This is a follow-up to Colombia vs. Peru for Expats (2012), in which I promised I’d also publish a Lima vs. Bogota version. Just five years later I’m making good.
That post cited how each country is similar in many ways – difficult geographies, decades-long insurgencies, cocaine producers, more capitalistic United States allies, strong economies, etc. But the similarities between Lima and Bogota basically start and stop in being big, chaotic cities.
Here is Lima vs. Bogota subjectively rated by me on the following lifestyle criteria.
Weather / climate – Lima
Warning: highly subjective. But after living in Bogota for as long as I did, I can honestly say it wouldn’t bother me at all if I never saw rain again. And in Lima, it never rains.
Bogota is rain hell. It rains so much that most people own umbrellas (plural). Everybody has at least one, but most have more because they got caught in the rain once or twice without their umbrella and had to buy another one or three. I had never owned an umbrella before Bogota. Being soaked and cold is a part of life in Bogota.
On the other hand, there is even a charm in that, inconvenient as it is. The frequent monsoons stop life and you seek refuge in the nearest café for a tinto, café con leche or aromatica. Sitting in a café with friends, waiting for the rain to stop, is another part of life in Bogota.
In Lima, it does not rain. There is occasionally something called “garua” – it’s less than a drizzle but more than a mist. But it would never have you change plans or even get off the bicycle.
If you need sunshine year-round, you must skip Lima. There is no sun for the whole of winter, and most days of spring and fall are completely overcast. It’s a foggy desert, and sometimes visibility is so low you can’t see two blocks down the street. Hence, one of Lima’s nicknames, “La Gris.” If sun matters, Bogota is for you.
Another unnerving quirk about Lima’s climate is the humidity. Before you say that you lived in such-and-such a city, stop. In Lima, the clothes don’t dry if you hang them up inside. They must be hung in the sun, and they still won’t get completely dry. The humidity comes with health problems, especially if you have bronchial issues. Heat rash, athlete’s foot in places that aren’t your feet, etc. The humidity also makes for a fairly sweltering summer. If you want a climate which never requires shorts, sandals and cold showers, Bogota is better.
But then again, Lima has beaches.
Cost of living – Bogota
Bogota would not have won this measure five years ago, but the price of oil has tanked along with the Colombian peso. Lima, on the other hand, is rich as fuck. My three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in freaking Lince is $700 per month. For sale it’d be $250,000 minimum. Living in Colombia, according to the expats I know, is a lot nicer since the dollar started fetching 3000 pesos. It was 1800 when I lived there!
When working locally, your salary usually reflects the local cost of living. So this point is more important for online earners – people being paid in dollars or euros – and retirees on a fixed pension. If you’re earning the same regardless of where you live, your money will go farther for food, rent, entertainment and everything else in Bogota.
Economy / business – Lima
I gave this one to Colombia five years ago, before the crash in oil prices. It’s basically a toss-up, but I awarded it to Colombia because of the larger size of the national market. But with oil where it is, this one goes to Lima.
I’ll temper that with a “barely.” Colombia’s economy is dependent on oil, but Peru’s is dependent on copper. Peru could easily suffer a similar correction if something were to happen in China, which many economists see as likely. However, given shale technology and trends toward green energy, oil will never come back. Copper will bounce back, if it crashes at all.
And then there are uncertainties about Colombia’s guerrillas and paramilitaries, a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and more. Peru seems the more stable place to open a business, but just by a hair.
Ease of staying / visa requirements – Tie
Colombia is a difficult place to stay. The tourist visa is only good for 60 days. Peru’s policy has been updated to match that. However the change has seen delays, and I don’t think it’s terribly difficult in either country.
Attractiveness of the city – Lima
On the national scale, Colombia won “attractiveness of the land.” Maybe it wasn’t fair because I was only considering the most urban areas along the barren coast, and not the Andean peaks or the Amazon rainforest. Comparing the cities, Bogota would beat Lima if judging the natural terrain of the region given Lima is a desert wasteland, but the urban scenery is nicer in Lima than Bogota.
There are many beautiful parts of north Bogota, and the downtown and midtown areas have their own gritty charm. But when competing with Miraflores and the Costa Verde, bohemian Barranco, the historic city center’s fabulous churches and urban squares and La Punta del Callao, Lima wins hands down.
Lima has plenty of ugly neighborhoods, but Bogota doesn’t have as much beautiful as Lima.
Food – Lima
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Peruvian food is better than Colombian. That’s why you have entire districts of Peruvian restaurants in Bogota – especially in the upscale parts of town – and the only reason you can get an arepa in Lima is because of the influx of Venezuelans (is it time to call them refugees?). Peruvian cuisine is the best in South America. Colombian food, on the other hand, is among the worst. Lima wins by a landslide.
An expat in Bogota visited Lima last year, and I took him to the Rustica chain of buffets. But the Lince location changed its policy, this particular location wasn’t doing the buffets anymore, it was a hybrid set-lunch and buffet. I was absolutely livid. I couldn’t stop apologizing for the awful choice. He laughed as he gorged himself on ceviche mixto, saying it was the best lunch he’d had all year.
There are good things to eat in Bogota, but those are generally special occasions and living there will involve frequently eating uninteresting and boring meals on any foreigner’s standards, including the British who at least have Indian food and other diverse cuisines.
Party scene – Bogota
As inarguable as Peruvian food is better than Colombian, Bogota’s rumba destroys Lima. In fact, it may be too much for you if you have trouble keeping control. That’s why I finally left – I couldn’t handle it. Lima’s party scene may be more than enough for you. But if you want the most sinful capital city in Latin America, make your way to Bogota.
Cosmopolitanism – Tie
I gave this to Colombia last time when judging on the national scale, but I’d put Lima and Bogota even for a bright-lights, big-city lifestyle with museums, concerts, theater, intellectual scene, cultural diversity, and all the other things you look for in an international city.
Modernity – Bogota
Granted, Lima has a Metro light-rail line and Bogota does not. But I’ve never seen a mototaxi in Bogota, and the Bogota taxis have meters. You can drink the water in Bogota, and I’d also judge the pedestrian-friendliness and urban transit scene a part of “modernity.”
Lima scores an F in this category. Half the taxis aren’t registered for Callao, which means that half of Lima’s taxis can’t take you to the freaking Lima airport. The buses kill cyclists and pedestrians every year. And of course you can’t drink the water.
Attractiveness of the people – Bogota
Many expats would say all these criteria don’t matter one bit. They only care about the beauty of the women. It’s not just “sexpats,” however, as I’m going to be writing an article about women passing over on Peru in favor of places like Argentina or Colombia because … you know why. This is obviously subjective, but judging by international standard of beauty, most people prefer white / European features – whether they admit it or not. And Bogota has more of that than Lima.
The last time I was in Bogota, I remember being served in a café by a woman who would certainly not be hustling coffee and arepas in Lima. She would have been snatched up by an upper-middle- or even upper-class Peruvian, never to work another day in her life. But in Colombia you see that at all socioeconomic levels. The Bogota expat who visited couldn’t get over what he perceived as women who were not attractive at all. And we were in Miraflores when he said it!
Crime / safety – Lima
This is another landslide. I live in Lince, which is the equivalent of Bogota’s Chapinero district, the area between downtown and the upper-class. I described the scene to my Bogota expat buddy this way: If I want to go to the store at 10:50 p.m. to buy something just before it closes, I don’t think twice. I don’t even think about not going. I go in my flip-flops while playing with my phone.
In Chapinero, on the other hand, you at least think about it. You consider whether you really need to go out. It’s always a big production. You’ll have an internal debate about whether you really need what you think you need. Wouldn’t it be better to stay inside? Because you are going to have to put on your mean face and walk tall. Bogota is a grittier city with more drug addicts, prostitution and street crime.
Education – Bogota
According to US News & World Report’s ranking of universities in Latin America, Bogota has two universities which make the top 40, while Lima has none. Even Medellin’s best university made the list. And according to the latest PISA rankings for high schools, Colombia edges Peru. Bogota is known as the “Athens of Latin America,” and I never felt the anti-intellectualism vibe which you can’t escape in Lima.
That doesn’t mean Colombia’s education system, or anywhere in Latin America, is good. It’s just not as bad as Peru’s.
Are there any criteria I missed in evaluating an expat’s destination? Let me know in the comments!
I know this is a sensitive one, but any thoughts of what people (and society) in general are like in each city?
For example, anecdotally from my perspective in a stereo-typical sense, and just concerning one dimension, I’d say that Lima society is more classist / racist (understanding that is a product of Peru’s history), than Bogota (even though both Peru and Colombia, and all countries have their issues with classism).
Andy, I would have to say you’re right that stratification in Peru seems more rigid. But things are changing. This is one of the most powerful families in Peru today, definitely not old Spanish elite: https://poder.pe/2015/04/30/00123-los-ananos-la-familia-de-la-cual-nacio-industrias-san-miguel/
You would know their products in Colombia as Big Cola and Cielo bottled water.
I lived in Bogota for two or three weeks and it’s been over 5 years, but my first reaction is that I don’t remember that much rain. I’d say that it would rain maybe 1 out of 3 days. I’m from one of the driest areas of the US and I enjoy the rain so that doesn’t bother me.
I would give the nod to a town with beaches, and I didn’t like Bogota that much. But the women win over Peru hands down. You don’t see Miss Peru making the finals of Miss Universe almost every year. And as you astutely pointed out that’s why sexpats would choose Bogota. Since I’m married now we would probably choose Lima over Bogota, but I would want to check out Panama, Ecuador, and maybe a few other spots in Latin America before Peru.
Steve, you’re right in that the rain is not bad every day. Most days it’s OK, just a 10-minute drizzle and the tropical Andean sun dries it up within an hour. But just like the food isn’t bad every day.
When it wears on you are the weeks of nonstop rain. Because it can rain for a week nonstop. Or when it pours for an hour every day at 5 p.m. for a month. That just gets old.
So I’ve only been to Peru (Lima 3x), and found it easy to navigate socially and physically; which city in Colombia would you guys recommend for an (ethnic) American newbie for a week or two?
As per weather, I would also analyze a city’s future with climate change. As much as I love Mexico City, the long-term outlook of that capitol is dire in terms of water supply. The warming of the Pacific has created more extreme conditions for Colombia, which in Bogota means heavier and more rainy seasons. At least it should keep the water reservoirs full in the paramo. I’m not sure how Lima is affected by that.
While I can’t speak to the Peruvian economy, everything suddenly seems about 7-10% more expensive in Colombia after the implementation of tax reforms at the beginning of this year. Small businesses seem to be particularly affected.
The section above on tourist permits (usually incorrectly referenced by Expats as a tourist visa) needs to be updated.
Both countries typically allow North Americans and folks from roughly 100 countries to stay in-country on a free tourist permit for 180 days now, although in Colombia, a teeny tiny bit of simple paperwork and such is necessary to extend the permit from 90 to 180.
Actual visas now have a standard ‘vigencia’ of three years since the 2017 changes. The new Visitor or V visa is for 180 days out of 365 in each of two years, according to multiple Expat websites’ analysis of the rules and an anecdotal report from a V visa holder.