As soon as my bus arrived in Medellin and I escaped the frigid air-con to an “Eternal Spring” evening, I knew this was a place I could stay awhile. Restless traveler as I may be, there was work to be done before I took a more nomadic route through South America, and Medellin felt like just the place to do so.
I found International House within days of arriving, an apartment complex specifically designed for travelers who wish to escape the hostel chaos for a more livable environment.
Renting a short term apartment at International House was about the same price as staying in a hostel for the month, only here I had my own room, my own TV, a comfortable common area shared by only four others at maximum capacity, and a fully equipped kitchen that helped me save money by cooking rather than eating out. I hung my clothes in a closet and sprawled out on the double bed upon arrival, grateful for the freedom to unpack and nest in my own space.
Just across the street from the apartment is La Unidad Deportiva which contains a running track, basketball and tennis courts, an outdoor gym, and a swimming pool, all of which are free to use, other than the pool which costs 5,000 COP for entrance. A convenient workout was a useful addition to the schedule I developed while living in Medellin, as this schedule also involved much of the fried foods and meat filled pastry that Colombians love so much.
As I’d sit on the roof deck, admiring the sparkling city sprawled out below me — a city that I’d walk around solo all day — it was hard to believe that Medellin was once considered the most dangerous city in the world, thanks to the Medellin Cartel run by the infamous Pablo Escobar. You still hear frequent mention of the drug lord that once ran the city, but the crime that once kept tourists away is now just a distant memory for some and a scary story to others. Today, if you choose to spend your time in the popular tourist district of El Poblado, the biggest risk you might face is allowing the cocoon of American “luxuries” like McDonalds or Hooters keep you from experiencing the charm and culture found in other perfectly safe sections of the city.
International House is in Belen, Malibu, a residential neighborhood situated just far enough away from all that hubbub to feel like you’re really a part of a Colombian city and not just a Spanish speaking version of an American strip mall. There’s all sorts of typical Colombian restaurants in walking distance from the apartment and the fresh juice vendors across the streets became my new best friends. Although I did discover a weak spot for the local fast food restaurant, El Corral, I also learned to love the “menu of the day” options at the traditional Colombian restaurants. A big plate of meat, rice, beans, and small side salad (usually equipped with a giant chunk of avocado!) will only run you about 8,000 COP in this area (about 4 USD). Its a great value and you can’t get more Colombian than a heaping dish of meat, rice and beans!
The neighbors in Belen seemed a little surprised to meet an American in their neck of the woods, and I certainly didn’t find many English speakers (other than my roommates) in these parts — but that was just part of the fun. I got plenty of Spanish practice while ordering food, visiting the grocery store, and meeting the local friends of the long-term residents. Stares became only slightly uncomfortable proof that I was indeed living in a real Colombian neighborhood.
My experience in Medellin was the type of travel I really love. I took the time to know one city for four whole weeks, learning the Metro System, finding my way around different neighborhoods, and frequently getting lost with the reward of knowing a little more of the land than I did before.
If you’re planning a trip to the area, stay flexible as there’s a good chance you’ll need longer in this place than anticipated — like Colombia’s tourism board warns, “the only risk is wanting to stay.” International House is the perfect option for getting to know Medellin with the comforts of your own apartment and backpacker affordability.
I’m now back on the hostel trail and already missing my bed, but many adventures lie ahead that I’m anxious to follow. I’m sure after baking in the Caribbean sun for a few weeks, I’ll be missing the spring climate of Medellin but for now, I’m off to Cartagena! Stay tuned as I tackle the coast and reacquaint myself with the twelve beds to a room options. Should be fun!*I received discounted accommodation at International House in exchange for a review, but all opinions are most certainly my own.