Mexico City vs. Bogota: The battle of the high-altitude Latin American metropoles

Bogota and Mexico City are two of the biggest, most important cites in Latin America.  Bogota has 10 million inhabitants (depending on which source you consult), and Mexico City 20 million (depending on which source you consult).  When you factor in food, people and quality of life, the two cities are fairly evenly matched (of course, one city might be better in one category and worse in another).  But as we will see, there is an X-factor that tips the scales.

In terms of cuisine, Mexico City wins.  Not to say that the food in Bogota is bad; the lunches are delicious, but the dinners are lacking.  For whatever reason, the cheap delicious meals available at midday disappear once the sun sets.

In Mexico City, the food is delicious 24 hours a day.  This is due to to the Mexican mastery of one particular crop: corn.  Mexicans are wizards with corn, from tortilla soup to tacos to chilaquiles to tamales.  And that’s not even touching on foods like mole, the mysterious (usually) chocolate-y dish of Oaxaca.

In contrast, Bogotanos have the arepa, a thick tortilla that, on the inside, tastes like cardboard.  Arepa con huevo is delicious, but that’s about it.

When it comes to ethnic food, both cities are garbage.

la candelaria

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico DF.

The people are wonderful in both of these great metropoles.  They’re hardworking, they’re professional, they dress well.  If you ask for guidance in the street you’ll get it.  It’s easy to make friends.  It’s easy to find shows and events and parties and things to do.

Bogota girls are prettier.

The overall quality of life is similar in both cities.  Both cities treat pedestrians like dog shit.  Both cities have tons of traffic.  Both cities have smog.  Both cities have luxurious neighborhoods, and both have sketchy neighborhoods.  In both cities, unsweetened yogurt is hard to find.

Transportation is better in Mexico City, simply because of the metro.  Bogota has the MetroBus, which is fine if you don’t mind getting cozy with 60,000 sweaty people in a space the size of a broom closet.

Lastly, there’s the question of beauty.  Which city is more beautiful?  When it comes to architecture, Mexico City takes the cake with its zocalo and Palacio de Bellas Artes and cobblestoned streets of Coyoacan and San Angel.  But when it comes to green spaces and an overall mood, the nod goes to Bogota.  Bogota has better air.  On its eastern edge, Bogota is corralled by a mountain ridge that provides a fetching forested backdrop .  In one part of Bogota you can be more or less in the heart of the city, but on a leafy trail at the base of the hills, listening to the murmur of a stream.  Granted, wander too far from the stream and you’re likely to get robbed at knife point, but the murmur is still there.

If it only came to the categories previously listed — food, people, quality of life, and beauty — the match between Bogota and Mexico City would be a tie.  But there is an X-factor, and that X-factor is the proximity to the US.  In Mexico City, the US feels like it’s lurking in the backyard (because it is); in Bogota the US feels far away. Bogota is on a completely different continent — being there feels like you’ve actually gotten away from the long arm of Uncle Sam (to an extent). Like you’re exploring distant lands and have all of South America at your feet.  In contrast, Mexico City is basically a dingier, more fun version of LA, but without the ocean.

In the end, because of this X-factor, the nod goes to Colombian capital.  Mexico City comes in a close second, but Bogota is the best city in Latin America.



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