My brother came to Colombia a long time ago, around 1997, a time when the country was still a bit dangerous, and now he lives in a West Palm Beach suburb that only could be more monotonous if it were in Orange County, Calif.
I’m pretty sure I’ve made some jokes. I have to. He’s my brother.
This year I was on the receiving end of such jokes, because I moved to the Medellín suburb of Envigado.
“You’re living in the ‘burbs? You’re getting old man!”
I have since returned to “the city” but I had a great time living in Envigado, mainly because it is nothing like a lot of these new Florida suburbs.
While infamously known as Pablo Escobar’s birthplace and the violence he brought to the region, it’s actually a pretty trendy place to live now.
Some parts, mainly the area near the frontera with Medellín’s chic southern area, are hard to distinguish from the posh Poblado comuna where most foreigners live.
Envigado’s got great nightlife and restaurants, beautiful parks, charming people and neighborhoods, and, according to Dave, the best Christmas lights in the valley. I enjoyed my six months living there.
I’m back in the more centrally located Laureles/Estadio comuna, but I do miss Envigado sometimes. I was there recently, for El Dia del Amor y Amistad, Colombia’s Valentine’s Day, and we had a great night of dancing and dining.
The Spanish arrived in the area now known as Envigado in 1541, although it wasn’t until 1775 that it became a city, according to the local government website.
Envigado is, in a way, like a Medellín comuna when you factor in size and population: 7,878 square kilometers and just under 200,000 people, about the same size as Comuna Belén.
Points of Interest
There is no shortage of things to do in Envigado.
Most visitors’ first stop is Parque Envigado, a one square block plaza featuring the Envigado Church on one side, and bars and restaurants around all the rest.
Parque Envigado is a convenient place to meet up with friends, and is also the epicenter of public events in the city, including outdoor concerts and the Christmas light display.
You could go hiking in the southeast region of the city, at La Romera and Parque El Salado. You can take the kids to Parque Recreativo, or you can sit and relax in Parque Envigado.
If you want some culture, go to Otraparte, the former home of philosopher Fernando González, which today is a museum dedicated to his memory.
After a day of sightseeing, you might be hungry and you have a lot of restaurants to enjoy.
My favorite is Stella, over in the Zona Gastronómica, the place I went for my birthday dinner this year.
But the area has other great places too: Barbacoa Burgers and Beer, if you feel like a gourmet hamburguesa; El Barral, if you’re in the mood for some delicious Spanish tapas; El Trifásico, for all the meat lovers; Tepito, for some good tacos.
So you’re still down here, and now you want to party?
There are more than enough places for that.
For the laid-back bar atmosphere, where you would have few and maybe watch a fútbol game with your friends, go to Lady Blue over on Guanteros.
Windsor Pub, just south of Parque Envigado, is great for live music.
And La Tienda, a fonda, or a paisa restaurant that becomes a disco where people dance next to their tables, is great for salsa and merengue.
A new place that intrigues me? Hágale Pues, a fonda in La Bota del Dia, an area near Parque Envigado with a cluster of bars, clubs and fast food stops.
“Hágale pues” is probably my favorite paisa phrase, something friends often say to each other right before doing something fun. It means, “Hurry up and do it!”
The only major centro comercial in Envigado is City Plaza, which has a variety of businesses, from food and fashion to travel agencies and entertainment.
But don’t dismiss the little shops near Parque Envigado. You can often find nice clothes or trinkets there for great prices.
Western Envigado is much safer than the city’s eastern regions during the nighttime hours, but during the day you can go almost anywhere.
Common sense = caution, and with that you should be fine.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Envigado is starting to change, because fancy new apartments are under construction in many neighborhoods, not just the area near the Medellín border, where a line of the Metroplus, a rapid transit bus line, is being built as well.
You can go as far south as Barrio La Paz, Escobar’s old neighborhood, and see new buildings underway. Or go farther east to the La Cuadrita area and you’ll see at least a half dozen new projects in the works.
That means a one-bedroom apartment will range from 600,000 pesos to 1.2 million pesos a month ($275 to $660), with the higher end being furnished places with services included.
I think it’s easy to see why, with all the amenities in the area, costs are rising. And why it’s not a typical suburb. And why I miss it so.