Covid sparked a huge wave of remote workers and digital nomads all looking for a better quality of work-life balance, and there were 2 cities in particular that seemed to be on everyone’s lips; CDMX and Medellín.
We were among those debating which city we would like to call home - we were looking for a place in Latin America as a whole that we would like to purchase a property and set up a part-time but long-term base in, and after exploring each of the countries from Mexico to Colombia we narrowed it down to these two.
We spent an initial 10 days in each of the cities, living as we would if we were to make it a home, so that we could have a fair comparison and make the right choice for us.
The question is still such a common question among remote workers that we thought it would be helpful to put together a quick guide based on our own experiences to answer all the questions we had about these two places for anyone still looking to make a move!
Please remember - this article is based on our own personal experiences, perhaps you had a completely different experience in one or both of these places, but this was ours!
SUMMARY: MEXICO CITY WINS!
It actually didn't end up being a difficult question for us to answer once we spent a little time in each of the cities - there was one clear winner!
Mexico City is the perfect place for us to call home part of the year and it's perfectly set up to cater towards remote workers and digital nomads - let us tell you why we made this decision!
AIRPORTS & OVERALL CONNECTIVITY
Mexico City airport is huge, and has direct flights all over the world.
If you’re American, you can almost definitely catch a quick & direct flight here with numerous airlines.
If you’re European or English, you also have countless direct flight options from airports such as Heathrow, Madrid, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and more.
The airport is conveniently located within the city, on a clear run you can make it to the popular neighbourhood of Roma in just 20 minutes at a cost of maybe $10! In heavy traffic the time can be increased to an hour unfortunately.
The airport has 2 large terminals. The majority of international flights go from the older & larger T1, while domestic or AeroMexico group flights get the new T2!
Medellín airport on the other hand is a much smaller and less connected airport. For most destinations that you have to connect through Bogotá, where you can then get direct flights fairly worldwide.
Spirit Airlines do connect Florida with Medellín but infrequently.
The airport is located the opposite side of the mountains to the city, so it’s around a 45 minute Uber between them.
There is actually a tiny regional airport within the city of Medellín but it does not fly international.
The airport is just 1 terminal, and doesn’t have much in it outside of maybe 10 different fast food chains, so it’s certainly not somewhere you want to have a few hours to kill!
COST OF LIVING
Mexico City is certainly much cheaper to live in full time than its counterparts in America or Europe, but in comparison to other Latin American cities it is definitely on the pricier side.
In the desirable neighbourhoods of Roma Norte or Condesa a 1 bedroom apartment for a full month will cost anything from $1,500 - $2,800. This will get you a modern, refurbished apartment in a good place.
Brunch out for 2 people (without alcohol) is typically $20-40 depending on how boujee the place is.
In comparison, Medellín is definitely much cheaper than CDMX for overall cost of living.
For the same month in a 1 bedroom apartment in the desirable area of El Poblado you should expect to pay between $800 - $1,500 for a new apartment.
Eating out in Medellín cost much less for 2 people than CDMX, with brunch typically totalling around $20 without alcohol.
Our apartment balcony & view in Medellín
The temperature in Mexico City doesn't change too much, with temperatures reaching late 20s in summer months and sitting around the low 20s during winter months.
Mexico City has a rainy season which typically runs from early June to late October, with September usually being the wettest month. These months are also when temperatures are at their highest. On average over the year Mexico City can see around 34 inches of rainfall.
Starting mid November through to late April is the best time to be in Mexico City.
Medellín is known as the 'city of eternal spring' because the weather remains pretty static all year round.
The morning will start out beautifully, but by mid-afternoon you're awaiting the daily rainfall which rolls in over the mountains and can be pretty torrential!
The city typically sees around 65 inches of rainfall a year - twice that of Mexico City!
The temperature usually sits in the mid to late 20s all year round though, so you know what you're getting each day and this doesn't change!
INSIDE THE 'BUBBLES' - NOMAD NEIGHBOURHOODS
The ‘bubble’ most remote workers live in in CDMX is actually huge and comprises at-least 6 main connecting neighbourhoods; Condesa, Roma Norte, Roma Sur, Hipódromo, Juarez and Polanco. These are not the tourist areas, there’s little to actually do & see here and they feel very much like a local neighbourhood.
Another increasingly popular area for digital nomads to call home is Coyoacan. This neighbourhood actually used to be a separate city, but as CDMX grew it has been engulfed. We enjoy visiting this neighbourhood for a change of scenery but in our opinion it just feels a little too small and on its own to live in full time.
Of all the neighbourhoods, Condesa has the highest population of foreigners (mostly Americans) who have chosen to make that their home. Don’t let that lead you to think it’s just ‘gringos’ with no locals though - the majority are still Mexican!
We chose to live in Roma Norte where it seemed 75% of the population was still Mexican and we loved it!
There is such a large choice of places to work and eat and it has such a friendly 'neighbourhood feel'. There are also multiple Sumesa grocery stores around to make cooking at home easy.
You are also within easy walking distance of Condesa, Hipódromo, Juarez, La Reforma and historic downtown.
We had been hearing Medellín hyped up a lot as a place for remote workers and nomads to live before we got there so we were expecting big things - in comparison to our experience in Mexico City however, Medellín fell short.
The popular places to live are El Poblado and Laureles.
These areas are both pretty small - Poblado is really just a few square blocks.
We found Poblado to feel like little America - you will barely hear any Spanish being spoken and there are few 'local' food spots to try.
We also found that there was nowhere near enough cafes and places to work for the number of people who have moved in to this neighbourhood.
Poblado is also home to the nightlife, particularly around Parque Lleras which may sound familiar from the news in recent months will multiple men being robbed by the women pretending to be interested.
Laureles is the other popular choice for nomads; we did really like this neighbourhood but there was pretty much nothing going on and the cafes seemed very few and far between so it didn't seem practical.
Overall, we found Medellín to really feel like we were 'living in a bubble' and for us it just felt too small.
Alex had a long discussion with his Spanish tutor regarding the recently popular topic of "changes in Mexico City caused by foreigners moving in" to see what the locals think.
He very firmly stated that Polanco, Roma & Condesa have always been the affluent areas where upper class Mexicans have chosen to live, and they have therefore always been a little 'bubble' with a higher cost of living.
In his opinion, foreigners have not changed this at all.
CDMX, La Reforma
FEELING OF SAFETY
Inside 'the bubble' neighbourhoods mentioned above it really does feel incredibly safe.
We mentioned the other day that our level of awareness drops significantly when we are in these areas. You can happily walk around carrying your iphone and macbook without worrying, and I wore my engagement ring daily.
On a scale of 1-10, our 'safety awareness' probably sits around a 3.5 both day and night around here.
That's not to say the city doesn't have its dangers however. If you venture into downtown then your awareness should be right up there near a 10. Pickpockets work the tourist areas every day and they are so damn good at it!
Alex had his phone stolen in an extremely well-oiled act downtown from the front pocket of tight jeans - hard to take out usually let alone by someone else!
There are also numerous other parts of the city such as Tepito where you shouldn't go wandering as a lone foreigner.
We didn't have the same feeling of safety walking around even the nomad neighbourhood of Poblado - especially at night!
Despite being surrounded by other gringo's - there's just something that doesn't give you quite the same relaxed vibe of the nomad neighbourhoods in CDMX.
At night Parque Lleras and surrounding areas are suddenly full of working women, waiting for the gringo's to get drunk so they can take advantage!
The downtown area of Medellín is also not somewhere that we wanted to particularly spend any time - the smell of urine is overwhelming, the number of homeless people begging is extremely high and there's a distinct feeling that everyone is watching you.
We also happen to have a friend (a fellow Air Force pilot) who was in the main downtown square mid-afternoon when a man ran up, stabbed him in the back a few times and then stole his phone. So caution level should be VERY high here.
THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
Despite our little pickpotting experience here that I mentioned above, we actually love heading to downtown CDMX!
This really is the centre of all tourist things to see and do with Bellas Artes, the world's third largest main square (zocalo) made famous in James Bond, the remains of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the Madero walking street and much more!
The government has dumped a lot of money into downtown over recent decades to make it a safe place to spend time. The main zocalo is constantly set up to celebrate an event such as Día de los Muertos or Christmas and the police presence is high, so there's not too much to worry about outside of being pickpocketed now.
If you're after rooftop drinks with amazing views then downtown also offers some good options!
We do not have the same love for Medellín downtown as we do for CDMX downtown unfortunately.
The safety concerns we noted above really detract from anything here.
The Botero museum on the main plaza is worth visiting, and we'd also recommend a walking tour so you can safely see the area one day, however once you have done those two things there is really nothing else that would draw you back here.
Bellas Artes, CDMX Downtown
THINGS TO DO & SEE IN THE AREA
Actually within the popular neighbourboods to live in there is very little to do except coffee-hop, work, eat and drink, however around Mexico City as a whole there is plenty to keep you busy!
Spending days in various neighbourhoods, checking out the ruins of Teotihuacan in the north, spending a weekend drinking on a boat down in Xochimilco - the list goes on!
Just outside the city (less than an hour drive) there are also multiple places to visit such as the city of Toluca, or a little further you'll find Puebla where you can spend a long weekend.
If you want to go further then the airport connects you to anywhere in Mexico, the south of the States or Central America within 2 hours so there's plenty to do!
A fun afternoon in Medellín can be spent taking a tour of the famous Comuna 13 and learning about the impact of the Pablo Escobar days there.
You also can't leave the city without taking a trip out to Guatape - the famous rock to climb and a boat tour of the surrounding lakes!
We actually struggled with much else to do in and directly around Medellín itself - of course Colombia as a country is absolutely incredible and one of our favourites with endless things to do, but they're all atleast a weekend trip from the city as you either need to fly or take a 10+ hour bus journey through the mountains to get anywhere!