Bogota Vs. Cali | Gringo’s A-Z Guide
Bogota Vs. Cali
Which city offers a better glimpse into Colombian culture for the traveling gringo? Well, it all depends on who you ask and what you’re into.
Cali may be the cheapest big city in Colombia. The sweltering lowland city boasts smooth vibes in its ubiquitous salsatecas and a more relaxed and slower pace of life than Bogota. Plus, the weather is fantastic if you like it hot. But I’m talking scorching, blistering, blazing hot. Buyer beware.
Bogota is the capital of Colombia and one of the biggest cities in all of Latin America. As the “New York of Colombia” according to some, Bogota boasts big city living and a world-class bohemian scene to rival even the most cosmopolitan capitals of South America.
But the question remains…
Which city is better for you?
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Bogota vs. Cali | Gringo’s Comparison Guide
If you’re looking to compare Bogota versus Cali to see which city features the Colombian culture you seek, you’re in the right spot. Below, I’ll detail anything a traveling gringo may want to consider when comparing Bogota vs. Cali.
Let’s dig in:
Bogota is a huge city. With over 8 million people in the city proper, the capital of Colombia is a massive metropolis. If big city living is your thing, then Bogota is your home away from home.
Cali, Colombia isn’t even close to the size of Bogota. In fact, Cali had around 1.8 million people the last time I checked. While this isn’t a small number, it’s not a monster city, either.
- Winner: Tie. If you like big cities, Bogota is your choice. But a city of nearly 2 million people cannot be discounted. Many will prefer the size of Cali.
As I’ve said before, the infrastructure in Bogota isn’t great; it’s pretty average for a megacity of such an enormous size. Traffic is horrific in the city, and public transport leaves a lot to be desired, especially when safety is taken into account. The best way to get around is on the TransMilenio bus service, which has its own dedicated lanes. And it pains me to say that because I can’t stand public transport.
Cali isn’t any better from an infrastructure standpoint. The public transport is far worse than Bogota, although at least the traffic isn’t nearly as bad. You won’t find many co-working spaces around town as well if you need to get some work done, while Bogota has heaps.
- Winner: Cali, because there’s less traffic.
Bogota’s climate is trash. It’s somewhat cold all year round, the sun rarely shines, and it rains all the freakin’ time. I’m not a fan of Bogota’s climate at all. If the city did have beautiful warm weather, I’d probably still be living there right now.
Cali, on the other hand, serves up a solid dose of warm Carribean sunshine the whole year-round. While some say Cali is too hot, I love me those scorching temps, so I’d argue it’s just about right.
Cali’s temps hover around the high 70s or low 80s during the day, with high humidity. At night, it’s cool enough to sleep without an air conditioner. The sun shines nearly every day and rain isn’t that common.
- Winner: Cali!
Cost of Living
As the capital of Colombia, Bogota tends to be more expensive than the other cities in the country. Still, Bogota is quite cheap compared to Western standards.
The price you’ll pay for a monthly rental of an apartment varies a lot between barrios. If you’re happy to stay outside the glamorous zones like Chapinero, then you could potentially save big time on an Airbnb. Just don’t live too far out of downtown because the congested traffic means it takes forever to get anywhere.
Cali is cheap as chips compared to pretty much any city in Colombia–the cost of living here is super low. Rentals can be less expensive than similar-sized cities in bargain-basement countries like Peru and Ecuador. For example, you can find furnished apartments for USD 300-500 in safe areas, and that’s on a short term lease. If you’re staying long-term and you’re willing to search around for an unfurnished 12-month lease, you can find some incredible apartment deals in Cali.
- Winner: Cali.
Quality of Life
Quality of life in Bogota varies. On the one hand, you’ll find first-world amenities galore in places like Zona T. Chapinero is somewhat upscale as well and feels a bit like an upmarket American or European neighborhood. However, once you leave the tourist areas of the city, things start to get a little downtrodden, especially when you factor in the crime.
Cali offers a reasonably high quality of life in the nicer areas, but it isn’t anywhere near as developed as Bogota. In Cali, you’ll find more locally owned businesses and fewer American fast-food chains. But when you factor in the weather and low costs, you can still live a high quality of life here. Stick to one of the ritzier neighborhoods during your time in Cali.
- Winner: Tie. Cali would probably win overall, but Zona T is one amazing area in Bogota.
Friendliness of the Locals
While some around Colombia say Bogotanos are a cold, calculating bunch, I didn’t find that to be the case. I found the people in the capital to be exceptionally friendly and helpful provided you speak a little bit of Spanish and make an effort.
Caleños are incredibly friendly. However, they’re generally a little more reserved until you get to know them. I believe this is due to the high crime that’s plagued the city over the last decade or so–a trust no-one kind of thing. On the whole, the connections I made in Cali felt a bit deeper than the ones in Bogota.
- Winner: Tie. Bogota is better for making friends quickly. Cali is better for long-term connections.
Bogota has to be the most educated city in all of Latin America. It felt like nearly everyone in town already had a degree or was studying to get one. Everyone seems to have a decent job, too. Why? Because the city is way too expensive by Colombian standards to live in without working hard.
Cali is a bit different, but I was still impressed with the education level of the people who live in the city. While Bogota probably has Cali beat in the tertiary education stakes, Caleños take pride in being thoughtful and managing local businesses. I met many an entrepreneur in Cali.
- Winner: Bogota, but not by much.
As many people in Bogota are highly educated, you’ll find English speakers around seemingly every corner. While speaking Spanish will help you navigate the megacity, it’s not strictly necessary–you can get by with English without breaking a sweat. Of course, speaking decent Spanish will help you out a great deal, especially when it comes to forming meaningful relationships with the locals.
While English levels aren’t bad in Cali, they certainly don’t compare to Bogota. I found the more Spanish I learned, the better time I had in Cali. As such, I’d recommend learning a bit of the language before living here.
- Winner: Bogota by a slight margin.
Gringos. Can’t live with em’–can’t live without em’. Or maybe you can. Either way, it doesn’t matter. In my opinion, there aren’t that many gringos in either Cali or Bogota to worry about.
It’s not like either city has been overrun with alpaca-jumper-wearing, pasty-faced foreigners. We’re not talking Medellin or Cartagena here; there isn’t any gringo fatigue in either Bogota or Cali. Both cities provide ample opportunity to engage in authentic experiences with the local contingent. You’ll have a proper good Colombian experience no matter which option you choose.
- Winner: Tie.
Bogota isn’t a great city for nature lovers. It’s a bustling metropolis–a concrete jungle that spans over the horizon in every direction. To treat yourself to a quick nature fix, you’ll have to drive for at least 30 minutes before green trees start to fill the skyline. And that’s depending on the traffic. Sure, it does have a couple of humdrum plazas and so-so parks scattered around. But I don’t consider these to be pristine nature.
Cali, on the other hand, has numerous hiking options available within easy reach of the CBD. From Cerro de Tres Cruces to Pance and Lago Calima, there are plenty of places to get some fresh air and soak up some scenery while living in Cali.
- Winner: Cali by a long shot.
If you like to party, then the capital of Colombia is a hedonistic paradise par excellence. The rumba in Bogota is legendary, and all the hardworking, educated locals love to blow off steam on the weekends. Come to Zona T on the first Saturday after payday, and you’ll see what I mean–the whole barrio goes mental.
Cali is a little different. Unless you love salsa music, the nightlife here is going to get old quickly. Conversely, if you are into salsa, Cali has the best damn nightlife you’ve ever seen. Scores of salsatecas do a roaring trade almost every night of the week, and the locals are often happy to give a goofy gringo a whirl around the dancefloor (practice your steps first, doofus). I was never a big fan of the nightlife in Cali, but some people claim they’ve found a few decent crossover places.
- Winner: Bogota by a long shot.
Bogota Vs. Cali | Which City is Better For You?
Comparing Cali to Bogota is like comparing apples to oranges. These two cities don’t have a ton in common other than the fact they’re both in Colombia.
If you’re looking to explore Colombian culture and live on the cheap, then Cali is a no-brainer. The weather and nature in Cali are pretty tough to beat as well. Oh, and let’s not forget the salsa scene–literally the best in the world.
If you want big city vibes and fantastic nightlife, then Bogota is your go-to metropolis. The capital of Colombia boasts all the first-world amenities you could ask for and has more cool restaurants, bars, and clubs than you could visit in a lifetime.
So which city is best, then?
That’s up to you, jefe. Whatever floats your boat.
Winner: Tie. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
Looking to learn more about Colombian culture? Check out some of my other articles:
- Medellin Vs. Bogota: A Digital Nomad’s Guide to the Biggest Cities in Colombia
- Cali, Colombia Travel Guide For Digital Nomads
- Bogota Travel Guide For Digital Nomads