Colombia: That one time I was a millionaire
I travel on a budget, as much as I can. In this series of posts, I will share with you the destinations where you’ll be able to stretch each hard-earned dollar, some hacks and other tricks to help you stay on budget. My one-week trip to Colombia is memorable. I dealt with altitude sickness. I rode sèso in a local bus, on a highway. I visited an underground cathedral. And, for a few days, I was a millionaire.
“What brought you to Colombia? Cheap flights?” our guide from the graffiti tour asked in jest. My answer: yes and no. What had triggered my desire to go was Narcos, the Netflix series. As simple as that. But, because of cheap flights, my wish came true very quickly.
Getting there Back in 2017, our round-trip flight from Ottawa cost about $600 CAD per person. Compared to what we’d have to pay to go to Sao Paolo or Buenos Aires, this was a steal.
If I were to travel to Bogota from February 1 to 5, 2019, and booked my flight on January 16, 2019, I’d pay less than $600—as seen on Google Flights. Note that I haven’t even taken the time to look for a better deal.
La Casa Azul I took my time looking for a place to stay. I read up on the various neighbourhoods, looking for information on safety and vibe. I mapped out the sights I wanted to see. I opted for a room (with a private bathroom) in a house located in a residential area.
For less than $30 per night, Hubs and I rented a very comfortable room and had access to an outdoor eating area, a living room with a very retro feel, a fully equipped kitchen and dining area. We loved everything about our accommodations. Our room was located on the first floor of an extension built in the backyard, which gave us a sense of independence. Our host was delightful, a native of Bogota who had studied in Toronto for a few years. He helped us build our itinerary and made very good recommendation for restaurants. We met interesting people, including an Australian man who had been in the city for over two months. He had initially come for two weeks, but he found love.
That exchange rate, though
So, about that millionaire thing. When I travel, I usually exchange part of my money in Canada. I just head to the nearest mall and use their money exchange kiosk. I like to have some local currency when I land, just in case I don’t feel comfortable or aren't able to make the transaction at the airport.
When I walked away from the money exchange kisok that day, I phoned Hubs right away. My exact words were: "Babes, we're millionnaires!" See, I hadn't checked the exchange rate beforehand. The 200 American dollars I had turned into a half a million pesos. We were taking another 200 with us, in US currency.
The current exchange rate is slightly higher.
Getting around and enjoying the city
Uber and cabs were cheap. These were our preferred mode of transportation. The intercity bus to Zipaquira (to visit the Salt Cathedral) was on the cheap side too--less than 15 American dollars per person.
Sightseeing was pretty inexpensive, i.e. admission fee for museums and the Salt Cathedral. There were quite a few free activities and places to visit.
Some restaurants were more expensive than others. You can have a pretty decent meal (3 courses, plus wine) for under 15 American dollars. Here are some our favourite places:
El Gato Gris (which has a live band);
Capital Cocina y Cafe (which serves amazing fried plantains, i.e. Patacones or Tostones);
Café Uniòn, across the street from Capital Cocina y Cafe, for the best coffee experience in town. Keyword is experience. They really walk you through the coffee making process;
La Herencia, Brot and La Castana [tilde on the "n"] were amazing spots for brunch. Also, La Castana is well-known for its empanadas;
The street vendors behind the church on Monserrate offer a variety of very local dishes, such as Ajiaco and Fritanga.
We splurged on the food tour. We paid (a whopping) 50 American dollars per person. But we paid for more than the food. The experience (and the conversation) was worth every penny. We learned a lot about Colombian cuisine.