When the Spanish arrived in what’s now Colombia, has a bank on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, late in the 15th century, this land had been peopled for numerous centuries. They gradationally colonised this region before Colombia attained independence in 1819, the name replacing the New Kingdom of Granada, which is what it was known under Spanish rule.




skyline of bogota
Bogota tops the list of largest cities in Colombia.

Bogota is the national capital and one of the largest cities in the world.

The Spanish made it the capital of the New Kingdom of Granada in 1538.

Almost three centuries passed before it became the capital of the independent country of Gran Colombia.

It sits on a high plateau in the country’s heart at an altitude of 2,640 metres (8,660 feet).

It is the country’s cultural, financial and educational hub and performs all the important state functions.

The population of Bogota is just above 8 million.

Visitors should head to its heart, with many landmarks dating back to colonial times, including the 17th-century Iglesia de San Francisco.



Medellin skyline with mountains in the background
Medellin is another large city in Colombia.

Medellín is Colombia’s second city, with a population of 2.5 million and a further 1.5 million in the greater metropolitan region.

Its origins in the early 17th Century were as a small village, with its growth in the 19th Century due to its gold and coffee.

Medellin had a reputation for being Colombia’s “drug capital” because of Pablo Escobar’s cartel that traded in cocaine but that is a thing of the past.

Today, visitors will find a city known more for its educational facilities, health, flowers and festivals.

In 2016, Medellín won the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, recognising urban solutions and development innovation.


Skyscrapers around the bay in Cartagena
One of the largest cities in Colombia is Cartagena.

Cartagena is an important port on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast.

It developed as a link between South America and the West Indies.

Silver was the main export back to Spain once, while ships carrying slaves regularly landed at Cartagena.

Its defences were good, and they needed to be with the threat from Caribbean pirates.

Today’s city has a population of around 875,000, a huge number compared to its origins in the 1530s.

UNESCO has recognised the city’s importance, giving World Heritage Site status to its walled city walls and fortress.

Cobbled streets, colourful buildings and impressive squares are in the immediate vicinity.

Add the lovely beaches, and there are compelling reasons to head to Cartagena.

Recommended tours:



Cali buildings with mountain in background
One of the coolest cities in Colombia is Cali.

Santiago de Cali is the largest city in Colombia’s southwest.

Its population is approximately 2.23 million, only behind Bogota and Medellin.

Its access to the Pacific Coast is one of the main reasons for its growth from its early beginnings in 1536.

Cali regularly hosts international sporting events, especially athletics, and is famous for its salsa dancing.

San Pedro Cathedral and the San Francisco Religious Complex are landmarks to visit.

La Merced Chapel hosted the first mass back when Cali was first founded.

The best view down on the city is from the religious monument Cristo Rey from where you can see the many impressive squares and parks in Cali.

Sebastian de Belalcazar Monument is another in the hills that overlook Cali.



skyscrapers by the ocean in Santa Marta
Santa Marta is one of the top coastal cities in Colombia.

Santa Marta is another Caribbean port first developed when the Spanish arrived.

It is the second oldest Spanish settlement on the Continent and the oldest in Colombia, founded in 1525.

The economy of today’s city of half a million includes fishing and agriculture, trade and port activities, and tourism.

Tourists have plenty of choices for things to do and see here.

They include exploring Tayrona National Nature Park, scuba diving, enjoying the beach or steeping yourself in history.

There are museums and the colourful Santa Marta Market selling souvenirs and food products, including lobster.


For landmarks in Latin America, see:


Barranquilla, the capital of Colombia’s Atlántico Department, is a seaport on the Magdalena River, famous for its huge carnival, which UNESCO recognised in 2003.

Its location in the Caribbean led to its development with the current population around 1.2 million.

The city was established in 1813, but its origins were nearly two centuries earlier.

European immigration was significant in the 20th century, with the city surpassing Cartagena as the nation’s main port for a period.

Barranquilla is scheduled to host the Pan American Games soon.

Barranquilla is home to the first airport in South America, dating back to just after the First World War.



Bucaramanga distant view at night
Another interesting city in Colombia to visit is Bucaramanga.

Bucaramanga is in the north-central part of Colombia.

Its green spaces and lovely climate offer plenty of opportunity to escape the city to head into one of the many parks.

Parque Centenario, Parque Santander and Romero are the first three to consider.

Chicamocha National Park offers a variety of activities, including camping, fishing, mountain climbing and paragliding.

Important landmarks to see in the city include the Cathedral of the Holy Family, an old temple, Capillo de los Dolores, and the Museum of Modern Art of Bucaramanga.

Agriculture production in the region involves coffee, pineapple, tobacco, cacao and corn.



historic buildings in Pereira
If you’re looking for historic Colombia cities, put Pereira on your list.

Pereira is in the foothills of the Andes in a region known for its coffee.

UNESCO World Heritage Site status recognises the “Coffee Axis”, in which you will find Pereira, the most important city within it.

Incidentally, Pereira is also known for its arabica beans.

The main square in the city, Bolivar Square has a statue of the independence hero on horseback, while Our Lady of Poverty Cathedral, built in the 19th century, is another important landmark.

Other highlights include the Cesar Gaviria Trujillo Viaduct over the Otun River and the Art Museum.

Pereira is a city of 470,000, with a further quarter of a million living in the immediate hinterland.



aerial view of Manizales sprawl with mountains in the background
One of the best cities in Colombia for its mountainous setting is Manizales.

Manizales is another city in the heart of coffee country, offering plenty of opportunities for visitors to visit a plantation to learn more and taste the coffee.

The city’s cable car is a chance to look down from on high and pick out one of its highlights, the impressive cathedral and its spire.

Los Nevado National Park is close by and has several of the best volcanoes on the continent.

Three of them, the Nevado del Ruiz, Nevado del Tolima, and Nevado de Santa Isabel are a real challenge to climbers whilst the Park is also known for its glaciers, flora and fauna.



aerial view of Ibagué surrounded by mountains
For a green city in Colombia, check out Ibague.

Ibagué is a city in the heart of the country within the Colombian Andes.

Its population is just short of half a million.

The beginnings of a colonial settlement date back to the middle of the 16th Century.

It has a mixed economy, industrial and agricultural as well as receiving significant tourist numbers annually.

Textiles and coffee lead the way.

“The Musical Capital of Colombia and America” is a regular description of the city with plentiful folklore performances and several monuments with reference to music.

There are several important landmarks within the city and if you travel into the nearby canyon, you may spot bears and condors.



Pasto in Southern Colombia has a municipal population of approaching 400,000, with just below half of that in the city itself.

It takes its name from the indigenous people who lived there as the Spanish arrived in the years before the mid-1550s.

It sits below the Galeras Volcano in the high Atriz Valley within the Andes Cordillera.

The volcano is most impressive, standing at over 14,000 feet (4,276 metres).

Its Blacks and Whites Carnival is famous for the giant figures kept in the Museum when not in use.

Narino Square is at its heart, where you will find the Temple of St. John in Moorish style.

Other highlights are Las Lajas Sanctuary (about 1.5 hours by road) and the Banco de la Republica Gold Museum.



San José de Cúcuta lies in a valley below the Eastern Ranges of the Andes on the border with Venezuela and has a population of around 780,000, with a further quarter of a million in the hinterland.

It has always been an important commercial city and with Venezuelans leaving their country in recent years, it has continued to grow.

Cucuta is home to several universities and hence it has a significant student population.

Several landmarks are worth a visit, including the Clock Tower, the Battle of Cucuta Monument fought by Simon Bolivar and Villa del Rosario, a museum these days and the place where General Santander was born.


Villvicencio is an hour southeast of Bogota, sitting on plains known as the Llanos, which separates the Andes from the rainforest.

Cooling breezes from the Andes provide some relief from the hot daily temperatures.

It gets its name from a famous Colombian War of Independence participant, Antonio Villavicencio.

The main square, Liberators Park with the Lady of Carmen Cathedral, is at its heart, with fountains cooling the square.

Founders Park, with its gardens and sculpture and Malocas Park, where a plains village has been recreated, are also worth your time.



This coastal seaport city looks out onto the Pacific, the main port on this coast of Colombia.

The opening of the Panama Canal certainly helped its development and today it has a population of 235,000, with a further number living reasonably close by.

It handles 60% of the nation’s sea imports and exports.

In 2017, it was named “City of Gastronomy”.

Cascajal Island in the west of the city is the most popular district for tourists who enjoy boat trips from there, shopping for handicrafts and the Nesto Urbano Tenorio Park.

There is a cathedral and palace to explore as well.


Valledupar is an important agricultural city with industry related to agriculture also well-developed.

You will find the city southeast of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

It plays a vital role in Colombia’s musical culture; vallenato music.

Despite being close to the Equator, its altitude guarantees some permanent snow and hot temperatures elsewhere.

Flora and fauna in the region are compelling reasons to visit because a new bee species has been discovered here recently, and you will love the numerous parrots.

Europeans introduced some flora here, notably mango trees, yet an indigenous species, the yellow-blossomed Tabebuia, really catches the eye.


cities in colombia map
Looking for the best cities in Colombia to visit? Check out our top 20.

Sincelejo lies 30 kilometres (18.5 miles) from the Caribbean and 125 kilometres (78 miles) from Cartagena.

There was a local indigenous population before the arrival of the Spanish in 1535.

Two centuries later, the development began with the construction of a church around which homes were built and today, it is famous for its music while it also hosts the Corralejas Bullfighting Festival.

The Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi is the main landmark and overlooks Santander Park.

Today’s population is around a quarter of a million, with livestock, agriculture and commerce its primary source of income, especially cattle.


Armenia is within the “coffee axis” west of Colombia near the Andes.

Its heart is the Plaza de Bolivar with the Catedral La Inmaculada Concepción.

The historic centre is part of the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” and thus a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Parque de la Vida includes a lake and an arena for roller skating.

The Museo del Oro Quimbaya is also worth a visit to see its exhibits of ancient gold artifacts.

There are several high Andean peaks in surrounding areas, some over 4,500 metres (14,760 feet).

There are several festivals and parades in Armenia, and they use imported jeeps from World War II that carry local produce, such as coffee and participants.

Recommended tour: Full Day Tour of Cocora Valley, Salento, and Filandia Coffee Town (from Armenia)


Leticia is deep in the Amazon rainforest in the south of Colombia on the border with Peru and Brazil.

Its appeal is as a gateway to the Amazon with tours available to book.

The nearby parks are Tanimboca National Reserve and Amacayacu National Park, with their vast range of flora and fauna.

Lake Tarapoto is a great place to see pink dolphins, manatees and piranhas.

The boardwalk along the river is an excellent place for a stroll, and you are sure to see hundreds of roosting parrots if you head to the main square at night.

While its cathedral is modern, if you want to know more about its history, head for the Ethnographic Museum.

Its population incidentally is just under 50,000.



Florencia is a city in South West Colombia on the Caqueta River below the Cordillera Oriental Mountains.

This city of almost 170,000 takes its name from an Italian businessman, Paolo Ricci, who came from Florence; he dealt in rubber, a reason for Florencia’s growth.

The Spanish first came here in the 1540s, yet the city is not over a century old.

Seek out local heritage sites, of which there are two: El Encanto Petroglyphs and Curiplaya.

El Encanto Petroglyphs on the banks of the Hacha River consist of 16 metres (52 feet) long engravings discovered in 1963.

The other is a colonial building, Curiplaya, first built in the 50s as a hotel but now a museum where you will learn more about the region and its history.


colonial building in Popayan with red doors
One of the cities in Colombia with colonial charm is Popayan.

Popayan is Colombia’s white city because of its beautiful and historic whitewashed architecture.

Its centre is truly historic, with plazas and churches worth your time.

Popayan is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy with tamales and empanadas “de pipián,” a favourite; it is a peanut and potato stew you will not find anywhere else.

It is southwest of Bogota, with its prominent landmarks being the neoclassical Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption and the 17th-century Church of La Ermita.

You might also look out for the 17th-century clock tower in Caldas Park.

Popayan has been home to several famous Colombians, including 17 former Presidents and innumerable painters, musicians and poets.


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