“Kathleen, I know that I’ve appreciated the notes that other readers have shared in your e-letter about living in various places, so I thought I’d write about my experiences so far in Medellin, Colombia.
“I came to Medellín in January for your Live and Invest in Medellin Conference and then stayed on for six weeks. Of course these are highly subjective notes (I’m no expert), but perhaps a few things here will be helpful to others.
“First, Spanish. You definitely want Spanish. There are many options for studying it while you are here. If you want to set up something before you come, I’d advise not locking into a program/course of more than a week. Once you get here, you may want to investigate other options and/or hear of better alternatives. I met some students who had tried a different program in Cartagena and much preferred our class in Poblado, taught by Jorge, who I met at the conference. I do recommend Jorge and the Medellin Spanish Center, the group you had participate in the conference last month.
“Second, livability. I really enjoyed living in Medellín without a car. I was able to walk where I was going or walk to the Metro and rarely had to take a taxi. Taxis are very cheap compared with most other cities I’ve lived in/visited. I never, ever felt afraid in any neighborhood I visited. People are courteous, which includes greeting you when you enter a store, giving up seats on the Metro for older persons and mothers with babies, etc., waiting with you for a taxi at night. And it’s a reminder that you should be courteous, too.
“Third, cleanliness. This is a very clean city. People are constantly at work cleaning the sidewalks and outdoor spaces. There are plenty of trash receptacles, there is public recycling, and I never once saw anyone litter. Also, there is no food or drink allowed on the Metro or Metrocables. It is very rare to see anyone eating while walking; while there are plenty of street food kiosks, most people stop to have their snack and then throw away the garbage, before walking on.
“However, to be honest, when I think of my 78-year-old parents, who are in pretty good health and get around many foreign cities, I can’t see them living here. There are a lot of stairs, everywhere (external/internal). While there are parts of the city that are fairly level, most of the city has significant uphill/downhill elevation changes (it is located in a valley/on mountainsides). Sidewalks can be uneven and have sudden breaks/gaps/steps that can be a challenge. Crossing the street in many parts of the city is a challenge.
“Fourth, air quality. I know some folks have written in about air pollution in this city. It never felt polluted to me (and I was outside every day). I am sensitive to lung pressure, and there were a few days when the air felt heavy (similar to some very humid days in Florida), but after a few minutes outside I was fine.
“Fifth, pollen. If you suffer from pollen allergies, it’s important to realize that Medellin has a constant blooming season, and you may find it to be a problem. For me, it was less of a problem than I’d feared.
“Sixth, security. There are police, tourist police, and private security guards everywhere. For the locals, I think this is reassuring; for a visitor, it may take some getting used to. Having been on the Metro when someone suddenly fell, it was tremendously reassuring to see that it took less than a minute for someone on the train to pull the alarm and for a station policeman to get there to assist.
“Riding the Metro and bus even during crowded times, it never felt unsafe. That said, it is a big city, and you want to be smart and careful with your belongings.
“Finally, a few recreation notes. If you are staying in Poblado, there’s a wonderful walking path and exercise equipment area in Parque Lineal La Presidenta, next to the Dann Carlton.
“On Sunday mornings, several big streets are closed to traffic for recreational use by walkers, bicyclists, skaters, joggers. Even if you don’t participate, it’s a pretty awesome sight. There’s an impressive choreography to seeing all the people coexist on the path. There are first aid patrollers and many little stands offering drinks, snacks, and bike repair.”
–Jennifer G., Colombia