Having now spent a good deal of time in Medellin, Colombia, I thought it would be good to document what I wish I knew before I came here.
1. Poblado is not all of Medellin
Granted it’s the most popular neighborhood for foreigners, and offers a good quality of life, but daily costs of living are generally more expensive in Poblado than in other parts of the city. If you only live there, you’re likely not to know the real bargain living in Medellin can be, nor all the other cool spots Medellin has.
There’s plenty of nice areas around the city, including Envigado and Laureles, and you might find them more to your liking. And, there are lots of other areas of attraction for you to visit, including my favorite place to shop (the centro) and crazy soccer games at Estadio.
… Having said this, Poblado is still a good place to live.
2. Prepaid data plans are worth getting
Smart phones have begun to catch fire in Medellin and, in my estimation, are quickly replacing the popular Blackberry. People are buying iPhones and Androids, and more and more people are using apps (like WhatsApp and Facebook) to communicate, rather than traditional SMS texting.
So, to get in on all this, all you have to do is go to a Tigo, Claro, or Movistar store to sign up for a data plan and SIM card. Foreigners have no problems signing up. Check out the cell phone guide here for more.
I personally carried a ‘dumb’ phone for a long time in Medellin, but data rates are very affordable, and I’ve found the risk of having your smart phone stolen is worth taking for the extra value I’ve gained via my smartphone.
And, among other things, mapping and GPS features are a tremendous value to have on hand and may prevent you from getting lost or being scammed by the occasional disingenuous taxista.
3. Take the girl to the club*
When I first arrived to Medellin, I wasn’t quite aware of the marked social tendencies that Paisa girls have.
One tendency is that they tend to go out in groups with their friends, and these groups stay more or less connected through the night. Sometimes, they don’t want to meet anyone new and that’s that.
Other times they may welcome you into their circle, but they tend to be shy about giving you too much attention or kissing you in front of their friends, especially if they just met you. There seems to be significant pressure at your average night club for the pretty girls to maintain a sort of social seemliness in front of their friends.
What does this mean for you? It means if you take the girl to the club, you win.
Sure you have to pay her way, but not only will the girl be loyal to you, and tend to behave very well for you, you will also be more easily rewarded for taking her out.
*But don’t let her bring her friends or you’re on the hook for them too!
4. The expat world is a small world, yet very helpful
Medellin has a growing number of expats that tend to intermingle in various ways across the city. With Internations, Couchsurfing, Facebook groups, and even Medellin Living meetups you will meet a good number of your fellow foreigners. And in a few months, you will have already met a large number of the expats that live here.
You can benefit from their combined experience to get things done or to find out more about a certain topic. Like if you need to receive a package, or want to apply for a visa, or are curious about doing businesses in Medellin, chances are there is somebody in the expat network that can help you.
5. Adventures to unknown lands are just a metro and/or bus ride away
The longer I live in Medellin, the more glad I am that there are getaways and other cool spots to visit once in a while. All of us can use a break from the city once in a while.
If you haven’t been out to Guatapé, you really ought to go. Although it’s marked on the guidebooks, it’s quite unique to the area. Both the aqueous landscapes and gigantic rock make it a great day or overnight trip.
Sante Fe de Antioquia is an old colonial spot, and is the perfect place to stay in a finca for a relaxing weekend, and is very popular among Paisas themselves.
Even Jardin, Manizales, and the Zona Cafetera 4-5 hours away offer a great view of another side of Colombia, one without the hustle and bustle of city life. You can make a long weekend trip to see the coffee plantations and enjoy quiet mornings on the mountainsides.
6. Knowing Colombian slang and popular songs is an easy way to break the ice
The more I travel, the more I realize how much people want to be talked to in their native language. Even here in Medellin, a vendor who lives near my building always says “Hello my friend!” whenever he sees me walk by. It puts a smile on my face.
So imagine if you did the same thing and spoke Spanish (more specifically Paisa Spanish) with the folks here in Medellin? Smile and say ‘Bien or no? Bien o que?‘
Or what if you suddenly broke out into a song that everyone recognized like… Me voy para Medellin y la feria de las flores. Me voy encontrar allí mis querencias mis amores ? Practically every Paisa would sing along with you.
If you speak a little slang or know some local songs, you will make people smile. It’s a great way to break the ice in practically any situation.
If I had known these things when I first came to Medellin, life would have moved a little faster. So if you’re just getting here, try them out.