Since I left the United States, I’ve spent most of my time in two Latin American cities:
Mexico City, Mexico.
And Medellín, Colombia.
Both are popular destinations for ‘digital nomads,’ expats, and tourists.
And while both cities have lots to offer, they’re completely different.
Are you thinking of living in or visiting Mexico City (CDMX) or Medellín?
But can’t decide between them?
Let’s compare the two:
Mexico City oozes culture. It’s the center of film, TV, music, and visual arts in Latin America. There’s a never-ending list of things to do and see. Literally hundreds of museums, restaurants, bars, coffee houses, and art galleries. The City is paradise for history, architecture, and archaeology buffs. It’s full of ancient pyramids and ruins, gorgeous historical buildings, old battlegrounds, and graveyards. Mexico City is also a global metropolis, it’s a magnet for foreign expats, and so it’s got a very cosmopolitan feel. American culture is especially strong here, surprisingly. Mexicans have a complicated relationship with the U.S. One the one hand, many of them dis-like America. But many Mexicans also love consuming American movies, TV, pro sports, food, and music – you see it everywhere here.
Colombian culture is bland. It’s “Basic Latin Culture.” Interestingly, Colombians actually consume lots of Mexican culture. For example Mexican mariachis and telenovelas are quite popular in Colombia. There’s also less American influence in Medellín, since cultural bonds with the States are newer and weaker. And of course Colombia is farther away, on a different continent. There’s much less to do in Medellín when compared to CDMX. There are few museums and galleries, no real historical sites, besides the Pablo Escobar trail. Despite it’s newfound fame and popularity, Medellín is still just a small town. Besides pretty women, good drugs, and nightlife there’s simply not much to experience here. And that’s good or bad, depending on your view.
Winner: Mexico City
It’s impossible to deny the strength of Mexican culture. And Mexico City is at the heart of it all.
Mexican food is world-famous for a reason. It’s delicious! From $70 peso street taco meals to $1,500 peso steak dinners, Mexico City offers high-quality Mexican food that fits any budget. And it’s not just Mexican food. There are nearly unlimited international options in CDMX – cuisine from all over the world. I’ve had Russian, South Korean, Japanese, French, Argentine, American, and Indonesian food here, just to name a few. I’ve also tried obscure Mexican foods like ant eggs, grasshoppers, corn smut, cow brains, and pulque! If you’re an adventurous eater you’ll love CDMX.
Like it’s culture, Colombian food is bland. They try making up for lack of flavor and spice by serving giant portions. There are few international options in Medellín. It’s mostly American chains like McDonalds, KFC, and Krispy Creme. Or terrible ‘sushi’ restaurants. People in Medellín love fried chicken so you’ll find that everywhere. It’s tough to find high quality red meat here –the best cuts are almost always imported from the States. On the plus side, the food is inexpensive. And it’s not all bad. For example, my maid in Medellín was an excellent cook, and she served nothing but traditional paisa fare. So you can find good food here, if you know where to look. It’s just not as common.
Winner: Mexico City
Mexican food destroys Colombian food, and Mexico City is a world-renowned culinary capital.
There are over 21 million people living in the Mexico City metro area. It’s one of the largest cities on Earth at over 573 square miles. It’s difficult to comprehend the size until you’ve flown over it. And when you see it for the first time it will blow your mind. Some may find the size exciting. But for others it’s simply overwhelming. Just getting around in Mexico City is challenging. Many residents tend to stay in their own barrios, if they can, since traveling around is so stressful.
Even though it’s the second largest metro in Colombia, there are only around 3.7 million people living in Medellín. So it’s significantly smaller than CDMX. But the smaller size also means it’s easier and less stressful getting around. There’s one caveat here. Many barrios in Medellín sit on the slopes of the Andes. So traveling here often means walking or driving up and down steep streets.
Winner: Mexico City
Mexico City is a massive metropolis, Medellín is a small town.
Known as chilangos, Mexico City residents are generally hated by Mexicans living in the provinces. Chilangos aren’t the friendliest people, they are cliquish and not too interested in befriending foreigners. But chilangos also tend to mind their own business, they leave you alone to do your own thing. And they generally have nice manners. Your average chilango is more educated and worldly when compared to an average paisa.
Known as paisas, people in Medellín are also cliquish and self-centered, although they’re usually well mannered and more friendly to foreigners. It can take a long time to make friends with them. But once you break through their tough exteriors, Colombians are lots of fun to hang out with! Beware though. Once they consider you a friend, paisas will often show up at your house uninvited, just to see what you’re up to!
Although it takes time, I found it easier to make friends in Medellín.
There are tons of women in Mexico City, but the quality is lower. An average CDMX girl is less attractive than an average girl in Medellín. There are more economic opportunities in Mexico, so women rely less on their looks to survive. And while top-tier Mexican women are hot, there just that aren’t that many of them. But there’s another important factor at play: there are many attractive foreign girls in CDMX. Mexico City is a global city, so there’s much more international variety versus Medellín.
Medellín has better quality native women. There are stunners all over the place. It’s been said that you can fall in love with the supermarket check out girl here, and that’s true. Beauty is competition among paisa women. They put a lot of effort into their appearance, and it shows. But despite their looks, paisas are notoriously difficult to date – they’re flakey, untrustworthy, and money-hungry. There also aren’t many high-quality foreign girls in Medellín. It’s mostly just grimy American backpackers, although there’s been a recent influx of Venezuelan refugee women.
Women in Medellín are better-looking. But Mexico City offers an unlimited stream of women, with more international options.
People in Mexico City learn English in grade school, so many can hold basic conversations. You’ll also run into upper-class Mexicans who are totally fluent in English, usually due to time spent in the U.S. An English-speaker could get by without Spanish in CDMX, at least in barrios like La Roma, Condesa, and Polanco.
Not many people speak English in Medellín, it’s not taught in public school. And most of the Colombians I met had almost zero interest in speaking English, unlike Mexico where people often want to practice. You’ll struggle without Spanish in Medellín. So it’s a great place to learn Spanish fast, since without it you’ll have a hard time.
Winner: Mexico City
More people speak English in Mexico City.
Mexico City is located in a high mountain valley. It’s at 7,382 feet (2,250 m). So the climate here is generally pleasant and mild. It’s rainy in the fall, cold during the winter, hot in the spring, and warm and sunny in the summer. Some folks may have a negative reaction to the altitude. It’s hard to breath and you may get tired quickly if you’re not used to the height. Air conditioning and central heating are not common, so the climate can affect you, even when you’re inside.
Also located in a mountain valley, Medellín sits at 4,904 feet (1,495 m). Known as the City of Eternal Spring, it’s got amazing weather year-round with very little seasonal fluctuation. It does rain often here. But while the storms are frequent, they’re also predictable and never last long. The plus side to all the rain? It keeps everything lush, fresh, and green. Air conditioning and central heating are almost never used, because they simply aren’t needed.
Although the climate is good in both places, Medellín has the edge.
Mexico City is dirty. Air pollution is terrible. It’s a toxic mix of car exhaust, industrial pollution, wood smoke, dried fecal dust, and even volcanic ash from nearby Mount Popo. Due to geography, air pollution gets trapped and can hang over the City for weeks. And there’s dog shit and trash all over the streets, even in nicer barrios. Stay in CDMX long enough and it will negatively affect your health. When I first got to Mexico City I got sick all the time. And I’ve seen the same happen to other visitors too. As much as I love it here, there’s no denying that living in CDMX is hard on your body.
Medellín is amazingly clean for a Latin American city. It has fewer people, cars, and industrial pollution. There are no volcanoes spewing toxic ash. Frequent rainstorms wash away grime and routinely clean the air. There’s also way less trash in the streets, at least when compared to Mexico City. I never once got sick in Medellín. Besides a few hangovers, I always felt extremely healthy during my time there.
Mexico City is a filthy place. Medellín is clean and fresh in comparison.
Noise pollution is a serious problem in CDMX. As I’ve said before, it’s like an evil entity. You can’t escape it. It can be hard on you mentally if you’re not used to it. On the plus side, if you stay here long enough, eventually you will get used to the noise. And that makes you mentally tougher and better able to withstand noisy places in the future.
Medellín is much quieter than Mexico City. But it’s still a noisy place, typical of most Latin American cities. Construction, dogs, music, and inconsiderate noisy neighbors are a problem. But despite that, Medellín is more tranquil due to smaller size and fewer people. Medellín tends to get very quiet at night, unless you live near popular nightlife areas like Parque Lleras.
Both are noisy, but Medellín is not quite as loud as Mexico City.
Quality Of Life
The quality of life in Mexico City is high. As long as you stay in the nicer barrios, you can basically live a First-World lifestyle here. You can get most of the same things here that you can get at home; they even have Amazon delivery. The City is mostly safe, again, as long as you stay in the nicer areas. Now this is Mexico. So things never run quite as efficiently as in the States. But as long as you have a little patience, eventually things work out.
Quality of life in Medellín is also high. The City is small but modernized. You can live the equivalent of a First-World lifestyle in the nicer barrios. There were a few times I felt unsafe in Medellín; but that was my own fault, for entering sketchy areas. If you stay in the right neighborhoods, it’s fairly safe. Like Mexico, things aren’t always as efficient here as you’d like them to be.
Quality of life is about the same.
[Editor’s Note] I don’t care for nightlife anymore; I only go out for first dates. So for this section, I’ll defer to two young Latin American experts who can shed some light on the nightlife in each city:
From Vance at My Latin Life:
“The nightlife in Mexico City is among the best in Latin America. The only city that has it beat is Bogota. There is truly something for everyone here…with a population of over 20 million people, how could there not be! If you decide to make the trip down south, I can assure you, you will not be disappointed.”
From Jake at Nomadic Hustle:
“People (in Medellín) don’t have as much disposable income, so they can’t go out as often. As well, many of the clubs feature Colombian style setups with lots of tables and big groups. One positive of nightlife in Medellin is the reggaeton influence. The vast majority of the popular spots in Medellin blare reggaeton all night. If you’re like me, this is a huge plus. You can also find hip-hop clubs in Medellin due to the gringo influence.”
Winner: Mexico City
Mexico City offers better nightlife compared to Medellín.
Cost of Living
Mexico City is expensive compared to Medellín. But it’s cheap when compared to global cities like New York, London, or Tokyo. Rent and housing can be expensive, but it really depends on quality and barrio location. Maid service is inexpensive, but not that good. Food, alcohol, entertainment, and transportation costs are surprisingly low. Medical and dental costs are also low and doctors here are high quality.
Medellin is cheaper than Mexico City, overall. Rent is lower and you’ll get more value for your money when compared to CDMX. In Colombia maids are cheap, abundant, and good at their jobs. Food, alcohol, entertainment, and transportation are cheaper here. And healthcare and dental costs are also quite low, although I found the quality of doctors and dentists to be lacking.
Your money will go further in Medellín
The infrastructure of Mexico City is good. Roads and freeways are modern. The Metro and MetroBus sytems are efficient, fast, and run on time. And there’s even an extensive bicycle rental network, which makes it even easier to get around. But even with all those options, during rush hour traffic is a nightmare. Internet is good, power and water are reliable. Corruption is a problem, so some buildings are sub-standard, dangerous, and tend to crumble during earthquakes.
Infrastructure in Medellín is also quite solid, it’s known for having one of the best in South America. Roads and freeways are good. There’s a small but efficient Metro system running through the heart of the City. Power, water, and Internet service are reliable. Buildings in Medellín seemed solidly built – and there are no earthquakes to destroy them here, anyway.
About the same, in both places.
Both are excellent home-bases.
And while I prefer Mexico City, Medellín is also a great place to spend time.
I think that Medellín might be easier for first-timers; people making their first foray into Latin America.
Mexico City can be overwhelming, so it might be a better option for more seasoned expats and tourists.
But of course they’re not mutually exclusive – I’d recommend you visit both, to see which one fits you best.
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