Written by Michael Bjorn Huseby
Armenia, part of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, is one of the country’s lesser-known destinations. Unlike larger cities like Cartagena, which have been changed by heavy tourism, Armenia remains a faithful representation of Colombian culture.
Armenia’s low cost of living and seemingly unending vegetation make it a perfect escape for nature lovers and adventurers alike.
Retire in Armenia, Colombia
Armenia’s climate is remarkably consistent. Slightly warmer than its sister cities of Pereira and Manizales, Armenia is the perfect place for those who want to leave their coats at home. Days are 80 F all year round, with nights cooling down to a comfortable 60 F. There’s quite a bit of rain, but the showers are usually short-lived. After a couple of hours of watering the plants, the sun breaks back into the sky.
The cost of living in Armenia is delightfully affordable. However, demand is now slowly driving up prices.
You can live very comfortably in Armenia for just $1,200 to $1,500 per month—more if you want a central location. Tickets to the cinema are only $3 apiece. A sumptuous dinner for two, with wine, is unlikely to set you back more than $30 anywhere in the city. You can get access to monthly-unlimited public transportation for roughly $29, though you’ll be able to walk through the lively streets to get to most of where you’ll need to go.
Armenia has been investing in transport within the city, and it’s easy to travel by bus to nearby cities like Pereira, Manizales, and Salento for less than $10. Armenia’s El Edén International Airport flies directly to Florida, so getting to Armenia is a breeze. If you want to explore other parts of Colombia, catch cheap flights to Bogota or Medellin, which can often cost as low as $60. The nearby Pereira airport also flies to many international destinations.
Colombia offers many routes for expats to gain residency. If you’re retired you can easily get a visa if you receive retirement income each month of at least three times the Colombian national minimum wage. As of 2019, this means you’ll need retirement income of over $800 per month.
If you’re not quite at retirement age, Colombia offers visas for individuals who invest in Colombian corporations or real estate. If you’re planning to invest in a Colombian company, the minimum amount for a visa is 100 times the minimum wage (roughly $26,000). Keep in mind that this visa is only good for about a year and a half. You must have five years on a migrant visa to gain residency, or spend a bit more initially. For a real estate investment visa, you must purchase at least $600,000 worth of property (350 times the minimum wage), which can be spread over multiple houses, apartments, or parcels of land.
Of course, you can also get a visa by getting a job, taking classes as a student, or through marriage or having a child with a Colombian.
Colombia has excellent healthcare. According to a 1991 amendment to Colombia’s constitution, healthcare is a basic human right. The World Healthcare Organization ranked Colombia’s healthcare as number 22 in the world, which is the highest-ranked country in Latin America. Colombia ranked higher than countries like the United States, Canada, and Sweden.
Health insurance can cost 50% to 70% less than in the United States, and in some cases you can even purchase insurance without being a Colombian resident. In Armenia, most of the medical professionals are in the north-eastern part of the city. Nearby Cali and Manizales also have some of the best hospitals in Latin America.
Lifestyle in Armenia, Colombia
The year-round 80 F weather makes Armenia a great place for lovers of the outdoors. With coffee plantations, ranches, and forests surrounding the city, you’ll be able to see nature from your front door. You’ll never feel suffocated by city life.
For example, El Parque de la Vida is a jungle-like refuge that sits right in the middle of Armenia. Its waterfalls, rivers, and native palm trees offer an idyllic backdrop to a morning walk or an afternoon picnic. The park lights up at night to showcase its foliage and has special displays for holidays. The Christmas installation is a well-loved attraction.
A vibrant pedestrian walkway with restaurants, cafes, and boutiques crosses through Armenia near El Parque Sucre. Street performers add to the bustling atmosphere. If you’re looking for a more Western shopping experience, Armenia also has large shopping malls reminiscent of the United States.
Colombian food is similar to other Latin American cuisine like Venezuelan or Peruvian. You’ll see a lot of rice, beans, arepas (large corn tortillas), bananas, and giant avocados. Seriously, the grapefruit-sized avocadoes will stop you in your tracks. Armenia is also home to Cafe Quindío, which is Armenia’s native chain of coffee shops. Cafe Quindío Gourmet has the widest selection of coffee, tea, and food, and is right next to El Parque de la Vida.
Armenia isn’t as well-known by foreigners as some other cities in Colombia. There’s a smaller expat community than in cities like Bogota or Medellin, which gives you the authentic experience of truly living like a Colombian.
Things to Do in Armenia, Colombia
Armenia and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer. While the city center has museums, parks, and other attractions, the famous coffee region wilderness just outside Armenia draws visitors from all around the world.
Keep in mind that while Armenia has great gastronomy, coffee shops, and shopping malls, it isn’t a huge place for nightlife. This is a place for a quiet lifestyle full of daytime activities.
Parque Del Cafe
Just a 25-minute car or bus ride to the east of Armenia lies Parque del Cafe, a coffee-themed amusement park with rides, cultural shows, and, of course, coffee. After taking your picture at the top of the park next to the oversized sign, take a peaceful gondola over a canopy of trees down to the main park grounds.
From rollercoasters to bumper boats, you’ll find all the classic attractions of a typical theme park. However, Parque del Cafe’s cultural programs give you an authentic taste of Colombia.
The Show del Cafe is a 22-person extravaganza of music and dancing that traces the history of the coffee region’s namesake. Men and women glide across the stage in colorful dresses, subtle plot lines and comedies weave their way throughout the program, and at one point a giant lizard climbs ribbons hanging from the ceiling.
Quimbaya Gold Museum
One of the most beautiful museums you’ll ever see, the Museo del Oro Quimbaya has an impressive array of ancient gold and silver believed to have supernatural powers. Learn about local culture and the history of the department of Quindio.
The museum has English-translation information cards, so you can follow along even if you’re still working on getting your Spanish up to speed. The museum also has a children’s area, a library, and galleries for temporary exhibitions.
Valle de Cocora
Just a one-hour drive from Armenia lies the magical Valle de Cocora. Dotted with giant wax palms, the valley offers various excursions for all types of travelers. Take a short walk directly to the hilariously tall trees to get your picture, or opt for a more strenuous route. The “long way” is a four to five-hour counterclockwise route that takes you through a cloud forest, over makeshift bridges, and to a hummingbird sanctuary where you can order refreshments (such as coffee with a piece of cheese).
The weather can be somewhat unpredictable. Your best bet for sunny weather is to go early in the morning. Being an early bird gives you the chance of watching the sunrise reflecting off the walls of the valley for a surreal experience. Plus, you’ll have the palms to yourself before most of the tourists start their days. The best months to visit are January or July.
The Tree of Love
Just a stone’s throw south of Parque de la Vida, stroll through Parque de los Fundadores to visit El Árbol de Amor (The Tree of Love).
According to legend, the bodies of two forbidden lovers were found in the tree east of Armenia in the Maravélez Valley. Afterwards, the tree was struck by lightning. A coincidence? Who knows?
After the lightning strike, the tree was transferred to its current location in Armenia, where it serves as a symbol of love.
Quindío Botanical Garden
Just a mile or so southeast of downtown Armenia, the Quindío Botanical Garden is home to guided tours and a butterfly house that’s actually shaped like a butterfly. Climb over suspension bridges and watch native birds while strolling through nature. Entrance fees and a guided tour are roughly $10 per person. Buses with “Mariposario” (butterfly house) leave from Constitution Park in Armenia and take you straight to the gardens.
Is it Safe to Live in Armenia?
The coffee region is generally considered one of the safer parts of Colombia, but it’s always important to exercise caution. Don’t walk alone at night, flash your cell phone or jewelry, or carry large amounts of cash. Many people live in Armenia without any problems at all.
The northern part of the city is generally the safest. In the area around El Parque de La Vida, you should be able to walk around during the day without problems.
Use caution near the interdepartmental bus station, this sector is a bit more impoverished. The best way to go or leave there is by taxi.
If safety is a big concern, consider living just to the north in Manizales, which is widely regarded as one of the safest cities in Colombia.
Armenia is a mid-size city that’s off the radar of most foreigners. It isn’t as cheap now as it once was, but it is still beautiful and great for a quiet life.
Acres of coffee plantations and nature reserves make Armenia an ideal retreat for nature lovers. If you’re up for an adventure, Armenia might be right for you.
Feature Image Copyright: Michael Bjorn Huseby