This is the tale of two cities, Bogotá and Medellín, from the South American country of Colombia. Both combine the best of traditional and modern influences, in a melting pot of nightlife, hotels, architecture styles and historic attractions.
Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, is home to around eight million people and is situated in the Andes mountain range at an altitude of 8,660 feet (2,640 meters), making it the fourth highest city in the world. It covers an area of around 986 miles squared (1,587 kilometres squared) and has a population consisting of both Colombians and expats, all who help provide a mixture of history, tradition and international influences.
Medellín was once known for being the ‘most violent city in the world’. But after the last 25 years of urban regeneration, the city has increasingly been seen as a popular metropolitan city, and is losing its past dark-image. With a population of over 3.7 million, it is significantly smaller than Colombia’s capital, both in population and area (236.5 miles squared or 380.6 kilometres squared). Often referred to as the ‘La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera’ (the city of eternal spring), it is lower in altitude than Bogotá, at a height of 4,905 feet (1,495 meters).
Medellín has an average yearly temperature of 22 degree Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit); the highest temperature it reaches is 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), and the lowest – 17 degrees Celsius (62 degrees Fahrenheit). Due to its low altitude, and Colombia’s proximity to the Equator, the country has no real seasons (just wet and dry periods), so Medellín boasts a year round spring-like climate.
Bogotá is located high in the Andes mountain range giving it a slightly colder climate than Medellín, with an average year round temperature of 15 degree Celsius (58 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature can sometimes hit 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), and it gets as cold as five degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit).
Bogotá was founded in 1538; its vast size and historic culture provide a large number of things to do around the city. There is a great number of museums and landmarks such as the mountain Monserrate, the old neighbourhood La Candelaria and The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, located underground. Bogotá has been heavily influenced by its past: a number of the city’s neighbourhoods are Spanish influenced, and it also has buildings built using British and French architectural styles.
International influences also stretch to restaurants; there are many cosmopolitan brands based in Bogotá and also restaurants offering a range of cuisine styles, for example Chinese and Peruvian. The city has a large number of shops, restaurants, outdoor activities, parks, concerts, festivals and other events. Musicians tend to choose to play at the Colombian capital instead of others outside the city. The city is also rapidly becoming well-known in the art world with new galleries opening and artists and collectors choosing to visit the various art fairs and events.
Medellín contrasts with Bogota as it is newer – founded in 1616 – more contemporary and metropolitan. The city has completely rejuvenated itself through urban restructure and revitalisation, and as such has completely changed over the last 25 years, moving away from its troubled past to win awards and gain recognition. In 2013 the Wall Street Journal named it ‘Innovative City of the Year’ and it was also the recipient of the ‘Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design’ (awarded by Harvard University).
While the city cannot compete with Bogotá’s historic landmarks, it does offer its own small number of museums, public gardens, festivals and music events. Medellín doesn’t possess the international influence of Bogotá, but it does offer a small variety of cuisine options, a good nightlife scene and an authentic Colombian experience.
Bogotá’s vast area is covered by 74 miles (120 kilometres) of bus routes which connect the city through six lines from north to south, east to west and at a number of spots in-between. Due to the city’s huge population, much of the time the buses and roads are heavily crowded with people and cars. Despite this Bogotá still manages to function, and an additional transportation system is planned for the coming years. The city is home to Colombia’s largest airport, El Dorado, which is located within the city’s limits, and has direct flights to over 25 Latin American cities, seven European cities, 10 US cities and Canada (as well as over 30 Colombian cities).
Medellín, thanks to its heavy regeneration, has undergone exceptional transportation upgrades over the last 25 years: the city now has an above-ground Metro system with three interconnected cable car lines, tram routes and bus routes. The city is very well connected even up into the mountains. Although it is significantly smaller than Bogotá, and has less traffic and fewer people using the systems daily, Medellín’s transportation systems are rivalled the world over; other countries around the world use the city as a model to improve their own systems. Medellín’s airport, however, isn’t as well connected as Bogotá’s: located 40 minutes outside the city, it has direct flights to five Latin American cities, one European city, three US cities and nine Colombian cities.
Both cities have positive and negative aspects, but ultimately they offer unique city experiences, and should not be missed if visiting South America.