Location: Medellin, Colombia
All aboard the hype train - Medellin is touted as one of the best locations for digital nomads across the globe, not just in Latin America. I decided to stop off in the city of eternal spring on my way from Brazil to Mexico to see what all the fuss is about. And to fill up on coffee of course.
Read on to find out about staying and coworking at Selina Medellin, the best food and coffee in El Poblado and where to go for your own private hot tub!
Where to Stay in Medellin for Digital Nomads
When it comes to deciding where to stay in Medellin for remote work, there really only is one game in town - Selina. Selina have a big location on one end of Calle 10 complete with a cafe, laundry, bar, barber shop, tattoo parlour, movie room, and of course a coworking space (we'll come to that later).
In terms of amenities, you couldn't really ask for much more. The cafe and bars offer good prices and decent quality in a neighborhood where the trend is towards high prices and high end quality. The staff are friendly and personable, making for a real sense of community.
Though it must be said that this isn't the newest of buildings (especially compared to Selina Buenos Aires) and it is a little grimy particularly in the accommodation, with broken fittings and old, worn-out decor. My room was a pretty small box room with no windows. This meant I spent very little time there - which was great for my productivity, but when I was there it felt small. Certainly not something I could do long-term.
Medellin itself is great, and I fully intend to go back. Next time, I will explore AirBnB options nearby which might give more bang for my buck in terms of comfort. The beauty is that all of the great amenities of the Selina will still be available to me.
I also had spent a few nights in the trendy 14 Urban boutique hotel. When researching accommodation in Medellin this one caught the eye as it had a room with a private on the balcony. Given my girlfriend was visiting me that week I decided to push the boat out a little and book it. Truth is the rate is very reasonable compared to what you would expect in Europe or the US. I you can spare a few dollars for a little luxury even for a night, it's totally worth it.
Where to Work Remotely in Medellin
Selina! There was only really one option for this - a huge coworking space in Medellin used by everyone from local freelancers to Remote Year.
- Cost: $80 per month for a hot desk (there are various other options available)
- Payment: Cash or Card
- WiFi: Download ??Mbps, Upload ??Mbps
- Meeting Rooms: Yes, and phone booths
- Water: Yes - free
- Coffee: Yes - and great cafe in the lobby serving Colombia's finest for ~$1 (ok maybe not the finest)
- Other: 10% discount at the cafe for coworkers. Free yoga in the morning if that's your thing. Menu del Dia in the bar. There were promotions or events but I didn't see any actually taking place
There seemed to be other options for coworking in the Poblado area too - Diez Hotel for example, but really Selina will cater to all your needs.
If you are not ass high-maintenance as me, and are as happy working from a cafe, there are lots of options to chooe from. WiFi here is as good as the coffee so it's no wonder that it has become such a popular destination for digital nomads, and you'll have no problem finding somewhere that suits your needs.
On a personal note; I hit a productivity peak at Medellin. I'm putting it down to a combination of the work environment, community, coffee and those other elements that are hard to pinpoint, but all make for a 'let's get sh!t done' mindset. For this reason alone I will be returning, and trying to time it with large projects that will require many hours of deep work.
What To Do in Medellin for Fun
There are tonnes of things to do in Medellin to keep you occupied when you want a break from enclave of El Poblado. And because Medellin is literally in a valley and surrounded by hills, you're never to far away from nature and amazing views across the city.
Some of these great views can be seen on the way to Parque Arvi, while on the Metrocable and by stopping off at the lookout point in Santa Domingo. When you get to Parque Arvi, you will feel a million miles away from the urban environment as you hike and zipline through this nature reserve.
A must-visit area is Comuna 13, which used to be run by militias but has undergone incredible transformation to become a tourist hotsot and help medellin to be named as one of the worlds most innovative cities. Outdoor escalators help you scale the slopes into this high-rise community, where you will be greeted by great views, stunning graffiti and friendly locals brimming with dance and music.
If you are still itching to get out into nature properly, a trip to Guatape will be exactly what the doctor ordered. While all the tour companies offer this, it is possible to make your way out here on a public bus - which I would recommend. Aside from being cheaper, it also gives you control of the schedule. We did the tour - and it is was pretty boring at times in truth.
Climbing the 649 steps to the top of El Penon de Guatape is a great way to clear your head and get some cardio exercise at once. The views across the man-made lakes are stunning and quick trip into the local town will give you some time to recharge, and eat before making the ~2 hour trip back to Medellin.
For the caffeine addicts out there a tip to a local coffee farm is a cool experience. You will see the entire process from the soil to your cup, and learn all about what makes for a good bean, and a good cup of coffee. For added hilarity, ask the owner or the guide what they think about Starbucks!
There are lots of Escobar-related tours as you might expect which typically stop off at some keys places in the story - where he lived, where he died, where he's buried, and where he built his own luxury prison up in the mountains overlooking Medellin - La Catedral. There is a sense of 'cashing in' on the former cartel leader's notoriety, and most of the tour is pretty forgettable - though the views from La Catedral are impressive. In the interests of 'responsible tourism' this is an easy one to avoid - unless you have exhausted all other options.
For a lighter take on Escobar-related tourism, check out Hacienda Napoles. This is his former home-turned-theme park by the Colombian government - complete with zoo, water parks and other sites.
Eating and Drinking
When staying in El Poblado there is no shortage of great restaurants to eat at. What's more the vast majority have a cool indoor/outdoor open plan with lush greenery coming out of every corner. The perfect match to Medellins temperate climate! Here is a short run down of some places i ate that are worth checking out, but this is only drop in the ocean; Alambique, Delirio, Romero, Shanti, 37 Park, Sushi / Peruvian and Criminal Taqueria.
Mundoverde satisfied my craving for properly healthy food - though the service is painfully slow.
If you're planning ahead, try to reserve a table at El Cielo - one of Medellin's mot exclusive restaurants. You will need to book 4+ weeks in advance - and unfortunately I was not so lucky.
There is great coffee everywhere as mentioned, and the best bet is to go out and explore to find your favorite haunts. Though it would be remiss of me not to give a shout out to some of my most visited cafes in Medellin - Cafe Velvet, Pergamino and Cafe Zorba.
What Else to Know?
I had been slowly getting to grips with learning Spanish before two weeks in Brazil put an abrupt halt to that. So to get re-focused on learning the language I have found a Spanish tutor who does online lessons. I'm just a couple of lessons in but the more structured approach has already been of benefit and I'm on my way to basic, working use of Spanish.
While in Medellin I also got the motivation to get back to a somewhat sustainable lifestyle - eating healthier and going to the gym. My diet hadn't been too bad anyway, but aside from tonnes of walking and tours, I had let a proper exercise regime slip. Staying healthy as a digital nomad is extremely important, an has really come top of mind for me recently.
For a practical tip, Ultra Fitness Gym in Medellin is a good option as offers a discount to Selina residents and is situated on the 16th floor of The Charlee Hotel - meaning you have great views across the neighborhood as you build a sweat!
Three weeks in Medellin has gone by quickly. It has certainly lived up to the hype for remote working and I have no doubt I will be back in the very near future.
Next up is a short stop in Panama, before heading further north to Mexico for 6 weeks. Check in soon to see how I get on!