Travel In Bogota, Colombia

Medellin Versus Bogota

We slept beneath a heavy blanket last night and donned jackets to walk across the courtyard to breakfast this morning.

Bogota sits at 8,600 feet altitude. The climate in Medellin is pleasant, almost never too hot or too cold. Here in Bogota, there’s a chill in the air evenings and mornings. You’d want central heat in your home, I’d imagine.

Pleasant change for us coming from Panama City.

Everyone we spoke with in Medellin about this visit to Bogota cautioned us. “The people in Bogota are not like the people in Medellin,” they warned us. “They’re not polite. They’re not respectful. They’re not helpful.”

Too soon for us to make a determination on this one way or another–though the scene at the taxi queue outside the airport when we arrived last night was chaos, a pack of folks with suitcases pushing each other out of the way to get to the nearest cab. So maybe our friends in Medellin have a point.

As much as anything, two things have struck us during our time in Medellin–first, the character of the people and, second, the standard of the service. It’s surprisingly, sometimes shockingly high.

The standard of service in Panama City is non-existent. Hotel and restaurant owners complain about the challenge of finding trained and serious staff who understand what it means to take good care of a customer. We customers complain, too, because no one (it seems) ever cares a wit about taking care of us.

Good service is hard to find in much of the world. In Medellin, waiting tables is a profession, as it is in France, for example. Medellin taxi drivers are not only polite, but courteous and eager to help. Shop keepers, bank tellers, the girl behind the counter in the pharmacy, even street vendors…they’re all formally polite. We stopped the other day to buy a package of peanuts from a man on a street corner in downtown Medellin. He was more polite and courteous than shop keepers I’ve encountered the world over.

People in Medellin are mannered in a way that might seem old-fashioned. But it’s sincere. The French have a term for this. They call folks who know how to use their “hello’s,” “good-bye’s,” “thank you’s,” and “please’s” bien élevé. The gentle people of Medellin are bien élevé.

Medellin has a population of about 3.8 million. I think that’s about the right size for a city–not too big but not too small.

Bogota, on the other hand, home to more than 8 million people, feels crowded and congested. Not as congested as Panama City, but traffic here is a problem, a popular topic of conversation. Bogota has a plan for alleviating the traffic jams, but it’s run into a snafu. The mayor, the contractors, etc., siphoned off the better part of the funds set aside for the work. Road crews were out at 8 p.m. last night when we drove through the city from the airport. Still, the work is a year-and-a-half behind schedule, and the money to finish it, we’re told, was last seen on its way to the mayor’s Swiss bank account. At least that’s the story going around.

More from Bogota mañana

Kathleen Peddicord