Sep 10

In Defence of Bogota, “the worst city in Latin America”

Bogotá by night

Dear Economist Intelligence Unit,

I recently read with keen interest your liveability survey but was shocked and upset to find Bogota ranked as the worst Latin American capital city to live in.

As a proud adopted rolo, I am well aware that I am perhaps sometimes a little bit biased and

Bogotá, by Jonathan Tangri
Bogotá, my beautiful urban jungle, by Jonathan Tangri

have previously even made the wild claim that Bogota is the best city in the world. But to call it the WORST in Latin America? I myself have been to almost every capital city in the region and there are some that I would think very carefully about visiting again, not to mention living there (I won’t dare name them for fear of incurring a similar wrath from proud locals but equally as I am keen to steer clear of wild, poorly quantified generalisations that are based solely on personal experience).

My first reaction was one of dismay and scepticism at how such a conclusion was reached. Yes, you claim that the rating comes from in-house analysts and in-city contributors, but that presented me with my first grievance with your survey. You have used a number of indicators and criteria but it is unlikely that all the contributors will be working from the same benchmark. Someone in Karachi is unlikely to have the same standards when it comes to healthcare or education than a resident of Helsinki and unless that particular person has lived in both cities it is impossible for them to independently come up with an accurate score.

I know, this gripe could probably be levelled at most surveys carried out on a global level so I was keen to delve further into the specifics upon which the results were based. Five categories were used and within each one there were a number of subcategories. Looking at them I could not find a single one

A wall in the center of Bogotá
Bogota’s urban art scene is absolutely booming

which would put Bogota at the bottom of the South America pile and so it therefore follows that Bogota is considered as being near the bottom in every category, a claim I find impossible to accept. The following are the categories used and my take on how erroneous the findings are for each one:



Within this category are petty and violent crime, threats of terror and military conflict and incidences of civil unrest. Now, Bogota’s chequered past is documented all too well and I am sure we are all bored of hearing about it, but what is also very clear is that it is just that, a past. Nobody would deny the fact

Riot police in Bogota, safety in Colombia
Even the riot police in Colombia are happy chappies

that Bogota suffers from criminal activity but how many residents genuinely fear military conflict or terrorism in the city on a daily basis? In fact, on a recent list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, Bogota was nowhere to be seen, while Caracas came in at third and other capitals such as Guatemala City, San Salvador and Brasilia also made the list.



This concerns the availability and quality of both public and private healthcare and general healthcare indicators. While Colombia may not be on the same page as countries such as Costa Rica, which offers universal healthcare to all its citizens and permanent residents, it is by no means the worst. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organisation, Colombia’s health system surpasses those of USA, Switzerland, Canada and Germany and the relatively low price of healthcare attracts patients from supposedly more developed nations.


Culture and Environment

Last week in London, Bogota was awarded the prize for ‘climate leadership’, beating cities such as Singapore, Buenos Aires and Paris. This was in recognition of its efforts with regards to developing new technologies and protecting the environment in the field of urban transport. It seems our much maligned TransMilenio is leading the way in environmentally friendly city transportation.

Transmilenio Bogota
Who doesn’t love the TransMi?

Yet it appears that the ‘Culture and Environment’ category does not include anything that actually relates to the environment, pollution or air quality, which to me appears to be an incredibly important omission. Sure, Bogota is polluted, but it is taking massive strides to improve this and I am sure that it would rank higher than places such as Mexico City or, as evidenced already, Buenos Aires (the name itself is slightly misleading).

What this category does include is cultural availability (something which I feel Bogota excels at,

Bogota has Gay Pride. How restricted is that?

with its numerous free concerts, cultural events and theatre and arts festivals), social or religious restrictions (again, while not as diverse as some European nations perhaps, there is a phenomenal level of religious freedom), levels of censorship and corruption, and climate (OK, I can’t really defend Bogota on that one).



While this category only makes up 10% of the weighted score, it is important to point out that Colombia’s education system, although flawed, is one of the best in the region. In a 2012 list of the top 50 Latin

La Universidad Nacional, Bogota
Bogota’s Universidad Nacional ranked 12th on the list of top Latin American universities

American universities, there were six listed from Colombia, a number trumped only by Brazil, Mexico and Chile. And when it comes to public education, the reach and quality of Colombia’s system is significantly more impressive than most of Central America (with the exception perhaps of Costa Rica) and many countries in South America.



As well as the quality of

The busy streets of Bogotá, a city many expats call home
Yeah, OK, maybe some aspects of the infrastructure could be improved

roads, public transport and international links, this category includes availability of quality housing and provision of water and energy. Sure, Bogota does not have a metro system but, with the exception of Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Santiago, Caracas and Mexico City, neither do the other Latin American capitals. Bogota’s river has long been a source of shame for the city but recently some excellent strides have been made to provide clean, safe water for the city’s poorest residents.



As you can see, Bogota is a city that has plenty going for it in almost every category. Once again, my claim is not that it is the best city in the world, or even in Latin America, but that it is certainly not the worst. It is not for me to say which cities are worse to live in, all I can say is that Bogota has welcomed me with open arms, treated me like a local from day one and has rarely given me a reason to complain – I love Bogota and I want to live here for as long as it will have me. If that isn’t an indicator of liveability, I don’t know what is.



A disgruntled adopted Bogotano

11 thoughts on “In Defence of Bogota, “the worst city in Latin America”

    Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) on

    Thank you for sticking up for your adoptive city! I was last in Colombia in May of 1974 (other than a Cartagena cruise stop) after spending a semester studying at the University of the Andes in Bogota and living with a Colombian family. That was right before the dark era narco-terrorismo exploded. One of my Colombian brother-in-laws was a helicopter pilot Captain in the Colombian Air Force and was shot down and killed in the jungle shortly after I left. In the last few years, I know people who have once again visited Colombia, including our son who found it beautiful and vibrant (Medellin, of all places). I recently reconnected with my host family after finding some of them on Facebook. I am anxious to return to Bogota after all these years.


      Azzam on

      Hi Suzanne, thanks a lot for your comment, it’s really interesting to hear from someone who lived here just before the violence really kicked off. You should definitely return to Bogota though, I’m sure you will be blown away by how much it has changed. If you do decide to, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!


    Jen on

    No. Fortaleza, Brazil is the worst city. They obviously didn’t do their research. 13th most dangerous city in the world. Hardly any security, lack of culture and arts. Nothing.


      Azzam on

      Thanks for that Jen! I’m not sure I could say which is the worst, but I know it’s definitely not Bogota!


    William on

    Great! Remember that the new that was on social media a few weeks ago, was an article in the newspaper “EL ESPECTADOR” but from June 9 2009. This is the new report 4 days ago. See you and thank you for write about my lovely Bogotá 😀


      Azzam on

      Thanks for that William. That is true, the report is an old one, but it was re-posted recently so I thought it still needed some kind of response! But it is nice to see Bogota getting recognition for its massive improvements…


    Diana on

    Very nice!!! Take that, Economist Intelligence Unit!


      Azzam on

      Thanks Diana! I hope they learnt their lesson…!


    Richard on

    Where’s your poem!


      Azzam on

      Good point! That’s best left to the experts, Gilesy and Paul!


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