Remote Year: A Recap Of Medellín, Colombia
Hola desde Colombia! I’m now HALFWAY THROUGH Remote Year and I can’t believe how fast the time went by. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I’ve embarked on a digital nomad lifestyle since late August, writing for BuzzFeed while exploring South America. My first month was in Lima, Peru, and I’ve just completed my second month in Medellín, Colombia. My five weeks in the City of Eternal Spring were amazing, chaotic, and challenging at times. I’m going to give you a full rundown of my second stop — divulging everything from my apartment, to the Colombian culture, to favorite food spots, and to side trips.
First of all, what is Remote Year?
If you’ve already read this spiel in my Lima recap, feel free to jump to the next section.
But if you DON’T know what Remote Year is, here’s the sitch. It’s a travel program you apply for which allows you to work remotely and live in various countries. It’s kind of like study abroad but for working professionals. Everyone in the program has different jobs, and you apply already having a solid position (or freelance work). So no, Remote Year does not supply you with income. I am still working at BuzzFeed and writing about travel. Some people work in advertising, some in HR, some in art design, etc (all different companies). Basically you should ask your company if this is an option for you (either they pay it for you or they just approve your in-office absence and you pay yourself) and you can do either a 4-month program or a 12-month program. I am doing the 4-month program (called Kahlo) and my itinerary is: Lima, Peru > Medellin, Colombia > Bogota, Colombia > Mexico City, Mexico. Here’s a list of Remote Year itineraries you can apply for.
Accommodations in Poblado:
Remote Year provides accommodations for you, so that’s not something you need to worry about. As far as the apartments in Medellín goes, each place had 3-4 residents and we all lived in the Poblado area (which is very trendy and has lots of hills). I had three roommates, and by a douse of luck, I got the master bedroom and bathroom (which was comically huge). We were provided with sheets, towels, kitchenware, reliable WiFi, a TV, and a washer. We had no dryer this month, which was a bit of a struggle, but we got by. I will say that the bummer of this city is that the apartments are all very spread out, so we didn’t hang out as often as we did in Lima.
Workspace at Selina Hostel:
That’s right, our workspace was at a hostel in Medellín, and it was actually really awesome! They set you up in a co-working area that’s separated from guests of the hostel, and it’s only accessed by your fingerprint. Selina is very trendy with lots of art and cool open spaces. It also had a bar, a tattoo shop, food, yoga, a meditation room, and tons of weekly events. Compared to Lima, Peru, this workspace was much more inviting and less corporate. And in case you don’t know, workspace access is included in the cost of Remote Year!
Guatapé, the weekend track:
So Remote Year does a thing called tracks, which is basically planned events that are adventurous and fun, and are often unique to the city/country you’re living in. The two options for Medellín were a day trip to Guatapé or water repelling — I chose the former. I absolutely LOVED this track! We were picked up from Selina early in the morning and took a van to this guy named Rafa’s house. We had a homemade AMAZING breakfast with arepas, bread, eggs, and fruit. Oh, and two things happened on the way there.
1. We got pulled over by a cop who thought we all had drugs on us. None of us had our passports, and they almost detained us for 12 hours. Luckily, we all had a digital copy of our passports on our phones, and that was good enough. Our guide said the police just wanted money from us, hoping we would offer to pay to just let us go. Conclusion: ALWAYS have a digital copy of your passport saved in your photo roll on your phone and NEVER have drugs on you in Colombia. Just don’t do it. Also, it’s just really annoying to feed into the stereotype and buy cocaine in Colombia.
2. We picked up some guy who hopped in the middle seat and started playing music for everyone. It was truly wild, but charming at the same time.
After breakfast, we headed back to the van…except this time, our guide David told us to get ON TOP OF THE VAN. I literally thought he was joking. And so we climbed up top, held on for dear life, and drove through the countryside for about 20 minutes. I was terrified at first but it was actually a blast! We then arrived at a lake, and laid out for a bit. It was warm, the skies were blue, and some people even jumped in the water. Then we hopped back in the van, and headed to El Peñón de Guatapé, which is a giant rock you can climb (650 stairs) that has incredible 360 views of the area below. It was BEAUTIFUL. The stairs took me about 30 minutes to climb, and it wasn’t THAT bad, but I would recommend drinking water and going at your comfortable pace. The views are totally worth it.
Once we got down, we drove about 10 minutes to the colorful town of Guatapé. It was SO adorable and charming. We got coffee here, cinnamon rolls and other snacks, hung out in a square with colorful steps, and took tons of pictures. We probably spent about an hour here, and then drove to Rafa’s hostel where we had another homemade meal on the deck of a lake. It was the perfect ending to our day. I loved it so much. If you ever go to Medellín, whether with Remote Year or on your own, definitely make the time to go to Guatapé for a day. You will not regret it.
Jericó, a side trip worth taking:
The cool thing about RY is that they set up a ton of activities, events, and trips for you, but you are also free to do things on your own. Ray (my RY BFF) and I googled a few day trips from Medellín and only came across a few things. I saw a mention of Jericó and searched some images, but not that much populated. But we were bored and wanted to do something different, so we went to the bus station in the morning, and took a 3-hr gorgeous (but bumpy) ride to one of the cutest towns we’ve ever seen. The whole place was probably like, five blocks, but it was charming AF. There are essentially no tourists, which makes this place a great opportunity to witness small town living in Colombia.
The whole place is super colorful, every door a different color palette. Locals even kept their doors open and walked around carefree — it just felt like such a safe, loving community. We walked to the botanical garden and then hiked up a hill to get a 360-view of the city. It was GORGEOUS. We took a million portrait mode pics, and then caught some kiddy train back down to explore more. We also walked in the main square and saw a very cute, vintage living room on the second floor of a building. Ray asked the woman what it was, and it turns out it’s just her house, which has been passed down for five generations of 150 years. She let us go upstairs and take pictures of her place. The hospitality and energy of Jericó was amazing, and we were beyond happy we went. We got a bus back and were home by 8 p.m. Definitely worth the visit!
Weather details about Medellín:
Medellín is known as the City of Eternal Spring — which means it is always green, always warm, and always raining. One thing to know about the city is that there are TONS of hills, so if you’re walking a lot, you’re going to be working your glutes and calves. This can make it hotter and more likely to sweat. Every day I got to the office, I was just drenched in sweat. In good news, maybe you don’t need a gym membership — just walk a lot. I would say it was always in the 70s or 80s, so shorts and flip flops are a go here. But yes, it rains constantly. And not like a cute little rain shower. Literal hurricane downpour for hours at a time. I never even checked the weather app because it was pointless. The rain was unpredictable and I learned to just carry my rain jacket in my bag at all times.
Other things to know about Medellín:
Ok, let’s address this head-on. Medellín is NOT an episode of Narcos. Yes, this city suffered through the drug wars and the Pablo Escobar era, but they have rebuilt themselves into a beautiful city. Locals absolutely hate when you mention Pablo, they hate when you visit his grave or house, and they hate to be associated with cocaine and violence. Please reassure your moms Colombia is fine to visit and it’s as dangerous as ANY other big city. Paisas (people local to the area) have worked so hard to change the perception of Medellín, and it would be a shame for you to miss out on such an awesome place because of a Netflix show. The people are kind and fun, the scenery is incredible, the street art is beautiful, and the biggest risk of visiting is never wanting to leave. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
On that note though, pickpocketing is so fucking real here. Please be careful! They have a saying in Colombia — Don’t Give Papaya. That means, don’t give others the opportunity to take advantage of you. Keep your phone and wallet secured in a zipped area at all times (no loose pockets), don’t walk with your phone out at night, and just be careful of your surroundings. Since I’ve been in Colombia, three people got their phones stolen and one person got their wallet stolen. Do not get drunk and be careless. But violent mugging isn’t as big a concern.
Alright, other things! It’s Colombia, not Columbia. It’s pronounced Med-eh-jean, not Med-eh-yean. Water is drinkable here, so don’t worry about that. Ubers here are technically illegal here, but you can still use them. The drivers will likely ask you to sit in the front seat, so it appears like you’re a friend they’re picking up. Ubers are also quite unreliable and slow though, so be prepared (ESPECIALLY DURING THE RAIN). And when you get in the car, shut the door softly, do not slam. They will give you a bad rating because they say slamming the door damages the car faster. Don’t stay in the Poblado bubble — go to Envigado and Laureles! Most places take cards (primarily Visa), but have cash on you for markets and small shops.
If you’re looking for a good travel card, I highly recommend Chase Sapphire Preferred! You get 50,000 points when you sign up and spend $4k in three months, there’s no foreign transaction fees, and you earn 2X points on travel and dining purchases. If you sign up, I would really appreciate if you used my link so I can get some points too! :)
Working out and getting fit:
I finally got a gym membership in Medellín and felt so much better. I signed up for Ultra, which is located in the Charlee Hotel and has really awesome views. It was about $50 for the month, and they had all the basics as well as classes. I found out too late about Cyglo, which is a spinning studio similar to Soul Cycle. I would have signed up in a heartbeat. Something else to know is that on Sundays in Medellín, they have Ciclovía — which means they shut down an entire avenue from 7 a.m. - 1 p.m. and you can bike, run, walk, and exercise on the road. I took a walk every Sunday and it was a great way to get fresh air and see the surrounding area without traffic.
Where to eat:
Cafe Zorba: OMG I miss this place. They have vegetarian and vegan pizza, but don’t shy away if you’re a “meat eater.” It’s seriously so, so good. I recommend the hummus and Chimichurri pizza.
Hija Mija: This was my FAVORITE cafe in Medellín. They have solid WiFi so I worked here often, the coffee is great, and their breakfast toasts are BOMB. I recommend the chocolate peanut butter + berry one.
Home: This is a fast food burger place, but it’s amazing! The burgers remind me of Shake Shack.
SORS (Sandwiches or Salads): If you want to order a good lunch, this is the spot. I often got the Chicken Teriyaki sandwich and fries.
Burdo: This was easily our most frequented brunch spot. The Blood Marys are legit and the chicken and waffles were my go-to.
For delivery, download the RAPPI app! This puts Seamless to shame. You can get food, groceries, cash, a doctor, costumes, furniture, a hair dryer… literally anything!
Other things to do in Medellín:
Comuna 13: Once one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, it’s now a very popular tourist spot! The area has great views and the place is covered in graffiti. Do not miss Comuna 13! You can do this free tour and ask for Jamer. He brought us to his grandparent’s house and gave us free mango and lime ice pops.
Botero Plaza: Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist who donated several of his sculptures to the plaza.
Downtown Free Walking Tour: A great way to see the downtown area and learn the history of the landmarks. Also note, if you do this, they will take you to Botero Plaza. Reserve your spot here.
Memory House Museum: You can learn about the drug wars and focus more on the city and its people rather than Pablo Escobar.
Parque Arvi: Take the cable cars and venture off to Parque Arvi for an early morning hike!
Akzara Spa: If you love massages and spa days, this is the place for you. They have a pool, hot tub, facials, hot stone massages, a turkish bath, etc. My four-hour spa day was only $100 USD and that even included two bottles of wine and food. It’s amazing and I miss it.
And that’s about it! I’ve written a few BuzzFeed posts about Colombia with even more details, so make sure to check those out below as well.
Again, if you have any other questions about Remote Year, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you! I honestly am having such an amazing time here and I recommend RY to anyone who can do it. I’ve already made some lifelong friends, I’ve visited places I never thought I would, and I’m TRYING to learn Spanish (I’m not very good lol). If you sign up for the program, PLEASE use my name as a reference. :)