Living Or Retiring In Medellin: From The Parks To The People

Discovering Medellin

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.

Yesterday morning, 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. We were just in time for the start of “Inception,” the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie, in English. Tickets were 6,000 pesos apiece. At the current exchange rate, that’s US$3.50.

Which reminds me. I promised some insights today into the cost of living here in Medellin. At today’s rate of exchange, it’s on par with that in Panama City. A bottle of water in a corner shop, restaurant meals, taxis, those movie tickets we bought last night, they all cost more or less what they’d cost in Panama City. They could become more expensive (in dollar terms) if the peso continues moving in the direction it’s been moving for the past few months (the dollar has lost about 10% of its value against the Colombian peso in the past 90 days)…or they could become less expensive if the peso moves the other way.

One important difference between here 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.

The other 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 on Saturday–it’s safe, pleasant, and up-and-coming) for as little as 850,000 pesos a month, maybe less. Right now, that’s about US$500.

In the more “local” middle-class Florida Nueva neighborhood, you could rent a two-bedroom apartment for 650,000 pesos a month, or, again, maybe less. That’s all of US$375.

We’re just beginning to get our arms around the property purchase market. Lief is planning a complete report for his Global Property Investor’s Marketwatch subscribers.

For now, a few fundamentals. Real estate in this country is priced in pesos, meaning you have to remember the exchange rate, which fluctuates daily. As I’ve mentioned, the peso has been strengthening against the U.S. dollar, for example, for the past few months, meaning that real estate prices have increased steadily in that time in U.S. dollar terms.

That said, it’s possible to find apartment and even houses available for what qualify as absolutely (as opposed to relatively) cheap prices. El Poblado is the top end of the market. Here you’re looking at US$1,000 to US$1,500 resale (sometimes furnished) and US$1,500 to US$2,000 new.

In less recognized, more local neighborhoods? Those prices can fall in half and more.

Kathleen Peddicord