The Breakdown: Colombia Round 1 – Villa de Leyva, Bogota and Guatavita
Exchange rate: $1 = approximately 1800 Colombian pesos (it’s really about 1790 COP, but we’ve been rounding up to 1800 in our calculations
Overall: Colombia is fantastic. Period. One of the best places we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. It made us laugh the first time we saw it, but the government’s tourism slogan, “Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay,” is totally true.
The energy and attitude of the people can make or break a country, and the people of Colombia are definitely making it. They’re warm, open-hearted and honest people. Between Marta’s “mi carinhos” in Villa de Leyva, surprise birthday cakes in Bogota and the most beautiful people at La Juanita, we were treated like close friends and made immediately comfortable in almost every place we stayed.
Add to that, a stunning natural environment, good food and reasonable costs, and you definitely have a winner in the travel lottery. Colombia is absolutely one of our top 5 countries in the world to visit.
Costs: We traveled to Colombia twice, with 3 weeks in Peru sandwiched in the middle of the visits. Therefore, these costs include the time we spent on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, as well.
I think we could’ve spent far less money in Colombia than we did, but I’m slowly realizing that we are just not that kind of travelers anymore. Maybe I’m getting soft as I approach middle age, but I’m finding that I need a certain level of comfort that I didn’t need before. I’m no longer willing to sacrifice a reasonable level of comfort or a daily latte or two, just to save a few dollars. (Well, that is until we got to Lima, but that’s a story for anther day).
Over our 19 days in Colombia, we averaged $89.74 per day for both of us, for a total of $1705.11. The largest expenditures, not surprisingly, were on food and accommodations, at 32% and 43% of the total budget, respectively. These numbers include everything, but flights, which we have decided to keep track of separately.
However, during our time exploring the Bogota area, we always stayed in private rooms, and had some pretty decent meals in nice restaurants. If you were really on a strict budget, you could definitely do Colombia for way less, by sleeping in dorms, self-catering and eating where the locals do.
The cost of traveling by bus or taxi is super affordable. For example, our 5 hour bus ride between Bogota and Villa de Leyva in a top of the line, air-conditioned bus cost just 20,000 COP each, or $11.
Once again, we used the Budget Your Trip website to track our expenses, and all of the gory details can be found here.
What we did: After landing in Bogota late and crashing for the night, we boarded a bus and headed to Villa de Leyva for a short 3 day visit. In retrospect, we could’ve spent many more days in Villa de Leyva. Beautiful, peaceful, and super affordable, it’s definitely a place that deserves some time. There’s not much to do in Villa de Leyva, except relax, read and enjoy the Colombian people, but sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.
From Villa de Leyva, we headed back to Bogota for 2 nights. We visited the famous Museo del Oro and walked around the historical district of Candelaria. On our second night, we met up with Felipe from La Juanita and he whisked us away to our ayahuasca ceremony on the outskirts of Bogota.
After the insanity of the ceremony and the chaos and traffic of Bogota, we descended upon the peace and tranquility of Felipe’s farm for 5 days, where we enjoyed serenity, delicious home-cooked meals, an amazing hike through the mountains of Guatavita, a visit to the birthplace of El DoraIdo legend, Lake Guatavita, a soothing hot spring and great connections with wonderful people.
Not a bad start to our year of world travel, I’d say!
Food: There was nothing extraordinary about Colombian food. I write this, because at this moment, 1 month after we left Colombia for the first time, I can’t for the life of me, remember what we ate. Which means that nothing was extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad. I think there was a lot of grilled fish. And maybe some potatoes. Or rice. I’m not sure.
What I do remember is all of the amazing healthy and natural food we had at La Juanita. All home-cooked, flavourful and totally nurturing. Meals at La Juanita were not just meals, but an all-day event that you could smell brewing for hours beforehand. Yum yum yum.
Travel Tip: Make sure you visit the regulated taxi stand at Bogota International Airport and get a coupon for your ride. It’s a bit difficult to find when you exit International Arrivals, but totally worth it. Quoted prices from taxi touts at the airport were double or triple the actual rate.
We learned this the hard way, but know that there are 2 separate bus terminals in Bogota. The Terminal de Transporte and the Portal del Norte. Depending on where you’re staying in the city, you could save yourself a lot of time by leaving from the closer terminal.
It’s when we got to Villa de Leyva and Guatavita that Colombia became truly memorable. Villa de Leyva is a mere 4-5 hour bus ride away, and Guatavita is even closer. Just a few hours by bus from Bogota. But that 2 hours could be a million miles away for the difference you will feel upon breathing in the fresh mountain oxygen and taking in the unbelieveable scenery.
When in Colombia: Greet everyone you meet with an enthusiastic Buenos Dias (good morning), Buenos Tardes (good afternoon) or Buenos Noches (good evening). Of course, this doesn’t apply to every single person you pass on the busy streets of Bogota, but if you can acknowledge someone else in Colombia, you do. Like I said, the people are nothing if not open-hearted. And the most beautiful thing of all is that it’s totally authentic.