Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia – three cities in Colombia’s coffee triangle – which is the best city to live in? We compare the cities in 14 categories.

We compare Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia in a comprehensive comparison. So, this is a battle of the three cities in Colombia’s coffee triangle.

I have met some expats that prefer Pereira and a few that prefer Manizales or Armenia. But some of these expats many not have been to all three cities.

All three cities don’t really get much press. And there aren’t many foreigners living in Pereira or Manizales or Armenia, as these cities are off the beaten path for foreigners in Colombia.

I have lived in Medellín for over eight years but have traveled multiple times to Pereira, Manizales and Armenia on vacation. An all three cities have their pluses and minuses.

In this article, we comprehensively compare these three cities in Colombia in 14 categories from an expat’s perspective, in no particular order. And where possible, we provide some statistics to back up how we chose the winner of each category in our Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia comparison.

View of Pereira from Mirador outlook

View of Pereira from Mirador outlook

1. Climate – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

Pereira and Armenia win here in a tie.  Pereira and Armenia have similar climates and Manizales has a cooler climate due to being at a higher altitude.

This is due to Pereira and Armenia being at similar elevations. Pereira is at an elevation of 4,629 feet (1,411 meters) and Armenia is at an elevation of 5,089 feet (1,551 meters). In comparison, Manizales is much higher at an elevation of 7,090 feet (2,160 meters).

In Pereira the annual average temperature is 70.7 ° F (21.5 °C) and in Armenia the annual average is similar at 71.4 ° F (21.9 °C). While in Manizales, the temperature during the entire year averages a much cooler 62.6 ° F (17.0 °C).

In Pereira, the high daily average temperature ranges from 78.3 to 80.8 ° F (25.7 to 27.1 °C). And in Pereira the daily average low temperature ranges from 61.5 to 62.6 ° F (16.5 to 17.0 °C).

View of Armenia, photo by Barrotalvez

View of Armenia, photo by Barrotalvez

In Armenia, the high daily average temperature ranges from 80.8 to 80.8 ° F (27.1 to 83.1 °C). And in Armenia the daily low temperature average ranges from 60.4 to 61.7 ° F (15.8 to 16.5 °C).

And in Manizales, 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).

View of downtown Manizales

View of downtown Manizales

The all-time record low in Manizales was 34.3 °F (1.3 °C). Also, most apartments and houses in Manizales don’t have heaters in my experience, so it can get cold at night when inside.

In Pereira the average annual humidity is 77 percent and in Armenia the average is 80.9 percent. While in Manizales the average annual humidity is 83 percent. So, out of the three cities it is most humid in Manizales.

Out of the three cities, it rains the least in Manizales. In Pereira, every month has over 100 mm of rain on average. And in Armenia every month but one has over 100 mm of rain on average. For the entire year it rains on average 95.4 inches in Pereira, 83.4 inches in Armenia and 63.4 inches in Manizales.

The bottom line is that both Pereira and Armenia have eternal spring climates and air-conditioning and heating isn’t required. While in Manizales it gets cold where some people may want heaters. So, Pereira and Armenia arguably win this category. However, some expats may prefer the cooler climate in Manizales.

2. Cost of Living – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

All three cities arguably tie here.  The cost of living is similar in Pereira, Manizales and Armenia.

For example, the Expatistan website says the cost of living is very similar between Pereira and Armenia and between Pereira and Manizales. And all three cities have a cost of living that is lower than the larger cities of Bogotá and Medellín.

The Expatistan cost of living website collects data using a crowdsourcing. Users enter prices for their own city and the more users that enter prices for a city, the more accurate comparisons will be. But this method has limitations. For more accurate cost of living information we recommend talking with expats living in the cities.

I have looked at real estate properties in all three cities and Armenia tends to have somewhat lower prices than in Pereira and Manizales.

Other items like groceries, taxis, restaurants and other things tend to have similar prices in all three cities. Pereira, Manizales and Armenia generally have a roughly similar cost of living so they arguably tie in this category.

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 – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

Manizales edges out the other two cities hereColombia has 23 of the best hospitals in Latin America and Manizales has one of these best hospitals while Pereira and Armenia both have none.

S.E.S Hospital de Caldas in Manizales is ranked #50 in the list of the best hospitals in Latin America.

Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. And Manizales is the only city of these three cities that has one of the highest ranked hospitals in Latin America. So, it arguably edges out the other two cities in this category.

However, Pereira is a larger city. So, Pereira has more medical and dental providers than either of the other two cities. But there are also more patients to care for in Pereira.

4. Restaurants and Nightlife

Pereira arguably wins here. Pereira is the biggest city of the three. So, it has more restaurant and nightlife options than the other two cities.

If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists over 275 restaurants in Pereira but less than 220 are listed in Manizales. And it has less than 80 restaurants listed in Armenia. So, Pereira has more restaurant choices.

This makes sense as Pereira has the biggest metro population out of the three cities. Pereira has a metro population approaching 750,000, Manizales has a metro population of about 520,000 and Armenia’s metro population is only about 300,000.

Pereira also has more nightlife options, since it’s a bigger city. Both Manizales and Armenia have some decent nightlife options but there aren’t as many places as can be found in Pereira in my experience.

Benticur's famous Bolívar statue in Parque Bolíver in Pereira

Benticur’s famous Bolívar statue in Parque Bolíver in Pereira

5. Things to Do – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

Pereira and Manizales tie to win here. The bigger cities of Pereira and Manizales have more things to do than the smaller city of Armenia.

TripAdvisor has 59 things to do listed for Pereira and 66 things to do listed for Manizales. And it has only 44 things to do listed for Armenia.

While looking at TripAdvisor is unscientific, this demonstrates that there is more to do in Pereira and Manizales. And this makes sense, as Pereira and Manizales are larger cities than Armenia.

In addition, since all three cities are part of the Coffee Triangle. There are picturesque small pueblos and stunning scenery to be found in the Coffee Triangle not far from all three cities. For example, Salento is a very popular pueblo for tourists in the area.

6. Pollution – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

The three cities tie in this category. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) 2018 Ambient Air Quality Database, Pereira, Manizales and Armenia do not really have much of a pollution problem. Only Manizales is in this database and is way down the list of the polluted cities in Latin America.

All three cities are relatively small compared to Medellín and Bogotá, which have more serious pollution problems. Medellín’s pollution problem has even resulted in Medellín being ranked as #9 out of the most polluted cities and towns in Latin America based on PM2.5 pollutants.

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.

7. Safety – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

This is arguably a tie between Pereira, Manizales and Armenia. Two of the cities generally ranked similarly in a 2015 survey of 12,548 in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their city.

In this study Manizales was ranked #1 (57 percent felt safe) and Pereira was ranked #2 (51 percent felt safe) in terms of how safe citizens felt in their city (slide 40). Unfortunately Armenia was not included in this study but in my experience Armenia’s safety is similar to the other two cities.

Pereira previously had a higher homicide rate and used to be on the list of the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world. But in 2018, Pereira’s homicide rate dropped to 23.9 per 100,000, which was lower than overall Colombia at 25.2.  This was the third year in a row that the homicide rate has dropped in Pereira.

In all three of these cities, there are several estrato 4, 5 and 6 neighborhoods that are generally safe for expats in my experience. I haven’t felt unsafe in any of these three cities. But each city has neighborhoods where it isn’t wise to go after dark.

Matecaña International Airport, the Pereira Airport, photo by Baiji - Medellin Guru

Matecaña International Airport, the Pereira Airport, photo by Baiji – Medellin Guru

8. Access to the U.S. and Colombia by Air

Pereira wins hereMatecaña International Airport in Pereira is the largest airport in the coffee region and reportedly handles abut 75 percent of the flights in the region.

The airport in Pereira currently has flights from six different airlines with direct flights to and from five different destinations. Also, American Airlines will be the seventh airline at the airport and is adding service to/from Miami in December 2018:

  1. Aerolinea de Antioquia (ADA)– Medellín and Quibdó
  2. American Airlines– Miami (starts December 20, 2018)
  3. Avianca– Bogotá, Cartagena, Miami (stops in Cartagena) but Avianca is suspending service to Cartagena from Pereira on May 1, 2019
  4. Copa Airlines– Panama City
  5. Easyfly– Bogotá, Medellín, Quibdó
  6. LATAM– Bogotá
  7. VivaAir– Bogotá, Cartagena

Armenia’s El Edén airport is much smaller in terms of number of flights. There are only flights available to Medellín’s Olaya Herrera airport, to Bogotá and to Fort Lauderdale. But the Spirit flight to Fort Lauderdale from Armenia is not a daily flight.

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 the daylight hours from 6 am to 6 pm and it sometimes closes due to fog, rain or wind.

The bottom line is that Pereira has more daily non-stop flights available, so it wins this category.

9. Traffic – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

Manizales and Armenia win here in a tie. In a survey by Waze in 2016, Pereira was ranked #152 in the world in terms of drivers’ satisfaction out of 186 metros surveyed.

Traffic in Pereira is generally worse than in Manizales or Armenia due to Pereira being a bigger city with more cars on the roads.

During my trips to Manizales and Armenia I never experienced traffic like there sometimes is in Pereira. And I would also say that traffic is similar in both Manizales and Armenia based on my experience.

However, Pereira doesn’t have the worst traffic in Colombia. I have experienced worse traffic in the bigger cities like Bogotá, Medellín and Cali.

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

10. Seismic and Natural Disaster Risk

Periera wins here. The coffee region of Colombia has a long history of seismic activity. During the 20th century, this region experienced at least seven major seismic events.

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.

In November 1985, 250 in Manizales were swept to their deaths by the water and rocks coughed up by an eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, which is located only 15 km (nine miles) to the east of the city. This eruption 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, which could include Manizales.

In addition, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake in 1999 caused major structural damage to nearby Armenia and resulted in 1,200 deaths in Armenia and losses of up to $1.2 billion. Many parts of Armenia were destroyed during this earthquake.

Historically Pereira has fared better than Manizales and Armenia in terms of injuries and deaths due to natural disasters. So, Pereira arguably wins this category. But that does not mean there isn’t natural disaster risk also in Pereira.

Pereira's Megabús

Pereira’s Megabús

11. Public Transportation and Walkability

Pereira and Armenia arguably win here in a tie.  Pereira has an elongated bus rapid transit system known as Megabús. Also, Pereira is a relatively flat city that is very walkable in my experience. When I have visited Pereira I normally walk most places and rarely take buses or taxies.

Cable car line in Manizales, photo by Ricohin

Cable car line in Manizales, photo by Ricohin

Manizales in comparison has two cable-car lines with four stations due to some parts of the city high up hills. And it does not have a metro train line or tram line or elongated bus system. But there are inexpensive bus routes in Manizales and taxis that are inexpensive. However, Manizales is very hilly. So, it isn’t very walkable in my experience.

Armenia is the smallest of the three cities. There isn’t an elongated bus system in Armenia, as the city isn’t large enough. And there are inexpensive small tinto mini-buses and inexpensive taxis. Also, Armenia is a very walkable city.

All three cities have inexpensive bus systems and inexpensive taxis. But Pereira and Armenia arguably tie to win this category due to being more walkable cities than Manizales, which is very hilly.

12. Expat Community – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

Pereira wins here. Pereria has a larger expat community than is found in either Manizales or Armenia that speaks English. But all three cities have very small expat communities.

Pereira has a small Expats in Pereira group on Facebook with 461 members. In comparison, Manizales has much smaller Expats in Manizales group on Facebook with only 143 members. And the expat community is so small in Armenia that I couldn’t even find an Armenia expat group on Facebook.

In my experience there is definitely a much smaller expat community in Manizales and Armenia, as both cities are more off the beaten path. When I have visited both Manizales and Armenia I rarely saw or met any expats.

In comparison, each time I have visited Pereira I met several expats. Of the three cities, Armenia likely has the fewest expats.

Medellín is more traveled by expats and has a rapidly growing expat community. In the over eight years I have lived in Medellín, I have seen more expats each year. And Medellín has large and very active Facebook Groups. For example, the Medellin Expats Facebook group has over 16,000 members.

With fewer expats in the cities of Pereira, Manizales and Armenia, there will be less of a support structure for expats in comparison to Medellín.

Inside Centro Comerical Parque Arboleda in Pereira

Inside Centro Comerical Parque Arboleda in Pereira

13. Shopping

Pereira arguably wins here. Pereira has larger Western style malls and more shopping options than the smaller cities of Manizales and Armenia.

The two largest malls in the Pereira metro are Centro Comerical Parque Arboleda and Unicentro, which both have over 150 stores. Reportedly none of the malls in Manizales have over 150 stores.

This means there are at least two malls in Pereira that are larger than any of the shopping malls in Manizales. Also, Armenia’s largest mall reportedly has less than 100 stores.

The bottom line is that malls in Pereira tend to be larger than in Manizales and Armenia. And as a larger city, Pereira has more shopping options than are found in Manizales or Armenia. For example, there are PriceSmart and Makro stores in Pereira, which aren’t found in Manizales or Armenia.

14. Internet Availability – Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

The three cities tie here.  Pereira, Manizales and Armenia all have similar high-speed Internet available.

In all three cities, it is possible to get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. Claro offers triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in all three cities.

In addition, in Pereira up to 150 Mbps is available from Tigo-UNE. And in Manizales, up to 150 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE and up to 40 Mbps from Movistar.

The highest speed Internet all three cities will normally be available only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings, you will typically be limited to lower speeds.

The Medellin Guru City and Place Comparisons

We have compared on this website living in Medellin with living in several foreign locations:

Also, we have compared living in different cities in Colombia:

The Bottom Line: Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia

In our Pereira vs Manizales vs Armenia comparison:

  • Pereira wins or ties to win in 12 categories
  • Manizales wins or ties to win in 7 categories
  • Armenia wins or ties to win in 7 categories

So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective comparison of 14 categories Pereira wins over Manizales and Armenia, if you equally weigh the categories.

Pereira to me is best described as a “mini-Medellín”. If you like Medellín you also will generally like Pereira, which has less traffic and pollution than Medellín. Pereira has a small expat community that is slowly growing.

Manizales and Armenia are more cities for expats that want to be off the beaten path in locations with few foreigners.

The bottom line 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.

Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.