Colombia’s four major cities have a lot to offer–from culture to cuisine to just plain sybaritic seaside bliss. During our exploration of Colombia, we spent many weeks in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena. Use our Colombian cities travel guide to choose the metropolis that’s right for you and make the most of your trip to Colombia.
Bogota: capital city dazzleThe capital of Colombia is a sprawling and bustling center of business and government with a surprisingly rich cultural scene and an absolutely world-class dining scene. The city has distinct neighborhoods (some featuring colonial structures and other thoroughly modern) and many of areas of the city are pretty walkable which makes city exploration enjoyable. But come dressed for the weather–at just over 8,600 feet/2,600 meters, Bogota can be cold.
Walking is the best way to take in the famous street art of Bogota which includes traditional work, paste-ups, and big murals from Colombian artists and artists from around the world.Bogota also has a strong selection of museums, including the excellent (and free) Gold Museum.
If it’s food you’re after, Bogota is the Colombian city for you with chart-toppers of all sorts located all around the city. Our favorite places to eat in Bogota include Prudencia (for lovingly crafted Colombian comfort food), Mesa Franca (upstarts with creativity to spare), El Chato (from rising star chef Alvaro Clavijo), Restaurante Leo (gourmet hyper-regional cuisine from one of the most famous chefs in South America), and La Fama (legit bbq).
As with many large cities, Bogota also has a well-developed bar scene including Bar Enano (a petite place serving classy cocktails) which made our list of favorite places to drink in Bogota.
We’re sure you’ll find fresh favorites as the cuisine scene in Bogota continues to evolve.
Medellin: traditional and modernMany people call Medellin the city of eternal spring because this city, located in a wide valley in the Andes, has famously mild weather year-round. But the concept of spring fits the city’s spirit of innovation and reinvention as well. A public transportation system that includes a network of trains and cable cars and architecturally-notable public libraries are just two of the innovative features of the second-largest city in Colombia. The annual Flower Festival is a colorful celebration of local Antioquian culture and traditions. Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero was born in Medellin and the city is home to great representations of his paintings and sculptures including a museum dedicated to his work and an outdoor gallery of 23 of Botero’s signature voluptuous bronze figures.
Medellin is currently enjoying a welcome burst of notable restaurants and hotels and this city was an early adopter of the craft beer craze.
Cartagena: Caribbean charmFor pure selection of great restaurants, bars, and hotels you can’t beat Cartagena whose historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984, is crammed with some of the best places to eat (including El Boliche Cevicheria and Carmen) and best places to drink (including El Baron for creative cocktails and sexy Demente) in the country plus top hotels (including boutique stunners like Hotel Casa San Agustin and Casa Pestagua which are crafted into the bones of colonial buildings).
Add in this city’s seaside Caribbean location, colonial architecture, and a healthy dose of history (including one of the oldest and largest forts built by the Spanish conquistadors) and you’ve got a sybaritic winner.
Cali: steamy sultry salsaSteamy is a word that aptly describes both the climate and the vibe in Cali. This self-proclaimed Salsa Capital of the World lives and breathes music and dance from its location in south central Colombia and even newbies will find the chance to sample salsa.
Cali is also flavored by a strong Caribbean culture which affects its mood and its food with ingredients like tropical fruit, fish, and seafood taking center stage at restaurants like Pacifico which has been serving up Cali-style seafood since 1975.
Getting around Colombian cities
Colombia can be time-consuming and complicated to travel around, even between major cities thanks to three branches of the Andes that run the length of the country and though many highways are being upgraded, it’s still common for major roadways to have very slow and congested areas. For help navigating the transportation options in Colombia, check out 12Go. This clearing house for bus, flight, and taxi options throughout Colombia clearly lists prices, trip duration, departure and arrival times, and other important information so that travelers can compare all of the transportation options at a glance before booking.
Here’s more about travel in Colombia