Colombia Travel Guides

30 Tips When Arriving in Medellin

After 4.5 months living in Medellin, the things that originally caught me off guard became my comforts of home. I had time to leisurely acclimate to my surroundings, but for those arriving for a quick trip, these things may feel surprising all at once. Hopefully the tips I accrued will help you feel like a local in no time!

Arriving

  • The main airport is 1 hour from the city center. The best way to get into town is by taxi. It should cost ~70,000 pesos ($23).
  • Medellin is around the same elevation as Denver (the mile high city).
  • While it’s in South America, Medellin is still in the northern hemisphere along with most of Colombia.
  • Don’t trust the gloomy forecast during summer months. The temperature is typically hot and mild though rain does appear but in short spurts. Mountain towns tend to be a little cooler especially at night. Expect extreme humidity in other places like on the Caribbean coast.
  • Power plugs are the same as in the US/Mexico.
  • The current exchange rate is about 3,000 COP to $1 USD. Don’t be afraid of all the 000s at the ATM. The trick is to pretend the last “000” don’t exist, then divide the numbers before that by 3. For example, 150,000 COP = $50.
  • Always have small bills on you ($1,000-10,000) since taxis & shops rarely have change.

Transportation

  • Stop signs don’t mean anything – cars and motorcycles run right through them as if they don’t exist. Don’t assume they will slow down for pedestrians, they may even speed up!
  • Buses are the best way to explore the country – they’re safe, cheap and help you see beautiful scenery along the way. There are two bus stations in Medellin – Terminal del Norte and Terminal del Sur. You can check your destination on this site to find out which to go to.
  • When getting out of a taxi, don’t slam the door, and when I say slam I mean anything harder than a gentle tap. This is really difficult as the taxis are very thin and vulnerable to begin with, but the drivers get really upset and take it as an offense.
  • Ubers are common, cheap and easy to use in Medellin. Just make sure to sit in the front seat so the driver doesn’t get in trouble, as the service is still technically illegal.
  • The metro is the absolute pride of Medellin. It’s the only metro line in all of Colombia. Bogota, a much bigger city, doesn’t even have a metro line yet. Be respectful of their rules!

Eating

  • You can drink the water in Medellin! That means you can order drinks in restaurants without concern and brush your teeth from the tap. Although, take caution in all other cities.
  • The most common coffee served in local cafes and restaurants is either instant coffee or “tinto” which is terribly brewed coffee. The good stuff is in specialty coffee shops and on coffee farms.
  • While there are beautiful food markets packed with fresh vegetables, the typical food isn’t particularly fresh or healthy. Expect mostly fried food, meat and very few veggies.
  • Fruit is the stand out exception. Colombia has dozens of exotic fruits and most all eateries offer a fresh juice, made with water or milk for $3 or less. My favorite combo is maracuya (passion fruit) with piña (pineapple) which doesn’t even need added sugar like most other juices do!
  • A menu of the day is served for lunch in most local restaurants. It costs around 10-14,000 pesos which is $3-5 and typically includes a juice, soup, plate with meat, rice, fried plantain, arepa and salad, and sometimes ends with a small coffee and dessert.
  • You’ll be asked if u want to include gratuity on your bill. “Deseas incluir el servicio?” It’s voluntary but most people say yes. It’s about 10%.
  • If you’re ever looking for ripe avocados – buy them on the street. Groceries most often have rock hard avocados and unripened fruit.

Bathrooms

  • Bring change to pay for a public restroom. It should cost 1,000 pesos or less.
  • Sometimes the toilet paper is located in one spot for everyone to use outside of the stalls, so don’t forget to grab it before heading in.
  • Don’t throw toilet paper into the toilet; it goes into the trash can instead.
  • Bathrooms may be labeled “H” and “M” – beware “M” stands for “Mujer” (woman)!

Social Interactions

  • The expression “a la orden” means “at your service” and you will hear it all the time – it’s a friendly gesture. Usually people say it as an invitation into their store or towards their cart.
  • Cell phone robberies are common so keep yours close at hand or even better, put them away while walking on the street. There’s an expression, “No das papaya” (Don’t give papaya), which means don’t create an enticing opportunity for something to happen, and it won’t.
  • Colombian greetings are very warm and thorough, they may even ask multiple times how you are: Que tal? Que más? Como vas? Bien o no?
  • Don’t be alarmed if you are called pet names by a cashier, taxi driver or new friend – in fact it was a highlight of my days. You may casually hear mi amor, mi niña, mi reina or mi vida.
  • Politely say no thank you to the people who approach you to sell something. Many locals give change to those who are asking, so if you’re not interested, the least you can do is keep it polite.
  • Colombians are really helpful, kind and curious people. Feel free to ask for directions or for help and you will not be ignored. In fact, others may stop to add their opinion to the mix!
  • And finally, don’t bring up Escobar like he’s a celebrity! Use your time in Colombia to witness what the country and people are really like and help spread the word that it’s a country full of much more to talk about.

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