This oh-so-warm part of the world cemented itself in my heart a long time ago – over three years ago in fact. Although I’m originally a Londoner, I decided that I needed a change and moved to Medellín for three months to complete an internship. Colombia was a long way from my home, but in many ways it felt like a new one.
So although I may now look back at the country through rose tinted glasses, I know that there are many negative stereotypes still plaguing the region. These disturb me as I know just how damn amazing Colombia is.
So whether you are only considering Medellín, or have long dreamed about visiting this part of South America, I need to dispel some myths and demystify the city so you can book that ticket!
It’s much safer than it used to be, but you have to be smart
They have two rules in Colombia: don’t show Papaya and don’t steal Papaya. The point is, it’s equally as forbidden to show your valuables, as it is to steal other peoples.
So be smart with when you wave your iPhone around or flaunt your goods, as you are breaking one of these rules. Locals will help you out with this in detail, but there are some places you do have to avoid. I felt extremely clued up by gracious locals who are happy to help me navigate the city and just help you me in general, out of the goodness of their own hearts.
Food is really cheap
If you’re heading to the equivalent of an average restaurant chain in Medellín, you’ll probably spend around 15,000 COP (£4/$5/€5). One night, two of my housemates and I went to a fancy restaurant with the intention to splash more cash than usual, and we only spent 75,100 COP (£21/$26/€25)!
Colombians love their rice and beans
When it comes to Colombian cuisine, I urge you to try some typical dishes like Bandeja Paisa, a dish that is very popular in Medellín. The dish has white rice, red beans, ground beef, plantain, chorizo, pork, arepa, avocado and a fried egg. Even if you think of playing it safe with some KFC, think again. You’ll be amazed to find that the KFC two-piece chicken meal comes with rice, beans, salad, and plantain!
Colombians are very open-but-polite people
I will never forget when I casually told my boss I hadn’t brought the correct adaptor for my hair straighteners from London. The following day, he lent his wife’s straighteners to me for a whole week! Also, when I was pounding the streets looking for the adaptor, an owner of a large shop came outside to point me in the right direction, as if it was absolutely nothing!
So many locals, whether it was my boss or someone serving me coffee, were happy to broach any subject, and speak to me as if we were long-time friends. You could talk to a student, or even a business investor and they all seem like they’re on the same mission: to make you see their country for the beautiful place that it is. For this reason, Colombia will always be home to me.
Colombia does not equal cocaine
Exploring Medellín – the previous home of Pablo Escobar – does not mean that you will run into any gangs or be offered any drugs. I never experienced either situation. Of course, the drug ring does exist, but you are still able to have a perfectly enjoyable experience in Medellín. If you aren’t sure on where to stay, the area of El Poblado is very safe. I should know, I stayed there myself!
The are many faces of Colombia
The face of Colombia is a very diverse one. It is very common to see black, white and mixed Colombians throughout the city, and I personally didn’t see any overt separation between the races while I was there. As a person of colour, I understand how locals will perceive you is a great concern, but you won’t find that issue in Medellín. In fact, I passed as a local on a number of occasions!
You’re under 2 hours away from the Caribbean
During my internship, I managed to snag a 187,000 COP (£50/$65/€58) flight to a beautiful island called San Andrés. Unbelievable, right?!
In less than two hours, I was having fresh crab, ice-cold coconut water, and drinking shots of rum – that cost next to nothing – on the beach. I went snorkelling for 26,000 COP (£7/$9/€8) and jet skied for under 74,800 COP (£20/$26/€23).
This was an absolutely unforgettable part of my time in Colombia, so I urge you to add this island to your itinerary. With the spirit of the Caribbean and the openness of Colombians, you really can’t find a better island. If you time your visit right, there’s an awesome Green Moon Festival celebration in September, where you experience Colombian reggae vibes all week long.