COLOMBIA SHOULD BE HIGH ON EVERY TRAVELERS LIST - ESPECIALLY FOR DIGITAL NOMADS AND ADVENTURE DIGITAL NOMADS. HERE ARE SOME OF THE BEST CITIES TO BASE YOURSELF IN SO YOU CAN EASILY COMBINE WORK, CULTURE AND ADVENTURE.
The idea of being a digital nomad - someone who can work from anywhere as long they have internet - has become incredibly popular in the past couple of years, especially for people looking to combine their two passions: work and travel. While there are many popular spots to base yourself around the world (Bali, Chiang Mai) we instead suggest looking to Colombia (especially now with the new visa situation). There you can not only find great internet, comfortable (and cheap) accommodation and plenty of coworking places, but also a thriving culture, beautiful landscapes, and lots of adventure.
But in a county almost twice the size of Texas (and the 25th biggest country on Earth), it can be hard to know exactly where you should base yourself. Do you want beaches, a thriving nightlife or easy access to nature? Luckily, you can find all three, and more, in Colombia depending on where you go.
With so much to think about, we thought it would be nice to have a helpful list outlining the pros and cons of each city, what the overall landscape is like (this is especially important for digital nomad adventurers like us) and what the average cost of living is.
So if you are curious about being a digital nomad in Colombia, or are already planning to travel down but don't know where to go, read on for a rundown of some of the best cities to base yourself in.
🏥 TRAVEL INSURANCE
For those adventurous digital nomads (including those looking to explore more off-the-beaten-path places), we highly recommend signing up and using SafetyWing for all your travel medical insurance needs (including COVID-19 coverage). And don’t worry, policies can still be purchased while already abroad.
THE BEST CITIES FOR DIGITAL NOMADS IN COLOMBIA (AND HOW TO FIND THE BEST ONE FOR YOU)
As one of the oldest cities in all of Colombia, Cartagena is a great spot to base yourself if you are looking to learn more about Colombia's past, as well as Caribbean culture in general. With easy access to numerous beaches, from the smaller (grayer) beaches in the city itself, to the more tropical-style beaches farther afield, most notably Baru and the Rosario Islands, Cartagena is a great spot to combine work, history and ocean adventures (snorkeling, scuba diving, etc.).
Pros: it has a beautiful and colorful old city, but also very modern amenities; plus, overall there is a fun and laid back atmosphere. And there are pretty nice beaches in the city and even prettier ones just outside the city limits. Finally, because of its popularity, it is easier to find fellow travelers to build a community with.
Cons: it is HOT. And humid. Plus, there isn’t very much green space available within the city to explore. So if you like trees and nature, maybe don’t spend much time here.
Landscape: the city is located along the Caribbean, meaning plenty of beaches available for exploring. If you want a tropical vibe, then this is a good spot. Plus there is great windsurfing and kitesurfing between December and April.
Average Cost of Living: for a single person (without rent) it is about $440 per month.
Best for: people who want easy access to beaches and nightlife, and are lovers of history
READ MORE | THE TOP ADVENTURES IN AND AROUND CARTAGENA
This thriving metropolis was named one of the most innovative cities in the world, thanks to its focus on public transportation - the Metro system is used by more than 500,000 residents and visitors each day, which in turn has reduced Medellin's CO2 emissions by 175,000 tons each year. Medellin combines work, creativity and play seamlessly, so if you want a city that has a real "go, go, go" vibe but also easy access to nature then this is a great option.
Pros: a thriving, exciting urban metropolis that puts a lot of emphasis on creativity and art. There is also a bike-sharing program and one of the biggest escalators in the world in Comuna 13 (it is 28 stories long).
Cons: some of the biggest cons have to do with the fact that the city lies in a valley, and therefore can feel a bit congested - especially when it comes to traffic. Another downside is pollution, something that yet again is amplified because of its valley location.
Landscape: Medellin has been dubbed the city of Eternal Spring due to its tropical weather. The city's average annual temperature is around 22 °C or 72 °F, plus - because of its proximity to the equator - its temperature is pretty constant year-round. One thing to note though, is that because the city is located in a valley, temperatures can be slightly cooler on the surrounding mountainsides. A couple of the best adventures can be had within three hours of the city; including, whitewater rafting, backpacking, hiking, and paragliding.
Average Cost of Living: $408.07 per month, without rent. Medellin is about 1.5x less expensive than Bogota.
Best For: art and culture lovers, people who want a big city life
LEARN MORE | WHAT TRAVELING IN COLOMBIA IS LIKE IN 2021
Bogota is the capital city of Colombia, as well as the biggest. It is also the economic, administrative, and industrial center of the country (it also has the most universities). All of that put together pretty much means that if you need anything or want anything - then Bogota has it. Plus, because of its higher elevation (the city sits at 2,640 meters or 8,660 feet), you can expect much cooler temperatures than places like Cartagena and Medellin. Finally, Bogota actually ranked 52nd on the Global Cities Index in 2014, and as of 2020, it is now considered a global city type "Beta +" by GaWC.
Pros: it has everything you could need in a city (great cafes, tasty restaurants, large shopping centers). It also has cooler temperatures because of its altitude. Finally, it is close to a lot of beautiful natural landscapes - including many with top-notch hiking and backpacking trails.
Cons: one of the biggest cons about Bogota is the overall safety. Now this is something that you come across a lot when looking into traveling around Colombia. We have heard it many times, and while there are obviously steps you should take to ensure your safety (don’t walk around at night alone, don’t leave your purse lying around, etc.) it is important to put into perspective how safe and unsafe a place is (aka, a lot of major cities have unsafe parts, that doesn’t mean you should never visit a major city). Another couple of downsides to Bogota are the elevation (especially if you are affected by higher elevations) and the rather chilly weather.
Landscape: the city sits in what is called the “Bogota Savanna,” which is really just a high plateau in the Andes mountains. The entire region is known as the Altiplano Cundiboyacense, which literally means "high plateau of Cundinamarca and Boyacá". In fact, Bogotá is the largest city in the world at its elevation - there is no urban area that is both higher and more populous than Bogotá (take that Quito, Ecuador).
Some of the best adventures around Bogota are climbing at Suesca and hiking/backpacking, especially to waterfalls; including, the tallest waterfall in the country La Chorrera (it is 590meters or 1,935 feet high) and to high alpine lakes (including one that supposedly inspired the tale of El Dorado).
Average Cost of Living: $414 per month, without rent. Bogota is said to be the most expensive city to live in Colombia (though Cartagena is up there too). Plus, it is still about 70% cheaper than New York City.
Best For: urban dwellers, people who want cooler temperatures and easy access to hiking
\\ Cali (Santiago de Cali)
This town in the more southern part of the country is known as the Sports Capital of Colombia. In fact, it is the only city in the country to have hosted the Pan American Games. Besides a love of sports, the major metropolis is the second-largest city in Colombia by area (and the third most populated). It is also one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
Pros: warm weather year-round (it is known as the City of Eternal Summer), lower cost of living and great access to various outdoor pursuits. Including, the Pacific coast ~2 hours away, and the coffee region ~3 hours away. Finally, the city overall is very modern. Meaning dependable high-speed internet, phone service and electricity (plus the water is drinkable).
Cons: Cali has many of the same problems as other major cities in Colombia, namely pollution (it is also in a valley), congestion and in a sense, crime. Altogether though, Cali is one of the fastest growing cities in the country - which some could see as a positive or a negative.
Landscape: located on the Cauca Valley to the west of the Cauca River and to the east of the Western Mountain Range near the hills known as Farallones de Cali. The city rests approximately 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) above sea level. Owing to its proximity to the equator, there are no major seasonal variations in Cali.
Average Cost of Living: $367 per month, without rent. Cali is said to be about 9% cheaper than Bogota.
Best For: sports lovers, people who want a modern city, but who also want to be able to head out to different landscapes easily
EXPLORE MORE | WHY WE CHOSE TO SLOW TRAVEL IN COLOMBIA
Bucaramanga has the fifth-largest economy by GDP in Colombia, as well as the highest GDP per capita, the lowest unemployment rate and the ninth-largest population in the country (581,130 people). Similarly, the city has over 160 parks scattered throughout its metropolitan area, giving it the nickname “La Ciudad de Los Parques” or The City of Parks.
Pros: one of the biggest perks is the high number of green spaces in the city. Plus, because of its location, the city is a popular base for many outdoor adventures (the state of Santander, which it is the capital of, is known worldwide as an adventure destination). Finally, one of the best things about Bucaramanga is the year-round daytime temperature highs (on average, in the upper 70s F).
Cons: one could say that the “biggest” con of being in Bucaramanga is that because there are not many other travelers/expats living there, you do need to be more fluent in Spanish. Now this can obviously be a good or bad thing depending on who you are. But along with that comes the fact that meeting fellow travelers who speak your language (i.e. building a community) can be a bit tougher.
Landscape: Bucaramanga is located on a plateau in the Cordillera Oriental of the Colombian Andes. The city is slightly too dry for a tropical rainforest climate, as its driest month of January averages just under 60 mm (2 in) of rainfall. Although its altitude is not considered very high (959 meters or 3,146 feet), Bucaramanga's climate is neither hot nor cold and compared to other cities at the same average altitude (such as Cali), Bucaramanga has much cooler daytime temperatures, owing to the cold wind coming down from the nearby mountains.
Average Cost of Living: $350 per month, without rent. Bucaramanga is said to be about 14.5% cheaper than Bogota. San Gil, a popular adventure town nearby, is another great option for digital nomads. But because it is a bit smaller and more touristy, expect to pay a bit more.
Best For: digital nomads who want to combine work with outdoor adventure, and people who need access to plenty of green space
🏥 TRAVEL INSURANCE
For adventurous digital nomads (including those looking to explore more off-the-beaten-path places), we highly recommend signing up and using SafetyWing for all your travel medical insurance needs (including COVID-19 coverage). And don’t worry, policies can still be purchased while already abroad.
Armenia is a medium-sized city that is part of the "coffee triangle", along with the neighboring cities of Pereira and Manizales. It is one of the main centers of the national economy and of the Colombian coffee growing axis. As a result, the historic center of Armenia was named as part of the "Coffee Cultural Landscape" - a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Similarly, unlike larger cities in the country, like Cartagena, which have been changed by heavy tourism, Armenia remains a faithful representation of Colombian culture.
Pros: Armenia’s climate is remarkably consistent. Slightly warmer than its sister cities of Pereira and Manizales, Armenia is the perfect place for those who want to wear lighter clothing. The city also has been investing heavily in transport within the city, and today it’s easy to travel by bus to nearby cities like Pereira, Manizales, and Salento (a beautiful mountain town) for less than $10. With coffee plantations, ranches, and forests surrounding the city, you’ll be able to easily see nature from your front door.
Cons: the city isn’t as well-known by foreigners as some other spots in Colombia. While this gives you a more authentic experience of truly living like a Colombian, it can also make it a bit tougher to find a community of travelers and expats.
Landscape: the city sits at an elevation of 1,551 meters or 5,089 feet above sea level. The region's northern area is the gateway to the beautiful Los Nevados National Park, where you can find the highest peaks in central Colombia. Also, in the same national park lies the Cocora Valley, where the National Tree of Colombia, the wax palm, grows - and which you can hike around in. Tourists and hikers can theoretically walk from Armenia (and more commonly the small town of Salento) to reach views of the park as well as other hiking trails and adventures.
Average Cost of Living: $381 per person, per month. The area (including Pereira) is almost 10% cheaper than Bogota.
Best For: adventurers and coffee lovers
Located in the southwestern corner of the nation, in the Andean region, lies the town of Pasto, also known as "Colombia's Surprise City." Because of its relative remoteness, and its close proximity to Ecuador (less than 80 kilometers away), there is a stronger Ecuadorian influence in the city than in many other places. One of the highlights of the city is the nearby Las Lajas Shrine, a beautiful gothic-style white church located above a river (see photo below).
Pros: much less touristy than other cities on the list, therefore you will likely get a better idea of what a more “traditional” Colombian city is like (or Ecuadorian…). Also, it sits at a much higher elevation (2,527 meters or 8,291 feet) so expect chillier weather (see more below).
Cons: while some people might consider it a positive, because of the higher elevation be prepared for much cooler temps, and often, cloudier skies. Similarly, because of its relatively remote location in Colombia, there is a bit of a “rougher” feel to the city.
Landscape: the municipality is located in the southwest of Colombia, in the middle of the Andes mountain range, and at the foot of the Galeras Volcano (it is also very close to the line of the equator). The vegetation consists mainly of the middle and high Andean forests, in addition to the páramo in the highest areas such as the tops of the mountains. The main attractions in the town are Lake Guamuez or La Cocha lake, located 27 kilometers from the city, and the Las Lajas Shrine.
Average Cost of Living: we could not find the average cost of living in Pasto. But we did find that the average cost of a monthly apartment on Airbnb is between $330 and $550, depending on how many bedrooms you want.
Best For: people looking to live in a more off-the-beaten-path, smaller (and colder) Colombian city.
Colombia is an incredibly diverse country, both culturally and ecologically. With so many places to choose from it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming - we know it was for us. Hopefully, this guide has helped you decide what city in Colombia would be right for you, to both work and adventure in. If you have any questions about living in Colombia or being a digital nomad in the country, please leave a comment or question below or reach out to us directly.
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