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John and Mandi

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Expenses: Ecuador

May 19, 2018
by John

Time again to count the beans, totaling up our expenses for Ecuador. We decided that it would be prudent to not include our Galapagos expenditures in our country totals because many do not visit the world famous islands and we went cray-cray with a two week cruise. Of course, we will disclose all of our expenses, we just think removing the Galapagos from mainland Ecuador provides a better representation of driving through the country. We also won't be counting the 14 days we spent luxuriously exploring the islands in the total number of days for Ecuador, in keeping everything accurate.  That means we are attributing 66 days to the mainland, spending $4,275.03 or $64.77 per day.

Considering what we experienced on the mainland, $64.77 per day isn't bad. Also considering we needed to replace some necessary gear that was wearing out and buy me some new pants after I badly ripped a pair, the total of which accounts for $9.75 per day. Removing those makes our real world per day expenditure closer to $55, the realistic number if someone is using our totals to plan their own trip. The one big excursion we took on the mainland accounts for roughly $600, $9.09 per day, but we do not recommend skipping the Ecuadorian Amazon...or the Galapagos for that matter. The numbers are what they are, we are very pleased with remaining close to $60 per day. Ecuador uses the US dollar so we didn't have to track any rates of exchange.


While it may seem silly to report the $.10 we spent for a copy at the border, we track every penny and feel disclosing every single cent is important. Obviously, ten cents over the course of a multi-year trip is entirely insignificant but if we started becoming nonchalant about our tracking our totals would soon become compromised. The expense reporting from others was a huge help during our planning process. Once we had been on the road for a while, we could see the discrepancies within them, something we are trying not to have in our own reporting. That doesn't mean our expense reports are more useful, just that everyone has a rationalization in what and how they disclosed their figures. We suppose that providing every single detail removes the devil entirely, hopefully enabling one to extrapolate out what they deem necessary.

Our communication totals were a little higher than what we had grown accustomed to, still not much at $1.45 per day. What others have said about the WiFi getting considerably worse the further south we go has proven to be true. That had us recharging Claro a couple extra times so we could upload our images and stay on top of our blog. The total amount also covered our time in the Galapagos so it was actually $1.20 per day over the full 80 days we spent in Ecuador.

Entertainment was a sizable chunk at $677.50 or $10.27 per day. As stated previously, our excursion to the Amazon was the vast majority of the total. We also visited the hot springs of Papallacta three times for $17 per visit, enjoyed the bird show at the Condor Park, wandered a little at Lake Quilotoa, and explored our first Inca ruin. The many national parks in Ecuador are free, helping us offset the Amazon a little.

Surprisingly, our total expenditures for food was only $1,677.65 or $25.42 per day. We say surprisingly because food prices were higher than in Colombia but somehow we managed to spend less per day. We dined out 47 times, averaging $18.68 per meal. In comparison, we ate a higher percentage of home cooked meals than in Colombia...probably the reason for lower expenditures.

Our living expenses were slightly higher than anticipated, likely due to the higher costs of camping. The 60 nights we spent in the van, 91% of our time on the mainland, averages to $10.69 per night. 10 of those nights were free, making the per night cost of a campground closer to $12.83. Llullu Llama was $24 per night for the two of us but that price included both breakfast and dinner, technically we dined out 10 more times than reported above but the cost is reported under camping. That's the kind of shit that makes most give up or not report their numbers at all. We just stick things in the most obvious place, we couldn't camp there without the included meals, and try to explain the anomalies as best we can.  The 6 nights we spent in accommodation were three in the Amazon, a night in a hotel before and after the Amazon, and one in a spare room at Yanuncay while our sofa bed was getting new foam. Only the latter 3 account for the $100 reported under accommodation, the cost for the Amazon excursion included room and board...again meaning we ate even more meals away from the van.

Miscellaneous was much higher than usual at $672.80 or $10.19 per day. We had been making do with some overly worn gear but the availability of high end brands had us replacing a few things. We both picked up some new Osprey backpacks and I replaced my leaky rain jacket with a Gore-Tex shell. After ripping both of my pants in the Galapagos, I bought two new comparable ones. We could have saved some money by buying me some regular pants as replacements but we have learned the value of high end gear. I've owned the ones I ripped for over 6 years and subsequently have gotten the really badly torn one repaired for $2.

Transportation became the offset to some of the higher costs of Ecuador. We drove 1,846 miles consumed 146.78 gallons of diesel and averaged 12.6 mpg. What helped the budget was the average cost per gallon of diesel, $1.07. The roads, while mostly fantastic, were some of the steepest we have ever driven. We think the continuous climbing then descending, all while in second gear, and an obscure diesel leak were the reasons for our poor mpg. We had the leak fixed, along with some minor suspension work, and spent $60 (reported under upgrades) to have the foam in our sofa bed replaced. At $5.69 per day, we are ecstatic with our transportation expenditures.


So What About the Galapagos

OK, you better sit down if you aren't already. Like ripping off a band-aid, let us just throw the number out to get it over with...then explain. Our total expenditures for the 14 night cruise was $12,239.75. Gulp. That is more than the almost 6 months we spent in Colombia including shipping the van from Panama. While most reading this will be in a total daze, let us help dissipate the haze by saying, it was more than worth it. Our worry of spending so much was squashed during the very first activity. The Galapagos is unimaginable, unexplainable, and unlike any other place on earth. Visiting the islands has been a life long dream of ours. We looked into every conceivable combination of how to experience the islands and succumbed to the reality that there is a reason the uninhabited islands are exclusive to the cruise tours. We also happened to be in Ecuador when the water was the warmest, the most ideal for us. Everything aligned, we took a deep breath, reached out for advice from many dear friends, swallowed hard, and made the wire transfer. Visiting the Galapagos Islands is the single most expensive thing we have ever done, not counting driving the Pan-American Highway, and is easily the most phenomenal.

So, how did it fit within our budget? It didn't, but it never was intended to. During our 7 years of saving we stuck a separate amount to the side specifically for the Galapagos. We knew we were going to visit the islands some day, we just didn't know how. Our fund, a more than respectable $8,000, was assumed to be plenty for a week long cruise and 1-2 weeks of island hopping. It would have been if we had stuck to the original idea. After deeper research we realized our most desired places weren't attainable under our original plan, the only way was to take a two week cruise. We almost scrapped taking a cruise altogether, choosing to only hop around the islands and saving a huge amount of money. Obviously, in the end we decided to spend more than what we budgeted to explore the islands the way we truly desired.

While the cost of our two week cruise was less than the $12,239.75 we spent, the total amount includes every single expenditure directly related to our visit. Drinks, souvenirs, van storage, more sunscreen, park fees, flights, taxis...every penny is accounted for. That means we overspent by $4,239.75, an amount we needed to absorb somehow. We rationalized it by looking at our overall budget and expenses. Our goal for our time south has been to be at or under $80 per day for the two of us. That means the difference between what we had spent verses our per day goal could be used to cover the overage for the Galapagos, remember the $8,000 was budgeted outside the $80 per day.

In Mexico & Central America we averaged $75.44 per day over 600 days, meaning we had an extra $2,736 ($4.56 X 600). While our original goal was $75 per day for those countries, even though we budgeted $80, it was an attempt to shave a little off to put into a reserve for unexpected expenses or to cover excursions we never considered. Using it for the Galapagos fit exactly in our intention. Removing the $2,736 saved from the $4,239.75 overage still left us $1,503.75 in the red. Our underage for Colombia was slightly higher than Mexico & Central America at $2,761.22 ($16.94 X 163), more than enough to cover the remaining difference. As long as we didn't overspend on the mainland of Ecuador we had the money and the green light to book the Galapagos trip of our dreams.

The truth is, we would have cut our Pan-Am trip short to visit the Galapagos. That could still happen if we experience a catastrophic breakdown. While we would like to visit all of the countries we set out to, it is not that important. Our plan has always been to do what we want in the moment and get as far as we do. Ironically, our desire to live now instead of tomorrow is evident in those wonderful creatures that inhabit the land we so long desired to visit.

Let's put it all together for anyone crazy enough to want to have the exact same trip we have. Over the full 80 days we spent in Ecuador our total expenditures were $16,514.78 or $206.43 per day. The Galapagos accounts for 74% of the totals and only 18% of the time. Even though we purposely removed the Galapagos amounts from Ecuador, it will be reported under South America and for the Pan-Am in its entirety.

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.

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