Cast your mind back a few decades and Colombia wasn’t necessarily the most salubrious of destinations. Its reputation for high crime and drug trafficking preceded it, forcing many would-be expats to strike it from their list of potential new homes. But those days are gone. These days, it’s a lively, fun, safe place with a ton to offer. That’s not to say some of its regions and cities aren’t nicer than others. If you plan on moving in, it pays to research which places to skip and which places shouldn’t be missed. To help out, we’ve rounded up the 20 best places to live in Colombia. Here they are.
Once upon a time, Cali was the kind of place where no one ventured out after dark. Seedy wasn’t the word – this was a place that gave you the night sweats just thinking about. But those days are gone. These days, Cali is a bright, lively place with a big, diverse population and enough to see, do, and experience to please everyone. The economy is booming, the cost of living is low, and there are plenty of excellent housing options to choose between. The refreshing sea breeze also ensures a much more pleasant and forgiving climate than you’ll experience in other parts of the country.
19. San Gil
If you like living life in the fast lane, San Gil could be your perfect home. Colombia’s extreme sports capital offers every conceivable type of activity to get your blood pumping and your adrenaline flowing. Bungee jumping, paragliding, ziplining, rafting, mountain biking, caving – you name it, you can do it here.
If you’re in the market for a slice of authentic rural life, Salento could be just what you’re looking for. Despite being a magnet for tourists, it’s still delightfully low-key, offering a simple, relaxed way of life in an area crammed with natural attractions. Described by internationalliving.com as a charming place to retire, Salento might not have the nightlife and the lights of the big city, but it’s still an outstanding place to live.
Ranked fifth on nomadlist.com’s of the best places to live in Colombia, Pasto unquestionably has a lot to offer. As theculturetrip.com says, the city may be off the radar for most expats, but its rich history and culture, not to mention the stunning Andean nature that surrounds it, offers the perfect balance of city living and country charm.
As insidermonkey.com says, Villavicencio may not have dozens of museums or shops or restaurants to its name, and it certainly doesn’t have a world-class nightlife, but what it lacks in architectural and cultural interest it more than makes up for in natural beauty. If you prefer exploring forests, climbing mountains, and traversing rivers to browsing malls, it’s a great place to call home.
Colombia’s coffee triangle is world-famous, but there’s one little corner of that triangle that rarely gets a mention – Armenia. Small, rural, and untouched by tourism, Armenia is a hidden secret that’s worth knowing about. The landscape surrounding the town is as close to paradise as most of us will ever get, with coffee plantations, forests, and ranches stretching as far as the eye can see. Thanks to its location in the hills, the lack of industry, and the scarcity of traffic congestion, the air is as pure as can be. If you want to experience Colombia at its authentic best, this is the place for you.
Named as one of the best places to live by expatexchange.com, Pereira is a large city of 500,000 residents located in the foothills of the Andes. It’s a large center for trade and commerce, with excellent job opportunities and a buoyant economy. As you’d expect of a city this size, there’s plenty to do, but it still retains a laid-back, friendly vibe.
13. Small Pueblos
Small Pueblos is a relaxed, tranquil kind of place with friendly vibes and a welcoming community. Despite being small, it’s still got all the amenities anyone could need – and if you do ever find yourself missing the big city, Pereira is just 30 minutes away.
Internationalliving.com recommends the Pacific Coast as one of the best areas to live in Colombia. If you want to completely withdraw from society and live in an eco-paradise of your own, you’ll find plenty of spots in the region to do it – this is a place of scattered villages, remote dwellings, and almost zero expats. If you’re not quite ready to set your home comforts aside, the major shipping port city of Buenaventura has the perfect balance of adventure and convenience.
If you like bright, if you like vibrant, and if you like your hometown to look more like a rainbow than a child’s painting, you’re going to want to check out Raquira. The bright facades of the town’s homes and shops are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, no matter how miserable your day is otherwise. Stores tend more towards the local and the artisanal than the big and the convenient, but if you’re happy to exchange browsing Walmart on a Saturday morning for picking up a handmade bowl at your friendly pottery instead, you’ll not want to miss it.
Few cities can compete with Popayan for visuals. Known affectionately as “Ciudad Blanca” (White City), it’s as impressive for being devoid of color as Raquira is for being drenched in it. Its stark, white mansions, churches, and monasteries aren’t the only things that make it stand out: its laid-back tranquility and quiet charm make it a great home for people who’d happily give up the 24/7 lifestyle of the big city for a taste of the simple life.
If you don’t mind living off the beaten path, you might want to add Jerico to your home-finding tour. Located midway between Jardin and Medellin up a very steep stretch of mountainside, it takes a lot of determination for tourists to get here – although quite a few Colombian coach parties still make the effort to come and see the birthplace of Colombia’s only saint, Santa Laura, who was born in the city in 1874. It’s a deeply religious place – despite having a population of just 12,000, it manages to pack in 17 churches and around 40 priests-in-training. If religion isn’t your scene, it’s still a great place to live, with plenty of museums, ancient libraries, galleries, coffee shops, and a very pretty botanical garden.
Set right at the very center of Antioquia’s coffee region is Jardin, a pretty little town full of brightly colored houses, gorgeous flower displays, and a welcoming, inviting atmosphere. For nature lovers, its location can’t be bettered – drive just a couple of minutes from the center and you’ll find scores of mountain and forest paths to explore, plenty of wildlife, and some very impressive waterfalls. If you prefer to stick around the town, there’s a charming plaza crisscrossed with river stones, a cathedral constructed from local stone, and plenty of boutiques, trendy cafes, artisanal shops, funky little watering holes, and a candy store that’s said to have a long-time fan in the Pope.
Often described as the most colorful town in Colombia, Guatape’s tiny, winding streets and brightly painted buildings are a marvel. Cafe, boutiques, and bars are in plentiful supply, as are the outdoor adventures offered by the surrounding countryside. If you like to combine natural pursuits with urban living, this is the place for you.
If the thought of living in a place that’s earned the nickname “The City of Parks” appeals to you, don’t miss checking out Bucaramanga. The city boasts 160 parks in total, some of them equipped with free exercise equipment for those who like to work up a sweat, others with juice bars for those who don’t. Even leaving aside the parks, Bucaramanga is still a great place to live. Walkable, affordable, modern, and with excellent infrastructure, first-rate health care facilities, a large expat community, and the added convenience of an airport, it’s an excellent option for people who want to enjoy all the perks of 21st century living at an affordable price.
Barranquilla is a city that loves life and isn’t afraid to show it. It’s rare for a day to pass without some event or festivity happening. Fun, lively, blessed with gorgeous architecture, and with a regional cuisine that’ll make your mouth water, it a great place to live.
4. Santa Marta
Santa Marta is party town. With its miles of gorgeous beaches and its lively atmosphere, armies of tourists descend on the city every year. Some of them like it so much they decide to turn their visit into something more permanent. And who could blame them? With a club at every corner and funky little bars every which way you look, the city’s nightlife may be debauched, but not in a way you’ll hear anyone complain about. If your clubbing days are behind you, there’s still a lot to enjoy, from its historic center to its golden shore. The expat community is large and welcoming – as, in fact, is the entire city. The only flipside is the tropical climate. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of Santa Marta.
Described by Fluentu.com as the jewel of Colombia’s tourism crown, Cartagena is a place of polished cobblestone streets, stunning Spanish architecture, and sun-kissed plazas. Even the armies of camera-toting tourists that descend on the city year-round don’t lessen its appeal. With a big population of around 1 million residents, the city offers plenty by way of distractions, with enough shops, restaurants, theatres, and recreational opportunities to give you something to do with your downtime. As to where to live, you’ll be spoilt for choice, with each neighborhood sporting a unique flavor. If you want to kick it with the hipsters, boho Getsemaní makes a wise choice. If your tastes run a little more upmarket, the uber-fashionable waterfront neighborhood of Bocagrande might suit you better. The tropical climate can get a bit sweltering sometimes, but there’s plenty of beaches nearby to cool off.
You’ll struggle to find a city with a better location than Medellín. Surrounded by coffee plantations, mountains, and forests, its lush landscape is heaven for nature lovers. The city, which has a reputation for being one of the most socially progressive and innovative in Colombia, is a joy. Boasting scores of chic cafes, trendy drinking holes, and enough galleries and museums to keep you in culture for life, it offers a little something for everyone. The climate is so mild and refreshing, it’s earned Medellin the title of the “City of Eternal Spring.” Accommodation options are extensive, with a good variety of apartments available at a price that won’t stretch your budget to breaking point.
Cities don’t get much bigger than Bogotá. With over 8 million residents to its name, Bogotá isn’t just a metropolis, it’s a mega-metropolis, with all the thrills and spills that entails. As you’d expect of a city this size, the work opportunities are endless – whatever your sector, you’re unlikely to have too many problems in finding a job that fits the bill. The nightlife is incredible, with clubs and bars of every size, description, and reputation you can think of – if you’re looking for a good time, the Zona T nightlife district is where you’ll find it. If your clubbing days are behind you, you’ll still find plenty to do with your time thanks to the city’s endless array of galleries, museums, theaters, and exhibitions. Neighborhood-wise, Bogotá has something to offer every taste and budget, from the suited and booted Centro Internacional to the boho La Candelaria to the fashionable La Macarena. If you’re regularly shooting off here, there, and everywhere, having the convenience of an international airport on your doorstep won’t go amiss. The only flipside is the crime, but providing you keep your wits about you and avoid straying into the less desirable areas alone at night, you shouldn’t face any issues.