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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Expenses: Colombia

Mar 2, 2018
by John

Over the 163 days we spent in Colombia our expenses totaled $10,278.83, $63.06 per day. The amount we spent per day exploring the country is lower since $2,114.56 is directly attributed to getting ourselves and the van around the Darien Gap. That translates to $12.97 per day, making the amount we spent each day closer to $50. Considering our $124.90 two year vehicle registration came due while we were in Colombia, we somehow squeaked under $50 per day. That being said, there is no way to overland without a vehicle and associated living expenses happen no matter where we are. To say we are ecstatic to have averaged $63.06 per day, including the Darien Gap, would be a severe understatement.

The exchange rate fluctuated between 2,800-3,000 Colombian pesos per US dollar, all of our expenses are reported at their respective rate.


Our border fees didn't amount to much, $0.45 per day. The majority of the amount recorded under copies was for shipping the van from Panama and retrieving it from the port in Cartagena. The $61.26 under fees was for our tourist permit extensions, $30.63 each.

Again, our communication fees averaged less than $1 per day. Getting SIMs in each country has become second nature and Claro gave us a couple 2 for 1 recharges. Instead of stretching the free data we used it to update our blog since WiFi was fairly spotty and mostly useless at the majority of the hostels we camped at. We ended up recharging our phone 4 times over the almost 6 months we spent in Colombia. We entered Ecuador a couple days before our DeLorme payment was due so it was only charged 5 times in Colombia. The $0.70 under WiFi was for 10 hours of satellite internet service while we were in Tierradentro.

Looking back, we are surprised by the number of places we visited in Colombia. The Inquisition Museum, Fort San Felipe, Chicamocha, Salt Cathedral, Thermal Pools at Piscina Erika, Terracota House, Convento Santo Ecce-Homo, El Fosil, La Piedra, Cocora Valley, Chicaque, Tierradentro, and San Agustin. We thoroughly enjoyed the sites, maybe not the Salt Cathedral, and are happy with the $204.83 we spent under entertainment.

Food, the budget busting frontier, accounts for 42% of our expenses. At $4,346.31, $26.66 per day, there is no denying our trip might be about eating. We dined out 158 times averaging $16.35 per meal, not removing treats, cappuccinos and other one off indulgences from the dining out total.

Our living expenses were a little higher than expected but acceptable at $11.51 per day. We spent 16 nights in hotels, 12 of which were in Cartagena, and 147 slumbering in the van (90%). We finally filled our propane tank, first time since San Diego, for $2.65. That means the remaining $106.61 under cooking fuel was spent on butane cartridges for our Iwatani single burner stove. While it is more expensive, we prefer the little stove, and we stocked up before entering Ecuador on the advice of others. We do expect to buy propane more frequently in the future. All of our medical expenses were for contact lens solution.

A surprise at $2.11 per day, we splurged a little under miscellaneous while we were in Colombia. I picked up some linen clothes and we bought Mandi a new leather wallet and several pairs of earrings. We had to mail a few documents and buy a couple hats in Cartagena since we left ours in the van while it was being shipped. We also had to replace some things that were wearing out, like charge cables, and pick up a new fire extinguisher, tire gauge, etc.

Transportation was higher than usual, as expected, since we had to ship the van and ourselves from Panama to Colombia. The amounts under flights and freighter were for getting all of us to South America. We drove 3,486 miles, consumed 254.74 gallons of diesel, averaged 13.68 mpg, at roughly $2.90 per gallon. The cost per gallon may appear slightly off but we knew diesel was much cheaper in Ecuador so we filled up just after crossing the border. The miles driven are reported under Colombia but the cost for the diesel will be reported under Ecuador. It is a slight discrepancy but normal since we sometimes fill before crossing a border, other times after. The amount we spent under tolls and parking was unexpected, tolls accounting for $163.52 or $1 per day. Many have complained about the tolls in South America, we can live with one dollar per day...assuming the roads are acceptable.


Math Madness

Over a year ago we wrote a post about Building a Pan-Am budget. Near the end we proposed the idea of traveling slower and longer to lower the average cost per day. Instead of just a hypothetical, we thought it would be fun to break down our time in Colombia as a real world example. Again, our total time in Colombia did cost more, not proportionally, and not as much as one would assume.

We can divide our time in Colombia between what was spent traveling and what was spent parked, taking a break from being in constant motion. Our 60 day stint during our second visit to Villa de Leyva and 14 of the 18 days we spent around Salento waiting for our extensions easily adds up to the 74 days we'd remove to keep the rest of our time under the original tourist and vehicle permits. That means the time we spent traveling equates to 89 days, 1 day under the initial 90, leaving just enough time to exit the country without any issues. Others may try and squeeze everything into 60 days, we almost always exhaust our permits so all other camp days are included in the 89...the way we travel.

What we have to extract are the costs associated with extending our permits, three months of additional vehicle insurance, cell phone and DeLorme charges, food and the living expenses incurred during the additional 74 days we spent in Colombia. What we aren't removing are fees associated with receiving important mail, getting some parts shipped, or any fuel and tolls related to driving back to Villa de Leyva. So what did our extra 74 days cost? $2,345.62 or 31.70 per day.

Now that we know what the 74 extra days cost we need to remove it from the totals to see our true cost of traveling Colombia for 89 days. $10,278.83 - $2,345.62 equals $7,933.21 or $89.14 per day. So while our overall expenditure is slightly higher, our daily average is respectably lower, $63.06 compared to $89.14. This is how those who are on a fixed income or who work full time from the road do it. It's also why some of us travel slow, we can get more bang for our buck.

Looking at it a different way, our extra 74 days equates to 83% more time for 30% more money, or 45% of our total time in Colombia cost only 23% of the totals. We can play with this all day but our point should be clear. Going slow does cost more, it is not substantial, rather a much smaller amount than usually assumed. Don't forget, during our 74 extra days we ate filet mignon, slow cooked pork, roasted turkey, french delicacies, pastries, and drank more great Colombian coffee then we care to admit. We didn't skimp but splurged, meaning, a budget conscious traveler would have a much lower daily average when stationary. One also doesn't have to sit in one place for an extended period of time, spreading out the zero days among the normal travel days is usually how it is done.


The pie chart and expenses table are programmatically added to this page. Meaning, if we update our expense information then those will automatically reflect the change possibly creating a disparity between the textual breakout and the actual expenditures. This information has been provided to assist others in planning a long-term trip so use accordingly, by all means contact us to ask any questions or to point out any errors so we can remediate them.

Say what? (2)
Malia macartney
Mar 2, 2018 at 09:03 AM
Wow! What a interesting read. Really enjoyed seeing the breakdown of your expenses. We have yet to do such a complete analysis but it’s good to see it in full. We knew Colombia would be an expensive one, what with the shipping, flights and hotels, but we added bang to our buck by having to have our transmission rebuilt! At least the yellow fever shots were free! Hope to see you down the road!
Mar 4, 2018 at 02:10 PM
Thanks Malia! Sorry to hear you needed to rebuild your transmission, we had to replace ours in San Diego. If you plan on reaching Ushuaia by the end of this year or beginning of next year it would be hard to miss each other. Keep on keepin on!
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