Visiting Colombia- a Budget Guide
Thinking about a South American adventure without breaking the bank? Look no further than Colombia!
With beautiful coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific, soaring mountain peaks, thriving metropolises, lost civilizations, and dense rainforests, Colombia is one of those countries you’ll want to visit again and again, discovering something new every time.
Of course, it helps that it is one of the cheapest countries in South America and that nationals of most countries in the Americas and Europe can visit visa-free. You only need to fill in a Check-Mig for Colombia, and you’re in!
Once you’re there, you’ll find plenty of low-priced hostels and other accommodations, as well as very affordable food, beer, and transportation.
Read on to find out how to take advantage of Colombia’s low prices, get the best deals, and save those dollars while exploring this incredible country.
Know When to Go
One of the best ways to save money on a trip to Colombia is to come at the right time of year.
Avoid December and January like the plague — these months are peak tourist season as visitors from countries from the Northern Hemisphere fly in to trade the cold winter for the Colombian sun.
Beat the boom of tourism by coming in November, or hold out till February or March to get the best deals on flights and accommodation.
Once you get to the middle of the year, things start to get busy again, with the summer holidays of July and August seeing another wave of holidaymakers arriving. And when that happens, prices tend to go up…
Street Food and Menús del Día Are the Way to Go
A key part of any travel budget is what you’re going to spend on food and drink. The great news about Colombia is that food is generally very affordable compared to Europe and North America. Eating at smaller, local restaurants instead of fancier places in city centers is a way to save a few dollars.
But why stop there? There are plenty of other ways to save money on grub in Colombia, even while watching your weight!
The abundance of great street food is a massive help. There’s no need to eat in a restaurant every meal when you can find delicious empanadas — pastries filled with meat or vegetables — on every other corner.
Another must-try staple of Colombian cuisine are arepas. These cornmeal cakes filled with meat, cheese, and other ingredients are commonly eaten for breakfast and are sold by many street vendors.
If you fancy a meal in a restaurant, why not go for a menú del día (set menu)? Like in many Spanish-speaking countries, this consists of a hefty 3-course lunch, which is sure to keep you going all afternoon. In Colombia, you can dine like a king for as little as USD $2!
When it comes to having a drink, it’s tempting to have a cocktail. You’re in a hot tropical place on vacation, why not?
Of course, no one’s saying you shouldn’t enjoy yourself, but if you want money-saving advice, cocktails are expensive — it’s mainly tourists who order them, and the prices go up accordingly.
Why break the bank on a margarita when beer in Colombia is so incredibly cheap?
Food and drink: how it breaks down
Here’s an idea of how much food and drink will cost you in Colombia (in USD):
- Menú del día: $2–$5
- Restaurant dinner for two: $25–$40
- Empanada: $0.50–$0.80
- Bottle of beer at a bar: $1–$2
- Cup of coffee: $0.80–$1.50
Pick Your Accommodation Wisely
Good advice wherever you travel, and Colombia is no exception. It’s a good idea to do a bit of research about the places you want to visit and compare the prices in each area.
Of course, the city centers, neighborhoods with a reputation for being bohemian or chic, old town areas, and other tourist hot-spots tend to be double the cost of anywhere else.
For example, if you’re visiting Medellín, avoid staying in the famous El Poblado district. Try Laureles instead — it tends to be much more affordable, whether you want to try a hostel, B&B, or Airbnb apartment.
By the same measure, Cartagena’s beautiful Old Town is great to walk around, but the accommodation and dining options could put a serious dent in your wallet. Take a look at some of the other barrios, like the Getsemani district.
Accommodation: how it breaks down
Here’s an idea of how much accommodation will cost you in Colombia (in USD):
- Dorm bed in a hostel: $10–25
- Basic room for two: $20–50
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): $30+
Tips for Getting Around Colombia On the Cheap
With an area of 440,831 square miles, Colombia is a massive country. The 25th-largest in the world, in fact. So, if you’re planning to visit more than one place during your stay, you’re going to need transport.
Buses are far and away the cheapest way to get around. However, the distances between major cities like Bogotá, Medellín, and Barranquilla are vast. I mean, really vast.
You can save paying for a night’s accommodation and avoid wasting a day doing nothing but sitting on public transport by taking an overnight bus.
It might be a good idea to bring earplugs, though! Those bus journeys along bumpy, winding roads can get a bit loud. But when a bus ticket from Bogotá to Medellín only costs USD $18–23, who can argue?
When flying, always go Spanish!
Sometimes, however, time is more valuable than money, and it might be for the best to simply book a flight. In fact, there are some places, such as Leticia in the State of Amazonas, which can only be reached by plane, without taking a long boat journey from a neighboring country!
Thankfully, there are loads of budget airlines running domestic flights in Colombia, such as Viva Air and Wingo. To get an even better deal, switch to the Spanish language version of the website — prices can be as low as half those shown on the English version.
If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry — you can always use the translation service on your web browser, without affecting those low, low prices.
Enjoying Colombia the Affordable Way
There are plenty of things to do in Colombia. Whether you prefer to relax on a Caribbean beach, take a city break in vibrant Medellín, celebrate Carnival in Barranquilla, hike in the Andes, or venture into the Amazon basin.
If it’s adventure you’re after, you’ll need to hire a guide to take you on the best hikes in the country. The incredible journey to La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) is a trek that’s growing increasingly popular, so be sure to compare prices to get the best deal. As always, don’t be afraid to haggle!
While staying in cities like Bogotá and Cartagena, take advantage of the free walking tours. Most major and even medium-sized Colombian cities have these. They tend to have great guides who can give you lots of information and a top experience — all without spending any money!
Colombia offers a number of free attractions to enjoy! Some highlights include:
Exploring the UNESCO-listed Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) archaeological site in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains.
Taking a hike through Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, home to alpine lakes, glaciers and stunning mountain views.
Enjoying the vibrant street art and live music in Bogotá’ Graffiti Tour.
Relaxing on some of Colombia’s most beautiful beaches, such as those found in Cartagena or San Andres Island.
Experiencing local Colombian culture at one of many free festivals, such as Carnaval de Barranquilla or Feria de Cali.
Top Tips for Saving Money in Colombia
There are many more ways to save money on a trip to Colombia. Here are a few tips to help you stretch your dollars.
Bringing a water filter is not just a money-saver, but great for the environment, too. Forget all those single-use plastic bottles.
Instead, pack a water bottle like LifeStraw, with a built-in filter. This will allow you to fill it up with tap water and be sure that it is safe to drink wherever you go.
If you get a taxi anywhere, agree the fair at the start, before you get in. In Colombia, it helps to have good haggling skills, because many prices are up for negotiation.
Speaking of haggling, one place you’re sure to find yourself at some point in your trip is at a marketplace. Colombia is full of local food markets, which are great places to get the most affordable food if you’re self-catering.
If you want the best deals, you’ll have to speak Spanish — vendors will crank up the prices if you try dealing with them in English.
Check out some more tips for traveling on a shoestring budget.
How It Breaks Down: Daily Costs
Your budget for visiting Colombia will depend on what you want to see and do, and the level of luxury you desire.
Backpackers can probably enjoy Colombia by budgeting around USD $25-30 per day:
- $5-10 on accommodation
- $6-7 on food
- $4-5 on transport
- $6-7 on attractions
If you’re looking for a bit more comfort, a mid-range daily budget works out at around USD $50-60 per day on average:
- $15-20 on accommodation
- $12-18 on food
- $5-10 on transport
- $15-18 on attractions
To say that some travelers spend USD $100+ per day on a more luxurious trip, the travel tips we’ve shared above will help you make a huge saving.
From accommodation to transportation, there are plenty of ways to save on expenses while still getting the most out of your vacation. Colombia is an amazing destination to explore, and with a budget-friendly guide, you can enjoy the country without breaking the bank.