Medellín vs Bucaramanga: a Comprehensive Comparison of two Cities of Eternal Spring


Medellín vs Bucaramanga, which is the better city to live in? We compare two cities of eternal spring in Colombia in a comprehensive comparison. We previously compared Medellín vs Pereira as two cities of eternal spring in Colombia.

But Bucaramanga in Colombia can also be considered a city of eternal spring. Surprisingly I haven’t seen any written comparisons of Medellín vs Bucaramanga.  This is surprising as both cities have similar climates.  Medellín gets all the press and Bucaramanga isn’t as well known.

I have met many expats that prefer Medellín, while I have met some expats that prefer Bucaramanga. I have lived in Medellín for well over six years but I have traveled to Bucaramanga on vacation a couple times.

Both cities have their pros and cons and in this article we comprehensively compare these two cities in Colombia in 14 categories, in no particular order.

Note in this article we only include photos of Bucaramanga as this website already has countless photos of Medellín.  The above photo of Bucaramanga is by Sascha Grabow.

We previously compared on this site:

Parque Santander in Bucaramanga, photo by Darwinjvega
Parque Santander in Bucaramanga, photo by Darwinjvega

1. Climate

The two cities tie.  The average temperature during the year in Medellín is 72 ° F (22 °C). Medellín is known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, the city of eternal spring. In Bucaramanga the average annual temperature is similar at 70.5 ° F (21.4 °C) so it can also be considered a city of eternal spring.

In Medellín, the average daily high temperature ranges from 81.0 to 82.8 °F (27.0 to 28.2 °C). And the average daily low ranges from 61.7 to 63.3 °F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).

In Bucaramanga, the average daily high temperature is a bit lower and ranges from 76.8 to 78.8 °F (24.9 to 26.0 °C). And the average daily low ranges from 64.9 to 66.2 °F (18.3 to 19.0 °C). In my experience in Bucaramanga it rarely gets above 85 °F (29.4 °C) as the high.

In Medellín, the average humidity each month ranges from 63 percent to 73 percent.  The annual average humidity in Medellín is 68 percent. In Medellín only one month out of the year (October) typically has over 210 mm (over 8 inches) of rain. But Medellín has 10 months out of the year with over 100 mm of rain (3.9 inches).

In Bucaramanga, the average humidity for each month ranges from 82 percent to 89 percent. The annual average humidity in Bucaramanga is 85 percent. So it’s more humid in Bucaramanga, which gives it more of a tropical feel.

But it rains less in Bucaramanga with half the months typically having less than 100 mm (3.9 inches) of rain. March, April, May, September, October and November will typically have over 100 mm of rain.

In both Medellín and Bucaramanga you can survive without heating or air-conditioning with the similar climates.

Parque San Pio, Bucaramanga is known as "The City of Parks", photo by Angel Paez
Parque San Pio, Bucaramanga is known as “The City of Parks”, photo by Angel Paez

2. Cost of Living

Bucaramanga wins here. Similar properties I have seen in Bucaramanga in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 10-20 percent lower prices than in Medellín.

Properties in lower estratos tend to have lower prices differences between the cities but in general are more expensive in Medellín. Other costs like groceries, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 5-10 percent cheaper in Bucaramanga in comparison to Medellín.

The Numbeo website confirms that the cost of living in Bucaramanga is lower than in Medellín. In general Medellín is a more expensive place to live than Bucaramanga.

3. Safety

Medellín arguably wins here. Medellín ranked higher than Bucaramanga in a recent survey of 12,548 in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio and city.

In this study (slide 41) citizens felt the safest in their barrio in Medellín with 75 percent of respondents feeling safe, while only 41 percent of respondents in Bucaramanga felt safe in their barrio. In Bucaramanga citizens feel much less safe in their barrio than in Medellín.

In terms of feeling safe in their city (slide 40), 45 percent felt safe in their city in Medellín and 43% felt safe in Bucaramanga.

Over the past couple 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 couple years ago based on homicide rates. Bucaramanga is also not on this list.

4. Restaurants and Nightlife

Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much bigger city with a metro population of over 3.7 million and it receives more tourists so it has more restaurant and nightlife options.

In comparison, Bucaramanga has a metro population of about 1.3 million, which means Medellín has nearly three times the population. Medellín has many restaurant options that have been covered on this website while Bucaramanga has fewer restaurant options.

TripAdvisor lists over 950 restaurants in Medellín.  In Bucaramanga, TripAdvisor lists less than 250 restaurants. Since TripAdvisor lists over 700 more restaurants in Medellín compared to Bucaramanga, Medellín wins this category.

Medellín has many nightlife options that have been covered extensively on this website. Bucaramanga has fewer nightlife options being a smaller city with fewer foreign tourists.

Fundación Cardiovascular de Colombia in Bucaramanga, photo by FCV Colombia
Fundación Cardiovascular de Colombia in Bucaramanga, photo by FCV Colombia

5. Healthcare

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has eight of the top 44 ranked hospitals in Latin America, while Bucaramanga only has two.

Here’s a list of the top ranked hospitals in both cities with their rankings in the top 44:

  • Fundación Cardiovascular de Colombia – Bucaramanga – #8
  • Hospital Pablo Tobín Uribe – Medellín – #9
  • Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación – Medellín – #16
  • Clinica Las Américas – Medellín – #20
  • Foscal – Bucaramanga – #21
  • Hospital General de Medellín – Medellín – #29
  • Clinica Universitaria Bolivariana – Medellín – #33
  • Clinica Medellín – Medellin – #37
  • Clinica El Rosario – Medellín – #41
  • Clinica Cardio VID – Medellín – #42

Both cities have good healthcare options.  But Medellín has more highly ranked hospitals than Bucaramanga so it wins this category. Being a much bigger city, Medellín also has more medical and dental providers but they have more patients to care for.

Iglesia San Pedro Claver in Bucaramanga, photo by Jefferson Alfonso
Iglesia San Pedro Claver in Bucaramanga, photo by Jefferson Alfonso

6. Things To Do

Medellín wins here. Both cities have many things to do in the city as well as many things to do nearby. But the bigger city of Medellín beats out Bucaramanga in this category.

While unscientific, TripAdvisor only has only 57 things to do listed for Bucaramanga. In comparison TripAdvisor has 171 things to do listed for Medellín.  And over 200 when you include the other municipalities in the metro area like Envigado and Sabaneta.

Both cities have many things to do in the city as well as many things to do nearby. Well over 120 things to do in and around Medellín have been covered on this website over the past several years.

Medellín has more shopping malls than are found in Bucaramanga.  We have already covered over 15 malls in Medellín on this website.

The largest shopping mall in Bucaramanga is reportedly Centro Comerical Cacique, which has about 200 shops. Santafé mall the largest in Medellín is larger and has over 380 shops.

The city of Medellín also has more churches, more sights and more landmarks. Medellín is also a more popular tourist location so there are 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.

7. Pollution

Bucaramanga wins here.  The World Health Organization (WHO) last year reported that Medellín was ranked #9 in a list of the 10 cities most polluted in Latin America.

Medellin is located in a canyon, with mountains surrounding the city, which do not allow easy dispersion of pollutants, so pollution tends to stay in the metropolitan area. But fairly regular rain in the city can clean the atmosphere.

In comparison, Bucaramanga has lower levels of pollution. However Medellín tends to be a cleaner city than Bucaramanga in my experience. Medellín is considered one of the cleanest cities in Latin America and you won’t see much litter.

EasyFly at Palonegro airport in Bucaramanga, photo by Santiagoalbar15
EasyFly at Palonegro airport in Bucaramanga, photo by Santiagoalbar15

8. Access to US, Europe and the rest of Latin America

Medellín wins here. Medellín’s José María Córdova airport (MDE) is the second largest airport in Colombia and it has non-stop flights to 12 international locations in the US, Europe and Latin America.

From MDE you can fly non-stop to Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York (JFK) in the U.S. From Medellín you can also fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe. In addition from MDE you can fly non-stop to Aruba, Curaçao, Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia (plus seasonally to Punta Cana).

There are also many 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.

Palonegro International Airport in Bucaramanga is much smaller in comparison. It only has one non-stop flight to one international location – to Panama City. From Bucaramanga you can fly non-stop to only eight cities in Colombia. So to get many places from Bucaramanga you would have to connect somewhere like Bogotá.

Bucaramanga's Metrolinea, photo by EEIM
Bucaramanga’s Metrolinea, photo by EEIM

9. Public Transportation

Medellín wins here. Medellín has an extensive metro system with integrated metro trains, a new tram, buses and four cable car lines. The Medellín metro is spotlessly clean, easy to use and inexpensive. Medellín’s metro system has also been in place for 20 years.

Bucaramanga in comparison has its elongated Metrolinea bus system that most people I have talked to in Bucaramanga seem to hate. The Metrolinea bus system is popular but is inferior in every way to Medellín’s metro system.

Both cities have extensive bus routes but the buses seem somewhat easier to me to navigate in Medellín.

10. Traffic

Bucaramanga wins here.  My impression is that traffic is Medellín is generally worse than in Bucaramanga due to it being a bigger city with more cars on the roads. A survey by Waze last year rated Medellín one of the worst cities in Latin America in terms of traffic.

While the traffic can get pretty bad in Medellín, the worst traffic is primarily found in the El Poblado and Envigado neighborhoods in my experience and as I have seen on the Waze app.

In my experience traffic is not as widespread of a problem in Bucaramanga compared to the traffic issues found in Medellín.  But Medellín doesn’t necessarily have the worst traffic in Latin America.  In my experience the much bigger cities of São Paulo and Mexico City have much worse traffic.

11. Job Opportunities

Medellín arguably wins here. Medellín is a much bigger city so there are more job opportunities in Medellín in comparison to Bucaramanga.

But there still aren’t a lot of work opportunities for foreigners even in Medellín, especially if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. The best jobs in Colombia typically require fluency in Spanish.

While there are English teaching job opportunities in both cities if you are a native English speaker, competition is fierce and the pay isn’t the greatest. There are more English teaching jobs available in the bigger city of Medellín.

The unemployment rate in Bucaramanga tends to be a lower than is found in Medellín.

12. Education Options

Medellín wins here. Medellín has more university choices and more Spanish language programs as well as more bilingual schools for children.

As the much bigger city, Medellín is home to over 30 universities while Bucaramanga has much fewer universities.

With a bigger expat population Medellín has more Spanish language programs available than in Bucaramanga. Universidad EAFIT located in Medellín is reportedly the largest Spanish language program for foreigners in Colombia.

I am aware of three English/Spanish bilingual schools for children in Medellín (Columbus, Montessori and The New School). Bucaramanga has two I’m aware of (Newport School and Panamericano).

13. Expat Community

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has a much bigger expat community than is found in Bucaramanga that speaks English.

The total country of Colombia has 18,841 expats from the U.S. and 2,222 expats from the UK and Canada living in Colombia according to International Organization of Migration. However, the majority of expats living in Colombia are found in Bogotá, the capital and largest city in Colombia.

I have seen no official statistics for Medellín or Bucaramanga. But I would estimate there likely are no more than a few thousand expats from North America and Europe living full-time in Medellín.

There is a much smaller expat community in Bucaramanga as it is more off the beaten path. When I have visited Bucaramana I have met only a few expats.  So there may be no more than a hundred or so living in Bucaramanga.

Medellín is an emerging expat location and it is definitely becoming more discovered and has a growing expat community. Having lived in Medellín for over six years I see more expats in the city each year.

Some will view having fewer expats as a benefit but as a result there is less of a support structure for new expats moving to the city of Bucaramanga when compared to Medellín.

14. Internet Availability

The two cities tie here. Both Medellín and Bucaramanga have similar high speed Internet available.

In Medellín you can get up to 100 Mbps Internet speed from Claro and up to 50 Mbps from UNE. Most places in Medellín will have service from at least one of these two providers. Both Claro and UNE provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in Medellín.

In Bucaramanga you can get up to 100 Mbps Internet speed from Claro and up to 20 Mbps from Telebucaramanga. Most places in Bucaramanga will have service from at least one of these two providers. Both Claro and Telebucaramanga offer triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in Bucaramanga.

The highest speed Internet in both cities tends to be offered only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings you may be limited to 20 Mbps service.

Bucaramanga in the evening, photo by Sebastown
Bucaramanga in the evening, photo by Sebastown

The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Bucaramanga

In our Medellín vs Bucaramanga comparison, Medellín beats out Bucaramanga in 9 of our 14 categories; Bucaramanga beats out Medellín in three categories and the two cities tie in two categories.

So the end result in this somewhat subjective comparison of 14 equally weighted categories is that Medellín wins if the categories are equally weighted.

But to each his own. To really determine which city is best for you to live depends on which categories are more important to you with a higher weighting for more important categories.

For example, if a good healthcare, good public transportation and a bigger selection of restaurants and things to do were most important, Medellín would win. If cost of living, avoiding traffic and less pollution were your most important categories, Bucaramanga would win.

The only way to know which city is better is to spend time in both. I have much spent time in both cities. Both have their pros and cons and neither city is ideal. I like Bucaramanga but it’s too small of a city for me. Some may prefer a smaller city that is more off the beaten path.

I prefer to live in Medellín due to more flight options, the good public transportation, good healthcare as well as a big selection of restaurants and things to do.

At the end of the day — there’s no “best place to live”. There’s only the best place for you to live. One man’s paradise is another man’s hell.

And that’s why we suggest living in a foreign city for at least six months before committing. Only then can you determine if a foreign city is right for you.

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  1. I have spent time in both cities and my girlfriend has family there. I would rate Medellin’s climate much better than Bucaramanga’s climate. It is true the the average high/low temperatures are very close but the higher humidity in Bucaramanga makes it feel hotter, especially in the early evenings. The comfort level in Medellin is much better. You tend to sweat a lot more in Bucaramanga.

    Also, you don’t have a nearly bug free environment like there is in Medellin. If you eat in an open air restaurant in Bucaramanga you spend more time swatting away flies than you do eating.

    At one time I considered buying a place in Bucaramanga. I found the prices for an apartment or town home that were comparable in size and quality to what you find in Medellin to be higher in Bucaramanga.

    I also found that the traffic was much worst in Bucaramanga. Bucaramanga is way behind Medellin in mass transit so that causes a greater percentage of the population to drive cars and motorcycles than they do in Medellin. In addition there are only two routes that cross the river that divides Bucaramanga. Both those routes were always very congested.

    I like Bucaramanga and there are some great things to do there, especially in the mountains close to the city but I wouldn’t call it the city of eternal Spring. To me, Medellin is paradise, Bucaramanga is nice but not paradise.

    I love all you articles and enjoy reading all of them. Thanks for providing continuous quality information on Medellin Living!!

    • I agree with you that bugs are more of a problem in Bucaramanga – I should have included that. Also true that the higher humidity can make it feel somewhat hotter in Bucaramanga.

      Regarding traffic, I used Waze’s survey. It didn’t rate Bucaramanga’s traffic as badly as in Medellín but Bucaramanga does have some traffic issues that you pointed out.

      • This article was great because I was just thinking about what city to move to in Colombia, and I had heard some nice things about Bucaramanga. I have visited Medellin, though, and had a great experience staying in an inn outside of town. The weather was great and the people and scenery were also. I’m sure you get asked this all the time, and I apologize in advance. As a resident of Medellin, do you think I could live comfortably in a nice apartment (renting not owning) for around $2000 USD a month? I would hope to get by without a car and perhaps renting one for side trips. I do not lead an extravagant lifestyle, but I like my high speed internet, working out, cultural events, and the occasional night out. I am retired, single, and speak pretty good Spanish, but I’m sure it will improve once I am there. I would not wish to buy an apartment until I am sure of my wish to stay long term, and of my ability to be allowed to stay on a permanent basis.

  2. Hi, Jeff. You have definitely painted a fair picture of life in Bcuaramanga, but I do have my disagreements as someone living here. But let me say that you’re right, Bucaramanga is not for everyone. Medellin is bigger, more modern, has lots more to do, and has great weather. No doubt.

    But I enjoy a smaller place with a cozier feel. I can walk to everything I need while talking with extremely nice people. The food here is wonderful, and the people are very proud of it. I live very close to everything and yet it’s still quiet. My job is a 15-minute walk one way, and the zona rosa is a 15-minute walk the other way. Everything is super affordable and high quality. Now for my disagreements with what you said…

    – Climate: True on everything. But I prefer Bucaramanga in spite of it being a bit warmer. The nights are perfect for going out. We don’t often have to worry about getting soaked in a downpour.

    – Safety: Don’t agree at all, sorry. I think they are equally safe. Though you’re right that the expat community is small here, everyone I know has had no issues.

    – Healthcare: It’s a tie. There’s nothing Medellin has that Bucaramanga doesn’t. I could get any surgery here for the same price as Medellin. And I wouldn’t wait long for it.

    – Pollution: I don’t agree that Medellin is a cleaner city. Bucaramanga’s street workers are tireless in their efforts to keep things tidy. It shows.

    Thank you for your article. It is definitely a good start for someone who has never heard about Bucaramanga or wants to know more, but I feel it falls a little short.

  3. I appreciate your articles, Jeff, but I have to disagree with you on your public transportation scores.
    You wrote, “The Metrolinea bus system is popular but is inferior in every way to Medellín’s metro system.” I wholeheartedly disagree with your conclusion. I feel the Metrolinea bus system is superior to the Medellin metro in almost every way.

    The main bus route in Bucaramanga goes straight through town to/from Floridablanca and then to Piedecuesta. Each route averages about 8 minutes between buses; and getting and from the stations never involves climbing or descending 500+ feet in altitude as in Medellin. Because Bucaramanga is smaller than Medellin, getting from one end of the city to the other never takes over a half hour (Mega Mall in the North to Centro Comercial De la cuesta in Piedecuesta on Metrolinea route T8 is 27 minutes.) The bus in Buca also uses a card payment system, but unlike Medellin, cards are available at every station without having to show id. There is an attendant on duty at every station during operating hours – one can obtain and add any value to a card at any station during operating hours. Even if you take the very last bus to the furthest station, you can add to your card after getting off the bus. The longest line I ever saw for adding money to a card in Bucaramaga was 2 people. In Medellin lines can be 20 minutes long, as you have written in another post.

    Medellin metro cards are only available at a few stations during restricted hours, and require ID to obatin. I don’t understand the need for ID; I have never needed to show ID to get a public transport card anywhere else in the world. The Metro system is flawed, in that 1) you can just have someone get you a card when they happen to pass through one of the magic stations that have the cards, at the proper time, 2) you can give your card to someone else when you leave the country, and 3) sharing cards is allowed. It common practice for one person to swipe through an entire group, especially when families or couples are taking the Metro.

    Have you ever taken the Metro in Medellin? I always feel like an animal in a shipping container on the way to slaughter. If you aren’t near the exit when the train arrives at your stop, you may continue your journey and then have to double back. I’m 6′ tall and have spent considerable hours in gyms. I am always the largest and strongest person on the train, yet have been unable to get off several Metro trains at my desired station.

    Theft on the metro is a huge concern because of the overcrowding. I am always worried about my wallet, even if it is in my front pocket. Have a backpack or been to the supermarket? In Buca it’s easy to carry; on the metro people hold them over their heads.

    I know several Colombians in Medellin who refuse to take the Metro for those reasons. And the common question is, “Why don’t they add one more car to each of the trains? There’s clearly a need.”

    And as for getting to a Metrolinea stop vs getting to a Metro stop – Buca is fairly flat – walking is easy; in Medellin you usually have to walk up or down a steep hill or take some other form of transport to even get to the Metro.

    Taking the Metrolinea in Bucaramanga is often rather pleasant; taking the Metro in Medellin is usually a nightmare.