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.
In addition, we provided a guide with details of all six of the options to get to Medellín from the Medellín Airport.
Editor note: updated on March 18, 2020 to add information that only passengers, employees and authorities may enter the José María Córdova airport in Rionegro, no friends or family are permitted who are not traveling.
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.
New Coronavirus Measures
Starting on Thursday, March 19, only passengers, employees and authorities may enter the José María Córdova airport. No friends or family who are not traveling are permitted in the airport.
People who are going to enter the terminal should go to gate number 4, located on the second level of the airport between modules A and B. The departure, meanwhile, will be through gate 3, located on the first level. Police will be doing controls on both doors.
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 five car rental companies located on the arrivals level outside of international arrivals:
- Avis: +57 4 536 0226
- Budget: +57 316 693 5435
- Hertz: +57 1 288 2636
- Localiza Rent a Car: +57 4 536 2588
- Drive and Go: +57 310 505 6046
In addition, the José María Córdova 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.
For example, Aero Park is a remote parking service with a free car wash and airport shuttle that charges 20,000 pesos per day for remote parking.
Flight Options from José María Córdova
José María Córdova currently has flights from 15 different airlines with direct flights to and from over 20 different destinations.
However, these airlines suspended service starting in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic but domestic flights resumed in August and some international flights are planned to resume in September.
- Aeromexico – Mexico City
- Air Europe – Madrid
- American Airlines – Miami
- Aruba Airlines – Aruba
- Avianca – Barranquilla, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cúcuta, Madrid, Miami, Monteria, New York-JFK and Santa Marta
- Avior Airlines – Caracas, Valencia
- Copa Airlines – Panama City
- EasyFly – Bucaramanga, Monteria, Pereira
- Iberia – Madrid
- Interjet – Cancún, Mexico City
- JetBlue – Fort Lauderdale
- LATAM Airlines – Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cartagena, Lima, San Andres and Santa Marta
- Spirit – Fort Lauderdale, Orlando
- VivaAir – Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, Miami, Monteria, Panama City, San Andres and Santa Marta
- Wingo – Panama City
On June 1, 2019, Air Europe started offering flights three times a week from Madrid. And Interjet started flights from Mexico City on June 5, 2019.
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 a tourist from Canada, you used to have to pay a reciprocity fee of 201,000 pesos – but were exempt from the fee if older than 79 or younger than 14. However this reciprocity fee was eliminated on May 1, 2019.
So, if you are from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and several other countries you can enter Colombia for free as a tourist.
The most popular domestic flights from the Medellín airport in 2016 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, Colpatria (formerly 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, and with coronavirus biosafety restrictions it is best to be at least 3.5 hours before international flights and at least 2.5 hours before domestic flights. You may not need this much time for biosafety lines at the airport and 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.
Airports in Colombia
We have provided guides to the 10 largest airports in Colombia. The following list of these 10 largest airports in Colombia is in order by passenger traffic:
- El Dorado Airport (BOG) – Bogotá’s International Airport and the largest airport in Colombia.
- José María Córdova (MDE) – Medellín’s International Airport in Rionegro.
- Rafael Núñez Airport (CTG) – Cartagena’s International Airport.
- Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Airport (CLO) – Cali’s International Airport in Palmira.
- Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (BAQ) – Barranquilla’s International Airport.
- Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (ADZ) – San Andrés’ International Airport.
- Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) – Santa Marta’s International Airport.
- Matecaña International Airport (PEI) – Pereira’s International Airport.
- Palonegro Internationa Airport (BGA) – Bucaramanga’s International Airport.
- Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH) – Medellín’s domestic airport in the city.
We also looked at how to find cheap international flights to Medellín and Colombia.
In addition, we looked at how to find cheap domestic flights in Colombia. And I have flown multiple times from Medellín to other cities in Colombia for less than $100 roundtrip.
How to Get to Medellín From the 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 old windy road, depending on traffic, to go from José María Córdova airport to Medellín or the reverse direction.
A new tunnel, Túnel de Oriente, opened on August 15, 2019 which reduces the driving time to/from José María Córdova airport by up to half. The new tunnel route has a toll of 16,900 pesos for cars and 21,000 pesos for trucks of up to 3.4 tons.
Especially relevant, there are six ways to get to Medellín from the Medellín Airport:
- White airport taxi – 80,000 pesos to Medellín (with a higher 85,000 pesos fare to Envigado or 91,000 pesos to Sabaneta)
- Yellow taxi – 80,000 pesos from Medellín
- Colectivo taxi – about 18,500 pesos
- Airport bus – 13,000 pesos
- Uber, Beat or DiDi – Uber left the Colombia Market on February 1, 2020 but returned on February 20, 2020. Beat and DiDi are competitors to Uber
- Private driver – typically about $30-36
These options have a wide range in price from 13,000 to over 130,000 pesos ($3 to $36).
Most noteworthy, we have looked at all six of these options in more detail in our article about how to get to Medellín from the airport.
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Editors note: Updated on July 5, 2018 to add car rental agency numbers requested by a reader and remote parking requested by another reader.
Editors note: Updated on July 25, 2018 to add a new Medellín flight to Cancún, Mexico from Aeromexico that starts on November 17, 2018. Also, updated one of the ATMs at the airport to Colpatria that was formerly Citibank.
Editors note: Updated on September 9, 2018 to add new Medellín flights from Spirit to/from Orlando that start on November 9, 2018 with flights twice a week.
Editors note: Updated on January 14, 2019 to add new Medellín flights from Air Europe to/from Madrid that start on June 1, 2019 with flights three times a week. Also, updated taxi, bus and Uber information with new 2019 fares.
Editors note: updated on May 4, 2019 to add that the reciprocity fee for Canadians entering Colombia has been eliminated on May 1, 2019.
Editors note: updated on May 29, 2019 to add new Medellín flights from Interjet to/from Mexico City that start on June 5, 2019.
Editors note: updated on June 20, 2019 to add a new VivaAir flight from Medellín to Barranquilla.
Editors note: updated on August 20, 2019 with information that Túnel de Oriente opened on August 15, 2019, which reduces the driving time to/from José María Córdova airport by up to half.
Editors note: updated on January 5, 2020 with current flight options from José María Córdova airport.
Editors note: updated on February 9, 2020 with new VivaAir flight to Cali.
Editors note: updated on February 20, 2020 with information that Uber returned to the Colombia market on February 20, 2020.
Editors note: updated on March 16, 2020 with information about five airlines that are suspending or reducing service to the MDE airport due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Editors note: updated on March 18, 2020 with information that only passengers, employees and authorities may enter the José María Córdova airport. This is a new coronavirus measure at the airport.
Editors note: updated on November 3, 2020 to update fare from the airport and add time recommendations for going to the airport early due to coronavirus biosafety protocols at the airport.