Photo courtesy of www.teachinghouse.com
So here you are in Medellin, Colombia finally after such a long journey from home with your luggage, curiosity and quest for adventure. First things first though. How’s your Spanish so far? Have you found a place to stay? Do you have Colombian pesos with you? How about your tourist visa? Oh and of course what to expect on the streets of Medellin!
So much questions in mind but no worries, The HodgePodge Lifestyle will guide you through your exciting adventure in Colombia. Let’s start with the language (or shall I say the language barrier you’re about to encounter if you’re Spanish is basically zero or rusty).
Knowing basic Spanish will really help you and don’t simply stop with just saying Hola! because most locals speak their own language. The donde estas, bonito, gracias, muy caro, bonita and other Spanish words will come in handy. This book I’ve had for so many years now was very handy when I went to live in Medellin and even until now, I used it to study Spanish in Philippines.
Yes there are Colombians who can speak English but not everyone uses it to practice every day. You’re lucky if the language back home you know very well has some similarities to Spanish like my language, Filipino, but it doesn’t guarantee you that it will take you all throughout your stay here.
A good example of how important it is to know the language was what happened to me before while living there. I bought water from the street vendor while waiting for friends to pick me up from the metro. We were about to go hiking to the river for a picnic in the mountainside of the city.
So I told the man in my broken Spanish (or shall I say Spanglish?), I wanted agua (water). I only wanted to buy one but he gave me a bottled water and another in a plastic container. I’ve never seen water in plastic sealed like that so I was confused.
The closes we have here was literally water placed in a plastic and given to you with the top open with a straw so pardon me with my ignorance but it was something new and different. Anyway, I received both as I didn’t know how to explain to him further that I only wanted one water bottle and not two.
So there you go, knowing Spanish very well will go a long way and you’ll avoid a lot of confusion and dolor de cabeza (headache) from trying to explain what you want to say to the locals.
Getting a visa as a tourist is easy for Filipinos because you can also get it in Colombia upon arrival. If you’re staying there within three months, you’re allowed to do this. Simply have all necessary requirements with you from your own country so you can bring them to the immigration in the city your going to. I renewed mine twice as I stayed until the following year. It was worth it!
Next is exchanging the current money you have which is usually US Dollars to Colombian Pesos. There are there are plenty of money exchange shops in the city and even at the airport, they are available. Their money can be confusing if your own country’s currency doesn’t have a lot of zeroes in them. You see what I mean with the photo of their bills above?
1,000 COP, 2,000 COP, 10,000 COP, the list goes on and on. So yes, at first, it was very confusing for me as Philippine Peso only have Php1 as the minimum amount while Php1,000 is the maximum. One of the tricks I learned though is to simply subtract the exceeding zeroes so hopefully that works for you too!
Photo courtesy of Linda Dvorackova
Now we go to the part where you’ll stay for several days while you’re in this city. Are you a hotel or backpacker type of traveller? Since I lived with a Colombian family that was chosen by my organization AIESEC, I didn’t had the problem of finding one but there are backpacker’s hostels or hotels in Medellin.
Photo courtesy of Four Points by Sheraton
Photo courtesy of The Charlee Lifestyle HotelPhoto courtesy of La Guarida Del Viajero
There are several accommodations in Medellin. If you prefer hotels, there’s Four Points by Sheraton or The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel. If I were to recommend hostels, those would be my friend’s apartamento (as how he calls it locally) La Guarida del Viajero or another hostel where one of my colleagues from Europe worked and lived in during his stint in the city called Casa Kiwi.
Personally though I love staying in the local’s homes or hostels. They run these types of accommodations and they have a lot to share about their city. You’ll get to know the locals more and their city of Medellin so it’s a good and inexpensive way to immerse yourself.
If you want to find out the local hotspots you can’t find in travel guides or online travel websites, they can show you more since they know their own city very well better than anyone else.
So you have a place to stay, know more Spanish and already have their local currency. Great! Now you can really begin exploring Medellin! Travelling around the city isn’t hard as you can ride the Metro, cable cars, buses or taxis. Also walking around the different areas is ideal so you can really spend time with each place you go to.
If you will take the Metro and you’re staying in Medellin for weeks or months, it’s best to get a Metro card which registers foreigners. In case anything happens to you, they can easily track where you’ve been.
If you want to take the bus, there are plenty and if you take the Metro then you decide to ride the bus after, they sell tickets for both which you can buy at the same time so it’s very convenient. There are also taxis everywhere which are usually lined up below the Metro stations. You can also get them on the streets and simply flag them down.
One of the things I love doing during my first few weeks there was simply walking around the neighborhood and getting to know the streets of Medellin. Sometimes when I need a breather, walking around helps me clear my mind. There are days I walk towards the grocery or when I want to have coffee or food from a nearby restaurant.
Don’t be afraid to follow your footsteps as sometimes the most interesting places can be found by walking around the area you’re exploring. Like this beautiful juice restaurant I found in Envigado with a friend, who would have thought I would see this if I took a transportation to get to the museum and cafe we were going to?
The best thing I found in the streets of Medellin? Manila. Yes Manila! You’re asking me what do I mean about Manila? There is a barrio (community) in Envigado that’s named after my city in Philippines.
I had to really nag my friend to bring me there as I was curious enough to see why was it named as such and also probably since I was missing where I grew up in. It was a quiet neighborhood with rows of houses and small businesses. Another trivia is there is also a Medellin province in Cebu and it’s a place I still have to visit hopefully in the future!
So yes, explore, be adventurous and take a lot of time immersing yourself in this new country you’re visiting to really enjoy your vacation or if by any chance, also living here even for a few months. Don’t be afraid of trying something new and go out of your comfort zone to make your travel here worth it!
There’s more to come as I write about the local cuisine and shopping areas in Medellin in my next article at The HodgePodge Lifestyle. So watch out until the next time you happen to read my blog again!
For more info, you may visit the websites about Colombia at: