Medellín vs Barranquilla, which of these cities in Colombia is really the better place to live? In our Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison, we comprehensively compare the two cities in in 16 categories to see which is the better place to live in for expats.
We previously wrote about 11 reasons why Medellín is considered a top foreign retirement location. The foreign retirement publications have for several years have been touting Medellín as top foreign retirement location.
Medellín is a city located in a valley in the Colombian Andes Mountains in Colombia. And mountains surround Medellín with a river running though the city.
Barranquilla is a port city along the Caribbean coast in Colombia. Barranquilla is the fourth largest city in Colombia with a metro population of about 1.2 million. Note the above photo of Barranquilla is by JDVillaLobos.
Medellín is the second largest city in Colombia with a metro population of about 4 million. Many expats I have met living in Medellín prefer Medellín. And expats living in Barranquilla tend to prefer Barranquilla. But some of these expats living in one of these two places have never traveled to the other. And it’s not really fair to compare two places if you have not been to both of them.
I have lived in Medellín for over seven years. But I have traveled several times on vacation to Barranquilla and the coast. In my opinion, both places have their pluses and minuses. No place is perfect.
Since we have already compared Medellín with several cities in Colombia, some readers asked that we also do a Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison.
Note, the following 16 categories in this Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison are in no particular order. And where possible, we provide some statistics to back up how we chose the winner of each category in our Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison.
1. Cost of Living
Barranquilla wins here. Similar apartment properties I have seen in Medellín in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 10-20 percent higher prices than in Barranquilla – or sometimes even higher.
Other costs like groceries, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 5 percent cheaper in Barranquilla in comparison to Medellín.
The Expatistan website reports that the cost of living is 5 percent cheaper in Barranquilla when compared to Medellín. And the Numbeo website also confirms that the cost of living in Barranquilla is cheaper than in Medellín.
Air-conditioning is needed in Barranquilla, so your electricity costs will be much higher in Barranquilla than in Medellín, where it is possible to live without cooling or heating.
However, the cost of living in terms of USD or Euros has dropped in both cities in Colombia over the past few years due to the weakness of the Colombian peso.
Medellín wins here. The temperature during the year in Medellín averages 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). The Medellín weather and climate is a benefit of living in the city. Also, Medellín is known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, or the city of eternal spring. The average temperature in Medellín typically only varies by about 1 °F during the year.
In Medellín, the high daily average temperature ranges from 81.0 to 82.8 ° F (27.0 to 28.2 °C). And the low daily average ranges from 61.7 to 63.3 ° F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).
In Barranquilla, the temperature during the entire year averages a warmer 80.4 ° F (26.9 °C). The average daily high temperature in Barranquilla ranges from 88.3 to 91.8 °F (31.3 to 33.2 °C). And in Barranquilla, the average daily low temperature ranges from 74.1 to 76.8 °F (23.4 to 24.9 °C).
The all-time record high in Barranquilla was 103.6 °F (39.8 °C) and the all-time record high in Medellín was 100.4 °F (38.4 °C). Also, many of the local apartments and homes in Barranquilla don’t have air-conditioning in my experience, so it can get very hot during the day when inside. But hotels and apartments catering to foreigners all tend to have air-conditioning.
For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 32.4 inches in Barranquilla. Medellín experiences some rain 227 days per year on average and Barranquilla experiences some rain 78 days per year on average. So, it rains more often in Medellín. But Barranquilla is more humid with an average humidity during the year of 80 percent compared to 67 percent in Medellín.
The bottom line is that Medellín has a cooler climate and air-conditioning and heating isn’t required. While in Barranquila it can get very hot, so air-conditioning is required. So, Medellín wins this category. However, some expats may prefer the warmer climate in Barranquilla.
Medellín wins here. Medellín has nine of the top 58 ranked hospitals in Latin America while Barranquilla has none.
Colombia has 23 of the top hospitals in Latin America. And Colombia’s healthcare system has been ranked as the best healthcare system in Latin America by the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO ranks Colombia’s healthcare system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked, which is ranked higher than many wealthier countries like the United States (#37), Germany (#25), Canada (#30) and Australia (#32).
Here is a list of the nine top ranked hospitals in Medellín, with the rankings in the top 58 hospitals in Latin America:
- Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe (#9)
- Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación (#16)
- Clínica las Américas (#23)
- Hospital General de Medellín (#28)
- Clínica Universitaria Bolivariana (#34)
- Clínica El Rosario (#43)
- Clínica Cardio Vid (#44)
- Clínica Medellín (#53)
- Clínica Las Vegas (#58)
Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. And Medellín wins this category due to having seven of the best hospitals in Latin America.
In addition, Medellín is a much bigger city than Barranquilla. So, it obviously has many more medical and dental providers than are found in Barranquilla. But since it’s a larger city there is also a much bigger population to care for.
Barranquilla wins here. In a survey by Waze in 2016, Medellín was ranked #176 in the world in terms of drivers’ satisfaction out of 186 metros surveyed.
Traffic can get bad in Medellín during rush hours. It can sometimes take an hour or more during rush hour to get certain places in Medellín. The worst traffic in Medellín in my experience tends to be in El Poblado, El Centro and Envigado.
Since Barranquilla is a smaller city, it has much fewer cars and less traffic problems in my experience than are found in Medellín.
5. Public Transportation
Medellín wins here. Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. And it has been in place for over 20 years.
The Medellín Metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. Furthermore, it integrates two rail lines, four Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus lines, a Tranvía tramcar line and even feeder Metro buses.
Barranquilla in comparison only has an elongated bus systems called Transmetro, which is similar to the Transmilenio bus system in Bogotá.
Both Medellín and Barranquilla have extensive and inexpensive bus routes plus inexpensive taxis. The taxis in Medellín are metered and you just need to pay the fare on the meter.
In comparison, Barranquilla doesn’t have taxi meters which is similar to taxis in the coastal city of Cartagena. Taxi meters have been proposed in Barranquilla five times for the estimated 17,000 taxis in the city. But the city doesn’t yet have taxi meters.
Some taxi drivers in Barranquilla will take advantage and charge a higher “gringo” fare for foreign tourists. There is an official fare list in Barranquilla that taxi drivers are supposed to have in their taxis. But some conveniently don’t have this official list. To make sure you are not surprised at the fare at the destination when in Barranquilla, always make sure to ask the fare to the destination before getting in a taxi.
The Medellín Metro system was named one of the top transport systems in the world by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in 2012. Due to Medellín’s much more comprehensive metro system that is considered world-class, Medellín wins this public transportation category.
Medellín arguably wins here. In a survey of over 14,000 Colombians in 2016, Medellín ranked higher than all other cities survey in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio (neighborhood) with 73 percent feeling safe in their barrio in Medellín. This compares to only 52 percent in Barranquilla feeling safe in their barrio. So, Barranquilla ranked sixth out of surveyed cities.
Also, 51 percent in Medellín felt safe in their city compared to 42 percent feeling safe in their city in Barranquilla.
Barranquilla ended 2017 with a count of 343 homicides, which was down from 378 homicides in 2016. But the city of Medellín with over double the population of Barranquilla had 577 homicides reported in 2017. So, Barranquilla has a higher homicide rate than Medellín.
We previously looked at safety in Medellín. Over the past few years Medellín has experienced a homicide rate that is lower than is found in St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit or New Orleans in the U.S. Furthermore, Medellín dropped off of the list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world a few years ago based on homicide rates.
Barranquilla wins here. Medellín has pollution problems. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) 2018 Ambient Air Quality Database, Medellín is ranked #9 out of the most polluted cities and towns in Latin America based on PM2.5 pollutants.
Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon. Mountains surround the city of Medellín. So, pollution tends to stay in the Medellín metropolitan area. This is similar to the problem in Denver in the U.S. But fairly regular rain in the city can help clean the atmosphere.
However, according to WHO, in Latin America several cities and towns have worse pollution than in Medellín. Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; five towns in Chile; and Guatemala all have worse air pollutant problems.
Barranquilla in general has much less pollution than in Medellín. Barranquilla has some heavy industries but ocean breezes help to keep the air generally clean.
In general, Medellín has more pollution than is found in Barranquilla. So, Barranquilla wins this category. However, Medellín is the cleanest city out of over 30 cities I have been to in Latin America and you won’t see much litter.
8. Travel Access to North America, Europe and Latin America
Medellín wins here. Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport (MDE) is the second largest airport in Colombia. This airport has non-stop flights to nine international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. And on November 9, 2018, a 10th international destination will be added for Medellín when Spirit starts flights twice a week to/from Orlando.
From the MDE airport there are non-stop flights available to Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York (JFK) in the U.S. In addition, from MDE you can fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe. Also, you can fly non-stop to Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia.
In addition, there are more domestic Colombia flights available from Medellín as the city has two airports: the international José María Córdova airport and the domestic Olaya Herrera airport. From Medellín’s two airports you can fly non-stop to over 30 cities in Colombia.
Ernesto Cortissoz International airport (BAQ) in Barranquilla is small in comparison. From Ernesto Cortissoz airport there are only international non-stop flights to Miami and Panama City. And there are non-stop domestic flights to 10 destinations in Colombia.
The bottom line you can fly non-stop from Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport to more international destinations and many more domestic destinations from both of Medellín’s airports. And your flight options are more limited in Barranquilla. So, Medellín wins this category.
9. Mosquitos and Other Bugs
Medellín wins here. Mosquitos and other types of bugs can be a major problem in Barranquilla. Medellín is at a much high elevation. So, it doesn’t have as many mosquitos and other bugs as are found in Barranquilla.
Reportedly the Aedes aegypi mosquitos that spread the Zika virus infection are prevalent in Barranquilla. Most notably, the Aedes aegypi mosquitos also spread the Chikungunya virus and dengue fever. So, make sure to take precautions in Barranquilla and use insect repellents.
Aedes aegypi mosquitos are less prevalent in Medellín. In addition, most of the cases of Zika reported in Colombia have been at lower elevations like in Barranquilla.
For over seven years, I have lived in higher floors in high-rise apartments in Medellín. And I can sleep with the windows open with no bugs and I have never even seen a mosquito. Reportedly mosquitoes typically don’t fly very high.
Last year I met an expat in Medellín that told me she went to Barranquilla for carnival and got sick with the Chikungunya virus. This demonstrates that it’s important to take precautions in Barranquilla and along the coast. And all the grocery stores and drug stores in Barranquilla sell insect repellents.
10. Things to Do
Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with a metro population of about 4 million. While Barranquilla’s metro population is about 1.2 million. So, Medellín has many more things to do.
TripAdvisor has only 90 things to do listed in Barranquilla. And it has 189 things to do listed in Medellín. While this is unscientific, it demonstrates there are many more things to do in the larger city of Medellín than in the smaller city of Barranquilla.
Medellín has many more churches, more sights, more parks, more tourist attractions and more landmarks than Barranquilla. In addition, Medellín is a more popular tourist location so there are many more hotels, more hostels and more furnished apartments available in Medellín.
For example, on Airbnb, you won’t find many furnished apartments available in Barranquilla. But there are hundreds of furnished apartments available in Medellín.
Barranquilla is on the coast but it doesn’t have any beaches really worth going to like are found in Cartagena and Santa Marta. The biggest thing to do in Barranquilla is the annual carnival held in Barranquilla, which is reportedly the second largest carnival in the world after carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We also have an insider guide to Carnival in Barranquilla.
11. Restaurants and Nightlife
Medellín wins here. The bigger city of Medellín also has many more restaurant and nightlife choices than are found in the smaller city of Barranquilla.
If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists only 422 restaurants in Barranquilla but over 1,160 restaurants in Medellín. So, you will have a much bigger choice of restaurants in the larger city of Medellín.
Medellín also has many more nightlife options. You can find bars, nightclubs, music and pubs of many styles in Medellín found in areas like Parque Lleras, La 70 and La 33. In comparison, in the smaller city of Barranquilla, there are much fewer nightlife options available in my experience.
12. Job Opportunities
Medellin wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with over three times the metro population of Barranquilla. So, obviously there are many more job opportunities in Medellín.
Medellín has several very large employers and several multinational companies have offices in Medellín that are headquartered in the U.S.
But there aren’t that many work opportunities in either city for foreigners. This is particularly the case if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. Fluency in Spanish is typically required for the best jobs in both Medellín and Barranquilla.
In both Medellín and Barranquilla, you can find English teaching job opportunities if you are a native English speaker. However, the pay for English teaching isn’t the greatest in either city. And competition is reportedly fierce for English teaching jobs Medellín.
13. Expat Community
Medellín wins here. Medellín has a much larger expat English speaking community than Barranquilla has.
The entire country of Colombia has nearly 19,000 expats from the U.S. and over 2,200 expats from Canada and the UK living in Colombia according to International Organization of Migration. But a big portion of those expats living in Colombia live in Bogotá and Medellín, the two biggest cities in Colombia.
Unfortunately, there aren’t statistics for Medellín. However, I would estimate there may be less than 4,000 expats from North America and Europe living in Medellín. While in Barranquilla the expat population is tiny, likely less than a couple hundred. When I have visited Barranquilla, I have rarely encountered expats except during carnival.
In comparison, Barranquilla has a very small Facebook group Barranquilla Expats with only 73 members. There is a larger Expats & Friends of Barranquilla Facebook group but it includes many Colombians.
In Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month. While expats in Barranquilla indicated to me there rarely are organized meetups for expats.
Some expats may like that Barranquilla is more off the beaten path with much fewer expats. However, that also means much fewer expats in Barranquilla to help out and to socialize with.
14. Education Options
Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city so it has nearly 40 universities compared to reportedly less than 10 universities in Barranquilla.
And, with a bigger expat population in Medellín, the city apparently has more Spanish language programs available than are found in Barranquilla. In addition, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in Colombia for foreigners.
Furthermore, Medellín has over 10 bilingual schools available for children. And expats in Barranquilla told me there are less than eight bilingual schools in the much smaller city of Barranquilla.
The bottom line is that the much bigger city of Medellín wins this education category with more universities, more Spanish language programs and more bilingual schools available.
15. Internet Availability and Infrastructure Reliability
The two cities tie here. Both Medellín and Barranquilla have high-speed Internet of up to 300 Mbps speed available.
In Medellín, it is possible to get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. In addition, up to 150 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE and up to 40 Mbps from Movistar.
Most buildings in Medellín will have service from at least one of these three providers. And all three providers in Medellín provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services. Also, we have a guide to Internet and cable TV providers in Medellín.
In Barranquilla, you can reportedly also get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. And up to 150 Mbps speed is reportedly available from Tigo-UNE. Most buildings in Barranquilla will have service from at least one of these two providers. And both Claro and Tigo-UNE offer triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in Barranquilla.
Similar to other cities in Colombia, the highest speed Internet in both cities will normally be available only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings, you may be limited to lower speeds.
In terms of reliability of Internet, TV, phone, electricity and water services, both cities generally have reliable services. A friend living in Barranquilla told me recently he has only experienced a few Internet and electricity outages in two years living there.
I only experienced three power outages in over seven years living in Medellín. And one of these outages I was informed about by the provider EPM beforehand, which was due to maintenance. In addition, I only experienced three Internet outages with Claro in Medellín and these were each resolved within an hour after calling the company.
Medellín wins here. Medellín has more Western style malls and more shopping options than the smaller city of Barranquilla. The largest malls in the Medellín metro area include El Tesoro, Los Molinos, Mayorca, Oviedo, Premium Plaza, Puerta del Norte, San Diego, Santafé, Unicentro and Viva Envigado.
Santafé mall is one the largest malls in Medellín with over 400 shops. And in October 2018, Viva Envigado, the largest mall in Colombia opened in Envigado, directly south of Medellín. The Medellín metro area has many malls and we have looked at the 13 best malls in Medellín.
The largest mall in Barranquilla is Buenavista mall with less than 250 shops according to its website. Reportedly none of the other malls in Barranquilla have over 200 stores. And there are at least eight malls in Medellín with over 200 stores.
The bottom line is that Medellín has many more malls which tend to be larger than in Barranquilla. And as a much larger city, Medellín has many more shopping options than are found in Barranquilla. So, Medellín wins this category.
The Medellin Guru City and Place Comparisons
We have compared on this website:
- Medellín vs Cuenca – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Ecuador.
- Medellín vs Panama City – two top foreign retirement locations.
- Medellín vs Costa Rica – two top foreign retirement locations.
- Medellín vs Puerto Vallarta – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Mexico.
- Medellín vs Lima – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Peru.
- Medellín vs Algarve – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Portugal.
- Medellín vs Chiang Mai – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Thailand.
- Medellín vs Buenos Aires – comparing the cities in Colombia and Argentina.
- Medellín vs Santiago – comparing the cities in Colombia and Chile.
- Medellín vs Rio de Janeiro – comparing the cities in Colombia and Brazil.
- Medellín vs Bogotá – the two largest cities in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga – three cities of eternal spring in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Cartagena – a beach city versus a mountain city showdown in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Cali – a showdown between the “city of eternal spring” vs the “city of eternal summer” in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Manizales – Medellín versus a smaller city in the coffee region of Colombia.
- Medellín vs Barranquilla – Medellín versus a coastal city in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Santa Marta – Medellín versus a smaller coastal city in Colombia.
The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Barranquilla
In our Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison:
- Medellín wins in 12 of our 16 categories.
- Barranquilla wins in three of our 16 categories.
- The two cities tie in one category.
So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison of 16 categories, Medellín wins if you equally weigh the categories.
If having a better climate, better healthcare, having good public transportation and better flight access to North America are your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you.
And if a lower cost of living with less pollution and less traffic plus you prefer smaller cities on the coast with a warmer climate are your most important categories, then Barranquilla would win for you.
There aren’t many expats currently living in Barranquilla and Medellín is much more popular with expats. Barranquilla hasn’t yet been discovered by many expats.
Both of these places in our Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it having an eternal spring climate, good healthcare, good public transportation and many more things to do.
The bottom line in our Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison is that the best place to live is the best place to live for you. Everyone has different priorities. The only way to know which place is the best for you is to spend time there.
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Editors note: Updated on September 9, 2018 to add new Medellín flights from Spirit to/from Orlando that start on November 9, 2018 with flights twice a week.
Editors note: updated on October 8, 2018 to add the new Viva Envigado mall, which is the largest mall in Colombia.
Editors note: updated on November 1, 2018, with updates to Claro’s fastest Internet speed.
Editors note: updated on December 22, 2018 with new 2018 Colombian hospital rankings.
Editors note: updated on March 6, 2019 with data from the WHO’s 2018 Ambient Air Quality Database.