I first came to Colombia in 2000. This was long before the many so called expat experts even had the country on their radar, possibly long before they even had their experienced expat radar. This doesn’t not make me a pioneer as I know other brave souls who came in the 1980’s and 1990’s when it was truly crazy to be a foreigner in this land. Medellin was not even a consideration but little did I know what was in store for me.
I lived in Cali in 2004 and part of 2005. There were approximately 2000 murders a year at that time – just in Cali ! This is staggering when you consider a peaceful country like Canada had between 600 to 700 total in the same period. Fair hair and blue eyes make you somewhat obvious. I wore a tight fitting ball cap and dark sunglasses and answered in Spanish . Perhaps in hindsight I should have pretended that I was mute as my accent as well as my looks were a dead giveaway – so to speak.
Cali was dynamic and exciting. New foods, new customs, great nightlife in spite of what the murder rate might have made you think. After all Cali is the Salsa Capital of the world and dancing in your apartment is not the same as clubbing. The city was still a bit rough around the collar. It was dirty and suffering from years of bad civic administration, definitely dangerous if one did not use common sense.
Next came Cartagena, the ”Jewel of the Caribbean”. The years of 2006 and 2007 were wonderful, inspiring and perspiring years. Cartagena is a charming place but hot, hot, hot probably does not describe the temperature and humidity well enough. I would never trade those two years for anything but there is a time when one seeks a more temperate lifestyle.
Bogota is temperate on the side of being rainy and cool. Somewhat like an autumn day in the northern US or southern Canada. Bogota is also densely populated and is at an altitude of over 8,000 feet above sea level making it one of the highest and most densely populated cities in the world. It shares these honours with Quito, Ecuador.
The world is tainted with images of Colombia torn apart by war and the drug trade and certainly there are still traces of this today. There are gangs. What big cities in the US don’t have them ? There is a Mafia. OK, so what ? Think of Sicily or Russia or New York or Montreal. You can’t help being affected by 60 years of bad press.
I did not know what to expect on my first trip to Medellin. We arrived at night and wound our way down the mountainside from the airport. Our hotel was very modern and accommodating but I had no idea what was ”lurking” outside the doors.
The next morning the sun was shining. We stepped out onto Avenida Poblado, ”La Milla de Oro – The Golden Mile”. It was the perfect ”spring day”. The skies were blue and I was not prepared for what I saw. I felt that I was in a different world. Change the street signs to English and I could have been in any upscale neighbourhood in the US or Canada. This was not the Colombia that I knew in Cartagena, Baranquilla, Bogota or Cali. I was not looking for a perfect expat lifestyle as I live within the Colombian community but I could not have felt more comfortable in my surrounding environment.
Welcome to the ”City of Eternal Spring” . Laid out in the Aburra Valley, the continuous urbanization that includes Medellin houses over 4 million inhabitants. El Poblado is the most appealing sector in the entire Valley for many foreigners. It is also the most expensive. The taxes are higher here, the public utilities are higher here and the cost of shopping is higher here.
I have had clients complain to me that the property is too costly in Medellin. El Poblado has been compared to Beverly Hills, which is a description that does not connect for me. I prefer other comparisons. Let’s first consider the ”Golden Mile”. This is one of the two most important financial districts in Colombia. So what would be the price of an apartment located close to Wall Street cost ? How about an apartment close to Bay Street in Toronto ?
Forbes Magazine reported that the prices in Sao Paolo are an average of $3,403 USD per m2 and in Rio about $4,000 USD per m2. If you want a comparison in square feet – divide by 10. Rio works out to about $400.00 per square ft. This seems a bit pricey but in 2012 the average price in New York City was $1,294 US per sq. ft.
Here is a photo from a spectacular new apartment coming on the market in Medellin. It occupies a full floor, has a personal and a service elevator. The unit has absolutely incredible views. The price 1.795.000.000 COP. Yes this is a lot of money but it is 428 m2 or about 4600 sq. ft. How much would this apartment cost on Park Avenue – $8,000,000.00 – maybe $10,000,000.00 . The price of this unit is about $935,000.00 USD or about $218.43 per sq. ft.How about London, England ? Kingston which is a nice ”burb” in the SW of the city averages in the neighbourhood of $818.99 USD per sq. ft.
Colombia is an emerging country. While some of it is still ”backwoods” but parts of it, like El Poblado are First World. New construction in El Poblado is about $1,875.00 per m2 – less than $200.00 per sq. ft. I can show you elegant older apartments where the price is about $1,000.00 per m2 or $100.00 per sq. ft. The photo below is of a 250 m2 apartment, two blocks from the Golden Mile that costs about $260,000.00.
Medellin is a cosmopolitan city that is only a few hours flight from the Southern United States. It is the ”City of Eternal Spring”. It has a highly educated and motivated workforce. It has excellent infrastructure. Some of the best hospitals in Colombia are located here – actually some of the best hospitals in Latin America are here. The locals, the ”Paisas” are some of the friendliest people you will meet anywhere. Medellin was nominated the most Innovative City in the World in 2013. The city plans to be the most technologically advanced city in the world by 2021.
I could go on and on and on and on and on. If you want cheap, then I can show you cheap. You can probably still find some little place where you can live on $10.00 a day but El Poblado is not the place. If you want a place where you can live moderately, where you can walk, bike, golf, and garden all year round then you should be considering Medellin.
For some us, Medellin is our own little paradise. The secret however is out. The world is discovering Medellin and you can be certain that for a city of this calibre, the prices will not remain like they are today. My advice to you today is don’t wait.
David K.W. Steckenreiter has more than 30 years of proficiency in managing businesses in the Hospitality, Retail and Educational Industries. His career includes experience as an importer as well as a hands on understanding of patents, copyright, trademarks, service marks and appellations of origin (including IP studies with the World Intellectual Property Organization). He is a published author and composer. David is EscapeArtist’s Ambassador for Colombia and Ecuador. Click here to read more from David at EscapeArtist Colombia.