Although I visited Cartagena as well, I wanted to speak about the most important things I took away from my time living in Medellín, Colombia. Some of these points apply to Colombia as a whole, and others are quite specific to Medellín. I even answer everybody’s question about whether or not it’s actually safe. The fact that I lived to tell the tale and write this should be your answer. Here are 5 things I learned living in Medellín, Colombia:
Does it rain everyday?
I don’t think I can count on one full hand the number of times it didn’t rain during my time in Medellín. I chalked it up to the fact that it is the City of Eternal Spring. And in the spring, it rains.
Well, it turns out that I just happened to be their during a rainy season. It’s funny that I avoided the countries I originally wanted to spend my initial month in because it was their rainy season. Thankfully Medellín’s rainy season consisted of short bursts of rain, although there were a few all nighters. I don’t remember too many days where it felt like it rained all day and I had to stay indoors.
Is is necessary to know Spanish?
I haven’t been to nearly as many countries as a lot of people, but at the same time have visited more than most. And during these years I have never spoken another language other than English. Spanish is that language that if your sentences are basic enough, I can interpret them. Throw in some “sign language” and sure, I’ll understand you almost perfectly. My trick is listening out for the one word I’ll understand. For example, whenever visiting the local Exíto (a supermarket), I know that when the cashier first greets me and asks a long question, ending with “puntos,” they’re asking is I have a points card. I don’t. And I always said no.
A lot of my conversations while living in Medellín abruptly ended with me saying “no nabla español.” The conversation always gets to a point where I can no longer follow along, let alone guess some of the words. While the other party scratches their head trying to figure out how we chatted for so long, I awkwardly look straight ahead because I’ve failed at life.
I say all of this to say, no, it isn’t necessary to know Spanish, but basic knowledge of the language will transform your journey. If you don’t have that, it may be tough to communicate with the humans of Colombia. It was the first place I’ve ever visited in all my travels where virtually no one spoke english. It didn’t bother me, and if I wanted to chat up everyone then it’s my job to learn Spanish. I’m just pointing out that English is not the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language of these people. They just speak Spanish…as they should.
Day trips are life.
There were definitely a few days when I felt like there was nothing to do while living in Medellín, Colombia. I didn’t need to walk all the way downtown anymore. Poblado wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. And really, how many times could I walk a few avenues down and over before turning back around. Everyday. That’s how many.
I didn’t plan for any day trips, but luckily I had the tour to Guatape set up. One could make a day of the Museum of Modern Art and thankfully the free walking tour was four hours. I made sure to spread them out over my time in Medellín. One activity to look forward to was good enough for me, but I could see how someone would need two or three set up per week.
I think the day trips you take can make make or break your time in Medellín, unless you’re moving their for a few months. If that’s the case, you’ve got all the time in the world to do things in nearby towns. There’s truly no rush.
Is it safe?
I know this is the question everyone wonders. First of all, check out my Colombian Youtube playlist. There you can find all of my videos I recorded in Colombia, both Medellín and Cartagena. Not only am I solo in the majority of these videos, at varying times of the day and in various areas, but I discuss safety.
Now I must say that I regret spreading the word about the show Narcos. People watched it and apparently think that Pablo Escobar is still roaming the streets of Medellín and running sh*t. I can assure you, he is not.
Okay, but is it safe?
As with almost any city on earth, it is up to you to visit and use basic common sense. Don’t wander into sketchy areas in the middle of the night. Don’t hitchhike because…it’s 2017. Don’t…well to be honest, I don’t know what else to tell you not to do. I lived my regular life in Medellín and did everything I did when I was living in Pittsburgh, New York City, or home in Washington, DC.
I will say that even the locals were more worried about my phone than I was. They wanted me to “put it up” and “be careful with it.” While I’ve heard about phone theft in the city, as well as all over the world, I didn’t witness it firsthand. One of my airbnb-mates went out for a run on her first day, sans phone, because she was scared someone would steal it. I on the other hand never had that thought cross my mind until people kept saying it.
This is the one thing I hate about traveling. People project their fears and uncertainties onto you. How on earth can you tell me about a city you’ve never even visited yourself? Don’t speak to me about how dangerous it is if you’ve never been off of your continent, let alone within a three hour flight radius to the country you’re speaking about.
I know Medellín is a place, like many other cities I’ve lived, where bad things happen every day. I just don’t hear about all of them. So what I will say is that Medellín was perfectly safe for me. I am the only person I can speak for. As a Black Woman and solo traveler, Medellín is safe. And let’s take into the consideration that I’m going to blend in as an Afro-Colombian a little more than a white person that is clearly a “gringo.”
I don’t need to spend more than a month anywhere.
The original indefinite travel plan involved me spending one to three months in every location. So far my itinerary consists of one month in every location because I’m so eager to see so many places. However, after being in Medellín for a month, I realized that’s all I need. Once week three was coming to an end, I started to get restless. By that point I was all too ready to at least head to the next city. And believe it or not, the next city had me appreciating my time in Medellín that much more.
Have you spent an extended time living in Medellín, Colombia? What are some things you learned? And if you have any questions for me, be sure to drop them below!