If you are reading this, then you are probably looking for a quick answer rather than a roundabout discussion of the two only for the writer to say that you should go to both. I could also do that to avoid offending anyone who feels strongly about either city, but I won’t. The answer is Medellin.
Okay, if you were looking for the quick answer, you can stop reading now. The next bit is going to be me justifying my answer and trying to say that Bogotá is also cool.
Bogota is also cool.
Is Bogotá worth the visit? Absolutely, but if you’re on a crash course through South America, it can be sacrificed in favor of more time in Medellin. If you don’t feel like reading this and are more of a visual person, you can check out my Colombia video so you can see for yourself why Medellin is just simply superior.
So how exactly is Medellin better than Bogota?
There are quite a few reasons, but for me, the biggest thing is that the liveliness of the city is undeniably better. It is vibrant, bustling, and has a fantastic personality of its own that Bogota lacked. Bogota was beautiful and I’ll admit, the city had its share of breathtaking sights. At about 10,000 feet above sea level, being surrounded by the mountains was truly something to behold. The street art was also incredible. The graffiti in Bogota is ubiquitous, fantastically detailed, and difficult to get enough of. There is no denying that it has a lot to offer, but again, if you were in a dilemma and needed to pick one over the other, to me, Medellin is a no-brainer.
Medellin is all-around one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. The rolling, lush green hills surrounding the entire city along with the vibrant red buildings clumped together along the hillsides make for endless views. Do you want to see how beautiful Medellin is? Go to your nearest metro station, buy a ticket for 2,000 pesos (not even a dollar), and admire everything you pass by on the train ride. You can hop off literally anywhere and enjoy some of the most breathtaking sights you’ll see in urban Colombia.
The weather is another thing to take into account. I’ll admit that landing in Bogota from Cartagena was one of the most relieving and satisfying feelings I’ve ever had. I went from constantly sweating profusely to actually shivering once or twice. It was quite nice but the cold can get old real quick. The change in temperature was pleasant but after I arrived in Medellin, I immediately wondered why I hadn’t lived here my entire life. The weather in Medellin is perfect. The Snapchat filter literally says “Eternal Spring”, which I definitely found to be true. The weather was my ideal temperature the entire time. In Cartagena, I went back to the hostel every two or three hours just to shower because it was so humid and I felt disgusting. In Bogota, I would bundle up, bundle down, then bundle up, and so on. Medellin is the weather that dreams are made of.
The next, and probably most important, thing is nightlife. In terms of nightlife, Medellin is a top global destination. That is true for all types of travelers, but backpackers especially. For travelers looking for a good time, Medellin is where it is at. The top hostels in Medellin provide everything a backpacker is looking for and will provide any solo travelers with a good home base before diving into the raucous Colombian nightlife.
The nightlife areas of Medellin are as packed and lively as you’ll find anywhere in the world on a Friday night. For most tourists, drinks are much more affordable than you’ll find in your home country. The Colombian people are also among the friendliest that you’ll meet. If you fail to make at least a few local friends on a night out, there is something wrong with you.
I also found Medellin to feel much safer than Bogota, despite the reputation it has due to Pablo Escobar’s cartel. Of course, each city has its good neighborhoods and its bad neighborhoods, but overall, I was more comfortable in Medellin. I didn’t have anything bad happen to me in Colombia, but it never hurts to look into travel medical insurance like SafetyWing. Unexpected things and accidents happen all the time while traveling. The added peace of mind that travel insurance brings is worth the cost. Even the most careful traveler might fall victim to circumstances out of their control.
I had some friends wander into the wrong neighborhood in Bogota and a local woman had to pull them into her car and drive them to safety. That’s not to say that Bogota is unsafe, but a clueless traveler might easily be taken advantage of. While Bogota felt more like a college town to me, it also did not share the same vibrant nightlife that Medellin has. In terms of stumbling around drunk at 3 AM, I would also prefer to be in Medellin for safety reasons. Bogota is a massive city, almost twice the size of Medellin. There are good areas and bad areas, but Medellin’s most prominent nightlife areas felt much safer than those in Bogota.
Things To Do
When it comes to things to do, I felt like I could explore Medellin day after day and find something new to love. It blows Bogota away in that aspect, which is likely the most important for a traveler looking for new adventures. As a short-term tourist, I got bored in Bogota after my first day. Bogota was chill and had a relaxing vibe to it, but most short-term travelers don’t go to new destinations to chill.
Ever since I began my longer-term backpacking trips, I can see the appeal in a city like Bogota. I did enjoy sitting at coffee shops and taking in the hustle and bustle of Bogota. That is also something I did in Columbia (Missouri) quite often, and not quite something I wanted to do in Colombia. You can easily knock out La Candelaria, El Museo de Oro, and Cerro Montserrat in under a day, which are Bogota’s three main attractions. I managed that no problem, and then suffering from boredom that night, moved my flight to Medellin a few days earlier. It was one of my best decisions, as even a week in Medellin was not nearly enough time to really appreciate how incredible the city is.
Even if you just stay in Medellin, you are going to have a fantastic time, but Medellin is also in great position for some amazing day trips and activities. Guatape is about a two-hour ride away from the city and is very much worth going to. Hike the giant rock, take in the colorful canvases of the city’s casas, and stop by Pablo Escobar’s old mansion to do some… paintballing. Oh yeah, if you’re into Narcos or Pablo Escobar, Medellin is the city to be in. Many tourists think of Pablo Escobar and cocaine when they think of Colombia. Rather than try to bury that dark part of Medellin’s past, many tours will gladly educate you on one of the world’s most cruel and fascinating figures.
As one of the Americas’ largest cities and Colombia’s capital city, Bogota is probably the city most well-known by travelers itching to go to Colombia. But seriously, go to Medellin instead. If I were to go back to Colombia, it would be a no-brainer for me to go back to Medellin. Part of that reason is because I told some little kids I’d come back to kick their asses in soccer again, but even if that were a non-issue, I would still pick Medellin hands-down.
View this post on Instagram
Roaming the barrios of Medellín 🇨🇴 taken a year ago on my first solo trip in Colombia, a questionable choice for most people’s first solo trip 🤷🏽♀️ but in reality Colombia has improved monumentally since the Pablo Escobar days and doesn’t deserve its bad reputation #Narcos
Check out my Colombia video below to get a small taste of what the beautiful country of Colombia has to offer.
It barely scratches the surface, but hopefully, it convinces you to go to this fantastic country, especially Medellin! Nothing will do the beauty, culture, and life of Colombia justice. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself.
Related: Colombia Survival Guide