Medellín vs Cali: a Comprehensive Comparison

Cali, Colombia

Medellín vs Cali, which is the better city to live in? The city of eternal spring vs the Salsa capital of Colombia.

I have seen some comparisons of Medellín vs Cali but in every case they are missing several points or have a bias.

Many expats I have met prefer Medellín, while some expats prefer Cali. I have lived in Medellín for well over six years but I have traveled to Cali a few times for both business and pleasure.

Both cities have their pros and cons and this comparison comprehensively compares these two cities in Colombia in 13 categories, in no particular order.

Note in this Medellín vs Cali article we only include photos of Cali as this website already has countless photos of Medellín.  The above photo of Cali is by C Arango.

We previously compared on this site:

1. Climate

Medellín edges out Cali here.  The average temperature during the year in Medellín is 72 ° F (22 °C). Medellín is known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, or the city of eternal spring. While in Cali the average annual temperature is 75 ° F (23.9 °C).

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).

While In Cali, the average daily high temperature is warmer and ranges from 84 to 86.4 °F (28.9 to 30.2 °C) and the average daily low ranges from 65.1 to 66.6 °F (18.4 to 19.2 °C). In my experience in Cali it can fairly frequently get above 90 °F (32.2 °C) as the high.

In Medellín, the average humidity for each month ranges from 63 percent to 73 percent.  The annual average humidity in Medellín is 68 percent.

In Medellín there is only one month out of the year (October) that 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).

While in Cali, the average humidity for each month ranges from 71 percent to 76 percent. The annual average humidity in Cali is 74 percent. So it’s more humid in Cali, which gives it more of a tropical feel.

But it rains less in Cali with every month except for April, October and November typically having less than 100 mm (3.9 inches) of rain.

In Medellín you can survive without air-conditioning with its cooler climate. However in Cali, since it has higher daily high temperatures, air-conditioning will be needed during the day by most expats.

Cali could possibly be called a city of eternal summer. But some expats may prefer the warmer climate in Cali.  This is a personal preference.

2. Cost of Living

Cali wins here. Similar properties I have seen in Cali in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 10-25 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 Cali in comparison to Medellín.

The Numbeo website confirms that the cost of living in Cali is lower than in Medellín.

One category that will typically be higher cost in Cali is electricity services due to the need for air-conditioning. But in general Medellín is a more expensive place to live than Cali.

3. Safety

Medellín wins here. Medellín ranked much higher than Cali 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 49 percent of respondents in Cali felt safe in their barrio.

In terms of feeling safe in their city (slide 40), Cali was ranked one of the worst of the cities surveyed with 30 percent of respondents in Cali feeling safe in their city. This compares to 45 percent feeling safe in their city in Medellín.

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.

But Cali remains on the world’s most dangerous city list with a homicide rate of 64.27 in 2015. The homicide rate in Medellín is now about one-third of the rate in Cali.

4. Restaurants and Nightlife

Medellín wins here. Medellín is a somewhat 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, Cali has a metro population of about 3.4 million. Medellín has many restaurant options that have been covered on this website while Cali has fewer restaurant options.

TripAdvisor lists over 950 restaurants in Medellín.  In Cali, TripAdvisor lists less than 625 restaurants. Since TripAdvisor lists over 300 more restaurants in Medellín compared to Cali, Medellín wins this category.

Medellín has many nightlife options that have been covered extensively on this website. Similar to restaurants, Cali has fewer nightlife options being a smaller city with fewer foreign tourists. However, Cali is known as the Salsa capital of Colombia so you can find more Salsa places in Cali than in Medellín.

5. Healthcare

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

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

  • Fundación Value del Lili – Cali – #3
  • Hospital Pablo Tobín Uribe – Medellín – #9
  • Centro Médico Imbanaco – Cali – #13
  • Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación – Medellín – #16
  • Clinica Las Américas – Medellín – #20
  • 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 Cali so it wins this category. Being a bigger city, Medellín also has more medical and dental providers but they have more patients to care for.

Iglesia La Ermita in Cali, photo by Mateo Sánchez Cárdenas
Iglesia La Ermita in Cali, photo by Mateo Sánchez Cárdenas

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 edges out Cali in this category.

While unscientific, TripAdvisor only has 109 things to do listed for Cali. 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 Cali.  We have already covered over 15 malls in Medellín on this website.

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

Medellín also has more churches, more sights and more landmarks. The city of 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.

While Cali has Pance south of the city, which in some ways is a similar paradise for outdoors lover’s.

Both cities have festivals but Medellín’s 10-day La Feria de Las Flores (flower festival) is much larger and more impressive than Cali’s La Feria in my experience.

7. Pollution

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

Gates at Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Airport, photo by Alekow
Gates at Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Airport, photo by Alekow

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 Medellín 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 Medellín 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.

Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport in Cali only has non-stop flights to eight international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.

From Cali you can fly non-stop only to Miami in the U.S. 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.

Avianca has a flight from Cali to New York JFK but it stops first in Medellín. There is also a KLM flight from Cali to Amsterdam that first stops first in Bogotá but this ends service on March 25, 2017. There are non-stop flights from Cali to only nine cities in Colombia.

MIO bus in Cali, photo by Remux
MIO bus in Cali, photo by Remux

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 been in place for 20 years, while Cali still wishes for a metro system.

Cali has its elongated MIO bus system that everyone I have talked to in Cali seems to hate. The Metrocali MIO bus system is popular but is inferior in every way to Medellín’s metro system. Metrocali also has one MIO Cable car line.

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

10. Traffic

I give Cali a definite edge here.  My impression is that traffic is Medellín is generally worse than in Cali 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.

Traffic is not as widespread of a problem in Cali 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 can have worse traffic.

11. Job Opportunities

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

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 Cali tends to be a bit 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 bigger city, Medellín is home to over 30 universities while Cali has fewer universities.

With a bigger expat population Medellín has more Spanish language programs available than in Cali. 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). Cali only has one bilingual English/Spanish school that I’m aware of: Colegio Bolivar.

13. Expat Community

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has a much bigger expat community than is found in Cali 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 Cali. But I would estimate there likely are less than 3,000 expats from North America and Europe living full-time in Medellín.

There is a much smaller expat community in Cali as it is more off the beaten path. From what I have seen there probably are only a few hundred expats living in Cali.

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 Cali when compared to Medellín.

Panoramic view of Cali, photo by David Alejandro Rendón
Panoramic view of Cali, photo by David Alejandro Rendón

The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Cali

In our Medellín vs Cali comparison, Medellín beats out Cali in 10 of our 13 categories; Cali beats out Medellín in only three categories and the two cities don’t tie in any categories.

So the end result in this somewhat subjective Medellín vs Cali comparison of 13 categories is that Medellín easily wins if the categories are equally weighted.

Some expats may disagree but Cali really doesn’t compare well in my opinion.  The biggest thing Cali has going for it is its lower cost of living.

But to each his own and 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 springtime climate, good healthcare and good public transportation were most important, Medellín would win. If cost of living, avoiding traffic and less pollution were your most important categories, Cali would win.

The only way to know which city is better is to spend time in both. I have spent time in both cities and both have their pros and cons. Neither city is ideal.

I prefer to live in Medellín due to the good climate, good public transportation, good healthcare as well as a bigger 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 six months to a year before committing. Only then can you determine if a foreign city is right for you.

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  1. Which has the most beautiful and charming women ? Compared to Cuenca , Ecuador , I am sure they rank high in this category .

    • To remain in tune with Jeff’s always diplomatic and cordial tone, I’d say that Medellin arguably wins here. Some of the ladies here in “Medallo” are true Latina bombshells. There is a natural sensuality and great attention to the feminine arts. Combine those virtues with Colombian music and the result can often be sublime.

  2. Have you compared Medellin with Barcelona (Rubi), España or Lisbon (Porto), Portugal? These are popular alternatives to Medellin for small indie-businesses and living.

    Thank you!

  3. Great article, except I’m not sure it’s fair to talk about the Airport connectivity they way you do – Medellin has one airport, and it only has a few flights a day to very small locations. MDE is not even remotely medellin, it’s Rio Negro, a long distance away in distance or time, or cost. With Viva Colombia it is frequently more expensive to get to the airport than to fly from the airport. Yes there’s space reasons for no major airport in the city, but the reason doesn’t detract from the basic fact that Medellin doesn’t actually have a major airport. Pereira has far better connectivity. Armenia has more international destinations. This is a major negative for Medellin.

    • Thanks for the comment but I respectfully disagree as you are not correct in several things you stated.

      (1) FIRST — it’s not a long distance from Medellín to MDE – which is the symbol IATA uses for José María Córdova airport as it considers this international airport primarily serves the Medellín metro, which it does. It’s only 18 miles (30 km) to MDE from El Poblado, which normally takes about 40-45 minutes. And it’s very cheap to get there if you use the airport buses (<$4) or only 65,000 pesos ($23) by taxi. Several cities have their international airports further outside the city, Sao Paulo (GRU) and Denver (DIA) come to mind with airports that are further distance from the city center where it can take much longer in my experience than it takes to get to MDE. They had to build José María Córdova airport (MDE) as Olaya Herrera airport wasn't big enough to support the dramatic growth of flights to Medellín. And there was no place nearer to build a large airport. (2) SECOND -- Pereira does NOT have better flight connectivity than MDE. I have been there several times. Pereira only has one international non-stop flight to Panama City on Copa. And it has an Avianca flight to NYC-JFK that isn't non-stop as it stops first in Cartagena. From MDE you can fly non-stop to Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York (JFK), Madrid, Aruba, Curaçao, Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia (plus seasonally to Punta Cana). For domestic non-stop flights from Pereira you can only fly to Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, San Andres and Quibdo. From Medellín's two airports you can fly to over 30 domestic locations in Colombia non-stop. (3) And THIRD -- Armenia (AXM) definitely doesn't have more international destinations. I've also been there. Armenia's airport is tiny and only has two international destinations. It only has a Spirit flight to Ft. Lauderdale that only flies a few days a week (it's not 7-day a week service) and Air Panama to Panama City. And only two domestic locations from Armenia - Bogotá and Medellín. To get to most international and domestic locations from Armenia you would need to connect in Bogotá.

  4. Jeff, of course I agree with your thoughts on the Medellin vs. Calí comparison. However, I think you missed a few extra details.

    Statistically it may appear Medellin have more selections of venues for dining or nightlife, but I think Calí’s gastronomy itself is more impressive. I had better, fresher, and cheaper barbecues and burgers there since they have significantly more farms nearby than Medellin does. Remember seeing sugar cane fields between the airport and the city? Who wouldn’t resist pandebono, cholado, buñelos, arroz atollado, etc.? Not to mention Colombia’s coffee capital Armenia is only 2-3 hours away. Although I’d admit Medellin would have much more selections of international restaurants.

    Calí beats Medellín in distance and cost of transportation between the airport and the city. Taxi ride between Jose Maria Cordova Airport and Medellin: 40-50 minutes for 60,000 pesos. Between Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Airport and Calí: 25-30 minutes for 40,000 – 50,000 pesos.

    They say Medellin is Colombia’s cosmetic surgery capital. Given that I hear Medellin have the hottest women in Colombia, I would have doubts that they have the majority of the hottest natural women in Colombia. I’d vote for Calí and Barranquilla in that specific category.

    But if I had to pick one of the two, I’d prefer Medellin since humidity is one of my biggest pet peeves.

    Enough said

    • Yes Cali beats Medellín in the distance and cost to/from the airport. FYI, they raised the fare in Medellín, it’s now 65,000 pesos from the airport. But that is a pretty minor thing. More important to me is that Medellín has more non-stop flight options. That is important for me as I travel sometimes for business. In Cali you have to connect somewhere to get to many places you can fly non-stop from Medellín.

      Regarding burgers. Ever try in Medellín the great cheese & bacon burger at Chef Burger; the MBC at Medellín Burger Company that uses certified Angus Beef and portobello mushrooms; or the Monumental burger at La Pampa Burger, or the Original burger at Grill Station; or the Riburger at Federal Ribs; and there are many other places that IMHO have great burgers in Medellín. I didn’t find as big a selection of good burger places in Cali.

  5. You left out one important thing namely music. Cali clearly has an edge for those of us that like music with the marimba. Medellin doesn’t have anything even remotely close to Festival Petronio Alvarez.

  6. For an expat in 2017, you left out one comparison; internet connectivity. Average speeds and coverage would be very valuable information.

    • 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. I have 10 Mbps service from Claro in Medellín that is extremely reliable. I only experienced a few brief outages in 6 years that were fixed quickly when I called. I could upgrade to higher speed 100 Mbps service if I wanted to pay more.

      EMCALI is one of the main providers in Cali offering Internet, TV and phone services. Claro also offers services there. I’m not sure of the max Internet speed offered in Cali, you would need to check with EMCALI and Claro.

      • And that’s my point; many of today’s expats are working online, and need reliable internet. The internet reliability is a key decision factor for those people. Call centers, online teaching, travel agencies, web site design, mobile IT professionals all need internet, some much more so than how many universities are in each city. And these people bring in $$$ to spend.

        • Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll make sure to include information about Internet availability in future city comparisons. I included this in some of my comparisons with cities in other countries but I’ll make sure to include this in all the comparisons. Medellín ranks highly in this category with high speed and reliable Internet available that is affordable. I pay less in Medellín for triple-play Internet/TV/phone service than I paid in the U.S. for just Internet.

  7. Jesus loves us! , I wanted to let you guys know that I’m a native Northman from Canada and I’m a citizen in Colombia too, I”ve lived here for more than 9 years in Colombia, but I just recently lived in Medellin, near Poblado, Las vegas.. and I only stayed for one month even though I planned on living straight on there. I left and went to Cali for I did pollution comparisons on the INternet. > > While Medellin is the 5th worst air polluted city of Latin AMerica Cali is ranked 2nd cleanest air cities of Latin America .. polarized difference! I left Medellin for with only one month of stay … ( I’m used to living in the country, in my country home in a town of ANtioquia, thanks to Jesus), I left because with one month of stay in Medellin I felt that My lungs were being affected by the ever bad smelling air. And I left to Cali, couldn’t be happier with my decision.. I don’t care even if Medellin has great culture .. it’s the Paisa culture that I”ve been mainly part of all my time in Colombia.. but if it’s about city living.. there no longer is an Antioquia city any more.. unless you simply don’t care about your health. Cali is awesome.. and it’s faily friendly and all. I’m happy with my recent decision! Who would stay in Medellin and suck in all that dirty air? I won’t, thanks to Jesus, having the choice to live in Cali… The cleanest! Clean air is IMPORTANT!!

  8. Hi

    Great article, thank you!
    Any recommendation regarding where to live in Cali? – Any safe neighborhoods (where it’s not too upscale) ?


  9. EXCELLENT information! Thank you Jeff! You helped me narrow down my choices. Would Medellin, in your opinion, be a decent place to raise a 15 and 17 year old son and daughter?

    Also, how do I go about getting Permanent Residence and/or citizenship there? We are all U.S. Citizens (I have dual Costa Rican and U.S. citizenry). Thanks!

  10. Everything is subjective but for me I prefer the slightly warmer daytime weather and the less rain of Cali. And as far as health options go, the very best hospital and clinic in all of Colombia is in Cali should you need it. And the most important category which isn’t on your list is the people themselves. While Colombians in general are very inclusive, I find Calenos the most friendly. I find Paisas to be by far and away the Colombians with the most pride, almost to the point of being annoying — Paisas will tell you everything is better in Medellín. (: