Medellin Living » Transportation http://medellinliving.com Colombia Travel Blog Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Uber in Medellín: 7 Ways the Service Offers a Superior Experience http://medellinliving.com/uber/ http://medellinliving.com/uber/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://medellinliving.com?p=26950&preview_id=26950 Dave makes the case for why Uber is a superior ride service to taxis in Medellín, Colombia based on his 42 rides in the past 30 days.

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Editor’s Note: Sign up for Uber and enter the promo code ML2015 to get 75,000 pesos worth of free credit (three rides worth a max of 25,000 pesos each) in Medellín. Offer applies to new accounts only.

“I’m calling an Uber,” I said to my paisa date as we were preparing to leave Los Contenedores, a collection of trendy restaurants built within shipping containers in Envigado.

Confused about why we needed to wait several minutes for a ride when there was a constant flow of taxis heading south on Avenida Las Vegas, I explained to her “Uber is a new service, it’s better, you’ll see!”

Using Uber’s app, I tracked the arrival of our ride, a clean white SUV with tinted windows. Upon confirming the license plate on the vehicle matched what was indicated in the app, we got inside.

The driver promptly greeted us and offered the standard bottle of water, before I gave him instructions to head for Parque Sabaneta. As we got underway, he asked if the temperature was okay and what kind of music we wanted to hear.

As this was occurring, my date was having a visible “ah ha” moment, the same one I experienced with my first Uber ride in Medellín. Sipping from the now open bottle of water, she noted there was no meter like you see in taxis.

By the time we arrived in Sabaneta, she was asking the driver to quote a monthly rate based on her daily commute.

January 2015 marked the official launch of Uber, a San Francisco-based mobile app that offers an alternative to taking taxis, in Medellín. The month before, Uber made headlines when it was valued at over $41 billion (four times the value of Airbnb).

Since mid-February, I’ve taken 42 rides (50 by the time you read this story). I’m confident once you experience the difference in safety, comfort and convenience offered by Uber in Medellín, you’ll agree with these seven ways it’s a superior service to taxis.

VW Amarok

Several of my Uber rides have been in a VW Amarok

1. Safety

Staying safe is paramount in Medellín, making it reason number one I prefer Uber.

Increased Privacy

As a consequence of being robbed by thieves on a motorbike while riding in a taxi, I now associate the rinky-dink yellow compact cars with a sense of vulnerability. They’re low to the ground and rarely have tinted windows, making it easy for thieves to see inside.

I don’t imagine their light frames fair well in serious traffic accidents either.

By comparison, Uber’s vehicle requirements for their original service (the only one available in Medellín at this time) are such that about 80 percent of my rides have been in either large pick-up trucks or SUVs, almost all featuring tinted windows.

The remaining 20 percent have been in cars, most of which featured tinted windows as well.

Conservative Driving

On the whole, I also feel taxis drive too aggressively here. On more than one occasion, I’ve felt so unsafe I’ve asked the driver to slow down or relax. Sometimes they take their foot off the gas and other times they chuckle and proceed at full speed.

As a customer, I have no recourse aside from asking the driver to stop and let me out, a massive inconvenience and potentially dangerous request depending on the hour and neighborhood. The driver has no incentive to change as it’s unlikely he’ll ever see me again.

Thus far, my Uber drivers have been noticeably more conservative in how they drive. When I asked one driver whether they were trained to take it slow, he said no, however, it’s in their best interest to drive safely (otherwise they risk poor ratings and reviews).

Why Women Prefer Uber

I’m not alone in viewing Uber as a safer alternative. One driver told me 70 percent of his customers are women, especially on the weekends (when they’re out late partying).

It should come as little surprise that Colombia’s macho culture leads to the sexual harassment (and in some instances, the drugging) of women by taxi drivers. I’ve gotten a glimpse of this when some of my male drivers (and 99.9 percent of my taxi drivers have been male) whistle at or comment toward women on the street.

As I’ll discuss below, Uber’s user rating system encourages a more professional level of service and gives riders a way to report inappropriate behavior. Too low a score or too many complaints and the driver is fired.

A Renault Duster

A Renault Duster

2. Comfort

As I already mentioned, Uber maintains certain standards when it comes to vehicles. This is a part of their allure and why users like me are willing to pay a small premium.

When a driver accepts your request through the app, you’ll immediately see his photo, name and model of car, so you know what to look out for while you wait.

Typical vehicles include:

  • Renault Duster (SUV)
  • Daihatsu Terios (compact SUV)
  • Chevrolet D-Max (extended cab pick-up truck)

I’ve also ridden in several VW Amarok trucks and a Jetta. Most vehicles have been white. And the majority of my drivers have also been the vehicle’s owner, which means they’re more inclined to keep it clean and operating well.

Tinted Windows

Almost every vehicle I’ve used has had tinted windows, offering protection from the sun and increased privacy. Sometimes the shade is so dark I can’t see inside even when I’m standing directly outside the door.

After the robbery, I’d stopped using my cell phone in taxis for fear of thieves targeting me. Between the larger ground clearance of SUVs and pick-ups and the tinted windows, I’ve been able to relax and not feel I’m putting myself at risk if I want to send a text message.

Air Conditioning

Once I started rolling my windows up in taxis for safety reasons, it began to get hot and stuffy.

I can count on one hand the times since 2009 I’ve been in a cab anywhere in Colombia with the air conditioning turned on. Almost all prefer to have their windows down instead.

With Uber, I have the opposite experience. The drivers ask about my comfort, and if I prefer air conditioning. During the day, I almost always say yes. This allows me to have the windows up for security and not sacrifice comfort.

Free Water

The offer of a free bottled water (or in some instances, iced tea) is a small but appreciated touch. I accept roughly two-thirds of the time unless I’m on my way to/from a meal.

Uber ride history

Uber ride history

3. Cashless Transactions

In the United States, the speed and efficiency of financial transactions are continually improving. The goal is to create a frictionless consumer experience.

Colombia and most Latin countries lag years behind in adopting these new technologies, and as a result, are still predominantly cash-based economies.

Sign up for Uber and you’re tapping into an efficiency from the U.S. in Medellín.

All that’s required when you set up your account is a valid debit or credit card. Each ride is then automatically charged to your account upon completion, allowing you to quickly exit the vehicle at your destination.

This is a fantastic benefit for many reasons:

  • No more fussing with cash to pay for every ride.
  • Eliminates the need to carry small bills (taxis often have trouble changing 50,000 peso and even 20,000 peso bills). Unlike in the U.S., none are set up to accept plastic.
  • Uber drivers don’t expect tips. Therefore, you’re no longer left wondering whether to tip, and if so, how much. (Note: not all taxi drivers give exact change either, some round up assuming you won’t miss a few coins.) You do, however, have the option to set a flat tip rate within the Uber app.
  • You avoid the situation where you accidentally spend all your cash on drinks and have to borrow money from a friend to get home.
  • You avoid the awkwardness of handing a date money for her taxi. Going a step further, you can even send her home in an Uber knowing the fare will be automatically charged to your account.

These automated transactions naturally lead to another benefit.

Uber receipt

Uber receipt

4. Electronic Receipts

Uber’s app automatically emails the account holder an electronic receipt for every ride. It includes the time, date, a clear breakdown of the fare, driver and a map showing the start and end points.

This is great for me as I track Uber rides for business purposes so I can claim them as an expense on my taxes.

You can view a history of every ride you’ve ever paid for on both the mobile app and website.

Sign up for Uber and enter the promo code ML2015 to get 75,000 pesos worth of free credit (three rides worth a max of 25,000 pesos each) in Medellín. Offer applies to new accounts only.

5. Rate and Review Drivers

Amazon, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Hostelworld. These sites have revolutionized the ability for consumers to make educated purchasing decisions based on user ratings and reviews.

Uber’s app requires every rider to rate their driver before he/she can ask for another ride.

Drivers who enjoy working for Uber have every reason to treat the customer well to keep a consistently high rating. To receive consistently low ratings risks loss of employment.

Likewise, drivers have the ability to rate riders, which encourages the customers to treat the drivers with respect.

While not yet enabled in Medellín, if a driver or passenger rates the other with fewer than three stars, Uber’s software ensures the two will not be paired again.

I’ve given 95 percent of drivers a five-star rating, and the remaining 5 percent four-star ratings because they either had trouble finding where to pick me up or needed help with directions.

Lack of knowledge about the city is a minor growing pain and to be expected, as most of the drivers working for Uber are doing so as a second source of income.

The majority of my drivers have had a professional background, worked for the city or are university students (one was studying medicine, another environmental engineering).

6. Customer Service

When I invited my friend Don to visit the park in Ciudad del Rio one Sunday afternoon with his dog Ringo, I offered to send them both back to Envigado in an Uber so he could experience the service.

After confirming a ride, I called the driver and asked if he was okay with having a dog in his SUV. He responded “sure, I love dogs.”

Upon arrival, he offered to set out a blanket so Ringo could lay on the back seat though Don waved him off, saying Ringo would be fine sitting on the floor. Per Uber’s policy, it’s at the driver’s discretion as to whether he/she will transport pets. I suspect most are fine with it.

At this point, it should be clear that customer service is central to the Uber experience. From the quality of vehicles to the disposition of the drivers, there’s no comparison between Uber’s service and that of taxis.

Drivers have every incentive to treat the customer well, which is not the case if you’re hailing taxis from the street, calling for pick-up or using other apps like Easy Taxi.

7. Low Cost

You might think with all the benefits I’ve outlined, Uber would be cost prohibitive for those living on a budget in Medellín.

I was surprised to find that’s not at all the case. The cost for the current service is marginally more expensive than taxis while the quality of service is much higher.

In February, I spent a total of 243,000 pesos on 23 rides, averaging 10,565 pesos per ride. Given the current strength of the U.S. Dollar, that works out to $90 total and an average of $3.91 per ride.

Even if the exchange were 2,000 pesos to the dollar, we’re still only talking an average of $5 per ride.

On the topic of pricing, it’s worth mentioning that Uber’s algorithm is designed to work within urban settings. Longer trips are based on flat rates, which are still subject to tweaking as Uber works to set up a fair rate based on driver feedback.

For example, a ride from Medellín to Jose Maria Cordova International Airport is a flat 75,000 pesos ($28) with Uber vs. 60,000 pesos ($22.40) via taxi. A ride from Medellín to Guatape is 160,000 pesos ($60). See more flat rates here.

As the market matures, Uber will introduce additional service tiers appealing to a wider range of budgets, including UberX, a no frills option cheaper than taxis. Check out the four options in Bogotá for a glimpse of the future.

Uber Promo code

Special Offer for Medellín Living Readers

Medellín Living, in partnership with Uber, is excited to offer new users the chance to experience Uber’s service in Medellín at no cost.

Signing up is easy. Follow these simple steps and start using Uber today:

  1. Click here to create an account.
  2. Fill in your details. Note: Only debit cards with the Visa or Mastercard logos are accepted.
  3. Click “Add A Promo Code” at the bottom of the form.
  4. Enter ML2015 for the promotion code.
  5. Click the “Create Account” button.
  6. Download the app from the App Store, Google Play or Windows Store and sign into your account.

Now you can enjoy your first three Uber rides with a maximum value of 25,000 pesos per ride at no cost. While it’s unlikely you’ll exceed 25,000 pesos for an average trip, any overage will be charged to your card.

Have you used Uber in Medellín, or anywhere in Colombia? Share your experience in the Comments below.

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Best Bus Routes in Medellín http://medellinliving.com/best-bus-routes/ http://medellinliving.com/best-bus-routes/#comments Sun, 30 Nov 2014 13:00:41 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=24246 Ryan, who often uses public transportation, will tell us about the best bus routes in Medellín, the ones foreigners can use to get to the city's best spots.

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The Ruta Hotelera buses connect Laureles and Poblado.

The Ruta Hotelera buses connect Laureles and Poblado

Taxis provide great convenience. But what if you knew the best bus routes in Medellín as well?

You could save a lot of money, at least 2 million pesos a year (about $1,000).

If you don’t take the bus, we understand. It’s a complicated system.

We’re not talking about the Metroplus: that has easy-to-follow routes that go to only certain parts of the city.

The Metro is even easier. There are two lines, one that runs north-south, the other east-west, with a couple of Metrocables.

Well that’s why we’re here.

We’ve written about taking the bus before, a long time ago, and there are some good tips in that story. This is a follow-up to it. So instead of telling you how to take the bus, we’re going to tell you the best bus routes in Medellín for foreigners, the ones that get you to your favorite destinations.

Hold on tight…these bus drivers sometimes seem like they’re racing…

1. Ruta Hotelera

These routes provides travelers with the most direct bus route between Laureles and Poblado, two of the city’s most popular districts.

There are two buses, the 304 and the 305.

Some of the most important stops along these routes include:

  • Terminal del Sur: Here you can take buses to other parts of the country or take a domestic flight at the small airport next door, Enrique Olaya Herrera.
  • La Milla del Oro: The Golden Mile, an opulent stretch of Avenida Poblado, is known for its business centers, malls, nightclubs and restaurants.
  • The Hills: No, not that lame reality show that made a bunch of idiots famous. I’m talking about the hills of Poblado, where you’ll find some of the best shopping and eating, as well as some of the city’s most posh apartments.
  • Parques Lleras and Parque Poblado: The two areas are known for their nightlife and restaurants.
  • La 70: This is the Parque Lleras of Laureles.
  • Avenida Nutibara: One of the main arteries of Laureles, you’ll find clubs, restaurants, grocery stores and a new theater along this stretch.

2. Envigado

You can’t miss them. They are the bright yellow buses that run between downtown Medellín and Envigado that say — wait for it — ENVIGADO on the front.

There are four different buses:

Two run along Avenida Poblado. One of them says La Paz on the front. This one goes to the neighborhoods in the southern part of the suburb.

The other one says Rosellon. This one goes to the hills in the eastern part of the city.

These are the same two options for the other two buses, only they run along Avenida Las Vegas.

Along the routes, you’ll pass landmarks such as:

  • Ciudad del Rio/Museo del Arte Moderno: Spend a day here and enjoy not just the museum, but Ciudad del Rio’s beautiful park, a delicious lunch at Bonuar, and great coffee at Cariñito Café.
  • Universidad EAFIT: Foreigners often take Spanish classes here, although there are other more economical options such as CIE Spanish school and I Speak Paisa.
  • Every Metro station from San Antonio in El Centro to Envigado in, well, you know.
  • Milla de Oro
  • Several major malls (Monterey, Premium Plaza, Punto Clave, San Diego)
  • Parque San Antonio
  • Parques Lleras and Poblado
Circular 302 and 303 cover a lot of ground in the city.

Circular Sur 302 and 303 cover a lot of ground in the city.

3. Circular Sur 302 and 303

Get ready to make a big loop on the 302 or 303, so big you will cover major roads in four districts: Belén, Candelaria, Laureles-Estadio and Poblado.

Like the other routes, you’ll pass places such as malls (Monterey), parks (Parque de Las Luces and Parque de Los Pies Descalzos) and nightlife districts (La 70), the most important place along the way is Migración Colombia.

If you’re staying in Medellín more than three months, it is essential you familiarize yourself with this office or you will be staying here illegally. It’s really easy to renew your tourist Visa.

If you get another Visa, be it business, girlfriend, marriage, work, etc., you’ll still have to make an appearance here.

4. Aeropuerto

Most people take a taxi to the international airport, José María Córdova. There is a cheaper option.

The bus.

Outside Centro Comercial San Diego, there is a bus stop along Las Palmas where a white bus with green trim and big letters that say AEROPUERTO will take you to the international airport for 9,000 pesos (about $4.50). But you might wait a while if you go there, as a reader pointed out in the comments, hence this late addition to the post.

The bus originates outside the Hotel Nutibara in downtown Medellín, near the Plaza de Botero.

A taxi costs 60,000 pesos (about $30) unless you are in a collectivo, or shared taxi, which will cost 15,000 (about $7.50).

If I’m making a trip that does not require me to take a lot of luggage, I opt for the airport bus.

5. Santa Elena

You’ll find these blue buses at a stop in El Centro, on a street called the Ayacucho. The bus stop is about four blocks east of the Oriental, where the big Iglesia de San José is.

The bus will take you to what is esentially downtown Santa Elena, where you can take other buses toward Parque Arví.

On your way, you should eat at Uchuva Lounge. Just call ahead. These days, they’re open by reservation only for groups of six or more.

You can ride the Santa Elena bus the opposite way as well, if you’ve already taken the Metrocable to Arví and want to take a different route home.

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Learning to Ride a Motorcycle in Medellín http://medellinliving.com/learning-to-ride-motorcycle/ http://medellinliving.com/learning-to-ride-motorcycle/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:00:48 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=21087 Learning to ride a motorcycle in Medellín with AutoSur, an escuela de conduccion, and their one-on-one private motorcycle classes located in Envigado.

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A selection of the bikes available at AutoSur.

A selection of the bikes available at AutoSur

After spending last year on a road trip through the American West, I became aware of the overland travel community, or those who embark on long, multiple country journeys in their own vehicle.

Within that community there is a fairly well sought after dream trip which entails driving (most frequently by motorcycle) from somewhere in North America to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.

Taking a trip like that really appeals to me on some level, even though I haven’t actively pursued it. The main problem is that I’d never actually ridden a motorcycle before.

Upon arriving in Medellín and deciding to stay here for than just a couple of weeks as I initially planned, I sought out some way to actually learn how to ride a motorcycle.

My friend Sebastian put me in contact with a driving school, or escuela de conduccion, down in Envigado called AutoSur.

Sebastian with his new motorcycle.

Sebastian with his new motorcycle

Taking my first spins around the block on a motorcycle down in Envigado as opposed to within the heart of Medellín felt just a little more sane to me some how.

AutoSur offers one-on-one motorcycle instruction classes for 45,000 pesos ($24) for 45 minutes. So I scheduled my first class a few days beforehand for an afternoon session.

Arriving at their offices, I simply handed over the money and waited for my instructor. There was no need for licenses, paperwork or other formalities.

I was given a helmet and reflective student vest (good to be safe!) and taken over to the little automatic bike.

Instruction is in Spanish at this facility, and while I have a decent intermediate ability in everyday Spanish, there are obviously words related to driving and automobile parts that I don’t regularly encounter which made it a little more difficult.

I just asked him to speak slowly and simply and found that I got the point of most everything, though some of the minutiae might have been lost.

We started by going over all of the basic components of the bike from the acceleration, brakes, kick stand and so forth. And then commenced with actually driving it around their small parking lot just getting a feel for turning and braking.

After that we headed out to the quiet street in front of their facility to take a number of laps and practice driving with infrequent traffic.

A view of the AutoSur premises where I learned to ride.

A view of the AutoSur premises where I learned to ride

Eventually we headed out for a drive around the block into the thick of traffic as I followed behind the instructor.

We arrived at a quiet cul-de-sac where we proceeded to jump into the components of a manual bike and how it differs from the automatic.

While I normally drive a manual vehicle back home, it was definitely hard adjusting to the feel of a manual bike and getting the hang of the clutch, acceleration and whatnot.

I killed it many a-times in that cul-de-sac and even nearly crashed into a low hanging tree branch as the engine shuddered violently when I botched the clutch.

We covered a lot in just one 45-minute session, but I really didn’t feel secure with a manual bike so I opted to take a second follow-up class a few days later.

In that class we jumped immediately into the manual bike and headed out to the cul-de-sac for a number of laps. I was able to catch on much faster the second time around, so soon thereafter we headed out to drive all over Envigado.

My tip to you: check out a few how to videos on YouTube in English beforehand to get a better grasp of the subtleties with the clutch and handling the bike. It helped immensely for my second class and it is definitely better to go in with more knowledge so you have more time for hands on practice.

The rest of the class was basically just touring around as I once again followed the instructor as we drove all around the city for half an hour.

It was nice not having to worry about the navigation aspect when you’ve got a lot more on your mind, like other vehicles, erratic drivers, remembering which gear you are in and not killing the engine at stop lights.

It might be a motorcycle cliche, but I agree that it was incredibly liberating and exhilarating to have the wind whipping by while making my way through the crazy traffic, roundabouts and up and down the hills of Medellín.

It’s a fun and totally different way to see and experience this beautiful city.

We would stop on occasion as he would give me a few more pointers on maneuvering the bike, shifting through the higher gears and accelerating after stopping on inclines, among other things.

A number of people (both locals and foreigners) have remarked that I must be crazy for deciding to take my first turns on a motorcycle in a hectic South American city like Medellín.

While I can certainly attest to feeling a heightened sense of awareness and being alert, I never found it to be overwhelming or scary. More than anything it was just a really fun experience and something I have always wanted to do.

AutoSur, escuela de conduccion in Envigado.

AutoSur, escuela de conduccion in Envigado

Since the classes are one on one, you are free to progress as fast or as slow as you like and with as much or as little exposure as you like. The staff at AutoSur were very friendly and accommodating.

Medellín and motorcycles go hand in hand. They are absolutely ubiquitous here. Why not experience the city the way many locals do?

If you’ve ever wanted to learn or try it out for yourself, head out to AutoSur or one of the other driving schools in the valley to get started. It really is a blast!

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Cheap Flights to Medellín http://medellinliving.com/cheap-flights/ http://medellinliving.com/cheap-flights/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 12:00:01 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=21077 Looking for cheap flights to Medellín? As tourism to the city and Colombia continue to grow, so to do the number of airlines offering flights to Medellín.

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Avianca flight

Avianca flight at José María Córdova International Airport (photo: David Lee)

It’s one of the main airports in Colombia and being the second biggest city in the country, Medellín’s José María Córdova International Airport is served by major airlines connecting places like North America and Europe.

Medellín actually has two airports; José María Córdova is the main one located about 40 minutes outside of the city in Rionegro, and the smaller airport, Enrique Olaya Herrera is near the South Bus Terminal and is a hub for carriers such as LAN Colombia, EasyFly and Satena.

Major airlines flying into José María Córdova are Avianca, American Airlines, US Airways as well as other low-cost airlines for cheap flights to Medellín.

Expect a taxi from here to the city to cost approx 60,000 pesos ($33).

Iberia flights in Madrid

Iberia flights in Madrid (photo: David Lee)

Flying from Europe

Iberia operate from Madrid and can take anything from 13 hours to up to 27 depending on where you stop. Prices typically cost $813 from September and stop at least once in either Panama or Bogotá.

Avianca also operate direct flights from Madrid to Medellín and cost approximately $940 depending on the time of the year.

If you’re flying from the UK, there’s no direct route into Medellín. Iberia flies there stopping twice en route in Madrid then either Bogotá or Panama and will set you back $1,318.

However British Airways do fly into Bogotá (via Miami) then you can purchase an internal flight with Viva Colombia from there. Prices cost $1,215 flying in September or October.

There appears to be no direct flight from Paris with Iberia stopping twice en route.

Spirit

Spirit flight departing Rionegro for Florida (photo: David Lee)

Flying from North America

Avianca also operate routes from Canada to Medellín from Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and have flex fares from 1,166,400 pesos ($627) for the rest of the year up to December.

There’s various points from North America with an extensive list from Arcata to Tampa. Some aren’t direct so expect an overnight stay in somewhere like El Salvador if you’re flying from Los Angeles for example, costing 1,929,500 pesos ($1,038).

Spirit also operates flights from Toronto and Montreal taking approx 11 hours and stopping in their hub, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for $235. They operate flights all over USA including New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.

Flights from New York (LGA) to Medellin cost from $205 departing at 6:30 a.m. and arriving in Medellin at 1:06 p.m.

It’s only slightly more from Washington, DC (BWI) at $245 departing at 2:01 p.m. and arriving in Medellin at 10:43 p.m (they also operate a morning flight).

For an even cheaper fare, Spirit offers a $9 fare club for an annual fee so you can save more money on your flights. The flights only depart a few times each month.

Flights are more frequent from North America and cost the same fare at $235. A monthly calendar shows how much you can expect to pay each day of any particular month. There can also be a stopover in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida from North America so check the itinerary for your route.

A competitor for Spirit is JetBlue who fly direct into Medellín from Ft. Lauderdale. JetBlue has more leg room, inflight entertainment and free snacks and drinks.

As well as an award-winning service they also have fewer fees and your first checked bag flies for free which is great if you’re not traveling light. They even have a premier service called Mint if you’re feeling like upgrading to a bit more luxury.

Flights from Ft. Lauderdale start from $143 and only take three and a half hours, departing at 6:45 p.m. and arriving in Medellín at 9:13 p.m.

JetBlue operate many other routes from USA including: Albany, Augusta, Austin, Bar Harbor, Boston, Fort Myers, Gainesville, Hartford Springfield, Cape Cod, Jackonsville, Key West, Lebanon, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, New York City, Newark, Ogdensburg, Orlando, Pensacola, Providence, Provincetown, Raleigh, Rockland, Rutland, Saranac Lake, Tallahassee, Tampa, West Palm Beach, and Westchester Country.

Flights all fly through their main hub, Ft. Lauderdale and take three and a half hours from there to Medellín, Colombia.

Flights from NYC depart at all different times costing $229 and take three hours before a layover in Ft. Lauderdale before a three and a half hour flight to Medellín. Flights from Boston cost from $223 taking three hours, fifteen minutes with a short layover of approximately six hours before the flight to Medellín.

With new routes opening up all the time including one into Cartagena from October 29th 2014, JetBlue are definitely worth considering if you’re flying from the United States (and they have a best price guarantee).

They’re not direct but American Airlines flies into Medellín from New York and stops once in Miami for $516. Fly from San Francisco and you could go via Dallas as well for $400.

TIP – A low fare may mean it doesn’t include checked luggage. This can bump up your fare so look at alternatives such as America Airlines which does include a checked-in bag as it could work out cheaper overall.

Copa Airlines

Copa Airlines in Panama City (photo: David Lee)

Flying from Central America

Traveling from Central America used to be expensive if you wanted to fly directly into Colombia, but with a new route from Viva Colombia into Medellín or Bogotá, it’s soon going to be a cheap route to take.

Flights will operate daily from August 1, 2014 and cost a standard $91 (not including checked bags). By comparison, Dave had to pay $425 for his one hour, direct flight from Panama City to Medellín on Copa Airlines in 2013.

Flights into Medellín will operate every other day departing Panama City BLB at 6:05 p.m. and arriving in José María Córdova at 7:20 p.m.

You can also fly from Mexico. Avianca operates flights from various cities in Mexico and cost from 1,039,600 pesos ($560) from Cancun and 1,669,900 ($900) from Acapulco during August and September.

TIPDespegar is a meta search engine where you can check the cheapest airlines for your dates and route.

Airlines into Colombia (including Bogotá)

Other airlines which fly into Colombia including the capital Bogotá are:

American Airlines, United, Lufthansa, Air France, Iberia, British Airways, Delta, US Airways, TAP Portugal, Air Canada, Aeromexico, TAM Linhas Aereas, LAN Airlines.

The biggest ones being Avianca, America Airlines and United.

Viva Colombia

Viva Colombia (photo: David Lee)

Flying around Colombia

Viva Colombia – heard of them? They’re a low-cost carrier, operating all over the country. With land distances relatively far, it can cost only a bit more to fly internally (and it’s a lot quicker).

A quick tip though – if you’re taking anything more than hand luggage, you can pay just as much for the flight for your luggage so travel light to get it cheap.

Obviously, depending on the time of year you fly, schedules and prices may vary. I recommend using Skyscanner to check the latest prices which allows you to see the whole month and pick the cheapest day to fly.

We’d like to here from you. What are your tips and recommendations for finding cheap flights to Medellín?

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The Escalators of Medellin http://medellinliving.com/escalators/ http://medellinliving.com/escalators/#respond Tue, 10 Sep 2013 16:00:00 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=11736 This video documents a series of six escalators built into a hillside neighborhood in Communa 13 in 2012, allowing local residents to travel more easily.

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This video documents a series of six escalators built into a hillside neighborhood in Communa 13 in 2012, allowing local residents to travel more easily. Since the video was shot, the escalators haven been covered to protect riders from rain.

One correction, Medellin is not the first city to use escalators for public transportation.

As far back as 1993, Hong Kong constructed the 800-meter long Central-Mid Levels escalators on Hong Kong Island.

Have you ridden the escalators in Medellin? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

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Car Sales Surge in Colombia http://medellinliving.com/car-sales-colombia/ http://medellinliving.com/car-sales-colombia/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 12:00:00 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=12773 This video backs up the observations I’ve made since arriving in Medellin in 2009. Over the years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of cars on the roads. When I left Colombia in mid-2011 to see more of South America, I was curious if other countries like Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina had the same […]

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This video backs up the observations I’ve made since arriving in Medellin in 2009. Over the years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of cars on the roads.

When I left Colombia in mid-2011 to see more of South America, I was curious if other countries like Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina had the same number of motorbikes on the road as I’d gotten use to in Colombia.

Not even close!

Ecuador, which by all accounts is poorer, had more cars. Peru too. And I rarely saw motos in the major cities of Chile and Buenos Aires. At least nothing compared to the numbers in Medellin.

Since I was robbed by a few guys on a motorbike a few years ago, I’ve been especially anxious around them. I’m more than happy with the recent uptick in Colombian car ownership.

I also find motorbike drivers, usually the young men, to be reckless, weaving in and out of traffic lanes, trying to reach the front of the stopped traffic before the light turns green.

I realize they’re a more affordable form of transport, but I also think they’re a nuisance, and both a public safety threat, as well as a generally dangerous mode of transport for the drivers too.

Of course cars have their downsides too, namely an increase in traffic and air pollution. Car thefts will probably increase too.

What do you you think? Do you prefer to see more cars on the road if it means fewer motorbikes?

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EasyFly Airline Review http://medellinliving.com/easyfly-airline-review/ http://medellinliving.com/easyfly-airline-review/#comments Mon, 06 May 2013 12:00:00 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=9297 I discovered EasyFly, a discount Colombian airline, in my search for low-cost flights from Medellin to Bucaramanga. A week before my departure, I booked a return flight online for 249,440 pesos ($159), which works out to about $80 each way. But the cost savings didn’t stop with the flights. EasyFly operates out of Medellin’s Enrique Olaya Herrera […]

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Easyfly plane at Aeropuerto Olaya Herrera in Medellin

Easyfly plane at Aeropuerto Olaya Herrera in Medellin

I discovered EasyFly, a discount Colombian airline, in my search for low-cost flights from Medellin to Bucaramanga.

A week before my departure, I booked a return flight online for 249,440 pesos ($159), which works out to about $80 each way.

But the cost savings didn’t stop with the flights. EasyFly operates out of Medellin’s Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport, meaning I’d save time and money on taxi fare as well.

Until now, all my flights to/from the Medellin have been out of the Jose Maria Cordoba International Airport in Rio Negro.

The official 2013 taxi fare from the city to the international airport is 57,000 pesos ($31), whereas a taxi from OH Airport costs me about 6,000 pesos ($3), and takes 5-10 minutes (versus an hour).

EasyFly began operations in 2007, and has been slowly building a schedule of routes. Daily flights currently serve a mix of 16 cities, from the capital, to ones not serviced by other major airlines.

The three flight hubs are:

  • Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport
  • Medellin’s Olaya Herrera Airport
  • Bucaramanga’s Palonegro International Airport

From Medellin, you can fly direct to:

  • Apartado
  • Bucaramanga
  • Cucuta
  • Monteria
  • Quibdo
Disembarking at Bucaramanga's airport

Disembarking at Bucaramanga’s airport

EasyFly operates a fleet of BAe Jetstream 41 propeller planes. As you can tell from the photos above, they’re not very big, but given the flight distances are so short (about an hour max), it’s not too bad.

My flights between Medellin and Bucaramanga clocked in at 45 minutes each, and both were relatively calm with little turbulence.

Inside the planes, it’s a tight fit. Each row seats 3 people. On the left side of the plane are single seats, while the right side features two per row.

For my departure from Medellin, I asked for a window seat at check-in, and got one a few rows back, which put me directly next to the right propeller. I was still able to get decent views of the city during take off.

My only luggage was a small backpack, so I was able to take it as carry-on, and stow it under the seat in front of me.

Landing at OH Airport, Poblado can be seen to the east (right)

Landing at OH Airport, Poblado can be seen to the east (right)

On my return flight, I chose the front right window seat, so I didn’t have anyone in front of me.

Before I and others could board the plane, we had to give up our carry-on items (except for purses), as the flight attendance said the plane was full.

I was a little annoyed at the late notice, but the truth is I had nowhere to stow the bag in front of me, and there are no overhead compartments either.

Since we took off in Medellin from south to north, I figured the return flight would have to do a loop over Medellin to approach the airport from the south.

Sitting on the right side of the plane would give me a nice view of Poblado as we landed. This turned out to be the case, as you can see above.

Boarding my return flight from Bucaramanga to Medellin

Boarding my return flight from Bucaramanga to Medellin

Because OH Airport in Medellin and Bucaramanga’s airport are so small, check-in times were minimal, though you can do so online through the EasyFly site if you want to pick your seat and print your boarding pass (you’ll need two copies).

The service on the ground and in the air was friendly, and both flights were on time. Actually, my flight from Medellin departed 10-15 minutes EARLIER than scheduled. In all my years of flying, that was a first.

I wouldn’t hesitate to use EasyFly again, but for now, they don’t fly out of Medellin to any other destinations I want to visit.

Hopefully that’ll change in the future, because I much prefer flights from OH Airport to JMC in Rio Negro.

Have you flown EasyFly? Share your experience in the comments below.

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A Colombia Customs Story http://medellinliving.com/a-colombia-customs-story/ http://medellinliving.com/a-colombia-customs-story/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2012 13:00:41 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=5793 The procedure seemed simple enough. Show your ticket and your passport and through customs you go, on your way to your destination. For me, it was Southeast Florida, to visit my brother and his family for Christmas, and for the first time I had quite an experience with this obligatory routine. This is what I […]

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medellin international airport

Medellin's international airport

The procedure seemed simple enough. Show your ticket and your passport and through customs you go, on your way to your destination. For me, it was Southeast Florida, to visit my brother and his family for Christmas, and for the first time I had quite an experience with this obligatory routine.

This is what I was thinking about as I passed through the airport this month for another trip to my brother’s house. I was going there to sell my car, give away unneeded clothes (but very nice clothes) to the Salvation Army, to do my taxes.

But none of that was on my mind, not after what happened on Dec. 6, 2011. I was randomly picked to have my bag checked and to be x-rayed, to make sure I was not a drug mule. Half-asleep and bleary-eyed from waking up early to pack, I ambled to the customs office where I would pass through the fancy machine to confirm that, no, I am not carrying drugs in my stomach. I’m not stupid. I don’t want to go to jail, especially not a Colombian jail, but more than that, I don’t want to pack a bunch of packets in my intestine, any one of which could burst and kill me.

The procedure didn’t go as easily as I expected. Consider this another tip, a supplement to past posts on traveling in and out of Colombia, because this was never mentioned. I wouldn’t expect it to be included. I don’t think anyone would, unless you’re a drug trafficker.

I passed through the x-ray machine once, twice, three times, again. It wasn’t enough. The x-rays were inconclusive. The customs agents asked if I had eaten before I passed through security. I nodded. Soup at home, a sandwich at the airport, I said, but they still had questions.

“Que tipo de sandwich,” he said, wanting to know exactly what I had.

“Pavo.” I smiled a little too, because I actually remembered the word for turkey.

“Cuanto cuesta?” he said.

That, I could not remember, but I had kept the receipt so I handed it to him.

“Muy caro,” he said after seeing the price, 10,000 pesos (about $5).

“Sí, claro.” I was happy that we found something on which we agreed.

The customs agents seemed more at ease now, but they weren’t finished interrogating me. I was told to follow an agent to a back room, to lie on a couch so he could press on my stomach. It tickled and I started laughing, and I was afraid he was going to get mad, that he would think I was not taking this seriously, but he just laughed too. He understood and apologized.

“Tranquilo,” I said

He led me back to the x-ray room, where I would pass through the machine a couple more times. I felt like a character from the movie Maria Full of Grace, the film about the Colombian girl who works as a drug mule to earn more money. Come to think of it, a couple of the women sitting in the x-ray room with me reminded me of a couple of characters in the movie.

My turn finally came and I passed through twice, again drawing a reaction of raised eyebrows. I told the agents that next time, I promise I won’t eat at the airport until I have already passed through customs. They chuckled and asked me why I was in Colombia. I said it’s a beautiful place, that I’m hoping to find a teaching job at the end of the spring, either at an English language school or one of the universities. They wished me luck, told me I could leave and apologized once again.

So three tips:

1. Try not to eat at the airport until you pass through customs.

2. If you are so hungry you have to eat, keep the receipt.

3. If you get picked to pass through the x-ray machine, be friendly and cooperative. The customs agents are sincerely nice and will feel bad for any inconvenience they cause.

Three hours later, I landed in Fort Lauderdale and prepared to pass through American customs. They didn’t make me go through an x-ray machine, didn’t search my bag. But the agent I talked to was terse, rude even. Maybe American customs was quicker, I thought to myself, but Colombian customs was friendlier.

I prefer friendlier.

On this past trip, passing through Colombian customs was easier. They they didn’t x-ray me. They only checked my bag, smiled, and told me to have a good time.

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Domestic Air Travel Made Easy http://medellinliving.com/domestic-air-travel-colombia/ http://medellinliving.com/domestic-air-travel-colombia/#comments Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=4544 The more time I spend in Colombia, the more I begin to appreciate how easy and inexpensive the domestic air travel is in the country. In 2009, I experienced my first 25-minute flight from Bogota to Medellin, and later flew back to Medellin from Barranquilla after celebrating Carnival. By bus, both those trips can easily average […]

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View from the airport in Santa Marta.

View from the airport in Santa Marta.

The more time I spend in Colombia, the more I begin to appreciate how easy and inexpensive the domestic air travel is in the country.

In 2009, I experienced my first 25-minute flight from Bogota to Medellin, and later flew back to Medellin from Barranquilla after celebrating Carnival. By bus, both those trips can easily average 12 hours, and sap you of your energy in ways quick, cheap flights will not.

Specifically, Colombian buses are known to have air-conditioning on full blast, the whole trip, thereby turning the cabin into a freezer. You can also expect loud Latin music, which I like as much as the next guy, but not for 12 hours straight.

In 2010, I flew from Cartagena to Medellin, and between Medellin and Cali several times.

This year, I flew back and forth from Santa Marta during my recent trip to the coast.

Almost all of these flights were booked within a week of departure, and often within just a few days because I tend to procrastinate.

My carrier of choice is Aires, the Colombian discount airline recently purchased by the much larger LAN Airlines.

I used Avianca in 2009, and while they still may be cheaper for certain routes, especially when booked in advance, I’ve yet to see any meaningful savings should I choose them over Aires.

Both the Aires and Avianca websites are available in English, and easy to use. I realize some may argue this point, but I’ve used both enough to stand behind it.

Sales result in e-ticket information being emailed to you. I normally take note of the confirmation number, and simply show up at the ticket counters with my passport (a required form of ID for foreigners traveling within the country by air).

I’ve never had a problem with lost baggage, including the time I flew Avianca from Madrid to Bogota in 2009, and my Aires flight from New York City to Cartagena (via Bogota) in 2010.

Aside from the same-day flight booked from Santa Marta to Medellin when I was feeling sick, all my one-way domestic flights within Colombia have been $100 or less.

I realize this still might be a lot for backpackers or frequent travelers to cover, but as I enter my mid-30’s, and travel full time for my job, it seems like a cheap price to pay.

Which do you prefer for long trips in Colombia, buses or planes?

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This post was written by Dave, and brought to you by TravelRepublic.

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How to Use the Metro in Medellin http://medellinliving.com/metro-in-medellin/ http://medellinliving.com/metro-in-medellin/#comments Wed, 08 Jun 2011 16:00:00 +0000 http://medellinliving.com/?p=3367 The metro in Medellin is the only rail-based mass transportation service in Colombia, and it does not contaminate because it uses electrical technology! The Metro is a breeze, compared to New York City anyway.  It is clean, big, above ground and usually smells nice. Except in rush hour when you have to wait 2-3 metros […]

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Medellin metro

The metro in Medellin is the only rail-based mass transportation service in Colombia, and it does not contaminate because it uses electrical technology!

The Metro is a breeze, compared to New York City anyway.  It is clean, big, above ground and usually smells nice.

Except in rush hour when you have to wait 2-3 metros to cram on with the others, it is usually spacious too.  So definitely try to avoid rush hour if you can.

How to Use the Metro in Medellin

  1. There are 2 basic lines to the Metro, the red line and the blue line.
    1. There are also 2 metro cable lines attached to the metro lines as well, and there is no additional cost to transfer to them.  (The exception is the new metrocable to Parque Arvi from Santo Domingo).
  2. A single Metro ride costs 1,800 COP (about $1 USD).
    1. If you know you will take a Metro and then a bus, you can ask for an “integrated” ticket.  This will buy you a ticket for both, and be cheaper then buying tickets separately.  But only certain bus lines accept this so you have to figure that out for yourself!
    2. You can get a Metro Card but it doesn’t allow you to buy more fares for less money.  Instead, it allows you to go through a separate turn-style, which helps you to avoid some of the people traffic you may encounter.  It really has saved me a LOT of time.
    3. There are no automated ticket machines.
  3. The hours of the Metro are:
    1. Monday to Saturday: 4:30 AM – 11 PM
    2. Sunday: 5 AM – 10 PM
  4. Do not be alarmed to see armed policemen in all of the Metro stations.  Usually they are young men, ages 18 – 20 who are doing their mandatory military service.
  5. Traveling on the Metro is generally very safe, however be extra careful of pickpockets during rush hour or any other time the metro cars are crammed full of people.

 

Last updated July 3, 2013

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