Colombia Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Colombia

(Map of Colombia from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Daily Travel Costs in Colombia on a Shoestring Budget

US$30 | 90,000 Colombian Peso

Colombian falls into the category of average South American country in terms of costs. It’s overall perhaps a fraction more expensive than neighbours Ecuador and Peru but compared to our Brazil backpacking budget, you aren’t spending as much and it has got cheaper in recent years thanks to the depreciation of its currency in comparison to the US Dollar, which is used in Ecuador.

The cost of eating and drinking out and most day-time activities are actually pretty similar but what makes Colombia a bit more expensive than its neighbour is its size and the difficulty in getting around it due to its mountainous nature. You’ll need to spend several days on a bus to get from the North Coast to one of its Southern borders and as such are likely to end up spending pushing $200 on transport alone during your time in Colombia. Providing you don’t rush through the country at whirlwind speed, you can get by on around $30/day on average with days where you aren’t travelling to a new town, likely to cost significantly less.

See where Colombia ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in South America.

More Comfortable Colombia Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 135,000 Colombian Peso

If time is of the essence for you then taking a few flights, is the only way to really get to see the best of Colombia in less than a few weeks to a month. With a slightly increased budget, you can take advantage of this and although it’s a shame to miss out on some of the scenery, you will save hours and sometimes days by taking the aerial route. Even if you’re not in a particular rush, bus travel in South America can get tiresome at times and Colombia does have some of the best budget airline options. On $45/day you can afford to fly rather than take the bus for the longer journeys although some advanced booking is advisable in order to secure the better fares.

Alternatively instead of spending your extra $15 on flights, you could upgrade your accommodation from hostel dorm to a decent private room and have money left over for meals and nights out in better restaurants and bars.

Sample Prices in Colombia

Bus from Bogota to Salento (around 8 hours) – around $20

Flight from Bogota to Medellin (1 hour) – from $25 plus baggage when booked in advance with Viva Colombia

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $3

0.5 litre local beer at a bar or restaurant – $1

Dorm bed in Bogota – from $6/night

Private double or twin room in Cartagena – from $16/night

Tour of a coffee plantation in Salento – $5

These prices are as of December 2016.

Compare Colombia prices to the cost of travel in Peru.


Currency – Colombian Peso

£1 = 3778 COP

€1 = 3183 COP

US$1 = 3003 COP

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)

Unlike neighbours Ecuador and Panama, the US Dollar is very rarely accepted so you will need Pesos.

MFT Recommends

Travel insurance is highly advisable. We suggest using World Nomads, who are experts in providing cover for backpackers.

Street art in Colombia

street art in Bogota, Colombia (via -Dj Lu- JuegasiempreCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Colombia recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉

This article was published in December 2016.

Get our Backpackers Guide to South America 2017-2018  for a full overview of budget travel in the region.

Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

Crossing the Darien Gap

Darien Gap, CC BY-SA 2.0

NOTE – This article is now over 5 years old. Some of the info may be out-of-date.

The Darien gap is an 80km stretch of jungle between Panama and Colombia. It will be of interest to anyone looking to combine our South America backpacking route with our Central America routeA quick look on google maps would suggest that America is one huge continent and it should be possible to travel overland from Alaska right down to Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina.

However this narrow strip of land connecting North and South America has no roads and the jungle is tough to cross even if you are fit and have an excellent knowledge of the local area (guessing you don’t)…oh and there’s Colombian rebel fighters in the area who are at war with the government and have been known to kidnap foreigners. If you do decide to chance it on foot and make it across the dangerous Darien Gap then it’s fair to say you have well and truly graduated into a hardcore traveller! (you’re also probably a bit of a nutter).

Trekking Through the Jungle

Some people do indeed cross the Darien Gap by foot every year, numbers are unknown but we’ve met people who’ve done it and are planning to do it again. Although Colombia is now pretty much a safe place, certainly much more so than 5 years ago, many of the FARC rebels (those who haven’t been killed by the government forces) are believed to have retreated back to the jungles of Darien Province thus making the trip even more dangerous.

You will probably have to use local guides if you do try and do this trip and you will have to pay for them, so the costs could well make this the most expensive option as well as the most dangerous. Other things to consider include the risk of malaria which is high and you will be trekking 80km through jungle so prepare to be eaten alive by all sorts of insects.

You can get more information on attempting the crossing in local towns on either side of the border and if you are lucky you may find other mildly insane travellers who are planning to cross the Darien Gap on foot. If you do go for it attempt the crossing in the dry season and take lots of food, water, a machete and hope for the best. is not responsible if your head gets decapitated by a Colombian guerilla 🙂

The Safer Options

1. Boats

As if the situation wasn’t bad enough there are no public ferries between Panama and Colombia and there haven’t been for many years. It is possible with improved security in the area that ferries may start up again one day but don’t hold your breath.

Luckily there is no shortage of sailing boats that do the trip and this is probably the most popular option and definitely the most scenic. Most people who have done the trip rave about. It is typically 4 to 5 days and includes a couple of days stop in the beautifully quiet San Blas Islands. From Colombia to Panama, it’s best to head to Cartagena and even if you don’t stay there head to Casa Viena hostel which has a whiteboard with a list of boats doing the trip and remaining spaces on each. Try and talk to the captain of the ship before deciding on one. Going the other way then Panama City is the best place to arrange the trip (ask in your hostel) and there is normally plenty of boats doing the route every week. It’s worth considering whether food/drinks are included in the price, what extras are included such as diving/snorkeling etc, maybe try and meet your fellow passengers/crew (make sure they’re not going to drive you insane) and also consider whether you suffer from seasickness because you will be spending several days on a fairly small boat.

The Darien Gapster (no idea if they are good or bad) is a company that does the trip for $200 which is about as cheap you are going to find. There route is quicker than the others taking just 3 nights and still stopping in the San Blas Islands.

2. Fly

One solution to crossing the Darien Gap has cropped up recently with Spirit Airlines who offer budget flights from it’s Fort Lauderdale base to Colombia and cities across Central America. Flights to Cartagena are as cheap as $1+taxes+baggege fee (about $65) as of October 2010. Flights to Central America are slightly more but it’s possible to fly to San Jose for around $130. This brings the total to around $200 for the trip (eg San Jose to Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena), possibly more or less depending on the promotions they have on. Therefore the cost is similar to the sailboat option and you won’t have to worry about seasickness plus you have the option of spending a few days in Miami (there are worse places to get stuck waiting for a flight).

Otherwise there are direct flights from most of the major cities in Central America to Colombia. Flights from Panama City are normally the cheapest but still $200 or more so for a relatively short distance. It’s the quickest but least exciting way to cross the Darien Gap.

3. A Combo of Boats & Flights

The cheapest option when everything is running properly but the situation is regularly changing and it’s hard to say with any certainty what is currently possible. Firstly head to Turbo in Colombia, get a boat to Capurgana (2 hours 30). Capurgana (right) and nearby Sapzurro are great chilled out backpacker friendly beach villages and well worth hanging around a few days. Get your exit stamp at the DAS in Capurgana the day before you leave. Catch a motorboat from Capurgana to Puerto Obaldia in Panama (45 mins COP25,000). From here Aeroperlas had direct flights to Panama City for $80ish but at some point in 2010 they stopped running. Instead you can catch another motorboat from here to Mulatupo which has an airstrip (1 hour) or to Miramar which is a longer potentially choppy trip but will take you further north to Colon Province from where it isn’t far to Panama City. Reverse steps for the trip to Colombia and again it’s probably best to head to Panama City and gather current information there.

You should treat this trip as something as an adventure because it is unpredictable and frustrating but one way or another should be possible, you may have to spend a couple of days hanging around in towns waiting for a boat with space for you so don’t do it if you’re on a strict time schedule or at least do some major research beforehand into the current situation.


This article was published in November 2011.

August 2015 Update

Read this detailed post for more on the land crossing and it includes the sad story of Jan Philip Braunisch, a backpacker killed in Colombia´s Darien Gap.

The author reports that the land crossing is now more dangerous than ever but a small airline called ADA fly direct Medellin – Acandi then boat trip (20 minutes) to Capurgana etc. (No more direct flights to Capurgana).


The not so mean streets of Bogota!

Less Crime, More Cyclists & Musicians – The not so mean streets of Bogota!

What is Bogota like

What is Bogota like now?

Much of Bogota’s story is dark and disturbing but it is one that is ever evolving and there is now a significant ray of light at the end of a long dreary tunnel. For so long this was a city dominated by conflict, crime, cocaine and cartels. Those factors haven’t completely gone away but nowadays words like culture, commerce and change seem more fitting.

Colombia’s Megacity

Bogota is home to over 10 million people, a figure that is growing fast making it one of the biggest on the planet. The rate of change is exciting and come back in ten years time and this could be an almost unrecognisable city. However If you’d been here ten years ago, you would have had genuine reason to fear for your safety.

The Colombian capital is still at something of a crossroads with impoverished slums on the slopes of the surrounding mountains overlooking thriving businesses and the modern high-rise skyscrapers in which they reside. Inequality is a fact of life here as it is in much of this continent yet for the first time in decades there is genuine optimism for the future.

Friday Night Fiesta

friday night avenida septima bogota

That optimism is most visible on Friday nights when Bogota’s populous head down into the centre to celebrate the end of the week. Despite its developing international financial districts this is still very much a Latin American city and they like nothing more than a good fiesta.

The major avenue that dissects the city (Avenida Septima) is closed to traffic every Friday night and quickly fills up with people as far as the eye can see as street performers, musicians and street stalls take over the city’s most famous street. As midnight approaches it is overflowing with increasingly drunk Colombians, many of whom then move onto the bars and discos around town. If you’re visiting Bogota, try and be in town for a Friday as these parties are great fun and extra special during holiday periods.


ciclovia: cycling in bogota

One of the best ways to see the city is via the Ciclovia which takes place every Sunday. All morning and up until about 2pm many of the main avenues are closed to traffic allowing cyclists and rollerbladers to whizz around this vast metropolis without the risk of being wiped out by an impatient motorist. It can be tiring work especially in the uphill sections thanks to the altitude but there are refreshment stands all along the routes which are clearly marked. There are a few places in the traveller districts where you can rent out a bike fairly cheaply and it’s a good way of getting around and seeing Bogota.

Cartels, Cocaine, Kidnappings & Civil War

It’s fair to say Colombia has something of a chequered past and a visit to Bogota will help you understand the turmoil this country was in. Drug Cartels for decades fought what basically amounted to all-out war with the country’s police force and if they avoided capture or death, the heads of these shady organisations became hugely rich and powerful. Add to this the independence struggle of the FARC rebels who just over a decade ago were in a seriously strong position and threatening to move into Bogota itself.

In the first decade of the 21st Century the government attempted a major crack-down on these issues and after some serious bloodshed they seem to have seized control of the country back from the rebels and the cartels. Cocaine production has been hugely cut and FARC have generally opted to put down their weapons and become more engaged in mainstream politics. Visiting now you will be welcomed with open arms by people in a country that is trying almost too hard to change it’s international reputation.

bogota police museum tour

Bogota’s National Police Museum (pictured above) is fantastic for those looking to delve into the countries recent troubles. One room houses a giant array of weapons seized during police raids on the Cartels over the past few decades. Another is dedicated in graphic detail to the hunt and eventual capture of the infamous druglord Pablo Escobar. You will be guided around by a serving police officer who will doubtlessly have a story or two to tell, especially if they were in the force during the violent 1990’s.

Modern Bogota: City of Culture

The city is arguably the best in South America when it comes to museums and they come in all shapes and sizes. Better still from the budget traveller perspective, most are totally free (or at least on certain days) and often include excellent guided tours. The most famous is the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) which includes an enormous collection of gold and various different artifacts from bygone eras on this continent.
Art might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Colombia but there’s also multiple surprisingly impressive galleries in town with work from top local and international painters.

Amidst all the chaos some surprisingly happening districts have developed and are now flourishing with lively arts and music scene. Much of this is based in around the old-town district of La Candelaria which is also where the majority of the hostels are located. The streets here are full young Colombian punks. Wander around after dark and venture into one of the many underground bars for a taste of the alternative side to this city.

Check out the rest of this fabulous country in our Backpacker’s Guide to Colombia

This article was published in August 2013.

Get our Backpackers Guide to South America 2017-2018 for a more detailed look at budget travel in the region.

Backpackers Guide to Colombia

Backpackers Guide to Colombia

backpackers guide to colombia

Note – This article was published in 2010 so some of the info is likely to be out-of-date.

Basic Shizzle

Population: 45 million
Size: 1.15 million km2 it’s bigger than every country in Europe except Russia, think France + Spain= Colombia
Weather: Varies greatly depending on altitude. You can be on a hot Caribbean beach with snow capped peaks in the background. An hour or two on bus can transport you to vastly different weather conditions so pack for hot, cold and wet weather, possibly all on the same day.
Law: For those inclined, you will be offered marijuana and yes cocaine at various points on your trip, especially in the big cities. You are legally allowed to carry small quantities of almost any drug including cocaine and marijuana (under 20g is considered personal use and okay). The buying/selling of drugs is illegal however so take care and cocaine in Colombia is much stronger than the stuff that gets sold in the streets of Western countries. Travellers have died in recent years due to underestimating the strength of cocaine. Always check the current legal status as laws can and do change. The legal high Ayahuasca is used by many indigenous folk in the Amazon and is gaining in popularity with travellers looking for spiritual enlightenment.
Exchange Rate: Colombian Pesos is the currency and rates are about $1=1800COP £1=2900COP EUR1=2500COP
Time: GMT- 5 hours with no daylight saving time
Religion: Catholic country with more churches than you can shake a stick at, but many people aren’t actively religious. There’s also a few indigenous religions.


The water is okay and probably safe to drink although some more cautious folk wouldn’t recommend it but in the big cities it’s fine. The most likely illness you will suffer is altitude sickness. It’s best to take a few days to acclimatize to the height before attempting any major physical activity such as mountain biking or hiking up a mountain. Antimalarials are important if you intend to visit the Amazon region of the country (South). Most of the points of interest are at an altitude high enough where malaria presents little to no risk so you don’t need tablets in the big cities for example. If you’re staying long on the coast (except Cartagena where there is no malaria) then it is advisable to take tablets. No vaccination certificate is required. Tetanus, hep A and yellow fever are the recommended vaccinations.

Getting In

The improved safety of Colombia is leading to increasing numbers of flights into the country as tourists wake up to what Colombia has to offer. Budget airline Spirit offer flights from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) to several cities in Colombia and there are also flights from the capitals in Central America with Panama City the closest and cheapest. Bogota is the main airport with flights to/from Europe as well as cities right across North and South America. There are also international airports in Cali, Medellin and Cartagena.

By land heading from Brazil or Peru you must get to the Colombian jungle outpost of Leticia where three countries meet. The crossing is by boat and is the only official way in from either Brazil/Peru and a day long bus journey still awaits before you reach a major town. From Ecuador and Venezuela there are land crossings.

While Panama and Colombia share a border there is no official land crossing. For more info on getting to/from Panama check out the article on crossing the Darien Gap.
Border Crossings (Colombian town is always second)

San Antonio del Tachira-Cucuta
Maracaibo-Maicao (Paraguachon crossing)
Puerto Paez-Puerto Carreno


Best Places to Visit

Colombia features prominently in our South America backpacking route, which contains a suggested itinerary through the country.

Chances are you will know very little about the main tourist attractions in Colombia. This is in many ways a good thing as the country will surprise you in ways you couldn’t have expected. Indeed just 5 years ago the country was considered too dangerous to visit for all but hardcore travellers. This is no longer the case, the country is almost certainly safer than Ecuador or Peru which receive huge numbers of backpackers every year who have chosen to skip Colombia due to its negative reputation. There is a great deal of interesting places to visit and you could feasibly stay for months and still discover new places. There is no reason why you shouldn’t head off the beaten track although it’s never a bad idea to check the current situation as there are still a few FARC guerilla fighters and bandits left in some more remote regions. The following places are the most popular places to visit:

Bogota cafesBogota, the country’s groovy capital is in the middle of the country, home to 9 million people and fast becoming one of the biggest and most happening cities in the world. There is loads to do here both in the day and at night, weekends are best and you will need several days to a week here at least to see it all. There are many museums, most of which are free, the best include the National Museum, Museum del Oro (rated the best Gold Museum in the world) and Police Museum which includes a delightful guided tour in English and provides a great insight into Colombia’s recent troubles. Don’t miss the Ciclovia every Sunday from 7am to 2pm when cars are banned from many of the main streets which quickly fill up with bicycles, rollerbladers, skateboarders and joggers. You can rent a bike in the old town for COP15,000 for half a day and enjoy the unique experience of cycling around a huge city in safety.

The second and third biggest cities, Medellin and Cali each have a slightly different vibe and have plenty to interest the visitor. Medellin once home to the infamous Cartel of Pablo Escobar and was once the most dangerous city in the world so it has an interesting history it’s fair to say. Those days are long gone and the city and it’s surrounding area is very safe to visit with great shopping, nightlife and interesting artwork. Cali doesn’t have a great deal of sights but is pleasant enough for a day or two and you can take salsa classes in the day to get ready for a night in the cities lively clubs. There are still elements of danger in the major cities, which have beggars and a few unsavory characters. Muggings happen but no more so here than other big South American cities.

Cartagena is on the Caribbean coast and has a fabulously preserved old town and a rather average beach but there are nicer ones around. It is a mix of Latin and Caribbean culture and tourism is booming, with a new district by the beach full of high rise hotels. Some of the best beaches are off the beaten track such as Capurgana. Santa Marta and Taganga are fairly overrated with beaches are average at best and often dirty and crowded. To get the best out of the Caribbean coast head to the stunning Parque Nacional Tayrona and for the adventurous head to the lost city (Ciudad Perdida) which is supposedly as good as Machhu Pichhu with almost no tourists. The Pacific Coastal region lacks basic infrastructure and doesn’t cater to the budget traveller as well.

San Gil (pictured below and featured in our Top 10 New Backpacking Hotspots) is the place to go for adventure sports. Grade 5 Rafting, Paragliding, Bungeejumping, Hydrospeeding (body boarding down rapids) are all possible and many times cheaper than other more popular touristy countries. There’s also a 200m waterfall which is a 2 hour bike ride away and well worth the trip. Most hostels in town will sort you out with these trips or there’s a few rafting companies in town. San Gil is small and in a stunning setting so if tranquil hikes are more your thing you could still have alot of fun here exploring the mountainous countryside that surrounds the town.

san gil waterfall

There is a whole host of beautiful Spanish colonial towns dotted around the highlands. Popayan is perhaps the best with 5 beautiful churches restored following a devastating earthquake in the 1980’s. Barichara near San Gil is a beautiful village while Villa de Leyva has an enormous square and attracts many visitors from the capital.

A word on the Colombia people. Most travellers report them to be among the friendliest they have ever come across. This is largely the case and your average Colombian is typically very pleasant but the country has its fair share of crooks and people who you shouldn’t trust. Common sense as always helps and carry as little as possible at night in the cities. Interact with the locals, go to local bars and you will meet some of the most genuinely nice people you have ever met. Most Colombians are happy, peaceful folk with a good sense of humour who are proud of their country and reveling in the freedom and safety which has been lacking for so long.


Getting Around

Colombia is a pretty big and mountainous country so journeys are long and like much of Latin America buses are the only real option. Fortunately the bus network is widespread and buses are regular. Night buses are a good option for journeys of over 10 hours such as Santa Marta to San Gil or Bogota to Cali. Buses are now safe even at night (except between Popayan and Pasto/Ipiales where unpleasant incidents are very common). Each town or city has a main bus terminal, sometimes rather inconveniently on the outskirts of the city (eg Cartagena, Bogota) and therefore the journey from the centre to the terminal can be an hour or so and it’s not always easy to work out which bus you need to catch to reach the terminal.

Colombia Copetrans busOnce at the bus terminal there are normally many companies vying for your business. Prices are not fixed so it is a good idea to know what a typical fare for your route might be before arriving at the terminal. You can haggle for a cheaper price and certainly should do this if the quoted price seems too high. If there is more than one company running the route, you are in a pretty strong position and can haggle for the best price. If there is only one company running it they may try to rip you off been a foreigner and all so stand your ground. Copetrans (left) and Boliviriano are probably the best but can be slightly more expensive than rivals but they have nice coaches. Concorde are pretty average with shoddy packed minibuses and staff that will try to rip you off. Watch out for the freezing air conditioning so take some warm clothes out of your backpack before piling it in the luggage compartment. You might want to stock on food/drinks for the journey before arriving at the terminal where stuff is often overpriced. The better buses have a toilet and brief refreshment breaks typically happen every 4 or 5 hours.

The smaller towns are easy to see on foot and bikes are a good way to explore the surrounding areas which are often stunning. Medellin is the only city with a subway/rail network (metro). Bogota has a Transmilenio, which is basically buses than run along designated routes which are Transmilenio only so they are quite quick as there is no other traffic and it is run like a metro network, with designated stations and you must buy your ticket before boarding. Cali has a similar set-up known as the Masivo Integrado de Occidente, but the city is smaller and you can probably see the centre in a day on foot. Everywhere has collectivos or minibuses which you can use to get anywhere in the town including the bus terminal (Terminal de Transportes) if you manage to work out which bus is the one you want. Being able to speak Spanish is very helpful. Taxis are fairly reasonable, agree the price before getting in.



Each major city has a Zona Rosa (the main centre for nightlife in Latin American towns) and many also have an old town where the hostels tend to be so there are often some cheap interesting bars in the backpacker areas.

Bogota is lively at weekends. Every Friday night the central Carrera 7 shuts down to traffic and people flood the streets to watch street performers, eat from the food stalls and drink beer. The Zona Rosa is 6km away from La Candeleria (old town where most backpackers stay). Both are lively at weekends, the Zona Rosa is pricier but safer, while La Candeleria is more alternative with dingy cheap cafes and bars with a mix of students, backpackers while the odd beggar and thief roam the streets. Some of the hostels have lively little bars that stay open late and attract a friendly crowd of locals and foreigners.

salsa in CaliCali is city with a reputation for vibrant nightlife with passionate salsa dancing the order of the night. There are many stylish bars and clubs in the cities Zona Rosa playing many types of music as well as salsa. The Zona Rosa is more modern than Bogota’s equivalent and has more hookers. It can be quiet on weeknights however. Medellin is home to some western style superclubs and the city is famous for its attractive if not entirely natural looking women.

Even many of the smaller towns have lively bars and a few discos open late on weekends. Colombians drink Aguilla, the national beer or Aguadiente which is a surprisingly pleasant spirit. Many corner shops have tables and chairs where you can drink anything you buy and you will see people drinking at any hour on any day.

Local Lingo

Espanol is the local lingo and you will need at least some basic Spanish to survive in Colombia and indeed much of Latin America. Very few people speak English in Colombia, although most hostels have English speaking staff.

As a starting point it’s very helpful to know the numbers to avoid being overcharged for items. Costs for basic items run into the thousands due to the exchange rates, so know that mil means a thousand (not a million as you might have thought) Some basics for ordering food, drinks and sorting out accommodation will also be helpful. You will have a much more rewarding trip if you either know or learn some Spanish before arriving as it will enable you to interact with the typically very friendly locals. Spanish lessons are fairly cheap in the country but it is cheaper to take lessons in Guatemala, Nicaragua or Ecuador ($5/hour for private lessons is a typical price) if you are travelling around in the region.

1000 mil
2000 dos mil
3000 tres mil
4000 cuatro mil
5000 cinco mil
6000 seis mil
7000 siete mil
8000 ocho mil
9000 nueve mil
10,000 diez mil
50,000 cincuenta mil
100,000 cien mil

Greetings (Very Common and important greetings in Latin America)

Buenos Dias- Good Morning
Buenas Tardes- Good Afternoon
Buenas Noches- Good Evening/Night
Buenas- You can respond to most greetings with a simple buenas

como estas?- How are you?
Yo estoy bien/feliz/aburrida/cansada/enojada/enferma-
I am good/happy/bored/tired/angry/sick

me gusta …..- I like…..
no me gusta- I don’t like it

De Donde es?- Where are you from?
Yo soy de ……..- I’m from …….

Donde hay un hostal?- Where’s a hostel?
Cuanto Cuesta?- How much does it cost?
Yo no entiendo- I don’t understand.

hoy- today
manana- tomorrow
frio- cold
caliente- hot
almuerzos- cheap set dinner, typically includeas a soup and a main dish of chicken/meat, rice and beans
salsateca- salsa night club
colectivo- shared taxi/minibus
bicicleta- bicycle
terminal de transportes- main bus terminal


Typical Backpacker Budget

As a guide Colombia is slightly more expensive than travelling in most of it’s Latin American neighbours such as Ecuador, Peru and most of Central America. This is largely due to the cost of getting around and the size of the country. A 10 hour bus journey can be around $30 as opposed to $10 in the much smaller Ecuador or countries in Central America. Bus journeys cost approximately 5,000 COP per hour of travel, to see the all the main travel destinations budget around 250,000 COP for your total transport costs in Colombia ($140, EUR100, £90).

Accommodation is typically around 15,000COP for a bed in the very cheapest hotels and hostels but Colombia is not overly touristy and information about your options can be hard to find.

On the positive side food is cheap, a decent sized meal can be had for 5,000COP in cheap restaurants. Beer is cheap with Aguila the most common local brand and a bottle is under $1 in many places. Many hostels also have bars which are typically reasonably priced but you often pay for everything when you check out so the temptation to drink to excess is very real when you aren’t handing over cash.

Your budget depends on how long you intend to stay in each place. It is possible to get by in Bogota or indeed most towns on $15/day if you’re not drinking alcohol or doing any other exciting activities (things like rafting or diving). In reality you will probably want to do both and adding transport costs into this then $25 a day is more realistic, possibly more if you’re moving quickly through the country.

There is more up-to-date info here on the cost of travel in Colombia.

Pic courtesy of
hilcias78 (salsa) on flickr


This article was published in November 2010.

Some of the info, particularly regarding prices, is likely to be unreliable now! Get our Backpackers Guide to South America 2017-2018  for an up-to-date overview of budget travel in the region.


Backpacking Budget for South America

Backpacking Budget for South America

This page aims to give you a rough idea of what a typical backpacking budget for South America might be.

south america map

(Map of South America from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

South America is on the whole, budget-friendly and certainly much cheaper than North America and Europe but that said travel costs can easily mount up. Countries like Brazil are developing quickly and as a result prices are going up. It is also a very large region so trying to see it all is both time-consuming and expensive. Even relatively short-distance airfares are high here so unless you fancy hitch-hiking, buses and coaches are pretty much the only way to get around.

Get our Backpackers Guide to South America 2017-2018  for more detailed info on the region.

Daily Travel Costs in South America

$20/day or less : Bolivia

$25/day : Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay

$30/day : Colombia

$40/day : Uruguay

$45/day : Chile, Argentina

$50/day : Brazil

As you can see there’s quite a wide variety between countries so calculating a Latin America travel budget can be difficult. Over the years of running this site, we’ve had various people disagreeing with these figures. Some say Peru or Colombia are far cheaper than Ecuador but bare in mind that although the cost food/accommodation may be similar or even less, you will spend much more on transport in the bigger countries like Peru, Colombia, Argentina or Chile as the destinations are far further away from each other. Ecuador is much more compact with just a few hours on a bus and only a few US Dollars separating most of the popular travel destinations.

On a similar kind of note, prices in Uruguay are comparable to anything you’ll find in Brazil or Argentina and can soar to Western European levels in places but the country is small so again you won’t be spending any extra money on flights or expensive long-distance coaches. If you’re really short on funds but still want to visit these countries, it might be worth getting your hands on Will Hatton’s guide called How to travel on $10 a day.

French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana are on the expensive end of the scale but they are so small, visitors often go for a specific purpose rather than on a general trip around the country so we haven’t factored them in. In Venezuela, there is something like 4 different exchange rates so it can vary from being absurdly cheap to extremely expensive depending which one you can get. The country is suffering from a severe economic crisis right now with violent crime rife so it’s probably not the best time to go in any case.

Also it’s well worth noting that prices can really sky-rocket around real tourist hotspots like Rio de Janeiro, Machu Picchu and the natural wonders of Patagonia. A trip to Machu Picchu alone can easily blow your Peru budget in just a few days.

Therefore please take these figures as a guide and not as the definitive answer as everyone and every trip is different.

Monthly Backpacking budget for South America

1 month – £820,  €950, $1000

2 months – £1640, €1900, $2000

3 months – £2460, €2850, $3000

4 months – £3280, €3800, $4000

5 months – £4100, €4750, $5000

6 months – £4920, €5700, $6000

(Exchange rates are correct as of Janaury 2017. Use Dollars as a base and convert it to your currency on current exchange rates if you’re reading this much further in the future)

A figure of $1000 per month is a reasonable starting point for a shoestring budget for the region. Visit predominantly the Andean region of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and you can get by on less. Spend more time in the South of the continent or Brazil and you will probably need more than this.

As mentioned earlier actual transport costs are quite high so longer trips or ones that involve visiting only a few countries will give you better value for money. If you want to get by on a cheaper budget, it’s possible but you’ll have to consider hitch-hiking/camping/couchsurfing etc. which on the whole are viable options, especially in the more expensive countries, which is handy.

Remember there will still be extra expenses on top of this in terms of sorting out flights to/from the region. Many travellers opt to head there via USA with Miami a popular stop and home to some of the better value flights to South American countries, particularly Colombia. Read our backpacking budget for the USA to find out costs there.

The cost of vaccinations, visas and travel insurance are also not included in these figures. The last part is often quite expensive. We recommend World Nomads as they specialise in dealing with backpacker trips.

Read our South America budget travel overview for more on the region.

The Cost of Travel in Other Regions

Southeast Asia | Central America | Europe

How much did travel in South America cost you?

If you have travelled recently in South America then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in the region as we look to keep this up-to-date for 2018 and beyond. Budgets really do vary considerably amongst travellers so there will never be a definitively right figure for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible. Thanks!

 This page was last updated in January 2017.

Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Bogota


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Funky 100 – Number 76

5 Funky Things to do in Bogota

Why you should Visit…

Colombia’s kicking capital is one of the most rapidly changing cities on the planet and easily one of the most exciting in South America. With warm welcoming people and one or two novel ideas for how to entertain locals and the relatively few travellers that venture here, Bogota surprises you in ways you’d never have expected. It’s very much the beating heart of the new (and pretty safe) Colombia and it’s future looks brights.

1) Watch a futbol match at El Campin, Colombia’s National Stadium

colombia football team at el campin stadium in Bogota

2) Visit the Police Museum to learn about Colombia’s violent War against the powerful Drug Cartels

Bogota Police Museum

3) Hop on a bike and explore the city during the Sunday Ciclovia

ciclovia bogota

4) Take the funicular (or teleferico) upto the top of the Cerro de Monserrate

monserrate funicular in bogota

5) Head to Avenida Septima for a Friday night street Fiesta!

friday night in bogota


This was the first Funky 100 article submitted by us to get the ball rolling! The other 99 will be by you! Send yours in to funky100(@)


This article was published in September 2013

Backpacking Route in South America

latin america routes

south america | brazil | patagonia | central america | mexico

Backpacking Route in South America

Want to see South America? Not sure where to start? Well if you need some inspiration then look no further. This is the MFT backpacking route for the continent. There’s so much to see in South America that this trip could take as long as six to twelve months and yet still there is so much more that we had to leave out.


It could be done in less but there is plenty to see and you will be spending A LOT of time on buses so unless you fancy a six hour coach journey every other day, take your time.

POSSIBLE BUDGET – £5000 €5700 $6000

These figures are based on prices and exchange rates as of January 2017. For more detailed info see our South America Backpacking Costs.

Figures don’t include cost of flights to/from S America or other important pre-trip expenses such as getting travel insurance or vaccinations. It is based on taking buses everywhere, staying in hostel dorms or cheap private rooms where prices are comparable.


Visa requirements aren’t particularly strict in South America, particularly if you are from the EU with 90 days visa-free in most countries on this route. Find out which countries you need a visa for here.


We recommend World Nomads who specialise in dealing with long backpacking trips.


Available as Paperback or Ebook from £2.99 | €3.49 | $3.79.

South America Backpacking Route

The route starts in Colombia which has been experiencing something of a backpacking boom over the past few years and rightly so. It has evolved into a safe, friendly and exciting place to visit with a fabulous mix of big cities, stunning countryside, Caribbean coastlines and Latin American passion.

The route then follows the Andes down through Ecuador taking in historic Quito and a jaw-dropping train ride. Peru is next and for many the highlight of travel in the region: the Inca Trail and a trip to Machu Picchu. Head east into Bolivia and be shocked and inspired in equal measure by the continent’s poorest country before diving into Chile for more spectacular Andean journeys.

Some vibrant big cities await as you head from the Chilean capital of Santiago on the Pacific Coast to buzzing Buenos Aires on the Atlantic coast taking in the heart of Argentina as you go. After months on the road it’s now very much relaxation time as the beautiful beaches of Uruguay and Southern Brazil await before going out with a bang in the ultimate party city of Rio de Janeiro.


South America backpacking route

Bogota, CC BY SA 2.0

Fly into Cartagena (possibly via a connecting flight in Bogota) or if you’re coming from Central America consider crossing the Darien Gap from Panama.

Cartagena – The old part of Cartagena is a special place with horse-drawn carriages and stylish architecture while the city is on the coast so has a Caribbean flavour. This is a good place to start as there are cheap flights to Miami which is connected to cities all over Europe and North America.

Parque Nacional Tayrona – Skip tacky Santa Marta and Taganga for the beautiful national park with deserted Caribbean beaches and snow-capped peaks.

Mompos- Totally unique town well off the beaten track, stuck in a time-warp with lots of furniture and rocking chairs!

San Gil– Adrenaline junkies paradise with cheap and excellent rafting, paragliding, hydrospeeding and waterfall abseiling.

Villa de Leyva- Colonial town near the capital with a huge square.

Bogota- Cool and much improved capital city. Cyclist’s paradise (especially on Sundays), alternative districts and great museums. Check out our 5 Funky Things to do in Bogota!

Salento – Small town, lots of travellers and some stunning surrounding countryside.

Cali – Colombia’s salsa city with some passionate Colombian nightlife at weekends.

Popayan – Perhaps the most attractive of Colombia’s old towns. Lots of churches and pretty white buildings.

Find out more in our Backpackers Guide to Colombia (a few years old now but still some relevant info).


budget travel in Ecuador

Quilotoa, CC BY 2.0

The Popayan-Otavalo leg is potentially very dangerous at night with armed bandits in Western Colombia. Set off very early and consider stopping over in Pasto or Ipiales. The journey is at least 12 hours in total and this is possibly the longest day of travelling on our South America backpacking itinerary. The border crossing is fairly quick and painless at the international bridge between Ipiales (COL) and Tulcan (ECU).

Otavalo – Famous for its Saturday market, friendly indigenous people and lots of men sporting dresses and ponytails! Bloodthirsty backpackers may want to visit the town’s cockfighting ring.

Quito – Popular if at times unsafe capital city. The old town is large and interesting but head to the Marsical for an all action international area bursting with backpackers, loads of hostels and lively westernised clubs.

Cotopaxi – Stunning National park with the giant and freezing cold 5900m Volcan Cotopaxi at the centre of it.

Banos – Touristy town but a very pleasant, safe place with its famous baths and surrounded by green mountains. Take a trip into the Amazon which starts just a few kilometers east of the town.

Riobamba – Mountain town with some random buildings and shops. Starting point of the famously steep train ride down to Sibambe.

Sibambe – End of the trainline, little to see but it’s a short trip to Cuenca.

Cuenca – Popular riverside city full of colonial buildings and cool cafes.


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, CC BY 2.0

Cross at the Huaquillas border crossing. If you speak Spanish, it’s fairly easy to hitch a lift in one the many lorries that run the route down to Mancora which is about 3 hours south of the border but buses do run to Mancora from Cuenca.

Mancora – Popular beach resort full of drunk gap year students, surfers and an unfortunately high number of thieves.

Trujillo – Truth be told Northern Peru has little in comparison to the south but Trujillo is a decent stopover for a day or so.

Huaraz – Another altitude spot of natural beauty in Peru’s central Sierra. Surprisingly lively nightly entertainment including a decent choice of live music.

Lima – Coastal capital of Peru perched on huge cliffs above the Pacific. It’s okay for a few days but for a capital there’s not much to see.

Huacachina– Much fun to be had here in the giant sand dunes with options including sandboarding and bumpy buggy tours.

Nazca – Famous for its mysterious lines as featured in Indiana Jones. Unfortunately fly-overs are out of the budget of most backpackers.

Cuzco – The ancient Incan capital is still a really impressive sight and great place to hang around for a few days. It’s also the launching pad for the Inca Trail and a visit to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu – The most famous of all the Incan ruins, an incredible place up in the clouds of the Andes mountains. For many travellers this is the highlight of backpacking around South America.

Puno – Lively town on the Peruvian banks of Lake Titicaca.

Read about the cost of travel in Peru.


Bolivia backpacking route

Salt Flats in Bolivia, CC BY-SA 2.0

There are bus companies in Puno who run twice daily trips to Copacabana. The journey is about three hours and includes stops at both border checkpoints. There are no ATM’s in Copacabana the last we knew so make sure you have enough cash before crossing the border. US dollars can be exchanged easily in both towns.

Copacabana – The first town in Bolivia, enjoy the cheapness of the place and hop on a boat to the Isla del Sol.

Isla del Sol – This is the Inca birthplace, a beautiful island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest freshwater lake.

La Paz – One of the smallest and safest capitals on the continent. Street markets, the Coca Museum and the infamous San Pedro prison are very popular with backpackers here.

Sucre – Relaxed town known as ‘la ciudad blanca’ (White City). It is probably the most attractive city in the country.

Potosi – Take a trip down the shockingly dangerous working mines in what is the highest city in the world. A depressing but unforgettable place.

Salar de Uyuni – The world’s largest salt flat is a weirdly charming place and an increasingly popular stop on the South America backpacker trail. You will probably need to do an organised tour here, which can last several days.


South America travel itinerary

Valparaiso, Chile

Some travellers do 3 day tours of the salt flats and some companies may offer this as part of a trip between Uyuni, a functional town in Bolivia and San Pedro in Chile. Other options include diving into Northern Argentina via the Villazon border crossing and possibly heading to the attractive city of Salta and then crossing the Argentina-Chile border to reach San Pedro.

San Pedro de Atacama – Stunning landscape around the laid back but somewhat pricey town. See it on a horse or bicycle.

Antofagasta – Unremarkable port offers an insight into life in a non-touristy Chilean city and has good transport links going south.

Copiapo – Sleepy town which burst into the global spotlight in 2010 with the dramatic and very moving rescue of 33 trapped miners.

Vina del Mar – Best beaches in the country with awesome music festival every February.

Valparaiso – Colourful town with a vibrant bohemian culture. A real gem.

Santiago – Capital city with so much to do in and around it. Skiing in the Andes, nice beaches and interesting towns all very close to what is the beating heart of this country.

You can also extend your time in Chile & Argentina and potentially visit Antarctica by following our Backpacking Route in Patagonia.


Che Guevara route

Che Guevara Museum, CC BY 2.0

Buses from Santiago to Mendoza take around 8 hours. The route is a fairly spectacular crossing of the Andes and obviously you will see more if you opt for a day bus although night buses do run. You may want to stop off in a village in the mountains to break up the journey and enjoy the incredible scenery. For bus times in Argentina and some of the other countries check out BusBud.

Mendoza – Excellent wine produced here and it’s also not far from Mount Aconcagua, the tallest on the continent.

Cordoba – Second city full of students with a Mediterranean feel. Big city but much more chilled out than Buenos Aires.

Alta Gracia – Small country town outside of Cordoba. The main attraction in Alta Gracia is Che Guevara’s childhood home, which is now an excellent museum.

Rosario – Interesting big city which includes riverside beaches with an alternative vibe.

Buenos Aires – Fantastic city, take in a passionate football match, the vibrant streetlife, super shopping and lively clubs that party well past dawn. Many travellers view the giant Argentinean capital as their favourite city in all of South America.


South America travel itinerary

Montevideo, CC BY 2.0

Colonia is actually a popular daytrip from Buenos Aires so it is very easy to get from Argentina to Uruguay. Buquebus is a company that offers fast boats taking just one hour or cheaper slow boats that do the journey from BA to Colonia in three hours. They also have boats direct to Montevideo and Punta del Este from the docks in Buenos Aires.

Colonia – A short hop across Rio de la Plata from BA, this cobblestone town with lively bars is a great if a little touristy introduction to Uruguay.

Montevideo – Small and very pleasant by the standards of capitals in Latin America. Popular with artists and architecture lovers.

Piriapolis – Budget beach resort with fun stuff including jet skiing, windsurfing and banana boating.

Punta Del Este – Most popular beaches in the region and some banging nightlife!

Cabo Polonio – A tiny coastal village with sea lions, penguins, whales, rustic hostels and lots of hippies.


Brazilian football fans

Brazilian football fans

Cross the border on foot at the town of Chuy north of Punta del Este but still on the coast. The main street is called Avenue Brasil/Uruguay and is where you will find the immigration controls There is accomodation in the town if you don’t want to head straight to Porto Alegre. This is where backpacking through South America suddenly gets a bit more expensive. Read more on the cost of travel in Brazil.

Porto Alegre – City with interesting museums, arts and music.

Iguacu Falls – Spectacular waterfalls where three countries meet. Pop over into Paraguay if you’re looking to tick another country off your list. Iguacu Falls is one of our Top 10 Latin America Travel Experiences!

Curitiba – Historic buildings, interesting art scenes and a European influence give Curitiba a different feel to other cities in Brazil.

Ilha do Mel – Enchanting island with top notch beaches, surfing and even lively youthful parties in the peak season. Cars are banned!

Sao Paulo – The biggest city in the southern hemisphere is chaotic but worth a visit just to get a feel for one of the world’s mega-cities. More on the monster that is Sao Paulo here!

Paraty – Stunningly preserved 18th century colonial town with so many beaches and islands nearby you are literally spoilt for choice.

Ihla Grande – More amazing Brazilian beaches, lush forests and some lively island parties.

Petropolis – Easy day trip from the heat of Rio but it’s worth crashing in this historic mountain town for a night.

Rio de Janeiro- Rio would make a spectacular ending to your time travelling in South America. Time it to get here in March for the Rio Carnival. The city of sun, sea and sin is so much fun! Check out our 5 funky things to do in Rio!


Budget Accommodation in South America

You don’t really have to book accommodation in advance in most of the stops on this route however during festivals or at weekends in big cities, the best budget hostels sell out quickly so in such cases you may prefer a reservation. Many of the real cheap places in the Andean region are not found online.

Couchsurfing is a good option in bigger cities, particularly in Argentina, Brazil and Chile where the price of accommodation is a bit higher. It’s also worth joining just because as a member you can access lots of free events and get in touch with other travellers and locals as you move around.

Options for extending your trip in South America

There are loads of other places you could visit and routes you could take, it’s all down to what interests you really. Other possible stops include Medellin in Colombia which is another great city but given Colombia is a big country with plenty of long journeys you may look for a more direct route. If the infamous city of Pablo Escobar and the Colombian Cartels appeals to you, then you could always head south from Cartagena and miss out the national park, Mompos and San Gil in the East of the country. 

Brazil is large enough that you could spend the best part of a year just travelling in the country alone.  For more see our backpacking route for BrazilIf you had a whole year at your disposal then it’s well worth venturing deeper into the Amazon. Iquitos in Peru gets rave reviews from backpackers many of whom visit the shaman nearby and experiment with the native visionary and very trippy medicine ayahuasca. Indeed if nature is more your thing and then you could do an entirely different route to the mostly mountainous and coastal route above. The Amazon is enormous and despite deforestation it still covers a huge portion of the continent and extends from Brazil into Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as well as Surinam, Venezuela and the Guineas. Following the course of the Amazon River would also be an option.

Another extension would be to start in Venezuela or one of the smaller less visited countries on the Caribbean Coast. This would enable you to do a big loop and potentially even visit every country on the continent.

Ecuador is small and very diverse with coastal, mountainous and jungle regions so you could easily hit the coast or head further into the jungle without any major detours. Head to the full-moon parties in Montanita for some moonlight raving.

With more time and money travelling down to Patagonia in the south of Chile and Argentina is immensely rewarding. You can even arrange trips to Antarctica from backpacker friendly Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. You could also see more of Chile this way and consider hitchhiking to cut costs as it’s very safe and popular in this part of South America.

Alternatively you could head North and have a crack at our one month backpacking route for Mexico.

Options for shortening this route

There are obviously ways to shorten the route. One would be to skip Colombia, Ecuador and northern Peru by flying into Lima and going from there. You would be missing out on a lot of great places but if you’re limited on time then you will have to pick and choose what you want to see the most. Adding a few flights into the mix would speed up your journey. One possibility would be flying from Quito to Cuzco and then heading on the Inca trail. Peru is a very large country and the ascent up to Cuzco by land is something of a nightmare so a flight although more expensive may not be a bad bet if you can find some reasonable deals.

If a tight budget is your main concern then you should consider missing out Brazil, the most expensive country on the continent and flying home from Buenos Aires. Chile could also be missed for the sake of more time in dirt cheap Bolivia and then travel down either through Northern Argentina or by heading east to Paraguay, which is more budget-friendly.

Backpackers Guide to Backpackers Guide to south america

For a full overview of budget travel in the continent get our Backpackers guide to South America 2017-2018, available as either an e-book or paperbook. As well as a similar route to this it includes info on visa requirements, return tickets, vaccinations and typical backpacking costs in each country. There’s also suggestions for the continent’s best festivals and party destinations, the top natural wonders, cultural highlights and awesome activities for adrenaline junkies. FAQ’s from first-time travellers in South America are also answered.

 This page was last updated in January 2017