As I approach the one-year mark of living in Mexico City, I'm trying to decide where to relocate. While reminiscing about the cities in Latin America that I've spent time in and loved, I came up with the idea for a post about the best cities for a young man to live in Latin America.
Perhaps the biggest surprise I've encountered since starting this blog is how many young folk are interested in becoming location independent and moving abroad. I fully endorse this - if you are a man on the journey of discovering his place in life, immersing yourself in a different language and culture can help you identify your values and gain perspective - much more than a blitzkrieg-style backpacking trip (although those have their place as well).
Upon deciding that I was going to stay longterm in Latin America, my most significant struggle was deciding what city to call home. As I mentioned in my last post, I was mulling between Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City before finally deciding on the latter.
Although I had traveled extensively in the region, choosing a city was still very difficult for me. There are many incredible cities in Latin America that a young man can thrive in and fall in love with.
Here is a short list of the best cities for a young man to live in Latin America:
Rio de Janeiro is bound to be near the top of any list of the best cities to live in Latin America. It truly is The Magnificent City.
Pros: Rio de Janeiro has everything you could want: great weather, vibrant nightlife, friendly people and beautiful beaches. It's a reasonably large city, but manageable, unlike Sao Paulo, which will leave almost any first time visitor overwhelmed. There is something enchanting about this city that is difficult to explain. The energy and warmness of the people set against a sensational backdrop of sea and sand exudes positive energy. That, and the women are largely unbeatable when it comes to a combination of looks and personality.
Cons: Price, and to a lesser degree, safety. The cost of living in Rio de Janeiro is the main reason why I decided to opt for Mexico. Although the Brazilian Real has taken a nosedive in recent months, this is still not a budget destination by Latin American standards. I wouldn't attempt living here unless you are making $1500 USD a month (I was making half that when I moved to Mexico). In terms of safety, although it's not as bad as the media would have you believe, it is my impression that you have a better chance of being a victim of petty crime here than in any other city on my list.
2) Mexico City
By far, the most underrated city on the list. People (particularly from the United States) tend to ignore Mexico City as a travel destination. I have two theories for why this is. One, exaggerated media reports about insecurity in the capital. Two, American people live alongside Mexicans in the U.S. and therefore are probably less interested in exploring their culture abroad.
Pros: Nowhere in Latin America will you find this standard of living in a big city for such a low cost. Are their cheaper major cities in Latin America? Yes. But where else can you get anywhere you want on an extensive metro system for 30 cents? Taxis are also far cheaper than in any city I've ever been in Latin America. If you're willing to go into some lower class barrios to do your grocery shopping, you can get a kilo of potatoes for a dollar, or a kilo of carrots for cents (at La Merced). Crime in the city is largely compartmentalized to certain barrios, meaning that there are many areas of the city that are completely safe to walk around at all hours. That, accompanied with a strong nightlife and good-looking women make this a very good choice for a young man to wet his beak in Latin America. Also, a great base for exploring this beautiful country.
Cons: The city is a bit hard to digest for first time visitors. It's massive, traffic is atrocious and pollution is an issue. Inexperienced travellers will likely prefer a smaller, cleaner and more orderly city. Also, although the city has character, I find it lacks charm. Maybe I've been here too long, but I'm finding more and more that this is not a city that I could ever fall irrevocably in love with.
3) Buenos Aires
Although not my first choice, Buenos Aires is probably the best jumping off point for someone who is unfamiliar with Latin America. This city is a fusion of Latin and European culture, and is likely to have comparable levels of comfort and security with the city you're coming from.
Pros: A relatively safe city with splendid architecture and unbelievably gorgeous women. If you like good steak and wine you'll be in heaven. Also, a good cafe culture exists here which means you can spend hours in quaint cafes reading or working (something I value). The nightlife is very high quality but be warned: you'll have to get used to going out extremely late at night until extremely early in the morning. Also, the girls here are difficult to crack without a social circle.
Cons: It is more difficult to make friends and bond with people in Buenos Aires. This doesn't mean that they aren't friendly, just that meeting people is more oriented around social circles. I also found it to be a bit expensive (although their currency is substantially weaker than it was when I went, so you may be able to disregard this point). Finally, if one of your goals in coming to Latin America is to sleep with as many women as you can, this is NOT the place to go. It's certainly not impossible to go to bed with a girl or two, but it's no Peru.
Although most would unanimously agree that Medellin's glory days are behind it, I still consider it to be one of the best cities for a young man to live in Latin America.
Pros: The girls. There is no denying that there is an inordinate number of pretty and downright stunning women living in Medellin. I don't think I need to discuss why this is a plus. It is also a very manageable city. With only slightly over 2 million people, you'll never feel overwhelmed here, and within a few months you should know the city fairly well - it feels even smaller than it is. It is also safe here, or at least it is easy to be safe here: there are dangerous areas, but they are easily identifiable. Rent is affordable, water is drinkable, and the Internet connection does the job. A logical choice for first time travellers.
Cons: It is soulless. That probably sounds harsher than I mean it to, but it's true. Medellin has no charm, character or personality. Medellin is what would happen if your dullest, most unimaginative friend decided to construct a city. Banal buildings and insipid public spaces abound. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a deal breaker. Not even for me. If I simply wanted to have a nice, relaxing lifestyle with accessibility to amenities, Medellin would be near the top of my list. Just don't come here expecting to be wooed by the atmosphere or beat of the city.
5) Panama City
Another underrated city in Latin America. Most people opt for Costa Rica instead, or simply use it as a transfer point to South America while continuing on the "Gringo Trail." Fools. This city has a lot to offer.
Pros: Even with a substantial American influence, Panama has managed to maintain an identity and strong sense of pride. Many taxi drivers are rocking the flag on their dashboards and many balcony's have it in their window or waving in the breeze. What the American influence has brought is good: widespread Internet and strong levels of English. Lots of pretty girls here too, and the nightlife is loads of fun (apart from all the Reggaeton music...hate it, don't understand it).
Cons: Scammers. I'm convinced that Panama is a nation of born swindlers. Never have so many people tried to fuck me over on cab prices, restaurant prices, national park fees etc. I have still yet to experience this to such an extent in Latin America (although Dominican Republic was pretty bad). They were really cool about it if you called them out (Panamanians are a cool people), but it got a tad irritating. Still not sure if this was simply bad luck. Also, it is quite a small country. Not a whole lot to explore outside of Panama City.
And there you have it.
Other cities that almost made the cut for the best cities to live in Latin America include Sao Paolo (too expensive/intimidating for first timers), Bogota (shit weather and surprisingly underdeveloped compared to Mexico City) and Santo Domingo (a bit rundown and the DR is too isolated).
But don't take my word for it - book a plane ticket or two and check it out!
All the best.