Medellín vs Cali, which of these two cities in Colombia is the better city to live in for expats? This Medellín vs Cali comparison is a showdown between Medellín, known as the “city of eternal spring”, and Cali, which is known as the “Salsa capital” or the “city of eternal summer” in Colombia.
In our Medellín vs Cali comparison, we comprehensively compare these two cities in Colombia in 18 categories to see which is the better city to live in for expats.
I have met some expats living in Cali that prefer Cali over Medellín. But I have also met many expats living in Medellín that much prefer it. Also, Medellín seems to constantly receive positive press about being a top foreign retirement location.
I have lived in Medellín for over seven years. But I have traveled to Cali several times for business and pleasure and have spent well over a month in the city. In my opinion, both cities have pluses and minuses. No city is perfect.
We also have compared on this website:
- Medellín vs Cuenca – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Ecuador.
- Medellín vs Costa Rica – two top foreign retirement locations
- Medellín vs Panama City – two top foreign retirement locations
- Medellín vs Lima – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Peru
- Medellín vs Buenos Aires – comparing the cities in Colombia and Argentina
- 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 Manizales – Medellín versus a smaller city in the coffee region of Colombia
- Medellín vs Santa Marta – Medellín versus a smaller coastal city in Colombia
Note, the following categories in this Medellín vs Cali 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 Cali comparison. Also, the above photo is the Cristo del Rey statue in Cali.
1. Cost of Living – Medellín vs Cali
Cali wins here. Apartment properties I have seen in Medellín in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for 20 to 30 percent higher prices than similar properties in Cali. And the price difference can be even higher for properties for sale – I have seen some comparable properties with up to 50 percent higher prices in Medellín compared to Cali.
Electricity costs in Cali will normally be higher due to the need for air-conditioning. Taxis in Cali are also somewhat more expensive than in Medellín due to an after dark and Sunday surcharge and a bit higher mileage rate.
But the costs of other things like restaurants, drugstore items and groceries tend to be similar or somewhat lower in Cali when compared to Medellín
Numbeo confirms that the cost of living in Cali is cheaper than Medellín here. In general, the cost of living is lower in Cali than in Medellín.
2. Climate – Medellín vs Cali
Medellín arguably wins here for many people. 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).
While in Cali, the temperature during the year averages 75 °F (23.9 °C). The daily average high temperature in Cali ranges from 84 to 86.4 °F (28.9 to 30.2 °C). But the high temperature does get above 90 °F in Cali at times. And the record high in Cali is 97.9 °F (36.6 °C). In Cali, the daily average low temperature ranges from 65.1 to 63.3 °F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).
In Medellín, the average annual humidity is 68 percent. And in Cali the average annual humidity is 74 percent. So, Cali has more humidity than is found in Medellín. So, it feels more tropical.
But in rains more often in Medellín. In Medellín, 10 months each year have over 100 mm of rain on average. While in Cali only two months each year typically have over 100 mm of rain on average (October and November). For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 35.0 inches in Cali.
In Medellín it is quite possible to live without air-conditioning or heating. While in Cali it gets hot enough that you will likely need air-conditioning. However, some expats may prefer the warmer climate in Cali. To each his own.
3. Healthcare – Medellín vs Cali
Medellín arguably wins here. Medellín has seven of the top 49 ranked hospitals in Latin America while Cali has only two.
Here is a list of all the top ranked hospitals in both cities, with the rankings in the top 49 hospitals in Latin America:
- Fundación Valle del Lili – Cali – #3
- Hospital Pablo Tobín Uribe – Medellín – #9
- Centro Médico Imbanaco – Cali – #11
- Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación – Medellín – #16
- Clinica Las Américas – Medellín – #18
- Hospital General de Medellín – Medellín – #26
- Clinica Universitaria Bolivariana – Medellín – #32
- Clinica El Rosario – Medellín – #33
- Clinica Medellín – Medellin – #47
In addition, Medellín is a somewhat larger city than Cali. So, it reportedly has more medical and dental providers than are found Cali. But since it’s a larger city there is also a bigger population to care for.
Both Medellín and Cali have quality healthcare available. But Medellín edges out Cali in this category due to having more highly rated hospitals.
4. Traffic – Medellín vs Cali
Cali wins here. In my experience, the traffic in Medellín is worse than in Cali due to having more cars on the roads and being less spread out than Cali. Medellín is also a somewhat larger city population-wise. Medellín has a metro population of about 3.8 million compared to Cali with a metro population of about 3.4 million.
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 tends to be in El Poblado, El Centro and Envigado.
But there is worst traffic in Latin America than in Medellín. In my experience, the traffic is much worse in the bigger cities of Bogotá, São Paulo and Mexico City.
In my experience, Cali has less traffic than in Medellín. Traffic in Cali may mean being stuck in traffic for 30 to 45 minutes.
5. Public Transportation – Medellín vs Cali
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.
In comparison, Cali has its elongated MIO bus system, which is similar to the Transmilenio bus system in Bogotá. I have only gone on MIO once in Cali and it was overcapacity with people packed like sardines during rush hour. In addition, Metrocali has one MIO cable car line.
In addition, both cities have extensive bus routes that are inexpensive plus inexpensive taxis.
Due to Medellín’s world class metro system, Medellín easily wins this public transportation category.
6. Safety – Medellín vs Cali
Medellín wins here. Cali remains on the world’s most dangerous city list with a homicide rate of 54 per 100,000 residents in 2016. The homicide rate in Medellín is now less than half of the rate in Cali.
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. Medellín has dropped off of the list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world a few years ago based on homicide rates.
Also, in a survey of 12,548 Colombians, Medellín ranked higher than Cali in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio and city.
In terms of feeling safe in their city in this survey (slide 40), Cali was ranked the third worst out of all the cities surveyed. Only 30 percent of respondents in Cartagena felt safe in their city. This compares to 45 percent feeling safe in their city in Medellín.
In this same survey (slide 41) citizens felt the safest in their barrio in Medellín. In Medellín, 75 percent of respondents felt safe in their barrio, the highest out of the surveyed cities. In Cali, only 49 percent of respondents felt safe in their barrio.
In both cities, there are neighborhoods that are generally safer than the overall city such as El Poblado in Medellín and El Peñon in Cali. As any big city, both cities also have neighborhoods to avoid, particularly after dark.
7. Pollution – Medellín vs Cali
Cali wins here. The World Health Organization (WHO) previously reported that Medellín is ranked #9 in a list of the 10 most polluted cities in Latin America.
Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon. And mountains surround the city. 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 clean the atmosphere.
But Medellín doesn’t have the worst pollution in Latin America. According to WHO, Santiago, Chile and other towns in Chile, Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; Cubatão, Brazil; as well as some towns in Costa Rica all have worse pollution levels than in Medellín.
Cali, on the other hand, has less pollution than Medellín. There are regular breezes that help keep the air clean in the city.
However, Medellín tends to be a cleaner city than Cali. 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. Things to Do – Medellín vs Cali
The cities arguably tie in this category. Both Medellín and Cali have many things to do in the cities as well as many things to do nearby. Medellín wins in terms of things to do in the city. And Cali wins in terms of the number things to do within a few hours from Cali. So, these cities arguably tie in terms of things to do.
TripAdvisor has 123 things to do listed in Cali. And it has 185 things to do listed for Medellín. While this is unscientific, it helps to demonstrate that there are more things to do in the city of Medellín than in the city of Cali.
Medellín has more churches, more sights and more landmarks than Cali. In addition, Medellín is a more popular tourist location so there are many more hotels, more hostels and more furnished apartments available in the city.
Medellín has several natural parks including the huge Parque Arví nature reserve covering 39,500 acres with 54 miles of walkable trails with activities like hiking, biking, jogging, horseback riding, picnicking and bird watching. While Cali has Pance south of the city, which in many ways is a similar paradise for outdoors lover’s.
In addition, Cali is only about two hours by road from the Pacific coast. Also, Cali is only about three hours by road from the Coffee Triangle in Colombia with the cities of Pereira, Manizales, Armenia and many other pueblos like Salento. So, Cali has a bigger number of things to do nearby, within easy driving distance.
9. Travel Access to North America, Europe, Latin America and Colombia – Medellín vs Cali
Medellín arguably 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 (EOH). From Medellín’s two airports you can fly non-stop to over 30 cities in Colombia.
Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport serving Cali is the third largest airport in Colombia. From this airport, you can fly to eight international cities non-stop and also to 14 cities in Colombia non-stop. And Spirt is adding Cali daily service to/from Fort Lauderdale on December 20, 2018.
From Cali’s airport, you can currently fly non-stop only to Miami in the U.S. But in December you will also be able to fly non-stop to Fort Lauderdale. In addition, Avianca has a flight from Cali to New York JFK but this stops first in Medellín. So, it’s not non-stop. You can also fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe and non-stop to Esmeraldas, Guayaquil, Lima, Panama City, Quito and San Salvador in Latin America.
The bottom line is you can get to more destinations from Medellín’s two airports non-stop than you can from Cali’s airport. So, Medellín arguably wins this category.
10. Restaurants – Medellín vs Cali
Medellín wins here. Medellín is a somewhat larger city that has more foreign tourists visiting the city. Medellín has a metro population of about 3.8 million. While Cali’s metro population is about 3.4 million.
If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists 1,145 restaurants in Medellín but in Cali less than 730 restaurants listed. In my experience, Cali has many good restaurants but Medellín has an even bigger selection of good restaurants. So, Medellín wins this category.
11. Education Options – Medellín vs Cali
The two cities arguably tie here. Both Medellín and Cali have several options for universities, Spanish language education and bilingual schools for children.
As two of the three largest cities in Colombia, both cities have many universities. Medellín has over 30 universities and Cali reportedly has over 20 universities.
Since Medellín is a more popular location for foreign tourists it has more Spanish language education programs available than Cali. Most notably, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in the country for foreigners.
Both cities have several bilingual international schools for children available. Cali may even have more bilingual schools than Medellín. There are reportedly over 20 bilingual schools in Cali including Colgegio Alemán de Cali, Colegio Bennett, Colegio Berchmans, Colegio Bolivar Cali, Colegio Colombo Británico Cali, Colegio Jefferson Cali and Liceo Francés Paul Valery. Medellín also has several bilingual schools including Columbus, Montessori and The New School.
12. Expat Community – Medellín vs Cali
Medellín wins here. Medellín has a sizeable expat population living in the city that is well organized. Medellín has large expat groups on Facebook like Medellin Expats and Digital Nomads Medellin that are very active with several thousand members each. In addition, in Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month.
Cali doesn’t have such a well-established expat community. Expats I have met in Cali told me that the expat community living in Cartagena is much smaller. Medellín also gets many more foreign tourists each year than Cali.
13. Shopping – Medellín vs Cali
Medellín wins here. Medellín has more Western style malls and more shopping options than Cali. 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.
Cali has several Western style malls but fewer than are found in Medellín. The largest malls in Cali are Centro Comerical Chipichape and Unicentro.
14. English Proficiency Levels – Medellín vs Cali
The two cities tie here. In both cities, you will frequently find some English speakers in hotels and nicer restaurants. And even a few of the taxi drivers and shopkeepers in both Medellín and Cali speak some English. Also, executives at larger companies in both cities typically are bilingual.
But in everyday life in both Medellín and Cali you will be challenged to find English speakers.
Out of the cities in Colombia only in Bogotá and Cartagena are you likely to find more English speakers than in Medellín or Cali.
15. Nightlife – Medellín vs Cali
Cali arguably wins here. Cali is known as the Salsa Capital of Colombia. There are so many bars and clubs in Cali. Many are salsa-based. So, I recommend knowing a few steps before you arrive or take some classes. In Cali, this may even be more important than knowing Spanish.
There are other styles of bars and clubs in Cali as well, ranging from rock to Reggaeton. Some popular nightlife areas in Cali include Barrio Granada, San Antonio, Barrio Alameda, Juanchito and Parque del Perro.
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. But Cali’s reputation as the Salsa Capital is well-deserved, in my humble opinion the Salsa places in Medellín don’t compare.
16. Job Opportunities – Medellín vs Cali
The cities tie here. Both Medellín and Cali have several large employers and several multinational companies that are headquartered in the U.S. or other countries
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 Colombia
In both cites you can find English teaching job opportunities if you are a native English speaker. But the pay for English teaching isn’t the greatest and competition is fierce, particularly in Medellín.
Also keep in mind that many of the jobs in Colombia are low paying jobs. The minimum wage in Colombia is only 737,717 pesos per month. In addition, there is transportation assistance for minimum wage workers of 83,140 pesos a month.
17. Internet Availability – Medellín vs Cali
The two cities tie here. Both Medellín and Cali 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. And up to 150 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE. Most buildings in Medellín will have service from at least one of these two providers. And Both Claro and Tigo-UNE in Medellín provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services.
In Cali, you can also get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro and 100 Mbps from EMCALI. And up to 150 Mbps speed is reportedly available from Tigo-UNE. Most buildings in Cali will have service from at least one of these three providers. And all three providers offer triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in Cartagena.
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.
18. Walkability – Medellín vs Cali
Cali wins here. Cali is a very walkable city. It’s possible to easily walk from popular neighborhoods for foreigners in Cali like El Peñon or Granada to the river and also to El Centro. Cali is mostly flat except for some neighborhoods on hills.
In comparison, Medellín is located in a valley surrounded by mountains. Some neighborhoods in Medellín are flat and walkable like Laureles-Estadio. But several other neighborhoods like El Poblado and parts of Envigado in Medellín are hilly and much less walkable.
The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Cali
In our Medellín vs Cali comparison:
- Medellín wins in 8 of our 18 categories.
- Cali wins in five of our 18 categories.
- The two cities tie in five categories.
So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Cali comparison of 18 categories, Medellín wins if you equally weigh the categories.
If having a springtime climate, better security and having good public transportation were your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you. And if cost of living, avoiding traffic, avoiding pollution plus a warmer climate are your most important categories, then Cali would win for you.
Both of these cities in Colombia have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it having a cooler climate and better public transportation plus more non-stop flight options.
The bottom line in our Medellín vs Cali 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 city is the best for you is to spend time there.
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Editors note: updated article on December 11, 2017 with new Colombian hospital rankings.
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 September 12, 2018 to add Spirt’s newly announced daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Cali, which will start on December 20, 2018.
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.