As a whole, it is significantly cheaper to be a tourist in Colombia than in Europe or the United States. When the costs of travel in Colombia are compared to those in other Latin American countries, the place ranks around mid-table. While it is more expensive overall than places such as Guatemala, Nicaragua and Bolivia, it is still cheaper than parts of Latin America with a longer history of international tourism, such as in Brazil or Chile.
The total budget you'll need for your depends mainly on the destinations you plan on visiting, the sort of accommodation you will be using, how fancy the restaurants you will be dining in etc. Though in many parts of the country the dominant type of international tourism is in the budget category, you might be surprised at the large array of mid and high end dining and accommodation options available. This is particularly true in the larger cities, and in popular international tourist spots such as Cartagena.
The most expensive destinations are Bogota, Cartagena, San Andres and Providencia
You can get hold of international foods and products in Colombia, but you'll have to pay a lot more to get your hands on these as opposed to the local produce. If you want to keep costs down, you can do so easily by staying in hostel dorms, using public transport and eating local foods. The most expensive areas in the country are Bogota, Cartagena and San Andres. More remote areas less frequented by tourists are often significantly cheaper.
Breakdown of Travel Costs
The national currency is the Colombian peso, of which there are approximately 2,800 to the USD (today’s rates available here). US dollars, Euros and other major international currencies are accepted in only very few locations; mainly in a handful of the top-end hotels and designer stores in the most popular tourist and commercial destinations.
To help you better assess the costs associated with visiting the country, we've detailed below the approximate average price for a variety of tourism-related goods and services. A more comprehensive breakdown of living costs is available via Numbeo's cost of living comparison tool which can also prove very useful if you're planning on staying in Colombia for the longer-term.
Food and Drink
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Two course lunch and drink (menú) in a basic Colombian restaurant: 6,000 COP – 10,000 COP
Menú in a mid-range restaurant: 10,000 COP – 15,000 COP
McDonald’s BigMac meal: 11,000 COP
Evening meal for two at high quality restaurant: 70,000 COP – 140,000 COP
Prepared fruit / fruit juice from a street vendor: 2,500 COP
Bottled water from a store: 1,500 COP
500ml bottle of soda: 2,000 COP
Coffee from international-style café: 4,000 COP
330ml Colombian beer from a supermarket or local bar: 2,000 COP – 4,000 COP
330ml Colombian beer in upmarket bar: 8,000 COP
750ml bottle of rum or aguardiente (aniseed flavored spirit): 20,000 COP (supermarket); 40,000 COP – 80,000 COP (nightclub)
Weekly supermarket shop for one person: 100,000 COP – 150,000 COP
Bed in a hostel dorm (night): 16,000 COP – 25,000 COP
Private room in a hostel (night): 60,000 COP
Typical 3* hotel room (night): 120,000 COP – 260,000 COP
Typical 5* hotel room (night): 300,000 COP +
Long-stay room in a shared apartment (month): 500,000 COP – 900,000 COP
Furnished apartment in a high end building (month): 1,600,000 COP +
Bus journey within a city: 2,000 COP
Metro journey: 2,500 COP
10 minute taxi ride: 6,000 COP – 10,000 COP
10 hour inter-city coach journey: 50,000 COP
45 minute internal flight: 40,000 COP – 160,000 COP
ATMs and Travelers Checks
Currency exchange facilities and ATMs are widely available in all urban centers and withdrawals generally cost around 4,000 COP per transaction. Your home bank may levy additional charges. If you're headed to off-the-beaten track destinations, like Capurganá in Choco or Tayrona National Park, you'll need to withdraw plenty of cash prior to arrival as banking and currency exchange facilities in these areas are very limited.
There are various local banks, and a couple of global ones, with a strong presence in Colombia
There are various local banks, and a couple of recognized global ones, with a presence in Colombia. Cash withdrawals are available from all of these, but some can be a bit temperamental about accepting international cards. In particular, the ATMs run by the Bancolombia bank do not seem to like foreign cards at all. And, of course, this is the bank which has by far and away the most number of ATMs in the country. The single transaction limit at almost all ATMs is either 300,000 COP or 400,000 COP, but repeat withdrawals are possible.
Peso bills come in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 thousand pesos, with cash machines frequently issuing larger amounts in the highest value bills. Obtaining change for small purchases or from informal businesses (e.g. fruit sellers, street food vendors) for the 50,000 COP bills can be challenging at times. As such, it is best to try to use these in supermarkets, restaurants etc. where change is more readily available. These establishments, and many high street shops and hotels, will also accept credit cards. Again, smaller vendors do not generally offer this service.
Travelers checks are also changed at international airports and in some upmarket hotels and banks in Cartagena, Medellin, Bogota and other areas with significant numbers of international visitors. The most widely used (and accepted) checks are those issued by American Express and Citicorp. Some establishments only cash US currency checks.
It is also possible to obtain cash via an international money transfer to the country. A number of internationally recognized money transfer companies, such as Western Union and Money Gram, have offices throughout Colombia, with the highest concentration of offices in the largest cities. Generally speaking, it is best to reserve use of money transfers to emergency situations only, as the fees tend to be much higher than those for alternative methods of obtaining cash in the country.
Cheap (and Free) Cash Withdrawals for Expats in Colombia
If you've gone beyond just a quick trip to Colombia and are looking to stay in the country for a period of months or years, you might do better exploring other options. Depending on the type of visa you have, it can be tricky to open a local bank account. You might do better doing some advance planning and sort out the best cash withdrawal option while still at home.
The best of these for US citizens (as of October 2016) was to open a Schwab checking account, which charges no foreign transaction fees. For UK expats, it is generally cheapest to use specialist foreign currency credit cards, but the situation with these changes frequently. For the most up-to-date advice, check the excellent MoneySavingExpert site.
If you need to make large payments from abroad to Colombian bank accounts, for example to pay for your rent or tuition, do yourself a favor and avoid doing this via a normal bank transfer. It works out significantly cheaper, and often much quicker, to use the services of TransferWise to make such payments. TransferWise uses a separate peer-to-peer network to arrange the exchange and international payment and its commission is often only about 10% of what a normal bank would charge for the same transaction.
To see how much you would save when making an international money transfer to Colombia via TransferWise, rather than a normal bank, please fill out the figures in the calculator below: