While getting ready for our trip we read plenty of different blogs where people were estimating how much money do you need to travel in South America. We saw a lot of headlines “It’s so cheap! Just 40USD per day!”, “Super economic options! A week for 300USD!”, “Prices are incredibly low – a night in a hostel only 20USD”. Well, I guess cheap and expensive are very relative terms. Fortunately we have found also opinions that you can travel much cheaper. So we were saving and saving and saving and at some point we decided that we were good to go and be on the road for a year.
Not much, right? We were optimistic though and assumed that we were not going to stay in fancy hotels or take part in expensive tours, but that this wouldn’t prevent us from having an amazing time.
How did it go in Colombia?
When it comes to accommodation we were always doing it the same way. When we arrive to some place Kasia is staying somewhere with all the luggage and Xavi is going to look for a room/camping.
Why we did this? You may say Xavi does not quite have the looks of somebody from South America, as he didn’t skip people calling him gringo or mono (blonde) through all the country, but next to Kasia, a little blonde with green eyes and the whitest skin ever, leaving Michael Jackson aside, Xavi was purely Colombian material. So with Kasia the prices would be always a bit higher than without her, that’s why she always sat and waited :).
Normally in Europe we would use booking.com or hostelword.com, choose the cheapest option and book it online. In Colombia this is rather not a good plan, as we always found private rooms much much cheaper than the cheapest 10-people dorm available online. These were the places that do not have websites or appear in any search engine. So if you want to find cheap accommodation in Colombia, do not book it in advance, just go and walk around asking for prices. And remember to always negotiate the price!
I mentioned that we haven’t paid for accommodation for 44 nights. How did we do that?
Couchsurfing: I guess we do not have to explain why this is a wonderful solution. It does not only lower the cost of staying in some place, but what is much more important, gives you the opportunity to meet people who can show you the city and make your stay anywhere be just great. As an example, we are sure that we would’t have liked Bogota so much if we didn’t spent our time in there with Andrea and Luis.
Volunteering: As you probably know our idea for this trip was to take part in different kind of volunteering activities. One main idea was to get handy, gain some building skills, work in the field and learn about permaculture and everything we could about agriculture. As usually there is accomodation and food provided, it lowers the general cost of the trip as well.
Nights in the bus: Colombia is a huge country so many times it took us 7-9 hours to get to our next destination. In that case we were choosing night buses and we avoided paying for accommodation that night. Yes, it’s not as comfy as an executive suite but considering that you have to cover the distance anyway, why not to do it while saving some cash?
We were travelling mainly by buses and so called ‘colectivos’. These are sort of taxis but the route is usually fixed and you are sharing a car with other people. We were very surprised by the level of some long distance buses, they were much bigger, much more modern and comfortable than the ones we are used to see in Europe. Very often we were travelling by the small buses (for 6-8 people) what was quite ok, unless the road is very curvy and you have a pretty big tendency to puke in the buses. In this case, try to always take the big buses, you will get much less dizzy in those.
In any Colombian bus terminal you will find a lot of different companies offering the same routes. So it is worth to make a round and ask in all of them to get the best price. Remember the golden rule: always try to negotiate the price! Representatives of particular companies will attack you the very moment you enter the terminal, shouting out loud the destinations they cover, what can be really annoying but as they want to fill in the bus as soon as possible, there is a good chance to get a better price.
To be honest we could have spent much much less on transport if we had hitchhiked more than we did. We tried few times and it worked very good. However many times we were too lazy or didn’t have enough patience, or got too good offers from bus drivers that stopped. With buses, if the guy doesn’t tell you to bugger off after you say no for the fifth time he tells you a price, they will then say the magic words: OK, so how much you got? Ohhh now that will be music to your ears. And there is when you play your lowest number, but not too low to make the guy angry. These happened to us couple of times when we were trying to hitch a ride.
So if you want to lower the cost of your travel, hitchhiking in Colombia works really good and from our experience is safe and fun. Thanks to it we discovered many things and got plenty of tips on places to go visit that otherwise we would have missed.
The cheapest option was of course cooking on our own. We didn’t come across that many places where we had a kitchen available so we were eating out quite often. What we read before travelling was that the cheapest option would be to eat the street food, which is indeed really good. But here’s the deal, if you eat one or two arepas, or envueltos or empanadas and you are full, then sure thing, go for it and you’ll save some cash. But if two arepas barely scratch your desire for food, then you probably want to go grab some “almuerzo”.
Colombian food is delicious and cheap. We couldn’t believe how is that possible that such big portions of amazing meals cost so little. An almuerzo will tipically consist on a huge bowl of soup full with veggies/meat/fish/beans (that for many people could serve as a whole meal), and a main dish (called seco(dry)) containing meat/fish, rice, beans, salad, fried banana and unlimited amount of fresh juice. Yes really, you can order as many juice as you want, please remember this, cause the juices are sooooo good. Once we found out about this, oh boy, it was on!! And all of this for the price of 3000-8000 COP per person (1-2,5 USD / 4-10 PLN). The best places to eat were local markets. Prices were the lowest and the amount of local clients were the proof that it was a good choice to eat there.
We had a great chance to try local food (without paying for it) during our volunteerings, where we also learnt about tipical food from different regions and how to cook some really amazing treats. Especially in our first volunteering in Finca Emmanuel, we felt like in a top class restaurant every day, Ruperto was simply an incredible chef.
In this category we have all other spendings we had. So here we have some touristic attractions like a boat trip in Tota lake, the entrance to Tayrona park or the tubing experience in Palomino, and some additional purchases like a machine to cut the hair for Xavi or a t-shirt for Kasia, as well as some common items like mosquito repellent, sun cream, tooth paste, etc.
So did we manage to close our spendings in 10 USD / day / person?
Hurray we did it! It turned out that we spent less than what we were normally spending back home, but at the same time we visited many wonderful places, tried a lot of new things, ate tones of amazing food and met dozens and dozens of incredible people.
If you had in your head the idea of going to Colombia, don’t hesitate any longer and start packing!!! This amazing country won’t let you down!!
* Currency exchange rate: 1 USD = 2900 COP = 3.9 PLN (more or less)