From murder capital to retiree haven how Medellin has outgrown Narcos Americans flock
By Jim Wyss
March 05, 2018 07:00 AM
As she sipped a cappuccino in a buzzing café on a tree-lined street in Medellin, Cindy Crawford Thomas said that escaping South Florida to retire in what was once the world’s most notorious city seemed like a no-brainer.
“Deciding to leave Florida was easy,” said the former Coral Springs high school teacher. “It was too hectic. ... You seldom knew your neighbors. It was all these people but no community.”
In Medellin — once the home of Pablo Escobar and the world’s bloodiest drug cartel — Thomas and her husband, David, say they’ve found a friendly, cosmopolitan city where rent is cheap, the weather is fine and the healthcare puts the U.S. to shame.
And in many ways, they say, they feel safer here than back home in Florida.
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“People still think that Medellin is the murder capital of the world,” she said, “but it’s not.”
Read More: Cuenca, Ecuador, becomes an “accidental” hotspot for retirees
The couple are part of a growing wave of adventurous expat retirees who are calling Colombia’s second city their new home.
In 2017, the U.S. Social Security Administration sent 6,704 retirement checks to Colombia — an 85 percent increase compared to 2010 and more checks than are sent to any other country in Latin America or the Caribbean except Mexico, according to preliminary data.
While that figure doesn’t tell the whole story — it excludes those who are retired but too young to receive Social Security and those who have their checks deposited in U.S. bank accounts — it does provide a window into the country’s growing popularity.
And Medellin, in particular, has been getting glowing reviews in the retirement press and has been prominently featured in television shows like House Hunters International.
For decades the city was a no-go zone, rattled by car bombs and hit squads as Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel used it as their headquarters. During parts of the 1990s, the city had the highest murder rate in the world, peaking in 1995 at 225 homicides per 100,000 residents.
And while that bloody reputation persists, Medellin now has a homicide rate of about 20 per 100,000 residents — far below places like St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and Detroit.
Read More: How a Medellin assassin became a media star
And as safety has increased, tourists and retirees have responded, said Juliana Cardona Quiros, the city’s undersecretary of tourism.
Medellin saw more than 735,000 foreign visitors in 2017, up 5 percent from the previous year. And it’s not just the MacBook-toting millennials who are cramming the cafes.
“Older people are also seeing a lot of potential in Medellin,” Cardona said “They like our spring-like climate, the public transportation and the mix of nature and an urban setting.”
Even so, popular television shows likeNetflix’s “Narcos” and Colombia’s “El Patron del Mal,” or “The Drug Lord,” which revel in the city’s blood-soaked past, are hard on the city’s reputation.
William Rodríguez Abadía, son of Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, the former boss of the powerful Cali cartel in Colombia, asserts that Netflix series 'Narcos' doesn't have all the facts correct. He spoke with el Nuevo Herald's reporter Catalina Ruiz. Matias J. Ocnermocner@miamiherald.com
When Nancy Kiernan and her husband began thinking about retiring in Latin America several years ago, she remembers meeting a man who was raving about Medellin.
“We smiled politely,” she recalls, “and I said to myself, ‘This guy is an idiot. Why would anyone want to go there?’ ”Read More...