Colombia is a country thriving with Latin music and dance, local fruit stands, steaming empanadas, soccer enthusiasts, and a diverse terrain including beaches, jungle, and mountain ranges. While there are many quaint towns in Colombia displaying local culture, this article focuses on the four major cities of the country, going through key sites and lifestyle diversities of each.


“Cartagena de Indes” is a warm-weather city bordering the Caribbean. While there is a modern portion to explore, most of the historical charm can be found inside the walled city. Here colorful 400 year old buildings and trellises of flowers line the cobblestone streets and there is no shortage of frozen treats and fresh fruit being sold for only a few thousand pesos (or “mil”). 

The popular tourist beach called Playa Blanca located about an hour bus ride away with white sand and bright blue water. However, a lot of locals opt for Bocagrande which is closer (in the modern city) and easier to access for travelers who do not want to go far. 

The San Felipe Castle, Palace of Inquisition, and evening performers in Plaza Santo Domingo are all must-sees along with an evening spent on a rooftop bar watching the sunset. A secret discovery that we made was Hotel Monterrey, located just outside of the walled city. It contains a secluded rooftop bar on the 4th floor which includes a pool, full bar, and lounging chairs. You do not have to be a guest of the hotel but merely purchase a well priced drink from an attendant to enjoy the views and pool for the day. 


Named “Cuidad de la Eterna Primavera” (City of Eternal Spring), Medellín contains friendly locals, a mild weather climate, and an appreciation for art and innovation. The downtown central area of the city is very busy and offers many small shops, walk-in malls, and a plaza filled with 23 sculptures done and kindly donated to the city by local artist named Fernando Botero. There is also a museum in the plaza named Museo de Antioquia where there is more information about this artist and his work. 

My favorite discovery in the city center was a local bar and bookstore named El Acontista that serves brick oven pizza and offers free jazz and bluegrass live music on Monday nights. This is the perfect place to enjoy a local beer and relaxing vibes.

One unique aspect of Medellín is it’s advanced transportation system. It is the only city in Colombia that contains a metro system and free city bikes for riding well-developed bike paths. This gives visitors multiple options for getting around and seeing different neighborhoods of the city on a budget.

A neighborhood that is popular for it’s hostels and bar and restaurant scene is called Parque Lleras. Here there are endless options for dance clubs, sports bars for watching a soccer game, cigar lounges, or a sushi dining experience. 

Comuna 13, Parque Arvi, and Piedra del Peñol near Guatapé are all fun day trips to do. Comuna 13 can be reached by metro, Parque Arvi by metro and cable cars, and Piedra del Peñol by a 1 1/2 hour bus ride.


Continued in Colombia Pt. 2...

Meghan Mathews