I have seen the question, “Which is better, Bogotá or Medellín?” on various forums, normally from people looking to relocate to Colombia and wondering which city people like the best. The truth is, both cities have a lot to offer, though one is likely to suit your tastes more than the other.
I am a general lover of all things Colombian, and I have now spent about a month total in each city. Instead of saying flat out, “Medellín es una chimba,” or “Bogotá es bien chevere,” I have developed this extremely non-scientific and subjective rating system.
At first glance, Medellín has a very superficial culture. Cosmetic surgery is cheap, and plastic-filled boobs and butts abound. It takes a lot of digging to find another side of the city. Bogotá, however, has several interesting cultures that are apparent at every turn: rockeros, Hare Krishnas, hooligans, Rastafarians – you name it, you can find it. Winner: Bogotá
Medellín’s Paisas love to boast about their perfect climate. After all, Medellín is known as La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera, or the city of the eternal spring. What they forget to mention, however, is that springtime is not all sunshine and flowers; it means rain, too. The temperature appeals much more to my Floridian upbringing than Bogotá. Bogotá, however, does have its nice days. When the sun is out, it can actually be hot (though don’t expect that for long stretches of time). Winner: Medellín
If you are a beginner at speaking Spanish, Bogotá is a great place for you. Rolos are known for having the clearest, best accent in the Spanish-speaking world – Google it if you don’t believe me. However, I’m a big fan of Paisa Spanish because it is absolutely littered with fun slang words, and their speech pattern is sing-songy. I can’t help but smile when I hear a group of Super Paisas talking to each other. Que chimba parce! Winner: Medellín
This is a difficult category to rate because both cities are beautiful and ugly in their own ways and sectors. Both are set in valleys with stunning mountain views (given good weather conditions). Medellín has more of a new, commercial-type of feel, while Bogotá’s charms lie in its individual neighborhoods (La Candelaria, La Macarena). Both have stunning antique churches and cool parks. All things considered, I’d have to declare this Winner: Medellín.
The Transmilenio, Bogotá’s rapid bus transit system, is sometimes known as the “Pride of Bogotá.” It is also known as the Transmilleno (lleno meaning full). The first time I rode that thing was from La Candelaria to the North Terminal during rush hour traffic with my backpack. It was also the last time. Medellín’s metro, on the other hand, is efficient and it runs through most areas you’d be interested in visiting. However, I refuse to ride it during peak traffic times because I don’t aspire to relive the sardine experience. In this respect, both transit systems are too full before and after work. Bogotá has a ton of inner-city buses that are much more manageable, frequent, and I almost always get a seat on one. Winner: Bogotá
I’m a bit biased here because I’m a vegetarian, and I’ve recently started a weekly bit about all the awesome vegetarian restaurants in Bogotá that I eat at. However, I do have to give a shout-out to the yummy food in Antioquia, like the arepa and the bandeja Paisa. Because Bogotá is so much bigger than Medellín, they obviously have more food choices for a range of budgets and taste bud biases. Winner: Bogotá
Cost of Living
Whether you are traveling through Colombia or are planning an expatriate adventure, the cost of living in Colombia will be a factor. In my experience, Bogotá is a bit cheaper. However, my cost analysis isn’t based on facts, just a rough estimate. So why Bogotá? My taxi rides are cheaper and the bus system is cheaper than the metro in Medellín. However, food prices and hostel rooms are about equal. Winner (by a nose): Bogotá.
Bogotá wins 4 out of 7 categories; but does that mean it’s my favorite? Nope. I like and dislike them both for different reasons. And you guys? My fellow Colombian backpackers, expats, and residents – which is better, Medellín or Bogotá?