The 5 Best Cities to Visit in Colombia | ViaHero

The 5 Best Cities to Visit in Colombia

ViaHero · Updated August 22, 2018

If you’re thinking about traveling to Colombia, these are the cities you absolutely have to visit. Learn about the culture, food, and nightlife that await you in Colombia's most vibrant cities. Afterward, feel free to message us with any questions you have.

Want to make the most out of your trip? Tap into our network of local travel planners—Heroes—who build unique, locally-curated trip plans, designed just for you. Get started.

Bogota 

Colombia’s capital and largest city, Bogota is where history meets hipster

What you need to know about Bogota

bogota colombia cities in colombia

Nestled on a plateau high in the Andes, Bogota isn’t what most people picture when they think of Colombia. Cool and often foggy, Bogota averages a temperature of just 58° Fahrenheit throughout the year. Surrounded by lush Andean hills, Bogota’s colorful mix of colonial and modernist architecture makes it one the most stunning cities in the world. Just as importantly, Bogota is much safer than most people think.

Bogota's culture

Bogota Colombia

Bogota is composed of dozens of unique neighborhoods, all with their own culture and feel. Sure, you’d be remiss if you didn’t check out some of Bogota’s awesome museums (the Gold Museum is particularly incredible) or hang out in one of its countless parks—but the real Bogota is the one that only locals can show you: a youthful city of street art, live music, and dance halls far off the beaten path. For an authentic taste of Bogota’s vibrant culture, duck into a bar for a rowdy game of tejo—a sport that essentially boils down to tossing a metal puck at targets filled with gunpowder. No matter the time of night, it’ll be packed with locals from all walks of life enjoying good food, good company, and the occasional explosion.  

Food in Bogota

ajiaco in Bogota Colombia is great Colombian food

Like its residents, Bogota’s food traditions hail from across Colombia and beyond. If you’re looking for something authentically Bogota, however, try ajiaco—a stew made from chicken, several types of potatoes, and an herb called guascas, that’s eaten almost exclusively in Colombia. You can’t get much more authentic than that! And don’t forget to stop at one of Bogota’s innumerable street vendors for fried empanadas or meat-and-rice-filled tamales—one of our local trip planners can tell you where to find the best ones in the city. Suffice to say, Bogota's incredible gastronomy goes a long way toward making it one of the best places to visit in Colombia.

Bogota nightlife

Bogota nightlife club

It’s no secret that Bogota is one of the world’s party capitals - and its nightlife is as unique as its population! So whether you’re the type to grab a local microbrew in the hipster mecca that is Chapinero Alto (Bogota’s most trendy neighborhood), dance yourself silly at one of the abundant discos in Zona T (Bogota’s nightclub capital), or slug cheap beer and play tejo just about anywhere in the city, you’re guaranteed to have an experience you’ll never forget. 

Medellin

Known as "The City of Eternal Spring", Medellin is Colombia’s center of art and education

What you need to know about Medellin

No longer than the perilous city of the 1980’s, Medellin is the definition of a hidden gem. Known as “The City of Eternal Spring”, Medellin is perched high among the jagged peaks of the Andes and boasts an ideal average temperature of 72° Fahrenheit. Over a dozen universities, tons of public works projects, and a thriving textile industry are quickly transforming Medellin into Colombia’s capital of art and learning, and one of the country's top places to visit!

Food in Medellin

Bandeja Paisa tipica Medellin Colombia

You can’t talk Medellin without talking Paisa. The mountainous region of Northwest Colombia (of which Medellin is the de facto capital), Paisa’s food emphasizes simple ingredients cooked to perfection. To that end, if you find yourself in Medellin you’ve got no choice but to sit down to bandeja paisa—a platter of rice, beans, three kinds of meat, fried eggs, ripe plantain, and avocado. And if that’s not enough meat for you, you’ll also have to tuck into a bowl of mondongo—a traditional Paisa dish made from tripe, peppers, and vegetables.

Medellin's culture

Medellin metrocable

Medellin’s rich culture and incredible infrastructure often surprise visitors, but they shouldn’t! With so many universities, Medellin has a wealth of intellectual life. Clearly reflected in its world-renowned libraries, phenomenal art museums (like the phenomenal Museo de Antioquia) and countless public parks, Medellin is at the forefront of urban rejuvenation. In fact, Medellin was named The World’s Most Innovative City in 2013 and received the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize for urban development in 2016. Additionally, Medellin’s metro system was named one of the top transportation systems in the world in 2012.

Nightlife in Medellin

Medellin nightlife people dancing in Colombia

As in college towns everywhere, Medellin has more than its share of bars and clubs; however, it’s quickly becoming a culinary capital as well. Home to some of the hottest restaurants in South America, Medellin’s up-and-coming food scene is rivaled only by its active nightlife. So whether you love dancing salsa, fist-pumping to techno, or rocking out to impromptu street concerts while slamming back shots of aguardiente (an omnipresent Andean liqueur flavored with anise), you’re guaranteed to have the time of your life in Medellin after dark. Wander the streets yourself or ask one of our locals for recommendations!

Cartagena

Idyllic beaches and stunning Old Town make Cartagena a true Caribbean paradise

What you need to know about Cartagena

Located on Colombia’s northern coast, Cartagena is the quintessential Caribbean paradise. Cartagena's idyllic beaches border the walls of its exquisitely-preserved old town, where miles of cobblestone streets, stunning Spanish colonial architecture, and flower-covered balconies abound. World famous resorts, nightclubs, and coral reefs complete Cartagena’s picture of Caribbean perfection

Food in Cartagena

Pargo frito in Cartagena Colombia

As might be expected, Cartagena’s culinary heritage is largely based on the incredible seafood fished daily from its shores. Pargo frito, or fried whole red snapper, is a beloved staple; ceviches made with fresh octopus, shrimp, and whitefish are likewise popular throughout the city. If seafood isn’t your thing though, don’t worry! You can always enjoy classic Colombian fare like chocolate con queso—fresh white cheese dipped in frothy hot cocoa. Trust us—it’s a revelation in your mouth.

Cartagena's culture

Cartagena culture in Colombia woman in Palenque afro-Colombian

Cartagena is known for its safety, warmth, and joie de vivreand the locals certainly know how to party! Cartagena’s calendar is chock-full of festivals, and since the city was once a refuge for freed slaves, its culture has a rich Afro-Caribbean feel to it. Dance parties to champeta—a style of music that mixes that Spanish and African elements—are incredibly common. Known as picos, these open-air fiestas are a gorgeous representation of Cartagena’s unique multi-ethnic culture.

Nightlife in Cartagena

Cartagena nightlife

While Cartagena doesn’t have the same abundance of nightclubs as do Bogota or Medellin, it has something that’s arguably better—it’s very own party island! A 45-minute boat ride from the mainland, Cholon is a floating fiesta for locals and travelers alike. Soaked in rum, food, and music, this party paradise is unlike anything else in the world. Need we say more?

Cali 

Grittier than some of its more traveler-friendly neighbors, Cali is still packed with culture, fun, and (most importantly) salsa dancing

What you need to know about Cali

Although its full name is “Santiago de Cali”, this up-and-coming city is known to locals simply as “Cali”. Spread over the tropical savanna plains of the Cauca Valley, Cali boasts warm afternoons and cool, breezy evenings. Due in part to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Cali is known as a center of industry; more importantly, however, it’s also known as the world capital of salsa dancing!  

Food in Cali

pandebono cheese bread in Cali Colombia

For a truly authentic taste of Cali’s Cauca region, try a lulada. Made by mixing lulo fruit (native to the area) with lime juice, water, and sugar, this smoothie-like drink is often served with a shot of vodka or aguardiente for extra kick. If you end up drinking one too many (and who could blame you), soak it up with some pandebono! A thick, delicious cheese roll made with corn flour, cassava, and eggs, pandebono is a Cali specialty served at bakeries throughout the city. Eat it the traditional way—hot out of the oven with a frothy mug of hot chocolate.

Cali's culture

Cali Colombia

In a more transitional state than its neighboring cities, Cali is still recovering from the issues of the 1980s and ‘90s. To that end, safety in Cali is more of a concern than in Bogota or Medellin, which are somewhat more rejuvenated (click here for advice on how to stay safe in Colombia). That being said, Cali’s charms are undeniable. As the world capital of salsa dancing, Cali boasts countless salsa bars, mostly in its beloved Juanchito neighborhood. Other cultural attractions include the Gato del Rio, a three-ton bronze cat sculpture on the bank of the Cali River, and Cristo Rey, an 85-foot statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the city.

Cali nightlife

Cali salsa nightlife

Salsa dancing is Cali’s beating heart; salsa schools abound, and dances often start in the afternoon and continue late into the night. Young and old, rich and poor—everyone is welcome, and everyone dances. Along with its ever-present salsa scene, Cali is packed with bars and clubs, particularly in the Granada neighborhood. As Colombia’s official “Center of Sports”, Cali is home to multiple professional soccer teams—and if you’re lucky enough to visit during the Feria de Cali festival in late December, you’ll have the even have the chance to watch a bullfight or two! Just remember: drive-by robberies occasionally do happen, and safety is paramount—so if you’re traveling to Cali make sure to ask one of our Colombian travel experts for advice on how to stay safe!

Barranquilla

The gem of Colombia’s north coast, Barranquilla’s legendary Carnival celebration is second to none

What you need to know about Barranquilla

view of Barranquilla Colombia

Known as Colombia’s Golden Gate, Barranquilla is one of the most important industrial cities in Colombia. As the country’s busiest port, Barranquilla boasts a plethora of trade and manufacturing power—but anyone from the area will tell you that Barranquilleros are prouder of their warm, authentic culture than of anything else. Barranquilla’s strength has played a huge role in Colombia’s modernization, and though Barranquilla’s reputation for safety may not be as good as that of Bogota or Cartagena, the city—like the rest of Colombia—is on an unprecedented upswing.

Barranquilla's culture

Barranquilla Colombia festival in dresses

The culture of Barranquilla revolves around one thing—Carnival! The second-largest Carnival festival in the entire world, Barranquilla’s 4-day fiesta is a nonstop explosion of bright colors, massive parades, live music, drinking, and dancing throughout the streets. While it’s the biggest bringer of travelers to Barranquilla, even the locals can’t get enough of the festivities; Colombians visit the city from all over the country to celebrate. Dating all the way back to the 19th century, Barranquilla’s Carnival celebration is deeply rooted in the city’s history.

Food in Barranquilla

fried catfish in Barranquilla Colombia

With cuisine inspired by the freshness of the Caribbean, Barranquilla’s food includes delicious seafood, flaky pastries, and pungent citrus flavors. Some must-try dishes include fried catfish (caught fresh every morning), rice with chipi chipi (small boiled clams), and authentic butifarra (spicy sausage). Before your trip, be sure to chat with one of our Colombian travel experts to find out the best restaurants at which to satisfy your cravings for Colombia cuisine.

Barranquilla nightlife

Carnival in Barranquilla Colombia

The city of Barranquilla is buzzing throughout the late hours of the night! The two most beloved going-out neighborhoods in the city are El Centro and Alta del Prado. Here, you can find an abundance of authentic bars and lively nightclubs. Moral of the story—even if you miss Carnival, you’re still going to have a fabulous time in this explosively fun city.

Have more questions about traveling to Colombia? Here’s a list of our local Colombian travel experts who can help you, or you can message us any questions you have. And before your trip, make sure to check out:

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