Cities in Colombia: A Gringo’s Go-To Guide When Visiting

Many a gringo imagines Colombia as a country hot chicks, drugs around every corner, and violence. Nothing more. Nothing less. And this couldn’t be further from the truth. Colombia is a country of around 50 million people. There are dozens of big cities in Colombia, and each one has a unique culture and flavor all its own.

While most travelers make a beeline straight for Medellin or Cartagena, I checked out nearly every decent sized city in the country. I wanted to dive in and experience the true culture of the country.

And I needed to improve my Spanish, which meant getting away from other gringos.

Spanish is essential in Colombia. Click here to start learning this “love language” today!

Cities in Colombia: A Gringo’s Go-To Guide When Visiting

After I visited a variety of cities in Colombia, I wanted to put together an article about which cities are best for traveling gringos, digital nomads, and people looking to get off the beaten path in the South American country.

Save a horse. Ride a gringo. Life in the coffee region.

So here it is. Below you’ll find the definitive guide to Colombian cities. If you’re interested in safety in Colombia, read this. If you want to know more about the culture, check this out.

Alright, let’s dive in:

Bogota

 

  • Population: 8 million or more.
  • What’s It Like: Bogota is the capital of the country and the biggest city in Colombia. The sprawling South American metropolis features bad weather, horrible traffic, and the best nightlife on the continent. Plus, the people here are well-educated and intelligent. English levels are high. The city is pricier than every other Colombian city, but does have it’s charm. I’ve spent nearly five months here.
  • Pros: Best nightlife in Colombia, huge population, huge city, modern amenities found in Zona T, good English levels, intelligent people.
  • Cons: Horrible weather, horrible traffic, pricey.
  • Best For: Gringos who love to party and don’t mind the terrible weather. Don’t come here if your budget is really tight.

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The worst smelling waterfall of all-time near Bogota.

Medellin

  • Population: Nearing 3 million.
  • What It’s Like: The “City of Eternal Spring” has a reputation for near perfect weather year around, stunningly hot women, and drugs. Some consider all three a huge benefit. As such, Medellin is wildly popular with gringos and digital nomads. You’ll see more foreigners here than almost anywhere else. The city has been cleaned up, but can still be a bit dangerous in areas.
  • Pros: Amazing weather, fairly low costs, decent looking female population, lots of gringo-oriented tourism and nightlife.
  • Cons: Overrun with tourists, a stigma attached to male travelers, costs are rising, semi-dangerous.
  • Best For: People who enjoy hanging out with other travelers. Medellin is also good if you love great weather or find the girls more attractive than other Colombian cities.

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Cartagena

  • Population: Around 1 million.
  • What It’s Like: A stunning colonial city situated at the beach, Cartagena has a lot to offer with regards to tourism. It’s hot, the beaches are solid, and the nightlife is good. Cartagena certainly isn’t my favorite city, but it has certain charms. I recommend the place for short trips. More than a month in Cartagena would make a sane person lose their damn mind.
  • Pros: Beach life, solid population, lots of tourism.
  • Cons: Aggressive locals, lots of sex tourism, an expensive city in Colombia.
  • Best For: Visit Cartagena. Enjoy the amazing tourism. It’s amazing for a week or so trip. Then get out. One week is more than enough for most travelers.

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Cartagena has some nice beaches.

Cali

  • Population: A little over 2 million.
  • What It’s Like: Cali, Colombia has a strong and unique culture. Out of the major Colombia cities, Cali certainly has the strongest culture – in my opinion. The salsa dancing capital of the world is filled with good looking people and stunning nature surrounding the city. Plus, Cali is the cheapest big city in Colombia, too. I’m a fan.
  • Pros: Cheap city, unique culture, friendly and proud locals, lots of nature surrounding the city.
  • Cons: Most dangerous city in Colombia, nightlife can be lacking.
  • Best For: Digital nomads looking for a cheap place to base up and live or travelers looking to learn salsa dancing.

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Barranquilla

  • Population: Roughly 1.5 million.
  • What It’s Like: As the economic capital of the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Barranquilla is a unique place. For most travelers, it’s a pass. There’s just no tourism to do in the city. At all. Whatsoever. However, the nightlife can be fun here, and the people are friendly. Unless you have online work, I can’t recommend the city.
  • Pros: No other travelers, great place to get work done as there isn’t much to do, friendly locals, decent nightlife.
  • Cons: There is NOTHING to do from a tourism standpoint, not a cheap city, no tourism infrastructure.
  • Best For: Digital nomads looking to base up and get a lot of work done. Regular tourists and travelers won’t find much of interest here.

Santa Marta

  • Population: 500,000 give or take.
  • What It’s Like: If you’re looking for beaches and tourism, then this the best of the cities in Colombia. Santa Marta is filled with amazing beaches, lots of things to do, and great nightlife. For travelers, this may be the best city in the whole country. Parque Tayrona is an absolute MUST when visiting this Caribbean city.
  • Pros: Tons of stuff to do, Parque Tayrona, beaches, great nightlife, lots of tourism infrastructure.
  • Cons: Tons of travelers, hot as heck, not as much Colombian culture as other cities.
  • Best For: People traveling around who like beaches and nightlife. While I wouldn’t recommend basing up here, you’ll find the city is amazing for tourism.

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Taganga, one of the many beaches near Santa Marta.

Periera

  • Population: Nearly 600,000.
  • What It’s Like: I was surprised to find out I was such a fan of Periera. This mid-sized Colombian city in the coffee region offers ideal weather, friendly locals, and stunning views. Prices are cheap here, nightlife is decent, and there are a few cool tourist activities to partake in. While the city is too small for most, digital nomads may find the place ideal for work-life balance.
  • Pros: Low costs, great weather, friendly people, enough things to do.
  • Cons: Hard to get to, smaller city, not a MUST when visiting Colombia.
  • Best For: Digital nomads looking to base up in a smaller city or travelers looking to get off the beaten path in Colombia.

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Armenia

  • Population: A little under 300,000.
  • What It’s Like: Armenia is a lot like Pereira, but it’s a little more dangerous and smaller. I thought the city was quite nice, but I can’t imagine spending time here when you could go to Periera. Armenia still has its charms though, and it’s closer to Cali and Bogota by bus.
  • Pros: Low costs, good weather, super friendly people.
  • Cons: A bit more dangerous than Pereira, not as much to do, nightlife isn’t great.
  • Best For: Armenia is fine for a visit, but I wouldn’t recommend staying for more than a few days.

Armenia is a pretty city – for sure!

Manizales

  • Population: Nearing 400,000.
  • What It’s Like: I found Manizales to be like a mini-Bogota. The weather was a bit colder, and the sun didn’t shine as much. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan. However, the city does feature amazing views, high university population, and friendly locals. There’s also some amazing tourism to do here.
  • Pros: A few cool tourist activities, friendly people, low costs, lots of university students.
  • Cons: Colder than other coffee region cities, hilly city that isn’t too walkable.
  • Best For: I could see a digital nomad basing up here, but it wasn’t for me. Some people who like cooler weather absolutely rave about the city, though. For travelers, it’s a few days at max.

Ibague

  • Population: About 550,000.
  • What It’s Like: I spent a full month here. There’s not many gringos or travelers. There’s not much tourism. However, it’s crazy cheap, and the people are amazing here. I really enjoyed it and may return someday. If you don’t have work online here, you’ll get incredibly bored quickly.
  • Pros: Cheap, no other gringos, friendly people, safe.
  • Cons: Little to do, lacking in tourism infrastructure.
  • Best For: If you’re a digital nomad looking to get off the beaten path, this is a good spot. If you need a lot of action, you’ll hate it here.

Read More:

Popayan

  • Population: About 250,000.
  • What It’s Like: Small Colombian city in the south of the country. The weather wasn’t great when I went, and the city isn’t exactly developed. My Airbnb didn’t even have Internet. While this city in Colombia has a little charm, I see no reason to go back anytime soon.
  • Pros: Cheap, relaxing city.
  • Cons: Boring with little infrastructure.
  • Best For: Not sure. Unless you really like to get away from other travelers, I wouldn’t recommend this spot.

Click here to learn more!

Places I Haven’t Been

I’ve been to all the cities in Colombia listed above. Below you’ll find a quick list of other Colombian cities that interest me. I won’t comment on them, as I haven’t visited:

  • Bucaramanga: Population of nearly 1.2 million in the metro area. Solid extreme sports nearby.
  • Valledupar: Population of 300,000 and home of vallenato music.
  • Buenaventura: Small city on Colombia’s Pacific coast that offers great views of whales at certain times of the year.
  • Cucuta: Population of 850,000 or so. On the border with Venezuela, this city is dangerous, but doesn’t see many travelers.
  • Pasto: Nearly 500,000. A small city near Ecuador in the south of Colombia. Fun fact: the prettiest Colombia girl I ever went on a date with was from here.
  • Villavicencio: Small city of 300,000 just south of Bogota. Worth a weekend trip.

Straight flexin’ in Medellin with the big homie.

Cities in Colombia: A Gringo’s Go-To Guide When Visiting

That’s what I know about cities in Colombia. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you’re a gringo looking to travel around the country, the info above should help you find the perfect places to live or travel to.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about Colombian cities – sound off in the comments.

Coming to Colombia soon? Get $40 off your first Airbnb rental by clicking here!

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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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