Frugal Travel for Bogota, Columbia
If you want to experience the Colombian Amazon, Bogota is a great jump off point for an adventure of a lifetime. During my two weeks in Colombia, I learned two things – airline travel and taxis in Colombia are dirt cheap. Hopefully, I can help you with your planning and what to expect when you visit Colombia!
A Frugal Amazon River Excursion
I chose Leticia, Colombia as my gateway to the Amazon. About a two-hour flight south of Bogota, I paid a measly 28.00USD to fly on VivaColombia. Leticia is a sleepy jungle frontier town of about 35,000. Gritty and dirty, Leticia is located on Colombia’s southernmost border, across from Brazil and Peru. My first impression of Leticia was not good. It’s ugly and filthy dirty. The heat is oppressive.
But, the town is full of agents willing to book tours of the Amazon. Leticia is my jump off point for great adventures, not only in Colombia but in Brazil and Peru too! From my hotel, I walked about twenty minutes and crossed into Tatabinga, Brazil. There was no passport control. My impressions of Tatabinga were similar to Leticia–ugly and dirty. But, you sometimes have to travel through grungy places to get to the good stuff.
Living it Up at the Hotel Anaconda
I stayed at the Hotel Anaconda in Leticia for two nights. I paid $50.00USD per night. The hotel does not have an elevator, but the air conditioning is superb and the breakfasts in the restaurant were nice and cheap and included hot soups, fresh tropical juices, meats, and potatoes. The evening meals off the menu were not very good. The hotel has a nice pool and it’s only five minutes from the tiny airport. A taxi stand is just across the street from the Anaconda.
I’d recommend this hotel as a nice hotel for two or three nights. Bone up on your Spanish. Once arriving in Colombia, I found that nobody was fluent in English. If you can’t speak the fundamentals, you’ll run into problems. Colombian people are friendly, but not much interested in helping you learn Spanish.
Amazon River Day Cruise
I booked my Amazon River day cruise at the Anaconda upon arrival. I paid about $55.00USD.
The guide met us at the hotel in the morning. We walked about a quarter mile to the boat, a typical aluminum fifty passenger rig. The boat is not air conditioned. The narration was in Spanish. We stopped at Isla de Micas (Island of Monkeys), a national park, veered into Peru for a stop and had typical Colombian food at a thatched hut. The weather was hot, but at the end of the day, we experienced incredible torrential thunderstorms.
My experience on the river was unforgettable. I handled wild birds and even slung a snake around my shoulders at one stop. Travel is fun.
We traveled about 20 kilometers up the Amazon, with Colombia on our right and Peru on the left. These excursions require advance planning. Carry plenty of water and sun protection. If you are particularly sensitive to heat, I’d seriously consider passing on this excursion, as the heat is relentless. It’s a basic introduction to the Amazon River and the culture of the people who live on the river.
Cheap Taxis In Colombia
I took at least a dozen cab rides in Colombia. My experience with the taxi service was great. I found the cabs to be clean, punctual and the drivers to be courteous and the fares to be cheap. Never hail a cab on the street. Ask your hotel or hostel to get you a cab. This way, you ensure that the cab is a legitimately licensed one.
Never slam a taxi door.. Close the door GENTLY when exiting. I can’t stress this enough. The drivers are culturally sensitive about this issue, and the drivers get quite angry if you don’t follow protocol.
Finally, always sit behind the driver. He can’t see you and doesn’t know what valuables you are carrying. I’ve read accounts of Colombian taxi drivers carrying guns for good and bad reasons. I did not use Colombia’s bus system because I didn’t consider it to be safe.
Nonetheless, after a few days, I became quite comfortable with the culture and felt safe during my entire two weeks there. I admit when I first landed in Bogota at night, I was quite apprehensive. Don’t worry, the fear factor thing will wash away after a few days.
Frugal Air Travel within Colombia
Air travel is cheap. I used Viva Colombia and LATAM, which are the discount carriers. Avianca is much more expensive. I took five flights within Colombia, and my average fare was $30.oo USD between the cities of Bogota, Leticia, Cali, Medellin and Cartagena.
Travel tip: Make sure you meet the weight limits at the airports, or you’ll pay surcharges for luggage that exceeds maximum weights on the discount carriers.
Excursion from Medellin
I also took an excursion about an hour and a half out of Medellin to view the purported remains of one of Pablo Escobar’s old compounds. I was leery about the claims the tour guide made, but I’d nonetheless recommend this tour because you get to visit the old town of GuatapeColombia. Also, you get a nice boat ride, and finally have the opportunity to climb “The Rock.” It’s only 740 steps to the top, and you get a magnificent view of the countryside.
Visit a travel medicine clinic before departing to Colombia. If you go to the Amazon, you’ll need a yellow fever shot and malaria pills. You can get your Typhoid booster updated and get a supply of antibiotics for travelers diarrhea.
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