I moved to Medellin in 2014 and there is a lot to learn. I put together this guide to help the transition and get you caught up to speed as fast as possible.
Arriving At Jose Maria Cordova JMC airport Medellin
You’ll arrive at the airport and go through customs. JMC is really small so there’s not much confusion. When you get to customs you’ll present them with the form, just make sure you put your address where your saying on there.
After you get your tourist visa stamp (US citizens usually get 90 days on arrival), you’ll go get your luggage. It’s right outside the customs and there are only 2 baggage claims.
Then you’ll give your customs form to the officer upon leaving and they may scan your baggage if they want (not usually though unless it’s huge or something).
After that you can exit. I suggest grabbing some cash from the ATM there if it’s your first time. They are called “cajeros.”
Getting to Medellin
There are usually about a thousand taxis there so transport isn’t really an issue. You can also connect to the wifi there at the airport and call an uber. One caveat is that sometimes Uber will call you (this is pretty normal there) to confirm where you are. They may ask you to go up a level and meet at departures instead of arrivals.
The cost for a taxi to Medellin is about 70,000 pesos or ~$25.
I believe there is some sort of cheap bus as well, but that is much less convenient.
Coming Into Medellin
It’s about a 45 min ride to actually get to Medellin / Poblado where most people go. The best part is about 30 min in you start to see Medellin as you come down the mountain and the view is insane.
If you’re coming at night you might also see a ton of cars parked by the “mirador” / lookout point as you come down the mountain. Lot’s of people come there to hangout, eat street vendor food, and show off how far the can ride super dangerous wheelies on their motorcycles.
Medellin Spanish 101
You can survive in Medellin without Spanish, but it’s not going to be easy as it’s generally not spoken.
With that said, here is the most effective intro to the things you will need to know to get by on some basics. Some of it is vocab and some of it is cultural.
A few tips before beginning
- I suggest getting the Google translate app on your phone. You can easily translate phrases on the fly, or even speak into it. Not perfect but can definitely help as your vocabulary is improving or looking up menu items.
- Get “swipe keyboard” (available on both iPhone and android) and install both english and Spanish packs – this will auto-correct your Spanish spelling
- When you find a verb or phrase you don’t know, write that down immediately and ask your Spanish teacher (assuming you get one).
Preguntas / Questions
Preguntas, preguntas, preguntas.
Every time you do anything you think it’s going to be easy but it can seem like there are always questions. Way more than usual.
Every time you order something, you think the response would be “ok” but it’s not. There are lots of clarifying questions or things that just come up and it can be difficult to navigate if your Spanish isn’t up to par.
With that said, the reality is you really don’t HAVE to speak that much Spanish to survive. The things you really need to know when starting out here are:
- How to get groceries and everything associated with that (not much).
- How to order food at a restaurant, get the check, pay, split the bill, deal with money etc. (harder than you would think).
- How to answer the basic conversational questions / use paisa (Medellin) lingo.
- Directing cabs / general directions.
You need to be able to answer the preguntas though, so I’ll show you how:
You only have to talk when you check out.
When you are ready to check out, they will ask “Tienes puntos?” or some combination of difficult to understand Spanish + the word “puntos”: This means do you have points, like those loyalty cards.
When you pay with a credit card, they will ask “Cuantas quotas?” This is basically how many “payments” you want to make. In Colombia, they have some sort of banking / credit card system where you can split up the cost of a cheeseburger and split it across 12 months of payments. Obviously we don’t have this in the US, so the correct response here would just be 1 “una.”
They also may ask for the last 4 digits of the credit card.
They also may ask if you want a 2nd receipt and voucher.
You are just going to have to learn food vocab.
I would really concentrate on this to begin with. You eat 3 times a day and it’s one of the only things you have to speak Spanish for, so it’s worth learning food vocab.
“Que quiere tomar? / de tomar? / para tomar / Q deseas tomar?” – Tomar is “to take” or “to drink”. Responses are “me gustaría un vaso con agua (de la llave – from the tap, botella – in a bottle, con gas – with gas / carbonated, normal – no gas), or get a limonada de coco, best thing ever.
Diet Coke = Coca Cola Light
Coke Zero = Coca Cola Cero
Beer = Cerveca
If you are trying to order something specific like ginger ale, sometimes ordering with the brand name as opposed to what you actually want can achieve better results. I.E. “Canada Dry” instead of “gengibre”
Listo / Estamos listos para pedir – we’re ready to order
Que término? – what cooking level do you want your meat? Responses include “medio” / medium. azul (rare), bien hecho/a (well done).
Ways to order:
DO NOT SAY “PUEDO TENER” THIS IS JUST WRONG.
The following are correct / common forms of ordering:
Me gustaria ____ (I would like, conditional form)
Me das por fa ____
Me regalas ____ (Can you gift me)
Dame ____ (give me – I would only use this in loud bars – Like “give me a beer”)
Quiero – i want\
Con hielo o sin hielo? They ask you if you want ice in your water or not.
After finishing, they will come up and ask you if they can take your plate. You can say “si, ya terminé” Yes, I have already finished.
Lo mismo “the same” – If you just want the same as someone else
The check – “puede traernos la cuenta” (can you bring us the check) or “puede traerme la cuenta” (can you bring me the check) or just simply “la cuenta por favor” with the international hand signal for the check.
Don’t be surprised if you have to flag someone down to get the check, or order, or get more water etc, that’s just the way it is.
“Con tarjeta o efectivo?” Are you going to pay with card or with cash?
Divide the check: “Puede dividir la cuenta in dos” can you divide the bill in 2. (If you want to pay with 2 cards)
“Tiene mas sencillo?” sincillo = simple. It’s uncommon to have change for anything bigger than a 20 mil peso bill. Nice chains / bigger restaurants will give you a bunch of change for a 50, so try to split your 50 mil pesos up whenever you can.
“Para llevar” – To go (like ordering food to go)
Meeting Someone New: you say “mucho gusto” – nice to meet you
Learn verbs like:
Vivi en ____ – I lived in Chicago, etc
Llegué hace una semana – I arrived 1 week ago
Voy a quedarme aca por seis meses – I’m going to stay here for 6 months
Estoy trabajando aca – I’m working here
Q tal medellin? How do you like Medellin
Amañado en Medellin – A more colloquial way to say “Do you enjoy Medellin”
Como te parece Medellin – How does Medellin seem to you
Learn Paisa (Medellin) greetings
Que mas parcero? What’s up dude
Que mas pues? What’s up yo
Que hay? What is there / whats up?
Como Amaneciste (sunrise) – How do you feel today as you woke up? Respond like a normal how are you ‘bien’
bacano – it’s cool
chevere – cool
una chimba – this means “pussy” but colloquially it means fucking awesome
Best Restaurants In Medellin
Anfitrion in La Strada on Poblado Ave
Velvet in Lleras (plugs underneath the big long couch in the front, one in the far back left corner and another in left corner by the chair undneath the matt)
Pergamino (no plugs, except by the bar underneath, secret spot)
Everyday type spots
Zorba (just dinner) – Great italian style pizza / vegetarian restaurant, cheap house cups of wine
Chef Burger – 2 locations San Fernando plaza (there is one behind the Carulla in lleras too)
Mundo Verde in Lleras right by Velvet
Humo in lleras – Meat / BBQ restaurant, sister of carmen
Sinko in rio sur
Osea (really small but really dope)
El Cielo (Molecular Gastronomy)
What To Do In Medellin
Take private Spanish lessons
Salsa lessons at Santo Baile in lleras
Go out in lleras and drink Guaro all night
Les labon in centro – Salsa spot in centro tuesday night, thick sweaty, live band, crazy night
Go to parque Arvi – You get to ride the metro cable with amazing views, you can rent bikes or, hang out in the huge park at the top, theres a zip line across the lake if you can find it
Go To parque Salado – Got zip lines, hiking etc, not too far away from envigado. You can just ask a cab driver to take you there, 80% of them know where it is
Go to Guatape – Day trip about 2.5 hours awaya to climb a huge rock and see amazing views
Paragliding / Parapente
Where To Go Out In Medellin
Rooftop of the Charlee hotel – Incredible views, kinda expensive drinks, but you feel cool up there, they have a lit up pool in the middle
Buena Vista – on the corner by the charlee hotel. 2nd floor is salsa that you can do after your salsa lessons. 3rd floor is a cool rooftop with mix music
Sinko Bar in Rio Sur 3rd floor
Sixtinna / everything on 7th floor of Rio Sur. (clubs etc, there are like 6 or 7 bars right beside each other)
Octavia (not octava) in lleras – is pretty fun, it can get packed, but its mix music
Salon Almador – Pretty cool club with DJs, more hipstery vibe.
Making Living Easier
I’m a big fan of grocery delivery. There are a couple apps for it, one is called Rappi, another is called Mercadoni.
Never do calls in a coffee shop, do them at home. Install skype / gotomeeting / whatever to your phone and use data as a backup. LTE on tigo works pretty great
Want calls & text to and from an American number, here, for free? Use Google voice and get the app “Google Hangouts” They are integrating GV to Hangouts. You can get inbound calls, and make calls to an from an american phone number. You can also get and receive and send text/mms (as of Jan 2014) on both android and iphone
Don’t want to pay your cell phone bill while you’re here?
Verizon – You can put your phone bill on hold for FREE just call them
AT&T – You can put your phone bill on hold for $10 / month, you have to call them to do it (you can’t do it online)
Unlocking your iPhone from AT&T
There is a good train system that connects all of Medellin.
Taxis are ubiquitous and very cheap. You can call taxis with an app called “Easy Taxi”
You can also order an Uber. They may ask you to sit in the front. They also might call you to confirm your location.
Staying Longer Term
Usually upon entry you will get a 90 day tourist visa. You can renew this another 90 days by going to immigration or by leaving and coming back. This does not renew automatically, even if the year changes.
If you overstay your visa, you will need to go to immigration to pay a fine and they will usually make you leave the country as well, or they will make you book a ticket before you can pay the fine to get your “salvo conducto”.
If you want to stay longer than 6 months in a year there are a variety of visa options and I suggest you review them with a lawyer. The lawyer I have used is Langon Colombia.
This is an ongoing and constantly updated guide. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.