Tips For Cheap Travel in Colombia

Guy buying handicrafts in Medellin and girl with a backpack

Last updated on May 10th, 2022 at 11:34 am

Dear Reader
My name is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogota, Colombia. Have fun while reading!

Note: All prices included are from the year 2021.

Tips for cheap transportation in Colombia

Transportation is one of the most important aspects of traveling because no matter where you go, you have to get around.

How do you travel cheaper by land?

Use public transport

There are several transport companies in Colombia (BolivarianoBrasiliaCopetrán and Rápido Ochoa)  that offer routes across the country. Most of these providers offer different categories. There are long and short trips, day trips, or night trips. There are also different seats in the buses such as B. Business Class, where you can watch movies on personal screens, have wifi access, connections for charging mobile devices, and listening to music. Other categories offer less service and less comfort while driving, but are also cheaper.

A good way to buy bus tickets in Colombia is the Pinbus app. There, users can compare prices for a trip between cities and use special discount codes for customer loyalty and first-time use of this platform.

To get around a city or place we recommend using the Colectivo (local bus) which can be crowded and slow at times. It also stops every time a passenger wants to get on or off. However, the Colectivo is one of the cheapest means of transport anywhere. You pay a fixed fare, regardless of the route. Prices in Bogota are currently around 2,800 COP (0.76 USD).

In many regions, you can also use motorcycle taxis, which are usually cheaper than regular taxis, but be careful as these are also more dangerous and unregulated.

There are mass transportation networks in large cities. For example the Transmilenio in Bogota, the Transcaribe in Cartagena and the Metro in Medellin. Within these transport systems, you can cross the whole city for a fixed price. Access is obtained with a special card. In Bogota, the card costs 6,000 COP and is rechargeable. A good tip: you shouldn’t use these systems during rush hour.

The Medellin Metro is the most modern mass transportation system in Colombia. It has 27 train stations, 12 cable car stations, and 9 tram stations. The price of a ticket to use this transport system varies. The general tariff is COP $ 2,400, for seniors COP $ 2,300 and for students COP $ 1,090.

You can also buy a citizen card that can be topped up. There are different types of cards, such as the personal card, which is intended for frequent users, students, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. One card is aimed specifically at tourists and sporadic users, the cost of which is 5,000 COP.

Rent a bike for a tour of the city

Renting or borrowing bicycles is possible in Colombia. In some cities, public initiatives have been launched so that local and foreign tourists can access this mode of transport and enjoy a ride around the city. In Medellín, there is a program called “EnCicla”. It currently has around 20,000 users and has 35 stations where you can pick up or drop off a bike. Users must register using a form on the website.

In Bogota, there is an initiative called “Bicicorredores” which serves three bike rental areas, Center, El Virrey, and Mundo Aventura. Users can only ride in the areas designated for the rental and return of bicycles. Detailed information can be found on the website.

To use these offers in Bogotá or Medellín, the following requirements are necessary:

  • Registration on the website.
  • Request a bike only from authorized offices.
  • Return the bike according to the instructions in the program.

Hitchhiking

Due to the earlier security situation in Colombia with paramilitaries and the FARC, which a few decades ago were waiting at the city limits of Bogota and made the whole country unsafe to travel, the paradigm that prevails today is that hitchhiking is dangerous in Colombia. This is for the drivers as well as the travelers.

However, with the 2016 government-FARC peace agreement that ended the armed conflict, the roads have become safer, and while some drivers prefer not to take travelers, it is not impossible to hitchhike. For example, when I was visiting the La Chorrera waterfall, I was taken from the entrance to the main road (about 4 kilometers). However, I was accompanied by a pretty, blonde girl from Germany, which was certainly decisive.

In the country, however, you see more and more simple people hitchhiking. I usually take these people with me and my experience so far has been positive. So far, they have always been local residents.

In fact, a young Spanish couple who traveled to Colombia in 2019 did a small study of their experience of hitchhiking. They came to the conclusion that they were taken away by around 46 vehicles during their visit to this country, the average waiting time was 13 minutes, the maximum waiting time was 3 hours and only one total failure. Although these numbers may vary based on individual experiences, it shows that it is possible to find a hitchhiking trip around the country.

It is also quite possible that the chances increase if you identify yourself as a foreigner. Colombians love foreigners.

Find ridesharing opportunities in social media groups or on websites

Another strategy for getting around cities is with transport groups in social networks. You can also find these for trips within Colombia.

Wheels is one of the apps that work as a social network, bringing passengers together with drivers. This initiative started in Bogotá as a service that only worked in the city but was later expanded to other parts of the country.

Another application to save money while traveling is “Voy con Cupo”. This initially worked in Facebook groups, but now exists as a website. With this application, you can find drivers who are driving to the same destination. In addition, the service offers some security as there is a verification system for both drivers and travelers.

The principle applies that those who plan early usually get better offers than those who want to organize a trip at the last minute.

Birds in Colombia

How can you travel cheaper by plane?

Look for flights in the off season

Avoid traveling on weekends, public holidays or in the months of December to January and June to July, as more tourists are on the road at this time and the prices are therefore often higher. It is also not recommended to travel to Cartagena de Indias during an important event such as the National Beauty Pageant. This also applies to the Carnival in Barranquilla. Possible alternatives are then to fly to a city in the vicinity and cover the rest of the route by bus.

Airlines mostly use algorithms for pricing, so you can see price fluctuations depending on occupancy and time. As I remember, the best time to buy a ticket is around 3-4 weeks in advance for domestic flights and around 2 months for international flights. However, this does not always have to be the case.

The days of the week are also decisive when making a purchase. Do not buy your ticket on weekends and Friday evenings. These are generally the times when there are many bookings and the price is therefore higher. The algorithms are just smart.

Plan your trip with the airline that suits your needs.

Some of the low-cost airlines that you can find in Colombia are EasyflyWingoSatena, and Viva Air which offer cheaper fares. However, this with reduced services, such as lower maximum weight for luggage. These airlines usually also have a sophisticated system of punishment, with which passengers are withdrawn from their wallets for every violation. Not printing out the boarding pass – penalty payment, excess baggage – penalty payment, more than one piece of hand luggage – penalty payment, hand luggage is too large – penalty payment, this list can be extended at will.

However, if your priority is comfort, if you have a lot of luggage to carry, services like food and so on, it might be cheaper to travel on airlines like Avianca and Latam. These airlines sometimes have special offers for customers.

Enable website alerts to get great deals

The best way to find good prices for flights is to do research on search engines like Skyscanner or Hopper, which allow you to find out which are the cheapest days. These search engines can save a lot of time and money as they also contain warning messages. For example, Hopper creates a graph that analyzes flight prices.

I personally use these platforms to filter and check the prices and routes again on the airline’s website.

Tips for finding cheap accommodation

Explore platforms like Couchsurfing and Airbnb

If you are traveling in Colombia and looking for cheap accommodation with a limited budget, these two platforms are usually helpful.

Couchsurfing is a platform that connects you with local hosts. Offers are usually free of charge in exchange for cultural experiences. You will not only find cheap accommodation, but also another friend to exchange culture, history, thoughts and knowledge.

Airbnb is also a great option for cheap accommodation. This platform connects providers of houses or apartments with guests. In Colombia, however, I made the experience that, depending on the destination, there are very good offers or that hotels have better offers.

Tips:

  • Make sure that the profiles are complete and validated.
  • Check other travelers’ opinions and comments about a potential host.
  • Which languages ​​does the provider speak?
  • Are children or pets allowed?
  • Check the services offered, cancellation conditions and additional costs.

Stay in youth hostels

These types of accommodations offer interesting experiences and offer common areas such as lounges, kitchens or even workplaces. The days when hostels only consisted of a few rooms with dormitories are definitely over. In Colombia these days, hostels even compete with luxury hotels.

Some hostels offer various amenities such as terraces, bars, swimming pools, cinemas and many now even have tour services and offer a variety of activities. Another interesting aspect of Colombia hostels is that not only are they cheap, but they are also located in areas where you can find various services such as pharmacies, supermarkets and easy access to the rest of the city.

We also have some recommendations, for example, the best hostels in Medellin or the best hostels in Salento.

Use metasearch engines like Tripadvisor and Trivago for better deals on accommodations

Metasearch engines are a tool that can be used to gather information from various websites, in this case, the hotel industry. Some of the metasearch engines are TripAdvisorTrivagoViajala and Google Trips.

A great advantage of these platforms is that you can compare the prices of hotels on different websites and thus find the best deals at a price that suits your personal budget. However, some metasearch engines do not allow direct reservations. In these cases, I recommend booking directly on the hotel’s official website.

Another tip is to check out the best hotel options on one of these metasearch engines and then contact the hotel directly. It’s best to call because emails are rarely answered in Colombia. Travel metasearch engines are an excellent option to save not only money but also time in hotel search and to make booking decisions easier.

Camping

If you want to explore new places and find an adventurous experience in Colombia, camping is an excellent option. You have the opportunity to come into direct contact with nature, observe the beautiful landscape during the day and sleep under the starry sky at night.

Some of the places I recommend for camping are:

  • Tayrona National Natural Park: This has about 14 incredible beaches that are next to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It offers beautiful views and various species of animals and birds can be observed and discovered.
  • Laguna de Tota: A paradise for travelers because of the blue waters and white sand.
  • Chingaza National Park: A perfect place for hiking and ecological walks with spectacular nature, but also cold.

Note: It is important to always find out about the prices in advance.

In Colombia, good offers are often not available online. A good strategy is always to ask local locals for cheap, high-quality recommendations.

Tips for good and cheap food

Coming to Colombia and not trying the local food is one of the best experiences missing out on it.

Order the menu of the day

The menu of the day, also known as “corrientazo”, is usually served at lunchtime. In my home in La Candelaria, Bogota, an “Almuerzo Ejecutive” is offered. Some restaurants often advertise the menu on a board at the entrance of the establishment, where you can choose from a selection of dishes at a reasonable price. As one local puts it, “it has the bare bones of a delicious meal: egg whites, soup, carbohydrates, grains, and juice.” What else is it for? The price of a daily menu varies between COP 7,000 and COP 14,000.

Prices in tourist restaurants and airports are generally a lot higher. More than double or even triple the price of lunch is not uncommon. During my travels all over Colombia, I have made the experience that there are always shops where you can buy cheap groceries, even in expensive areas.

Local markets are a real insider tip. Generous portions are often offered there for the farmers, workers, and residents. You can find fresh, inexpensive and uniquely flavored dishes for breakfast and lunch. In Bogotá, for example, I recommend “La Plaza de la Perseverancia”, where you can try different types of soups, main dishes such as sobrebarriga, marrano bones, and chicha.

You should also visit La Plaza de Kennedy, where you will find delicacies such as fritanga, bandeja paisa, viudo de capaz, among others. Plaza de la Concordia is another local market not to be missed. Definitely try the Ajiaco, one of the typical dishes.

Another way to experience new taste experiences in a cost-effective way is to take a free gastronomic tour where you can get to know the typical delicacies of Colombia. For example, you can enjoy the traditional empanadas, arepas, almojábanas on the gastronomic tour of Bogota in the historical center. You will also try a variety of exotic fruits. Don’t miss a visit to the Museo de la chicha, where you can learn about the history of the famous indigenous drink made from water, corn, and sugar cane.

For a good overview, we have also put together a selection of the most traditional dishes from Colombia in each region.

Have a Traveling Spoon Experience

Traveling Spoon is an initiative that enables tourists to have a gastronomic experience with the locals. It’s an interesting alternative to try traditional food without spending a lot of money.

In fact, last year (2020) a traveler from Africa visited the city of Medellín and in her adventure with Traveling Spoon, she said it was a very enriching experience. She also mentioned that the home she was taken into was very welcoming and that she felt at home. It’s an opportunity to learn a little about the customs, life in Medellín, tips on tourist attractions and the locals’ love of food.

Self-catering accommodation

In some cases, there are only expensive, out-of-budget restaurants in the area. One of the alternatives is therefore accommodation with kitchens. Accommodations such as the Hostal Intiluna in Salento or the Hostal Medellín Vibes in Medellin offer a communal kitchen and common rooms.

Tips for cheap tourist activities

Free or low-cost tours

Although they are referred to as “free” tours, these are not actually “free” as the concept is based on tipping. However, they are excellent offers, with guides of very good quality. The interesting thing is that there are no fixed prices, the amount of the tip is up to the participant.

You can find tours in Colombia such as gastronomic tours, hiking tours, nature tours, bike tours, graffiti tours, etc.

Free or inexpensive attractions

Some museums, monuments, and large parks offer discounts or free admission on certain days of the month or on certain days of the week.

If you like being in nature, Bogotá has more than 24 parks, such as Parque Simón Bolívar and Parque de los Novios, where you can have a picnic day with family or friends, free of charge.

Many of the museums in Colombia do not charge entry on the last Sunday of the month, so this is an opportunity to visit cultural sites like the National Museum of Colombia in Bogotá, the Military History Museum in Cartagena, and the Casa de la Memoria Museum in Medellín.

Various free cultural events such as Rock al Parque, Salsa al Parque and Hip Hop al Parque are also offered in Bogota.

More tips for cheap travel

Volunteering in Colombia

Colombia is a country full of natural and cultural riches. But it is also a country that has faced difficulties such as violence and poverty, which is evident in the lack of infrastructure such as drinking water and electricity in many homes. Colombia has long been considered internationally isolated. For these reasons, we believe that now is the perfect opportunity to volunteer.

In Colombia, there are several NGOs or foundations that offer various options for volunteering, such as AiesecAdventure Volunteer, and Taranna, where you can work in areas such as the environment, culture, education and animal ethics.

Some of the programs include activities for children or visiting nursing homes, spending time with the elderly, or helping with home renovations or construction. However, the activities depend very much on the program. Volunteering is one of the most interesting ways to travel cheaply while contributing to the preservation of the environment and mutual social development.

Depending on the location you choose to volunteer, you can save money on accommodation. Some NGOs or foundations offer a bed or even a private room and free food. For example, one of our employees did a voluntary service at Aiesec, where she was allowed to teach children languages ​​and the NGO provided her with accommodation for the duration of the program.

Here are some general requirements to volunteer:

  • Age between 18 and 55 years.
  • Ability to work in a team.
  • Participatory and committed personality.
  • Ability to adapt.
  • A medium to high level of Spanish.
  • Motivation, passion, initiative, and interest in learning.

Travel SIM card

We recommend buying a travel SIM card when traveling so that you don’t have to deal with roaming charges. One of the best options is HolaFly SIM. The price varies depending on the amount of data, minutes and additional services. If you live outside Europe, you have the option for an e-SIM.

Advantages of HolaFly:

  • 24/7 technical support.
  • You can connect with a wide variety of local providers. In Colombia, for example, with Claro and Movistar.
  • Free and express shipping (valid only for Spain, France, and Germany).
  • Good coverage and 4G internet speed.
  • Keep the WhatsApp number.

If you live outside Europe you can get the HolaFly eSIM card, which is a QR code that when scanned on your cell phone (if it is one of the compatible models) will activate your data plan. It is very convenient and fast!

You can get it with our code PELECANUS

Working while traveling

A great way to travel around Colombia cheaply is to work in exchange for various services such as accommodation, food, or discounts on tours.

There are a few platforms like worldpackers.com and workaway.info that connect travelers with hosts across the country. The platform specifies the tasks as well as the hours and days that you have to work per week.

There is one offer that struck me in particular in Carmen de Chucurí in the department of Santander. This “job” consists of helping with the creation of gardens, taking, editing and delivering photos of the nature of the place, giving language lessons to the locals and helping with farm work. The services that tourists usually receive include free access to events, accommodation, meals, discounts in bars, laundry service, access to excursions.

Use of discount coupons

In various countries, there are discount coupons on a wide variety of services and products. With Honey, you can find discount coupons for a variety of offers. This application can easily be added as a browser extension to the browser in use and the application searches for coupon codes on websites.

Honey tries different discount codes each time until one works. If multiple coupons are available, this application will show you which one offers the greatest discount. An interesting tool is Droplist, where you can add various articles of your choice. The price will then be tracked automatically and you will be notified as soon as there are price reductions. This not only saves money but also time.

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On our Blog you will find information about our past experiences as well as useful tips for planning your trip to Colombia.