Medellín skyline
An early-evening view of the Medellin skyline

These rolling stones are gathering too much moss! Later this year we’re packing up and moving a bit further south to Medellín, Colombia. It’s a decision that’s been several months in the making, and our 12-day trip in late June sealed the deal. Although we’d been there twice before, this time we wanted to experience the city as residents rather than tourists. That meant staying in three different neighborhoods and spending a lot of time just walking around to get a feel for what life might be like in each.

Public Art Laureles Medellin
John and his new Laureles friend, who is way too “Type A” for this mellow neighborhood!

We’re already fielding quite a few questions from friends and family about this move, and some folks are scratching their heads a bit. So here are some Qs and As:

We thought you loved living in Boquete and Panama! Why are you moving?
We do love living in Boquete. We’ve made wonderful friends here and had unforgettable experiences. But deep down we never expected to be here long-term, and after three years we’ve got the bug for a new adventure. It’s actually par for the course for us, since the longest we’ve stayed in one place over our 21-year marriage is the six years we spent in Portland, Oregon. New vistas await!

Two more huge drivers for us are the high quality and low cost of healthcare in Colombia, and the overall lower cost of living. Here’s an important data point: Colombia’s healthcare system has been ranked 22 by the World Health Organization, ahead of both the U.S. and Canada in terms of affordability, quality, and accessibility. We’ll be writing a lot more about that later, and we have two great anecdotes of friends who have had outstanding experiences with the healthcare in Medellin.

But isn’t Colombia dangerous? And Medellín especially?
If the show “Narcos” is your only exposure to Colombia and you’re still under the impression that Medellín is overrun by drug cartels and violence, it’s time to update your thinking. In the 25 years since a certain infamous drug lord (we don’t like to say his name, especially in the presence of Colombians) was finally killed on a rooftop, the city has worked hard to transform itself. Medellín is now clean, modern, and safe, and has one of the best public transportation networks we’ve ever experienced. We wrote extensively about the transformation in these two posts from our first visit in 2016:

Medellín: A Miracle City

Electric Stairs and Public Art: Building Community in Medellin

Are there a lot of other expats in Medellín?

Geneva Camerata in Medellin
We were lucky enough to attend a performance of the Geneva Camerata, a chamber music ensemble from Switzerland

Yes and no. El Poblado, the most exclusive area, has a rapidly growing nucleus of expats, but there are relatively few North Americans and many are younger “digital nomads” rather than retirees. The other neighborhoods have much smaller concentrations of extrañeros, and – frankly – that’s exactly what we’re looking for. We want to be immersed in the culture and forced to improve our Spanish. We want to make Colombian friends. This is the cultural experience we signed up for when we decided to move to Panama, but it hasn’t really come to fruition during our time in Boquete.

Medellín is a really big city. Will you be happy there after small-town Boquete?
We can’t wait! We’ve both lived in big cities before and have missed the energy, the huge choice of restaurants, and the wide variety of entertainment options and cultural activities a city can offer. On this last trip, we were able to attend a large artisan crafts exposition and not one, but two outstanding classical music performances in Medellín’s Teatro Metropolitano. Heavenly!

Medellin Expoartisanos
Colorful local folk art on display at the Medellin Expoartisanos

What are the downsides?
Since Medellín lies in a deep river valley surrounded by mountains, the air pollution can be quite bad at times. Traffic can also be brutal, especially at rush hour, but not so much so in our chosen neighborhood of Laureles. The city is trying to come to terms with this through programs such as Pico y Placa, in which drivers with certain license plate numbers are forbidden to use their vehicles on certain days of the month. Honestly, these are the only negatives we can come up with.

What about your dogs?
Of course Rosie and Tango are coming with us. One of the things we love most about Medellín is its pet culture. Dogs and cats are cherished members of the family there, and every day we saw countless pampered pets out and about

IvyLaureles Medellin
IvyLaureles, a brand-new apartment building that will be our landing pad in Medellín

with their owners. Dog parks abound, it’s OK to take pups into many restaurants and shopping malls, and there are combo vet/pet stores on almost every block. And it’s very hard to find dog poop left anywhere – people actually pick up after their pets! Imagine that.

Where will you live? 
After spending time in three different areas – Sabaneta, Envigado, and Laureles – we’ve chosen Laureles as our first landing site. It’s one of Medellin’s largest barrios, but it has a wonderfully European feel and is extremely walkable, with quiet leafy streets, large parks, and more restaurants than we’ll ever possibly be able to visit in one lifetime. After only a day in Laureles we knew it was exactly what we were looking for. Then we chanced into a great temporary rental, a furnished two-bedroom apartment that allows pets. We’ll be there for a couple of months to get our bearings and find a more permanent rental.

Laureles Street View
Street view from the IvyLaureles apartment

What will you do with your house in Boquete?
We’ve always planned to rent our house, but now we’ve decided to put it on the market for a couple of months and see if it sells. If not, we’ll fall back to renting it. Watch this blog for more info about our house soon!



  1. Oh, this is so exciting, I read this to Ron and he was particularly interested in the transportation system and the health care. We loved Cartegena, but it was too hot for us. Medellin sounds perfect! We leave Nicaragua next week. We have been so stressed for three months. Thank goodness we can read articles like yours about where we want to settle for a while, instead of reading about death and torture here!
    I think we will come to Medellín for the winter months to explore more of the area. Like you, we are looking for a community not filled with expats. Our passion has always been cultural immersion. Hoping to see you both this winter. I will have lots of questions. Thank you so much for your post!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Luna, you two are going to love Medellin! And I am stoked that we might finally get to meet you. Send your questions and we’ll answer as many as we can (we’re still fact-finding ourselves). Also, I realized I owe you some answers about Sabaneta. We LOVE the small-town feel and the charming parque, with tons of cute little restaurants and families out enjoying each other at all hours of the day. Sabaneta is a bit far away from Medellin proper for our taste, and we didn’t get a good feel there about available rentals. But you might have a different experience.

    • You may indeed enjoy Sabaneta. It’s not as remote as your previous location, but cultural immersion would not be difficult. And though we’ve not met, I sense you would want to integrate in this beautiful little town. My husband has written about his (intimate) experience with the excellent healthcare system in his February blog post:
      Be sure to let us know when you’re arriving. Safe journeys, Mariah

  2. So exciting! I’ve heard good news about Medellin and the fact that you are going to move there makes me a little bit envious. 🙂 Speaking of staying in one place for a long time, this post got me thinking of myself and how I’ve been living in Jakarta for ten years (!). I’ve never lived in any city that long before and I’ve actually been wondering whether it’s time to look for a new place, new adventures. Anyway, hopefully the moving process for you will be real smooth!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Oh, Bama – you can’t leave Jakarta until we have a chance to come and visit you – ha! But seriously, I hope you get a chance to explore South America and Colombia someday. They are truly spectacular.

  3. I am sorry to see your leaving Panama. My wife and I have been following your blog for awhile now and love your stories about Panama where we hope to retire ourselves someday. On the other hand, very curious to learn about your adventures in Columbia. Congratulations.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Don’t let us dissuade you from your plans to retire to Panama! It’s a wonderful, beautiful country with a lot to offer. It’s been a fine home for us for more than three years and we leave many friends and lots of great memories. It’s truly a bittersweet move.

      Let us know if we can answer any questions about becoming an expat in Panama!

  4. Susan, you truly are a ‘rolling stone.’ I’m amazed and inspired by your adventurous spirit. I could never do it……plus way too many worldly goods. Living vicariously through you! ❤️Lauren

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      And now you can come and visit us in Med, Donder! I hope???? Hugs back.

  5. OMG I am thrilled to hear this news! Medellin is definitely on my places to visit. And you two are living one of my ‘post sailing’ possibilities. I have always thought it would be great to move to a different place every two years, exploring it deeply for a time and then moving on to a new adventure. Inspiring me as always! Hugs from Madagascar.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Madagascar! That’s high on our bucket list, and the fact that you sailed there is incredible! If anyone can understand this lifestyle, it’s a cruising sailor – so we’re definitely kindred spirits 🙂 Hugs back from this part of the world, and please come and see us in Medellin!

  6. This is so exciting!!! Medellin definitely hit our list of places that we might want to “settle” for a bit. It is a beautiful city. Even though we did watch Narcos just before flying into Colombia we did feel very safe there. The transformation of the city simply fascinated me. We also really liked the Laureles area.

    I love that picture of John with his new friend. 🙂

    You will have so many new things to go see and do in that area I’m so excited for you.

    Good luck with the sale of your home. Since Boquete is also beautiful hopefully it goes quickly for you.

  7. John and Susan Pazera Reply

    Thanks – after reading your blog I somehow feel that you two would be right at home in Medellin!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Gracias, amiga – can’t wait to have you two as “neighbors” again!

  8. Wow, I’m so excited for you and I totally get the “ready for a new adventure.” Like you, I love small sleepy towns but also the energy of a big city. However, it seems to me that the Laureles neighborhood will give you a taste of both with its leafy avenues for dog walking and wonderful public transportation. We spent a month in Cartagena (much too hot!) and I’m wishing we’d really taken some time to visit Medellin too, although the air quality might have been an issue for my husband. It sounds like a city that’s living up to its reputation as a great expat destination! Anita

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Anita! I really hope you two get a chance to visit someday. They’re working on the pollution problem. Medellin is such a “can-do” city that I’m sure they’ll find a way to improve air quality; it just might take some time.

  9. What a coincidence! I just watched a travel documentary in Netflix about “Narco Tour” in Medellin! I kept in mind that we have to visit the city whenever visiting Colombia :D. Sounds an excellent decision and wishing you the best with the moving. I hope someday I will be able to visit the city myself. Looking forward to reading your living experience in Medellin!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you!! We’re excited about this new chapter. Be sure and look us up if you make it to Medellín someday!

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