles) run from east to west. A new electric tramway (Tranvía) and two more Metrocable lines are currently under construction with an expected completion date of 2016. The city also has its own transport app, Metro de Medellin, while taxis are quite cheap.

The city is also notable for its amazing outdoor escalators, which take residents up 385 meters – the equivalent of 28 stories – to the mountainside community of Comuna Trece on the west side of the city.

Culture and Leisure in Medellin

Medellin’s main cultural influence is Spain and the city center has a different feel compared too much of the rest of Colombia. The annual Festival of the Flowers is one the most important dates on the Medellin annual calendar, a tradition that has been in place for the last 60 years. 

The city is known for displaying the works of prominent artists on the streets and there are a lot of sculptures for foreigners living in Medellin to enjoy while they are out and about in the city. El Poblado Avenue and the Sculpture Park in Nutibara Hill are two of the best places to see art. The reason why sculptures are so common in Medellin is that the city’s government ruled that all tall buildings should incorporate a sculpture of some kind.

Galleries and museums are also dotted around the city center and some of the best to visit include the Museum of Antioquia, Modern Art Museum (MAMM) and the Interactive Museum EPM environment, which is part of Parque de los Pies Descalzos.

Medellin is a wonderful place to spend time in during December, when the city is covered in fairy lights to mark Christmas. National Geographic has ranked the Medellin Christmas lights display — best viewed on La Playa Avenue and the Medellin River — as one of the best in the world. 

The Bullfighting Festival of La Macarena is one of the highlights of the year for expatriates living in Medellin, while other important annual events include an international jazz festival, Medellin Book Fair and the International Tango Festival.

Medellin’s most famous dish is the Bandeja paisa, a platter of food served on a tray slab or wood that usually includes chorizo, blood sausage, beans, rice, egg, salad and various meats. Arepas are also commonly eaten in Medellin, as they are throughout Colombia. Great restaurants can be found all over Medellin especially in El Poblado Zona Rosa and Laureles; the city’s nightlife is also outstanding with a bunch of diversity of theme bars and clubs across the city. 

The most popular sport in Medellin is soccer and the city is home to two major professional clubs, Atlético Nacional and Deportivo Independiente Medellin, both of whom play at the Atanasio Girardot Stadium. Horseback riding is also popular in Medellin and throughout the Antioquia region.

Safety and Security in Medellin

Medellin used to have a reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but a lot of hard work has been put in to make it safer. Medellin was described as the murder capital of the world in the 1980s, but the city has put those dark days long behind it.

The homicide rate has fallen by over 80 per cent from a ratio of 380 per 100,000 people in 1991 when the city was in the grips of gangs led by Pablo Escobar. Time magazine even described Colombia as a failed state. 

Many of the most dangerous parts of Medellin were its hillside slums and work has taken place to integrate those communities more closely into city life, for instance with the introduction of a cable car that has slashed commuting times for many residents. 

However, despite the progress that has been made gangs do still control parts of Medellin and extortion is common across the city. Violence is not uncommon but is usually between gangs and as long as expatriates living in Medellin stick to the city’s safer areas they should not encounter too many problems.

Most criminal activity is linked to Colombia’s drug trade, which is still a major problem across the country, with Medellin one of the largest cocaine producing cities in the world. 

Robberies and thefts are the most likely crimes for expats to become victims of and they can reduce their chances of being targeted by keeping valuables out of sight.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: August 03, 2015
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