Colombia’s “Second City” vs Uruguay’s “First”: Who Wins?

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Montevideo's Palacio Salvo, beneath a beautiful, blue sky.
Pocitos, my favorite Montevideo neighborhood.
Pocitos, my favorite Montevideo neighborhood.

Writer’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part story.

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — The traces of the yearly trade from green to red and gold garnishes Pocitos, an eastern city neighborhood that immediately reminded me of Laureles, my community in central Medellín. It’s not that the leaves change color the same way in Medellín, it’s that the leaves are there, that there are trees lining a pretty place to call home.

At that moment, I realized I had found another city I liked enough to live in. Later, I would learn that Mendoza, in western Argentina, is another (and you’ll read more about that next week). But would I ever trade Medellín for Montevideo? Hmmm, good question.

It’s something I thought about as I made a four-country journey spanning almost six weeks, with multiple stops in not only Uruguay, but in Argentina, Chile and Paraguay as well. I took this trip because I had never done anything like it before.

The idea started as a long vacation to Argentina, to visit a place I had heard so many good things about, a place where people and penguins coexist, where the wine is worthy of the Last Supper, where the beef is so tender a steak knife is superfluous.

The trip eventually expanded to include Montevideo, and later, Chile and Paraguay. I loved Santiago, but I don’t think I could live in a place where at any moment the ground might tremble like a horror movie victim. (You’ll learn my aversion to Paraguay next week when you read about my attraction to Mendoza.)

There’s only one way, I suppose, to figure out my favorite place to live: make a list of categories — we’ll go with 10 — that I find important in a place to live, to compare and contrast these cities. In the case of a tie, we’ll go with the city that had the most emphatic wins. To the categories…

Cost

Medellín. Montevideo is expensive compared to Colombia’s second-biggest city. You can find a decent apartment in a good neighborhood in Medellín for about $125 a month. In Montevideo, it’s a little higher, from what I gathered through countless online searches. And food, whether it’s groceries or eating out, is about 25 percent less in Medellín than in Montevideo.

Culture

Paisas might be my favorite people on this planet. ‘Nuff said.

Food

This was another easy win for Medellín. With options from 2-for-1 Tuesday at Sushi Light to molecular gastronomy at El Cielo to comida tipica at Mondongo’s, Medellín gets the culinary crown. Montevideo can take solace in the fact that I love their chivitos (steak sandwiches).

History

Two words: Pablo Escobar. That’s basically a forfeit, giving this category to Montevideo, which still has an interesting past, what with the Spanish and Portuguese battling for this land.

Jobs

The latest numbers, according to the U.S. State Department, show economic growth of 5.7 percent in Uruguay and up to 5 percent in Colombia. No specifics there on Medellín and Montevideo, but I know this: Medellín has a strong economic base, with flowers and textiles, while Montevideo’s port-city status allows easier access for imports and exports, so I’ll give the slight edge to Montevideo. Very slight.

Nightlife

I gotta go with Medellín again. The paisas know how to have a good time, and they are always asking you to join them, whether it’s salsa dancing or going to a finca. Just don’t drink too much Aguardiente. The hangover is awful. Montevideo is fun too, it’s just missing the John Hancock of its competition.

Safety

Medellín has made huge strides in this department, but it’s still not quite as tranquilo as Montevideo. Not far behind, but not the same either.

Montevideo's Palacio Salvo, beneath a beautiful, blue sky.
Montevideo’s Palacio Salvo, beneath a beautiful, blue sky.

Scenery

I like mountains more than beaches, so, naturally, a win for Medellín. But beaches are still great — I grew up a mile from the water in Hawaii — so Montevideo would be my preferred summertime destination. Montevideo can also boast Colonial architecture, another thing Medellín lacks. Still, mountains win.

Sports

Uruguay won last year’s Copa America, and finished fourth two years ago at the World Cup. Colombia was bounced by Peru after winning its group, and hasn’t played in the World Cup since 1998. At this year’s Copa Libertadores, Medellín’s Atlético Nacional and Montevideo’s Nacional both faired poorly. Edge, Montevideo, if only for its country’s more recent success in the sport that matters most.

Weather

As I type this, it is 66 degrees in Medellín, 37 in Montevideo. Do I even need to say who wins? (Hint: it’s the city with spring-like weather year round.)

If this were a recap of a sporting event, I guess it would go something like this…

Medellín stormed to an early 3-0 lead, only to watch Montevideo charge back on two occasions to pull within one, but the weather gave a 6-4 win to La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera.

Maybe Mendoza will have better luck. Maybe.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Good article. I really like this perspective as I find myself in the same boat.

    Let’s just say that I realized today Medellin wins out over Porto Alegre, Brazil as well.

  2. Ryan is a little off on Apt prices its not $125 per month but rather 250 per month and up. And with the strong peso and weak dollar its even more.

    • Hey David, you both could be right. However, my wife and I only pay 200.000 COP (something like $113 USD) a month for our place including cable, internet, electricity and water. We live in Campo Valdez just a few blocks from el Jardín Botánico. As for $125 USD a month for an apartment in Laureles I find that highly unlikely, you’d pay more than that in utilities due to it being estrato 5.

      That being said, Medellín still takes the cake as being far less expensive for such quality of life and convenience.

  3. Thanks for the giving us some points where to go for travel. I still prefer Medellin. I really want to go there and experience the beautiful place.

  4. Hey… I’m not sure if you remember, but I believe we met in Santa Marta back in August. We were staying in the same hostel room 🙂 Anyways, I agree.. Montevideo is right up there with Medellin in my list of favourite South American cities! I’m in Medellin at the moment, if you want to meet up at all 🙂

    • wow, i’m realizing i need to go back and check my old stories more often, to see if there are new comments. would have been nice to meet up, although i was not in medellin for most of december. thanks for reading the blog. please advise next time you are in colombia and we’ll definitely meet up 🙂