10 Best Places To Live In Colombia: Top Cities For Expats, Retirees, Families

06/23/2022

Overview: Top 10 Best Places To Live In Colombia For Expats

QUICK SUMMARY- Best Places IN COLOMBIA

  • Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world
  • Expats can choose from mid-sized Caribbean beach cities like Santa Marta to popular expat cities in the mountains like Medellin
  • Not many locals speak English. Living in smaller cities and towns will require Spanish language skills.
  • Your monthly budget in Colombia can be cheaper by 70% or more vs. living in the USA.
 Monthly CostsPopulation
Medellin$9553,731,447
Cali$7553,400,000
Bucaramanga$7151,141,671
Cartagena$11701,028,736
Santa Marta$830499,192
Salento$6107,247
Bogotá$92512,772,828
Manizales$675434,403
Pereira$675467,269
Armenia$675304,314

Colombia is on the shortlist for expats and retirees alike when looking for a South American retirement destination. While the nightlife and charms of living in Medellin draw most digital nomads and younger expats, Colombia is more than one city. While the country doesn't have the landmass of the United States, Colombia offers a diverse range of climates and landscapes, making it perfect for those who want to experience everything South America has to offer. There's something for everyone in Colombia, from the white-sand Caribbean coast beaches to the highlands in the Andes mountains.

The low cost of living is a significant draw for foreigners living in Colombia. Even "expensive" cities in Colombia are very affordable compared to the US or EU. Expats can live very comfortably, spending around $900 USD to $1500 per month in most city centers (this varies on where you live, with Medellin and Bogota the most expensive cities in Colombia). Rent and transportation costs are relatively low, but consumer electronics, cell phones, and laptops can be costly. If you are an expat looking for the best place to live in Colombia but don't know where to start, this guide is for you.

Another important consideration when deciding where to live in Colombia is proximity to an international airport. Most international travel does through Bogotá's El Dorado international airport, but Medellin's José María Córdova International Airport has several direct routes to the United States as well. Additionally, you'll find some international flights operating out of 11 other cities: Armenia, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Cali, Cucuta, Leticia, Pereira, San Andrés, Santa Marta, and Riohacha.

Choosing an ideal place to live in Colombia also depends on the lifestyle you want to enjoy. Before moving here, consider what type of climate you prefer. The country experiences all four seasons, so make sure you choose the right city for your needs. Cartagena or Santa Marta are good options if you're looking for a warm-weather destination with plenty of activities available year-round. If you prefer cooler temperatures, Bogotá or Medellín are better choices.

No matter which city you choose, Colombia offers an abundance of culture and natural beauty that make it a unique and exciting place to call home.

Other Guides On Expat Life In Colombia

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Medellín- The Most Popular City To Retire In South America

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $955 per month
  • Location: Aburrá Valley, Antioquia
  • Major Attractions: Plaza Botero, Metrocable, Communa 13, Guatapé, La Setenta, Parque Lleras
  • Population: 3,731,447 Metro
  • Closest Airport: José María Córdova International Airport (MDE)
  • Best For: Retirees, Arts and Culture, Cosmopolitan City Vibe 

Colombia is a great country to retire in, with many fascinating cities, but of all the Colombian cities, Medellín is most often cited as ideal for expat retirees. Medellin is one of my Top Cities To Retire In, and I am not alone. Everyone from CNN to digital nomads around the world claims Medellin as a global expat favorite.

The climate in Medellín is excellent for retirees. Medellin is dubbed "The City of Eternal Spring" for a reason. Daytime high temperatures average in the mid-70s to the low 80s F, making it suitable for year-round living. The city also has a near-perfect climate--it's sunny most of the time, with only an occasional drizzle interrupting the ideal weather. 

Colombia's 2nd largest city, Medellin, delivers loads of amenities, a wide range of restaurants, and an endless array of social activities. In addition, Medellín offers access to excellent healthcare and universities.


The city has a cosmopolitan city vibe, with several museums, stunning city views, a famous street art scene, and a park dedicated to the country's renowned artist, Botero.

Taking a stroll around town is easy. The two main expat neighborhoods of El Poblado and Laureles are very walkable, with wide city streets. Additionally, Medellin is home to Colombia's only metro system.

Medellin is one of the cheapest cities I have lived in and one of my favorites. 1,700,000 Colombian Pesos per month or roughly $425 USD sets you up in a gorgeous co-living center apartment, loaded with amenities, modern furnishings, and surrounded by mountains with spectacular views.

Best Major City In Colombia, Bogota or Medellin?

When deciding which city is better to live in, Medellin or Bogota, there is no easy answer. Both cities have unique qualities that may make them a better fit for different people.  You may want to consider the individual city's cultural activities, nightlife, climate, and safety.

Cost of Living- Both cities are on the pricy side for the cost of living relative to other places in Colombia. Medellin is slightly more expensive than Bogota, but only slightly. Regardless, both cities are still affordable compared to the US.

Nightlife- Both are exciting cities with plenty of things to do. Either choice has enough nightlife to keep most expats busy every day of the week. For Medellin, Parque Lleras in El Poblado or La Setenta in Laureles are the hubs. In Bogota, expats head to Zona Rosa or Chapinero for a night out.

Big City Vibe- Bogota can be pretty noisy and crowded. As the economic heart and the financial center, attitudes are more hurried. Medellin is still a big city but maintains a more relaxed atmosphere.

Bogota has a lot of museums to visit like Museo Botero or Planetario de Bogotá. Bogota's weather is colder and cloudier than the more temperate climate in Medellin. While Medellin is considered safer than Bogota, keep in mind that crime can happen anywhere in Colombia.

If you are still unsure which city is right for you, consider visiting both cities and seeing which one feels more like home.

Colombian Rental Contracts: A guarantor (fiador) and down payment (depósito) are typically required when renting in Colombia. If your Spanish language skills aren't up to par, consider reaching out for help in negotiating and arranging the details of your apartment lease agreement.

Rental agreements can seem overly complicated regarding paperwork, and contracts are nearly exclusively in Spanish. I have a team of expat attorneys who can help you navigate the process and avoid getting scammed.

Cali- The Best Nightlife in Colombia

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $755 per month
  • Location: Valle del Cauca
  • Major Attractions: Cristo Rey, Zoologico de Cali, Barrio San Antonio, Cerro de Las Tres Cruces
  • Population: 3,400,000 Metro
  • Closest Airport: Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (CLO)
  • Best For: Salsa Lovers and Nightlife

If you're looking for an energetic city with thriving nightlife, Cali, Colombia, is your place. With over 2 million people, this third-largest city in Colombia is a center for Latin dance culture and is considered the world's Salsa capital.

I highly encourage expats new to living in Cali to sign up for lessons at a local salsa studio. Classes are a great way to meet people and learn about the city. The city's social life revolves around Salsa, and dancing takes over the city at night - there are clubs and music festivals galore where you can wiggle and groove until dawn!

Cali is one of the best cities in Colombia for nightlife

Cali's famous nightlife comes alive during the 6-day Feria De Cali Santiago Christmas festival

Cali offers a wide range of daytime activities to keep you busy. If you don't mind the heat of the eternal summer, Cali provides plenty of outdoor activities. Active expats can hike the steep Cerro de Las Tres Cruces. This one-hour hike can be a meat grinder, but the views from the top are definitely worth it. Make sure to hike early in the morning to beat the heat and enjoy the impressive view.

If you're looking to escape the afternoon heat, check out one of the city's many museums. You can see full-size airplanes, helicopters, and more at Museo Aereo Félix. Or, visit Caliwood Museo de la Cinematografía to learn how films are made.

Cali is known as a friendly and diverse city, and with 249 barrios (Spanish for neighborhoods), there is a place for all types of expats. San Antonio has bohemian vibes, and San Fernando is a popular destination for expats - both communities are great choices if you're looking for an active social life. Barrio Granada is a safe area with many upmarket housing options near chic restaurants and gourmet markets for something more upscale.

Cali is well known for its nightlife. The city never sleeps! There are always people out and about, enjoying the music
and dancing. Salsa music is a big part of the nightlife scene in Cali, and you can hear it blasting from clubs and bars
all over the city.

The economy and nightlife in Cali are snowballing. Many people are calling Cali the new Miami. The Latin culture,
education, and industry are thriving here, making it a great place to live if you want to be surrounded by Latin
Americans. Plus, with a low cost of living and warm weather year-round, it's hard to beat Cali for a place to call home.

If you're looking for a city with great food, professional opportunities, vibrant nightlife, and affordable prices, look no
further than Cali!

 INSIDER TIP : Safety in Cali- Cali has a reputation as a dangerous city. However, thanks to government enforcement and an improving economy, the violent crime rate has steadily declined.

Expat life in Cali is safe as long as you take the necessary precautions. As with any big city, it is vital to use common sense. Standard safety measures like not walking alone at night and taking Ubers after dark are crucial to avoiding risky situations. However, security depends on the neighborhood in which you reside. Expats are warned to stay away from the Eastside of Cali.

Bucaramanga- Most Underrated Place To Live In Colombia

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $715 per month
  • Location: Andean Region, Santander
  • Major Attractions: Parque Nacional de Chicamocha (Panachi), City's Parks, Cabacera
  • Population: 1,141,671 Metro
  • Closest Airport: Palonegro International Airport (BGA)
  • Best For: City Parks, Nightlife, Nature, Younger Expats

Bucaramanga is the capital of the Santander department in Colombia. It's a beautiful city built on a plateau of the Andes mountains. The municipality built parks everywhere, transforming Bucaramanga into one of Colombia's most beautiful green cities.

Parque Nacional del Chicamocha, located less than 50 km from Bucaramanga, provides weekend adventure and outdoor fun. The park has a variety of outdoor activities, including paragliding, spelunking, bushwalking, camping, fishing, kayaking, rafting, and mountain climbing.

Bucaramanga is best places to live in Colombia for nature

 Chicamocha canyon in Colombia in the Andes mountain range

In addition to all that nature has to offer, Bucaramanga also celebrates art with exhibitions and workshops throughout the city.

The city has several public universities making the city ideal for younger expats who want to enjoy Bucaramanga's social life. Parque Las Palmas is the meet-up area for expats, locals, and tourists alike. Here you can find the city's best restaurants, bars, and shopping. But when the sun drops, the Cabecera neighborhood is where the city's party people head for a night of salsa or rumba dancing. If you're looking for an active social scene, Bucaramanga is your best bet--TripAdvisor has named it the city with the best nightlife in Colombia! While my vote goes to Cali, either city has plenty to keep you entertained.

However, Bucaramanga is not only for younger party-going expats. As the "City of Parks," Bucaramanga is also an incredible city to relax and take in the fresh air in one of the city's 160 municipal parks. The weather is comfortable with no need for anything heavier than a light jacket or thin sweater. The city is also safe and has excellent public transportation, making it easy to get around.

If you're looking to retire in Colombia, Bucaramanga is an excellent option. Living here is cheaper than in Colombia's other major cities, like Medellín or Cartagena. Even in Sotomayor, one of Bucaramanga's most exclusive neighborhoods, you can find two-bedroom apartments for under $280 per month.

Bucaramanga doesn't get the publicity of other cities in Colombia, but if you're looking for a fantastic city with plenty of activities to keep you busy along with beautiful scenery, look no further than Bucaramanga!

Cartagena- Best Caribbean Coastal City For Beach Living

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $1170 per month
  • Location: Bolívar Region, Caribbean
  • Major Attractions: Playa Blanca, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, Old City Walls
  • Population: 1,028,736 Metro
  • Closest Airport: Cartagena Rafael Nunez Airport (CTG)
  • Best For: Colorful Architecture and Colorful People, Beach Lovers, Caribbean Island Life

Cartagena, Colombia's Caribbean port city, is an example of how the country's diverse environment allows for different expat lifestyles. Where Medellin showcases a cosmopolitan vibe and Bogota shines as a bustling financial capital, Colombia's 5th largest city exudes a laidback island charm akin to a nearby Caribbean city like Santo Domingo or Barbados.

Expats looking to live on a tropical island can find the same vibe in Cartagena. The city has all makings of a great beach city- sunny weather, beautiful beaches, plenty of activities, and stunning colonial architecture. Cartagena fits that bill for beach living! This vibrant city is located on Colombia's Caribbean coast and is full of Old World charm and historic sites.

The historic city's charm revolves around the UNESCO world heritage sites in the old town. Seeing the colorful homes in the historical quarter or watching another impressive sunset sitting on the fortress walls never gets old. Quaint colonial island charm isn't your vibe? Try the upscale neighborhood of Bocagrande for expats who would prefer the modern amenities, shopping, and beach vibe of Miami, but at a fraction of the cost.

Cartagena is the best beach city in Colombia

Cartagena is filled with beautiful beaches and colorful Las Palenqueras selling fruit

The weekends in Cartagena are made for enjoying stunning beaches outside the city, such as Playa Blanca, or on the islands of Tierra Bomba or Rosario. Suppose you aren't in the mood for another lazy Saturday on the beach. In that case, you can spend the weekend walking around the Castillo San Felipe or visiting the city's Inquisition Museum, Gold Museum, or Naval Museum.

Once you have beached yourself out and seen all the historic sites, there are several malls in Cartagena with movie theaters, cultural events like the Hay Festival, Film Festival, and November Independence Celebrations that are fun. 

The expat community in Cartagena is large and active, and they enjoy all of the benefits of living in this wonderful city. The tropical climate can get hot in the low 90s, and it gets obnoxiously humid in the summer. It's the trade-off of living on the Caribbean sea. Make sure you bring sunscreen, hats, and bottled water if you're planning on spending any time outdoors!

Although the cost of living in Cartagena makes it one of the most expensive cities in Colombia, it's still much more affordable than most places in North America, Europe, or even neighboring Caribbean countries.

An unfurnished, 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment in the Crespo neighborhood only a few blocks from the airport and a 10-minute taxi ride into Cartagena's Old Town costs roughly $450 USD / $1.6 million COP in monthly rent.  

You can still live very comfortably here for about half of what you would spend back in the United States. So if you're looking for a place in Colombia to enjoy the tropical beach life, Cartagena should be at the top of your list!

What is the best place to live in Colombia near the beach, Cartagena or Santa Marta?

There is no easy answer to finding the best place to live in Colombia near the beach. Both Cartagena and Santa Marta have their unique benefits and drawbacks that you need to consider before deciding.

Nature and Beaches: Both cities have access to gorgeous beaches, but Santa Marta has more diversity of nature and beauty to offer. For example, Parque Tayrona is a beautiful park located on Colombia's Caribbean coast, and it's just a short drive away from Santa Marta. If you're looking for someplace more secluded, Minca is an excellent option. Minca is located in the mountains just north of Santa Marta and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and exploring waterfalls and forests.

Activities: Another factor to consider is that Santa Marta is a popular jump-off point for many of the best things to do in Colombia. You can spend a few days hiking to the Lost City or get your scuba diving certification in Taganga.

City Living: Cartagena is a city with a million people, so it's not the most relaxing place to live; however, the old town of Cartagena makes this historic city great for history lovers and nightlife enthusiasts. Cartagena is a gorgeous city best suited for expats looking for a larger city experience than Santa Marta offers. However, remember that neither Cartagena nor Santa Marta has the same medical infrastructure and modern conveniences Medellin and Bogota offer. Cartagena is your best bet – but be prepared to pay for it.

Cost of Living: Santa Marta is much cheaper than Cartagena. Cartagena is one of the most expensive cities in Colombia. A two person budget in Cartagena can reach $2,000 USD per month.

Comments About Heat: Both cities are hot and humid year-round, so that's another consideration.

Finally, Cartagena barely edges out Santa Marta when it comes to quality of life. However, keep in mind that this is relative to Colombian standards – foreigners are likely to find both cities much more comfortable than locals.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference as to which city you should choose. Santa Marta offers more nature in the mountains while Cartagena has better nightlife; both deliver great beaches within city limits. So take what's important to you and make your choice accordingly!

Santa Marta- The Best Place To Live For Outdoor Activities (Beaches, Mountains, Jungles, Tayrona National Park)

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $830 per month
  • Location: Caribbean Region, Magdalena
  • Major Attractions: Tayrona National Park, Ciudad Perdida, Minca
  • Population: 499,192 City
  • Closest Airport: Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR)
  • Best For: Beaches, Outdoorsy-Types, Adventure Seekers, Scuba Divers

Roughly 4 hours up the coast from Cartagena sits the much less acclaimed Santa Marta. I haven't met an expat living in Santa Marta that says, "I moved to Santa Marta because it's the most beautiful city in Colombia." While the city lacks the Old World charm of Cartagena, expats living in Santa Marta enjoy lower costs, fewer tourists, and more outdoor activities than its touristy southern sister city.

Santa Marta is popular with expats looking to live in a Colombian city near outdoor activities. The city is Colombia's hub for outdoor adventure seekers. The nearby islands and national parks offer white-sand beaches and resorts, while colorful coral reefs bless scuba divers with rich marine life and sunken shipwrecks. The nearby hipster village of Taganga is one of the cheapest places in the world to get PADI scuba diving certified (about ~$200 with accommodation more than 60% less than PADI courses in the United States).

Another gorgeous beach near Santa Marta accessible by boat or a half day hike into Tayrona National Park

Nearby, Tayrona National Park, another UNESCO world heritage site, delivers unspoiled wild beaches, where eco-friendly resorts offer a great place to hike, relax, and feast on cheap fresh seafood.

Santa Marta is also the starting point for "The Lost City Hike," a four-day challenge through dense jungle terrain, river crossings, and waterfalls in search of an ancient pre-Inca archaeological site older than the Machu Picchu. While I did not do the trek myself, it's something on every expat's top things to do in Colombia list xxx.

Less than an hour from Santa Marta sits the hipster Bohemian village of Minca. Ideal for expats looking to escape the humid city, Minca is a chill weekend escape to a cooler mountain climate, complete waterfall hikes through mountain streams, and visits to cacao farms and coffee plantations. 

Salento- The Safest Place To Live In Colombia's Coffee Region

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $610 per month
  • Location: Quindío
  • Major Attractions: Los Nevados National Natural Park, Santa Rita Waterfalls
  • Population: 7,247
  • Closest Airport: Aeropuerto Internacional Matecaña (PEI)
  • Best For: Pubelo Life, Quiet Escape, Slower Pace of Life

Salento is a small town located in the eje cafetero (Colombian Coffee Triangle). Clocking in at just above 7000 people, nearly half of them farmers or ranchers. This pueblo (Spanish for small town) will remind US citizens of small-town middle America.

It's known for its beautiful scenery, vibrantly colored colonial architecture, and friendly people. Salento is also one of the safest places in Colombia. Everybody knows everybody here, which is part of the charm.

Salento is the best small town to live in Colombia

Salento is a Colombian small town where all the locals will know your name

Colombian people will smile and wave when you walk into town. The main square, Plaza de Bolívar, is the town's central gathering point. You can stop here for one of the food stalls for a tinto (cheap Colombian street coffee) and Colombian breakfast or check out the souvenir vendors and pop-up restaurants around the plaza. After your morning coffee, stroll along Calle Real to browse the handmade crafts, general stores, farm supply shops, billiard halls, and bars.

Los Nevados Natural National Park is Salento's top attraction, and it's only a 25-minute away by Willy Jeeps, Salento's quirky transportation fleet of US army trucks. You can go on a horse riding tour for $30 or hike one of the many trails that lets you get close and personal with tower wax palm trees. After a long day of hiking and sightseeing, stop at the eateries in town for pan-fried trout and patacones- local cuisine that's farm-to-table sourced from nearby farms, rivers, or ranches.

Salento has a mix of natives and transplants from other Colombian regions, so you'll get to know a variety of people if you decide to make this your home away from home. Many expats have joined the ranks in recent years, making it perfect for those looking for a quiet small town to live in.

 INSIDER TIP : Cities In Colombia With The Best Hospitals- A 2019 study placed 24 of Colombia's hospitals in the Top Healthcare Facilities in Latin America. Cali's Fundación Valle Del Lili ranks #1, while Bogota is one of the best cities for healthcare, with 5 hospitals ranked in the Top 10.


Top 20 Best Hospitals In Colombia

RankHospitalScoreCity
1Fundación Valle Del Lili97.20Cali
2Fundación Santa Fe De Bogota96.27Bogotá
3Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe93.82Medellín
4Fundación Hospitalaria San Vicente De Paul82.78Medellín
5Hospital Universitario San Ignacio82.00Bogotá
6Clínica Del Country81.65Bogotá
7Clínica De Marly S.A76.25Bogotá
8Administradora Clinica La Colina SAS76.15Bogotá
9Centro Médico Imbanaco De Cali S.A.73.30Cali
10Hospital General De Medellin Luz Castro De Gutierrez, E.S.E73.29Medellín
11Clínica De Occidente72.53Cali
12Empresa Social Del Estado Hospital Universitario De La Samaritana72.23Bogotá
13Servicios Especiales De Salud Hospital Universitario De Caldas72.21Manizales
14Clinica Medellin S.A72.21Medellín
15Fundación Hospital San Vicente De Paul Rionegro71.49Rionegro
16Clinica Los Nogales Sas70.00Bogotá
17Clinica Del Prado S.A.S69.97Medellín
18Clínica las Américas69.67Medellín
19Organizacion Clinica General Del Norte69.47Barranquilla
20E.S.E. Hospital Universitario Departamental De Nariño69.45Pasto
Source: The World's Best Hospitals Newsweek 2022

Bogotá: The Capital City For Working Expats

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $925 per month
  • Location: Capital District, Cundinamarca
  • Major Attractions: Botero Museum, Monserrate, Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá
  • Population: 12,772,828 Metro
  • Closest Airport: El Dorado International Airport (BOG)
  • Best For: Shopping, Working Expats, Job Seekers, Big City Lovers

Cable car climbing up Mount Monserrate showcases Bogota's massive skyline

For expats who love the hustle and vibe of a mega-metropolis, Colombia has you covered. Medellin is my choice for the best city in Colombia, but if Medellin's 3.5+ million population is too small for you, Bogota's big-city amenities, excellent international cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and rich culture will rock your socks off.

Bogota Metro clocks in at nearly 13 million souls and is the 3rd largest city in the Americas. Bogota is an urban metropolis- this can be both good and bad. There are plenty of things to do in the city, but don't move to Bogota for peace and tranquility. Check out the smaller towns in the Coffee Triangle if you need a more relaxed vibe.

On the plus side, Bogotá offers delicious international cuisine, cultural attractions, extensive shopping opportunities, and the country's best hospitals. The city is considered one of the best cities for working expats and has an endless number of activities to keep you busy. The majority of the action centers around Zona T, the nightlife district in Bogotá, where bars and clubs offer limitless options for entertainment.

Colombia's capital is not only the seat of the country's government but also the country's financial and business hub. If you haven't reached financial independence and still need to work, you will find a wealth of opportunities for expats jobs in Bogota.

The top expat neighborhoods to consider are Los Nogales for working expats who want an easy commute into downtown, Santa Barbara for a traditional Colombia neighborhood with convenient access to Unicentro mall, or Cedritos if you prefer a quiet suburban lifestyle on the fringes of the city. However, Chapinero is THE place to live if you want to be in the heart of Bogota's social scene. The best restaurants, shopping boutiques, and nightlife are at your doorstep.  

Like any larger city with 12+ million people, Bogota isn't the safest city in Colombia. Living in expat neighborhoods is generally safe, but many expat families still find better peace of mind living in conjunto cerrado or gated communities in Bogota. 

The average daytime high in Bogotá is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low is 48 degrees Fahrenheit. This chilly climate can be a bit of a shock for those expats who equate South America with tropical climates. Bogota is cloudier, greyer, and cooler than Santa Marta, Cali, or Cartagena, making outdoor exercise more convenient. The city is bike-friendly, with many streets and sidewalks having dedicated bike lanes. In addition, many of the major roads are close to allowing for riding bikes on Sundays. 

Bogota's international airport is a busy hub for all of the Americas, making it easy to get around the country and with several nonstop flights connecting with other major cities in South America. If you're looking for an exciting city to work in, Bogotá is a great choice!

Coffee Triangle (Pereira, Manizales, Armenia)

  • Cost of Living (Single Person) = $675 per month
  • Major Attractions: National Park of Los Nevados, Termales de Santa Rosa, Parque Del Café
  • Closest Airport: Aeropuerto Internacional Matecaña (PEI)
  • Best For: Small Colonial Town Atmosphere, Nature Hikes, Coffee Lovers, Planation Tours

NOTE: This section differs slightly, as the next 3 cities are in close proximity and share many of the same costs, attractions, and features. 

Arguably the best coffee in the world is produced in Colombia's Coffee Triangle. The regions Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindio, also known as the Colombian Coffee Belt or Coffee Zone, are also ideal places for expats looking to live away from the traffic and crowds of Colombia's major cities. The Coffee Triangle cities of Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia are served by one domestic airport Aeropuerto Internacional Matecaña in Pereira. The closest international airport is Medellin (a 40-minute flight), but PEI also connects to Santa Marta, Cartagena, and Bogota.

The fertile soil of the snow-capped mountains of the Nevados Natural Park gathers in the valleys of the Coffee Triangle. Expats living in the Coffee Triangle enjoy a more traditional view of Colombian life, with charming wooden architecture, picturesque coffee plantations that stretch for miles, and colorful parks and gardens. The entire area is another one of Colombia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

While Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia are similar in size and share an airport, each town has an original vibe.

Manizales- The Best Place In Colombia To Experience Coffee

  • Location: Andean Region, Caldas
  • Population: 434,403 City

Manizales has several coffee plantations you can tour

Nestled in the foothills of Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia's second most active volcano, sits the Caldas capital city of Manizales, one of the three capitals of the Eje Cafetero (Colombian Coffee Axis). In contrast to Colombia's humid tropical coast, the crisp mountain air and 7,000 feet elevation keeps Manizales temps in the low 60s and rarely drift above the mid-70s during the day. However, expats living in the coffee triangle find they surprisingly need heaters and thicker blankets to keep warm during the chill evenings when temps cool to the 50s at night.

To help expats navigate the mountain terrain and slow, curvy roads, Manizales built a 1.3-mile aerial tram, the Cable Aereo, with two operating lines (a 3rd in construction), including the main tram connecting the city center with the central bus station. For less than $0.50 USD cents per ride, each tram line can move up to 2,100 people per hour in its 10-person gondolas.

Even as a smaller city, Manizales has many modern amenities expats need to live comfortably. Home to four universities, Manizales has an active social scene centered around the Cable Plaza, filled with Latin dance clubs or the Zona G neighborhood for delicious upscale dining options and hipster coffee shops.

Manizales has several shopping options, from inexpensive tiendas catering to local goods to upscale shopping malls filled with the latest consumer electronics. Additionally, the expats have access to high-quality, affordable medical care at one of the top 15 hospitals in South America, the University Hospital of Caldas.

Pereira- Best City In Colombia For Expat Families

  • Location: Andean Region, Risaralda
  • Population: 467,269

Sunset over Plaza de Bolivar in Pereira

Safe, friendly, and welcoming to foreigners, with a deserving reputation as "The City Without Doors" or "La Ciudad Sin Puertas" in Spanish, Pereira is a great place for expat families. Pereira offers all the modern "big city" conveniences: shopping malls, fine dining, open-air nightclubs, cafés, quality healthcare (Hospital Universitario San Jorge is ranked 35th), and public transportation, but with no pollution and loads of outdoor spaces for kids to wander.

Expats love the city for its biodiversity and beautiful scenery. The city has a thriving coffee culture and is home to many universities. There are plenty of opportunities to get out and explore everything this charming city has to offer, from enjoying the city's nightlife, touring regional coffee plantations, or hiking Parque Regional Natural Ucumari to survey the area's biodiversity.

Pereira's nightlife centers along Simon Bolivar Avenue. A fun weekend here starts on Thursday nights, where younger expats and local university students hit the city's main strip for a night dancing to Latin rhythms or date night dinners at one of the more upscale bistros lining the strip. Like most places in Colombia, Pereira takes their football seriously. Locals pack a 30,000-seat stadium with cheers and chants whenever Deportivo Pereira plays at home.

Expats with kids can enjoy calmer weekends at the Otun Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, where the country's biodiversity is showcased in a 2 square mile/489-hectare nature reserve filled with monkies and nearly 300 species of birds. The sanctuary is filled with kid-friendly hiking trails. A guided night hike is available to view the nocturnal wildlife for an extra special treat.

The city is known for its friendly locals, but English is not widely spoken outside of the younger student populations. Expats will need more than a basic level of Spanish to enjoy all the Pereira has to offer. Regardless if you're looking for a family-friendly expat destination or want to relax in some beautiful natural surroundings, Pereira is worth considering!

Armenia- Best Place For A Small-City Vibe

  • Location: Andes Region, Quindío
  • Population: 304,314 

Willy Jeeps are a core part of the public transportation system in Armenia and all over the Colombia's Coffee Region

Expats looking for a place in Colombia with a quiet, small-city cannot do much better than Armenia, Quindío's capital city. Once a hidden jewel in the Coffee Triangle, Armenia grew in popularity over the past few years. The city has everything from lush jungles and coffee-themed amusement parks to vibrant pedestrian walkways and shopping malls. There's also a quiet lifestyle to be found here, making it the perfect place to relax and take in all this charming city offers.

One of the best things about Armenia is its well-loved attractions. The Christmas installation at El Parque de la Vida, for example, is a jungle-like refuge that sits right in the middle of town and features unique displays for holidays. You'll also find plenty of interesting cultural shows and rides at Parque del Cafe, an authentic Colombian theme park. Shows are 22-person extravaganza that traces the history of coffee, complete with men and women gliding across the stage in colorful dresses. If you're looking for something truly unique, check out the impressive array of ancient gold and silver on display at the Quimbaya Gold Museum.

But don't worry - there's plenty more to see in Valle de Cocora. This one-hour drive from Armenia offers various excursions into nature, including short walks to get your picture at the trees or more strenuous routes. The best time to visit is during January or July, when the weather is at its best, and you can even enjoy a cup of coffee with cheese at the Hummingbirds sanctuary. Just be sure to bring your camera - you're going to want to capture all of this beauty!

Places To Avoid Living in Colombia

Bogotá

Unless you are a fan of megalopolises or are a working expat, the drawbacks of Bogota outweigh the benefits. What you can find in a bustling city like Bogota you can find in other another major city in Colombia, without dealing with Bogota's traffic, crowds, and crime. Want the nightlife found in Zona T? Check out Cali. Want museums and art? Go to Medellin. Looking for tasty eats? Choose Cartagena.

Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast is Colombia's wild country- rugged, desolate, and difficult to navigate. Outside of Buenaventura, you'll only find sparsely populated villages, separated by miles and miles of dirt roads. Emergency assistance will be hard to come by if something happens while exploring the jungles and coastline.

It's beautiful country on the Pacific Coast but very isolated. There is no access to international airports (domestic flights only) and minimal public transportation.

The area isn't especially pretty nor exceptionally safe. Paramilitaries are not a myth, nor are the drug cartels' labs and narcotics trafficking near the Panamanian border.

Unless you insist on wanting to live in Colombia, but as far away from any other expats, modern conveniences, and modern civilization, then avoid the Pacific Coast. 

Key Takeaway: The Best And Worst Places To Live In Colombia

When finding the best place to live in Colombia for your lifestyle, there are many factors to consider. The cost of living, culture and arts scene, quality of life, and accessibility to nature are just a few things you'll want to think about when choosing where you'll call home.

However, Colombia is great for expats and retirees alike.

But not every Colombian city is perfect. Some cities have higher living costs, while others offer lower prices but less modern conveniences. Some cities in Colombia are best for younger expats looking for nightlife, while other small towns are ideal for expat retirees looking for a more quiet, laidback vibe. Do your research before making any decisions about where to live.

The good news for expats looking to move to Colombia is that the country has a wide variety of cities to choose from. Colombia fits a nice variety of lifestyles. Cosmopolitan cities, Tranquil small towns, Quaint Pubelos--you can find it all here without too much difficulty. You'll be able to find everything you need to enjoy a comfortable and enjoyable expat life in Colombia at a fraction of the cost of living in the United States or European countries.

If you liked this story, you will enjoy these other posts on expat life in Colombia

Colombia Visa Requirements: How to Apply, Costs, Policy, Visa Types [2022]
Moving To Colombia: How To Prepare For A New Life In South America
$900 Cost of Living in Cartagena Colombia -Caribbean Life, Food, and Music

FAQs: Best Places For Expats Living in Colombia

What are the best cities in Colombia for Healthcare?

Cali, Bogota, and Medellin have 10 of Colombia's best hospitals and healthcare facilities. Cali is home to Fundación Valle Del Lili, the #1 ranked hospital, but Bogota takes the title of the best city in Colombia for healthcare, with 5 hospitals ranked in the Top 10. 

Comparing healthcare in Colombia vs USA: Quality healthcare is always a concern of every expat and retiree. The great news is that Colombia has one of the top healthcare systems globally, with the World Health Organization (WHO) ranking Colombia #22 vs. the United States at 37th.

Where Are The Best Places For Expats Retiring In Colombia?

Colombia has a place for every type of retirement lifestyle, from chic cities (Medellin) to smaller Colombian towns (Armenia), from coastal villages with beautiful beaches (Tayrona) to a quiet location in the Coffee Region (Salento); Colombia has a spot for you.

What's the most expensive city in Colombia?

With an estimated budget of $1800 per month for two people, Cartagena is the most expensive city in Colombia. The higher prices are due to the cost of housing and entertainment, driven by the high level of tourism.


About the author

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to show you an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, student loans, and countless bills. After getting laid off in 2015, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old. I have traveled the last five years to over 40 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US. I have been featured in: US News & World Reports, Huffington Post, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Best Life, CW Network, Dr. Wealth, and others. [view press...]

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