It's time to go head-to-head once again!
This time, we'll compare Panama City and Mexico City and determine which is better for visiting or living. In many ways, these two capital cities are similar - they are both modern, they both have a large number of expats and they are both easily accessible from the USA, with a large number of cheap, daily flights from major American cities.
I'll say right off the bat that both are solid choices for someone looking for an introduction to Latin America.
But there are some differences that you'll want to consider before choosing either one of these destinations.
We'll break things down by Cost of Living, Weather, Food, Nightlife, Women and Infrastructure. By the end of the article, you'll know which city is better suited to you.
Let's get started.
Panama City vs Mexico City: Which City is Better?
COST OF LIVING
For many of you, this is a deciding factor in choosing a city to either live in or visit. I know it is for me. As you might expect, as one of the more developed countries in Latin America, Panama City is more expensive than Mexico City.
But you may be surprised to find out just how much more it is.
According to Expatistan, Panama City is 50% more expensive than Panama City. Having spent a good amount of time in both, I can confirm that this figure is accurate. In other words, if you can get by on $1000.00 a month in Mexico City (it's possible), expect to spend $1500.00 a month in Panama. This is quite a substantial difference, and one of the main reasons I chose to live in Mexico City instead. In a recent article, I mentioned that I'd personally spend over $2000.00 a month if I were to live in Panama.
The biggest price differences you'll likely notice are in transportation, entertainment and housing. You'll pay a fuck ton more for taxis and Ubers, restaurants and cafes, drinks at a bar and apartment and Airbnb rentals in Panama than you will in Mexico City. In fact, other than electronics, I can't think of a single thing that is cheaper in Panama City than Mexico City.
Although Panama is safer and slightly more developed and modern than CDMX, it isn't enough to justify this massive cost of living differential.
Big win for Mexico City here.
Winner: Mexico City
Not everyone knows this, but it rains quite a lot in Panama City (it never lasts for very long, though). Not only that, but it can get pretty hot and humid. Mexico City on the other hand has a shorter rainy season, and it never gets too hot or humid; spring-like temperatures basically all year round.
Personally, I'm not bothered too much by the humidity in Panama, and the rainfall in both cities only typically lasts for an hour or two at a time - very rarely will it rain all day. But, objectively speaking, Mexico City has a climate that will be preferable to most people.
Winner: Mexico City
Mexican cuisine is known all throughout the region, as well as the world. Panamanian cuisine? Not so much. It leaves a lot to be desired in terms of spice and flavour. There is also a sickening abundance of fried food, yucca and plantains being the most popular. Although there are some top-notch restaurants in Panama and more American-style food than there is in Mexico, it's really no contest. This one goes to Mexico City.
Winner: Mexico City
Mexico City has a horrible reputation for safety. When most people think of Mexico, images of kidnappings, gang violence and armed robberies jump to mind. It's not as dangerous as most people think, but there are many neighbourhoods where I wouldn't want to be strolling alone at night.
Panama City isn't without its problems either. There are several barrios with pretty fierce reputations: Panama Viejo, Chorillo and San Miguelito, for instance. But in general, Panama City is safer, statistically, and based on the way you feel walking around both cities. The tourist areas of Panama City are well lit and very well patrolled. They know how much of their economy rides on tourism, so the government makes sure that tourists are safe.
It's unlikely that you'll run into problems in either city if you're smart about it, but this category definitely goes to Panama City.
Winner: Panama City
Both cities deliver in terms of nightlife. There are spots for people of all stripes and all tastes in both the Mexican and Panamanian capitals. No complaints from me for either city.
However, since it's a much larger city, Mexico City has more options. While Panama is better for bars/clubs playing reggaeton, bachata and all your other sexy dance music, Mexico City is better for everything else. You can quite easily find a scene to suit your tastes in Mexico City, whereas in Panama City, it'll be harder.
Winner: Mexico City
Unlike its food, Mexico is not known for its women. This is somewhat unfair, since girls in Mexico City can be pretty hot. But it makes sense - they really can't compare with Colombians, Venezuelans or Brazilians. After spending time in both cities, I haven't been able to come to a concrete conclusion.
Locals in neither city are among the best in Latin America. But both cities have immigration going for them - Panama has a number of hot Venezuelans and Colombians, and Mexico City sees its fair share of hot Argentines. After going to fancier clubs in both cities, the top talent in Panama City seemed better than the top talent in Mexico City.
However, girls in Mexico City seemed friendlier and more approachable.
I'm at a loss!
We'll call it a tie
The infrastructure in Panama City is impressive. I remember taking a cab from the airport one time and being surprised at how not-poor much of the housing looked (areas around airports are usually pretty rundown in most Latin American cities). In fact, most of the places that tourists spend time in in Panama City could easily be mistaken for an American city; many say that it has striking similarities to both Miami and Chicago (haven't been to either so can't confirm). That being said, the area of Chorillo right next to Casco Viejo is a pretty shocking contrast...it's a borderline slum.
Mexico City also has impressive infrastructure. If you stick to the affluent areas like Polanco, Santa Fe, Lomas etc., or along Insurgentes or Reforma, it can also be mistaken for an American city. However, the rest of the city can be pretty dire. The outskirts of the city are for the most part incredibly poor. Same with more centrally-located barrios like Doctores, Guerrero and Tepito.
The metrobus transportation lines in each city are of similar quality, as is the Internet speed.
Service and getting shit set up is annoying in both countries.
As a tourist or expat, sticking around the places that tourists and expats usually stick to, you'll probably find (like I did) that Panama City has a bit better infrastructure than Mexico City. Although the difference between the two is not something that will affect you terribly, Panama City takes the win here.
Winner: Panama City
Cost of Living: Mexico City
Weather: Mexico City
Food: Mexico City
Safety: Panama City
Nightlife: Mexico City
Infrastructure: Panama City
As you can see, Mexico City comes out on top. However, depending on what you value, you might find that Panama City is a better fit. The much lower cost of living and better accessibility to other cool cities was enough for me to choose to live in Mexico City. Panama is a small country and, apart from some nice beaches, I found that there wasn't too much to explore.
For a week or two long vacation I'd suggest Panama City. The nightlife is top-notch, women are among the best in Central America and it's easier to explore than the vast monster that is Mexico City. But if you're on a budget and looking for a place to base up for awhile, I'd pick CDMX.
Until next time,
Want To read more city comparisons? I got ya covered.