Bogota Vs. Cali: A Gringo’s Guide to Colombian Culture, Salsa Vibes, & City Living

Bogota Vs. Cali? Which city offers a better glimpse into Colombian culture for the traveling gringo? Well, that all depends on who you ask and what you want to do.

Cali may be the cheapest big city in Colombia. The city features smooth salsa vibes in discos throughout the city and a slower pace of life than Bogota. Plus, the weather is absolutely fantastic.

Bogota is the capital of Colombia and one of the biggest cities in all of Latin America. As the New York City of Colombia, Bogota offers big city living and world-class nightlife nearly every single day.

But, which city is better for you…

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Bogota Vs. Cali: A Gringo’s Guide to Colombian Culture, Salsa Vibes, & City Living

If you’re looking to compare Bogota versus Cali and see which city features the Colombian culture you seek, you’re in the right spot.

Below I detail anything a traveling gringo may want to consider when comparing Bogota vs. Cali:

City Size

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 what you want.

Cali, Colombia isn’t close to the size of Bogota. In fact, Cali has 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.

Infrastructure

As I’ve said before, the infrastructure in Bogota isn’t amazing. In fact, it’s pretty average for a mega city. Traffic is absolutely horrific in the city and public transport leaves a lot to be desired, especially when safety is taken into account.

Cali really isn’t better from an infrastructure standpoint. The public transportation, like the Mio, isn’t exactly spectacular, either. The one area where Cali beats Bogota here? The traffic in Cali isn’t that bad when compared with Bogota.

  • Winner: Cali, due to less traffic. 

Weather

Bogota weather is trash. It’s somewhat cold all year around, the sun rarely shines, and rain is more than common. I’m not a fan of Bogota’s climate at all.

Cali, on the other hand, offers amazing weather near year around. While some say Cali is too hot, I’d argue it’s just right.

Cali features temperatures around high 70s or low 80s during the day. 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 a little more expensive than the other cities in the country. Still, Bogota is quite cheap compared to Western prices.

Cali is cheap compared to nearly everywhere. Cost of living is quite low. You can find furnished apartments for $300-500 USD in safe areas. If you’re willing to search around, you can find some incredible apartment deals in Cali.

  • Winner: Cali. 

Quality of Life

Quality of life in Bogota varies greatly. On one hand, you have first-world amenities galore in a place like Zona T. Chapinero is fairly upscale, too. Once you get out of the tourist areas in the city, things take a drastic drop in quality, especially when you factor in the weather and crime.

Cali offers a fairly high quality of life, but isn’t nearly as developed as Bogota. In Cali, you’ll find more local owned businesses and less chain restaurants. When you factor in the weather and low costs, you can still live a high quality of life here.

  • Winner: Tie. Cali would probably win overall, but Zona T is one amazing area in Bogota. 

Friendliness of Locals

While some around Colombia say Bogotanos are a cold, calculating bunch – I didn’t find that to be the case. In fact, I found the people in the capital to be exceptionally friendly and helpful – provided you speak a just a little bit of Spanish.

Calenos are incredibly friendly, too. However, there a little more reserved until you get to know them. I believe this is due to the crime in the city over the past decade. Overall, the connections I made in Cali were a bit deeper than the ones in Bogota.

  • Winner: Tie. Bogota is better for making friends quickly. Cali is better for long-term connections. 

Education Levels

Bogota has to be the most educated city in all of Latin America. Nearly everyone in the city had a degree or is studying. Everyone has a job, too. Why? Because the city is way too expensive (by Colombian standards) to live in without working.

Cali is a bit different, but I was still impressed with the education levels of many in the city. While Bogota probably has them beat, Calenos take pride in education and managing their businesses in the city. I met many an entrepreneur in Cali.

  • Winner: Bogota, but not by much. 

English Levels

As many in Bogota are highly educated, you’ll find English speakers around every corner. While speaking Spanish will help you navigate this mega city, it’s not absolutely necessary. You can get by with just English for a bit.

While English levels aren’t bad in Cali, they certainly don’t compare to Bogota. Personally, I found the more Spanish I learned, the better time I had in Cali. As such, I’d recommend learning a bit before living in Cali, Colombia.

  • Winner: Bogota by a slight margin.

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Gringo Fatigue

Gringos. Can’t live with em’ – can’t live without em’. Or maybe you can. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, there just aren’t that many gringos in either Cali or Bogota to worry about.

We’re not talking Medellin or Cartagena here. There really isn’t any gringo fatigue in either Bogota or Cali.

  • Winner: Tie.

Nature

Bogota simply isn’t a great city for nature lovers. Bogota is a bustling metropolis. It’s a big city. To get into nature, you’ll have at least a 30-minute drive before green trees fill the skyline. I don’t consider a few parks as great nature.

Cali, on the other hand, has numerous hiking options available. From Cerro de Tres Cruces to Pance to Lago Calima – you’ll have many ways to get some fresh air while living in Cali.

  • Winner: Cali by a long shot. 

Nightlife

Bogota offers some of the best nightlife in all of Latin America. If you like to party, then the capital of Colombia could be paradise. The rumba in Bogota is near legendary and all the hardworking, educated locals love to blow off steam on the weekends.

Cali is a little different. Unless you really love salsa music, the nightlife here is going to get old quickly. Personally, I was never a 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?

Overall, comparing Cali to Bogota is like comparing apples to oranges. These two large cities don’t have a ton in common outside of being in Colombia.

If you’re looking to explore Colombian culture, dance salsa, and live cheaply – then Cali is a no-brainer. The weather and nature in Cali is pretty tough to beat, too.

If you want big city vibes and amazing nightlife, then Bogota simply cannot be beat. The capital of Colombia also features all the first-world amenities you’d ever want.

Winner: Tie. It all depends on what you’re looking for. 

P.S: Make sure to learn a little Spanish before you go!

Looking to learn more about Colombian culture? Check out some of my other articles:

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Jake D

Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.

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