Medellin vs. Bogota: The Great Debate Finally Solved

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.

 

Bogota Colombia street art

a selection of Bogota's street art

Culture

 

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

Climate

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

Language

 

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

 

Medellin Colombia Botero sculpture

one of the famous Botero sculptures in Medellin

Aesthetic Appeal

 

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.

Transportation

 

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

 

 

 

Food Choices

 

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?

8 Comments
  • Anonymous
    October 25, 2010

    Totally agree on: Climate, Language, Food (although I love Bandeja paisa more then anything but you will have more options in BOG because it’s just so much bigger).

    Transportation, BOG. Wow have to really disagree with that one. I LOVE Medellin for the metro because simply if you don’t speak a word of Spanish, know where anything is, it’s the simplest. I know locals in BOG who are confused as hell with the bus system but in Medellin you can just jump on any green bus, pay for the metro and bus fare all in one, and for a $1 you can go any place in the city. Plus the taxi’s are better in Medellin i think. Only bad taxis i ever got were in BOG (that could be a whole 3 part series blog post on that! jaja).

    ok, maybe i am biased but i think culture is the sum of everything, good or bad. I mean everyone has something to say about the Pisa’s. There are just so many things unique about Medellin that is more then just plastic (some bad, as in coke but others great like men who ride horse into the city to drink! who still does that??) but they have their own style and even everyone else in the country knows it. I find punk here all the time, free art 24/7, side walk models to kit’s flying in the barrows that make you feel like your in India or something.

    Bottom line, Juans breaks the deal, as he’s from Medellin! jajaja

  • Anonymous
    October 25, 2010

    Excellent insight from a true Medellin expat, thanks for that :) I love the metro in Medellin too, it is super easy. It was definitely a hard decision on the transport category, but I justify my answer because in Bogota I find it easy to be in the most random part of town and be able to get a bus to where you need to go. And they’re frequent, and if you can navigate your destination from La Septima, you’re set. I haven’t used the bus in Medellin for some reason, maybe after I do I’ll change my mind :) I also didn’t know about the free bus/metro transfer, that’s for that.

    Whereabouts is the free art? I’d love to check that out while I’m here this time.

  • Anonymous
    October 26, 2010

    Jasmin, ask David (from GoBackpacking) as there is always something going on every other week art wise in the city. Like this month (it’s about over now) every week there was some kind of free concert or music show and not all just salsa music but stuff from European classical, Argentinean Rock exc exc. You just have to ask around but it was one thing I was surprised about in Medellin. If you can get plugged in with the locals it seemed like every week there was something going on in a park or plaza somewhere and most times it was zero costs. You’d see guys in suits sitting on benches with bums, all just soaking it.

    As far as the buses/metro goes, just look for any bus that says “integrated” or metro (normally they are the green buses). When you get on tell them you want to pay for your metro ticket with the bus fare. It cheaper and only cost $2,100. From there they will drop you off at the nearest metro and since you already have paid for the metro ticket you won’t have to wait in line during the rush hour. Hope that helps!

  • JB
    November 12, 2010

    I had the feeling that even though Medellín is much smaller (a win in my book, but not one of your categories), there was still more to see and do there than in Bogotá. Also, I simply met a lot more friendly people in Medellín than in Bogotá, perhaps again due to the size issue. Always felt like people in Bogotá couldn’t be bothered. Other topics you neglected: convenience of bus station/airport, availability of good supermarkets (Exito) and crime levels, all of which I think Medellín wins.

  • Anonymous
    November 12, 2010

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for your input. I don´t think Bogota has less to do, but I find I need insider knowledge to find out what cool things are going on in the city. Events are more accessible in Medellin.

    A lot of people say that Paisas are friendlier than Rolos, but in my personal experience I haven´t found that to be true. I think it´s more dependent on who you meet. I´m also coming from a female perspective, and I find that it´s easier to talk to other females from Bogota than from Medellin.

    As far as airports, I haven´t used them in either city so I couldn´t say. Supermarket accesibility and crime is based on what neighborhood you´re in, and Bogota is too humongous for me to even speculate about either.

  • Diversitours
    April 11, 2011

    I’m really late on this but I’ll pitch in my 2 cents for any future travellers who come across this. I’ve lived in Medellín for 3 years now, and have been to Bogotá several times, for personal trips and for work.

    I 100% agree on food – there are more choices in Bogotá, hands down. But if you’re in Medellin and want something different, check out Royal Thai, in Parque Lleras (written earlier as Lourdes). The chef is from Bangkok.

    I 100% disagree on transport. There is SO MUCH traffic in Bogotá that a simple trip can become an absolute nightmare. The transmilenio is a disaster 90% of the time – even the bogotanos say so! There are not enough taxis – one night I literally walked 18 blocks and waited a total of an hour and a half trying to get a taxi. And if you get a taxi, the drivers are not usually friendly – and sometimes they won’t pick you up depending on where you need to go. It is true that taxis are (slightly) cheaper in Bogotá though. There are loads of buses in Medellín, the disadvantage is that you need to speak some Spanish to be able to figure them out. The metro is great here as long as it’s not 5-6pm Mon-Fri. The traffic is THE reason I would never want to spend more than a week in Bogotá – by the time I leave I’m usually a frazzled, stressed out mess, ready to get back to the good life in Medellín! To be fair, I suppose this could speak more to the fact that I just prefer smaller cities.

    As far as the weather goes, everything has been all out of whack in Colombia for the last 2 years. It shouldn’t rain this much in Medellín. It used to be sunny and 75º almost every day. Thanks, El Niño and La Niña!

    I agree that as a woman, it’s probably easier to make friends (with other women) in Bogotá, but people are generally friendlier on the street in Medellín; I attribute this to the weather – people are happy when the sun shines! I make the analogy of New York : Bogotá as Georgia : Medellín. In New York, the people on the street aren’t friendly and probably don’t even make eye contact, but if you meet someone you can have a real conversation and become real friends. In Georgia you’ll see lots of smiling faces and people holding doors for you, but it’s hard to ever get deeper than that!

    Anyway, both cities are worth seeing, but as far as spending a long time in one place, I’d have to choose Medellín, hands down!

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    April 12, 2011

    Thanks for the valuable input! All points are valid. I love the metro in Medellin, but I’d rather shoot myself in the foot than ride it during morning or evening rush hour.

    The traffic is really hard to get used to in BOG… I’m still not used to it, neither the sheer amount nor the pollution or noise that comes with it.

    The weather here in Bogota has been weirdly nice the past month… I can hardly believe it. I’ll stick the weather of Medellin over Bogota any day.

  • Brice Peressini
    July 19, 2012

    Jasmine, I like your scientific approach. I wrote an article on this subject on Medellin Living about three weeks ago. I’m curious, have you checked out Salud Pan? It has fantastic vegetarian food in Laureles. I wrote an article on it here: http://travelingtocolombia.com/medellin-restaurant-vegetarian/

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