Expat Advice: 3 Ways to Make Your Life in the City More Enjoyable

View toward Estadio from Floresta
View toward Estadio from Floresta in western Medellin

First time visitors and travelers to Medellin tend to go through the same sorts of activities: see the Botero Statues, learn about Pablo Escobar, go out partying in Parque Lleras, etc.

However, for those that choose to live in the city for an extended period of time, there are a number of small actions you can take that really improve your experience of the city… And these things might not be obvious from the get go.

So here are three specific things I’ve done this year to improve my life in Medellin.

1. Carry a Smartphone

There are a whole host of reasons why you should carry a smartphone in Medellin, even though you stand a chance of having it robbed, like what happened to Dave.

Here’s why I now carry one:

You’ll have much more data at your finger tips.

You’re on the metro, but can’t remember the name or address of that place that was recommended to you on Facebook?

Just do a few taps and you can recall it. You’re on your way to La 70, but want to know whether there is a Nacional game today?

Again, a few taps and you can get the info you need. There’s just tremendous convenience of having this setup.

You can leverage messaging trends.

WhatsApp and Facebook are rapidly becoming the preferred way of texting back and forth among Colombianos.

Blackberry (decreasingly popular) has taken a serious hit to these new apps, and you are excluded from them if you have only a flip phone.

Why make it harder on yourself when you know that cute girl might Facebook you back, but she won’t text you back?

You can leverage maps and GPS.

If you’re ever trying to find one of those side streets that taxistas never seem to find, you can always open Google maps to zero in on your location, relative to where you want to go.

Apps like MapsWithMe are also helpful because you can use the map in offline mode. This way, you are never too lost.

Your phone will look better.

I used to carry one of those cheap dummy phones that every traveler seems to use in Colombia. But, not only did it have way too many dropped calls, I was told on several occasions that the phone was just plain ugly.

And, I’ve discovered many girls do not like to put their number into an ugly and/or cheap phone. #truth

You get much more value, even if it is stolen.

If you simply plug in your phone and do a backup every now and then, you are literally a just a few clicks away from being up and running if your phone is ever stolen.

Granted, you will lose some money if you lose the phone, but the value that you gain by carrying a smartphone is much higher for your daily life.

And if you’re really concerned, just pick up some international property insurance. [Dave: I use and recommend New York-based Clements.]

2. Live in a Strategic Location

Once you’ve gotten to know the layout of the city, it is extremely helpful to pick a house or an apartment that is close to all of the things you utilize on a regular basis.

For me, that meant living within 10 minutes or less of a large gym, the metro, the supermarket, and several good restaurants.

I have saved a whole bunch of time in commuting, and have gained a great deal of local knowledge by living in a walkable area. It has been a great lifestyle move.

Admittedly, most places in Medellin are very walkable, compared to the USA. There are usually banks, gyms and supermarkets within five to 10 minutes of most places.

However, sometimes a place in the nicest neighborhoods might not be the best logistically…

If you live up in the hills of Poblado for example, you’ll find yourself walking up the hill of Calle 10 in the hot sun just to get home from the metro. (Of course, if you don’t use the metro or are willing to shell out the extra money for taxis, this won’t apply to you. A lot depends on your lifestyle.)

For me, I like relatively painless access to the metro. For this, the flatter area of Laureles / Estadio fits the bill.

Also, you want to take into account the common routes you would take to get to and from home.

For example, you may live relatively close to a nice area, but do you have to walk in a secluded, poorly lit street? Or have you seen shady characters congregating around the routes you normally take?

The whole point of this is to find a strategic point to live in the city, a place intelligently chosen based on your lifestyle preferences and not only on the nominal price of rent across town.

Barrita Burttio in Laureles
Barrita Burttio in Laureles

3. Take Advantage of Local Specials

There are a lot of great values in Medellin, and knowing where and when they happen can be a boon to your experience here in the city.

Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Sushi Light has 2 for 1 sushi every Tuesday. So if you love sushi, that ought to be on your calendar. They have locations in La Strada, Santa Fe Mall, and Laureles.
  • Mimo’s (many locations) has two for one ice cream on Tuesdays.
  • Barrita Burrito in Laureles has two for one burritos every Wednesday. This place is great if you’re from the USA and looking for a Chipotle replacement.
  • Exito Supermarkets gives you 20% off produce on Wednesdays if you have a Exito points number. Registration is free, and Exitos can be found all over the city.
  • Babylon Discoteca has barra libre (open bar) every Thursday night. It’s 32,000 pesos ($16) for guys, and free for the first 200 girls. You can drink all you want until 1:30AM.
  • Estadio and Parque Lleras both have accessible outdoor gyms where you can workout for free. Estadio also has several fields for jogging and other sports, as well as team sports you can sign up for. It also has many pools open to the public.

All of these ‘local knowledge’ points can come along slowly if you’re just getting to the city, but if you stay tuned to good knowledge sources like Medellin Living and keep your eyes peeled, these great values will begin to pop up for you everywhere.

So, those are three things I did which improved my life this year in Medellin. Give them a go!

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  1. Learning Spanish would have to be my top recommendation to make your life in the city more enjoyable. Few in Medellín speak English so if you don’t speak any Spanish you will have a difficult time. I took a couple of Spanish classes in a community college in the US and tried immersion for a while in Medellín to get to a basic level, enough to get around. But if you want to be more fluent and learn the grammar I recommend taking classes at University EAFIT.

    I also agree with the living in a strategic location recommendation in this blog post. I prefer having easy access to the Metro or Metroplús to get around the city inexpensively. I also like living within walking distance to a grocery store and shopping mall. That’s why I have lived most of my more than 3 years in Belen and Laureles/Estadio. When I first started living in Medellín, I lived in an apartment in El Poblado but found it was fairly expensive and I needed to take taxis frequently so I quickly discovered a better place to live for my desired lifestyle. Now I rarely need taxis and all my costs are lower than when I lived in El Poblado and I live within a 5 minute walk to the Los Molinos shopping mall.

  2. Great article! Totally agree with #1 — I learned the hard way in Barcelona carrying a dumb-phone and not getting messages until I checked my laptop; how old fashioned!!

    What carriers would you recommend for a prepaid plan that includes data?

  3. I just got a Metro Civica Card (free if you go with ID to one of several Metro Offices and register for it) which is a rechargeable plastic card you use to access the Metro instead of lining up each trip to buy tickets. It’s so convenient and saves mucho tiempo!