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.
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:
Are there a lot of other expats in Medellín?
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!
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
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.
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!