WeWork All Over Medellin

Digital nomads, Venezuelan migrants and politically polarized Colombians share this soccer-obsessed sprawling tropical metropolis.

Richard Jones, who used to bounce between Brooklyn and Pasadena as an entrepreneur, found a new tech hub.

From his latest venture, he smiles alongside his wife and their toddler as an Instagram-perfect family ready to help you become your own boss—from a tropical paradise.

The Joneses are part of a growing contingent that, since COVID made remote work mainstream, is taking advantage of favorable exchange rates, new visas and good weather overseas.

They set up shop in places like Costa Rica, Portugal and—more recently—Colombia, where the proliferation of coworking spaces suggests the trend is also taking hold in South America.

WeWork El Poblado

I contemplate one of the Medellin WeWork buildings from a bus stuck in traffic.

Avenida El Poblado—which connects the city with its suburbs since a time the population was a tenth of today’s—is being retrofitted for metroplús.

The bus rapid transit system, along with the sleek Metro and its affiliated float of trolley and cable cars, is the first-rate public transportation network the Joneses appreciate.

Medellin Metro

Instead, my cousin makes me ride the traditional public bus, which blasts “agricultural music” while a Brad Pitt-esque Jesus stares from the driver’s plexiglass cabin.

The man next to us streams a soccer match on his smartphone. Behind, a lady argues with someone via WhatsApp voice note.

One of the world’s most innovative cities is also a place of contrasts where past and present intersect on every corner.

Universal tactile paving and accessible outdoor gyms co-exist with hugely-breasted mannequins that promote body dysmorphia outside clothing stores.

No pressure, girls

Pueblito Paisa, a cobblestoned and colorful fake village located on a hilltop in the middle of the valley, replicates the traditional Colombian town, like a Gabriel García Marquez-themed Disney park.

It affords a 360-degree view of the surrounding sprawling metropolis: There’s the old airport. Look at El Poblado with all those tall buildings.

Pueblito Paisa

Over there, there’s El Centro de Medellin, where some Venezuelan immigrants work as law clerks and others wipe cars’ windshields during a traffic jam caused by yet another anti-government protest.

They join many more street vendors who swarm imposing churches, Art Deco office buildings, plazas with larger-than-life Botero sculptures and coffee haciendas-turned-shopping centers.

All peddle lottery tickets, knock-out jeans and—at lunchtime—corrientazos (affordable homecooked-style meals targeted to hungry tourists and busy office workers).

Coltejer Building

The nearby 1970s needle-shaped Coltejer building is a testament to the city’s supremacy in the textile industry.

Today, media companies and retail brands share the skyscraper. La Tienda Verde (The Green Store) is, by far, the most popular.

The official outlet of Atletico Nacional, one of the most-followed local soccer teams, La Tienda’s windows display a shrine to the club’s Golden Era stars, including Andrés Escobar.

The late defender, murdered after scoring a self-goal that eliminated the Colombian national team from the 1994 FIFA World Cup, sits in the middle like an unofficial patron saint.

La Tienda Verde

Not related to the infamous drug lord—Pablo—Andrés is a reminder of how far this city has come from its heyday of narco-violence.

And so it’s Comuna 13, the former San Javier slum on the western edge of Medellin is now one of the city’s most vibrant communities, as evidenced by its latest project: a women’s prison-turned-university.

Guides like David tell stories about how the house where he grew up and still lives was on the invisible borders between rival gangs and how this affected his school commute as recently as the mid-1990s.

Comuna 13

All while rappers interact with tourists through creative improvisations, break dancers entertain the crowd with gravity-defying movements and colorful graffiti and muralist art inspire in the background.

Refreshingly, a predominantly young and urban community doesn’t vibe to the globally ubiquitous and commercialized reggaeton but old-school breakbeats and boleros, which charming guitar-clad abuelos still play on the corners.

Comuna 13

Albeiro, our polite cab driver, was another pleasant surprise as he insulated us from Medellin’s perennial rush hour traffic by playing Bach instead of Bad Bunny.

He took us to ecological park El Salado, a natural sanctuary and refuge in the municipality of Envigado, high above the overpopulated and touristed city chaos, and where nearby fincas manifest themselves in men riding donkeys alongside motorcycles on the narrow road. 

A green and lush loop trail surrounds a crystal-clear and refreshing stream where it is a delight to submerge your bare feet for a real connection with nature.

El Salado

The sound of the water is hypnotizing; the closer you’ll get to nirvana in this formerly rural and sleepy coffee enclave which non-stop development will soon turn into a megalopolis.

At this rate, the Joneses will have to climb farther up the mountain to relax in these natural oases.

Author: Alex Marin

Natural-born explorer and storyteller. I grew up in Caracas and moved to New York City 20 years ago to pursue a career in media, which led me to work with broadcasting and tech companies. Last year, one month into my dream job with a famous social network, I had a significant health event that forced me to learn how to walk again. And now I'm training for the New York Marathon. All the words and photos in this blog are mine. You can reach me at videotravelalex@gmail.com. Cheers!

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