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 full-time 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 advantage that other countries have 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.
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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. Seriously, hostels like Viajero, Los Patios, and Masaya can compete with any luxury hotel out there. And you can 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 Parque Lleras in El Poblado. This is where I spent the brunt of my time in Medellin as most of the best party hostels were located here, as well. A few of my personal favorite nightclubs include PKR, Perro Negro, Sol Habana, and Vintrash. Don’t limit yourself, though. Just walking down the streets of El Poblado, specifically Provenza, you’ll encounter a good time.
Outside of El Poblado, 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. Most travelers stick around the El Poblado neighborhood, and I’ll admit, it sometimes feels sketchy being in other parts of the city at night. El Poblado is well-lit and always has people around, making it a pretty safe spot to go out as long as you keep your wits about you.
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.
There is also a ton to do in Medellin besides partying. A day trip to the colorful village of Guatape and to hike up the monolith is a must. If you prefer to stay within the city, the lively neighborhood of Comuna 13 has a wildly fascinating history. It’s cool to walk around on your own, but to get the full extent of the neighborhood’s violent past, it’s best to go with an experienced local guide. And of course, Medellin is infamous for its connection to Pablo Escobar. While not for everyone, a Pablo Escobar tour can be an eye-opening experience about the city’s bloody past.
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. It’s much more affordable than the other cities along the coast, as well. Even during Carnaval, I was paying less than $1 for a beer from a street vendor.
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. But seriously, if you want to have the best time possible, visit Barranquilla during Carnaval. Just keep a watchful eye on your belongings, and remember, no dar papaya.
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. A day trip to the Rosario Islands for some stunning swim seshes is a must. Or if you are me, taking sixteen showers a day just to survive. After the sun goes down, the action can finally begin.
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. My favorite bars within the Walled City are Alquimica and Eivissa, although the Walled City has no shortage of nightlife options.
If you want to switch things up, the other hot nightlife district is Getsemani. However, the scene is more local, so you’ll likely be listening to Latin music. Not just reggaeton, either. Most of the bars in Getsemani will be playing salsa, cumbia, vallenato, champeta, and bachata, among others. I can dance and vibe to anything, but I know some gringos get awkward when they don’t know how to dance to a particular genre of music, so keep that in mind.
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, specifically Chapinero, but for the most part, it might not seem all that appealing for travelers. 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. Take Theatron for example. There are thirteen nightclubs in this sprawling labyrinth of discotecas with a capacity of 5,000 party-goers. That’s always a safe bet if you don’t know where the party is.
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