People aren’t rushed here,” Cynthia Reed says. “They take life slowly. In a way, it feels more like living in Europe than in the Americas. In the U.S., people get up, work, eat at their desk, go home, eat, watch TV, and then crash into bed. It’s an existence, but it’s not a life. Here, in the evenings, people are out in cafés, just enjoying being alive. They live more, breathe more, they simply enjoy what life offers. It feels like a cliché saying it, but it’s true.”
Cynthia and I are sitting in a restaurant in Chipre, a leafy and upscale suburb in the upper reaches of Manizales city, in Colombia’s western coffee-growing region. This neighborhood is known as “The Sunset Factory.” Though when I arrived just after noon, it wasn’t so much that the sky was cloudy, as much that the whole district—from the imposing sculptural monument to the region’s 19thcentury settlers down to the soccer fields, parks, and al fresco cafés that perch along a steep hillside to downtown Manizales— were actually in the clouds. I guess that’s what happens when you’re 7,000 feet above sea level.
We’re tucking into chicharrones— think of the slowest-roast pork belly your mind can conjure, only with a devilishly crunchy, finger-licking layer of crackling to give your jaws a hearty workout—as Cynthia tells me about her life here in the mountains of Colombia.
“The healthcare here is truly excellent,” Cheryl says. “I’ve actually gone to the doctor more often in the three years I’ve been living in Colombia than I did over a lifetime in the U.S. It’s 3,600 pesos for a GP appointment—that’s about $8. And for that, you get actual care from an actual doctor. A full chat and diagnostic, not just a lookover from a nurse and then a prescription from a doctor who never even touches you. It’s been an extremely positive experience for me.”
It costs about half as much to live here as in the U.S.
It’s not just about healthcare, though. Compared to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Cynthia was living before moving to Colombia in June 2019, life in Manizales is a completely different experience.
“I love the climate—it’s pleasant all year, never much above 75 F, never much below that either. It means you can live your life outdoors, and that’s exactly what everyone here does. In another few hours, the viewpoint up the hill from here will be full of people; locals, expats, tourists, all gathering to watch the sunset. It’s free, it’s spectacular, and everyone just comes out to enjoy it.”
Cynthia, who was a bankruptcy lawyer in the U.S., has had more than her share of witnessing good people getting chewed up by a system that’s made it ever more difficult to balance the demands of work and personal life. It’s easy to understand why it means so much to be away from that workwork- work culture. It’s certainly not the dominant aspect of life in Manizales.
“Something I love is that there’s music everywhere here. There’s always someone singing or performing. It’s part of the aural landscape. People here enjoy what they have, even if it’s very little,” she says. “That’s the big impact.”
But what about the more practical aspects of expat life? The cost of food, of accommodation, the cost of living in general?
“Well, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo I have here cost $100,000 three years ago. Prices have gone up a little, same as anywhere, but you can still find a nice condo of a similar size, in a gated development with gardens, gym, shared pool, all that stuff, for around $120,000. Or if you’re renting, that would go for about $500 a month.
“That means nothing if it’s not somewhere you’d consider living, though,” Cynthia points out. “It costs about half as much to live here, all-in, as it does in the U.S. A single person can easily live on $1,000 to $1,200 a month. But the big question in any expat’s mind is whether it’s safe. Well, in my experience, it is. The reputation that Colombia had in the 1980s and 1990s is no longer valid. There’s nowhere in Manizales that’s more dangerous than anywhere I’ve been before.
“I can walk safely at night here. Not in every part of the city, but that’s the same anywhere. There’s some petty theft, I suppose. But I lived in Philadelphia for a while, and I had my car broken into just for some small change. That’s never happened to me here.”
There’s another benefit to a city where you can walk around at will, especially one as hilly as Manizales. “I’ve lost 40 pounds since coming to live here,” Cynthia says. “I thought I had a healthy lifestyle in the States, but in fact, I was fat. Here, the hills keep the weight off. Every walk is a workout.”
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