If we had a dollar for every time someone back home told us to be careful in Colombia, then we’d use that money to live in Colombia like kings. Well, maybe only for a month. The country synonymous with Pablo Escobar and cocaine has spent the last decade trying to rebrand itself as a must-visit destination. After spending nearly 3 weeks there, we can say firsthand that it needs to be at the top of every backpacker/budget traveler/digital nomad’s list. Beaches, mountains, rivers, jungle…whatever you’re looking for, they have it. And it can all be had at an affordable price. After all, that is what you are here for, right?
As budget-conscious travelers, we had $50 US Dollars (USD) to work with per day. At about $2,800 Colombian Pesos (COP) for every USD, we had about COP 140,000 at our disposal every day. With this, we paid for all of our daily expenses that included accommodations, food & drink, alcohol, local transportation, activities/entertainment, living expenses/toiletries, souvenirs, and mishaps. Money spent on traveling to other cities was treated as a traveling expense and was accounted for separately from the “daily average spend*.”
Continue reading to see what we spent our money on and some tips and tricks that helped us stay under budget.
Total spend: $860 USD
Total days: 18
Average daily spend*: $47.64 USD
Accommodations 26% / $223.08 USD
Before our trip started, our goal was to find the cheapest places to live that still offered us what we considered to be our minimum requirements (i.e. private room, bathroom, kitchen, and WIFI). We figured that since we would be out and about most days, this would be a great place to try to save money. Airbnb and Hostelworld proved to be our best options. At $10 a night in Cartagena and $20 in Medellín, we were able to save our money and use it on better things – like food and activities!
Food & Drink 31% / $265.97 USD
Colombia is street food paradise! We understand that street vendors are not up to US Health Department standards, but there is no better way to learn about a culture than by indulging in their cuisine. Plus our immune systems could use a little workout. Empanadas and buñuelos were the tastiest options. And they were the cheapest as well at only COP 1000 for the empanadas and COP 500 for the buñuelos. Not a week goes by that Ashly isn’t still pining for the delicious, little fried dough ball known as el buñuelo. When we wanted an actual sit down meal, we would go to the nearest restaurant and order menu. It is basically the meal of the day, and for about COP 8,500 ($3 USD) you get a juice, soup, and choice of main dish (dessert too if you’re lucky). If it weren’t for our daily dose of ice cream, we probably could have stayed under budget. But hey…YOLO!
Activities/Entertainment 24% / $208.29 USD
Out of all the spending categories, this was the one we were willing to go over on. Knowing that we were going to spend as little as possible on accommodations allowed us to move those saved dollars elsewhere. And like the millennials that we are, we chose experiences. Colombia has a lot to do [Read what things we think you can’t miss here!] With that said, we suggest shopping around as there are many vendors selling similar or the same experiences. You can also pit them against one another to see who will offer you the best price or throw in some extras – like a meal or drinks. We used this tip in Cartagena and were able to spend the day boating and sunbathing on Isla del Pirata for 25% less than the asking price! Another tip is to do some of this stuff by yourself. Most tours just mark up the price on activities due to the convenience they are offering you. You have to be willing to organize your own transport and guide yourself for the day, but it is well worth your time when traveling on a budget. Another plus is you get to go at your own pace which results in you spending more time doing what you want to do and less time on what you don’t.
Local Transportation 11% / $91.70 USD
Getting around town can get quite expensive if you stick to taxis and ride-sharing apps (Colombia had Uber and Cabify at the time of our visit). In Cartagena, we found the buses to be our budget’s best friend. Sure, each ride is like a roller coaster mixed with a visit to the chiropractor, but it’s a bargain at COP 2100 ($0.75) per person per trip. Fortunatley, Medellín has a far more developed public transport system and the metro is at the heart of it. The metro is very comfortable, simple experience we’ve ever had and only cost COP 2300 ($0.80) per person per trip. And lastly, we walked whenever it was possible. It is good for your health and your wallet!
Alcohol 4% / $32.44 USD
Typically, beers will cost around COP 7000 ($2.45) at a bar or restaurant. The cheaper option is buying your booze at the grocery store where you can get a 6-pack of Colombia’s very own Aguila for around COP 8500 ($2.95). As you can see, we did not spend very much on alcohol. We opted to spend our money eating ice cream every day instead.
Living Expenses/Toiletries 2% / $16.59 USD
The bulk of the spend here was due to needing to buy boardshorts and nail clippers since I – in my last minute style of packing – forgot those items at home. There was laundry as well, which we were able to do at our Airbnbs for COP 5000 ($1.75). The rest was due to public bathrooms. You see, public restrooms aren’t exactly free everywhere else in the world and Colombia is no different. You may be able to get away from paying if you are not going to be using their toilet paper – which they hand you a pre-cut amount on your way in – or if you are bringing your own. At about COP 1000 ($0.35), it isn’t expensive, but still an annoyance when you come from the land of the free…toilets.
Souvenirs 0.2% / $1.57 USD
Colombia, like most countries, has plenty of cheesy souvenirs to go around. We did not plan on spending much in this category, but we knew we would be indulging in our guilty pleasure of collecting a magnet from each country. This has been a tradition of ours since our early days of traveling together. In addition to the magnet, I’m also collecting a bracelet from each country and wearing it until it falls off…kinda like that one guy you know that went to Coachella in 2016 and still has the wristband to show it. We were able to purchase both for COP 4500 from a sweet woman who handmade all of the items in her store.
Mishaps 2% / $17.64 USD
This is where we keep track of any money we give to panhandlers and any unnecessary expenses we incur. Most of the spend here was due to a cash management issue we had in Guatape. I forgot to get cash prior to our day trip and the entrance fee for La Piedra could not be paid with our credit/debit cards. Since we had limited time to spend there, we decided to take a tuk tuk (small motorbike taxi thing) into the town of Guatape to get cash from the ATM. I am still kicking myself over it. Lesson of the day: cash is king, so don’t leave home without it!
Find out more about our time and budget in Colombia & take a look at our Colombia Spending Report!
Have you seen our video on how you can budget and save for a Round the World trip?
Watch here ⇒