José María Córdova is the second largest airport in Colombia. José María Córdova is the Medellín airport for all international flights to the city with the airport code MDE. And this airport is located in Rionegro, which is located 21 miles (35 km) from Medellín.
Medellín actually has two airports: José María Córdova and Olaya Herrera. Travelers arriving or departing on international flights will be utilizing the José María Córdova international airport. While Olaya Herrera (EOH) only has domestic flights in Colombia with three airlines serving this airport
José María Córdova international airport is the second largest airport in Colombia in terms of number of passengers and cargo shipped. Also, it is second largest in terms of international flights and domestic flights. Furthermore, Antioquia’s exports, most of which are flowers, and other products from the region, depart from this airport to international destinations.
History of the Medellín Airport (MDE)
Medellin’s first airport was Olaya Herrera, which opened in 1932. Olaya Herrera airport is located in the city of Medellín. But it was impossible to expand this airport to meet the growing needs of the city.
In the 1970s Olaya Herrera airport became saturated. So, a decision was made to build a larger airport in Rionegro. Rionegro was reportedly chosen as it was the nearest place that was big enough and would work as a location to build a larger international airport.
Finally, José María Córdova airport in Rionegro opened in 1985. While this airport is located in Rionegro it still has the airport code for Medellín – MDE – and it’s considered the main airport serving Medellín.
José María Córdova airport has air navigation aids such as a VHF omnidirectional range (VOR), a non-directional beacon (NDB) and an instrument landing system (ILS). Most noteworthy, these navigation aids make navigation and landings safer in bad weather.
In addition, José María Córdova currently has an expansion project underway that will add more gates to the terminal.
At the José María Córdova Airport
The Medellín airport has restaurants, cafes and bars. In addition, it has a local shopping area with a number of shops and bookstores. Inside the airport are currency exchange places and several ATM machines. And past the security on the way to international gates there are duty free shops.
The airport has three levels. The lowest level is for arrivals. The second level is where the check-in area is located and security, immigration and the gates. And the third level has some restaurants and bars.
There are four car rental companies located on the arrivals level outside of international arrivals. In addition, the airport is open 24 hours.
Outside the main building of the José María Córdova airport there is parking for about 300 vehicles as well as motorcycles. In addition, there are several companies near the airport that offer lower cost remote airport parking with shuttles to the airport.
Flight Options from José María Córdova
José María Córdova currently has flights from 12 different airlines with direct flights to and from 17 different destinations:
- Aeromexico – Mexico City
- Air Panama – Panama City
- American Airlines – Miami
- Avianca – Barranquilla, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cúcuta, Lima, Madrid, Miami, Monteria, New York-JFK, San Andres, San Salvador, Santa Marta
- Avior Airliens – Valencia
- Copa – Panama City
- Iberia – Madrid
- JetBlue – Fort Lauderdale
- LATAM – Bogotá, Cartagena, San Andres, Santa Marta
- Spirit – Fort Lauderdale
- VivaColombia – Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cartagena, Miami, Monteria, Panama City, San Andres, Santa Marta
- Wingo – Panama City
The cost to enter Colombia on an international flight to Medellín as a tourist will vary based on your country of origin. If you are from Canada, you must pay a 160,000-peso entry fee. However, if you are from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and several other countries you can enter for free.
The most popular domestic flights from the Medellín airport last year were to Bogotá with 3,590,548 roundtrip passengers, Cali with 739,954 roundtrip passengers and Cartagena with 735,408 roundtrip passengers.
In addition, the most popular international flights from the airport in 2016 were to Panama City with 386,499 roundtrip passengers, Miami with 249,167 roundtrip passengers and Fort Lauderdale with 172,929 roundtrip passengers.
In 2016, José María Córdova airport reportedly served 7,688,662 passenger movements.
Exchanging Money at the Medellín Airport
Currency exchanges at the Medellín airport can be one of the easiest ways for exchanging money. But the fees can be horrible as well as the actual exchange rate they offer won’t be great. So, this isn’t the best option for exchanging money.
At the Medellín airport there are several ATM machines located upstairs where the airline check-in desks are located. This includes ATM machines from Banco de Bogotá, Bancolombia, Banco Popular, Citibank, Davivienda and Servibanca.
Also, on the lower arrivals level at the Medellín airport there are ATM machines from two banks: Bancolombia and BBVA.
The exchange rate ATM machines provide will usually be very close to the actual exchange rate that can be seen on XE. And the rate will be better than the rate found at the currency exchanges at the airport.
There are also other ways for exchanging money, receiving and transferring money in Medellín, which we previously covered. These include exchange centers in the city (Casas de Cambio), the Zeepod mobile app, money transfer services and money transfers at banks.
Food Options at the Medellín Airport
If you are planning to eat at the Medellín airport there are more food options outside of security. Once you go through security to either the international or domestic gates there aren’t many food options.
Most of the food options at José María Córdova airport are in two areas up an escalator or stairs from the second-floor departure check-in area. In these areas, there are several typical Colombian restaurant options like J&C Delicias, Kokoriko, Piccolo Pizza and Presto. In addition, there is also a bar with some food named Beer.
Also, on the second-floor departure check-in area there is a Dunkin’ Donuts and some ice-cream places and a few stores selling snacks.
There is also a Juan Valdez Cafe on the second-floor departure check-in area.
Past security to the domestic gates there is a Burger King and a couple of small places with food. Past security to the international gates there also aren’t many food options.
Medellín Airport Tips
Based on my experience flying over 100 times to/from Medellín’s José María Córdova airport I have several airport tips for foreigners.
- Plan to arrive early for your departing flight. I like to play it safe, so I always plan to be at the airport 3 hours before international flights and 2 hours before domestic flights. Probably you don’t need this much time at the airport to check-in and go through security and immigration. But you never know when you might have problems getting to the airport. For example, once for an early morning flight I encountered a massive tree had fallen and completely blocked the road to the airport. And the taxi driver had to find a round-about alternate route to the airport that added 50 minutes to the trip. Also, during another trip there was a major accident on the road to the airport that caused a delay of nearly an hour.
- There will almost always be taxis at the airport. I have never encountered a problem in quickly finding a white airport taxi at the airport even after midnight. And I never have experienced a problem with an airport taxi.
- Don’t use the money exchanges at the airport. The ATM machines at the airport will offer a better exchange rate. Especially relevant, make sure to inform your bank you will be in Colombia to ensure your ATM card will work.
- During rush hour the trip to/from the airport may take well over an hour. So, plan accordingly. My worst-case experience was arriving at 5pm. As a result of the time, it took two hours to get to my apartment in Sabaneta due to bad rush hour traffic on a Friday.
- The cheapest way to get to/from the airport are the airport buses. With an airport bus fare of only 9,500 pesos, buses are the cheapest option. However, buses can take a somewhat longer time than taxis. And the airport buses only go to/from two locations in the city: near San Diego mall and behind Hotel Nutibara in El Centro and use two different routes. So, you’ll need to add a lower cost taxi fare in the city to/from the bus stop location.
- Foreign tourists can get a refund of Colombia’s value-added tax (VAT) known as the IVA tax that is 19% at the DIAN office at the airport. The DIAN office is located to the left of the Avianca check-in at José María Córdova airport. And DIAN has staff 24 hours at the airport. But sometimes the DIAN office closes late at night if they have no clients. However, DIAN staff indicated to me that you can ask the airport information to call DIAN if it’s closed and they will send someone from their office downstairs, which is staffed 24 hours. We provide details about how to get the IVA tax refund here.
Getting To/From the Medellín Airport
José María Córdova international airport is located in the municipality of Rionegro, which is about 21 miles (35 km) east of Medellín at a higher elevation. It normally takes 40 minutes to over an hour on the windy road, depending on traffic, to go from José María Córdova airport to Medellín or the reverse direction.
A new tunnel is being built, Túnel de Oriente, which will reduce the driving time to/from José María Córdova airport by up to half. Furthermore, this tunnel is reportedly scheduled to open the end of 2018.
Especially relevant, there are six ways to get to Medellín from the Medellín Airport:
- White airport taxi – 65,000 pesos to Medellín (with a higher fare to Envigado or Sabaneta)
- Yellow taxi – 70,000 pesos from Medellín
- Colectivo taxi – about 16,000 pesos
- Airport bus – 9,500 pesos
- Uber – UberBlack or UberX – about 54,000 to 77,000 pesos
- Private driver – typically about $30-32
These options have a wide range in price from 9,500 to over 94,000 pesos ($3 to $32). Most noteworthy, we previously looked at all six of these options in detail to get to/from the airport.
Location of the José María Córdova international airport