A recent Gallup survey asked Colombians:
“As far as you are concerned, do you personally feel happy, unhappy or neither happy nor unhappy about your life?”
The response of those living here? A resounding 87% replied:
“I am happy!”
Can you fault them? From the high number of national holidays, the food, the women, the coffee, and the climate, this culture has it going on. Medellin itself is nicknamed “The City of Eternal Spring” – famous for its perfect weather within the highland tropic region of the northern Andes mountains.
Does the pleasant climate play into the health and wellbeing of this culture? Without a doubt.
Those living in Colombia, and especially in Medellín, enjoy certain distinct health advantages. These are elements are essential aspects of a quality and happy life.
Fitness at 5,495 Feet
Let’s start with the day-to day-health practices: the gym.
Like many a well developed society, Medellin accommodates its local population with a number of outdoor gyms to promote health. While some of these locations are basic in their offerings of free weights and machines, they are shaded and afford a social environment in which to share the love of fitness. Watch this video for a walk-through this gym in the trendy Poblado neighborhood.
Located at the top of the boutique luxury hotel, The Charlee, right off to Parque Lleras, this gym is… Three floors of amazing. The view from one of the many treadmills alone is worth the membership fee (which comes out to about $50/month).
Also: Many a fitness model calls Ultra their hangout. Spandex, anyone?
Inside Ultra, floor to ceiling windows shed light on a chic vibe complete with all modern machines, free weights, plus plenty of specialty exercise rooms. There’s a martial arts room with bags, a cycling room that hosts Soul Cycle-esque spin classes, and a full dance room upstairs.
There’s plenty of locker space and plush bathrooms. Hit the steam room and outdoor jacuzzi on your way out. The 12 story view from the jacuzzi may just ruin how you look at any post-workout you’ve ever had.
Bodytech is a chain of super gyms, much akin to a 24 Fitness, that has a near monopoly over the Medellin fitness scene. 15 locations across Medellin make this the choice of many locals.
Bodytech plans vary by location, but range anywhere between $80,000 – $210,000 COP. These are great options for those looking for drop-in availability in almost every neighborhood.
Crossfit is also very prevalent here. The workout first made popular by the movie 300 has swept across the world. These locations feel more like gladiator training circuits, accommodating an air of camaraderie and competition unlike any other.
No more excuses with Mas Fit. This chain of gyms is revolutionizing the way people look at gyms. With low prices and great facilities, you’ll love going to their gyms. Available in El Tesoro, Mayorca, Bosque Plaza, and coming soon, San Diego.
Yoga also occupies a distinct niche in Medellin. With a handful of relaxing studios, Medellin offers the traveller anything from Hatha, Anyusar, Iyengar, Heated Flow and Prenatal yoga. Most places will provide mats and towels, so don’t feel compelled to bring your own.
108 Yoga even prepares post-class homemade ginger and fruit teas.
Nationalized Healthcare Made Local
Despite being an entirely private sector system, Colombian health care is ranked by the World Health Organization as better than U.S. or Canada. The national healthcare system ranks as the 4th best in the entire American continent. And it is certainly more affordable.
Don’t speak the Spanish? No worries – most doctors speak English and every medical facility employs a host of interpreters.
Unless you’re here for a procedure, your health care will come by attending a local health clinic for a total cost less than that of a copay in the states. For example, an ultrasound here will cost you a copay back home. There’s no delay or scheduling to worry about here: walk right in, have a seat, wait for a few minutes and see a doctor. You can even request a specific doctor if you have a preference.
If you’re there for a cough, there will no pomp and circumstance about taking your height or checking your ears – you walk in and get treatment. If you do need a more intensive procedure, the procedure prices are clearly displayed in clinic for you while you schedule an appointment at a hospital. You might wait weeks or months for an operation in another country. In Colombia, it should be a number of days, a week at most.
Eight Colombian hospitals are listed within the top ten of Latin America. Many of the hospitals are nonprofit while all are stocked with modern medicine, well-trained doctors, and complete with up-to-date procedures and medical equipment. All contain over 300 beds and many are open for 24 hour care.
Overall, this is a refreshing change from the rigid headache that is American health care. It seems rather more focused upon providing immediate and quality care and relief than promoting the interests of the medical institution.
ProFamilia and Sura are the most prevalent and comprehensive insurance providers. Your very own narrator has just signed up for a total coverage plan, which covers him anywhere in the world, for about $80 per month. And I can go see one of the in-network acupuncturists, masseuses, or chiropractors – without a copay. And what if I go someplace outside of network, say in case of an emergency? All I need do is keep my documentation for a reimbursement.
And what of pharmaceuticals? As in any other country, Colombian doctors can prescribe drugs for most maladies. Also, many generic drugs are cheap and available over the counter: Viagra, Valium, anti-depressants, and birth control are all available in generic form at a neighborhood pharmacy.
This sort of culture and ease is making Medellin quite the destination for the savvy retiree.
The volume of well-qualified doctors in Medellin is also a major factor. All are educated to internationally recognized standards through prestigious medical establishments such as: the University of Antioquia, the University Pontificia Bolivariana, the Fundación Universitaria San Martin, the Institut Ciencies de la Salud, CES, and more. Many graduate as specialists from these institutions, while many others will travel abroad for additional training and return with training and expertise in tow to their beloved homeland.
With nearly a quarter of a billion dollars of international revenue streaming into Colombia each year, Medellin certainly sees its fair share of medical tourism. With a reputation for excellent Lasik eye surgery, dental work, and plastic surgery, the city is gaining serious traction in the estimated $40 billion global annual industry. Over 300,000 plastic surgeries are performed annually in Colombia.
But beyond vanity, Medellin offers medical procedures at costs far below those of other countries. A short flight from Miami and Houston, a Colombian heart bypass surgery would only cost about $26,000 – as opposed to $286,000 stateside.
Hospital San Vicente de Rionegro is a new hospital has just opened a short distance from the airport, located outside of Medellin proper, catering to cosmetic procedures and transplants within a relaxing, lush atmosphere. With 160 beds, an environmentally green design, and services catered to finding accommodations and services for patient’s families, this is obviously a step above other health care.
Third party organizations, such as Health without Borders, have been established to assist with the influx of international demand upon the Colombian health care system.
Says David Castro Lotero, co-founder of Clinical Travel, “It’s due to the change of perception of Colombian security abroad and the support of the government. They are making medical tourism a state policy.” With millions of dollars spent on reversing the perception of Colombia as an up-your-nose drug state, rather than a destination for a nose job, Medellin’s government has invested seriously in developing the culture and infrastructure to provide sustained medical services for years to come.
Jeff Daniels, a Brooklyn native in need of some dental work, relates that he’d first felt apprehensive about receiving treatments in Colombia: “I expected it to be kind of like a war zone,” he says. “Just the opposite was true. I find it to be no more dangerous than New York.”
Quite the opposite, it would seem. Medellin has shaped itself into the preeminent health destination in the southern hemisphere. With fantastic clean water, an abundance of health-conscious offerings, visitors and residents alike are sure to feel the great effects immediately – and for many days to come.