Tag Archives: spending

Colombia round up & budget

Colombia was a last-minute addition to my itinerary based on the rave reports I’d read from other travel bloggers, and as I travelled through Central America, I heard more and more people gushing about how it was their favourite country in South America. So how did it turn out?

After a very disappointing start in Bogota, I ended up loving the country. For a country with such a dangerous reputation, I actually felt safer in Colombia than any other country so far. You’d never know either that mass tourism is relatively new here either – it’s a very easy country to get around andI stayed in some of the nicest hostels to date.

Freshly picked coffee beans

Freshly picked coffee beans

There were plenty of highlights – Villa de Leyva is one of the finest little colonial towns I’ve seen so far; Tayrona gave me the best beaches I’ve ever seen; climbing Nevado del Ruiz took me above 5,000m for the first time; Medellin is one of the most fun cities I’ve ever visited; visiting Hacienda Guayabal to see how coffee is grown and made was both beautiful and fascinating; San Gil gave me the opportunity to try paragliding, and the Lost City trek is the best hike I’ve ever done.

Colourful Guatepe

Colourful Guatepe

I even grew to love Bogota in the end. It’s funny how much of a difference the weather can make to my enjoyment of a place – after a cold, wet and grey first experience, on my second visit I arrived to glorious sunshine, blue skies, and warm weather. And suddenly the city looked beautiful (and not like Croydon so much). I ended up in a much nicer hostel (the fantastic DN) in a slightly safer-feeling area, discovered some beautiful little side streets and some of the nicest and friendliest little bars and restaurants I’ve seen on my trip so far.

Every country has its downsides, and for me the only real letdown was the food. The Colombians seem to have a penchant for deep-frying everything, which was not great, and pretty much everything that wasn’t deep-fried seemed to be stuffed with cheese (even when you least expect it). It was generally quite expensive too, compared to other countries I’ve been to, and even the supermarkets were poor – I found a better selection of many things even in Guatemala, a much poorer country. There were some highlights, such as the hot chocolate with cheese, and some excellent street-food chorizos, but on the whole it was all a bit disappointing.

But my happiest memory of Colombia is nothing intrinsic to the country – it was instead the other travellers I spent time with. In the Macondo hostel in San Gil I met a fantastic selection of Brits, Irish & Americans. I did the Lost City trek with six of them, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better group of people. After that, every place I visited ended up being with a selection of the group from San Gil. Thanks for helping make Colombia such a special experience.

The unusual Bolivar statue in Manizales

The unusual Bolivar statue in Manizales


I’m now getting used to the fact that each country never turns out to be as cheap as I was hoping, and Colombia was no exception. I found food to be especially on the costly side, although as usual I did myself no favours by spending far too much partying. Still, on the brightside I spent the least since Guatemala, and only a touch more than I spent in Mexico. Here are the daily averages:
Transport: $6.69
Accommodation: $7.80
Museums, activities & excursions: $9.58
Food & drink: $24.52
Miscellaneous: $1.27

And now onto the serious business – here’s how Colombia shapes up in numerical terms (and what’s really noticeable now is how much church fatigue has set in – the number has plummeted since Mexico)
Buses 20
Taxis 21
Flights 1
Jeeps 2
Churches 3
Beaches 4
Beds 13
Hammocks slept in 5
Night buses attempted to sleep on in the face of over-enthusiastic aircon and suicidal drivers 3
National Parks 3
Hot springs 1
Laundry 6
Postcards 2
Phone calls 3
Cash withdrawals 12
Museums 2
Lost cities 1
Volcanoes 2 (1 mud, 1 normal)
Coffee farms 2
Cable Cars 2
Days spent hiking 8
Paraglides 1 (disappointing)
Water Parks 1
Ants eaten – several (which was probably several too many)

On the people I met front, the biggest disappointment is that I didn’t get to spend more time with Colombians – all the ones I met on the street and so on were incredibly friendly, but because I met such a fantastic group of travellers early on in San Gil, I ended up spending most of my time with them and didn’t make enough of an effort to go out and meet more locals. Must try harder. On a positive (geeky) note, Colombia did give me the opportunity to add a few more unusual countries to my list (French Guiana, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Egypt)
UK 21
US 15
Israel 12
Australia 9
Colombia 7
Ireland 5
Argentina 3
Canada 2
Isle of Man 1
Norway 1
Egypt 1
French Guiana 1
Poland 1
Guernsey 1
Romania 1
Uruguay 1
Germany 1
Spain 1
Belgium 1
France 1

You can catch up on any of my Colombian posts that you’ve missed here and see all my photos here.

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Honduras Round-up & Budget

I’m not going to write a long post about my impressions of Honduras like I did for Mexico & Guatemala, as in my brief time in the country I didn’t get to see all that much and it’s hard to get a real feeling for a country based on just a couple of stops.

Sunset over Utila harbour

Sunset over Utila harbour

What I did see though I really liked. I was expecting it to be pretty similar to my previous stops, but it felt like the country had a very different vibe, a much more laid-back, tropical pace of life where no one ever seems to be in a hurry.

My first stop was Copan Ruinas, a little town near the border with Guatemala, most famous for its Mayan ruins, and in particular the intricately carved stelae that are dotted around between the pyramids. I’d love to show you photos, but after walking all the way from time I realised I’d forgotten to put the battery back in my camera after charging it. I won’t be making that mistake again.

Next stop was Utila, and after completing my dive course it was lovely to just spend a few days chilling out on the island. It’s a wonderfully relaxing place, which basically has just two real road on the whole island, and what little traffic there is consists of golf carts and quad bikes. No cruise ships visit the island, which helps preserve the tranquil air, and pretty much everyone on the island is there for one thing, which is pretty cool, as you immediately know you have something in common with everyone you meet, and everyone is always happy to chat about all the cool things they saw on the day’s dives. The island isn’t exactly famous for its beaches (especially compared to most Caribbean islands), but there are a couple of lovely little ones if you want to get away from the diving.

Utila beach

Utila beach

One of my other favourite things about Utila was the Jade Seahorse restaurant. With no guidebook I’d never heard about it before I got to the island, so when one night an English girl told me we had to go there because it’s one of the best bars in the entire world I was sceptical to say the least. Turns out I should learn to drop my natural cynicism from time to time. The whole place is a work of an American who spent eight years creating this little fantasy land out of broken bottles, sea shells, pieces of mirrors and any other junk he can find. The garden is laid out over several different levels, linked together by colourful staircases, little passageways, bridges and tunnels, all covered in a colourful mosaic of rubbish. Around the garden sit a few small similarly decorated cabins you can stay in, and at the top, suspended in the trees, is its bar, Treetanic. The whole place is captivatingly beautiful. It’s a really unique place, and I think the girl may have been right. Definitely one of the best in the world.

Jade Seahorse, Utila

Jade Seahorse, Utila

I definitely want to return to Honduras. I never got to explore the beautiful highlands to the south, which has some wonderful colonial towns and is the heartland of the country’s indigenous culture. The mosquitia (Mosquito Coast) area to the east of the country is supposed to be another highlight, one of the largest wildernesses of Central America.

There was one down side to Honduras though: it was my first budget fail. Diving may be cheaper in Honduras than most other places, but $269 for just four days is still way above budget. Add in the fact that Utila is an island where nothing grows and all the food has to be imported, and it means my food and drink budget ended up the highest yet.

In fact, I didn’t just go a little over, I went quite a bit over – $65.47 per day. Here’s how it broke down:
Transport:
Accommodation: $7.54
Diving & Copan ruins: $3.96
Internet & laundry:$5.47
Food & drink:$24.67

Luckily I was only there for 13 days, so my overall average stayed a fraction under $50 – but with the USA to come next I knew I was destined to end the first leg of my trip over budget.

And now the other numbers:
Taxis 5
Flight 1
Boats 7
Cars 1
Beaches 1
Bed 5
Laundry 1
Postcards 2
Phonecalls 2
Cash withdrawals 3
Islands 1
Museums 1
Pyramids 1
Tuktuks 1
Dives 6

People I dived & drunk with:
British 13 (for some reason Utila had easily the highest concentration of Brits I’ve seen so far)
Canadians 11
Americans 9
Germans 5
Australians 2
Irish 1
Israeli 1
Swiss 1
Dutch 1
Norwegian 1
Ecuadorian 1
Brazilian 1

Guatemala: Budget & Other Numbers

After narrowly scraping in under budget in Mexico, I was expecting Guatemala to be a hell of a lot cheaper.

In many ways it was – thanks to cheap chicken buses and short distances, I spent less than a fifth of what I had in Mexico on transport; similarly I was pleased to find that accommodation was much cheaper too.

Quetzales

Quetzales

Despite that, I still ended up far closer to my limit than I’d hoped, which is something I should have foreseen, for one main reason: my Spanish lessons. Coming in at $400 for two weeks, it accounted for 41% of my total spend and bumped my daily average up by nearly $20 per day. It was all worth it though, as it was the most fun I had in the country, and already it’s really helped me with my communication ever since.

The other surprise factor which is bound to affect any true Brit’s spending is the fact that beer is twice the price of that in Mexico. Now Gallo (the standard lager) and Moza (the delicious dark one) are good enough, but not really worth twice the price. Apparently the reason it’s so expensive is that the rich who dominate Guatemalan politics have ensured that income tax rates are among the lowest in the Americas, meaning the shortfall has to be made up with consumption taxes, which certainly hit the tourist harder.

Still, more expensive than I’d expected it may have been, but at least I still came in cheaper than Mexico. Total daily spend was $44.53, broken down as follows:
Transport – $2.38
Accommodation – $2.74
Activities (including the Spanish lessons and volcano hikes) – $19.46
Internet, laundry & postage – $1.64
Food & drink – $18.31

Other Numbers
Weird local gods paid homage to – 1
Hours of Spanish lessons – 40
Earthquakes felt – 1
Earthquakes slept through – 2
Active volcanoes climbed – 1
Buses – 13
Boat – 3
Cars – 2
Churches – 2
Beaches – 1
Beds – 6
Hot Springs – 1
Laundry – 3
Postcards – 2
Phone calls – 1
Cash withdrawals – 7
Museums – 1
Pyramids – 2
Tuktuks – 4
Kayaks – 1

People I studied & Salsa-ed with
Americans – 23
Canadians – 6
Guatemalans – 6
Brits – 3
Swiss – 3
Australians – 3 (at last)
French – 2
Belgians – 2
Mexicans – 1
Irish – 1
Germans -1
Kiwis – 1
Swedes – 1
South Africans – 1

Next stop: Honduras. And diving. Which is expensive.

Mexico: Budget & Other Numbers

I’m rubbish with money. Really rubbish. For years I was stupidly in debt, a situation that wasn’t helped by firmly sticking my head in the sand when it came to dealing with any financial matters – for example, I never used to even look at bank statements. When I phoned my bank and the machine insisted on reading out my balance before letting me speak to someone, I used to hold the phone away from my ear because I knew the numbers would be too depressing. I had no control over my spending, to the extent that one month I’d spent my entire salary three weeks before pay day and ended up living off scraps from the back of the cupboard. Over the years I finally managed to haul myself out of debt and save enough for this trip, but if I’m honest with myself it wasn’t really because I managed to get a firm grip on my spending, but because I worked my arse off to earn more money which was what basically made all the difference.

So when it came to planning my trip, the think that worried me most was not getting mugged, or getting ill, or dying in a bus crash caused by crazy central american bus drivers (turns out that was what I probably should have been worried about). I certainly didn’t anticipate needing to worry about getting caught up in the outbreak of a pandemic in my first country or in a potential coup in my second (more on that in a future post). No, my major worry was staying within my budget of $50 per day for the year.

Now that the first country is out of the way, how did I do? Well, the good news is that I managed to stay within budget – by all of 96 cents. Considering my normal spending habits, that’s definitely something I’m pleased about. In fact, it could have been a fair bit lower. Firstly, transport costs really bumped the total up. I knew Mexico was big, but didn’t really appreciate quite how huge it is. In particular, my decision to go massively out of the way to head right to the north of the country to visit the Copper Canyon (and then all the way back nearly to where I came from) added a huge amount to my transport costs. Also, the swine flu outbreak necessitated an unplanned internal flight to avoid Mexico City. Together, these two things made up nearly $8 out of that $49. Furthermore, I also overspent a fair bit in my first few days in Mexico City & Queretaro while I acclimatised to my new spending regime and got a feel for what was cheap and what was expensive – for example the hostels I thought were cheap in my first two stops ended up being around double what I ended up paying everywhere else. I also spent a lot more on food and drink in the three weeks I was travelling with friends from home than I did when I was just hanging out with other backpackers. I also found it interesting to note that the mere act of recording my spending has helped me spend less as I have a much better feel for where all the money is going and what’s expensive and what’s not.

The bad news is that, even though I knew Mexico would be one of the more expensive countries I visit (as it’s one of the richer ones), it certainly won’t be as expensive as the 5 or so weeks in total I plan to spend in the USA, Australia & New Zealand. Easter Island will be very expensive too. So the average of all the other countries needs to work out a fair bit cheaper than $50 to account for them. Hopefully I can make that up over the rest of my time in Latin America (luckily that seems to be the case in Guatemala so far).

But ultimately I’m not going to let it worry me too much – as well as my budget I have other savings that can act as a cushion if I do overspend, and I’m not going to let money worries spoil the enjoyment of this trip of a lifetime. Plus I need to remind myself anyway that the point is not to do this as cheaply as possible, but to the budget of $50 a day, and so far I’m safely within that.

Right, preamble out of the way, the geek in me will now delight in spelling out exactly where the money went and a few other numbers as well.

Average daily spend:
Total – $49
Transport – $11
Accommodation – $11
Food & Drink – $24
Museums, courses & excursions – $2
Other (e.g. laundry, internet, postage) – $1

Most expensive transport:
Bus from Zacatecas to Chihuahua: $49
Copper Canyon train: $28
Flight to Puebla: $115

Most & least expensive accommodation:
Oaxaca hotel: $23 per person
Creel hostel: $7 (including two two-course meals – best bargain of the holiday)

Most expensive touristy thing:
Bus tour to Divisadero: $15 (but boy was it worth it)

Some other numbers:
Buses caught 40
Taxis taken 22
Flights 2
Boat trips 2
Car rides 7
Bike rides 1
Churches 19
Beaches 4
Beds slept in 19
Canyons seen 2
Thermal baths swam in 3
Laundry done 6
Postcards sent 2
Phone calls made 5
Cash withdrawals 11
Islands visited 1
Museums visited 14
Pyramids climbed 6
Runs along the beach 2
Flu pandemics survived 1
Injuries & ailments: 4 (scraping my arm tripping over a pavement on day one, gashing my back on a jagged rock after overbalancing while crouching down to take a photo of an old VW Beetle, a bout of the trots brought on by a dodgy taco – thank god for Cipro – and a big allergic reaction to Mexican soap, also on day one, which was particularly troublesome considering the official advice for avoiding swine flu involved washing your hands regularly).
Items lost 2 (shower gel & one padlock)

People I’ve shared a beer with:
Mexicans 20
Americans 12
Brits 7
Swiss 4
French 3
Italian 3
Czech 2
Kiwi 2
German 2
Canadian 1
Irish 1
Israeli 1
Spanish 1
Aussies 0 (remarkably)

So there we have it. Not a bad start financially, but must try harder. That’s it for my first country, Mexico. Thanks to everyone who has visited, subscribed and commented, it makes the effort all worthwhile and it’s nice to know people are interested enough in what I have to say to keep reading. Next stop: Guatemala (although I’m now behind enough that I’m already in Honduras before I’ve even posted anything about Guatemala. Whoops)

In case you missed any, you can find all my Mexican photos here and read all my posts from the country here.

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