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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A taxi from the airport to Havana should costs between US$25 – US$27.
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…
|Public transport (buses and taxis)||$358.50|
|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.