Largest Cities in Colombia: How to stop hating them

Largest Cities in Colombia: How to stop hating them

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People love to get quick tips for exploring the largest cities in Colombia. They want to eat in secret restaurants, live authentic experiences and sleep in untypical accommodations

Although big cities in Colombia don’t have the charm of Paris or Rome, Colombians don’t have to be envious of the European Capitals.

Their main Colombia cities are full of life, history, and secrets. But sometimes, you need time and advice to appreciate them and feel their soul throughout the walls. It’s one of my favorite thing about Colombia.

Protected by massive yellow walls, the old city center of Cartagena de Indias is made of cobblestone streets, brightly colored houses and flourish balconies. At night, carriages drive lovers to expensive restaurants while youth backpackers enjoy the nightlife in Getsemani.

In Cali, everything relates to Salsa. Schools and professional teachers transform shy foreigners into amazing performers. They dance all night long, using their new Salsa moves with friendly locals.

Bogota is a whirlwind hard to appreciate at the beginning. But the capital has a lot to offer throughout its events, world-famous restaurants, tours, and techno parties.

And who could not fall in love with Medellin, the city of the eternal spring? The trendy Cafes host a growing community of digital nomads and students keen to improve their Spanish before their next adventure into the fantastic department of Antioquia.

Would you like to know more about it? Let’s find out together the essential about the largest cities in Colombia.

Big best Cities to Visit in Colombia

Table of Contents

  1. Mini Bogota Travel Guide
  2. Mini Cartagena Travel Guide
  3. Mini Medellin Travel Guide
  4. Mini Cali Travel Guide
  5. Safety and Events in Big cities

I) How to explore Bogota | The Largest city in Colombia

Bogota is the biggest city in Colombia. As any capital in the world, it’s messy, and inhabitants are usually unhappy – people who have been in Paris know what I’m talking about.

Moreover, the evenings are cold and La Candelaria is a dodgy district at night. For many of you, it won’t be the best city to visit in Colombia, especially if you only stay for 2 days.

Did I break the atmosphere? Yeah probably.  But ask the other travelers around you. They will tell you the same.

However, you can be the Chosen One who gonna learn how to enjoy the citySorry Neo. Because YES, it’s one of the best main cities to travel in Colombia and there are plenty of great experiences to live in Bogota.

Ready?

A view of the center of Bogota with the Andes

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1. Information and tips about Bogota, the largest city of Colombia

Bogota is like coffee. You don’t like it first, but then you take another sip. And in the end, you love it.

Find out the cliché/ truths/secret about Bogota (+)

  • It’s cold at night. Don’t forget to take a pant and a jacket
  • The party district is around Parque de la 93 (Zona Rosa)
  • Check out the District G to find a good restaurant
  • It’s a bicycle-friendly city
  • The traffic jams are horrible
  • La Candelaria district is dodgy at night
  • Chapinero is a better district for booking accommodations
  • Bogota loves techno party events
  • It’s because of Justin Bieber that Graffitis are allowed in La Candelaria – True story.
  • There are many day trips outside of Bogota
  • Weekend in Villa de Leyva
  • Don’t hesitate to book a tour to discover the city. We heard great things about Heroes tour Bogota (Free Walking tour)

2. Things to do and see in Bogota, the largest city of Colombia

When I first came to Bogota, I was lost. It’s a huge city with 9 million inhabitants, and I had only heard about three things: La Candelaria, the Salt Cathedral, and the Gold Museum.

But there are many better options.

Cool things you can do and see in Bogota (+)

  • Book a tour to discover the city and learn about Colombian history. Some are free, others not. Choose between food/beer/cafe/walking/bicycle tours. More information in my Bogota Itinerary
  • Try the local food at Paloquemao Market
  • Play a Tejo game (National sport)
  • Visit the Botero Museum
  • Go to Monserrate and stay there for the sunset. Moreover, there is a lovely restaurant to order an early dinner or a drink
  • The Gold Museum is boring after 1 hour
  • Zipaquira (salt cathedral) is such a touristy place. Nemocon is another Salt Cathedral 30 min away
  • The flea market every Sunday in Usaquen
  • Try the restaurant Andres Carne de Res in Chia
  • Taste the best coffees in Bogota
  • Live a fantastic coffee experience with Karen.

Hiking day trips from Bogota (+)

Bogota is surrounded by the Andean mountains. There are also many different day-trips to do if you like hiking (with local guides):

  • National Park Chingaza
  • National Park Sumapaz
  • Guatavita lake
Chingaza Lake

3. Where to go out in Bogota, the largest city in Colombia

More and more Colombians fall in love with craft beers. Hence, famous breweries  – cerveceria – start appearing in Bogota. The majority of them are located in Teusaquillo  (South of Chapinero district).

Excellent Breweries in Bogota (+)

  • Asilo Bar
  • Radio Transistor Bar
  • Animal Noise
  • Statua Rota

While it’s fun to wander among the graffiti streets, La Candelaria is not the best option for going out at night.

There are new clubs every week in La Zona Rosa (Around Parque 93). It’s one of the safest districts in Bogota where wealthy Colombians like to party, especially on Pay Day. But don’t expect to find great parties on Sundays and Mondays.

Where to party in Bogota (+)

Most of the clubs have a dress code (No flip-Flop and shorts), and you will have to pay a cover to get in (Around 20 000 COP).

Nomadic hustle has given up his liver to explore the best clubs of the Zona Rosa.

Nightlife in Bogota, major city in Colombia

Another and cheaper option is to discover the nightlife in Chapinero. Nightclubs are more scattered in the district so I would advise you to get an Uber or a taxi.

Nightclubs in Chapinero:

  • Theatron
  • Video Club
  • Cachao
  • Latino Power

More information:

GreyWorldNomads had a great time in Bogota

Don’t forget to check out our Map of Colombia to find your next destination!

4. Map of Bogota, the largest city in Colombia

Check out the Map of Bogota, Colombia to get a better visualization of the districts.

The Districts in Bogota Best cities to visit in Colombia
The Districts in Bogota

Back to the Table Of Contents

Keep reading: Find out all our articles about Bogota

II) How to explore Cartagena | One of the largest cities in Colombia

Cartagena de Indias is like Legoland but with Gringos instead of cute Lego faces. The city was the first to shine on the international stage, and it became THE place to be on the Carribean coast of Colombia.

Giants buildings popped up in Boca Grande to welcome wealthy tourists and Colombians who rush every summer holidays into the city to wander among the cobblestone streets. The old city center and its colonial houses are astonishing, and lovers will spend some great romantic days there.

Because of mass tourism, there are less and less authentic experiences in Cartagena de Indias. For me, it’s my least favorite major city to visit in Colombia and visitors shouldn’t spend much of their time there. Except if they want to chill and do nothing.

City wall cartagena
Old city center

1. Information and tips about Cartagena de Indias, one of the largest cities in Colombia

List of the important things you should know about Cartagena (+)

  • Boca Grande district doesn’t look like Colombia. I am surprised they still speak Spanish.
  • The beaches in town are disappointing. 
  • The prices increase by 2 or 3 during the high season (December to February)
  • Don’t take the 1-day tour to the Rosario islands or the Mud Volcano. They suck
  • Yes, it can rain on the Caribbean Coast. Rainy months are April, May, September, October, and November.
  • Getsemani district is cheaper and 5 min away from the city center
  • You don’t have to book a tour to visit the islands around. Avoid the weekends
  • You can take a shuttle to get to Isla Baru
  • Colombia is a friendly city to visit with kids

2. Things to do and see in Cartagena de Indias, one of the largest cities in Colombia

Cartagena de Indias is a city where you are bored after a few days. There is no museum or fun things to do during the day – Except wandering in Old city and Getsemani. However, there are some fantastic islands to discover.

Fun things to do in Cartagena (+)

  • Watch the sunset from the walls
  • Book a free walking tour of the old city center
  • Organise a trip to the islands around Cartagena (Tierra Bomba, Rosario Islands)
  • Eat ice cream in la Paleteria
  • Savor a fresh Ceviche
  • Taste the Posta Negra de Cartagenera in the Restaurant La Cocina de Pepina
  • Enjoy the nightlife and the street foods on Trinidad square (Getsemani)
  • Visit San Basilio de Palenque
  • Take a taxi to Convento de la Popa to enjoy a great view of the city
  • Read the Ultimate list of things to do in Cartagena from DeskToDirtBag
Map of Cartagena and Around
Activities Around Cartagena

3. Where to go out in Cartagena de Indias, one of the largest cities in Colombia

Usually, wealthy tourists go out in the old city center. There are many bars and a few nightclubs with a strict dress code. 

Bars in the old city center (+)

  • Salsa Donde Fidel | Tiny Salsa Bar
  • La Jugada Clubhouse | Trendy/hype 3-floors nightclub
  • Beer lovers | Large choice of Craft beers
  • Alquimico Bar| Excellent cocktails

I prefer the nightlife in Getsemani. Travelers meet on Trinidad square to watch bands performing music and other shows. Plus, there is a little shop around the corner where people buy cheap cold beer in a bottle. I love frozen Aguila.

Then the party goes on in the different clubs around.

Bars and clubs in Getsemani (+)

  • Bazurto Social Club | Champeta music
  • Demente | Cocktail bar
  • Havana Cafe | Salsa music
  • Mister Babilla | Crossover Music
  • Ethical Bar| Cheap & Fun, perfect for backpackers
  • Black Parrot | Rock

4. Map of Cartagena, the most popular city in Colombia

Check out the Map of Cartagena, Colombia to get a better visualization of the districts.

Map of Cartagena, one of the largest cities in Colombia
Map of Cartagena, Colombia

Back to the Table Of Contents

Read more: Find out more articles about Cartagena

III) How to explore Medellin | One of the largest cities in Colombia

Because of the drug wars in ’80s-’90s, Medellin wasn’t one of the best major cities to visit in Colombia. Murders, bombs, and kidnapping are not ideal ingredients for a successful party.

But today, everything is different. Indeed, Medellin attracts the majority of the expats and the digital nomads coming to Colombia.

Why?

The answer is simple.

There is perfect weather, a fantastic department (Antioquia), a fun nightlife, friendly inhabitants and the subway serves all the different districts, even the poor communities, to fight against the partitioning.

For many travelers, Medellin is the best main city to visit in Colombia.

Cable Car Medellin
Cable Car in Medellin

1. Information and tips about Medellin, one of the largest cities in Colombia

Medellin attracts more and more tourists so you’ll have to get off the beaten path to find the best authentic experiences. Let’s find out the different tips I learned from my various stays in the city.

Important things you shold know about Medellin (+)

  • Nightlife in Medellin is almost dead from Sunday to Wednesday
  • Poblado district is great to hang out an afternoon, but it’s not the best district to stay in Medellin
  • Laureles district is a lot more authentic
  • The Metro is perfect, cheap and easy to use. Find a hostel near a metro station
  • Don’t joke about drugs and Pablo Escobar
  • You have to book the Free Walking tour a few days in advance
  • Don’t book a tour to travel to Guatape. It’s super easy to get there.
  • Bandeja Paisa is the national food
  • The inhabitants are called Paisa
  • Pueblito Paisa is useless
Explor park in Medellin -E- Fotos593
Explorer park in Medellin
| Shutterstock: Fotos593

2. Things to do and see in Medellin, one of the largest cities in Colombia

With the aerial metro, it’s easy to reach the different parts of the city. Here is a list of cool things to do:

Cool things to do in Medellin (+)

  • Free walking tours in the center to learn more about the bloody history of Medellin | Prado Station
  • Learn about Botero at the Antioquia museum, on Botero Square | Parque Berrio Station
  • The Street art in Comuna 13 | San Javier Station
  • Take the metro cable to get a great view of Medellin. The best time for it is at sunset as you can see the enlighten streets | Santo Domingo Station
  • Attend a Football game – Buy the ticket at the stadium |  El Estadio Station
  • Explora Park (Aquarium & Interactive Museum)+ Botanica Garden | Universidad Station
  • Paragliding above Medellin from San Felix
  • Sunbath on trendy cafe terraces in Poblado
  • Take Salsa Lessons with Salsa Classes Medellin
  • Tenthousandsstrangers explains to you what to do on a short Layover trip to Medellin

2 easy day trips from Medellin (+)

There are also 2 famous day-trips you can easily organize. Bus frequently leaves every 30 min from the North terminal :

  • Day trip to El peñol and Guatape | 2 hours by bus – 14 000 COP one way
  • Day trip to El Puente de Occidente & Santa Fe de Antioquia | 1h30 by bus – 12 000 COP one way

Where to learn Spanish in Medellin (+)

Medellin is also one of the best cities to visit in Colombia to learn Spanish. The Paisas don’t have a strong accent, and they love speaking with everyone. Check out: 

Map Metro Of Medellin
Map Metro Of Medellin

3. Where to go out in Medellin, one of the largest cities in Colombia

As in Bogota, there are cool breweries in Medellin. You should check them out if you’re a fan of craft beers:

Where to drink craft beers in Medellin (+)

  • Apostol | Sabaneta Station
  • 3 Cordiellaras | Industriales Station
  • Bogota Beer Company | Poblado Station
  • 20 missions Cerveza | Ciudad del Rio

Read the Craft beer guide written by Medellin Guru to learn more about it.

At night, travelers love partying in Poblado, the wealthiest district of Medellin. They meet at Lleras park, drinking cheap aguardiente directly from the tetra pack on the stairs before heading to the different clubs/bars around.

Where to party in Medellin (+)

  • El Social
  • Calle 9+1
  • Gusto
  • Salon Amador
  • Bendito Seas Fonda

And visitors who don’t travel on a shoestring budget can enjoy the sunset from one of the trendy rooftops around:

  • Alambique
  • Envy (Charlee hotel)
  • Woka Lounge
  • Vaggart

But Poblado is the party district for Gringos. Only a few of them are aware of the other nightlife spots.

To get a more authentic Colombian nightlife, surrounded by sweaty bodies moving on Salsa & Bachata beats, you have to party in Laureles. And your wallet should be grateful too.

The Carrera 70 is perfect to start the evening. There are bars and restaurants on both sides of the street. Then head to the Calle 33 to find a club where practicing your Spanish and dance skills.

  • Son Havana (Salsa Bar) | Carrera 70
  • Garganta | Calle 33

And, if you want to dance in roomy clubs with wealthy Colombians and pay expensive cocktails, take an Uber to Barrio Colombia or Las Palmas.

  • Jesus Dulce Mio | Las Palmas
  • Prizma | Barrio Colombia

Medellin is also becoming a great LGBT friendly city

Nightlife in Medellin
Nightlife in Medellin

4. Map of Medellin, one of the largest cities in Colombia

Check out the Map of Medellin, Colombia to get a better visualization of the districts.

Map Where to stay in Medellin

Back to the Table Of Contents

Read more: Find out more articles about Medellin


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IV) How to explore Cali | One of the largest cities in Colombia

I lived in Cali for more than 1 month, and let me tell you this: Don’t expect to be elected King and Queen of the Prom if you don’t want to dance Salsa in Cali.

Kids learn the basic steps with their Mum, and it becomes as natural as breathing.

Cali will be a great stop if you want to enjoy a nightlife different from home. Every night, Salsa lovers meet in a different club to express their feelings through hypnotic movements. The Subdued lights give a romantic atmosphere while other people sit and drink around the dance floor. When the music stops, a few stand up, and without a word, they stretch out a hand to ask for the next dance.

You don’t dance Salsa because you want to seduce your partner. You do it because you like it. There is no underlying message.

Travelers think there is nothing to do in Cali, except dancing Salsa. They are wrong. Mitch proves it in his excellent article about the best things to do in Cali.

San Antonio in Cali

1. Information and tips about Cali, the best Salsa-Friendly city in Colombia

Important things you should know about Cali (+)

  • Granada and El Peñon are the safest districts
  • Miraflores is becoming super trendy
  • Don’t go in Cali East
  • San Antonio district can be a little dodgy at night
  • Try the mangos with salt + Limes and Cholado (Sweet fruit salad)
  • Take a hostel with Pool. Cali can be super warm
  • There is a party every night
  • From Cali, you have an easy access to the Pacific Coast
  • Cali is one of the best cities to visit in Colombia to dance Salsa

2. Things to do and see in Cali, the best Salsa-Friendly city in Colombia

Salsa is the main thing to do in Cali. However, there are a few other activities for having fun during the day.

Cool things to do in Cali (+)

  • Go to the River El Pance on Sundays to quell your hangover
  • Learn Salsa (Obvious)
  • Hike to Las 3 Cruces – Do it with a group
  • Take a dip at Charco Escondido
  • Chill out in Antonio Park
  • Tubing in San Cipriano (3 hours away)
  • Swim in the crystal blue water of El Danubio
  • Hike to Pico de Loro
  • Organize a Canyoning expedition
Main Square Cali – Credit: Danaan/ Shutterstock

3. Where to go out in Cali, the best Salsa-Friendly city in Colombia

There are 2 districts to hang out in Cali.

Where to go out in San Antonio (+)

San Antonio district is near the center. It’s usually the home base for many backpackers with many hostels and Salsa Schools. Unfortunately, the neighborhood can be unsafe after 10 pm. Then, it’s better to take a cab or go out with a group.

Check out :

  • San Antonio park to drink a pack of beer and try the street foods. There are tons of different sauces. It’s insane. I love it.
  • La Colina. It’s the oldest bar in Cali. I love the vibe there.
  • BBC Bodega

Where to party in Granada (+)

Granada is a trendy district with bars and restaurants. It’s a great option to start the night.

  • Bourbon St | Rock bar
  • Zaperoco | Salsa bar, live music on Thursdays
  • Cali Musical Hall | Live DJ
  • La Fuente de Soda | Live music, rock
  • Casa Jaguar | Trendy night club with an open sky room, electro

Where to dance Salsa in Cali (+)

As I told you earlier, there are parties every night of the week – except on Sunday. Even God takes a day off.

There is an informal week schedule in Cali. Thus, salsa lovers (foreigners+ locals) can meet in the same club.

  • Monday: Las Brisas & La Topa Tolandra
  • Tuesday: Mazao in Parque del Perro or Siboney near Parque Alameda
  • Wednesday: Topa Tolandra
  • Thursday: Rincon de Heberth
  • Friday: Don Fabio
  • Saturday: Everywhere

Where to party hard in Cali (+)

In the center, bars close at 1.am. Fortunately, there are 2 areas outside the city where the parties continue until the first rays of the sun! There are many clubs options.

  • Menga
  • Juanchito

4. Map of Cali, the best Salsa-Friendly city in Colombia

Check out the Map of Cali, Colombia to get a better visualization of the districts.

Maps of Cali Best cities to visit in Collombia
Map of Cali

Back to the Table Of Contents

Keep reading: An exclusive list of the highlights in Cali

V) Safety and Events In The Largest Cities In Colombia

Safety in Colombia improves every day. But don’t forget you will travel to South America. Your iPhone 8 represents 2 or 3 times a monthly average wage. Petty thefts are not unusual in the largest cities of Colombia. Follow the basic rules of safety and common sense to keep your valuables safe 😉

Read our article about Safety in Colombia

Colombians love partying. Hence, they organize many events all year long. It’s the best way to experience the fantastic Colombia vibe.

Read our article to know the best events in the big cities of Colombia


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Mini travel guides best cities to visit in Colombia
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