Guide to Visiting Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puka Pukara and Tambomachay
A visit to the Sacsayhuaman ruins is a must from Cusco, and is a perfect short morning or afternoon trip. Sacsayhuaman, and their partner ruins of Qenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay, are the closest ruins to Cusco and easily accessible by taxi, bus, or even by foot from Plaza de Armas in Cusco’s city center.
How To Get There
By Taxi: the easiest way to get to Sacsayhuaman is to grab a taxi from Cusco. The drive is only about 10 minutes and should cost 10 soles or $3 usd. Many taxi drivers will try to convince you to hit all 4 ruins at once with them for a set price of 40 or 50 soles, or $13 to $16 usd. This can definitely be a good choice for convenience alone. Otherwise, it’s possible to visit them all for a much cheaper price by using separate taxis (all the ruins are situated along the main highway to Pisac so it’s easy to grab a new taxi each time you’re finished at a certain ruin.)
By Foot: You can walk from Plaza de Armas to the first ruin, Sacsayhuaman, by taking the road that runs along the right side of the Cathedral, and then turning left on Choqechaka road. Walk along the road and then take a right on the Atoc’sekuchi staircase. Climb the staircase until you reach a main road, where you will turn left. Walk along the road for a few minutes, and you’ll see the Cristo Rey statue. Turn left on the gravel road just past it and continue along it through a field to the entrance to Sacsayhuaman.
Read more about the hike to Sacsayhuaman and Cristo Blanco.
From Sacsayhuaman: By taxi to Qenko costs about 5 soles/ $1.50 usd. After exploring it, take another taxi to Puka Pukara for 8 soles/ $2.25 usd more. From Puka Pukara you can walk to Tambomachay. You can also rent a horse from vendors at the entrance to Sacsayhuaman to take you from Sacsayhuaman to the rest of the ruins.
Return to Cusco: Grab a taxi for the return or flag down the next bus passing by Tambomachay. Returning to Cusco by bus only costs one sole each.
The tourist ticket, or Boleto Touristico in Spanish, can be a little confusing. You can’t buy single entrances into Cusco’s ruins, you can only by the tourist ticket for one, two, or ten days that grants entrance to multiple popular ruins. Sacsayhuaman, Quenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay are among them. The ticket can be bought on site at Sacsayhuaman or any other ruin that requires it for entrance. Read this Guide to Cusco’s Tourist Ticket and make sure you know which one you want to purchase before you visit the ruins.
Sacsayhuaman is the first and largest of the four ruins. The Incan stone walls are massive and still well maintained, and walking among them leads to an amazing view of the city of Cusco.
Quenko is the smallest of the four ruins. It was built as a house and ceremonial site for an important Inca citizen. The home was built into a large rock, where you can still visit the cold ritual alter inside.
Puka Pukara, though small, also boasts beautiful panoramic views of the mountains surrounding Cusco.
The final stop of the four ruins, Tambomachay is set back into a quiet mountainside with bubbling streams, and is thought to have been built to worship the God of water. Running water still flows through the aquaducts in this ancient and peaceful Incan ruin.
Just across the street from Quenko is a beautiful fifth ruin that is free to access. Walk through a forest to check out the quiet but imposing ruin, the perfect place for a picnic on a budget.
Visiting Sacsayhuaman, Quenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay is a quick, easy, interesting, and beautiful half day trip from Cusco. Have you seen them all? Comment below and tell me which one was your favorite!
All my love,
Hike to Huchuy Qosqo
This weekend, Daniel and I tackled the little known 11 mile hike to the Huchuy Qosqo ruins. The trek follows the Imperial Inca trail and leads to ancient Huchuy Qosqo Incan ruins that were once the summer home of an important king who’s name I can’t remember, and definitely can’t spell. While they’re not on most tourist’s must do list, they’re certainly worth the picturesque trek to reach the remote outpost. The best part? You can absolutely do this hike on your own on a day trip from Cusco.
I could not find any information on the Huchuy Qosqo hike online, and when we went to tour operators in the city, they reluctantly offered it… for $170 per person! Yikes. Instead, we got a hold of our friend Diego, a Peruvian tour guide, who took us on the trek. With his expert guidance, I can now give you the exact directions to enjoy this hike on your own.
Starting from your hotel, take a taxi to the “Estacion Papitos”, Cusco’s small bus station – this should cost about 4 soles/$1.25 usd.
Once at the station, you’ll be bombarded with men to help you – just tell them you need to go to Laguna Piuray, and they’ll point you to the right van. The drive to the lake is about 45 minutes and cost us 6 soles/$2 usd each. Just make sure on the way you remind the driver once or twice where you want to get off, and they’ll make sure you end up in the right place.
You’ll get off on a dirt road in a small town – wave down a taxi (or any car really) and ask them to take you to the “Camino Inca Huchuy Qosqo”. Yep, just like the ancient royalty, you’re going to be doing the whole hike on the Imperial Inca Trail. This 20 minute drive should cost 10 soles/ $3usd.
Wohoo, you made it to the start of the Huchuy Qosqo trail!
My Tip: Even if this seems complicated (I promise it’s not) whatever you do, DO NOT start your trek in Lamay. DO NOT book with any tour operator who wants you to start your trek in Lamay. Doing this will take something beautiful and enjoyable and totally destroy it. You’ll go from about an hour of uphill hiking to six or more. Trust me, the route from Lake Piuray is the only way to go.
Once you’re on the Inca trail, the route will be very obvious. Although it was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores, the wide and clear path remains. Start early (we left Cusco at 6:30am) and you won’t see another soul all day.
The hike begins with a meandering uphill walk through some mountain slopes, where you can see the remains of Incan terraces and aquaducts. As you climb, you’ll see beautiful cliffs and some lakes. A steep but short final push takes you over the mountain pass and on top of the world.
You’ll be rewarded for your hard work about 2 hours in with sweeping views of mountain tops and icy glaciers for miles. Continue on the path and you’ll soon begin your descent.
As we climbed down into the valley where the Huchuy Qosqo ruins remain, it was amazing to watch the climate change before our eyes. From dry and arid, the surroundings became more and more green and lush from the heat trapped in the valley, and it was easy to see why the warm mountainside was chosen as the Royal escape from Cusco’s cold winters.
Continue down the trail for 2 more hours and you’ll come across the ruins. On your way, keep an eye out for condors, giant hummingbirds, and pumas who like the roam the nearby brush.
My tip: Take a few minutes to stop hiking and just listen – the absolute silence and stillness on the roof of the world is a stunning experience.
The cost to enter the Huchuy Qosqo ruins is 22 soles/ $7 usd each. They are so remote (over an hour walking from the nearest towns) and rarely visited – but somehow a man appeared just as we did to collect our money and issue our tickets. He disappeared again, and we were left alone to wander the ancient ruins. For sure, the best part is the giant pool in the middle. I can only imagine the infinity pool with an amazing mountain view was the center of all the wild parties thrown in the estate.
If you’re a huge history buff, this place will be heaven. Not only will you have complete run of the entirely empty ruins, but you can also set up camp and spend the night in them for no extra cost. Although we opted not to, I’m sure the view of the stars and milky way from the sacred Incan spot is breathtaking.
Ok, this part is not great, and actually is what made me change the trek rating from easy to moderate. We left the ruins around 1 pm by passing through them and turning right on the path at the bottom. Soon, you’ll spot the colorful little lego town of Lamay, and quickly realize just how high you are. Yeah… the decent is over and hour and a half of switchbacks down a sheer. cliff. face. It’s extra fun because the path is extremely dusty and rocky so you’ll be slipping and sliding right up to the edge for extra fear! Really, it’s not so bad… as long as you don’t look down.
Once you reach the bottom, turn right to get to the bridge, and once you cross it you’ll come to a bus stop where you can wait and catch the next van back to Cusco. An hour later and you’ll be home! It’s totally exhausting but DEFINITELY worth it! If you find yourself with some extra time in Cusco, this hike is a perfect day trip from the city.
All my love,
Have you done the Huchuy Qosqo trek? Comment below with any tips I missed!
Mount Vinicunca – Peru’s Rainbow Mountain
This weekend, Daniel and I hiked to Mount Vinicunca, better known as Rainbow Mountain. We were fortunate to even be able to do the trek at all – it used to take tourists days of hiking to get a view of this surreal landscape. The new day trek was only discovered and opened for tourism in January 2015. Why? Because it was hidden under a large glacier, that has now melted due to climate change . Because of these rising temperatures, instead of a grueling trek through the mountains, we can enjoy the rainbow colored land in a one day trip from Cusco. It’s a sad fact undermining the beauty of the day, and caused me to vow to make sure I do more to protect our earth.
Altitude: begins at 14,000 ft, peaks at 17,000 ft.
Temperature: Varys from about 30 to 60 degrees throughout the day. I wore multiple jackets, gloves, and a scarf in the morning, but finished the trek in a tshirt. Come prepared with layers.
Cost: 70 soles / $22 usd
Hike: 5 hours
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 15 hours from Cusco to return
How To Book a Tour
Mount Vinicunca is is not an easy trek. It begins high in the Andes at 14,000 feet and peaks at almost 17,000! So even though it’s only 6 miles round trip, the thin air certainly makes them feel much longer. We made sure to drink plenty of Coca tea and eat coca toffees on our hike to combat the affects of high altitude and ward off any headaches or dizziness. That being said, the hike is still a must do while you’re in Cusco.
We booked our tour the night before we decided to do it. If you’re planning on visiting this and many of the other tourist sites in Cusco, you will get much cheaper prices by booking in person at the agencies in town rather than booking in advance online. There are hundreds of little tour shops and everything (except the Inca Trail) can be booked just a day or two before departure. Just like everything else in Cusco, prices are negotiable. Look for signs advertising Mount Vinicunca or Rainbow Mountain. We snagged a deal on the street on the right side of the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas for 60 soles each – less than $20 for the trek!
The price includes transport, breakfast and lunch, english speaking “guides”, and a doctor. The trail is well marked and pretty obvious – the guides didn’t stick with us on the walk or give us much information at all – this trip could easily be done on your own if you pack some food and rent a car. However, we liked the security of having a doctor to provide oxygen and care in case something went wrong at the high altitude. We also enjoyed having a hot meal provided after the 6 mile walk!
My tip: Wait a few days in Cusco to acclimate before you book the trek to Mount Vinicunca be better prepared for the high altitude and prevent altitude sickness.
The drive from Cusco began with a 3:30 am pick up at our apartment, followed by a 3 hour drive to the town near the trailhead. The last hour or so of the drive is on dirt roads winding along a sheer cliff face so… don’t take a window seat if you’re afraid of heights! Also, make sure you wear layers – the morning was freezing and I wore two jackets, gloves, and a scarf. Later on on the trek though, the sun was beating down and I did most of it in a t-shirt. Temperatures change quickly in the mountains so make sure you’re prepared for both extremes (a good tip for any treks you do from Cusco).
After we ate a quick breakfast, we drove another 20 minutes to the beginning of the trail. Just the views of the surrounding mountains from the parking lot are stunning! We began our tour in a large group – 5 buses worth – but quickly began to spread out along the path. Some people opted to pay another 60 soles ($20 usd) for a horse to take them up the impending 3 mile incline, but we decided to do it the old fashioned way. Don’t worry – if you get tired, or the altitude gets the best of you – you can rent a horse easily at any point on the trek to take you to the top.
We came to a gate and paid a 10 sole ($3usd) entrance fee, then we were on our way. The trek is 3 miles out and 3 miles back. On our way we passed (whats left of) the highest glacier in Peru. It was a stunning view, and not even the main attraction. The streaked and colored mountains also begin to come into view as you climb. The trek to Mount Vinicunca finished with a steep hike up the mountain side to view the famous “rainbow mountain” on the other side. Although it’s rarely shown, there’s also snow capped peaks, deep valleys, and gorgeous panorama views on all sides. It’s breathtaking!
The walk back was easier as it was mostly down hill, and the way the afternoon lights hit the mountains enhanced the colors streaking through them. The rainbow look isn’t confined just to Mount Vinicanca, but extends through the whole range, making for an extremely unique and picturesque walk. Finally, we reached our bus again at 1pm after 5 hours of walking. We returned to the same restaurant for a buffet lunch, and then made the long, but beautiful, drive home. After almost 15 hours total, we reached Cusco again at 6pm. Whew. It was an exhausting but unforgettable day.
If you are visiting Peru, this site certainly should not be missed!
All my love,
Day Hikes from Cusco
The best part about living in Cusco is that there are hikes you can do straight from Plaza de Armas in the city center. There’s no need to hire tours or take long drives up into the mountains for these hikes from Cusco to explore the nature surrounding the town.
The first hike from Cusco begins in the city center. This hike will take you to Chacan Cave, Balcon del Diablo, and the Temple of the Moon.
There are three different ways to do the hike.
Via Cristo Rey
Begin this hike from Cusco in Plaza de Armas. Take the road that runs along the right side of the Cathedral, and turn left on Choqechaka road. Walk along the road and then take a right on the Atoc’sekuchi staircase. Good luck. This staircase isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s actually the toughest part of the hike, and will definitely get your heart racing! If you brave it, though, you’ll be rewarded with increasingly amazing views of Cusco as you climb.
Keep trucking along until you reach a main road, where you will turn left. Walk along the road for a few minutes, and you’ll see the Cristo Rey statue. You can take a few different paths to check it out and enjoy the view from the mound.
Afterwards, walk back out to the main road and continue along it. You’ll pass entrances to Sacsayhuaman and eventually come to a crossroads. Take the sharp right, and continue up the road along the switchbacks.
After about 15 minutes, you’ll come to another crossroads, where your road dead ends. Turn left, and almost immediately on your right side you’ll see a large group of horses. From here you have two choices: walk or ride.
We chose to ride, and paid 35 soles each ($12 usd) for a 2.5 hour ride to the Chacan Cave and Temple of the Moon. I highly recommend this option. The horses were calm and looked well taken care of.
If you choose to walk, you can stop at the horses and ask for directions if your Spanish is good. Or, just continue up the road past the horses. On the left side, there is a sign with a beaten path right behind it where all the horses cross to begin the walk to the cave. Cross here and climb the hill to begin the trek.
The path is very obvious in some places, but in others, it seemed to disappear into a field or hillside, only to reappear again on the other side. I personally would not recommend walking if you have your heart set on reaching the cave, because it will be difficult to find. However, if you’re on a budget and don’t want to pay for the horses, this is still an awesome trek. Even if you don’t make it to the cave, the views are absolutely incredible, so it’s certainly worth the attempt. This blog and this write up both have some walking directions you can check out
If you hike, continue until you see a large rock face. Descend into the grassy field and the cave entrance to Balcon de Diablo, which has a view of Cusco, is directly across from the rock face. A river runs into the cave, so if it’s been raining, the water may be too high to enter it.
Once you hike to the cave, return the way you came back to the horses. Enter the large lot they are in the take the right hand dirt road to reach the Temple of the Moon. It’s only about a 10 minute walk from there, and it will be clear when you reach it – it’s a large pile of stones on the right side.
Afterwards, you can take the path through the field in front of the temple to the group of houses. The path ends at a fork at two roads. Take the left hand road going down, and follow it back to Plaza de Armas.
Via Temple of the Moon
Your second choice is to begin with the Temple of the Moon, and do the Chacan Cave hike second.
To do this hike from Cusco, begin in Plaza San Blas. Take the stairs on the right side of the church, and turn left at the top. Take the first right onto Suytuqhatu street, and continue up it until you reach the main road. If stairs are difficult for you, this choice may be the one for you – it’s still has plenty, but it’s nothing like the massive staircase you scale in the first option.
Once you reach the main road, simply cross it and continue climbing up on the stone paved road on the other side. This road eventually dead ends into a field – take the path that runs into it from the corner and follow it until you reach the Temple of the Moon.
After checking out the temple, climb down or circle around the back side to the dirt road. Go left on it, and continue walking until you reach the large group of horses. From there, you can either hire a horse to take you to the Chacan Cave, or continue walking to take the trail on foot. To do so, continue past the horses to the paved road and turn right. After a minute, on the left side, there is a sign with a beaten path right behind it where all the horses cross to begin the walk to the cave. Cross here and climb the hill to begin the trek. Again, you can find some walking directions here and here.
Once you return, you can hail a taxi on the main road, walk down the main road outside the horse pasture to the staircase that will lead you back to Cusco (you will only come to two forks – take a right at the first and a left at the second) or walk back to the Temple of the Moon and return the way you came up.
The final, and easiest, way to do this hike from Cusco is simply to take a taxi to the Temple of the Moon – all the drivers will know it, and it should cost somewhere between 15 to 30 soles ($5 to $10 usd) for the trip. Once you check out the Temple of the Moon, follow the directions above to hike or hire a horse to visit the cave.
These are my tips and directions for your first hikes from Cusco. I think the photos speak for themselves – the views are absolutely stunning and for a day trip it’s definitely worth your time. Over the next two months I hope to add a couple more hiking routes from Cusco so stay tuned!
All my love,
P.S. if you’ve done this hike or others from the city, comment below with your tips and routes! I’d love to hear from you!
Complete Colombia Budget Breakdown
Avid travelers can’t plan with out budget estimates, so here is my Colombia budget breakdown. Let me just start by saying that I didn’t backpack through Colombia like most people who travel the gringo trail in South America. I used Medellin as my home base, and took short trips to other cities. But still, even if you’re just passing through, a lot of the costs you have will be similar and you can find some useful estimates. For expats planning on living or working here, this post is definitely for you.
My husband and I lived in Medellin for almost 6 months exactly, from January 2017 to July 2017. I’m going to break our costs down by category, so if you’re only interested in food, or travel, you can check those out and move on with your day 🙂
Flights: You’ll quickly learn in South America that while international flights will empty your bank account, domestic flights are dirt cheap. Colombia is no exception. Our Colombia budget wasn’t high, but we still we’re able to afford plenty of weekend trips. The cheapest budget airline is VivaColombia, but for just a little more legroom and less risk of cancellation, you can grab Avianca tickets for a great price as well. During our stay, we flew to Bogota, Cartagena, and San Andres. All flights listed below are round trip from Medellin
- Bogota $48 roundtrip per person – $96 total
- San Andres $66 roundtrip per person – $133 total
- Cali $32 roundtrip per person – $64 total
- Cartagena $60 roundtrip per person – $180 total for 3 roundtrip flights
Buses: So, Colombia is HUGE. You can take buses to most of the destinations listed above, but a lot of them are 10 to 12 hour rides as opposed to a 1 hour flight… to me, that’s not worth it, so you’ll have to google those prices on your own. However, we did take buses to some destinations that were close to Medellin, like Guatape, Santa Fe, and Jardin. The trips ranged between 1 to 4 hours each and the buses were pretty comfortable. One the longer trips they stopped for a bathroom break, and often let vendors on to sell us snacks and drinks. Only one of my trips out of about 12 had a crazy driver and the rest honestly seemed pretty safe. All the prices listed below are round trip from Medellin
- Guatape $4 roundtrip per person – $8 total x 4 trips
- Santa Fe $6.50 round trip per person – $13 total
- Jardin $16 round trip per person (I think…) – $32 total
Taxis/Uber/Metro: We mostly used Uber’s to get around when we first arrived, but hten switched to taxi’s about a month or two into our stay because Daniel was sick of being stuck sitting in the front seat (a precaution taken by Uber drivers to disguise their controversial occupation). Taxis tend to be the same prices as Uber, and when Uber is surging taxis are certainly a cheaper choice. I read a lot that some may be dangerous and rob you, but we’ve taken a lot throughout our months here and I never once felt unsafe or on edge. Finally, the metro is another choice for getting around the city.It costs less than a dollar a ride and runs mostly in a straight line through the city.
We live in Envigado, the very south of the city, and to get to Poblado by taxi the cost usually about $4, and to get to the city center it’s closer to $7. These numbers below are complete estimates.
- Day to day taxis I have no idea. Maybe $60 per month?
- Airport Transport Envigado to the Airport (and back) is a set tariff of $24. This adds up to $300 for our 4 trips plus arriving and leaving the country
Accommodation: You can spend as much or as little as you want on accommodation during your travels here, it honestly just depends on your budget and your standards (but usually your budget). We stayed in hostels in almost every city we visited, and in one Airbnb here in Medellin. The stays ranged from 1 to 7 nights each, and ranged in quality as well.
- Bogota $67 total/per couple for a private room & breakfast for 3 nights
- Cartagena $51pp for a dorm bed for 3 nights (Getsemani neighborhood)
- Medellin $70 total/per couple for a private apartment in the mountains for 2 nights
- Jardin $86 total/per couple for a private room & bath and breakfast for 3 nights
- Guatape $8pp for a dorm bed for one night
- San Andres $217 total/per couple for a private room for 6 nights (3 without aircon, and 3 with)
- Cali (booked, but trip was ultimately cancelled) $20pp for a dorm for 2 nights ($40 total)
Furnished apartment rental: When we showed up in Medellin, we had an Airbnb prebooked for a month, to give us enough time to get our bearings and find a 5 month long term lease. The Airbnb was in Itagui, a neighborhood I wouldn’t personally recommend after staying there. Although our gated complex felt very safe, an alarming amount of Uber drivers told us we were going to get mugged. Our longterm lease is in Envigado, which is cleaner, more walkable, and safer. Both were furnished, two bed/two bath apartments with pools. Our long term lease also has a gym, two balconies, and is extremely modern. So while it was more expensive than than the Airbnb, I believe it is also a better value. In Colombia budget $600 to $1000 month for rent in a single apartment, but you can cut that drastically for a shared or unfurnished home.
- Airbnb (1 month) $473
- Leased Rental (5 months) $575 per month
Grocery budget: Because we work from home, we eat out less and our grocery budget may be a bit higher than most. I try to eat out only once a work week, and then we usually don’t cook much on weekends. So this budget encapsulates about 17 of 22 weekly meals for two. One of the two is large hungry man. In total, we spend about $350/month.
Eating out: It’s such a waste of money, but I love it. We usually eat out about 5 meals a week together. Just like anything else, meals can be as cheap or expensive as you want. It’s easy to grab 2 empanadas for a dollar, or drop $100 on a four course meal. It all depends on you neighborhood, preference, and budget (bust mostly budget). In total, we spend about $400/month
Drinking: Alcohol is pretty cheap in Colombia. Club Colombia, my favorite beer brand here, it usually only a dollar or two at the bars, and even cheaper if you buy it in a 6 pack and pregame at home. There are also wine choices starting around $5 that I think are pretty ok, (but then again I will drink anything). If you play your happy hours right you can get mixed drinks from $2 each even in neighborhoods like Poblado, but it’s also common to pay $8 or more. Daniel and I would usually budget about $150 to $200 total a weekend for food, drink, and activities and found it sufficient. If you’re just passing through, though, I definitely suggest budgeting more. In total, we spend about $200 month.
Utilities: Our utility payments in our leased apartment include internet, cable (why), telephone (seriously, why), water, and gas. Heat and air are pretty unheard of here because the climate is so temperate, and weren’t needed. In total, we pay $25/month
US phone plan: I payed my phone off before I left the US and joined a Sprint month to month international plan. Honestly, it’s been great and I really recommend it. The total cost is about $30/month, but I got to keep my US phone number (necessary for business) and can call any country for free, so moving from Colombia to Peru will be a breeze in that regard. Most importantly, I get 1gb of international data. It’s not a lot, but it will definitely get you by if you stay off snapchat, and has been extremely helpful to have at times.
Laundry: I find this fact hilarious: Laundromats are expensive and rare here in Medellin, so it’s common for Colombians to rent washing machines and have them delivered to their homes for the day for use instead. Seriously amazing. Luckily our furnished apartment came with a machine so this cost was zero for us, but if you’re passing through you can find people to pick up, weigh, wash, dry, and deliver your clothes back to you if necessary. Idk why I wrote this because I don’t know how much it costs, but I wanted to share my washing machine fun fact 🙂
Health Care: Luckily my parents love me so I’m still on their health insurance until my 26th birthday (in October yikes). However, Daniel is a year older than me and is on an international health insurance plan that covers him in any country except the US (of course). The total cost is $500/year split into two payments. Neither of us have had to use a doctor or hospital here, but just like in most places, I’ve read it’s infinitely cheaper than getting healthcare at home. I’ve also found that a lot of medications, even antibiotics (I think) are over the counter and super easy to buy here in the pharmacies. In total, we paid $250 for 6 months of health insurance for Daniel.
Visa: 90 day visas are free upon arrival for Americans, but we had to pay $30 each to extend our visa for another 90 days. It was super easy to get started and make an appointment on the Migracion Colombia website – they even had a chat feature and answered my questions in English. We got started with the process about a month before our deadline just to be safe. After that, it only took a couple hours to complete the process downtown.
Electronic Repairs: Don’t even get me started. First, Daniel left his laptop on the balcony in the rain. Then, I left my phone in a taxi and had to buy a new one. ONE WEEK LATER I dropped my laptop and it wouldn’t turn on, and I had to pay for those repairs as well. A used iPhone 6 from Craigslist (in the US, my parents brought it down for me) was $275. It seems like Apple products here are less plentiful and more expensive than they sell for at home, but luckily repairs are cheaper. The total cost for our laptop repairs was $300 from IHouse Medellin and so far so good. In total we paid $575 in 6 months (because we’re dumbasses.)
$11,650 for one couple / $1940 per month
As fun as it was to add that all up, I’m kind of freaked out to see that we spent that much money in 6 months! This is why I let Daniel be in charge of all our finances. PS if any sponsors wanna contact me so I can up my standard of living and quit my day job, I’ll be here waiting…
Hope this Colombia budget breakdown helped some of you travelers, backpackers, and expats planning and budgeting your South American trips! If there’s anything I missed please feel free to comment below or shoot me and email 🙂
All my love,
If you love white sand beaches, clear blue waters, and sunny days… this is the destination for you. San Andres is one of three Colombian islands in the Caribbean, near the coast of Nicaragua.
The island, and it’s nearby partners Providencia and Santa Catalina, are culturally very different from the rest of Colombia. They were historically tied to Great Britain, changed hands a bit, and were officially recognized as a Colombian department in 1928. Due to this, English is actually one of the official languages of San Andres, along with Spanish and Creole.
The trip to San Andres from Medellin, or any part of the Colombian main land, can be pricy, but we did our best to keep it budget friendly. Read on to see photos, a budget breakdown, and my review of of our 7 day stay in this gorgeous tropical paradise!
Flights: $100pp roundtrip from Medellin to San Andres Island – pro tip: The airport on the island is basically in the centro, and walkable to almost all hotels and hostels in the area. We paid for a taxi to our hostel, but just packed our bags and walked to the 10 minutes to the airport for our flight home.
Hostel: $190 total for 6 nights in a private double room. This is relatively cheap for the island, because it was a very basic room and a pretty far walk off the main strip. We also definitely did not realize our room didn’t have air conditioning until we were in it. PAY FOR AIR CONDITIONING PEOPLE. This is non negotiable. We stuck it out for 3 nights before we caved and upgraded to pay for the air because it was just that miserable. It was only about $8 more a night and soooo so worth it.
Tourist Tariff: $35 pp. This was a fun surprise at the airport! When boarding we were turned away from the gate (major Nepal flashbacks) and sent to another to buy our necessary “Tourist Tariff Card”. Everyone needs one to enter the island, and it’s no problem to grab them at the airport before your flight. Just be ready for the extra cost!
Food & Drink: $10 to $20pp for a nice, sit down seafood meal. We decided to stretch our stay to 6 nights, so our budget was pretty thin on the food & drink front. We mostly grabbed cheap meals like Subway to bring to the beach or sought out Colombian restaurants outside of the Centro to save some money. The food is definitely more expensive than it is in Medellin, and the variety isn’t too great either. Alcohol, though, was surprisingly cheap and had more options (because San Andres is closer to Central and North America?) than we were used too. We drank small bottles for rum for $1, and there were plenty of wine choices in the $5 to $10 range as well.
Transport: $50 Buses can take you to any destination on the island for 80 cents each. We usually took the bus only two or three times per day, so it’s an insignificant cost. We also rented a scooter for one day of island exploring, which was $20 for the day.
Rainy/Dry Season: The wet season in San Andres kicks in around June, so luckily we just missed it. It runs until November, so your best bet for sunny beach days is to visit between December and May. Even during the wet season it’s still worth visiting though, as you can expect a rainstorm every day, but usually still have plenty of beach friendly weather as well. A common San Andres saying is “every day is a beach day”, so no matter what time of year it is, you shouldn’t miss it!
Average Temperature: When we visited in late May, it was HOT. Temps ranged from about mid 80’s to low 90’s Fahrenheit every day. We had one cloudy gray day without rain, and one 10 minute rain shower, and the rest of the time the weather was sunny and perfect. Because the island is so close to the equator, this temperature really doesn’t fluctuate at all throughout the year.
While it’s mostly rocky coastline, San Andres also has three main, and very large, beaches to choose from. Spratt Bright is in the center of town, while Rocky Cay is about a 10 minutes bus ride from the center, and San Luis closer to 15 or 20 minutes away. We spent days on all three beaches, and they each have their pros and cons depending on what you prefer.
Rocky Cay: Rocky Cay was my favorite beach! It was less crowded than Spratt Bright, but still had restaurants and vendors around. The main draw of Rocky Cay is the island it’s named after. The small island is about a quarter mile offshore (major guess here, I’m terrible at distances). The coolest part about it, though, is that the water is so shallow that you can walk all the way out from the beach to the island and the sunken ship next to it. It was a very unique experience. We also loved Rocky Cay because its the only one of the three beaches that’s set off the roads. The barrier of palms made it feel much more secluded and relaxing.
San Luis: San Luis beach is a popular choice for those who like less crowded and more serene beach vacations. This beach stretched the longest down the coastline. Some areas were just sand on the side of the road, and others were more built up around restaurants and hotels. Some patches we walked down were completely deserted, so it’s definitely a secluded choice and perfect for a packed lunch or picnic on the water. We also noticed the waves were stronger and larger on these beaches for the adventurous types!
Spratt Bright: If you stay in the center of town, you’ll certainly end up on this beach a couple times. It is by far the most crowded beach on the island, but as a reward for dealing with the crowds you also get the best amenities here. Tons of markets, shops, and restaurants line the beach, and you can rent a chair for a day for only $1.50. Vendors regularly pass by with fresh fruit and other snacks, making this the easiest beach to relax on for sure. We even set up shop next to the Juan Valdez coffee shop so we could access their wifi all day as well! For the most part, Daniel and I spent our days on Rocky Cay and San Luis, and then would enjoy Spratt Bright during sunset on the boardwalk or laying in the sand sharing a bottle of wine.
San Andres is surrounded by 5 tiny islands that are popular day trip destinations for tourists to visit. For me, flying to San Andres was enough, and I didn’t feel the need to spend the money or time on a boat trip visiting the surrounding islands. However, I’ll give you a breakdown of what I read & learned about each one while on our trip. All the boats leave from the Portofino Marina in the centro, and have varying amounts of daily departures based on which island you choose and how close/popular it is. Make sure you check a day or two ahead of time on the trip you want to take at the marina, though, because the government systematically shuts down the islands for a few days or weeks at a time to protect the environment from over use by tourists. Usually only one is closed at a time and others are always accessible.
Johnny Cay: The closest and most popular island (pictured below) can be seen from Spratt Bright beach. The round trip boat ride costs about $8. Most reviews stated that the beaches were super crowded from tourists and everything sold on the island was overpriced, which is why we decided to give it a miss.
Acuario and Haynes Cay: I know nothing about these islands, except that they’re a little farther out and more expensive to reach than Johnny Cay. It’s common to book a boat that hits Johnny Cay, Acuario and Haynes Cay all in one day.
Rocky Cay: Teeny, tiny, little guy off the Rocky Cay beach. No need to pay for a boat to this one, as you can just walk from the coast line to reach it. Once there, you can grab a drink on the rock or rent a snorkel to explore the wildlife and sunken ship around the island.
Cayo Bolivar: This was the island I had my heart set on visiting! It’s the farthest out from San Andres and requires a 50 minute boat ride. The cost is $60pp, and includes lunch and a snorkel to visit the family of sharks that lives near the island. Because of the cost and distance, this island has hardly any visitors and seems like a serene day trip. Unfortunately the price was a bit too steep so we had to give it a miss. Next time!
To Do & See
Morgans Cove: So, apparently this pirate stashed tons of his gold in a cave on San Andres back in the day, and now it’s a museum of sorts that you can visit for $5 pp. We skipped it, but it could definitely be good to see for an hour or two, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Hoya Soplador: This is a blow hole. Some water comes through a hole in the rocks. I don’t know why it’s so popular.
West View: One of my favorite places on the island, and a must see! Entrance is only $1.50 and comes with bread to feed the fish 🙂 This is an area on the rocky side of the island, so instead of laying at a beach, they built a high dive to jump off the rocks into the water. Kind of scary at first, but very fun! The water is also crystal clear here, so we rented snorkels for $1.50 and had a blast watching all the schools of fish pass by. We swam out further than most and were even lucky enough to see a stingray!
Another popular activity here is the Aquanaut, which is an astronaut type helmet connected to an air tube. Groups would put them on and then walk along the bottom of the ocean with a guide for 30 or 40 minutes. It looked like an awesome time, and cost about $30 each. Additionally, West View has a questionable water slide, a restaurant, lockers and a bar selling drinks in freshly cut coconuts. Yum!
La Piscinita: Kind of like West View, and just down the road from it. it also has a diving board, but no water slide. I’m not sure about the snorkel rental either or abundance of fish. This seems to be less of a destination and more of a relaxed and uncrowded restaurant.
Scuba Diving: So bummed we missed out on this! My friend got her advanced certification of the island, though, and recommends San Andres Diving or Sharkeys. She paid about $200 for 5 dives and her certification, and said her favorite was the Blue Wall, an underwater cliff that you can dive along and see for 30 or 40 meters up and down.
Rent scooters/go carts: Always a must when visiting an island! There are tons of shops to choose from. Our scooter rental was $20 for 8am – 6pm, which was more than enough time. We rode all around the island (a couple times!) explored into the palm forests, tried new restaurants off the beaten path, and even found a lookout with a view of the whole island. Go carts are a bit more expensive but are also probably more comfortable. Definitely recommend getting one for at least a day. The cost also includes the helmet, but I’m not exaggerating when I say we were the ONLY people on the entire island wearing them. Oh well. Helmet hair may be unattractive but so are traumatic brain injuries.
We found the food on San Andres to be average, but expensive, as is usually the case on an island. Our favorite meal was definitely Rosa Del Mar on the main boardwalk in the centro. We paid about $9 each for a GIANT plate of coconut shrimp and chicken fajitas, both of which were amazing. Outside of that though, we mainly packed lunches for the beach, or grabbed a meal at whichever restaurant was closest. Tamara’s Kitchen was a stand we ate at a bit down the road from Rocky Cay which was cheap and better than the main restaurant on the beach there. But all in all, nothing we ate really stood out.
As far as drinking and nightlife on the island, it doesn’t really exist. there we’re a few clubs, Coco Loco in the centro seemed to be the most popular, but for the most part most of the visitors and islanders just grabbed a bottle or a few beers and drank on the beach and boardwalk. Day or night, it didn’t matter. Cost effective, and a guaranteed beautiful view and ambiance. We didn’t visit any of the bars on the island because we preferred chilling on the beach instead.
In conclusion, San Andres is a wonderful, beautiful, tropical paradise. However, due to its location I found the people and culture to be very different from the rest of Colombia. If you want to lay on a beach, this is definitely the place for you. If you want the true Colombian experience, though, and are only visiting for a short time, I’d suggest giving San Andres a miss and hitting the beaches on Cartagena instead. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Six days, for me, wasn’t even close to enough on this tropical paradise, and I can’t wait to come back again soon!
All my love,
PS if you’re prone to altitude sickness, don’t fly straight from the island to Bogota. We flew direct from San Andres to Medellin, and I still had a pounding headache for a day or two from the altitude change!
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