by Christian Medina
I made a huge change in my life four years ago. I moved to Manizales, Colombia.
The United States has many great and amazing things to offer, interesting and big cities, restaurants galore, and as many tourist destinations as you can imagine. But I was never able to find a healthy balance living there. Working for over 20 years in intensively competitive corporate environments, struggling with the daily grind and that mentality of “keeping up with the Joneses” fed to us by the media and a ubiquitous sales and marketing behemoth, led me to feel hollow and empty, bereft.
In Manizales, I found the balance I needed. The quality of life, family and friends I stumbled upon here has led to a peace I never found living in the US. Yes, I traded in a high salary, but what’s the use of earning lots of money if you never enjoy it? Now I work from 7am to 4pm and have time to be with my wife, family and friends. Socializing at a coffee shop (Juan Valdez is one of my favorite spots and the Juan Valdez open-air café in the Cable neighborhood of Manizales is the most popular Juan Valdez in Colombia!) or just sitting and reading a book is something I do several times a week. I´m also able to cook a nice dinner with my wife. We enjoy this kind of quality together time almost nightly. In the US, the norm is to pop anything into the microwave, throw it on a plate and you usually end up eating at different times because everybody’s schedule is hectic and nonstop.
How the Change Happened
I was exposed to both cultures and countries from when I was a child. My parents were born in Manizales. They had five children in Colombia before moving to the US in 1968. Three years later I was born, the Gringo of the family. I grew up in New Orleans, but also lived in Miami and Charlotte, NC for 15 years.
Years before my relocation, my mom had decided that it was time for my pop to retire and that they were moving back to their birth city. The summer of 2013, on vacation in Manizales from my job in medical sales, I decided I’d had enough of the US grinding rat race. Three months later I was a resident of Manizales.
My brothers and sister, who were born in Colombia, all stayed in the US and el Gringo is now living in Colombia.
Manizales is Special, Even for Colombia
Manizales offers the best of relaxed urban living. A metropolitan area of about 500,000 residents and the capital of one of the smallest Colombian departments, Manizales is big enough to be a city yet small enough to still maintain the sense of a town. The city is located in the northern part of what’s called the Colombian Coffee-Growers Axis, near the active Nevado del Ruiz volcano. The unique topography provides the spectacular natural environment of coffee plantations, plus the geological wonder of a volcano and a glacier.
Because it’s in the heart of coffee country, a lot of the city’s business and economic activity is based on coffee and related products. The small city also houses seven universities to which students and professionals are attracted from all over the country and the world.
The temperatures never get too hot or cold (although Colombians who have never experienced a northern winter describe the climate as cold). Modern conveniences like shopping centers, theaters and high rise office buildings coexist with natural green spaces.
Because of its size, you don’t have to fight crowds on the sidewalks or sit in frustrating traffic jams, but you can still feel the buzz of the city, especially at night and on weekends. There’s plenty to do. The Annual Fair of Manizales, held in January, is a city-wide party, almost two weeks of parades, exhibitions and cultural events. It’s not just for tourists, though those come from all over the country. Businesses revise their work schedules so employees can leave work early and enjoy the events.
And there’s plenty to not do as well. Manizales offers an affordable, relaxed lifestyle, with all the amenities you’d find in larger Colombian cities such as Bogotá, Cali, or Medellín.
A 2010 study conducted by the World Bank, ranked Manizales as the best and easiest Colombian city to do business.
This place isn’t imaginary. It’s real. It’s Manizales, a city where traditional folk meet at the crossroads with the young, and where an entire community relishes the past, while embracing Colombia’s bright future.
I can go on and on about all the many reasons why I have come to love living in Manizales and Colombia but it really boils down to just having found a happiness that always seemed to elude me in the United States.
Oh, one thing I will add, Manizales is commonly referred to as “the sunset factory.” Come anytime and check one out.
There’s a lot more to tell … on Colombia
Christian Medina is the co-founder and managing partner of English Solutions, a translations business and online English academy based in Manizales, Colombia.