Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga, which is the best city to live in? Medellín is known as la ciudad de la eterna primavera (the city of eternal spring).
But there are two other cities in Colombia with similar climates to Medellín, which can also be called cities of eternal spring: Pereira and Bucaramanga.
We compare Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga in a comprehensive comparison. So, this is a battle of the cities of eternal spring in Colombia. I haven’t seen a comparison of all three cities anywhere.
I have met many expats that prefer Medellín. But some of these expats many not have been to all three cities. And Medellín seems to constantly receive positive press about being a top foreign retirement location.
Note the above photo of Medellín is a view of El Poblado taken from Pueblito Paisa by Jenny Bojinova.
Pereira and Bucaramanga don’t really get much press. And there aren’t many foreigners living in Pereira or Bucaramanga, as these cities are off the beaten path. But I have met a few expats living in Pereira and Bucaramanga that prefer those cities over Medellín. I have lived in Medellín for over seven years but have traveled multiple times to both Pereira and Bucaramanga on vacation.
All three cities have their pluses and minuses. We comprehensively compare these three cities in Colombia in 14 categories from an expat’s perspective, in no particular order.
The three cities tie here. All three cities have similar climates. And all three cities can be considered cities of eternal spring.
The temperature during the year in Medellín averages 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). The average temperature in Medellín typically only varies by about 1 °F during the year. In Pereria the annual average temperature is 70.7 ° F (21.5 °C). While in Bucaramanga the annual average is 70.5 ° F (21.4 °C).
In Medellín, the high daily average temperature ranges from 81.0 to 82.8 ° F (27.0 to 28.2 °C). And the low daily average ranges from 61.7 to 63.3 ° F (16.5 to 17.4 °C). In Pereira, the high daily average temperature ranges from 78.3 to 80.8 ° F (25.7 to 27.1 °C). And the low daily average ranges from 61.7 to 62.6 ° F (16.5 to 17.0 °C).
While in Bucaramanga, the high daily average temperature is a bit lower than the other two cities and ranges from 76.8 to 78.8 °F (24.9 to 26.0 °C). And the low daily average ranges from 64.9 to 66.2 °F (18.3 to 19.0 °C).
In Medellín, the average annual humidity is 68 percent. And in Pereira the average humidity is 77 percent. While in Bucaramanga the average annual humidity is 85 percent. So, out of the three cities it is most humid in Bucaramanga, which means it has a bit more of a tropical feel.
Out of the three cities, it rains the least in Bucaramanga. Half the months in Bucaramanga have less than 100 mm (3.9 inches) of rain. In Medellín, 10 months have over 100 mm of rain. And in Pereira every month has over 100 mm of rain. For the entire year it rains on average 46.8 inches of rain in Bucaramanga, 69.0 inches in Medellín and 95.4 inches in Pereira.
The climate in all three cities makes it possible to live without air-conditioning or heating. After living in Medellín for over seven years, I am now spoiled by the climate.
2. Restaurants and Nightlife
Medellín wins here. Medellín is by far the biggest city of the three. So, it has many more restaurant and nightlife options than the other two cities.
Medellín’s metro population is about 3.8 million. Pereira’s metro population is less then 1 million making it about one-fourth of the size. And Bucaramanga’s metro population is only about 1.3 million.
If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists over 1,000 restaurants in Medellín but less than 260 listed in Bucaramanga. And it has less than 210 restaurants listed in Pereira. So, Medellín has many more restaurant choices. This makes sense as Medellín is about four times as big as Pereira in terms of population and about three times as big as Bucaramanga.
But both Pereira and Bucaramanga have several good restaurants. For example, I found good Colombian, Italian, steak and seafood restaurants in both cities. But Medellín is much larger. So, it has many more restaurant options.
Medellín also has many more nightlife options, since it’s a much bigger city. Both Pereira and Bucaramanga have some decent nightlife options but there aren’t as many places as can be found in Medellín.
3. Cost of Living
Bucaramanga and Pereira win here in a tie. Real estate properties I have seen in both Bucaramanga and Pereira in Estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 15-25 percent less than in Medellín for comparable properties.
Other costs like groceries, taxis, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 5-10 percent cheaper in both Pereira and Bucaramanga in comparison to Medellín. I compared the prices of groceries in Exito in all three cities and on average the prices in Exito in Medellín were 6 to 7 percent higher than in Pereira or Bucaramanga.
In addition, the Numbeo website confirms that both Bucaramanga and Pereira have a lower cost of living than in Medellín. Of the three cities, Medellín has the highest cost of living, so it loses this category to the other two cities. The cost of living is pretty similar in Pereira and Bucaramanga according to expats I have talked to in both cities. So, they tie to win this category.
Medellín wins here. Medellín has eight of the top 44 ranked hospitals in Latin America. Bucaramanga only has two, while Pereira has none.
Here is a list of all the top ranked hospitals in Medellín and Bucaramanga, with their rankings in the top 44 hospitals in Latin America:
- 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
Since Medellín has more highly ranked hospitals than Bucaramanga or Pereira, it wins this category. In addition, Medellín is a much larger city. So it obviously has many more medical and dental providers than either of the other two cities.
5. Things To Do
Medellín wins here. The much bigger city of Medellín easily wins here with many more things to do in the city.
TripAdvisor has 180 things to do listed for Medellín and only 61 things to do listed for Bucaramanga. And it has only 53 things to do listed for Pereira. While looking at TripAdvisor is unscientific, this clearly demonstrates that there is much more to do in Medellín. And this makes sense, as Medellín is a much larger city.
All three cities have many things to do in the cities as well and many things to do nearby. But the larger city of Medellín has many more churches, more parks, more shopping malls, more sights and more landmarks.
Medellín is also a more popular tourist destination than Bucaramanga or Pereira. So, Medellín has many more hotels and hostels available. And on Airbnb, you won’t find many furnished apartments available in Bucaramanga or Pereira. But there are hundreds of furnished apartments available in Medellín.
However, Pereira does have the benefit of being one of the three cities that make up the Coffee Triangle, along with Armenia and Manizales. There are picturesque small pueblos and stunning scenery to be found in the Coffee Triangle not far from Pereira.
Bucaramanga and Pereira win here in a tie. Medellín last year was ranked #9 in a list by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the 10 most polluted cities in Latin America.
Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon. And mountains surround the city. So, pollution tends to stay in the Medellín metropolitan area. This is similar to the problem in Denver in the U.S. Medellín has a much bigger pollution problem than Bucaramanga and Pereira.
In comparison, Bucaramanga and Pereria both have much lower levels of pollution, so they win this category.
But Medellín doesn’t have the worst pollution in Latin America. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Santiago, Chile and several other towns in Chile, Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; Cubatão, Brazil; as well as several towns in Costa Rica all have worse pollution levels than in Medellín.
This is arguably a tie between the three cities. All three cities generally ranked similarly in a 2015 survey of 12,548 in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their city.
In this study Pereira was ranked #2 (51 percent felt safe), Medellín was ranked #3 (45 percent) and Bucaramanga was ranked #4 (43 percent) in terms of how safe citizens felt in their city (slide 40).
In all three of these cities, there are several estrato 4, 5 and 6 neighborhoods that are generally safe for expats in my experience. I haven’t felt unsafe in any of these three cities. But each city has neighborhoods where it isn’t wise to go after dark.
8. Access to the U.S., Europe and the Rest of Latin America
Medellín wins here. Medellín’s José María Córdova international 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 the MDE airport there are non-stop flights available to Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York (JFK) in the U.S. In addition, from MDE you can fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe. Also, you can fly non-stop to Aruba, Curaçao, Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia (and seasonally to Punta Cana).
The airports in Bucaramanga and Pereira have only one non-stop international flight, which is to Panama City. To get to other international locations from these cities will require a connection. However, in Pereira there is an Avianca flight from Pereira to New York City (JFK) but it stops first in Cartagena, so it isn’t non-stop. Or an hour away from Pereira in Armenia, Spirit has a non-stop flight to Fort Lauderdale. But this isn’t a daily flight.
The bottom line is that Medellín has more daily non-stop flights available to international locations, so it wins this category.
Bucaramanga and Pereira win here in a tie. Traffic in Medellín is generally much worse than in Bucaramanga or Pereira due to being a much bigger city with more cars on the roads. A survey by Waze last year found that Medellín was rated one of the worst cities in Latin America in terms of traffic.
The worst traffic in Medellín in my experience tends to be in El Centro, El Poblado and Envigado, which I have seen many times on the Waze smartphone app. I highly recommend the Waze app for smartphones. I have used Waze for well over a year. And it has saved me countless hours from being stuck in traffic in Medellín.
During my trips to Bucaramanga and Pereira I never experienced traffic like there is in Medellín. And I would also say that traffic is similar in both Bucaramanga and Pereira based on my experience.
However, Medellín doesn’t have the worst traffic in Latin America. I have experienced worse traffic in the bigger cities like Bogotá, Mexico City and São Paulo.
10. Seismic Risk
Medellín arguably wins here. The coffee region of Colombia and Pereira have a long history of seismic activity. During the 20th century, this region including Pereira experienced at least seven major seismic events.
During the most recent major earthquakes in Pereira that occurred in 1995 and 1999, many older homes as well as many hospitals, public buildings and roads were damaged. A 6.1-magnitude earthquake in 1999 caused major structural damage to Armenia and Pereira. And it reportedly resulted in 1,200 deaths in the area and losses of up to $1.2 billion.
Bucaramanga is located about an hour from Mesa de los Santos, which is a resort community that experiences about 40 tremors per day. It’s the most seismic place in Colombia at the epicenter of fault lines known as the “Bucaramanga Nest”. In 2015, a strong 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit with an epicenter located 25 miles from Bucaramanga and damage to at least 200 buildings was reported in Bucaramanga.
Medellín historically hasn’t experienced as much seismic activity as either Bucaramanga or Pereira. According to geologists, Medellín is situated on a giant block of andesite, which is a gigantic and deep-rooted hunk of igneous rock. This rock is hard like granite and resistant to seismic motion. While there is no certainty, this resistance to seismic motion likely makes Medellín safer than many other places in Colombia.
11. Public Transportation
Medellín clearly wins here. Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. The Medellín metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. It integrates two rail lines, four Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus lines, a Tranvía tramcar line and even feeder Metro buses.
Bucaramanga in comparison has its elongated Metrolinea bus-based rapid transit system. And Pereira has its similar elongated Megabús rapid transit system. Both of these systems are similar to the TransMilenio in Bogotá. And both of these systems in Bucaramanga and Pereira are inferior to the more comprehensive metro system in Medellín.
12. Expat Community
Medellín also wins here. Medellín has a much larger expat community than is found in either Bucaramanga or Pereira that speaks English.
I have seen no official expat statistics for Bucaramanga, Medellín or Pereira. But I would estimate there likely are several thousand expats from North America and Europe living full-time in Medellín.
There is definitely a much smaller expat community in Bucaramanga and Pereira, as both cities are off the beaten path. Perhaps there are only a few hundred expats living in either city. When I have visited both Bucaramanga and Pereira I rarely saw or met expats. Of the three cities, Bucaramanga likely has the fewest expats.
Medellín is an emerging expat location with a rapidly growing expat community. In the seven years I have lived in Medellín, I have seen more expats each year.
With fewer expats in the cities of Bucaramanga or Pereira, there will be less of a support structure for expats in comparison to Medellín.
13. Internet Availability
The three cities tie here. Bucaramanga, Medellín and Pereira all have similar high-speed Internet available.
In Medellín, it is possible to get up to 100 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. And up to 50 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE. Most buildings in Medellín will have service from at least one of these two providers. And Both Claro and Tigo-UNE in Medellín provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services.
In Bucaramanga, you can get up to 100 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. And up to 20 Mbps speed is available from Telebucaramanga. Most buildings in Bucaramanga will have service from at least one of these two providers. And both Claro and Telebucaramanga offer triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in Bucaramanga.
In Pereria you can also get up to 100 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. And up to 50 Mbps is available from Tigo-UNE. Similar to the other two cities, most buildings in Pereria will have service from at least one of the two big providers. And both Claro and Tigo-UNE in Pereira provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services.
The highest speed Internet all three cities will normally be available only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings, you will typically be limited to lower speeds.
14. Education Options
Medellín wins here. Medellín has more university choices and more Spanish language programs as well as more bilingual schools for children than the other two cities.
As the much bigger city, Medellín is home to over 30 universities while Bucaramanga and Pereira have much fewer universities.
In addition, with a bigger expat population Medellín has many more Spanish language programs available than in Bucaramanga or Pereira. Medellín also has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program for foreigners in Colombia.
I know of three English/Spanish bilingual schools for children in Medellín (Columbus, Montessori and The New School). Bucaramanga has two that I am aware of (Newport School and Panamericano) and Pereira has one (Fundación Liceo Inglés).
The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga
In our Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga comparison:
- Medellín wins or ties to win in 11 categories
- Pereira wins or ties to win in 6 categories
- Bucaramanga wins or ties to win in 6 categories
So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective comparison of 14 categories Medellín wins over Pereira and Bucaramanga, if you equally weigh the categories.
But if a lower cost of living, less pollution and less traffic are more important categories for you then Pereira and Bucaramanga are both viable options to Medellín. Some expats also prefer living in smaller cities and/or cities with fewer expats like Pereira and Bucaramanga.
All three cities have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it being a bigger city with a much bigger selection of restaurants and things to do. I also like having more flight options and not always having to connect to fly to other countries.
In addition, I see having eight of the best hospitals in Latin America as a big benefit for Medellín. I even wrote an article with 27 reasons why I chose to live in Medellín.
But I also really like both Pereria and Bucaramanga. Both are viable options to Medellín with a similar climate but a lower cost of living.
The bottom line is that the best place to live is the best place to live for you. Everyone has different priorities. The only way to know which city is the best for you is to spend time there.