Going to a football match in Colombia can be one of the most exciting experiences for all sort of travelers. In this guide, I will tell how to choose what match you should include in your Colombia itinerary.
In Colombia, the most popular sport is football (soccer). It is a passion that people live deeply and that goes beyond any rational explanation.
Football is a lot more than just a sport, though. It is something embedded in the Colombian culture that has been transferred from one generation to the following.
In a country as diverse and unequal as Colombia, football has the power of uniting people from different races, social classes, locations and backgrounds.
Visiting Colombia and not going to a football match is missing the best chance to experience one of the greatest cultural displays of this country. Even those who don’t like football, will certainly enjoy the atmosphere and everything else that happens during a match.
In this post, I am going to give you all the necessary information so you can choose what match to include in your Colombia itinerary and have an unforgettable experience:
The Colombian football league was founded in 1948 and it has changed a lot ever since. Nowadays, it is the most important football tournament in the country and always offers plenty of emotions for the local population.
The current first-division league, is composed by 20 teams. Many of them have been around since the foundation of the league and have millions of supporters, while other teams have been recently created and are struggling to build a decent supporters base.
Since the year 2000, the league lasts 6 months, instead of a full year like in many other countries. This means that there are 2 champions every year for soccer in Colombia. The league of the first semester is called the Apertura and the one on the second semester is called the Clausura.
Both the Apertura and the Clausura leagues are structured the same way. Every team has to play one match against the other 19 teams. At the end of this games, only the first 8 teams qualify for the league finals.
The finals are play-offs matches, with one game at home and one away. The champion of the league wins a local title and gets the right to play the Copa Libertadores, the most important international competition of the continent.
As you can imagine, this type of tournament offers quite a lot of excitements as most teams have something to play for and the options are opened for everyone until the last moment.
It has already happened a few times that the champion ends up being the one that qualified to the finals in the 8th position. This gives hope till the end to those teams with irregular level and who had a bad start.
The level of the Colombian league has improved a lot in the last years. After decades of having a mediocre level and seeing all the young talents leave the country even before they turn 19 years old, the current league has come back to the quality and level it had in the 90s, when the drug lords like Pablo Escobar injected fortunes in their favorite teams.
This time, the improvement in the league is not due to any illegal activity. It is actually a result of a combination of having a growing economy, incredibly passionate fans, talented players and a well structure tournament.
The best leagues in south America are still the Argentinian and Brazilian ones. However, the Colombian league is catching up and getting close to their level.
Some time ago, any Colombian player dreamed on playing for whatever first-division team in those 2 countries. Nowadays, most Colombian players only dream on playing for top European teams, after they have left a mark in the local league.
Nowadays, you will find players from a lot of central and south American counties playing in the Colombian league. Many of them are top players and some of them even play for their national teams.
League games are usually scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays. However, some matches are also scheduled on weekdays. The exact date and time of any match is typically announced one week in advance and published on the official webpage of the Colombian Football League.
The Colombian Cup is a tournament played by all teams of the 1st and 2nd division. It lasts the entire year and the winner gets a direct ticket to the most important international tournament in south America, the Copa Libertadores.
The cup is played on weekdays. Usually on the evenings of Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Just as with the league game, the exact date and time of any cup match is typically announced one week in advance.
During the first semester of the year, the matches are not really good and the atmosphere in the stadiums is not great.
The only games offering good level and a decent atmosphere are those of the semi-finals and the final. Besides those games, I wouldn’t really recommend tourist to attend any game as they will certainly be disappointed and get a wrong impression of soccer in Colombia.
The improvement in the level of the Colombian league has also shown results in the international competitions.
Since the year 2000, three Colombian teams have won the most important tournaments of the continent. Two of them won the Copa Libertadores (the equivalent of the European Champions League) and one won the Copa Sudamericana (the equivalent of the Europa League).
I know that 3 titles in almost 20 years sounds too little, and it is true. However, before the year 2000 only one Colombian team had won any international tournament. It was in 1993, when Atletico Nacional (the team of Pablo Escobar) won the Copa Libertadores.
Some of the best possible matches for tourists to attend, are those of the international competitions. In both the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana, the atmosphere is great and teams play their best in order to beat those from other countries and keep improving the status of the Colombian football.
Only around 6-7 Colombian teams get to play those 2 tournaments, and the matchdays are not as frequent as those of the local league.
However, these games are usually scheduled with more time in advance. For example, in the group stages of the Copa Libertadores, the matches are usually scheduled with 2-3 months in advance, making it easy for you to include soccer in Colombia in your travel itinerary.
You can check the schedule of any of these international matches in the official website of the South American Football Association.
Even though tickets are more expensive than those of the local tournaments, and it might be more difficult to find availability for some key matches, you should certainly try to include any of these games in your Colombia itinerary.
I have already covered the 3 different types of tournaments. If I had to make a ranking of the possible best matches within those tournaments, it would be something like this:
With that in mind, there are 2 other key variables to decide on what match to attend during your trip to Colombia. The first one is linked to the teams playing the game and the second one is related to the location of the match.
In general, the teams with the biggest amounts of fans offer a better atmosphere. However, not all the “big” teams are currently having a good time, which is very typical for soccer in Colombia.
Therefore, the ideal teams to go watch live, are those with a big number of fans, but that are also having a good season.
Additionally, some teams play in cities that are completely outside of the touristic places, making it very hard for travelers to actually attend a match there.
Taking into account those factors, the teams I recommend you try to go watch live are:
It is the team with the biggest number of supporters (around 11 million) in the country and the one with the highest average match attendance of around 19.000 people.
They are from Medellin but have fans all around the country. In any match of Atletico Nacional there is a good atmosphere, even when they play outside Medellin.
On top of being the team with the biggest number of supporters, they have been the most successful team in the history of the Colombian Football. They lead the table of teams with more league titles (16) and with more international titles (2 times the Copa Libertadores).
They are always a candidate to win titles, the atmosphere in their stadium is great and their home is Medellin, a city that offers a lot of attractions for tourists.
One of the most traditional teams of Colombia and the winner of the first tournament in 1948. They don’t have as many fans as Atletico Nacional and their city rivals, Millonarios, but they have been having a glorious decade.
Besides having won the league in 3 occasions since 2012, Independiente Santa Fe has been playing international competitions for 7 years in a row and has already won the Copa Sudamericana and the Suruga Cup in Japan.
They are the only Colombian team that has won an official FIFA tournament outside of South America and their glorious times don´t seem to be finishing anytime soon.
Their average attendance per match is around 13.000 people and the atmosphere in their games is always great. On top of that, they play in Bogota, a city that offers plenty of tourist attractions.
The other big team from the city of Medellin. They don´t have as many fans as their city rivals and might not have been as successful as Independiente Santa Fe, but their matches are always entertaining and full of atmosphere.
They play in the same stadium as Atletico Nacional and bring an average of around 16.000 people per game. They often play international competitions and are also a typical candidate to win local titles. The fact that they play in the touristic city of Medellin, is certainly a plus.
Going to a football match in Colombia is one of the best experiences you will find. If you can only attend one match, you should try to include in your Colombia itinerary one of the top matches of the mentioned tournaments.
Ideally, you should try go to a match of teams like Atletico Nacional, Independiente Santa Fe or Independiente Medellin as they offer the best football and atmosphere, in cities plenty of other tourist attractions. Read more about the practical guidelines for attending a soccer game here.
Wondering what other activities you can include in your trip to Colombia? Check our list with top activities to not miss while traveling in Colombia.