Colombia is known for many things. Epic tales. Violent past. Delicious food. Loving community. And inspiration for a Netflix show (ahem!).
But we're here to tell you that Colombia is none of it, but also all of it, and why we're choosing to run retreats in Medellin.
We've had a presence there since January 2017, and we've hosted approximately 100 people from 30 countries. Here are six reasons why we are going back based on the things we've learned from running retreats there this past year.
There's more than one Colombia
Colombia has strong regional identities due to its mountainous geography and social history. Medellin certainly has a strong identity that's set to a modern Latin American vibe that mixes hiphop, technology, and innovation. However, you only have to travel a couple of hours to see a completely different, small-town side to Colombia.
Colombia's countryside retains its more traditional roots, with traditional music, horses, heavy meals, and mountains at every corner. During Unsettled Medellin, we are intentional about showing participants more than one side of Colombia. On the weekends, we travel to parts of the coffee region that are still off the beaten path.
In more than one way, we've found Colombia to be one of the more accessible of our locations around the world. First, we find that it's easy to connect with and bridge cultural and language barriers with Colombians. In a social group, they're friendly to foreigners in a matter-of-fact kind of way. At home, they're welcoming and inviting. Unsettled participants often get invited into someone's house and are treated like an extended family, whether it's in some of the poorest, urban neighborhoods, in a community center, or after a fun night out. In business, they're eager to please with a strong customer-service game. This might not sound like much, but it's important when you're only staying somewhere for one month.
Second, and more practically speaking, Colombia is accessible to much of the world. With its rising popularity as a destination to visit, there are more and more flights arriving at Medellin from major hubs around the world. You can leave on a morning flight from much of the US, and be eating bandeja paisa for lunch.
Work Hard, Play Hard
As a whole, Colombians have a work-focused culture. The average worker spends 10-12 hours in an office, for five days a week. It's a culture that appreciates work, and this translates into a range of intangibles, such as fast and stable internet for Latin America, long office hours, and super strong coffee.
Come the weekend though, and they're ready to live and have fun with family and friends. Whether it's an all-day cookout or an adventure to a finca for the night, you can expect a strong weekend game, too. This is not a location if you want to snooze your way through life; sleep when you're back home.
Despite what you may have learned about Medellín from Narcos, this city has made one of the most historic transformations of any city in recent years. In just two decades, it went from being ruled by Pablo Escobar (1980s and 90s) to being declared the world's most innovative city in the 2010s.
A city of six million people, Medellín is as dynamic as any other city in Latin America. The people from Medellín, affectionally known as “paisas,” are some of the most entrepreneurially minded people we’ve met. Yes, they love to start new businesses, but that spirit carries over into a vibrant hip-hop scene, its famous fresh food, a thriving social enterprise sector, and the city’s approach to supporting innovation through modern museums, public art, and promoting civic pride. The city has also invested in its fiber optic internet infrastructure so you can enjoy the city and get shit done.
Lonely Planet ranked Colombia as one of the top destinations to travel in 2017 and Medellín is in the heart of this small diverse country. Within the greater Medellín region, you can access mountains, lakes, the famous coffee regions, small towns and farm life, and several national parks. Hop on a flight from the downtown airport and you're less than an hour from some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth:
Colombia’s unspoiled Amazon rainforest
The remote Pacific Coast
The world's tallest coastal mountain range, La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
While the northern hemisphere is in the grip of winter, Medellin's elevation at 5,000 feet (1,525 meters) above sea level keeps the weather warm and consistent year round. It’s known as “the city of eternal spring” because almost every day feels like it’s spring time.
Beyond the weather, the world's second largest Carnival is in Barranquilla (1-hour flight) during the last week in February, and you can count on several Unsettled members traveling to Carnival together.
"Colombia is Passion” has become a hallmark of the Colombian people, and whether you’re working from the modern streets of Medellín or you go horseback riding with us in the countryside, this passion is sure to wear off on you.