Friday, March 22, 2013

The Great, Wide Open

Have you ever flown across the United States, and looked out the window as you passed over the desert West?  There are huge expanses of open, orange-and-red-and-white craters and peaks and plains.  Even from 25,000 feet, I can just feel the freedom. 

And next week, I'll be hiking there!  The hope is that I get to see The Wave, but I'm pretty psyched to hike anywhere in the southern Utah / northern Arizona area.  Photos to come...

And hopefully it doesn't look like this ... (Early March over the Midwest.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

How Much Does Three Months in South America Cost?

The other day I found 10 Bolivianos in my wallet.  The grocery store clerk was not amused when I tried to pay with it.  Then I realized, I haven't done my trip expense breakdown yet.  Lucky for you, I kept a daily journal that logged all of my expenses while I was traveling.  So . . . how much did I spend for three months in South America?

Now, before you go all "$60 a day! I thought South America was cheap! What happened to $30 a day?!" just take a breath.

First, I was not exactly doing "budget travel" in Peru and Ecuador - I was vacationing with friends while doing very expensive activities (hiking to Machu Picchu and mountain climbing).

Second, you can do $30 a day. Just (1) travel with friends to split costs, while staying in way less nice accommodations, using slower modes of transport, without doing many excursions or moving around a lot, or (2) go to Bolivia.  In Bolivia, I always had a nice private room, with a hot shower and wifi, ate pretty well, traveled on the nice buses, and loads of fun things like two weeks of Spanish classes, four days of Jeep touring around the southwest, and an overnight guided backpacking trip.  For $37/day.

Let's break it down.


Remember the days of paying $4 a night for a dark room filled with fist-sized moths and an "electric" shower that required straddling the toilet? Ah, Guatemala as a 22-year-old.

Bugs so big, they are in a museum in Popayan.
Nowadays, I pay extra for amenities like wifi, hot showers, a kitchen, and (except for in Colombia) a private room.  Sometimes those things were not on offer, and that's fine.  But I was a lot happier as a result of forking over an extra $5/night for those luxuries when I could.

Cheapest hotel room: $3.50 for a sparse but HUGE room in an old colonial mansion in Sorata, Bolivia.

Most expensive hotel: $70 for my part of a fancy hotel in Quito while on the climbing trip.

And best overall room: Dulce Vita in Sucre, Bolivia.  $7/night got me everything I wanted, and more.


I ate in whenever I had a kitchen.  Alcohol was a rarity.  When I ate out, I only had a few "fancy" meals.  Most of the time it was just the basic almuerzo - soup with potatoes and meat, then a main of potatoes, rice, meat, and something fried, and a side of fruit or fruit juice.  Monotonous but cheap.

Pasta instead of rice!  What variety!
Money- and Earth-saving tip: Bring a UV pen for drinking water.  Potable water is rarely available, so I spent at least $1/day to buy drinkable water.  That's at least $90 over the course of the trip, and a whole lot of plastic bottle waste.  A decent water treatment device would have cost less and been more environmentally-friendly.


Fortunately, I enjoy traveling by public bus in Latin America. You get to see the countryside and feel more connected with the people and culture.  However, the quality of the buses varied significantly from country to country (I'm shaking my head at you, Colombia) ...

An excellent long-bus seat.  I was too busy trying to avoid exhaust fumes, dust, coughing children, and bad action movies to take photos of the bad ones.

... and sometimes I had to fly.  This was mostly in Colombia.  I may have been short on time or it was the same price as bus travel or it was the only safe way of getting where I wanted to go.  But let's just say, flights add up quickly.

Save Some Money: Transportation is expensive.  You have the bus ticket, and then the taxi from the station (since you're new in town, you don't know where to go), and then inevitably overpaying for the first night's meal or hotel (ditto).  Go slower, learn more about an area, save money.


The fun stuff! Over one-third of my money went here. What did those $1700 buy me?

  • The Amazon! Spotting pink dolphins and other wild things in Puerto Narino, Colombia.
  • Backpacking! Three days through technicolor, fossil-laden countryside near Sucre, Bolivia; four days on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
  • Hot springs! In Ecuador and Bolivia.
  • Jeep tour! Four days around the incredible southwest Bolivia on my Salar de Uyuni tour
  • Mountaineering! Guided climbs of Iliniza Norte, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo.
  • Paragliding! In Medellin.
  • Spanish class! Private lessons for two weeks in Sucre, Bolivia.
  • Biking! Around Quito during the weekly Ciclopaseo.
  • Day trips! To Valle de la Luna in La Paz, pre-Incan salt flats in Peru, a wax palm forest and hummingbird reserve in Colombia, and loads more.
  • Guided hikes galore! Through the Tatacoa desert in Colombia, to a glacial lake in Sorata, Bolivia, around the Dr. Seuss-like paramo in Sogamoso, Colombia.
  • Museums! Too many to count.

    It Pays to Know People: If I'd been traveling with a friend, I could have cut down my "fun" costs a bit.  As a solo gringa I preferred to pay for a guide in many of the rural or isolated areas whereas with friends, we could have winged it and saved some moolah.


    This category should be called "Reality."   If you travel for an extended time, expenses crop up.  You're going to get sick.  Your watch battery will die.  Your camera will break.  You will lose your hat.  Your clothes will need to be laundered.  Many towns don't have wifi and you'll have to use the internet cafe.  You may even just want a hair cut.  Budget for it.

    My one-day-only emergency insurance for paragliding.


    Don't leave home without it.

    So there you have it.  Roughly $1800 a month goes a long way down south.

    Search This Blog