A Tale of Two Cities – Medellin (Paisas) vs Bogotá (Rolos)

“It’s freezing in Bogota! Not just the weather, but the people too. And it’s so dangerous and ugly.” – A Paisa expressing his disdain for Colombia’s capital.

Having spent six months working as a freelance journalist in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, I am on the cusp of making the big move to Bogota. I’ve had an absolute blast in the City of Eternal Spring but, after a recent visit to the capital, I realised it is time for change.

There is no love lost between the pair – and most of the anger is directed toward Bogota from Paisas and other smaller cities in Colombia. Right this very second, hundreds of conversations are taking place around the country questioning Bogota’s right to exist. Put simply, Colombians hate Bogota.

However, it is normal for countries to hate their capital. I spent a few years in the north of England and lived in the south of France for two years – and found the people there generally despise London (my home town) and Paris. So now I will try to make an impartial comparison of the two Colombian giants, with the hope of dispelling some myths.

Climate

Bogota – One of the great insults regularly hurled at Bogota is that the city is freezing. Tourists from cold countries, as well as Paisas and even Rolos themselves make this claim. Now, it can get a bit chilly at night, which is a nice excuse to wear a jacket. And you could even get away with one of those pretentious, redundantly thin scarves. But for me, the very notion that Bogota is a cold city is absurd. I’d say it is most similar to London or Paris in late spring or even summer – all year round.  The days are usually very hot and sunny. Watch out for one or two hours of hail in the afternoon. Bring an umbrella!

Bogota at sunset

Bogota at sunset

Medellin – The City of Eternal Spring. You can’t argue with that! Medellin has one of the best climates in the world, which is why I chose to live there. Temperatures generally reach around 30 centigrade in the day, while you can pop on some jeans at night when it isn’t too hot. However, as with Bogota, when it rains, it pours. Colombia has one of the highest annual rainfalls in the world, so this should come as no surprise. If spring is eternal, April showers are daily showers. Don’t let this put you off, as it keeps the grass green!

Verdict: They both have excellent climates if you hate winter. Medellin is better for hot-blooded people or vacationers. Bogota might be more comfortable to live and work in.

Art, Culture & Nightlife 

Bogota – Bogota is a huge, sprawling mass of metropolis. Like most capital cities, it has an international vibe with pubs, coffee shops and arty cinemas all over the place. There are and many different zones, such as the trendy Chapinero area, for bars and nightclubs with live music, DJ sets and raves. Check out the old city, La Candelaria, for museums and hotels in a rustic setting.

View from Monserrate, Bogota

View from Monserrate, Bogota

Medellin – This beautiful city has a more authentic Colombian feel (though Paisas might argue they are exceptional). Although there are several international bars and clubs, most bars in popular areas such as La 70 and La 33 are full of Regaton, Vallenata and Salsa music. Watch out, Colombians dance quite…erotically…but this does not mean they will accept a kiss!  There is a superficial streak as class and money are very important in Medellin. This leads to plastic surgery and makeup. It is not for me, but most travellers are in awe of the ladies. As for art, the city is Fernando Botero’s home, so take a look at his obese sculptures in the city centre.

Medellin from the west

Medellin from the west

Verdict: Though Paisas claim Rolos are cold, my experience is that they are more open to meeting foreigners. But taxi drivers are not so helpful. Paisas are also very friendly, if a little proud of their wonderful city.

Beauty 

Bogota – The capital is grimy, shadowy and dim in most parts. But it has some beautiful parks with lakes, if you fancy a break from urbanity. It is a blend of many styles and cultures, which is what makes it so great. The view from the church atop Monserrate is postcard pretty.

Medellin – The city has a modern, clean feel. It does not look like Colombia. American chains are worshipped, and thus fill the affluent Poblado area. You have stunning mountain views from anywhere in the city. Take the MetroCable up over the mountains to explore Parque Arví. Or a day trip to one of the greatest views in the world, by Guatape.

Verdict – Bogota is rustic, while Medellin is picture perfect, like a cleaner Los Angeles.

Transport

Medellin is the hands down winner as far as transport goes. Not only is the city smaller and therefore more accessible, but the Metro and MetroCable make it much easier to get around. The taxis are less likely to rip you off because you are foreign and the buses seem easier to work out.

Medellin's metro

Medellin’s metro

MetroCable in Medellin

MetroCable in Medellin

Overall Verdict – They are both tremendous cities with a lot to offer. My only advice is not to listen to the Bogota Bashers. They tend to be so focussed on getting away from international culture that they overlook the city’s vibrant culture. As for Medellin, it is every bit as beautiful as they say!

Andrew Gold,

About the author:

Andrew is a freelance journalist who lives in Medellin. He holds an NCTJ qualification and worked as an online reporter for The Sun and several other publications before moving abroad. His passions are travel, football and languages – he speaks French and Spanish. He is constantly astounded at how much Colombia – and Medellin in particular – have to offer.

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