I Almost Didn’t Make It Back
I had a pretty exciting week and weekend. As some of you know, I flew to South America for my friends’ wedding last Wednesday. And I just got back in the wee early hours yesterday morning.
But honestly, I almost didn’t make it back. And I can almost guarantee it’s not for the reasons you may be thinking (and some of my fellow editors morbidly joked about).
It’s Colombia, Not Columbia
I didn’t almost get killed in a mugging or kidnapped by “freedom fighters.” That’s the Colombia you know from Netflix’s Narcos and the U.S. DEA’s war on drugs. That’s not the real Colombia, though.
The Colombia I know is filled with warm, wonderful people excited to share their home and culture with people from all over the world. It’s a place filled with Colombians, obviously, but also with expats from Dubai, Canada, the States, you name it.
And that’s just the people. The cities are beautiful and have a strong police presence. I’ve never felt like I was in danger in all the time I’ve spent in cities like Medellín and Bogotá.
The architecture is amazing as well. You’ve got churches and government buildings dating back to Spanish colonial times. And you’ve got new buildings designed by world-renowned architects as well.
That’s why I almost didn’t make it back. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to leave at all.
So in a show of gratitude to the amazing hospitality the Colombian people showed me yet again, I wanted to take a departure from my normal financial coverage and talk about a place I could see myself retiring in…
The City of Eternal Spring
My very first experience with Colombia, its natural beauty, and the hospitality of its residents was a few years ago in Medellín.
I had flown down to visit a newly formed cannabis company that was located just outside the city in Rionegro.
The farm was impressive. It was already covered with acres of cannabis, and the operations were immaculate as well. But it was the natural beauty of the place that really struck me at first.
Medellín is called the City of Eternal Spring because its temperature hardly varies all year round. It’s in the 70s during the day and gets down into the 60s at night. The coldest month of the year boasts average temperatures only a few degrees lower than the warmest month of the year. It’s spring all year round.
And that’s why the regions surrounding Medellín are home to some of the largest commercial flower growers in the entire world. When you buy Valentine's Day flowers for your special someone, chances are pretty high they came from Rionegro.
But it wasn’t just the natural beauty that struck me as my visit continued. The architecture, the warm attitudes of all the people I met, and the incredible feeling of safety I had walking the streets really stood out to me.
You’ve got to realize that before this trip, the ONLY thing I knew about Medellín was Pablo Escobar.
So I had some preconceived notions of what this city would be like: riddled with bullet holes and pockmarked from car bombs, motorcycles racing by spraying automatic weapon fire at a crowd of people, drug dealers just running roughshod over the entire city...
But what I saw couldn’t have been more different. The city was clean. The buildings were immaculately maintained. The public transit system was the best I’ve ever ridden on — including NYC, Washington, D.C., and Paris, France.
The people were all smiles and handshakes (this was long before COVID). And the city felt like one of the safest I’ve ever been in — far safer even than my home of Baltimore.
It’s truly an amazing place that’s completely turned itself around. It is no longer the battleground of the cartels. It’s the playground of the expatriates.
Getting “Closer to the Stars”
My next opportunity to visit this amazing (and amazingly misunderstood) country came later that same year. Two of my closest friends were celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary.
The wife was born and raised in Colombia, and she wanted to have a celebration for all of their friends and family in the place she grew up.
So we booked our flights and headed south to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. And yet again, I was amazed by what greeted me.
Bogotá is a huge city! It houses over 8 million people within its borders and another 11 million or so live just outside in the surrounding metropolitan area.
Like Medellín, I had a preconceived notion of Bogotá before I arrived. I mean, it was once known for its high murder rate and the car bombs the cartels were setting off in their war against the government and citizens.
But now, it’s the political, cultural, and economic heart of the nation. And since it’s earned an Alpha world city ranking, it’s become the country’s biggest magnet for expats.
There are tons of large multinational corporations and banks with offices in the city, so it’s very popular with the international crowd.
Something else that surprised me — because I didn’t look it up before I left — was how high the city is. I’ve been to Denver and flown out of the mile-high airport. But that’s got nothing on Bogotá.
The city is nestled in the Andean highlands and its motto is “2,600 meters closer to the stars.” For my American friends who need help with that measurement, it converts to over 8,500 feet above sea level.
That’s a good 3,000 feet higher than Denver’s airport. And it’s not the highest point in the city. So when you go visit, give yourself a little time to get used to the altitude. And don’t drink too much or you’ll be regretting it for weeks.
But that’s really the only drawback I could see in the time I spent visiting and touring the city and surrounding area. And altitude is something you can get used to pretty quickly.
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The First and Maybe the Best
During my most recent visit, I had the pleasure of heading away from the center of the country and out to one of its magnificent coasts.
Colombia is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north by the Caribbean Sea. I got to see the latter this trip. And it was maybe even more incredible than any of the other places I’ve stayed.
Medellín is a very cool city and the Rionegro region is filled with natural beauty. Bogotá is an impressive metropolis with every luxury you could desire.
Armenia is filled with fertile coffee farms and beautiful waterfalls.
But Santa Marta, the first Spanish settlement in what became Colombia, might just top them all.
It’s perched on the edge of the Caribbean coast just a few hundred miles from Venezuela, but the pictures of the neighboring areas couldn’t be more different.
While Venezuela suffers under its dictatorial government, Colombia is a thriving democracy.
And up until this year (gracias, COVID), the beaches of Santa Marta were filled with people from all over the world coming to enjoy the natural beauty and the embrace of the warm culture.
There’s fresh seafood for dinner every night if that’s your thing. It’s one of my things.
And when I say fresh, I’m pretty sure I saw the fish I was eating earlier that day while I was swimming in the inviting waters.
The beaches are long and wide and lined with hotels and rental properties for every taste. You could stay in the super-luxury condos provided by companies like Marriott (we took advantage of those on this trip).
Or you can use Airbnb to find a small local hotel that’s got a little more charm but a smaller pool.
And those are just the options for a vacation. If you go down and have as much trouble leaving as I did this week, you might want to consider buying something nearby.
Santa Marta is a vacation destination, and properties are priced accordingly. But just down the coast you’ve got Cartagena, another tourist destination with somewhat lower prices, and Barranquilla, which is more of a residential town.
Both share the same coastline as Santa Marta, and both are filled with the same warm and welcoming people.
“I’m Sold. How Do I Get There?”
If you’re finding yourself thinking the same thing I was, you’re going to want some information on how to get there and how to stay there, too.
And if you’re from one of the countries on the visa waiver list, you’ve got a lot of options.
Tourist visas for folks on that list last 90 days and are issued upon arrival to the country. And if you decide after three months that you just can’t bear to leave, you can get a temporary-stay permit that adds another 90 days to your stay.
So without even applying for more than a regular visa, you can spend about half the year in Colombia. If you’re going that route, I recommend the cold months in your homeland.
You can also apply for longer-term visas if you plan to live in the country. Once you’ve held one of these for five years or more, you can apply for a resident visa.
The resident visa lasts up to five years but can be renewed upon expiration.
I’ll See You There
I haven’t made the final decision where or when, but it gets harder to leave after every trip and I get closer to becoming at least a part-time resident of this beautiful country.
A condo in Santa Marta seems like a great place to spend those cold Maryland winters... or a finca in Armenia or Rionegro... or an apartment in Medellín or Bogotá.
What I’m saying is if you decide to spend some time in Colombia and fall in love with it the way I have, I’ll probably see you there one of these days.
That’s my two cents for today. If you’re looking for a vacation or a new home, you need to look at Colombia for all the reasons I’ve shared and so many more.
And next time I get back from a place I think you should check out and might want to retire to, I’ll keep this tradition going and share everything I learn.
To your wealth,
After graduating Cum Laude in finance and economics, Jason designed and analyzed complex projects for the U.S. Army. He made the jump to the private sector as an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley, where he eventually led his own team responsible for billions of dollars in daily trading. Jason left Wall Street to found his own investment office and now shares the strategies he used and the network he built with you. Jason is the founder of Main Street Ventures, a pre-IPO investment newsletter, and co-authors The Wealth Advisory income stock newsletter. He also contributes regularly to Wealth Daily. To learn more about Jason, click here.
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