From murder capital to retiree haven, how Medellin has outgrown 'Narcos'

Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in Business News

MEDELLIN, Colombia -- As she sipped a cappuccino in a buzzing cafe 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 health care puts the U.S. to shame.

And in many ways, they say, they feel safer here than back home in Florida.

"People still think that Medellin is the murder capital of the world," she said, "but it's not."

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 with 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.


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