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Budgeting Your Trip

budgeting-1Colombia is a mid-budget travel destination. It's far cheaper than anywhere in the United States, Europe, or Australia. It's also quite a bit cheaper than its southern neighbors Brazil and Uruguay, and less costly than Argentina and Chile.

However, it is no longer incredibly cheap either. In fact, it is quite expensive compared to the other Andean countries of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, as well as the generally cheaper Central American nations.

Colombia is a nation on the rebound economically, and, unfortunately for backpackers, that means higher prices and inflation as well. But don't despair. With a little knowledge and planning, you can still have a great time in Colombia on a budget of $25 a day, or if you really want to rough it, cheaper.

(Note: During the past 4 years the peso has consistently traded between $1.800 and $2.000 (one thousand eight hundred and two thousand), Colombian pesos to the dollar. For typical tourism purposes, an exchange rate of $1=$2.000 COP is used.)

Roughing It ($5 to $20 a Day)

If you don't think you could survive in Colombia on $5 a day, talk to some Argentine backpackers. Argentines are experts at traveling the continent with very little money, so I've picked up a few things from them. If you travel with a tent, you can often stay in hostels or campgrounds (Yambolombia in Salento is a great example of this), for just a few dollars a day. Buy food in supermarkets and cook communal meals with your travel buddies: things like pasta, rice, bread, and fruits and vegetables are cheap and healthy options. Produce (especially Colombian fruits) are quite cheap. 

For nightlife, split a bottle of aguardiente before you go to the club, and just have a couple of beers when you're there. Similarly, you can also negotiate down the cost of your bus tickets by haggling, or even try to hitchhike. Motorcycles are also a very cheap way to get around Colombia.

$25 a Day

With $25 a day in Colombia you can stay in a dorm for $10 a night, eat a $2 breakfast in the street, spend $3 on an "almuerzo ejecutivo" or lunch, $3 on dinner, go out and spend $3 for a couple of beers, take 2 intracity bus trips for another $2, and play an hour of pool at a billiards hall. It's a tight budget, but you can do it. You will not experience any fine dining, and you will certainly not impress girls. If you really want to go out and experience the nightlife, $25 a day, will get you laughed at.

$50 a Day

For the majority of backpackers and travelers (apart from those who are planning multi-month or year trips), I would recommend spending around $50 a day, or $1500 a month. This will enable you to stay in very nice dorms, or even private rooms, or perhaps rent your own apartment, eat nice food and take your special friend out to eat a couple of times a weekend, take one taxi a day, get bottle service once a weekend at a mid-priced club or discoteca, and travel around the country by bus for shorter trips, and plane for longer trips; especially in between Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena.budgeting-2

$100 a Day

If you really want to be a high roller, the sky's the limit with $100 a day in Colombia. You can stay in a nice hotel, eat out every meal, and get bottle service three times a week at a club in Medellin or Cartagena. You'll easily be able to afford to take taxis everywhere, or rent your own car from time to time for special trips.

If you want to settle down, rent yourself a one or two bedroom apartment in a luxury high rise in Cartagena or Medellin.  Many foreigners also enjoy special amenities like maid service.

You can also fly virtually anywhere in the country. For example, the Bogota-Cali-Medellin-Cartagena-Santa Marta circuit would probably make the most sense if you have money to spend, a lust for travel, and between a couple of weeks to a month for your trip.

Hostels

Expect to pay about $20.000 a night for sharing a 6, 8, or 10 bed dorm in Colombia. These prices will be higher in Cartagena, and can rise dramatically during the high season.

Hotels

You can stay in private rooms in hostels for around $50.000 to $80.000. Or, opt for a hotel for anywhere from $40.000 to $100.000 a night. Of course, if you want a true Western style hotel with all the amenities you're used to, expect to pay American or European prices.

Renting an Apartment

You can rent a bedroom in a shared apartment in the major cities of Colombia for $200.000 to $300.000 a month, plus another $100.000 for utilities. Or, if you want to live in a luxury high rise, be prepared to shell out $600.000 to $1.000.000.

Food

budgeting-3Most Colombians eat a simple breakfast of rice, arepas, eggs, fruit and/or coffee. Eat like them, and you can get a decent breakfast for $3.000 or $4.000.

An almuerzo ejecutivo can cost anywhere from $4.000 to $8.000. Fast food restaurants, of which there are an abundance (KFC, McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Papa John's) typically have roughly the same prices as in the United States.

Nightlife

Beers cost anywhere from $2.000 in a run-of-the-mill bar to $12.000 in a high-end night club.

A bottle of liquor costs from $40.000 in a bar, to $60.000 or $70.000 in a club, up to $100.000 and beyond in the city's finest partying spots.

Transporation

A 10 minute taxi ride will cost $5.000, while a half hour will cost $15.000. Almost all taxis are metered in Colombia. While most taxi drivers are honest folks, make sure to check your bill when you are leaving, as some taxi drivers, especially in the very touristy areas, may try to charge you more, especially if you don't speak Spanish.

As a general rule, intracity bus transportation will cost between $2 and $5 an hour in Colombia, depending upon the route. For example, the going rate for a bus between Medellin and Bogota (10 hours) is about $60.000, or about $3 per hour.

Plane fares depend greatly upon how much ahead of time you purchase your tickets. Flights between Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena can often be found for $50.000 or $60.000. Smaller destinations, such as Leticia, Santa Marta, the Coffee Zone cities (Pereira, Armenia, Manizales), or Bucaramanga typically cost more.

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