Northern Colombia On a Budget

I spent my 26th Birthday in Colombia and was pleased that my entire cost of the trip, including my round trip flight, cost me only $1000!

Plane ticket: $500 round trip from Las Vegas to Barranquilla, Colombia. I wasn’t staying in Barranquilla but it was significantly cheaper to fly into there as oppose to Cartagena.

I spent a grand total $500 during the 10 days there, including airport food, accommodation, all of my meals, transportation, activities, etc.


Journey from Barranquilla to Cartagena

From the airport I took a taxi to the transportation terminal for $5 and then a bus to Cartagena via the nice air-conditioned bus company Berlinave, which was also $5.

I speak a little spanish but I had a hard time figuring out which bus to get on when I got to the transportation terminal. I just asked around until I found someone who could speak enough english to point me in the right direction. Don’t be scared to ask for help!

It cost 1800 CP (50 cents) from the main Cartagena bus station to the center of Cartagena where my hostel was.

** Note: “bus stations” to switch buses just means the bus pulls over on a busy street for a second and you hop out and run onto another bus really quick. It can be a bit confusing, but just always tell the driver where you are trying to go and they will help make sure you get off at the right place and point you in the right direction! Everyone was very helpful and nice.



In Cartagena, I stayed in Hostel La Espanola with a friend on calle 30 in Getsamani near the old city. You can walk to the old city and markets from here. It was $20/night for a 2 person private room with a shared bathroom. There was no AC but the fan worked great!  I never really had to wait for the bathroom, and it was a chill place, not a party hostel. They had a kitchen to use, it did not have the best supplies but it worked fine for us!

**TIP** Finding a hostel with a kitchen is a great way to save money! You can walk to the local market and buy your own groceries and cook at the hostel.


We took a taxi up to Convento de la Popa for $8000CP ($2USD) to see an amazing city view. I highly recommend catching this view!

**TIP** You MUST take a taxi back down, it’s not safe to walk down alone. We didn’t listen and walked down alone and the police stopped us, searched us and then had to escort us all the way down the hill!  You walk through the slums and theft is an issue I guess.


I caught an AMAZING sunset & quality drinks at the roof top bar of the Monterrey Hotel near the old town walls. Their food looked amazing as well and there is a roof top pool. Although we didn’t stay here, I asked the front desk and the rooms were $100/night if you are looking to splurge! Otherwise, just head up to the roof for a great sunset.


I also found some decent sushi at Kokao Sushi Wok near our hostel out side the old town.

The Gold museum was cool to see, it’s worth checking out.


If you are looking for more views, I walked out on the brick wall on the coast of the old city where the big cannons are and got a good view and some nice pictures from up there.

The Colombian food was just okay in my opinion, I didn’t have anything very spectacular. But over all, Cartagena was lovely and very picturesque. It was pretty quiet and relaxing.


After 2 nights and 1 day in Cartagena, I bought a round trip bus ticket to Playa Blanca for $50K CP ($16USD). It was an easy 45 minute bus ride and you can buy the tickets at any hostel.

Playa Blanca


We stayed at Parador Playa Blanca – and it was great! After you get dropped off, you start walking down the beach past little beach hostels and everyone tries to drag you in theirs. We stopped at first, but I was curious to see what was further down and good thing we did because I loved the place we stayed at. It was more expensive than the other places (others were $50-$80k CP for 2 person rooms which is $18-$26USD) but worth it. We had a balcony out front of our place that had a hammock and lounge chairs to relax on that over looked the beach, right on the water. The sound of the ocean was so soothing at night. We also had a huge extra back room if we had more guests, but we used it as our luggage room. We negotiated $120K CP (about $40) per night for 2 nights.

**TIP** You can ALWAYS negotiate room prices. They start high and you counter the offer and haggle back and forth until you come to an agreeable middle ground.


There is no AC, no running water, or electricity anywhere in Playa Blanca. It is a very quiet, small, remote beach. The room had fans which kept us plenty cool, plus it’s right on the ocean so it wasn’t too hot there. They run a generator in the evening/night so you can charge your phone and use fans but it turns off super early in the morning. For a shower you pay $2000 CP (75 cents) for a 5 gallon bucket of fresh water that you pour in a bucket in the shower room and it slowly releases the water for a solid 10 min shower. This may sound horrible to some people, so if you want all the luxuries of home, Playa Blanca may not be the place for you! But if you like the idea of going off the grid and being unplugged for a few days, it’s great.

There also are no stores or ATMS here, just little beach bungalow hostels lined up and down a small beach. So you are stuck with the food there, which was okay, again not great. It was hard to find healthy food. We ran out of pesos also (so make sure to bring plenty before going here)  but one place let us use US dollars to buy food so we ate there alot. It was a vegan place with a trampoline out front way down to the right end of the beach. It was run by americans, and the food was great here – creative vegan options and delicious smoothies. Being that Playa Blanca is an island that everything has to get imported too, it’s a bit more expensive. Typical plates of food were $18K CP ($6).


There is not a lot to do here besides RELAX and take in the beauty. It is a bit of a romantic place I would say. You can enjoy longs walks on the beach, watching the sun set, sun bathing and cheap massages on the beach, or taking mid day naps in the hammocks! They served drinks and beers at a few of the places but it is not a crazy party place.


After 2 relaxing days at Playa Blanca, we took our return bus ride back to Cartagena and then took a bus to Taganga.



Taganga is a small fishermans village on the northern coast of Colombia near the town of Santa Marta. Although this was a very small quiet town, I really enjoyed it! It had a good vibe, very laid back.



We stayed at the hostel Rubilika Divanga for $23/night for a 2 person private room with a shared bathroom, it again had a fan but no AC but it was not too hot. The kitchen was fine here and I stayed 3 nights and really liked it. It was in a good location to walk everywhere. The food at the sister property was amazing although there are also plenty of markets near by you can walk to and cook your own food!


If you want to catch a good view, check out the roof top bar at El Mirador.


Probably my favorite thing I did in Taganga was go fishing with 3 locals. We paid $75 mil CP ($25USD) per person for a 3 hours fishing trip. It would have been $90 mil CP but we didn’t want the lunch included, instead we cooked the fish our selves at the hostel afterwards and made fresh ceviche as well! They brought fishing poles, but I ended up just using a hand line like the locals were doing. It was great!




While you are in Taganga, it is definitely worth making a trip over to the gorgeous Parque Tayrona. You can go just for the day, or camp over night there.

Parque Tayrona 

Parque Tayrona is a breath taking untouched beach with no hotels or resturants, is it beautifully preserved with just a few camp sites!


From Taganga, we took a $50m CP ($16USD) boat ride that took 2 hours. It left Taganga at 11am and it was the most WILD boat ride of my life and I honestly don’t recommend it! We were crammed on the boat with around 30 people and the ocean conditions were insane. The waves were huge and the ride was very rough with salt water pouring heavily over into the boat while it was slamming down on the waves the whole time. People were throwing up over the edge and someone even passed out! I closed my eyes the whole time and just tried to stay calm. It was quiet an experience!


We arrived at Cabo San Juan and by the time we got situated it was 1:30p so we only had 1 hour to hang out before we started the hike to Cañaveral, a 2 hour easy walking hike through beautiful beaches and path ways through the plam tree jungle to where the buses pick you up. After the insane boat ride, we opted to take a bus ride back to Taganga which took 1-1.5hrs and cost $20m CP ($7USD). There was also a $45m CP ($15USD) entrance fee into Parque Tayrona.


**TIP** I recommend taking a bus early in the morning from Taganga to Parque Tyrona to skip the scary boat ride and enjoy a full day!

After we returned to Taganga, we took the small local bus into Santa Marta to catch a “collectivo” up to the Minca/ Sierra Nevada mountain region where I ended my trip.

Minca/Sierra Nevada Mountains 

Once we made it to Santa Marta we found a “collectivo” jeep from Santa Marta to Minca for $7mil ($2.5USD), which was basically a shared ride. A local in Taganga told us where to find the collective (ride share) and we somehow managed!  Figuring all of this out was honestly confusing to me, but if you just follow peoples instructions and ask for help along the way, you will find the bus stops and collectivos just fine!  From where the collectivo drops you off,  you hop on the back of a motor bike and they drive you the rest of the way up the mountain to your hostel for 7mil ($2.50USD) , and it takes about 20 min. I remember thinking that the whole transportation thing seemed like a mess up there when someone was telling me what to do, but these guys have it down. There are always people around to help point you in the right direction if you get confused or lost.


We stayed at La Fuente for 2 nights for $27 USD per night for a nice private room. Once you are up in the mountains, it is very secluded and there’s not restaurants and stuff around, just a few hotels/hostels. We had a lovely cook at our place who made all the meals for the gusts staying here, and they were around 12-15mil ($4-$5 USD) per meal except for breakfast which was included. They have tents, hammocks, and a teepee on the grounds here as well, for all different budgets. It was a really beautiful space with tons of surrounding nature and small creek. There is a bar that everyone hangs in and a communal dinner space where chief serves everyone at for a great community vibe.


We hiked to a waterfall near by (recommended to us by the hotel owner) and then just rested for the remainder of the first day.


The 2nd and 3rd day we spent hanging out at Casa Elemento (HIGHLY RECOMMEND!). I wanted to stay there but the private rooms were all booked. They did have shared hostel rooms and hammocks for rent as well.  It was $20mil ($6.50 USD) and 20 min motor bike ride up there from la Fuente + $10mil ($3.50 USD) entrance fee to hang out there if you are not staying there. We just had someone at La Funete call the motorbike for us and they come pick you up. It was $12mil ($4 USD) for an amazing lunch up there.


We swam in the pool, napped, hung in the hammocks, tanned, and listened to great music that was playing at the bar. It was a super chill,  peaceful vibe and the most gorgeous view looking down the mountains.


We did a 2 hour hike down from Casa Elemento back to La Fuente on 2nd day instead of taking a motor bike down. It was a lovely hike, although I was super sore the next day.


I spent my last few hours in Colombia up at Casa Elemento and took a motor bike ride from there down the mountain into Minca and switched bikes from there to the Santa Marta bus station for $30mil ($10USD) & 1hr 15 min. It was an exhilarating ride on the back of a small motor bike with the drive carrying my huge back pack in the front! It was scary and fun at the same time. From there, I caught a bus back to Barranquilla Airport  for $12 mil ($4 USD), a 2 hr ride, and then finally flew back home to Las Vegas.


Not a bad way to spend my 26th Birthday!