Colombia was the first country that I ever visited as a solo traveler. I’ll admit, I was pretty dang nervous. I had never gone on a solo trip before. Even though it was just for two weeks, Colombia isn’t most people’s first choice to take on their first solo trip. Yeah, believe it or not, there was a time before I was a backpacker. Colombia was the country that introduced me to backpacking, but at heart, I was still on that luxury vacation mindset kind of travel. So I was crashing at hostels then poppin’ bottles at the clubs.
And what a place for that Colombia was. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun in any country as I did in Colombia. In hindsight, I honestly can’t remember much of the adventures I went on while I was there. As far as natural wonders go, Colombia pales a bit compared to the other destinations of South America. And yet, you’ll never hear anyone say a bad thing about Colombia. The vibe, the fun, the people, and the parties more than make up for any shortcomings that Colombia has scenery-wise.
I don’t mean that to sound like a diss to Colombia whatsoever. What I’m saying is Colombia is pretty damn amazing for not having some globally renowned attraction like Machu Picchu or Patagonia or the Galapagos or anything. Colombia shines for its fun-loving culture and extraordinary nightlife. The parties here get wild. If you are here for a good time, which you no doubt will experience regardless, these are the five best party cities in Colombia.
I didn’t put them in any particular order, although you’ll notice I’m more partial to some than others.
Let’s cut to the chase. When I say I’m more partial to some cities than others, I’m talking about Medellin. This is the spot to be if you want to experience the wildest parties in Colombia. The vibe in Medellin is unbeatable. It is Colombia’s trendiest and most modern city, yet it maintains the unmistakable culture of fun that you’ll come to adore from Colombia. Everywhere I went in South America, I always thought to myself that it could use a few Colombians to spice up the place.
Colombians love to have fun, and Medellin is the exemplary model for that fun-loving attitude. There is an amazing diversity of nightlife options in Medellin. The various nightlife districts can mean that you may never have to visit the same place twice for as long as you are in Medellin. For travelers like myself, the hostel game in Medellin is among the best in all of South America. You will meet fellow travelers and younger locals with ease so you can all take on the bumping Colombian nightlife together. See what I did there?
For first-timers to Medellin, the classic nightlife district to visit would be Lleras. This is where I spent the brunt of my time in Medellin as most of the best party hostels were located here, as well. However, you can find nightlife all throughout the city. The other main party hubs of Medellin are Barrio Colombia, La 33, La 70, and Las Palmas.
Medellin is budget-friendly for the most part, but if you want something a little more boujee, then they absolutely have options. That is the best part of Medellin. If you want something cozy and cheap, you got it. If you want something loud and sweaty, you got it. Swanky, upscale, young, quiet, older, whatever you want, Medellin delivers.
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The second-largest Carnaval in the world is hosted by Barranquilla. If that doesn’t say all that needs to be said, then maybe the fact that it is Shakira’s birthplace will further prove my point. Barranquilla is where the party is at. This coastal city is just a couple of hours away from Cartagena and can be an excellent place to visit if you want to escape the crowds of colorful Cartagena. Other than Carnival week, Barranquilla is a much more local experience than the neighboring Cartagena.
Don’t get me wrong, I can’t get enough of Cartagena, but it is definitely the most touristic city in all of Colombia. That means the prices are jacked up and without local guidance, you’ll find yourself partying mostly with fellow gringos and prostitutes. I make that sound like a bad thing, huh? Well, for a bit of diversity Barranquilla is an excellent stop to break up a journey along the coast over to Santa Marta, Tayrona, and Minca. If you have time, Barranquilla is a damn good place for a fiesta.
Throughout the year, you will be guaranteed to find parties in the nightlife districts of Alta del Prado and El Centro. Most of the popular bars and nightclubs in Barranquilla can be found here, although other favorites are scattered throughout the city.
Cali is another one of those Colombian cities whose reputation might have been tarnished by the drug trade that happened decades ago. Next to Pablo Escobar’s Medellin-based cartel, the Cali Cartel is perhaps the most well-known. Never fear. Those days are long, long gone and like Medellin, Cali has transformed into a bustling hub for locals and travelers to enjoy the best of life.
Cali lacks big name attractions, or really any attractions, but there has to be some reason why so many travelers visit this vibrant Colombian city, right? As far as culture and liveliness goes, Cali is difficult to top. While Medellin is far and away my favorite place to party in Colombia, Cali is the closest city to capturing the vibe that Medellin has. Knowing my love for Medellin, that is as big of a compliment as I can come up with.
Oh yeah, and how can I mention Cali without mentioning salsa? The people of Cali live, breathe, and eat salsa. And I’m not talking about the kind you put on nachos. Cali is widely considered to be one of the salsa capitals of the world. Catch a salsa lesson or two before heading out because seriously, salsa is the name of the game here. A popular district for nightlife-goers is Menga, which you’ll find towards the north side of the city. While you will find music of all types in Cali, the majority of bars and clubs revolve around salsa.
I cannot stress enough how essential learning how to salsa is going to be for your South American experience. Swallow your pride, take a few lessons, and you will have exponentially more fun. Trust me.
Looking for those Miami type of nights out? Cartagena is the spot for you. Swanky rooftop bars overlooking the ocean, steamy nightclubs, and some of the sexiest people in Colombia, Cartagena brings the heat. Literally. During the day, the heat can feel unbearable. That’s why most days are spent taking siestas or along the beaches. Or if you are me, taking sixteen showers a day just to survive. After the sun goes down, the action can finally.
I mentioned earlier that Cartagena can be quite expensive compared to the rest of Colombia, especially so if you stick around the colonial part of town within the walls. But hey, you’re on holiday. Treat yo’self. Even as a long-term budget backpacker, I cannot resist the call of a swanky bar and a booming megaclub. If you are going to splurge anywhere, splurge in Cartagena. Like I said, if you want a Miami type of a night out, Cartagena brings the heat. The Old Town has no shortage of nightlife options, but if you want to switch things up, the other hot nightlife district is that of Getsemani.
You’ll find that most travelers prefer to gloss over Bogota, and I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite city at first. It is sprawling, chaotic, and at first glance, very rough around the edges. Some neighborhoods in Bogota are nice, but for the most part, it doesn’t seem all that special. However, Bogota excels at nightlife.
As the largest city, the capital city, and a city home to many Colombian universities, Bogota always has a party for those who are looking for one. Your best bet on any given night is to hit up the trendy and upscale district of Zona Rosa. Since Bogota is a major international hub, it also has the most eclectic variety of music and nightclubs. Some places in Colombia excel at particular styles, like Cali with salsa and Medellin with house music, but Bogota excels at it all. If you know the right places, then you’ll find some of the best parties in Colombia, no matter what your taste is.