Budget Travel

Colombia on a tight budget: how to explore beaches, jungles and highlands for less

Regularly cited as one of the cheapest countries to go to in South America, Colombia is really a place where your money is destined to go further.

With fixed-price lunch menus and cheap pola (beer), you are able to dine just like a king, while hostels are all around and economical. A network of affordable interregional buses and low-cost airlines mean it is possible to score a bargain and open up the nation to even the most budget-minded travelers. Better still, some of Colombia's finest pleasures – think practicing salsa's frenetic footwork in Cali or catching an impromptu performance of a porro band in a sultry Cartagena square – are completely free.

Packed to the brim with spectacular scenery and pristine natural landscapes, Colombia can also be a backyard adventure playground, using its network of national parks showcasing lofty Andean peaks, emerald hills and sun-drenched coral-white beaches which are mostly accessible with simply an expression entrance fee. Having said that, for serious hikers, many of the country's best hikes, including the Lost City Trek, need you to employ a guide, which could accumulate. It's often worth the money, so continue reading to discover ways to spend less in other areas of the trip and learn how much you need to budget for Colombia.

Overnight buses can save you money

As with most countries in South America, distances between cities in Colombia are vast, and buses are undoubtedly the cheapest way of transport, offering big savings when compared with flying. If you wish to stretch your pesos towards the absolute maximum, opt for overnight buses instead of daytime departures and save the price of a night's accommodation. Admittedly, this is only a choice for those who can sleep through any distractions, as roads could be winding and bumpy and in-journey entertainment is generally loud (bring earplugs).

Use local Spanish-language airline websites for that cheapest fares

Thanks to some glut of ultra-low-cost carriers within the Colombian airline industry, the main difference in cost between flights and buses has narrowed significantly. However, don't be fooled through the cheap deals you will find on aggregator websites for airlines for example Wingo and Viva Air – the cheapest fares rarely include luggage, and adding bags can often double the ticket price.

However, inexpensive flights can be found, designed for trips from Bogotá – the least expensive fare can be found by visiting the airlines' Spanish-language websites. Prices could be half a specific item on the English-language site. If you do not read Spanish, make use of the translate feature on your internet browser to help you complete the acquisition.

For environmental reasons, you might desire to just use flights to prevent particularly arduous journeys – for instance, the only method to reach Leticia within the Amazon Basin without flying is by slow boat from Iquitos, Peru or Manaus, Brazil.

Avoid traveling in December and January

Colombia's main holiday season, from December to January, coincides using the country's warmest and driest weather, however this means you'll pay vastly more for accommodation and transport. The sweet location for good weather and cheaper prices tends to fall in the shoulder season months of November, February and March.

Street food could keep you in affordable snacks

Street food stalls provide the hungry plenty of options for a tasty snack, offering big savings on restaurant prices. Typically the most popular food choice by far may be the empanada, a tasty pastry packed with meat or vegetables – though they're deep-fried, so you can only eat a lot of! Arepas (flattened cornmeal cakes full of cheese or meat) are a filling breakfast option which comes in very handy if your accommodation doesn't provide anything substantial to create you up for the day.

Hunt on the best lunch menus

Across Colombia, it's common to determine chalkboards outside restaurants promoting the menú del día or ejecutivo, a three-course lunch that offers a really affordable way to fill up on delicious, if heavy, local dishes. As low as US$2, you are able to chow recorded on a traditional soup or salad, an entree (usually according to meat, rice and plantains) and a freshly squeezed juice. Follow onto your nose to find the best lunch spots: they're typically crowded with locals between noon and 2pm.

Pack a water filtration and break up with single-use plastic bottles

Water is potable in many Colombian cities, however in smaller towns and rural areas, you'll want to stick to purified water. Rather than counting on single-use plastic containers or water purification tablets that leave an unpleasant flavor, bring a water filter that can easily and quickly make tap water safe to drink.

Self-cater and shop at markets to chop costs

Restaurants are affordable for eating out in many parts of Colombia, but staying in hostels with communal kitchens can help you reduce your costs even more. Colombian supermarkets might seem like pleasant places to look, but many are aimed at wealthy Colombians and prosperous tourists. For a insightful choice and consistently affordable prices, create a beeline for that local grocery store, like the Plaza Minorista José María Villa in Medellin or Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao in Bogotá.

At Colombia's markets, you'll encounter more kinds of local fruits and vegetables than you'll be able to identify, as well as the usual cupboard staples, fresh cheese and meat and traditional Colombian fare that you'll be hard pushed to find in even the most authentic local restaurants. Local costs are restricted to people who can muster up a bit of Spanish – you'll be charged top dollar (which admittedly continues to be very economical) if you're able to only complete the transaction in English.

Steer free from the chicest city neighborhoods

Colombia's cities have become seriously trendy in the past decade, with El Poblado in Medellin and Cartagena's fashionable Old Town charging high prices for dining and accommodations. A chic rooftop bar might look great in your Instagram feed, but it's guaranteed to leave a larger impression on your wallet. Heading out in a single of these cool spots costs at least double the amount price of exploring a less ritzy neighborhood.

Swap El Poblado for Laureles and Cartagena's Old Town for the Getsemani district and experience Colombia a bit more authentically, away from the tourist crowds. You'll find lots of inexpensive B&Bs, backpacker-friendly hostels and great value Airbnb apartments in these areas, too.

Agree on taxi fares before committing

Taxis are metered in Colombia, but tourists are still a prime target for elevated fares. To avert this, request an estimation of the price of the ride before hopping in to the taxi. Unlike Europe or The united states, Uber is a a little more expensive option than the usual conventional taxi, but fares are agreed whenever you book your ride, meaning you can be sure you won't get scammed.

Opt for hammocks or camping for that cheapest accommodations

Camping isn't common in Colombia but it's the normal form of overnight accommodation on hiking expeditions into national parks, and it's occasionally possible in other parts of the nation. The least expensive lodgings in beach-sprinkled Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona are generally tents or hammocks, many sitting right through the sand with glorious ocean views. Highland towns for example Salento, Villa de Leyva and Suesca have campgrounds where you'll be charged as little as US$3 per night for pitching up, but you'll need your own gear.

Daily costs in Colombia

  • Dorm bed in a hostel: US$10 -25
  • Basic room for two: US$20 -50
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from US$30
  • Bus ticket from Bogotá to Medellin: US$18 -23
  • Cup of coffee: US$0.80 -$1.50
  • An empanada: US$0.50 -$0.80
  • A menú del día set lunch: US$2 -$5
  • Restaurant dinner for two: US$25 -$40
  • Bottle of beer at a bar: US$1 -$2

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