Medellín vs Bogotá, which of these two cities in Colombia is the better city to live in for expats? In our Medellín vs Bogotá comparison, we comprehensively compare the two largest cities in Colombia in 17 categories to see which is the better city to live in for expats.
I have seen several comparisons of Medellín vs Bogotá. But these Medellín vs Bogotá comparisons I have seen elsewhere are typically missing several important categories or have a clear bias.
I have met many several expats living in Bogotá that prefer Bogotá over Medellín. But I have also met many expats living in Medellín that prefer it. I have lived in Medellín for over seven years. But I have traveled to Bogotá over 20 times for business and pleasure and have spent about five months in the city. In my opinion, both cities have pluses and minuses. No city is perfect.
We have also compared on this website:
- Medellín vs Cuenca – two top foreign retirement locations in Colombia and Ecuador
- Medellín vs Costa Rica – two top foreign retirement locations
- Medellín vs Panama City – two top foreign retirement locations
- 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 Santa Marta – Medellín versus a smaller coastal city in Colombia
Note the above photo of Bogotá was taken from Moserrate. Also, in the following Medellín vs Bogotá comparison, the categories 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 Bogotá comparison.
Medellín wins here. The temperature during the year in Medellín averages 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). Medellín is also 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 Bogotá, the temperature during the year averages a much chillier 58 °F (14.5 °C). The daily average high temperature in Bogotá ranges from 65.5 to 68.4 °F (18.6 to 20.2 °C). And the daily average low temperature ranges from 45.7 to 49.5 °F (7.6 to 9.7 °C).
The all-time record low in Bogotá was 19 °F (-7.1 °C) and it snows on rare occasions in Bogotá. In addition, Bogotá has experienced some hailstorms. Also, most apartments and houses in Bogotá don’t have heaters in my experience, so it can get cold at night.
In Medellín, the average annual humidity is 68 percent. And in Bogotá the average annual humidity is 76 percent. So, Bogotá typically has a somewhat higher humidity than is found in Medellín.
But in rains more in Medellín. In Medellín, 10 months each year have over 100 mm of rain on average. And in Bogotá only four months each year typically have over 100 mm of rain on average (April, May, October and November). For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 39.8 inches in Bogotá.
In Medellín it is quite possible to live without air-conditioning or heating. While in Bogotá it gets chilly enough, so some people may want heaters. Some expats I have talked to prefer the cooler climate in Bogotá.
2. Cost of Living
Medellín wins here. Similar apartment properties I have seen in Bogotá in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 15-20 percent higher prices than in Medellín – or even much higher.
I have seen a few expensive new properties in Bogotá in estrato 6 selling for about 12 million pesos per square meter, which is much more expensive than the most expensive properties being sold in Medellín
Other costs like groceries, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 4-10 percent cheaper in Medellín in comparison to Bogotá.
Numbeo confirms that the cost of living in Medellín is cheaper than Bogotá here.
The two cities arguably tie here. Medellín has seven of the top 49 ranked hospitals in Latin America and Bogotá also has seven.
Here is a list of all the top ranked hospitals in Medellín and Bogotá, with their rankings in the top 49 hospitals in Latin America:
- Fundación Cardioinfantil – Bogotá – #6
- Hospital Pablo Tobín Uribe – Medellín – #9
- Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación – Medellín – #16
- Clinica Las Américas – Medellín – #18
- Clínica Universidad de La Sabana – Bogotá – #23
- Mederi – Bogotá – #25
- Hospital General de Medellín – Medellín – #26
- Clínica del Occidente – Bogotá – #30
- Clinica Universitaria Bolivariana – Medellín – #32
- Clinica El Rosario – Medellín – #33
- Clínica Marly – Bogotá – #38
- Clínica Reina Sofia – #41
- Clinica Medellín – Medellin – #47
- Clinica los Nogales –Bogotá – #48
Front of Fundación Cardioinfantil, the highest ranked hospital in Bogotá, photo by EEIMBoth cities have several highly ranked hospitals that provide high quality healthcare. So, they tie in the healthcare category. Bogotá is a much larger city. So, it obviously has many more medical and dental providers than are found in Medellín. But since it’s a larger city there is also a much bigger population to care for.
4. Restaurants and Nightlife
Bogotá wins here. Bogotá is the much bigger city. Bogotá has a metro population of about 10.7 million. While Medellín’s metro population is about 4 million. So, Bogotá has many more restaurant and nightlife options than are found in Medellín.
If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists over 2,300 restaurants in Bogotá but less than 1,110 restaurants are listed in Medellín. This makes sense as Bogotá has almost three times the metro population.
Bogotá also has many more nightlife options than are found in Medellín, since it’s a much bigger city. The nightlife in Bogotá is very diverse and unrivalled in Colombia. You can find bars, nightclubs, music and pubs of almost all possible styles in Bogotá.
5. Travel Access to North America, Europe and Latin America
Bogotá 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 North America, 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, Toronto and Washington-Dulles in North America. And from Bogotá you can fly non-stop to Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Madrid and Paris in Europe. In addition, from Bogotá you can fly non-stop to over 20 cities in other countries in Latin America.
Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport (MDE) is the second largest airport in Colombia. And it has non-stop flights to 12 international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.
From the MDE airport there are non-stop flights available to Fort Lauderdale, Miami 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 Aruba, Curaçao, Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia.
The bottom line is that Bogotá has many more daily non-stop flights available to international locations, so it wins this category.
6. Public Transportation
Medellín wins here. Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia.
The Medellín Metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. It integrates two rail lines, four Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus lines, a Tranvía tramcar line and even feeder Metro buses.
In comparison, Bogotá has its elongated Transmilenio bus system. Transmilenio is inferior to Medellín’s metro. But due to the popularity of Transmilenio it is overcapacity and people are packed like sardines during rush hours. It is so crowded that I don’t ever bother trying to use it while I am in Bogotá.
Medellín has had its metro system in place for over 20 years, while Bogotá is still planning its metro system.
Both cities have extensive bus routes and inexpensive taxis with meters. But due to Medellín’s world class metro system, Medellín wins this category.
Medellín arguably wins here. In my experience, the traffic in Bogotá is worse than in Medellín due to being a bigger city with more cars on the roads. It can easily take at least a couple hours each day to go across town in Bogotá based on my experience.
In addition, I have experienced problems getting between business meetings in Bogotá due to the traffic. For example, during a business trip to Bogotá last year I had three meetings in three different areas of Bogotá. To get between these meetings and my trips to and from the apartment I was renting I spent well over six hours in taxis due to the bad traffic.
Traffic can get bad in Medellín during rush hours. But this is not as bad as the traffic I have experienced in Bogotá. The worst traffic in Medellín tends to be in El Poblado, El Centro and Envigado.
However, Bogotá doesn’t have the worst traffic in Latin America. In my experience, the traffic is much worse in the bigger cities of São Paulo and Mexico City.
8. Job Opportunities
Bogotá wins here. Bogotá is the business and political capital of Colombia and it’s a much bigger city with nearly three times the population. So, there are more job opportunities in Bogotá in comparison to Medellín.
Bogotá is also the location for the local headquarters of many multi-nationals operating in Colombia. In addition, Bogotá tends to have lower unemployment levels than are found in Medellín.
But there still aren’t that many work opportunities for foreigners even in Bogotá. This is particularly the case if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. Fluency in Spanish is typically required for the best jobs in Colombia.
In both cites you can find English teaching job opportunities if you are a native English speaker. But the pay for English teaching isn’t the greatest and competition is fierce. As the bigger city, there typically are many more English teaching jobs available in Bogotá, compared to Medellín.
Medellín wins here. Medellín is located 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’s higher altitude means that it is possible to experience physiological effects. Bogotá is at the low end of the altitude scale for possible physiological effects. The air is thinner at the higher altitude of Bogotá.
The low oxygen levels found at high altitudes can cause problems for visitors who are going to destinations higher than 8,000 feet above sea level, like Bogotá. But it is possible that some visitors may not notice this.
When visiting Bogotá, it is possible to notice fatigue, heavier breathing, a faster heart rate, a slowdown of digestion and even an increased need to urinate. In addition, headaches are a common result of the higher altitude.
It normally takes a few days for your body to adjust to the higher altitude in Bogotá. When I travel to Bogotá, I typically experience some headaches and get tired easier the first few days I am in the city. The body needs some time to adjust to the thinner air in Bogotá. It is also recommended to not drink alcohol or do heavy exercise for at least the first 48 hours after you arrive at an altitude above 8,000 feet.
Staying well-hydrated is a good way to combat the impacts of high altitude. Mild cases can be treated according to symptoms (such as using painkillers for headaches) and should go away on their own within a few days. In addition, medicines are available to shorten the time it takes to get used to high altitude.
Shorter-term visitors to the high altitude in Bogotá are the ones that normally experience physiological effects. Several studies have shown that the approximately 140 million people worldwide who live full-time at altitudes above 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) ultimately adapt to the lower oxygen levels.
But be careful as there are some preexisting medical conditions that may be of concern at higher altitudes and precautions should be taken – as seen here.
10. Expat Community
The cities arguably tie here. Bogotá is the capital and business center of Colombia and likely has a bigger expat population than Medellín with all the multi-nationals located there. But Medellín also has a sizeable expat population that seems to be much better organized.
Medellín has large expat groups on Facebook like Medellin Expats and Digital Nomads Medellin that are very active with several thousand member each. Bogotá’s expat Facebook groups are much smaller and harder to find.
In Medellín there are many regular organized meetups for expats each month. My expat friends in Bogotá tell me that there are fewer expat meetups in Bogotá. But the bottom line is that the two biggest cities in Colombia have thousands of expats living in them and thousands more visiting each month.
11. English Proficiency Levels
Bogotá wins here. In my experience, you will find more Colombians in Bogotá that speak English than in Medellín. Bogotá is the capital and business center of Colombia. And it has the local headquarters for many multi-nationals. So, you will find more English speakers in Bogotá.
Medellín has fewer Colombian English speakers in my experience. You will typically find some English speakers in hotels and some restaurants. Also, executives at larger companies in the city typically are bilingual. But in everyday life in Medellín you will find fewer English speakers than in Bogotá.
But even in Bogotá, which has more English speakers, you still really need to speak some Spanish to enable being independent and not dependent on someone else.
12. Things to Do
Bogotá wins here. Both Medellín and Bogotá have many things to do in the cities as well as many things to do nearby. But Bogotá is a much bigger city so it arguably wins this category with more things to do.
TripAdvisor has over 320 things to do listed for Bogotá. And it has less than 190 things to do listed for Medellín. While this is unscientific, it helps to demonstrate that there are many more things to do in the bigger city of Bogotá,
As the bigger city, Bogotá has many more concerts and festivals than Medellín each year. Most of the international concerts that come to Colombia tend to choose Bogotá over Medellín. For example, when the Rolling Stones came to Colombia last year, they chose Bogotá.
In addition, Bogotá has many more museums. In comparison, the museums scene is relatively new to Medellín.
Bogotá has more churches, more outdoor activities, more sights and landmarks, pretty much more of everything due to it being a much bigger city with almost three times the metro population.
The two cities tie here. The World Health Organization (WHO) previously reported that Medellín is ranked #9 and Bogotá #10 in a list of the 10 most polluted cities in Latin America.
Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon. And mountains surround the city. 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 clean the atmosphere.
Bogotá is a huge city. And when I have visited Bogotá I sometimes have seen a thick gray smog layer over the city during thermal inversion episodes.
But Medellín and Bogotá don’t have the worst pollution in Latin America. According to WHO, Santiago, Chile and other towns in Chile, Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; Cubatão, Brazil; as well as some towns in Costa Rica all have worse pollution levels than in Medellín or Bogotá.
14. Education Options
Bogotá wins here. Bogotá boasts over 137 universities. And the two highest-ranking universities in Colombia are found in Bogotá: Universidad de Los Andes Colombia and Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Both are ranked in the top 20 universities in all of Latin America.
In comparison Medellín reportedly has less than 50 universities. Also, there are many more Spanish language education programs available in Bogotá.
In addition, there are also more bilingual international schools for children available in Bogotá, I’m aware of at least six in Bogotá and only three in Medellín (Columbus, Montessori and The New School).
15. Internet Availability
The two cities tie here. Both Medellín and Bogotá have high-speed Internet of 100 Mbps or higher speed available.
In Medellín, it is possible to get up to 100 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. And up to 50 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE. Most buildings in Medellín will have service from at least one of these two providers. And Both Claro and Tigo-UNE in Medellín provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services.
In Bogotá, you can get up to 100 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. And up to 150 Mbps speed is reportedly available from ETB in locations where they have fiber run. Most buildings in Bogotá will have service from at least one of these two providers. And both Claro and ETB offer triple-play Internet/TV/phone services in Bogotá.
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.
Medellín arguably wins here. In a survey of 12,548 Colombians, Medellín ranked much higher than Bogotá in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio and city.
In terms of feeling safe in their city in this survey (slide 40), Bogotá was ranked the worst out of all the cities surveyed. Only 14 percent of respondents in Bogotá felt safe in their city. This compares to 45 percent feeling safe in their city in Medellín.
In this survey (slide 41) citizens felt the safest in their barrio in Medellín. In Medellín, 75 percent of respondents felt safe, while only 36 percent of respondents in Bogotá felt safe in their barrio. In the survey, only Cartagena ranked lower than Bogotá in terms of feeling safest in their barrio.
Both cities arguably tie here. Both Medellín and Bogotá have many large Western style malls. The largest malls in Medellín include El Tesoro, Los Molinos, Mayorca, Oviedo, Premium Plaza, Puerta del Norte, Santafé and Unicentro.
The largest malls in Bogotá include Atlantis Plaza, Centro Andino, Centro Mayor, El Retiro, Gran Estación, Hacienda de Santa Barbara, Titán Plaza, Santafé and Unicentro.
The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Bogotá
In our Medellín vs Bogotá comparison:
- Medellín wins in six of our 17 categories.
- Bogotá also wins in in six of our 17 categories.
- The two cities tie in five categories.
So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Bogotá comparison of 17 categories, Medellín and Bogotá essentially tie if you equally weigh the categories.
But if cost of living, having a springtime climate and having better public transportation were your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you. If job availability, having more restaurants and nightlife, having more things to do and ease of access to other countries are your most important categories, then Bogotá would win for you.
Both of the largest cities in Colombia have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it having a better climate and lower cost of living plus better public transportation. It’s also a big enough city that there is a good selection of restaurants and many things to do – just not as big as a selection as is found in Bogotá.
The bottom line in our Medellín vs Bogotá 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 city is the best for you is to spend time there.
Editors note: updated article on December 11, 2017 with new Colombian hospital rankings.