Medellín vs Armenia, which of these cities in Colombia is really the better place to live? In our Medellín vs Armenia comparison, we comprehensively compare the two cities in in 16 categories to see which is the better place to live in for expats.
We previously wrote about 11 reasons why Medellín is considered a top foreign retirement location. The foreign retirement publications have for several years have been touting Medellín as top foreign retirement location.
Medellín is a city located in a valley in the Colombian Andes Mountains in Colombia with a metro population of about 4 million. And mountains surround Medellín with a river running though the city.
Armenia is a city in central Colombia in the Colombian coffee region Eje Cafetero. And Armenia is a much smaller city than Medellín with a population of about 300,000.
Many expats I have met living in Medellín prefer Medellín. And expats living in Armenia tend to prefer Armenia. But some of these expats living in one of these two places have never traveled to the other. And it’s not really fair to compare two places if you have not been to both of them.
I have lived in Medellín for over eight years. But I have traveled several times on business and vacation to Armenia. In my opinion, both places have their pluses and minuses. No place is perfect.
Since we have already compared Medellín with several cities in Colombia, several readers asked that we also do a Medellín vs Armenia comparison.
Note, the following 16 categories in this Medellín vs Armenia comparison are in no particular order. And where possible, we provide some statistics to back up how we chose the winner of each category in our Medellín vs Armenia comparison.
1. Cost of Living
Armenia wins here. Similar apartment properties I have seen in Medellín in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 30-45 percent higher prices than in Armenia – or even much higher.
Other costs like groceries, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 5-15 percent cheaper in Armenia in comparison to Medellín.
The Expatistan website reports that the cost of living is 19 percent higher in Medellín when compared to Armenia. And the Numbeo website also confirms that the cost of living in Armenia is cheaper than in Medellín.
Both the Expatistan and Numbeo cost of living websites collect data using a crowdsourcing. Users enter prices for their own city and the more users that enter prices for a city, the more accurate comparisons will be. But this method has limitations. For more accurate cost of living information we recommend talking with expats living in the cities.
Also, the cost of living in terms of USD or Euros has dropped in both cities in Colombia over the past few years due to the weakness of the Colombian peso.
2. Climate – Medellín vs Armenia
The two cities tie in this category. The temperature during the year in Medellín averages 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). The Medellín weather and climate is a benefit of living in the city.
Also, Medellín is known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, or the city of eternal spring. The average temperature in Medellín typically only varies by about 1 °F during the year.
In Medellín, the high daily average temperature ranges from 81.0 to 82.8 ° F (27.0 to 28.2 °C). And the low daily average ranges from 61.7 to 63.3 ° F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).
In Armenia, the temperature during the entire year averages 71.4 ° F (29.09 °C). The high daily average temperature in Armenia ranges from 80.8 to 80.8 ° F (27.1 to 83.1 °C). And in Armenia the daily low temperature average ranges from 60.4 to 61.7 ° F (15.8 to 16.5 °C).
For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 83.4 inches in Armenia. Medellín experiences some rain 227 days per year on average and Armenia experiences some rain 172 days per year on average.
The bottom line is that both cities have a similar climate and air-conditioning and heating isn’t required. So, the two cities tie in this category.
3. Healthcare – Medellín vs Armenia
Medellín wins here. Medellín has nine of the top 58 ranked hospitals in Latin America while Armenia has none.
Colombia has 24 of the top hospitals in Latin America. And Colombia’s healthcare system has been ranked as the best healthcare system in Latin America by the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO ranks Colombia’s healthcare system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked, which is ranked higher than many wealthier countries like the United States (#37), Germany (#25), Canada (#30) and Australia (#32).
Here is a list of all the top ranked hospitals in Medellín, with the 2019 rankings in the top 58 hospitals in Latin America:
- Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe (#9)
- Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación (#16)
- Clínica las Américas (#26)
- Clínica Universitaria Bolivariana (#28)
- Hospital General de Medellín (#33)
- Clínica El Rosario (#41)
- Clínica Cardio Vid (#42)
- Clínica Medellín (#43)
- Clínica Las Vegas (#53)
Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. And Medellín wins this category due to having nine of the best hospitals in Latin America.
In addition, Medellín is a much bigger city than Armenia. So, it obviously has many more medical and dental providers than are found in Armenia. But since it’s a larger city there is also a much bigger population to care for.
4. Traffic – Medellín vs Armenia
Armenia wins here. In a survey by Waze in 2016, Medellín was ranked #176 in the world in terms of drivers’ satisfaction out of 186 metros surveyed.
Traffic can get bad in Medellín during rush hours. It can sometimes take an hour or more during rush hour to get certain places in Medellín. The worst traffic in Medellín in my experience tends to be in El Poblado, El Centro and Envigado.
Since Armenia is a much smaller city, it has much fewer cars and less traffic problems in my experience than are found in Medellín.
5. Public Transportation – Medellín vs Armenia
Medellín arguably wins here. Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. And it has been in place for over 20 years.
The Medellín Metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. Furthermore, it integrates two rail lines, four Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus lines, a Tranvía tramcar line and even feeder Metro buses.
Armenia in comparison has no metro system and only has buses and taxis.
Both Medellín and Armenia have extensive and inexpensive bus routes plus inexpensive taxis. The taxis in Medellín and in Armenia are metered and you just need to pay the fare on the meter.
The Medellín Metro system was named one of the top transport systems in the world by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in 2012. Due to Medellín’s comprehensive metro system that is considered world-class, Medellín wins this public transportation category.
The cities arguably tie here. In a survey of over 14,000 Colombians in 2016, Medellín ranked higher than all other cities survey in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio (neighborhood).
In this same survey, Medellín was ranked with the highest quality of living out of the surveyed cities in Colombia. But unfortunately, Armenia was not included in this survey.
However, Armenia was rated one of the safest in Colombia in the Ciudades Modernas index based on perception and also the number of robberies, homicides, personal injuries and extortions that are reported. But Medellín wasn’t included in that study.
The homicide rate in the Quindio department (Armenia is the capital) was 35.8 per 100,000 habitants from April 2017 to March 2018.
In comparison, the homicide rate in Medellín of 24.75 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018 was up from a homicide rate of 20 in 2015 in Medellín.
Over the past few years Medellín has experienced a homicide rate that is lower than is found in St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit or New Orleans in the U.S. Furthermore, Medellín dropped off of the list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world a few years ago based on homicide rates.
7. Pollution – Medellín vs Armenia
Armenia wins here. Medellín has pollution problems. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) 2018 Ambient Air Quality Database, Medellín is ranked #9 out of the most polluted cities and towns in Latin America based on PM2.5 pollutants.
Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon. Mountains surround the city of Medellín. So, pollution tends to stay in the Medellín metropolitan area. This is similar to the problem in Denver in the U.S. But fairly regular rain in the city can help clean the atmosphere.
However, according to WHO, in Latin America several cities and towns have worse pollution than in Medellín. Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; five towns in Chile; and Guatemala all have worse air pollutant problems.
Armenia in general has less pollution than Medellín. In general, Medellín has more pollution than is found in Armenia. So, Armenia wins this category. However, Medellín is the cleanest city out of over 30 cities I have been to in Latin America and you won’t see much litter.
8. Travel Access to North America, Europe and Latin America
Medellín wins here. Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport (MDE) is the second largest airport in Colombia. This airport has non-stop flights to 10 international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.
From the MDE airport there are non-stop flights available to Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and New York (JFK) in the U.S. In addition, from MDE you can fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe. Also, you can fly non-stop to Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia.
In addition, there are more domestic Colombia flights available from Medellín as the city has two airports: the international José María Córdova airport and the domestic Olaya Herrera airport (EOH). From Medellín’s two airports you can fly non-stop to over 30 cities in Colombia.
Armenia’s El Edén airport is much smaller in terms of number of flights. There are only flights available to Medellín’s Olaya Herrera airport, to Bogotá and to Fort Lauderdale. But the Spirit flight to Fort Lauderdale from Armenia is not a daily flight.
As alternatives to the Armenia airport, Pereira’s airport is a little over an hour away and Cali’s airport is about four hours away. But both of these airports are also smaller than Medellín’s international airport.
The bottom line you can fly non-stop from Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport to several international destinations and many more domestic destinations from both of Medellín’s airports. And your flight options are very limited in Armenia. So, Medellín wins this category.
9. Seismic Risk
Medellín wins here. The coffee region of Colombia where Armenia is located has a long history of seismic activity.
On January 25, 1999, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake caused major structural damage Armenia and resulted in 1,200 deaths in Armenia and losses of up to $1.2 billion. Many parts of Armenia were destroyed during this earthquake.
Approximately 60 percent of the existing poorly engineered structures in Armenia collapsed. Most of the buildings that collapsed were poorly constructed, old, or were built on poor soil such as steep slopes or landfill site.
It has been estimated that a large earthquake, approximately 6-7 in magnitude will hit the coffee triangle region of Colombia every 20 years due to high seismic activity.
Medellín historically hasn’t experienced as much seismic activity as Armenia. According to geologists, Medellín is situated on a giant block of andesite, which is a gigantic and deep-rooted hunk of igneous rock. This rock is hard like granite and resistant to seismic motion. While there is no certainty, this resistance to seismic motion likely makes Medellín safer than many other places in Colombia.
10. Things to Do – Medellín vs Armenia
Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with a metro population of about 4 million. While Armenia’ metro population is only about 300,000. So, Medellín has many more things to do.
TripAdvisor has only 48 things to do listed in Armenia. And it has 230 things to do listed in Medellín. While this is unscientific, it demonstrates there are many more things to do in the larger city of Medellín than in the much smaller city of Armenia.
Medellín has many more churches, more sights, more parks, more tourist attractions and more landmarks than Armenia. In addition, Medellín is a more popular tourist location so there are many more hotels, more hostels and more furnished apartments available in the city.
On Airbnb, you won’t find many furnished apartments available in Armenia. But there are hundreds of furnished apartments available in Medellín.
11. Restaurants and Nightlife
Medellín wins here. The much bigger city of Medellín also has many more restaurant and nightlife choices than are found in the smaller city of Armenia.
If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists only 213 restaurants in Armenia but over 1,500 restaurants in Medellín. So, you will have a much bigger choice of restaurants in the larger city of Medellín.
Medellín also has many more nightlife options. You can find bars, nightclubs, music and pubs of many styles in Medellín found in areas like Parque Lleras, La 70 and La 33. In comparison, in the smaller city of Armenia, there are much fewer nightlife options available in my experience.
12. Job Opportunities – Medellín vs Armenia
Medellin wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with over 12 times the metro population of Armenia. So, clearly there are many more job opportunities in Medellín.
Medellín has several very large employers and several multinational companies have offices in Medellín that are headquartered in the U.S.
But there aren’t that many work opportunities in either city for foreigners. This is particularly the case if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. Fluency in Spanish is typically required for the best jobs in both Medellín and Armenia.
In both Medellín and Armenia, you can find English teaching job opportunities if you are a native English speaker. However, the pay for English teaching isn’t the greatest in either city. And competition is reportedly fierce for English teaching jobs Medellín.
13. Expat Community – Medellín vs Armenia
Medellín wins here. Medellín has a much larger expat English speaking community than Armenia has.
The entire country of Colombia has nearly 19,000 expats from the U.S. and over 2,200 expats from Canada and the UK living in Colombia according to International Organization of Migration. But a big portion of those expats living in Colombia live in Bogotá and Medellín, the two biggest cities in Colombia.
Unfortunately, there aren’t statistics for Medellín. However, I would estimate there may be less than 5,000 expats from North America and Europe living in Medellín. While in Armenia there are much fewer expats, perhaps at most a few hundred.
Medellín has several large expat groups on Facebook that are very active including:
- Medellin Expats with over 17,000 members
- Digital Nomads Medellin with over 6,000 members
- Doing Business And Living in Medellin with over 5,000 members
In comparison, Armenia has much smaller Expats of Armenia, Quindio group on Facebook with only 418 members and only averages about four posts per day.
In addition, in Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month. While expats in Armenia indicated to me there aren’t many organized meetups for expats.
Some expats may like that Armenia is more off the beaten path with much fewer expats. However, that also means much fewer expats in Armenia to help out and to socialize with.
14. Education Options – Medellín vs Armenia
Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city so it has nearly 40 universities compared to only about a handful of universities in the much smaller city of Armenia.
And, with a bigger expat population in Medellín, the city apparently has more Spanish language programs available than are found in Armenia. And, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in Colombia for foreigners.
In addition, Medellín has over 10 bilingual schools available for children. And expats in Armenia told me there are only a couple of bilingual schools in the much smaller city of Armenia.
The bottom line is that the much bigger city of Medellín wins this education category with more universities, more Spanish language programs and more bilingual schools available.
15. Internet Availability and Infrastructure Reliability
The two cities tie here. Both Medellín and Armenia have high-speed Internet of up to 300 Mbps speed available.
In Medellín, it is possible to get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. In addition, up to 150 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE and up to 40 Mbps from Movistar.
Most buildings in Medellín will have service from at least one of these three providers. And all three providers in Medellín provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services. Also, we have a guide to Internet and cable TV providers in Medellín.
In Armenia, you can also get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro and Claro offers triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in Armenia.
Similar to other cities in the country, the highest speed Internet in both cities will normally be available only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings, you may be limited to lower speeds.
In terms of reliability of Internet, TV, phone, electricity and water services, both cities have reliable services. An expat living in Armenia told me he has only experienced a handful of Internet and electricity outages in four years living there.
I only experienced three power outages in over seven years living in Medellín. And one of these outages I was informed about by the provider EPM beforehand, which was due to maintenance. In addition, I only experienced three Internet outages with Claro in Medellín and these were each resolved within an hour after calling the company.
16. Shopping – Medellín vs Armenia
Medellín wins here. Medellín has more Western style malls and more shopping options than the much smaller city of Armenia. The largest malls in the Medellín metro area include El Tesoro, Los Molinos, Mayorca, Oviedo, Premium Plaza, Puerta del Norte, San Diego, Santafé, Unicentro and Viva Envigado.
Santafé mall is one the largest malls in Medellín with over 400 shops. And in October 2018, Viva Envigado, the largest mall in Colombia opened in Envigado, directly south of Medellín. The Medellín metro area has many malls and we have looked at the 13 best malls in Medellín.
Some expats I have met that used to live in Armenia told me they were impressed when they saw the huge variety of items found in the Santafé and Viva Envigado malls and the other large malls in Medellín.
Reportedly none of the malls in Armenia have over 120 stores. This means there are at least 15 malls in Medellín that are larger than any of the shopping malls in Armenia.
The bottom line is that Medellín has many more malls which tend to be much larger than in Armenia. And as a much larger city, Medellín has many more shopping options than are found in Armenia. So, Medellín wins this category.
The Medellin Guru City and Place Comparisons
We have compared on this website living in Medellin with living in several foreign locations:
- Medellín vs Cuenca – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Ecuador.
- Medellín vs Panama City – two top foreign retirement locations.
- Medellín vs Costa Rica – two top foreign retirement locations.
- Medellín vs Puerto Vallarta – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Mexico.
- Medellín vs Mexico City – comparing the cities in Colombia and Mexico.
- Medellín vs Rio de Janeiro – comparing two cities in Colombia and Brazil.
- Medellín vs Fortaleza – comparing two cities in Colombia and Brazil.
- Medellín vs Lima – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Peru.
- Medellín vs Algarve – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Portugal.
- Medellín vs Chiang Mai – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Thailand.
- Medellín vs Buenos Aires – comparing the cities in Colombia and Argentina.
- Medellín vs Santiago – comparing the cities in Colombia and Chile.
Also, we have compared living in different cities in Colombia:
- Medellín vs Bogotá – the two largest cities in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga – three cities of eternal spring in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Cartagena – a beach city versus a mountain city showdown in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Cali – a showdown between the “city of eternal spring” vs the “city of eternal summer” in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Manizales – Medellín versus a smaller city in the coffee region of Colombia.
- Medellín vs Armenia – Medellín versus the smallest city in the coffee region of Colombia.
- Medellín vs Barranquilla – Medellín versus a coastal city in Colombia.
- Medellín vs Santa Marta – Medellín versus a smaller coastal city in Colombia.
- Pereira vs Armenia vs Armenia – comparing three cities in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle.
- Cartagena vs Santa Marta – a showdown between two beach cities in Colombia.
The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Armenia
In our Medellín vs Armenia comparison:
- Medellín wins in 10 of our 16 categories.
- Armenia wins in three of our 16 categories.
- The two cities tie in three categories.
So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Armenia comparison of 16 categories, Medellín easily wins if you equally weigh the categories.
If having better healthcare, good public transportation, more things to do, more restaurants and better flight access to North America are your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you.
And if a lower cost of living with less pollution and less traffic plus you prefer smaller cities are your most important categories, then Armenia would win for you.
There aren’t many expats currently living in Armenia. And Medellín is much more popular with expats. Armenia hasn’t yet been discovered by many expats.
Both of these places in our Medellín vs Armenia comparison have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it having good healthcare, good public transportation and many more things to do.
The bottom line in our Medellín vs Armenia comparison is that the best place to live is the best place to live for you. Everyone has different priorities. The only way to know which place is the best for you is to spend time there.
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Editor note: updated on October 29, 2019 with with new 2019 Colombian hospital rankings.