Colombia is just beginning to be discovered by expats as a great place to retire. This breathtakingly beautiful country has grown and developed over the past two decades, attracting more visitors, expat residents, and foreign investment every year.
Living in Colombia varies from enjoying lush, green mountain cities and villages…sparkling Caribbean waters off of white, sandy beaches…cosmopolitan bustling cities filled with ethnic restaurants, cultural events, and upscale shopping…relaxed life in the center of coffee country…quiet, rural colonial towns and villages… and of course, the Amazon tropical rainforest.
International festivals for salsa dancing, jazz music, gastronomy, and art are celebrated in cities throughout Colombia, as well as countless local events. It seems the Colombian people just love to celebrate nearly every aspect of their lives.
Colombia is situated at the northern tip of South America, making it easily accessible from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. A variety of airlines, including JetBlue and American Airlines have regular flights into Colombia’s major international airports. These are located in the capital city of Bogotá, in Medellín, in Cali, in the coastal cities of Cartegena and Santa Marta, and Pereira in the coffee zone.
Where to Live in Colombia
Many expats are drawn to the temperate climate and first-world lifestyle that Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín, has to offer. At 5,000 feet above sea level, Medellín has daytime high temperatures in the mid-80s F, dropping to the 60s F in the evening. The city boasts 30 universities, numerous museums, concert venues, and so many restaurants that you will have difficulty deciding where to eat. Even though there are almost three million inhabitants, the city really feels more like many neighborhoods strung together, than a major metropolis. With world-class healthcare, excellent-value real estate, and a solid infrastructure that includes Colombia’s only Metro system, it is easy to see why Medellín continues to grow as a retirement destination.
On the Caribbean coast lies Santa Marta, South America’s oldest surviving city. With a population of about 500,000, the city is much smaller than Medellín, giving you a more tight-knit community. Expats from all over the world are settling into this gem by the sea, where they can enjoy freshly caught fish and seafood, warm, tropical breezes, and miles of white sand beaches. Santa Marta has South America’s only IGY (Island Global Yachting) destination marina. The 256 slips are filled with both recreational boaters and those who have chosen to live aboard all year long. Parque Tayrona is about an hour’s ride outside of the city. One of Colombia’s most visited national natural parks, it is home to hundreds of species of birds, plants, and sea creatures. For expats wanting a sun and sea focused lifestyle, Santa Marta is the answer.
The cities of Salento, Pereira, and Manizales make up Colombia’s coffee triangle. Approximately five hours south of Medellín, this area has perfect conditions for growing some of the world’s richest coffee. Nestled a little higher in the Andes Mountains, the climate is cooler than Medellín. Pereira and Manizales are well-developed, moderate-sized cities with between 450,000 to 600,000 people. They have everything needed for comfortable, city life including shopping malls, universities, hospitals, restaurants, airports, and bus terminals. Salento, by contrast, is a small town of only 8,000. The quaint downtown area is a magnet for tourists, both Colombians and expats. Coffee plantation tours, horseback riding, and hiking through the Cocora Valley area to see Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm, are some of the reasons visitors flock to the area. A charming place to retire, the coffee triangle has both city life and country charm, all while sipping some of the world’s best coffee.
Popayán, in the southern part of Colombia, is a step back in time. A UNESCO world heritage site, the city is filled with beautiful 18th century architecture, historical museums, and green parks. Known as the “white city” due to its whitewashed buildings, Popayán attracts people from all over to attend Holy Week services. While not too many of its 260,000 citizens are currently expats, Popayán is a city waiting to be discovered. With affordable real estate, a mild, tropical climate, and another UNESCO distinction for gastronomy, this city is moving up in the minds of expats.