Bogotá vs Medellín, which is the better city to live in? Colombia’s biggest two cities are rivals similar to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro being rivals in Brazil.
I have seen several comparisons of Bogotá vs Medellín but in many cases they are missing several points or have a bias.
I have met many expats that prefer Bogotá, while many others prefer Medellín. I have lived in Medellín for well over five years but I have traveled to Bogotá many times for both business and pleasure. I have easily spent several months in Bogotá over the past several years.
Both cities have their pros and cons and this comparison comprehensively compares the two biggest cities in Colombia in 14 categories, in no particular order.
Note in this article we only include photos of Bogotá as this website already has countless photos of Medellín. The photo above of Bogotá at night is by Jorge Díaz.
Medellín wins here hands down. The average temperature during the year in Medellín is 72 ° F (22 °C). Medellín is known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, or the city of eternal spring.
While in Bogotá the average annual temperature is 58 ° F (14.5 °C).
In Medellín, the average daily high temperature ranges from 81.0 to 82.8 °F (27.0 to 28.2 °C) and the average daily low ranges from 61.7 to 63.3 °F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).
In Bogotá, the average daily high temperature ranges from 65.5 to 68.4 °F (18.6 to 20.2 °C) and the average daily low ranges from 45.7 to 49.5 °F (7.6 to 9.7 °C).
The record low in Bogotá was 19 °F (-7.1 °C) and it occasionally snows in Bogotá. Many apartments in Bogotá in my experience don’t have heaters so it can get chilly at night.
In March last year, Bogotá experienced a major hailstorm that covered the south of the city with a 24-inch (60 centimeter) layer of icy snow.
2. Restaurants and Nightlife
Bogotá wins here. Bogotá is a much bigger city with a metro population of about 10 million so it obviously has many more restaurant and nightlife options.
In comparison, Medellín has a metro population of over 3.7 million. Medellín has many restaurant options that have been covered on this website but Bogotá has even more restaurant options.
TripAdvisor lists well over 900 restaurants in Medellín when you include the other municipalities in the metro area like Envigado and Sabaneta. But in Bogotá TripAdvisor lists well over 1,600 restaurants.
For example, Bogotá has more U.S.-based chain restaurants that aren’t yet available in Medellín, including Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Chili’s, TGI Fridays, P.F. Changs and Taco Bell.
Bogotá is more of an international city and it has many more options to try foods from around the world. You can find good Chinese, Thai, Indian and many other types of restaurants in Bogotá that are more difficult to find in Medellín.
Medellín has many nightlife options that have been covered extensively on this website but Bogotá has even more nightlife options being a much bigger city.
3. Cost of Living
Medellín wins here. Similar properties I have seen in Bogotá in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 20-30 percent higher than in Medellín – or even much higher.
I have even seen a few expensive new properties in Bogotá in estrato 6 selling for about 12 million pesos per square meter, which is about double the price of expensive new properties in El Poblado in Medellín.
Properties in lower estratos tend to have lower prices differences between the cities but in general are more expensive in Bogotá.
Other costs like groceries, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 5-10 percent cheaper in Medellín in comparison to Bogotá.
About the only thing I have noticed being cheaper in Bogotá is dry cleaning, which is about 20% cheaper than in Medellín. In general Bogotá is a more expensive place to live than Medellín.
4. Things To Do
Bogotá edges out Medellín here. Both cities have many things to do in the city as well as many things to do nearby. But the much bigger city of Bogotá edges out Medellín in this category.
As a bigger city Bogotá has many more concerts and festivals than Medellín. For example, when the Rolling Stones came to Colombia in March this year, they chose Bogotá.
Most international concerts coming to Colombia tend to choose Bogotá over Medellín.
Bogotá has many more museums, while museums are relatively new to Medellín.
Bogotá has more churches, more shopping alternatives, more outdoor activities, more sights and landmarks, more of everything due to it being a much bigger city.
While unscientific, TripAdvisor has over 270 things to do listed for Bogotá while it has less than 150 things to do listed for Medellín.
Medellín arguably wins here. Medellín ranked much higher than Bogotá in a recent survey of 12,548 in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio and city.
In this study (slide 41) citizens felt the safest in their barrio in Medellín with 75 percent of respondents feeling safe, while only 36 percent of respondents in Bogotá felt safe in their barrio (only Cartagena ranked lower than Bogotá).
In terms of feeling safe in their city (slide 40), Bogotá was ranked worst of the cities surveyed with only 14 percent of respondents in Bogotá feeling safe in their city, which compares to 45 percent feeling safe in their city in Medellín.
It’s arguably a Tie. Medellín has eight of the top rated hospitals in Latin America, while Bogotá has nine.
Being a bigger city, Bogotá has more medical and dental providers but they also have many more patients to care for. Medical costs tend to be somewhat higher in Bogotá compared to the medical costs in Medellín.
As the two biggest cities in Colombia both Bogotá and Medellín both have many quality hospitals and medical providers.
It’s a Tie. The World Health Organization (WHO) last year reported that Medellín was ranked #9 and Bogotá #10 in a list of the 10 cities most polluted in Latin America.
Medellin is located in a canyon, with mountains surrounding the city, which do not allow easy dispersion of pollutants, so pollution tends to stay in the metropolitan area. But fairly regular rain in the city can clean the atmosphere.
Bogotá is a massive city and you can frequently see a thick gray smog layer over the city during thermal inversion episodes.
I give Medellín a definite edge here. My impression is that traffic is Bogotá is generally worse than in Medellín due to it being a much bigger city with so many more cars on the roads.
I would say you are pretty lucky if you spend only an hour or two each day just to go across town in Bogotá.
I have been challenged in scheduling more than two business meetings a day in Bogotá as traffic can make it a major challenge in getting from one part of Bogotá to another part at most hours of the day.
While the traffic can get bad in Medellín, the worst traffic is primarily found in the El Poblado and Envigado neighborhoods during rush hours in my experience.
Traffic is not as widespread of a problem in Medellín compared to the traffic issues found in Bogotá. But Bogotá doesn’t necessarily have the worst traffic in Latin America. In my experience the much bigger cities of São Paulo and Mexico City can have worse traffic.
9. Access to US, Europe and the rest of Latin America
Bogotá easily wins here. El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá is the largest airport in Colombia and it has non-stop flights to over 40 international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.
From Bogotá you can fly non-stop to Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York (JFK), Orlando, and Washington-Dulles in the U.S.
From Medellín you can only fly non-stop to Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York (JFK).
From Medellín you can also fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe. In comparison, from Bogotá you can fly non-stop to Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Madrid and Paris in Europe.
From Bogotá you can fly non-stop to well over 20 cities in other countries in Latin America. While in Medellín you can only fly non-stop to Curaçao, Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia.
Also Bogotá’s airport is within the city limits, while Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport is inconveniently located in Rio Negro, which is 40 minutes to an hour from the city depending on traffic.
10. Job Opportunities
Bogotá wins here. Bogotá is the political and business capital of Colombia and it’s a much bigger city so obviously there are more job opportunities in Bogotá in comparison to Medellín.
But there still aren’t a lot of work opportunities for foreigners even in Bogotá, especially if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. The best jobs in Colombia typically require fluency in Spanish.
While there are English teaching job opportunities in both cities if you are a native English speaker, competition is fierce and the pay isn’t the greatest. There are more English teaching jobs available in the bigger city of Bogotá.
The unemployment rate in Bogotá is also lower than in Medellín.
11. Public Transportation
Medellín wins here. Medellín has an extensive metro system with integrated metro trains, a new tram, buses and cable cars. The Medellín metro is spotlessly clean, easy to use and inexpensive.
Medellín’s metro system has been in place for 20 years, while Bogotá still wishes for a metro system.
Bogotá has its elongated Transmilenio bus system that everyone I have talked to in Bogotá seems to hate. Transmilenio is popular but is inferior in every way to Medellín’s metro system.
In my opinion Transmilenio is an overcapacity disaster due to its popularity; it’s become so bad and crowded lately that I never use it when I’m in Bogotá.
Both cities have extensive bus routes but the buses seem somewhat easier to me to navigate in Medellín. This is likely because Medellín is a smaller city, which makes it more accessible.
Bogotá wins here. Bogotá is a huge, sprawling city with a rich history. As a more international city Bogotá has a tremendous variety of bars, nightclubs, coffee shops and restaurants as previously mentioned.
Bogota also has a thriving cultural scene and bohemian districts. It has a much larger museum and art scene than Medellín. Reportedly the world’s largest international theater festival is held in Bogotá biannually.
In Bogotá you will find its traditional bookselling district located downtown, which has book-malls and perhaps hundreds of bookstores selling both old and new editions. Medellín has nothing in comparison.
Bogota is also one of the oldest cities in the New World as it was founded in 1538, compared to Medellín, which was founded in 1616.
Bogota received some of the brightest European minds early on, including many Jews fleeing the Inquisition, who came to study the flora and fauna to be found in the New World.
Bogota boasts over 137 universities, which is more than many other great cities in the world. The learned elite from Europe, such as the Jesuits, founded several of Bogota’s intellectual institutions.
Medellín’s culture as a city is more contemporary. Medellín also to me has a more authentic Colombian feel to it once you get outside of El Poblado.
People in Medellín (Paisas) have a reputation for being extremely friendly, which I agree with. They also tend to never say “no” even if they have no plans to do something. This compares to people in Bogotá (Rolos) who tend to be more direct and are more likely to follow through.
Medellín has also been solidifying its reputation as a pioneer of inventive architecture and urban renewal, with an array of bold public projects.
I would also argue that Medellín in some ways tends to look more to the U.S. for ideas than to Bogotá – Americanized El Poblado being the perfect example.
Medellín wins here. Medellín is at an elevation of about 4,905 feet (1,495 meters) and Bogotá is at a much higher elevation of about 8,660 feet (2,640 meters).
Bogotá is at the low end of the altitude scale for potential physiological effects. The high altitude of Bogotá means the air is thinner but some visitors may not notice this at all.
Some visitors will often notice heavier breathing, a faster heart rate, fatigue, a slowdown of digestion and possibly an increased need to urinate. Headaches are another common impact of the higher altitude.
If you are impacted it will normally take a few days for your body to adjust to the higher altitude. I normally experience some headaches and fatigue the first few days I am in Bogotá.
Take things slow and avoid strenuous activities. The body needs a few days to adjust to the lack of oxygen or possibly even much longer. One of the best ways to combat the impacts of high altitude is staying hydrated.
The high altitude in Bogotá is normally only an impact for shorter-term visitors. Studies have shown that the approximately 140 million people who live full-time at altitudes above 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) like in Bogotá ultimately adapt to the lower oxygen levels.
But there are some preexisting medical conditions that may be of concern at higher altitudes or precautions should be taken – see the following.
14. Education Options
Bogotá wins here. We already mentioned that Bogotá boasts over 137 universities.
The two highest-ranking universities in Colombia are found in Bogotá: Universidad de Los Andes Colombia and Universidad Nacional de Colombia – both are in the top 20 universities in all of Latin America.
As a much bigger city there are also more Spanish language programs available in Bogotá.
There are also more bilingual international schools for children available in Bogotá, I’m aware of at least six in Bogotá and only two in Medellín.
The Bottom Line
In our Bogotá vs Medellín comparison, Bogotá beats out Medellín in six of our 14 categories; Medellín beats out Bogotá in six categories and the two cities tie in two categories. So the end result in this somewhat subjective comparison of 14 equally weighted categories is essentially a tie.
But to each his own and to really determine which city is best for you to live depends on which categories are more important to you with a higher weighting for more important categories.
For example, if cost of living, a springtime climate and avoiding traffic were most important, Medellín would win. If job availability, ease of access to the U.S. and restaurants and nightlife were your most important categories, Bogotá would win.
The only way to know which city is better is to spend time in both. I have much spent much time in both cities and both have their pros and cons. Neither city is ideal.
I prefer to live in Medellín due to the climate, lower cost of living and good public transportation. While Medellín doesn’t have as big a selection of restaurants, nightlife and things to do as Bogotá; it still has a big enough selection for me.
Plus with the lower cost of living in Medellín I can afford to travel to Bogotá and the other cities in Colombia.