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There’s a reason thousands of foreigners are choosing to learn Spanish in Colombia.
Gone are the days when Colombia was only talked about as one of the most dangerous places in the world. Instead, the best-known secret in Latin America, is out, and tourism in Colombia is booming.
So why choose to learn Spanish in Colombia?
As somebody who has been living in Colombia for 2 years, I could keep you here all day, but for the sake of everybody’s time, I’ll only list 10 reasons.
More specifically, I’d like to talk about learning Spanish in Medellin, which is Colombia’s second largest city, and one that has been completely transformed over the past two decades and is now a second home for many expats (including yours truly).
1) Medellin Weather
In case you didn’t already know, Medellin is known as “la ciudad de la eterna primavera”, which in English means “The City of Eternal Spring”.
Instead of insane heat that you’re likely to find in the north coast (Cartagena, Santa Marta for example), or dreary weather you’ll find in the capital Bogota (sorry, rolos), Medellin weather is normally sunny, perhaps a bit cloudy, with a light breeze.
Think warm, but not hot, and neither dry nor humid here on a typical day. At night it can get a little cooler, but if you’re coming from a rougher climate like me (Ireland), then it’s still t-shirt weather.
In summary, perfect weather – and it’s like this all year round.
October and November are probably the wettest months, but when it rains, it’s never too bad. It usually comes in pours, and is gone within an hour or two.
2) Clear Spanish Accent
Paisas (people from Antioquia, the state where Medellin is located) have a reputation for speaking very clearly, and not too fast, which obviously makes life SO much easier when you’re studying Spanish in Colombia.
Although the same can be said for the rolo accent (people from Bogota), if you go up to the north coast of Colombia, then it’s likely that you’ll have trouble understanding the locals’ accent since they speak very insanely fast.
(PS, read our guide to Colombian slang here)
It’s almost a cliche to mention this one, but in Medellin, you’ll find some of the warmest and friendliest people you’ve ever met.
In general, Colombians are pleasant people to be around. Perhaps it’s not surprising since Colombia tends to consistently rank high in various polls revealing the happiest countries in the world (not an exact science, I’ll admit, but it checks out in my experience).
As a Spanish student, this means that locals generally appreciate when you make an effort to speak their language (something many foreigners don’t bother to do) and normally, they’ll be patient and give you the encouragement you need, which is welcome as a beginner.
Being equipped with even a little Spanish and a smile goes a long way.
Although it’s anecdotal, I remember getting lost on the day that I was moving into my new apartment in the Laureles neighborhood. I didn’t have wifi to check Google Maps, and every street looked the same to me. I approached a local who was walking by me, showed him the address and asked if he knew which direction I was supposed to go. Instead of simply pointing me in the right way, he told me to wait for one minute while he ran to his house, dropped off his groceries and then came back to walk me to my new place, which was a 4-minute walk away. When we finally reached my new apartment, I was anticipating this guy asking for a tip of some sort.
He didn’t. Instead, he shook by hand, welcomed me to the neighborhood and then left.
Believe me, it’s not uncommon to hear similar stories of generosity like that in Medellin.
4) Cost of living in Medellin
By US standards, the cost of living in Medellin is low. Of course, like any other big city, you can find ways to spend money if you want.
For example, below are some rough costs for somebody living in the Laureles neighborhood, which is arguably the nicest neighborhood in Medellin (along with Poblado), and also where our Spanish school is based.
Food and Drink
(For a more comprehensive cost of living in Medellin overview, read here)
5) Weekend Getaways
The weekend can present a good opportunity to leave the city, with tons of options for a day-trip, or even getting away for a night or two.
For instance, Medellin is surrounded by several pueblos (Spanish for towns) that are worth visiting.
Our favorites included:
Located 2hrs from Medellin, the place a must-visit at some point. You can take the metro to Caribe station, and then cross the pedestrian bridge to Terminal Norte. Go to any to ticket booth that lists La Piedra or Guatape as a destination. Tickets should cost around 12,000 COP each way.
Your first stop should be El Peñón de Guatapé, which is a massive rock that has 740 steps leading to the top. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes.
Believe me – the view is spectacular (see below).
Once you’ve taken enough selfies on the rock, you can grab a local moto-taxi to Guatape town 5 minutes away, where you’ll likely find the most colorful town you’ve ever seen, not to mention some activities such as jet skis, and a zip line.
Or indeed you could grab a coffee, relax and enjoy some people watching.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
The first thing to mention about this place is that it’s warm. I mean seriously warm.
Even when it rains, it’s likely to be humid, which some people are better at handling than others (not me).
The town itself is quaint, with colonial-style architecture and cobbled footpaths. It’s a perfect day-trip from Medellin, since it’s only a 1hr bus journey away. Buses to Santa Fe depart from Terminal Norte, which is located next to the Caribe Metro station on Line A. Tickets normally cost around 12,000 to 15,000 COP one way.
If you decide to stay, you won’t be short of hotels to choose from, just make sure you choose one with a pool.
For a longer break away from the city, Jardín is a must.
To take a bus, you must go to Terminal del Sur, which doesn’t have a metro station connected to it, and so we recommend grabbing an Uber or Taxi to get there.
There are two bus companies which run daily buses to Jardín: Rapido Ochoa and Transporte Suroeste Antioqueño. Both services charge around 25,000 COP one-way.
Depending on traffic, it can take 3-4hrs to arrive in Jardín by bus, making it more ideal for a 1 or 2-night break, rather than a day trip (although I’ve heard of people doing that). If you visit Jardín on a weekend, then it’s likely to be full of people from Medellin taking a weekend break, which makes for a great atmosphere.
So why Jardín?
It’s a colonial town that in some ways, feels like going back in time. The town itself offers beautiful architecture and is surrounded by lush greenery.
Popular activities include doing a coffee tour, horseback riding, exploring hidden waterfalls, and some organized treks. Make sure to research “Cueva del Esplendor”.
An added bonus is that it’s not as well known as the previous towns we mentioned, which means there are normally fewer tourists there.
6) Inexpensive Travel
These days, Medellin is well served for foreigners who come to visit with the sole objective of learning Spanish in Colombia.
Medellin’s main airport is José María Córdova, and is located around 20km outside the city of Medellin, and serves international flights daily.
If you are coming from the USA, then you can frequently find flights to Medellin (maybe via a stop in Bogota) for less than $399round-trip. Viva Air is the country’s version of JetBlue or Spirit airlines and offers budget flights, including from Miami where you can often find flights for $200 round-trip if you book in advance.
As someone who travels to Europe once or twice a year (to visit la familia), I’ve found it easy enough to find cheap(ish) flights directly from Medellin to Madrid for $600-800 round-trip (up to $1200 RT in high season). Again, it helps if you can plan and book in advance. If you stop in Bogota, then you’ll find a ton of other international flights heading to Europe.
When flying domestically, Viva Air will be your best friend. Think Ryanair or Spirit Airlines, but much cheaper.
Want to fly to San Andres to sip coconut water on a Caribbean island?
The fights will probably set you back around $75USD round-trip if you book in advance.
7) Safety in Medellin
When you come to Medellin, you’ll hear the local expression: No dar Payaya.
In English, it means “Don’t give Payaya” (the fruit).
The expression basically means, don’t put yourself in a situation where something bad can happen to you. It was once explained to me by a local like this: if you put your hand out with payaya (the fruit) for long enough, then somebody will come and take it.
Every time I tell somebody that I live in Medellin (or Colombia, for that matter), I’m greeted by the same questions: Isn’t it dangerous, can you go out at night etc.
The truth is that for the most part, Medellin is like most other big cities – it’s only dangerous if you put yourself in a position where something bad can happen to you. And like most big cities, some areas are good, some are not. Like LA – you’re not going to be worried about Compton if you’re in Santa Monica.
I don’t want to mislead anyone by saying that Medellin is the safest city in the world. Of course, bad stuff happens, but in my 2 years living in Medellin, I have never had a bad experience. In fact, none of our core team (who are all based here) has had anything happen to them.
8) Colombian Culture
This is probably the number one thing that convinced me to move to Medellin.
For me, Colombian culture has something for everyone.
Are you a fitness addict?
Paisas are generally known for being good gym goers. Well, there’s a cyclovia every Sunday and bank holiday Monday whereby some of the busiest roads in Medellin are closed for people to cycle and run around the city without worrying about traffic. This tends to be a family day out on a Sunday, which makes for a great atmosphere. In addition to this, you’ll find plenty of open-air gyms in the city which are free to use
Interacting with the locals brings you closer to their traditions and culture. The locals are extremely warm and welcoming to the people visiting the city. They will make it easier for you to practice your Spanish here.
Many people in Medellin are die-hard futbol fans. Whether they support the local club teams, or the national team, it’s common for everything to grind to a halt for football. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see bars full at 3pm midweek when the Colombian national team plays. Do the locals ask for time off work, or simply pull a sick day when Colombia play? I have no idea, but the passion they have is amazing to see.
At some point, you should try to see one of the main Medellin teams (Atletico Nacional or Independiente Medellin) play at the main football stadium, located in the Estadio neighborhood.
9) 180 Day Tourist Visa
If you’re from North America, or Europe and are coming to Medellin to learn Spanish, then you don’t need to worry about applying for a visa. Simply arrive in Colombia and you’ll immediately receive a 90-day tourist visa.
If you fall in love with Medellin (it happens to the best of us) and wish to stay longer, then all you need to do is make an appointment with the immigration office in Medellin and pay 90,000 Colombian pesos, which is around $25USD to extend your stay for another 90 days.
If you want to stay even longer, there are new visas that make that WAY easier than it used to be.
10) The Beautiful Outdoors
Medellin itself is a city nestled in a valley, above sea level in the Andes mountains, and so it’s common to stumble on epic views on a weekly basis.
In addition to being surrounded by the mountains, the city has a bunch of beautiful parks where you can pass a couple of hours with friends (“parchando” as the Paisas say). Even most streets are lined with trees.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, then you can find many hiking trails anywhere from 1km to 9km, and more.
Some notable ones include:
Cerro Tres Cruzes: Located in the Belén neighborhood, this short 30-min hike gives you an epic view of the city once you reach the top. Additionally, once you reach the top, you’ll find an open-air gym, and locals selling fruit, protein smoothies and more.
Cerro Nutibarra. You can climb this via a trail, or you can grab a taxi to the top. Either way, at the top you’ll find a popular tourist attraction, Pueblito Paisa, which is a replica of an old Antioquian town. There are also vendors selling traditional Paisa food. We recommend arriving for sunset to enjoy some amazing views of the city.
And so that is my list of 10 reasons to learn Spanish in Colombia.
This content was originally published here.