Manizales is located in the coffee triangle in Colombia with a growing number of foreigners living in the city. But there are downsides to living in Manizales. So, we look at 13 Manizales downsides for expats living in Manizales.

Manizales is a city in central Colombia, which lies on the Colombian Central Mountain Range. In addition, Manizales is located in the northern part of the Colombian coffee region Eje Cafetero.

We previously looked at downsides to living in Medellín and downsides to living in Bogotá. Also, we looked at downsides to living in Cali and downsides to living in Cartagena plus and overall downsides to living in Colombia. And several Medellin Guru readers asked for us to also look at the downsides of living in Manizales.

In addition, we have compared Medellín vs Manizales in 16 categories to see which is the better city to live in for expats. And in that comparison the Medellín won if the categories were equally weighted.

I have seen a few posts on the Internet that looked at the pros and cons of Manizales. But these all tend to miss some of the downsides of living in Manizales.

The biggest benefits to living in Manizales include the low cost of living and less traffic and pollution than is found some of the larger cities in Colombia.

But there are also several downsides to living in Manizales. I am originally from the U.S. and have lived in Colombia over eight years and I have traveled several times on business and vacation to Manizales.

So, the following list of downsides to living in Manizales is an expat’s perspective based on my experiences in the city and in Colombia.

Furthermore, not all these Manizales downsides apply to everyone. Some of these downsides can be overcome or avoided. And the following list of Manizales downsides is from a foreigner perspective in no particular order.

View of downtown Manizales

View of downtown Manizales

1. Climate and Weather – Manizales Downsides

In Manizales, the temperature during the entire year averages a cooler 62.6 ° F (17.0 °C). The daily average high temperature in Manizales ranges from 69.1 to 71.6 °F (20.6 to 22.0 °C).

Also, in Manizales, the daily average low temperature ranges from 53.2 to 55.0 °F (11.8 to 12.8 °C). The all-time record low in Manizales was 34.3 °F (1.3 °C)

in Manizales it gets chilly enough, so some people may want heaters.

While some expats may prefer the cooler climate of Manizales, most expats I have talked to prefer a warmer eternal spring climate. Colombia has three cities with eternal spring climates: Medellín, Pereira and Bucaramanga, which all have warmer climates than in Manizales.

Nevado del Ruiz volcano steam eruption in September 1985 prior to the major eruption on November 13, 1985 that erased Armero from the map, photo by U.S. Geological Survey

Nevado del Ruiz volcano steam eruption in September 1985 prior to the major eruption on November 13, 1985 that erased Armero from the map, photo by U.S. Geological Survey

2. Seismic and Volcanic Risk – Manizales Downsides

The coffee region of Colombia where Manizales is located has a long history of seismic activity.

Manizales has even been called the “world’s riskiest city” with unparalleled exposure to natural disasters.  Sprawled over a series of mountain ridges in the shadow of Nevado del Ruiz volcano, this urban area faces a panoply of natural disaster risks that are unlikely to be matched anywhere else in the world including earthquakes, a volcano and landslides.

The Manizales area was struck by major earthquakes in 1875 and 1879 that damaged many buildings in the city only to be followed by fires that swept through the city in 1925 and 1926.

Yet another threat to Manizales is the Nevado del Ruiz volcano located about 31 miles (50 km) to the southeast, which reportedly most recently erupted from December 1984 to March 1985 and September 1985 to July 1991.

Nevado del Ruiz is the second most active volcano in Colombia after Galeras near Pasto. The most likely hazard from the Nevado del Ruiz volcano is small-volume eruptions, which might destabilize glaciers resulting in lahar volcanic mud and debris flows. A small eruption in 1985 produced an enormous lahar that buried and destroyed the town of Armero, causing over 20,000 deaths.

Lahars pose a threat to the nearby towns of Ambalema, Chinchiná, Herveo, Honda, La Dorada, Mariquita, Salgar and Villa Hermosa. A large eruption could potentially have more widespread effects.

S.E.S. Hospital de Caldas in Manizales, photo courtesy of S.E.S. Hospital de Caldas

S.E.S. Hospital de Caldas in Manizales, photo courtesy of S.E.S. Hospital de Caldas

3. Healthcare – Manizales Downsides

Manizales only has one of the top 24 hospitals in Colombia, S.E.S Hospital de Caldas is ranked #39 out of the best hospitals and clinics in Latin America.

Manizales is a small city with a metro population of less than 560,000. So, it doesn’t have many hospitals and the hospitals in the city are relatively small. Healthcare is important for retirees but Manzales only has one highly ranked hospital.

So, you will have to go to another city in Colombia to find more of the best hospitals. Both Medellín and Bogotá each have nine of the 58 best hospitals and clinics in Latin America.

4. International Travel Access – Manizales Downsides

Manizales’ La Nubia airport is tiny. From La Nubia there are only domestic flights to Bogotá and to Medellín’s Olaya Herrera airport.  Also, La Nubia airport only operates during daylight hours from 6 am to 6 pm and it sometimes closes due to fog, rain or wind.

As alternatives to the Manizales airport, Pereira’s airport is a little over an hour away and Cali’s airport is about four hours away.

Police for Feria de Manizales, photo by National Police of Colombia

Police for Feria de Manizales, photo by National Police of Colombia

5. Crime is a Major Concern – Manizales Downsides

Crime and safety are major concerns of expats considering moving to Manizales and expats living in the city.

There are parts of Manizales where you shouldn’t go, particularly after dark, and you’ll need to learn these. Like any big city some neighborhoods in Manizales are not considered safe at night. About 50 percent of the homicides in Manizales in 2018 were in two comunas in the north of the city: San José and Ciudadela del Norte, so these are not considered safe.

Robberies in Manizales are concentrated in two comunas in the city: Cumanday and Palogrande, with 37 percent of robberies in 2018. These two comunas are the largest commercial areas of Manizales with many shops where people come during the day.

We have a separate article that looks at security in Manizales in more detail.

City view of Manizales, Colombia

6. Public Transport – Manizales Downsides

There is not really a metro system or elongated bus system in the small city of Manizales. So, compared to several other cities in Colombia, Manizales has an inferior public transportation system. Manizales only has two cable-car lines with four stations.

In Manizales there are some inexpensive bus routes and inexpensive taxis. However, sometimes in Manizales taxi drivers will try to take advantage and charge a higher “gringo” fare for foreign tourists.

7. Hilly – Manizales Downsides

Manizales is a relatively hilly city in my experience. So, much of the city is not very walkable.  This is a downside for some foreigners.

Manizales is located in an area with a great number of ridge-lines and steep slopes with a difficult topography.

8. Restaurants and Nightlife – Manizales Downsides

If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists only 237 restaurants in Manizales. So, there isn’t as big of a selection of restaurants that you will find in bigger cities in Colombia such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena.

Also, in the smaller city of Manizales, there are aren’t as many nightlife options available in my experience compared to bigger cities.

9. Spanish is Required

I have met a few foreigners that have been living in Manizales for several years that don’t speak much Spanish. But most Colombians in Manizales (and the rest of the country) generally don’t speak much English. So, to be independent you will need to speak some Spanish.

It is difficult to get by living in Manizales without speaking some Spanish. Only a few of the locals in Manizales speak English and there are few foreigners speaking English living in Manizales.

Also, most of the people that you will interact with on a typical day in Manizales, such as store clerks, taxi drivers and waiters will tend to speak little to no English. You will find fewer locals speaking English in Manizales compared to the bigger cities in Colombia of Bogotá, Cartagena and Medellín.

In addition, Education First ranks the English proficiency in Colombia as low at 48.90 on a 100-point scale.

(Note this downside is not unique to Manizales, it’s a Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia).

10. Need to File Taxes Twice and High IVA Tax

If you are an expat from the U.S. living in Manizales, Colombia, you likely will have to file taxes in both the U.S. and Colombia.

You are considered a tax resident in Colombia if you stay in the country for more than 183 total days during a year, whether this time is continuous or not. In addition, Colombia taxes the worldwide income of tax residents.

Just because you have to file taxes in Colombia doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay income taxes. Colombia has several deductions plus you can subtract some income taxes paid in another country from income taxes due in Colombia.

Colombia also has a 19 percent IVA tax (a value added tax – VAT) on many products, which makes buying many things more expensive. The IVA tax used to be 16 percent but was increased to 19 percent in February 2017. But some grocery items such as milk, eggs and fruits and several other items are exempt from the IVA tax in Colombia.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia).

Chevrolet Spark - one of the most popular car sold in Colombia, photo by IFCAR

Chevrolet Spark – one of the most popular car sold in Colombia, photo by IFCAR

11. Cars are Expensive

Cars can be quite expensive in Manizales due to import duties in Colombia of up to 35 percent. Reportedly over 60 percent of the vehicles sold in Colombia are imported. So, many models of cars sold in Manizales and other cities in Colombia can be more expensive than in the U.S.

Colombia has a free trade agreement with the U.S. that went into effect in 2012. The agreement is phasing out the import duty for vehicles over a 10-year period but there are still import duties.

In addition, Colombia has free trade agreements with several other countries. These other agreements are also phasing out import duties for automobiles. Over time this will help reduce the costs for imported vehicles sold in Colombia.

When living in Manizales, you should expect to pay more for a car than in the U.S. Also, there are also ongoing costs with owning a car including insurance, maintenance, taxes and gasoline.

But it is possible to live in Manizales without a car. Manizales has public buses, which are inexpensive. In addition, Manizales has relatively inexpensive taxis.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia).

USD to COP 10-year exchange rate history, source XE.com

USD to COP 10-year exchange rate history, source XE.com

12. Exchange Rate is Volatile

When living in Manizales in Colombia pretty much all of your costs will be in the local currency – Colombian pesos (COP).

The exchange rate over the past three years has been very beneficial if you have U.S. dollars (USD) or another Western currency. But the exchange rate has fluctuated dramatically over the years. So, it hasn’t always been like now.

Over the past 10 years the exchange rate has ranged from 1,745 to 3,518 pesos to the USD. So, your cost of living in Manizales in terms of USD will fluctuate. Over the past four years the exchange rate has ranged from 2,707 to 3,518 pesos to the USD. This is a much higher exchange rate range than the prior six years, as seen in the above chart.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia).

13. Customer Service

You will need patience and tolerance living in Manizales or other cities in Colombia. If someone says they will be there in 30 minutes it may be in two hours, tomorrow may mean sometime later in the week and so on.

Also, don’t expect someone to be on time for a date. It’s a pleasant surprise when they are. Colombians don’t come from a service-oriented culture. So, customer service can at times be very slow.

North Americans and Western Europeans used to their more well-oiled realities will run up against their share of disorganization, poor service, long lines and bureaucracy in Manizales and Colombia, which can range from mildly frustrating to infuriating.

However, this is no different than many other countries in Latin America. I have experienced similar issues in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and several other countries in Latin America.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia).

City view of Manizales, Colombia

The Bottom Line: Manizales Downsides – the Downsides of Living in Manizales as an Expat

The bottom line is that no city is perfect and every city has downsides. Also, some of the above Manizales downsides listed above really apply to any city in Colombia.

For example, five of the downsides listed above (the exchange rate, customer service, taxes, need for Spanish and expensive cars) can apply to any city in Colombia.

Also, before deciding to live in a city like Manizales it is important to understand all the downsides when comparing to other cities in Colombia or in other countries. A few publications tend to praise Manizales as a place to live but they don’t really discuss all the downsides.

So, hopefully the above article will help communicate several of the downsides of living in Manizales from an expat’s perspective. There is no sugar-coating on the Medellin Guru website.

Also, to each his own. Some expats prefer living in Manizales. There are so many things to do in Manizales and nearby with all the things to do in the coffee triangle region of Colombia. But I prefer living in Medellín with its eternal spring climate.

In addition, we previously looked 11 downsides to living in Medellín and 12 downsides to living in Bogotá. Also, we looked at 8 downsides of living in El Poblado, the most popular neighborhood for expats in Medellín.

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