As we were planning our move to Nicaragua I remember saying to Gordon,
“It’s going to be awesome! Once we quit our jobs we’ll have so much more time to travel. We can check out some more of Costa Rica. We can take a trip to Panama. What about Guatemala? We could even go to Colombia!”
Unfortunately I was forgetting one very important piece of the puzzle.
Vacations cost money.
When we moved to Nicaragua in 2011 we were living on $1200 USD per month. Even though we paid less than $400 USD for rent staying within that budget was hard. And at the end of the month there just wasn’t any extra cash for the “vacation fund”.
The reality is — aside from my annual trips back to Canada and one visit to see Gordon’s Mom in Arkansas — since moving to Nicaragua 4 1/2 years ago we have only taken two vacations together.
Our first was in October 2014; we spent two weeks in Mexico City. The second was to Medellín, Colombia in May 2016.
We flew out of Managua via Avianca. With a stop in El Salvador and a short layover in Bogotá total travel time to Medellín was 8 hours. Round trip airfare including taxes was $326 USD per person. There are more direct routes to Medellín from Managua, but since we got such a good deal on our flights we didn’t mind the extra travel time.
Where We Stayed
While many travelers to Medellín choose to stay in the more touristy and upscale neighborhood of Poblado we decided to stay in Laureles, a premier neighborhood for expats.
This chic studio apartment we found on Airbnb was just a 10 minute walk away from the metro station and provided easy access to downtown and all around for sightseeing. We loved that we didn’t have to walk far from our rental to find great restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
Our host Keenan was great. The apartment had everything we needed for a comfortable stay. Hence $50 USD per night for this place was pretty hard to beat.
The metro was a very affordable, easy and efficient way to get around the city. With a station so close to our apartment we used the metro almost daily. The cost for a one way ticket was a little less than a dollar.
Taxis were also an affordable way to get around. A 15 minute ride averaged between $2 – $3 USD.
Traffic in the city was fast paced and chaotic. For this reason Gordon and I agreed that we would not have wanted to rent a car and drive in Medellín. In our opinion public transport was definitely the safer bet.
Eating & Drinking Out in Medellín
We found the cost of eating out in Medellín to be cheaper than it is here in San Juan del Sur. Portions served at restaurants were very large; most times one meal would have been sufficient for the two of us to share. Generally speaking food quality was better than what we get here in Nicaragua.
For the most part a National beer in a restaurant or bar in Medellín ranged in price from $1 – $2 USD, which is similar to what we pay in Nicaragua. We did however, have a lot more options to choose from. And like other places we’ve traveled when we were in a more touristy area of the city food and drink prices were noticeably higher.
One of the highlights of our trip was the Graffiti Tour with Toucan Cafe & Tours.
A local hip hop artist guided us through Comuna 13, which was formerly known as one the most dangerous barrios (neighborhoods) in Medellín. We viewed some amazing graffiti, rode the famous outdoor escalators and learned how music and art influenced the transformation of this community.
The $16 USD each we paid for the tour was definitely money well spent.
Although I’m not a soccer fan attending a live match in Medellīn was a highlight for both Gordon and I. The energy in the stadium was infectious.
Gordon had read online that alcohol is not sold at soccer games in Colombia so we were quite surprised when we got to the concession stand and saw beer being served. We were even more surprised when we realized the “beer” we were drinking was actually the non alcoholic kind; needless to say we didn’t order a second.
The Medellín metrocable is a gondola lift system that was designed to connect some of poorer, less developed barrios to the city. With the purchase of our metro ticket we were able to ride the cable car for free. The ride offered impressive views of the city. Catching a glimpse of daily life in the barrio from above the homes in a cable car was pretty special.
Plaza Botero in downtown Medellín displays 23 bronze sculptures by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Apparently the “Botero legend” suggests that rubbing the statues brings love and good fortune.
Mall shopping in Medellín, compared to anywhere here in Nicaragua was amazing! I found stores I recognized from home like Espirit, Forever XXI, American Eagle Outfitters, Zara and MAC cosmetics. From inexpensive knock offs to quality items they had it all. Pricing was similar to what I would pay in Canada. If you’re a shopper you definitely wouldn’t be disappointed by the malls in Medellín. They were anything but small.
During our trip there were a few times when we had conversations about what it would be like to live in Medellín.
Could we image a life there? For sure!
Are we ready to pack up our life in San Juan and move there? Nope, not yet.
Medellín certainly offered a nice break from day to day beach life, but as we approach the 4 year mark in San Juan del Sur we can’t imagine leaving our friends, the beach or our business!
Besides the obvious items like a cell phone and a driver’s license there are a few other essentials I carry in my purse here in Nicaragua.
In Canada I rarely carried cash in my wallet; credit or debit was the best way to go. But here in Nicaragua cash is king. Most restaurants, bars and shops DO NOT accept credit cards so it’s important to make sure you always have cash with you. Although American dollars are widely accepted here I prefer to use our local currency the córdoba.
Extra Tip: Never carry more cash than you need and only carry one credit card (not multiples).
#2 TOILET PAPER
It’s not uncommon for public restrooms in Nicaragua to be without toilet paper, especially in places like little beach bars and restaurants. I always make sure I have some toilet paper or tissue in my bag just in case.
Extra Tip: On occasion you may also find yourself in a washroom that doesn’t have soap or towels to dry your hands. It definitely doesn’t hurt to carry some hand sanitizer or baby wipes in your bag.
It’s hot in Nicaragua. I’m constantly sweating and always thirsty for water. My Hydroflask water bottle is the one thing I never leave home without. I honestly don’t know how I survived my first three years in Nicaragua without one. Oh, wait…yes I do. I dealt with condensation from frozen water bottles dripping all over my stuff. And that…was “no bueno”!
Extra Tip: I originally purchased the 21 oz size Hydroflask, but found it to be too small. Although a bit heavy when full the 32 oz sized bottle suits me much better.
With so many great photo opportunities around every corner in Nicaragua my camera is another item I always carry in my bag. In February I traded in my big clunky Pentax SLR for the Sony Alpha a6000. Although I’m still working on figuring out all it’s bells and whistles this camera has delivered some great shots!
Extra Tip: A soft cloth drawstring bag like the iconic Crown Royal comes in makes a great “in purse” camera case.
Roadside passport check stops do happen. One thing government officials will be looking for when they pull you over is to see that you haven’t over-stayed your 90 day tourist visa.
If you get stopped and don’t have your passport with you it’s likely you’ll be detained until someone can bring it to you.
Extra Tip: A photocopy of your passport is not acceptable. You must be carrying the original.