Finding a Freedom-Filled Business in Colombia

Seven years ago, Mike McMurdo was working in a Michelin Star restaurant in Manhattan, New York City. “It was great experience, but the 100-hour work week meant I had no life,” Mike says.

Looking for a serious change of pace, Mike began to think about Latin America. After a conversation with a friend on Facebook late one night it became clear that Colombia was the place for him.

Mike was in Santa Marta on the country’s Caribbean coast just two weeks later. And now he’s the head-chef and owner of Ouzo, an upscale Mediterranean restaurant located in the heart of the restaurant area of this small colonial city.

“Here in Colombia, I finally have free time to enjoy my life,” says Mike.

Santa Marta’s warm, tropical climate allows Mike to enjoy outdoor activities all year round. “Practically every Sunday I go out with my wife and daughter,” says Mike. “We love the beach, and there are miles and miles of beaches in the greater Santa Marta area.”

You can rent a furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the beach in Santa Marta for just $650 a month—with properties becoming more affordable the farther away from the beach you are.

A little more than 20 miles outside of the city is Parque Tayrona, one of Mike’s favorite places to go. The National park has pristine beaches and a large and diverse selection of wildlife, including the golden-mantled howling monkey and the montane solitary eagle. “My family and I can just relax and enjoy the beautiful nature and spending time with each other,” he says.

In Parque de los Novios (Lover’s Park), located a few blocks between the beach and the historic district, more and more international restaurants are arriving on the scene. The park has become mecca for hungry food enthusiasts looking to try something new. “I’m a foodie at heart,” says Mike with a smile. “Of course I love my own cooking, but I really enjoy going to as many other restaurants as possible. They are my neighbors, you know.” Dinner for two with a cocktail each at one of the more upscale restaurants costs about $30, including the tip. But you can get a filling meal of fresh seafood ceviche or cayeye (plantain, cheese, and sausage) for just $5.

Since his arrival, Mike has seen the Santa Marta area change dramatically. “It is much more culturally diverse than when I first came in 2009. I see a lot of expats coming from the U.S., Switzerland and Spain. There really has been extraordinary growth and change.”

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