Cartagena vs. Medellin: Which is the better travel destination?

Cartagena vs. Medellin

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Colombia is a rich country with diverse landscapes, climates, people, and cultures. As you plan your vacation or consider your next nomadic stop, you may wonder which is better: Cartagena or Medellin. 

Both cities are very different and unique in their own way, and there are many factors to consider when asking this question. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which city is suitable for your trip. 

As a Cartagena local, here is my ultimate guide to all things Medellin vs. Cartagena. 

You will get a brief overview of each city, followed by a more detailed comparison of various categories to decide what works best for your next trip.

A Brief Overview of Cartagena

Cartagena is a coastal city located in the northern Caribbean tip of Colombia. 

Its perfect beach weather makes it a very desirable destination for travelers seeking the Caribbean experience. 

But don’t be deceived; Cartagena is not just a fun beach town; it is also a protected UNESCO world heritage site with a rich and complex history, which can be evidenced in its colonial architecture and diverse peoples.

As an ex-pat living in Cartagena, I have noticed that this city has an inexplicable magical pull on people; many foreigners I encounter come for a visit and never want to leave. 

It could be voodoo or Santeria, or perhaps the never-ending party scene; whatever the reason, Cartagena offers a perfect cocktail: the old and new, a city with a small-town feel, rich history with a party mindset. 

It is worth taking a trip to visit, but before you go, be sure to brush up on your Spanish and read this article to understand some of the ways people get scammed.

Cartagena vs. Medellin

A Brief Overview of Medellin

Medellin is located in the Andes mountains in the central western region of Colombia. 

It has been nicknamed the “city of eternal spring” thanks to its year-round temperate weather (not too cold, not too hot).

In the 80s and 90s, it was one of the most dangerous cities in South America, yet it has come a long way in the past few decades; it has even become a hotspot for digital nomads from around the globe. 

The metropolitan feel, combined with the warmth and friendliness of its “paisa” people, makes Medellin a fantastic travel destination.

Medellin has much more to offer beyond the recent hype surrounding Pablo Escobar and the narco era. 

If you dare to look a little closer, you will find a well-planned, clean, and organized city of hardworking and welcoming people, a contender for being one of the greatest cities in South America.

Quick climate question, does it snow in Colombia? The answer is yes, and here is where.

Cartagena vs. Medellin 3



When you find a place dubbed “the city of eternal spring,” you know the weather is bound to be fabulous. 

With average temperatures between 62F-80F (17C-26C), Medellin weather truly has the perfect combination: not too hot and not too cold. 

You can get away with wearing pants or a light jacket while also enjoying outdoor pools year-round.

Furthermore, because of Medellin’s mountainous landscape, the city will vary in weather as you move up or down the hills. 

If you prefer more temperate weather, you can live or stay on the plateau that is the center of town. 

If you are up for a more crisp temperature, simply choose a higher altitude neighborhood, and you will feel the difference. 


If you are a fan of tropical weather, then this city is right for you. Sunny and 87F (30C), this city has the perfect beach weather for most of the year. 

Even the rainy season (around the months of October and April) is quite enjoyable; the cloudy skies provide respite from the intense sun, and tropical thundershowers are spectacular to watch at night. 

It is also very refreshing and, dare I say, romantic to get caught in a tropical rainstorm. 

December to March in Cartagena has the loveliest breezy weather. June-September can be very hot because the city has hardly any breeze. 

One drawback of Cartagena’s weather is the extreme humidity which makes you feel at times like you are living in a sauna with sweltering heat and heavy air. 

On the other hand, you will save a lot of money on moisturizer and chapstick. 

So, which city has the better weather? That depends on what you like, but Medellin is more versatile in the weather category, so it will appeal to a broader range of people. 

Cartagena quiz: Can you flush toilet paper in Cartagena? Answer here.



The landscapes around Medellin let you appreciate the majestic Andes mountain range in contrast with the energy of a large city. 

This dichotomy makes Medellin a very unique sight to see. 

Within its urban environment, Medellin is surrounded by greenery: mountains, natural parks, vegetation, and water flowing all around it. 

Due to its previously-mentioned perfect spring weather, Medellin is unmatched in vegetation and ever-blooming flowers.


Its tropical landscapes belong in a postcard: sand, ocean, palm trees, sailboats, etc. 

The charming old city is filled with colorful colonial homes, balconies overflowing with flowers, and a surrounding city wall straight out of the conquistador era. 

Such beautiful landscapes attract a lot of photo tourism. It is common to spot engagement, wedding, and family photoshoots daily as you walk around. 

While Cartagena has not been gifted with white coral sands, the Rosario Islands are a mere 45min boat ride away. 

This archipelago has white sands, beautiful and diverse shades of blue aqua oceans, and decent snorkeling. 

If we have to compare the two, Cartagena is more sought after for its landscapes, and its beauty is unique and mesmerizing.

Cartagena vs. Medellin


While many Colombian regions blend culturally, Cartagena and Medellin have distinct people and customs. 

They are so distinguishable, in fact, that people from these regions have names to describe them: Costeños and Paisas, respectively.

I will preface this next phase by saying that my observations about the people of each place are generalizations; there are always exceptions to the rule. 

They may sound a little stereotypical, but these are patterns of behavior that I have personally observed with my own eyes.


Costeño (from the word stemming from the word “costa” or coast) is what you call a person from Cartagena. 

Costenoños, in general terms, love to have a good time. They love loud music and dancing and tend to have great rhythm thanks to their Afro-Caribbean heritage. 

Plus, they are responsible for creating some of Colombia’s most popular dance styles!

Costeños don’t take life too seriously and like to live for the day. This is very evident in the fact that Cartagena can be pretty chaotic and disorganized, not to mention lacking in urban planning.

Punctuality is not a priority for Costeños. 

In Cartagena, people are often late, and it is a nuisance to be on time because you are likely to be the only one. 

When I mention the lack of punctuality, I don’t mean running 15min behind; I am talking about showing up hours later than expected without so much as an apology.

The good thing about these characteristics is that in Cartagena, you can always sort things out, even if it is last minute, and you will not find a better city to party in.

Another aspect worth mentioning is that Costeños have a reputation for being lazy. 

In their defense, if you consider the extreme heat, it is no wonder that they move slower than in other regions of Colombia, from 11 am to 3 pm when it is the hottest. 

This is the best time to have a siesta and hide from the sun.

And one more thing, the taxi drivers in Cartagena are not known for being courteous, kind, or putting customer service first. That being said, here are my recommendations for getting around the city.


Paisas are people from the region of Antioquia, including Medellin and other surrounding areas. 

Paisas are hardworking and kind people. They are innovative and entrepreneurial, leading the way in many different industries in Colombia. 

Unlike Costeños, they are punctual and organized. Paisas are creative and well-dressed, with Medellin being the fashion capital of Colombia. 

They are cordial and offer some of the best customer service in the country. It is easy to see why the Paisa culture and attitude have been responsible for bringing progress to the city of Medellin. 

Not everything is rose-colored, though; with such a hustler mentality, Paisas can also be very cunning, so be on guard.  Also, their driving is extremely aggressive boarding unsafe, as outlined in this post.

If you are looking for a short-term, anything-can-happen, party-it-up kind of trip, hang out with Cartageneros; I can guarantee you will have a good time. 

If you want a more consistently pleasant and reliable experience, definitely choose Medellin for its neighborly people.

Cartagena vs. Medellin 3



Gastronomy is a crucial part of the Cartagena experience; you can find restaurants everywhere. 

While you can find food on any budget, you can expect to pay premium prices for food and drinks in Cartagena. 

This is due to the unofficial “tourist tax.” The old city of Cartagena offers a wide array of fine dining and haute cuisine. 

While the price point tends to be high compared to other Colombian cities, it is still very reasonable from a foreign currency perspective, such as the dollar or euro.

If you love fish and seafood, Cartagena is the place to be for obvious reasons; it offers some variety in how it is prepared, such as local creole cuisine, Peruvian ceviche, and sushi, among others. 

If you are looking for typical dishes to try, here are some suggestions to ask for:

  • Arepa con Huevo: egg-filled yellow-corn patty, deep fried
  • Carimañola: mashed yuca (cassava) root stuffed with cheese or beef and deep fried
  • Posta Negra: charred beef roast served with a hot pink plantain poached in Kola Roman (cream soda)
  • Mojarra Frita: Fried red snapper with coconut rice and fried plantain
  • Cocadas: sweets made with coconut (assorted flavors)

One word of caution is to be aware that not all of the water in Cartagena is drinkable (Potable). Please read this article on Tap Water in Cartagena to understand what I’m talking about.


Medellin’s local cuisine is homestyle, hearty, yet very flavorful. These are all characteristics of food from the mountain regions of Colombia. 

The star ingredients of the local dishes are often simple and practical items like rice, beans, or even leftovers. 

While this food is not anything special per se, it hits the spot in the right setting. 

However, looking further than local cuisine, you will find a wide variety in Medellin’s gastronomic offer. 

Being the metropolitan center that it is, Medellin has an excellent international influence. 

You can find food from around the world in all price ranges and settings: from food trucks to fine dining, there’s always something new to try. 

Here is a list of dishes to try if you want to have an authentic experience:

  • Bandeja Paisa: beans and rice served with crispy pork skin called chicharron or chorizo, avocado, and plantain
  •  Calentao: meat leftovers cooked with rice for breakfast
  •  Mondongo: tripe soup
  •  Arepas con queso: corn patty served with cheese

If we have to rate these two cities on their gastronomy, I will give this one to Cartagena for its creative and flavorful local cuisine; Medellin gets an honorable mention for offering greater international variety.

If you are getting closer to pulling the trigger and visiting Medellin, you will want to read the 11 Pros and Cons before you go. This way, you really know what’s up.

Cartagena vs. Medellin


When comparing such drastically different cities, there is no clear choice of which city is best for travel. 

The answer will also greatly depend on the type of person you are and the trip you wish to take. 

Here is my general conclusion about the matter; if you are on a short-term trip looking to have fun, relax and enjoy yourself, Cartagena is the right place. 

Check out my top 4 Cartagena Beach Clubs here!

Affordable tourism, warm weather, beach, fun locals, and just enough history and culture to make it interesting.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a place to settle for an extended period, Medellin may be a better fit. 

Let’s say you are working remotely for a while or looking to learn Spanish and have a culturally enriching experience; if this sounds more like you, I suggest you travel to Medellin. 

There is a reason this city has become such a hotspot for digital nomads. The city is very foreigner-friendly, with neighborly people, urban energy, and international cuisine. 

Now the choice is up to you; which of these great cities will be your next travel destination?

Also, you may want to consider visiting San Andres, which we compare here: San Andres vs. Cartagena | Which Should You Travel To?

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