Medellín vs Manizales, which of these cities in Colombia is really the better place to live? In our Medellín vs Manizales 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.

Manizales is a city in central Colombia, which lies on the Colombian Central Mountain Range. Manizales is located in an area with a great number of ridgelines and steep slopes with a difficult topography. In addition, Manizales is located in the northern part of the Colombian coffee region Eje Cafetero.

Many expats I have met living in Medellín prefer Medellín. And expats living in Manizales tend to prefer Manizales. 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 business and vacation to Manizales. 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 Manizales comparison.

Note, the following 16 categories in this Medellín vs Manizales 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 Manizales comparison.

City view of Manizales, Colombia

City view of Manizales, Colombia

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

1. Cost of Living

Manizales 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 30-40 percent higher prices than in Manizales – or even much higher.

Other costs like groceries, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 5-10 percent cheaper in Manizales in comparison to Medellín.

The Expatistan website reports that the cost of living is 19 percent higher in Medellín when compared to Manizales.  And the Numbeo website also confirms that the cost of living in Manizales is cheaper than in Medellín.

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.

2. Climate

Medellín arguably 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 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). And 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) and the all-time record low in Medellín was 46.4 °F (8.0 °C). Also, most apartments and houses in Manizales don’t have heaters in my experience, so it can get cold at night when inside.

For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 63.4 inches in Manizales. Medellín experiences some rain 227 days per year on average and Manizales experiences some rain 229 days per year on average. So, both cities have similar amounts of rain.

The bottom line is that Medellín has a warmer climate and air-conditioning and heating isn’t required. While in Manizales it gets chilly enough, so some people may want heaters. So, Medellín arguably wins this category. However, some expats may prefer the cooler climate in Manizales.

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

3. Healthcare

Medellín wins here. Medellín has nine of the top 58 ranked hospitals in Latin America while Manizales only has one.

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).

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

Here is a list of all the top ranked hospitals in Medellín and Manizales, with the rankings in the top 58 hospitals in Latin America:

  • Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe – Medellín (#9)
  • Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación – Medellín (#16)
  • Clínica las Américas – Medellín (#23)
  • Hospital General de Medellín – Medellín (#28)
  • Clínica Universitaria Bolivariana – Medellín (#34)
  • Clínica El Rosario – Medellín (#43)
  • Clínica Cardio Vid – Medellín (#44)
  • S.E.S Hospital de Caldas – Manizales (#50)
  • Clínica Medellín – Medellín (#53)
  • Clínica Las Vegas – Medellín (#58)

Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. And Medellín wins this category due to having nine of the best hospitals in Latin America.

In addition, Medellín is a much bigger city than Manizales. So, it obviously has many more medical and dental providers than are found in Manizales. But since it’s a larger city there is also a much bigger population to care for.

4. Traffic

Manizales 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 Manizales is a much smaller city, it has much fewer cars and less traffic problems in my experience than are found in Medellín.

The Medellín Metro

The Medellín Metro

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.

Cable car line in Manizales, photo by Ricohin

Cable car line in Manizales, photo by Ricohin

Manizales in comparison only has two cable-car lines with four stations. And it has no metro train line or tram line.

Both Medellín and Manizales have extensive and inexpensive bus routes plus inexpensive taxis. The taxis in Medellín and in Manizales are metered and you just need to pay the fare on the meter.

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.

6. Safety

The cities arguably tie 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). And Manizales ranked higher than any other city in terms of feeling safe in their city. See slide 40.

In this same survey, Medellín was ranked with the highest quality of living out of the surveyed cities in Colombia and Manizales was ranked third.

The homicide rate in Manizales in 2016 was 19.1 per 100,000 habitants. And in Medellín, the homicide rate in 2016 was somewhat higher at 21 per 100,000 habitants.

In 2016 in Medellín, there were a total of 534 homicides reported, which was up 7.9% compared to 2015. But 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.

7. Pollution

Manizales 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.

Manizales in general has less pollution than Medellín. Manizales has some heavy industries but mountain breezes and fairly regular rain help to keep the air generally clean.

In general, Medellín has more pollution than is found in Manizales. So, Manizales 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.

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

8. Travel Access to North America, Europe and Latin America

Medellín wins hereMedellín’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.

Manizales’ La Nubia airport is tiny in comparison. 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. But both of these airports are also smaller than Medellín’s international airport.

The bottom line you can fly non-stop from Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport to several international destinations and many more domestic destinations from both of Medellín’s airports. And your flight options are very limited in Manizales. So, Medellín wins this category.

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

9. Seismic and Volcanic Risk

Medellín wins here. 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.

Medellín historically hasn’t experienced as much seismic activity as Manizales and the coffee region and there is no volcanic risk in Medellín.

According to geologists, Medellín is situated on a giant block of andesite, which is a gigantic and deep-rooted hunk of igneous rock. This rock is hard like granite and resistant to seismic motion. While there is no certainty, this resistance to seismic motion likely makes Medellín safer than many other places in Colombia.

Catedral basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Manizales, photo by Erik Albers

Catedral basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Manizales, photo by Erik Albers

10. Things to Do

Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with a metro population of about 4 million. While Manizales’ metro population is less than 560,000. So, Medellín has many more things to do.

TripAdvisor has only 55 things to do listed in Manizales. 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 much smaller city of Manizales.

Medellín has many more churches, more sights, more parks, more tourist attractions and more landmarks than Manizales. 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.

On Airbnb, you won’t find many furnished apartments available in Manizales. But there are hundreds of furnished apartments available in Medellín.

Catedral Basílica Metropolitana in Medellín

Catedral Basílica Metropolitana in Medellín

11. Restaurants and Nightlife

Medellín wins here. The much bigger city of Medellín also has many more restaurant and nightlife choices than are found in the smaller city of Manizales.

If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists only 179 restaurants in Manizales 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 Manizales, there are much fewer nightlife options available in my experience.

12. Job Opportunities

Medellin wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with over seven times the metro population of Manizales. So, clearly 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 Manizales.

In both Medellín and Manizales, 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 Manizales 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 Manizales there are much fewer expats, perhaps at most a few hundred.

Medellín has large expat groups on Facebook like Medellin Expats and Digital Nomads Medellin that are active with several thousand members each.

In comparison, Manizales has much smaller Expats in Manizales group on Facebook with only 143 members.

In Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month. While expats in Manizales indicated to me there aren’t many organized meetups for expats.

Some expats may like that Manizales is more off the beaten path with much fewer expats. However, that also means much fewer expats in Manizales to help out and to socialize with.

The new Language School building at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín

The new Language School building at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín

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 Manizales.

And, with a bigger expat population in Medellín, the city apparently has more Spanish language programs available than are found in Manizales.  And, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in Colombia for foreigners.

In addition, Medellín has over 10 bilingual schools available for children. And expats in Manizales told me there are only a couple of bilingual schools in the smaller city of Manizales.

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 Manizales 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 Manizales, you can 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 Manizales 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 Manizales.

Similar to other cities in the country, 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 have reliable services. A friend living in Manizales told me he has only experienced a handful of Internet and electricity outages in three 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.

Santafé mall in Medellín

Santafé mall in Medellín

16. Shopping

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has more Western style malls and more shopping options than the much smaller city of Manizales. 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.

Some expats I have met that used to live in Manizales told me they were impressed when they saw the huge variety of items found in Santafé mall and the other large malls in Medellín.

Reportedly none of the malls in Manizales have over 200 stores. This means there are at least eight malls in Medellín that are larger than any of the shopping malls in Manizales.

The bottom line is that Medellín has many more malls which tend to be much larger than in Manizales. And as a much larger city, Medellín has many more shopping options than are found in Manizales. So, Medellín wins this category.

The Medellin Guru City and Place Comparisons

We have compared on this website:

Manizales at night, photo by Erik Albers

Manizales at night, photo by Erik Albers

View of Medellín at night from El Tesoro mall, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Medellín at night from El Tesoro mall, photo by Jenny Bojinova

The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Manizales

In our Medellín vs Manizales comparison:

  • Medellín wins in 11 of our 16 categories.
  • Manizales wins in three of our 16 categories.
  • The two cities tie in two categories.

So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Manizales 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 are your most important categories, then Manizales would win for you.

There aren’t many expats currently living in Manizales and Medellín is much more popular with expats. Manizales hasn’t yet been discovered by many expats.

Both of these places in our Medellín vs Manizales 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 Manizales 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 20, 2019 with data from the WHO’s 2018 Ambient Air Quality Database.

Editors note: updated on March 26, 2019 to replace the Expats in Manizales-Pereira – Heart of Eje Cafetero Facebook group that no longer exists.