The World’s Next Top Retirement Haven?
So remarked one of the real estate agents Lief and I met on our first visit to Medellin more than two years ago. Lief and I were still getting our bearings then, feeling our way around, but, from the first time this beautiful city came into view, we recognized that we’d found something special.
Medellin’s Euro-undertones are strong, from the way the women dress to the way people greet you in passing on the street. Wandering around Medellin is more reminiscent of walking around Paris than Panama City (my two most ready points of comparison).
In the 26 months since our first visit to this City of Flowers, we’ve returned at least a dozen times. As Lief likes to remark each time we exit the international airport for each return visit, “Welcome to South America.”
It makes the point. The differences between this continent and the one just to the north of us right now are striking. While Central America is rough around the edges, South America is more polished. While Central America, even my favorite haunts in that region, could never be mistaken for anything but emerging and developing, some places in South America have arrived.
This pretty city of parks and plazas, cafes and museums is a miniature version of Buenos Aires, Argentina (which is one of my favorite cities in the world), from its annual International Tango Festival to its Botero Museum. Medellin is more manageable than B.A., and cleaner. Otherwise, the neighborhoods, the downtown shopping areas, the antique shops, the arts and literary history…these things all remind me of that very European city way down at the bottom of this continent.
Here are other observations related to what has become one of my favorite places in the world:
- Medellin boasts some of the world’s friendliest and most helpful taxi drivers. In more than two years traveling here, we’ve yet to encounter even one who was rude or unpleasant…
- Medellin is also home to what must be the world’s cleanest public toilets (note that you typically pay to use them, from 100 to 600 pesos, about 5 to 30 U.S. cents)…
- This is a green city, with trees, plants, and small gardens everywhere…
- It’s also architecturally consistent and pleasing. Most every building is constructed of red brick and topped with red clay roof tiles. The overall effect is delightful, especially when viewed from some height. From the windows of the penthouse apartments we’ve visited, for example, the city appears a sea of red clay tiles and red brick buildings interspersed regularly by swatches of foliage and flowers…
- Medellin is remarkably clean. In the central neighborhoods, you see no litter anywhere. The Metro (a point of pride for the population of Medellin and a great way to get around parts of the city) is spotless and like new. I’ve looked for but been unable to find even a cigarette butt or piece of gum on the ground in any of the stops we’ve visited, and I once watched as a local policeman chastised a young man for resting the sole of his foot on a Metro wall…
- Lief and I and other gringos are an anomaly outside the central El Poblado neighborhood, where most of the interest from foreign investors has so far been focused. Wander into a more local neighborhood, and you’ll draw stares…
Which leads to the question you’re probably asking yourself:
Isn’t Medellin an unsafe place for gringos to wander around unchaperoned?
Au contraire. We’ve not felt unsafe anywhere we’ve wandered in more than a dozen visits. Our impression is that, in fact, Medellin is a very safe place to be. The drug wars that waged here ended some 20 years ago, and, today, as far as we can tell, this City of Eternal Springtime is at peace.
The looks we draw when we wander beyond the tourist zones aren’t confrontational. They’re curious. The good folks of Medellin are staring at us, yes, but, once we look back at them and smile, they smile broadly in return.
And they go out of their way to offer their assistance. If we pause, in the Metro, on a street corner, in a shop, because we’re uncertain which direction to go next, invariably someone approaches to offer to help us find our way.
What cost Medellin? Thoughts on the cost of living in this delightful city that, thanks to its elevated situation, boasts a temperate climate year-round, tomorrow.
Meantime, it’s worth noting that the cost of real estate here is an absolute, screaming bargain.
Again, more tomorrow.