JUNE / JULY 2018:
Why not read our Retirement Reviews.
PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at time of writing was US$1 = C$2,900 (Colombian Peso / COP; I use C$3k = US$1 for simplicity).
Both islands were very disappointing. Both of my hotel locations were isolated.
… It was time to get back to the mainland … some city living … and, civilisation …
I have been using WINGO to fly around Panama and Colombia. I had a ticket with WINGO (US$93) to fly with 20kg of stowed luggage from San Andres to Cali (in southern Colombia). I decided not to go to Cali but to go directly to Medellin instead. WINGO do not fly direct from San Andres to Medellin. These cheap tickets are always ‘Promotional’ tickets and, therefore, non-refundable. I, basically, threw it away.
I chose VivaAir to fly direct from San Andres to Medellin. The price was US$120 for the ‘VIP’ package which included 20kgs of stowed luggage, 10kg of carry-on luggage, fast-lane check-in, and check-in counter ‘Boarding Pass assistance’.
As usual, I used my travel digital scales to make sure that all of my luggage met the weight requirements. If you are over-weight, you can be charged significant over-charges.
I was in San Luis Beach which is about 5-6kms south east of the San Andres Airport. I asked my host how I could get to the airport for 7:15am. He said that he would take me (and my luggage) free on his scooter. I have done this many times in S.E. Asia. He picked me up at 7am, I sat on the back, we put my suitcase on the seat between us, and off we went.
Medellin Airport is 20-30kms out from Medellin Town centre. You have 3 choices on how to get into town: private taxi (C$70k), shared taxi (C$20k), and public bus (C$10k). The bus and shared taxis drop you off on the edge of town centre at the San Diego Shopping Centre – from there, you have to get a taxi to your accommodation.
I was feeling lazy, so I chose the private taxi. As we entered town, we actually passed the exact same place where the public buses and shared taxis stop. We didn’t get there much quicker than they did either. In hindsight, a bus or shared taxi would have been fine (and cheaper). An UBER taxi from San Diego to my accommodation in Laureles would have been about C$10k (US$3).
Medellin is the second-largest city in Colombia. It is located in the Aburrá Valley – a central region of the Andes Mountains of South America. The city has an estimated population of 2.5 million (as of 2017). It’s foundation dates back to 1616.
Nowadays, Medellin is a modern, safe, and vibrant city … as long as you stay in specific neighbourhoods and stay close to the city centre.
This blog provides excellent information: DeskToDirtbag. This man has lived in Laureles for 6 years and does an excellent job in his write-up. I will not try and redo what he has done … I will just try and add to it …
WHERE TO STAY (LAURELES-ESTADIO):
I had a friend who had been in Medellin for over 2 months. She advised me to look in Laureles-Estadio. Her advice was that, although you could find cheap accommodation in El Poblado, the living costs in El Poblado were double those of Laureles … and that Laureles was perfectly safe and had its own ‘scene’ centred around Avenida Nutibara and Carrera 70. I trusted her. She advised me to limit my search to the Green Shaded area (which I have expanded to include the area suggested in ‘DeskToDirtbag’):
She advised not to go too far north past Avenida San Juan; she said that this area wasn’t as nice.
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night mid June 2018 …
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first. In Colombia, only Colombian Nationals pay the 15-19% tax … Tourists (surprisingly) are exempt from that tax.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s and display the average price per night …
PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Cleaning Fees’ and the host site’s ‘Service Fee’. The Service Fee can add as 16%. Watch out for the Cleaning Fee – some can be more than 1 day’s rental!
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.
There are plenty of GRANDPAcking options to choose from … many for under US$20 / night. But, detailed investigations reveal that the good ones start at US$20.
Have a look yourself:
I set up a ‘short list’ and kept an eye on prices for a couple of weeks in advance. Even at discounted prices, the ones that I liked were (generally) over US$20 / night with a couple of OK ones just under that. Then I struck lucky. On AirBnB I found the Posada Casa Santa Fe. They were advertising Double Rooms with TV, wardrobe, fridge, in-room wifi, fan, and hot-water Ensuite for C$35k / US$12 per night discounted down to C$23,400 / US$8 per night for stays of more than 1 week. You don’t need aircon in Medellin. It sounded too good to be true – but, I took it. The Santa Fe has rooms on 3 floors (8 rooms on floors #2 & #3); I was on the 3rd floor.
But, everything worked.
Housekeeping (for long term stays) is twice per week.
They had a washing machine that you can use for an extra C$30k / US$10 per month. They halved this to C$15k for me because I was only staying 2 weeks. Another benefit was that they had a shared kitchen on the rooftop.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Your accommodation should provide good, free WiFi. The wifi in the Santa Fe was excellent and I could always stream video.
I bought a Claro SIMcard in Cartagena. Claro is said to offer the best overall coverage and service. The SIMcard was C$3,100 and I purchased a 2GB Data Package for C$42,900. This data package came with a few minutes of call time and a few free SMSs. I topped it up in San Andres before my arrival and this lasted me in Medellin.
I got a 3G / 4G signal around town most of the time.
An UBER taxi from Laureles to El Poblado is C$10k / US$3.35. As a ‘rule of thumb’ budget C$3k for the ‘flag fall’ and C$2k per km. Nowadays, I prefer to use UBER (versus normal taxis) because you know that you will pay the right price.
The metro or public bus cost C$2,400 per trip.
You are lost for choice in all price ranges … there seems to be a cafe every 10 metres and on every street corner … one for every 20 people living here.
Because I had a nice shared rooftop kitchen, I bought in groceries and ate Breakfast at home. Typical prices are:
- 800gms Muesli = C$7,000
- 1L Milk = C$1,500
- 1kg Bananas = C$1,700
- 1kg (typical) Fruit = C$6,000
- 500gms Colombian Filter Coffee = C$8,000
You see Breakfasts advertised in the side streets for as little as C$4k; a more usual price is C$6k. For this, you typically get scrambled eggs (with onion and tomato) with bread or arepa. Coffee is extra. A black coffee in these cheap eateries is usually C$500; C$1k for a white.
Lunch is your best Value For Money. You will see many Almuerzo Ejecutivo (Executive Lunches) advertised for C$9,000. For this you get a soup starter, a fruit drink, and a main. The main is usually a meat (beef, pork, or chicken), beans, fried plantain, fried egg, and salad.
You will save money by changing your eating habits to have lunch as your main meal followed by a light Dinner.
A ‘typical’ side street cafe menu looks like this:
One of my favourite restaurants was the Full Arabe. You can get an excellent Lebanese platter for 2 for C$22k-C$32k … and, they don’t mind if you bring along your own bottle of wine.
Expect to pay an average of C$7,000 / US$2.35 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee / tea.
Expect to pay an average of C$10,000 / US$3.35 for a cheap Ejecutivo Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of C$18,000 / US$6.00 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.
If you want to go ‘clubbing’ expect to be paying C$6k-C$12k for a 330ml local beer.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
Medellin is a city. Shopping is good. You will find many cheap places in El Centro near to and around the San Antonio Metro Station.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
There are plenty of Banks and ATMs around. There are no Money Exchanges.
Read my write-up on Cartagena to see which are the best ATMs to go for.
I took money out from the Davivienda ATM: a maximum withdrawal of C$420k incurred no fee.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
Medellín was once known as the most dangerous city in the world – the result of an urban war between drug cartels at the end of the 1980s. It was the home of Pablo Escobar. Throughout the 1990s crime rates remained relatively high but declining. The main paramilitary groups were disbanded in the mid 2000s.
Nowadays, there is a significant disparity in crime rates between neighborhoods: with virtually no homicides in El Poblado to areas with open gunfights in the outskirts. Generally, crime rates increase the further the neighborhood is from the center. Homicides have declined (as with crime in general) but there remains a high crime rate in the poorest communities. 3.2 percent of street addresses account for 97 percent of homicides. More than half of the violent deaths are attributed to clashes between criminal gangs.
Nowadays, many backpackers come to Medellin to enjoy the US$5 line of cocaine and the US$10 small bag of Marijuana … but, you don’t notice any of this on the streets … unlike places like Taganga, you hardly notice that it is there.
I don’t think that I even saw one mosquito.
WHEN TO GO:
The weather in Medellín is warm year-round with few temperature extremes. It has a tropical rainforest climate (Af) that borders on a subtropical highland climate (Cfb) and a tropical monsoon climate (Am).
The city’s average annual temperature is 22 °C (72 °F) and, because of its proximity to the equator, its temperature is constant year round, with minimal temperature variations.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
You are living in a modern vibrant city … take your choice!
I met up with some expat friends for a night in El Poblado.
El Poblado is the most popular area for expats and tourists to stay. El Poblado is ‘party central’. El Poblado is also very expensive.
We had a great night out. But, it wasn’t ‘me’. I wouldn’t want to live there (I can’t afford to). The odd party night out there is enough.
From Medellin, I head to Bogota.
I will tell you more about that it my next post.
GRANDPAckers can easily afford to HOLIDAY in Medellin to GRANDPAcking standard.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I did live to GRANDPAcking standard. Albeit, I ate Breakfast at home …
I spent 15 nights at an average price of C$23,400 / US$8.50 per night in a Double Room at the Santa Fe.
I walked everywhere around Laureles. I took a couple of Metro trips sightseeing around town and a couple of UBER Taxi trips to El Pablado. I have included these costs in ‘Entertainment’ (below).
My Breakfasts averaged about C$6k / US$2 per day – I ate at home.
I spent hardly anything on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore.
I averaged about C$18,500 / US$6.25 per day on Dinners. This excludes 3 ‘party nights’ where I spent an average of C$50k / US$17 per meal (these are included in ‘Entertainment’, below)
Water was provided free at my hostel.
My COE worked out to be about US$17 / day … my cheap accommodation was a key factor in these low costs.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: It cost me C$70k / US$23 to get a taxi from Medellin Airport to my city hostel. It cost me C$327k / US$121 to fly in from San Andres.
Living Costs: I averaged about C$31k / US$10 per day on LIVING expenses. About $11k / day of that was on drinks (i.e. 3-4 small beers in bars or corner cafes each night). C$305k / US$100 was on partying and entertainment.
My total COL was about US$37 / day.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE:
Accommodation: Book yourself something for 2 nights at about C$55k / US$20 night (go as high as US$25 if it includes Breakfast). Once here, look around and find somewhere for about C$45k / US$17 per night (go as high as US$20 if it includes Breakfast). Target the ‘green shaded area’ (see ‘Where To Stay’, above).
Transport: You can walk everywhere around Laureles. I have included a weekly trip for 2 on local transport to somewhere around town.
Communications & Fees: I have included a Claro SIMcard and 1 month 2GB data plan.
Food & Beverages: Your budget is C$75k / US$25 per day including water. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.
Your COE is US$43 / day (76% of your total budget).
COST OF LIVING:
This leaves you C$37k / US$12 per day to LIVE on.
You have enough to enjoy yourself.
THE GRANDPAcking ACID TEST: Can a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? YES.
Your Retirement costs will be similar to your Holiday costs.
PLEASE NOTE: You will, probably, find that living in an Hotel is cheaper than renting an apartment. Apartments are relatively expensive. A small 2 Bedroom Apartment in Laureles will set you back US$600-$700 per month. The extra that you pay for accommodation can easily be recovered by buying groceries and eating at home.
It is easy to see why many people are now looking at Medellin as a Retirement Location and, as GRANDPAcking Retirement Locations go, it is one of the better ones.
City-loving GRANDPAckers should come on holiday and have a look.