Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena (2020): Make your choice

Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena (2020): Make your choice
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When planning a trip to Colombia, you will probably compare Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena. It’s a smart reaction and I invite you not to hurry up in your decision. It makes no sense to land in a city that you don’t want to visit.

Thanks to this post, you will be able to decide which city you will like the most, and you’ll get some kick-ass travel tips for each of them.

Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena: What you must know

Bogota: 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.

Medellin: Medellin is 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.

Cali: 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.

Cartagena: 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.

Culture: If you like to learn about history and culture, then you must head to Bogota.

Nightlife: Don’t hesitate to stay in Cali if you’re attracted by the world of Salsa. Otherwise, you will fall in love with Bogota – if you know where to go. Choose Poblado in Medellin if you don’t speak a word of Spanish.

Day trips: Antioquia is one of my favorite departments in Colombia. There are many colonial towns, waterfalls, treks within 2-4h from Medellin.

Safety: Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, and Cali are safe if you pick the right neighborhood. More Safety tips here.

Romantic trip: Cartagena will be the best fit, with its delicious restaurants, top-notch hotels, and pleasant alleyways.

Weather: Medellin’s weather is the most pleasant as it’s not too hot like in Cali or Cartagena. More weather tips here.

Off the beaten track: Avoid going to Cartagena, La Candelaria (Bogota), Poblado (Medellin).

Where to travel in Colombia

Where to stay? What to do? How to get there? Find easily the answers HERE

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Table of Contents: Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena

  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
  6. Start creating your itinerary
  7. Lay back while we do the hard job
Big best Cities to Visit in Colombia
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Is Bogota worth visiting?

Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena

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 to 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 Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena

You will prefer Bogota over Medellin, Cartagena and Cali if you:

  • Like museums and art galleries.
  • Want to be soaked by Hipster Colombian’s nightlife.
  • Think to add Leticia or San Jose del Guaviare to your itinerary.
  • Love well-organized private tours.
  • Explore the Paramos.
  • Get the full list of the best experiences in Bogota

You will be disappointed by Bogota if you:

#2 My favorite Bogota’s tips

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

The truth 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. Many of them are excellent.

#3 Best things to do and see in Bogota

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.

The capital of Bogota is an ideal place to plan cool tours and experiences.

Cool things to do in Bogota (+)

  • Free walking tours to visit the city: I love the War and Peace tour and the Heroe Tour.
  • Book a private tour if you want a personalized experience.
  • Learn the stories behind each graffiti with the Bogota graffiti tour.
  • Visit various districts thanks to a kick-ass biking tour.
  • Devour delicious fruits at the Paloquemao Market.
  • Play a Tejo game. It’s a Colombian sport with explosions and beers.
  • Visit the Botero Museum, Mamu, and the national museum.
  • Explore La Macarena, a bohemian district filled with delicious restaurants.
  • 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. If you pair it with a tour to Guatavita, it becomes an exciting tour (if you don’t mind staying many hours in a jeep).
  • 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.
  • Do several coffee activities with Catacion Publica
  • Plan a day trip to visit a coffee farm.
  • Get a full explanation of the best tours in Bogota

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 Chicaque – It’s complicated to get there on a weekday.
  • National Park Chingaza
  • National Park Sumapaz
  • Guatavita lake
  • Contemplate La Chorrera, the highest waterfall in Colombia. Avoid going there during the dry season.
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Chingaza Lake

#4 Colombia’s nightlife: Bogota wins over Medellin

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).

Nightlife in Bogota, major city in Colombia
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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

5# Map of Bogota, 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
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The Districts in Bogota

Read more: Our top-notch Bogota travel guide

Is Cartagena worth visiting?

Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias was the first to shine on the international stage, and it became THE place to be on the Caribbean 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
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Old city center

#1 Cartagena VS Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali

You will prefer Cartagena over Bogota, Medellin, and Cali if you:

You will be disappointed by Cartagena if you:

  • Can’t deal with hot weather and street sellers.
  • Don’t like hanging out with tourists.
  • Travel on a shoestring budget.
  • Hope to be soaked by Colombia’s culture.

#2 My favorite Cartagena’s tips

The truth 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 trip. It’s not worth it.
  • 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 can use public transportation to travel to the various islands around. Avoid weekends.
  • You can take a shuttle to get to Isla Baru.
  • Cartagena is a friendly city to visit with kids

#3 Best things to do and see in Cartagena de Indias

Cartagena de Indias is a city where you might be 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.

We help you to plan your week around Cartagena in this post.

Fun things to do in Cartagena (+)

  • Watch the sunset from the city walls or from a sailboat.
  • Book a free walking tour of the old city center.
  • Organize a day trip to a beach club on Tierra Bomba
  • Explore the different Rosario islands.
  • Rent a boat and go partying on Isla Cholon (Weekend only).
  • 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. It’s not worth it without a local guide.
  • Take a taxi to Convento de la Popa to enjoy a great view of the city
  • Take yummy cooking lessons.
  • Go fishing with local fishers in La Boquilla.
  • Visit Bazurto, the biggest Cartagena Market.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the most famous Colombian writer. Learn about his life.
  • Fun dives are more expensive in Cartagena, but there are some really cool diving spots.
  • Get a full explanation of the best Cartagena activities in this post.
Map of Cartagena and Around
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Activities Around Cartagena

#4 Where to go out in Cartagena de Indias

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

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
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#5 Map of Cartagena

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
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Map of Cartagena, Colombia

Must read: Our kick-ass Cartagena Travel guide.

Is Medellin worth visiting?

Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena

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 ex-pats 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
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Cable Car in Medellin

#1 Medellin VS Cali VS Bogota VS Cartagena

You will prefer Medellin over Cali, Bogota, and Cartagena if you:

  • Want to easily find parties on the weekend.
  • Appreciate nice weather – albeit raining some months.
  • Plan various weekend trips to colonial towns.
  • Want to meet friendly locals.
  • Think to add the Pacific coast on your itinerary.
  • are a digital nomad.

#2 Our favorite Medellin’s tips

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.

The truth 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
  • If you have time, don’t book a tour to travel to Guatape. It’s super easy to get there.
  • Bandeja Paisa is their regional meal
  • The inhabitants are called Paisa
  • Don’t visit Pueblito Paisa. It’s boring.
Explor park in Medellin -E- Fotos593
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Explorer park in Medellin
| Shutterstock: Fotos593

#3 Best things to do and see in Medellin

With the aerial metro, it’s easy to reach the different parts of the city.

Cool things to do in Medellin (+)

  • Plan a Free walking tour 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
  • If you want to avoid the crowd, I recommend you to visit another district – La Sierra.
  • Devour several Colombian specialties in Sabaneta.
  • Learn the bloody past of Colombia by visiting the Museo de la Memoria
  • 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 or go with locals!El Estadio Station
  • Explora Park (Aquarium & Interactive Museum)+ Botanica Garden | Universidad Station
  • Follow your local guide on a bike to visit several Medellin’s districts.
  • Paragliding above Medellin from San Felix
  • Sunbath on trendy cafe terraces in Poblado
  • Take Salsa Lessons with Salsa Classes Medellin
  • Get outside of Medellin to visit a coffee farm.
  • Read our full list (with explanations) of the best things to do in Medellin.

Excellent day trips (+)

I’m fond of the Antioquia Region. There are tons of trips you can organize on your own. Or we can help you.

  • Day trip to El peñol and Guatape | 2 hours by bus.
  • Day trip to El Puente de Occidente & Santa Fe de Antioquia | 1h30 by bus.
  • Weekend trip to swim in the beautiful rivers of San Rafael and San Carlos.
  • Hike to the Paramo de Belmira and stay overnight in Horizontes. More information.
  • 3-day hiking trip to the Paramo del Sol.
  • Get your shot of adrenaline in Tamesis
  • Be soaked by the friendly atmosphere of Jardin and Jerico.
  • Find all these places in our Antioquia travel guide

Where to learn Spanish (+)

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: 

  • Colombia Immersion
  • Toucan Spanish School
  • Nueva Lengua
  • Eco Hostel (Guatape)
  • Spanish Adventure School (San Carlos)
Map Metro Of Medellin
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Map Metro Of Medellin

#4 Where to go out in Medellin

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 (+)

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

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 nightlifesurrounded 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
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Nightlife in Medellin

#5 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
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Must read: Our top-notch Medellin travel guide

Is Cali worth visiting?

Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena

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.

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San Antonio in Cali

#1 Cali VS Bogota VS Medellin VS Cartagena

You will prefer Cali over Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena if you:

  • Look for authentic Salsa vibe
  • Want to dance with locals
  • Plan to visit the South of Colombia.

You will be disappointed by Cali if you:

  • Hope to visit a beautiful city
  • Don’t like dancing
  • Like museums

#2 Our favorite Cali’s tips

The truth about Cali (+)

  • Granada, above the park San Antonio, 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 can travel to the Pacific Coast
  • Cali is one of the best cities to visit in Colombia to dance Salsa

#3 Best things to do and see in Cali

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
  • Get the full list of the best activities to do in Cali
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Main Square Cali – Credit: Danaan/ Shutterstock

#4 Where to go out in Cali

There are 2 districts to hang out in Cali.

Going 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

Going out 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 club options.

  1. Menga
  2. Juanchito

#5 Map of Cali

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

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

Must read: Our top-notch Cali travel guide

Safety and Events In The Largest Cities In Colombia

Bogota VS Medellin VS Cali VS Cartagena

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 in Colombia. Follow the basic rules of safety and common sense to keep your valuables safe 😉

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

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Mini travel guides best cities to visit in Colombia
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Best cities in Colombia
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I fell in love with Colombia 5 years ago. Through this website, we help every month thousands of travelers to plan their trip to this beautiful country. Use our Premium service on the site www.Colombia-insider.com if you want us to take care of everything for the organization of your trip to Colombia.