Medellin Versus Panama City, Dollar For Dollar
Medellin is a city of parks and flowers, from interactive outdoor museum-parks, where children can build and experiment, run and play, to an aquarium, an amusement park, delightful botanical gardens, a planetarium, a “Barefoot Park” with a Zen garden, and dozens of small parks and treed plazas.
One morning during our most recent visit, Lief and I sat in the Parque El Poblado, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze, a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, watching the people of Medellin go about their Sunday. One lane of Avenida El Poblado had been roped off as a bicycle lane, and cyclist after cyclist passed, families, athletes, teenagers…
There’s no shortage of things to do in this town, both outdoorsy and more cerebral. This is an industrial, economic, and financial center for this country, but also a literary and an artistic one. Newspapers, radio networks, publishing houses, an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, an annual book fair, and, back in 1971, Colombia’s answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon, all have chosen Medellin as their base.
The main attraction at the Museo de Antioquia is the Botero Collection, which is bolstered by the further collection of 23 monumental sculptures by this artist (a son of Medellin) exhibited in the Plaza Botero, in front of the museum.
After our respite in Parque El Poblado, Lief and I wandered among the outdoor Botero collection, then made the hike up Cerro Nutibara, the “guardian” hill of this city, one of seven that surround it, for the 360-degree view of the Aburra Valley where Medellin sits.
When our feet gave out, we took a taxi (they’re ever-present, always painted yellow, and metered, unlike in many of the places where we spend time) to Premium Plaza mall, home to Nine West, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, etc., and a movie theater, where tickets (for first-run movies in English) were 6,000 pesos apiece. At the current exchange rate, that’s about US$3.
Which brings me to my point today. Yesterday I promised some insights into the cost of living in Medellin. The overall cost of living in this city is affordable, not super-cheap, depending, of course, on the lifestyle you adopt.
The good news is that the exchange rate has lately moved strongly in favor of those of us with U.S. dollars in our wallets. At today’s rate of exchange, the cost of everyday things–groceries, a bottle of water in a corner shop, restaurant meals, taxis, the movie tickets we bought on our last visit–are right now a little less expensive in Medellin than in Panama City. They could become even less expensive (in dollar terms) if the peso continues its downward spiral of late…or more expensive (again, in dollar terms) if the peso rebounds.
This is one risk of Colombia for dollar-holders. Panama uses the U.S. dollar for its currency…Colombia has a peso of its own.
Another important difference between Medellin and Panama City is the climate. It’s temperate in Medellin, meaning you wouldn’t have to have air conditioning in your home. This could reduce your overall monthly budget by US$100 or more.
Another important cost difference between this city and the one from where I currently hail is to do with real estate. You could rent a one-bedroom apartment in the Laurels neighborhood (where Lief and I explored recently–this off-the-gringo’s-radar neighborhood is safe, pleasant, and up-and-coming) for as little as 850,000 pesos a month, maybe less. Right now, that’s about US$450.
In the more “local” middle-class Florida Nueva neighborhood, you could rent a two-bedroom apartment for 600,000 pesos a month, or, again, maybe less.
That’s all of about US$300.
After about a dozen visits over the past two years, Lief and I feel like we’re getting our arms around the property market in this town and have invested ourselves, as I’ve reported. In July we bought an apartment in El Poblado, specifically, for this first purchase, we chose a little neighborhood called Santa Maria de Los Angeles and a small (seven-story) building. We paid about US$600 per square meter.
To put this into perspective, this is a prime location, at Medellin’s heart, in a charming building on a quiet street. A purchase price of US$600 per square meter is a tremendous bargain. That’s absolutely cheap.
If we’d left well enough alone, as my husband lobbied, we could have turned the place around and made it available for rental by investing maybe another US$100 per meter. Meaning we could have had a great rental in a city with a strong and growing rental market for about US$700 per square meter. That’s something to get excited about.
I had a different idea, though, and have launched a total renovation that, I’m happy to be able to report to both you and my husband, is right on track.
Which is to say it’s looking today as though it will take twice as long and cost maybe twice as much as we originally planned.
Right on track.
Generally speaking, in El Poblado, which is, again, the top end of the Medellin market, you’re looking at US$1,000 to US$1,500 to buy resale (sometimes furnished) and US$1,500 to US$2,000 to buy new.
In less recognized, more local neighborhoods? Those prices can fall in half and more.
P.S. It’s important to remember that real estate in this country is priced in pesos. I make this point because it’s not always the case. In some countries where the currency is not the U.S. dollar, real estate prices nevertheless are quoted in dollars. Nicaragua is a good example.
However, in Colombia, including in Medellin, real estate, like everything else, is bought and sold for pesos, meaning you have to remember the exchange rate when shopping. It fluctuates daily.
As I mentioned, the peso has fallen is value dramatically against the U.S. dollar over the past several weeks. We’ve received e-mails from our attorney, our real estate agent, and our banker in the past seven days, all recommending that, if we need to move more money into this country in the foreseeable future, we should do it now. The current boom rate (from the point of view of the dollar-holder) may not hold.