How much does it cost to travel through Colombia and Cuba?

Ouch.

I shudder when I look at the table at the bottom of this post to see how much money we spent in August. And it doesn’t even include Dave’s new Mac Air.

The only positive that comes from our painfully expensive month of August is that we’re now making enough money to not feel the expense as much as we would’ve a year ago.

But I’m not the kind of person who suddenly earns more money and then wastes it on silly things here and there. At least I try not to be.

Cartagena castle Double-Barrelled Travel

Who can resist shopping when you have views like this? I took this photo of the Cartagena fort from a shopping centre food court

Why our costs were so high in August

Dave and I had hardly bought a change of clothes since we started travelling 16 months ago. As a result, our wardrobe was falling apart. Both of our sneakers had holes in them, and the pile of clothes that didn’t feature a stain of some sort was slowly dwindling.
There was no doubt about it – we needed a new wardrobe.

After coming from Ecuador, where the import tax on all clothing was 20%, meaning a cheap shirt made in China wasn’t so cheap, going to Colombia was a shopping haven.

Not only was there much more variety for shopping but it was cheaper too.

One thing I loved about shopping in Colombia is that the country has a thriving textile and apparel industry and so just about everything I bought had been made there.

And I’m not just talking about tourist goods – a lot of their department store clothing has been made in Colombia, which is very refreshing considering most labels these days have made in China written on them, including some very high end brands.

Needless to say, I may have been a little too over-enthusiastic about the shopping as Dave and I ended up spending more than US$800 on clothes, shoes, sneakers and sunglasses. I also discovered a MAC shop at the Colombian airport and stocked up.

For all my writing about not caring for material things anymore, we did go a little crazy once we got started.

Now our old clothes (and old computer!) have been donated to charity and people we’ve met travelling, and replaced with new things. So the plan is not to go shopping until another 16 months have passed.

The price of travel in Colombia

You might think that because Colombia is in South America it’s a cheap place to travel, but it’s not. Luckily we were with our friend Kristin two of the three weeks we were there, and were able to split costs, because it was more expensive that we’d anticipated.

We travelled to both Cali and Cartagena.

Accommodation in Colombia:

We stayed in a two bedroom Airbnb apartment in Cali for about US$40 a night.

When we were in Cartagena, we decided to splurge for the last few nights Kristin was going to be with us, and paid $78.50 a night for this one bedroom apartment via Booking.com. We were lucky to get a last minute deal on that one.

Sunset in Cartagena Double-Barrelled Travel

Celebrating Kristin’s last couple of nights with us in the pool near the beach

We then went to Tayrona National Park and paid around US$10 a night each for a hammock near the beach. It was my first time sleeping in a hammock overnight and it was a tad uncomfortable!

On our way to Tayrona we stopped off in Santa Marta and paid US$44 for a triple room for the night.

Back in Cartagena, we stayed in two different hostels – El Genoves Hostal for US$15 per person in a 12 bed dorm, and El Viajero for around the same price but in an eight person dorm.

When Kristin left (sob) Dave and I moved to a bed and breakfast to re-cooperate for a week from our non-stop travelling and stayed at Patio de Getsemani for US$60 a night for a room and breakfast.

As you can see, where we stayed was mostly on the budget side of things, and even then the cheapest bed and breakfast we could find was about US$60 a night. Even the Airbnb apartments were quite expensive in the area.

Morris Epic Cartagena Double-Barrelled Travel

The complex of our ‘splurge’ apartment in Cartagena – totally worth it!

Food in Colombia:

The food in Colombia is cheaper than the accommodation but it can still get expensive.

Every night in Cali the three of us ate out and would pay around US$15 – US$20 per person for a mid-range restaurant.

One restaurant experience we splurged on was dining at Teatro Magico del Sabor in Cali. This unique place is a cross between a restaurant and a show. You enjoy a four course dinner with drinks while watching your chef cook it up in front of you. The comedy routine while they perform makes for a good evening out as well. And the food is scrumptious.

 

Teatro Magic del sabor Cali Double-Barrelled Travel

Flames touching the ceiling – part of the performance at Teatro Magic del Sabor

Cartagena has quite a large fine dining scene and so if you have the money it’s worth splurging here. One night the three of us ate at a delicious ceviche restaurant called El Boliche which was some of the best seafood we’d ever tasted. Granted, this place was a little pricier that the norm at about US$35 per person, but it was totally worth it.

Teatro Magic del sabor food Cali Double-Barrelled Travel

My hummus first course at Teatro Magic del Sabor

Public transport in Colombia:

We flew around Colombia because we found it easier, and after nine months in South America we were getting sick of night buses.

There’s a cheap airline called Viva Colombia where you can get some good deals for internal flights in Colombia. (Although like with most cheap airlines these days you have to pay extra for more than just hand luggage.)

We also caught a bus to Santa Marta from Cartagena which costs between US$15 – US$21, per person, depending on the bus company, for the four hour trip.

Overall thoughts: Colombia is on par with the US in terms of prices.

Tayrona national park Colombia Double-Barrelled Travel

Beautiful view at Tayrona National Park in Colombia

The price of travel in Cuba

Travelling from capitalist Colombia to communist Cuba was quite a transition and one that took a little time getting used to.

As independent travellers there’s certain things that Dave and I now take for granted, like shopping in a supermarket and cooking our own dinner each night. However, these were luxuries we had to give up for our two week stay in Cuba.

Cuba is not an independent traveller’s dream destination because it’s difficult to rent an apartment on your own and your best bet for accommodation is in a Casa Particular. A Casa Particular is when a local opens their home to you and charges you to stay the night. It’s what Airbnb is, founded long before Airbnb ever came along.

The Casa Particulars are often better value than the hotels because they’re cheaper. Also, many of the hotels haven’t been upgraded since the 1950s, meaning the Casas are often better quality too.

In Cuba, we travelled to Havana, Varadero, Trinidad and Vinales.

Casa particular Cuba Double-Barrelled Travel

The roof terrace at our Casa Particular in Trinidad

Accommodation in Cuba:

Dave and I stayed mostly in Casa Particulars, in which we paid between $15 – $25 and night.

For three nights we stayed in an all-inclusive resort (Belive Hotels) for US$90 a night. Because it was all-inclusive, we justified the price. But although it was listed as a four star it was more like a four star resort from the 1960s that hadn’t been renovated in 50 years. We later found out the government gives the resorts their ratings, so go figure…

Food in Cuba:

Some of the food we ate in Cuba was quite good and some of it was downright awful. The problem is that because of the US embargo, Cuba can’t get a lot of food variety into the island and this affects the standard of cooking.

One great place we ate at was El Olivio in Vinales. The food is Mediterranean and we feasted on rabbit and duck – both were delicious and a welcome break from the generic chicken and fish dishes you’ll see again and again in Cuba’s restaurants. (We paid about US$20 for the two of us too, which was a bargain.)

Lobster is found aplenty on the island and you pay around US$12 – US$15 per lobster, which is a real treat!

A lot of the time you can eat at your Casa Particular and overall this standard of food can be better than what you’ll find in the restaurants, especially the restaurants run by the state.

For breakfasts, we paid between US$4 – US$5 at each Casa Particular, and between US$8 – US$15 for dinner.

Fruit in Cuba Double-Barrelled Travel

One food variety that can be easily found in Cuba is delicious fruit

The Casa Particular owners will encourage you to eat with them for every breakfast and dinner if they can, as they get more money this way, but you shouldn’t feel in any way obliged.

We would’ve loved to have shopped in supermarkets in Cuba but they just don’t exist. The most extensive shop we found was a corner store which had the very bare essentials in it. So don’t expect to eat in during your time there – you almost have to dine out for every meal just in order to get access to food.

Transport in Cuba:

We were told by a number of travellers that car hire was expensive, and the best way to get around the island is by bus.

It’s quite expensive though, when compared to other Caribbean islands and Central America. A one hour bus trip will set you back around US$12 – US$15 and the longer trips you can pay as much as US$45 per person.

If you decide to take a ‘taxi’ instead of the bus between major cities, just be aware that although the taxi driver will sell the service as if it’s a private vehicle (and for the same price as a bus therefore seems like a bargain), you could end up riding with up to 10 people in a minivan. Clarify with the driver before you arrange a pickup.

Car ride Cuba Double-Barrelled Travel

Cruising around Cuba in a taxi from the 1950s

A taxi from the airport to Havana should costs between US$25 – US$27.

Overall thoughts:

If you’re not the all-inclusive type (like me and Dave) then you have to re-think your style of travel when you visit Cuba. You have less control over meal planning and accommodation independence than usual, which often results in you spending more than you might in other countries with more flexibility and travel freedoms.

Budget reveal for August

So, without further ado, here’s a list of our very expensive month of August. Hopefully you don’t shudder as much as I did…

US dollars
Public transport (buses and taxis) $358.50
Accommodation $1331.41
Eating out $1173.04
Groceries $358.07
Alcohol $152.25
Attractions $79.01
Tips $5.02
Laundry $15.24
Bank fees $83.70
Toilets $0.25
Other* $996.73
Flights (Quito – Cali – Cartagena – Cuba) $1820.38
Total without flights $4553.22
Total including flights $6373.60

Have you been to Colombia or Cuba? What did you think of the prices?

*Other includes: Clothes, shoes, sunglasses, cigars, visas for Cuba, towel hire, and dance lessons.

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

4 comments on “How much does it cost to travel through Colombia and Cuba?”

  1. GiselleandCody Reply

    WOW!!! $6300?!?! That’s crazy……I can see why you would shudder 🙂

    We have been to Cuba a total of 10 times between the 2 of us and we find it very cheap.
    There are a lot of really great and cheap little places to eat (Where most of the locals eat)

    You need to get over to Southeast Asia….That would last you 5 months there 🙂
    GiselleandCody recently posted…This is Havana in 24 HoursMy Profile

  2. Cassandra Reply

    Yikes! August was an expensive month, indeed.

    I hadn’t read much about Cuba so I was intrigued by the way the Casa Particulares worked. It must have been a tad frustrating not to have been able to cook or go grocery shopping while you were there! I was also surprised at the transportation prices for Cuba.

    I was just in Colombia in this summer and was pretty surprised at the restaurant costs. Grocery shopping wasn’t super expensive, but going out to eat was–just like you said–a minimum USD 15-20 for all of our meals. Sure, I expected this in the nicer restaurants, but it also held true in a family-style pizza parlor! It was so surprising to find that our “cheap” meal was only a few USD less than at a place with fancier dishes.
    Cassandra recently posted…Castillo Time in Cartagena, ColombiaMy Profile

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Yep, it sure was expensive!

      The Casa Particulares work well, it’s just that you have so many less freedoms than you would staying in a hostel / your own apartment, especially when it comes to cooking.

      Yep, Colombia is so expensive for eating out (or more expensive than I thought it would be anyway). At least all the meals we had there were absolutely delicious.

      Thanks for commenting!

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