Pick your favorite store. Amazon, Chick-fil-a, or hell even Hot Topic. Wait, no. No one shops at Hot Topic. Let’s do Amazon, Amazon sounds good.
Now when you log on to buy that shiny new iPhone case, you quickly realize it’s 30% off. Great! But the good news doesn’t end there. Everything on the entire site is on offer, its original price dropped by more than a third. Pretty awesome, right?
Traveling Colombia today is just like this mind blowing deal on Amazon, just a lot less online and an ALL SALES ARE FINAL policy. But that doesn’t matter because in Colombia, all sales are awesome.
So what gives? Why is Colombia so cheap?
Without getting too bogged down in commodity prices and foreign currency valuation, there is a correlation between the price of oil and the value of the Colombian peso. As the price of oil remains at record setting lows, any demand for Colombian pesos remains week. Subsequently, the peso’s value to the US dollar and other major currencies diminishes. And unlike other emerging economies, Colombian officials encourage a weak currency in order to drive demands for their countries’ exports; so it’s not like Colombia is totally getting screwed either.
But enough economic babble. The point is…
Colombia has never been so cheap, safe and convenient to travel.
My graph fetish requires that I put this here.
Three years ago $1 usd was equal to about 2000 COP. Today, it’s 3000 COP. The graph above is for US dollars, but with Euros, British Pounds, or even Australian dollars, the discount effect is largely the same.
In mid 2014 the typical dorm bed in Medellin was $15 USD. Today, that exact same bed is somewhere around $10. While visiting the country this past July, beers ran well under $1 each. That’s budget Southeast Asia prices on a continent that has historically always been more expensive.
Of course the good news doesn’t end there. Restaurants, adventure tours, and transportation throughout this South American gem are all given that same generous discount.
And it’s safe, right?
Umm….yes. I can’t promise that you won’t get mugged anymore than I can promise your favorite football team winning next years’ championship. But like I mentioned with the currency, it’s important to look at trends.
The Colombian government is in historic negotiations with leftist rebels. Given the intensity with with all sides have historically been at each other’s throats for the past 50 years, the last decades pacification is a really big deal. The President, Juan Miguel Santos, just won the Nobel Peace prize for his work bringing about and continuing the dramatic change. In one the the most biggest transformations since Britney Spears went slightly crazy and shaved her head, Colombia has gone from a drug lord narco state into a sprawling hub of investment and economic activity.
And the people are proud of how far they have come. Why shouldn’t they? Success breeds success and no one is stopping them from seeing how far the country can grow.
Yes, petty crime is still a problem. Muggings do occur and bags get stolen from buses. But the days of getting kidnapped with a $5 million dollar ransom note sent to you parents is long over. I would argue that by most measurements, tourism in Colombia today is safer than the majority of it’s South American brethren.
So what’s the best way to get there?
For the greater part of the last 10 years, the secret has been out on the beauty of Colombia. And I’m not just talking about the women, either. Spend a few days floating around Estado Antioquia and you’ll probably never want to leave. The beaches in the north are some of the best in the Caribbean. Medellin has a much more European feel with a noticeable difference between each of Colombia’s 32 districts. It’s a lot like a bunch of little micro countries all packaged with 1.1 million square kilometers.
By the raw numbers, tourism has increased nearly 300% in the last decade. So with that explosion of growth there’s a whole slew of operators wanting a piece of that profit pie.
JetBlue recently opened a new direct route from Cartagena to New York City. In conjunction with several other daily flights from Florida, you’re destined to get a deal. I recently flew direct with JetBlue from Cartagena to New York for about $200 USD. I don’t do a whole lot of that “travel hacking” stuff (see how much I know) but it was easily one of the best flying deals of 2016.
Spirit Airlines has daily flights as well, although use caution. Spirit has a pretty lousy business model that revolves around nickel-and-diming you for everything. No snacks, pay for carry-on luggage, and taxes/fuel surcharges that don’t appear until the final payment page. Lame.
If you’re flying domestically within Colombia, be sure to do your homework as well. In fact, consider flying as a first method of travel. VivaColombia is the king of deals with prices comparable to taking the bus. Seriously. Like most budget travel it’s best to be flexible with your dates, but popular routes between major cities are often on sale – saving you some serious nausea and countless hours of time.
A quick word of Colombian buses. They’re frequent, clean, and more expensive than their Ecuador and Peru brethren. But more importantly, Colombia is a really really really (did I stress that enough?) mountainous country. The challenges of building and maintaining a transportation infrastructure is a tall order for any anyone. If you plan on taking the bus, measure your distances between major cities in days.
If you’re flying from Europe, consider a transfer in Florida. For example, a London – Fort Lauderdale – chill in South Florida for a day or two – Fort Lauderdale – Bogota route is hundreds cheaper than buying a direct flight from Europe to Colombia. With that extra money, spend a few days exploring the awesome neighborhoods and nightlife in Miami or South Beach.
Gold rushes, stock market bubbles and black Friday deals all end. So goes the story for Colombia – one day the price of oil will bounce back and stop depressing a depressed currency. It’s just the order of the world. But the time is now for anyone wanting to get in on the ground floor of a country that’s truly beautiful.