Budget Your Appetite on the Road

As a couple aiming for a year long trip through South America, we are on a tight budget. We are constantly looking for ways to save an extra dollar or two. Knowing eating out always costs more no matter what country you are in, we decided to find out just how much more. We spent five days recording all of our food costs cooking in hostels and compared it to just a few days eating out.

All of the following prices are in USD. Here is a breakdown of our five days eating in.


Coffee, pita bread, and guacamole. 

Day 1:

We decided to start our recording on a day of travel. When you are traveling and taking buses or planes you usually splurge on snack foods. On our first day this is exactly what we did. Each bus station we got snacks instead of meals that progressively got less healthy. 

Breakfast – Overnight oats $1.40

• Oats

• Banana (2)

• Cinnamon

• Mango (2)

• Milk

Lunch – Bus Station – $3.30

• Yogurt

• Nuts

• Crackers

Dinner – Bus station –  $1.60

• Arepas (thick corn tortillas)

• Cookies

Day 2:

For those of you who’ve never been to Colombia it’s relatively cheap. When it comes to food, legumberias (produce markets) are the cheapest option. In terms of savings, this is where you’ll find the best of it.

We stopped by a grocery store on our way home to grab some dinner supplies and were shocked at the results. After comparing receipts from the legumberia and the grocery store we realized what was breaking the bank….snickers bars. Not really but the cost of items like candy, nuts, and granola add up.

Breakfast – Legumberia – $2.60

• 4 eggs

• 2 Onions

• 3 Carrots

• 3 Tomatoes

• 1 Pumpkin

• 1 Pineapple

• 2 Bell Pepper

Lunch – Groceries – $3.50

• 1 (large) Arepa

• 1 Avocado

    •       Garbanzo beans (for hummus)
    •       Bread

Dinner – Grocery Store – $10.30

• Coffee

• Tomato Sauce

• Ahi (hot sauce)

• Granola

• 2 Yogurts

• Peanuts

• Snickers

Legumberia – (Prep for the following day) – $1.60

• 4 Bananas

• 2 Beets

• 2 Onions

• 1 Cucumber

• 6 Litres of Water


Homemade beet, carrot, avocado, hummus, quinoa and sesame seed salad.

Day 3:

While recording cost of food, we were in San Gil which has a large farmers market everyday from 7am-1pm. Every morning we had breakfast at the market and got our produce for the day.

Breakfast – San Gil Market – $4.20

• Fruit Bowl

• Smoothie

• Arepa (large)

• Empanada

Lunch & Dinner & Snacks for 2 weeks – Groceries – $22.46

• Almond Milk

• Bag of



sesame seeds

sunflower seeds



• Spices –



• Large bag of grapes

• Broccoli

• 4 Onions

• 2 Carrots

• Pineapple

• Eggplant

Day 4:

Breakfast at the market usually cost between $3-4 USD, for both our meals. Being Californians we have so much access to good food. Every grocery store is packed with international sauces, spices, and yummy varieties of food. One of the most difficult aspects of cooking while abroad is getting creative with what is available.

Breakfast – San Gil Market – $3.25

• Arepa

• Fruit Bowl

• 2 Empanadas

Lunch – Overnight Oats – $3.00

• Oats

• Cinnamon

• 2 Bananas

• Almonds

Dinner – Homemade Avocado & Arepas – $3.60

• 2 Avocados

• 4 Arepas


Typical Colombian meal: Lentils, rice, and platano.

Day 5:

Leftovers become extremely handy when you’re trying to save money. Our large shopping spree two days before had left us with plenty of food for the following days. But of course, we had to have breakfast at the market.

Breakfast – San Gil Market – $3.75

• 2 Large Smoothies

• 1 Empanada

• 1 Medium Fruit Bowl 

Lunch – Grilled Vegetables – $2.25

• Broccoli 

• Onion

• Carrot 

• Quinoa 

Dinner – Pre-made for the road – $3.00

• Pasta

• Tomatos 

• Onion

• Broccoli 

We started eating out more in the small town of Salento which is very similar to San Gil. The popular backpacker restaurant Brunch de Salento became our go-to spot. For the two of us, Brunch de Salento cost approximately $15.  A typical backpacker restaurant costs between $4-7. In comparison, a typical Colombian meal in a restaurant is between $2-4. We concluded from our  experiment that a healthy meal cooked at the hostel for two people costs approximately $4.

Even though its the cheapest option, we still encourage experiencing new cultures by having a meal out. Every country has a unique taste and you don’t want to miss it.


A Few Things About Medellín

The bus ride from Santa Marta to Medellin is long, 16 hours long. Taking the overnight bus helps time pass by a little quicker. The sleep is restless and you’ll do just about anything to get comfortable including getting on your knees and resting your head on the seat. However, this only applies to people under 5’5”. As we entered into Medellin, there were high rises made of brick as far as we could see. We stepped off the bus at North Terminal, into refreshing cool air. Amen to no humidity.


Rainy but beautiful.

The metro is the best option for ease of travel throughout Medellin. The rails run through the center of the valley from north and south, with a few lines running east and west. The metro is clean, unusually clean for public transportation. Since then we’ve learned the locals take extreme pride in their metro. No food is allowed on the platforms and if you put your feet up on the seats while riding, its likely you’ll get yelled at. Anyways, the metro is clean, easy to use, and gets you just about anywhere.

Here are a few parts of the city we’ve explored…

1. Poblado

Poblado is definitely the ‘hippest’ and most famous neighborhood of the city. When tourists go to Medellin, they usually end up in Poblado. The streets are lined with international restaurants, hip coffee shops, and nicely dressed business folk. Poblado is part of the 2.5 million inhabitants of Medellin, but you can step off the main roads into quiet, canopy covered side streets. It’s refreshing to be in a big city and not be shoulder to shoulder with the masses.


Colombian saying meaning “Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of”

Did we mention all the greenery? It’s amazing. The people of Medellin take pride in their trees, much like Chico, California. During the expansion of the city the trees were preserved in order to filter the polluted air from the millions of cars and factories. Brilliant work!

Overall Poblado is a great place to stay in Medellin. We loved the atmosphere plus the ability to easily reach the rest of the city (via metro/uber/taxi).

2.  Parque Explora

We hit Medellin in the middle of the rainy season. Therefore, it was raining all day our first day. Apparently it’s typical in Medellin. One of the first suggestions on the internet to do was Parque Explora. An indoor exploratorium never fails to entertain so we decided to go for it. When we got there we learned that five major sections make up the complex: an aquarium, physics, mind, film, and time.


Entrance to the time exhibit at Explora.

You can spend a whole day in there trying out the many different interactive displays. Starting with the aquarium we got to stare down eels and stand face to face with fish bigger than Alaina. Learning all these animals were endemic to Colombia was fascinating. The amount of diversity bottled into one building left us oohing and ahh-ing (except for the giant cockroaches).

3. Parque Arví

In order to get some outdoor time we decided to check out Parque Arví. It’s a short metro cable ride. The rad thing about heading up to the park via the metro cable is flying over the Medellin “comunas”. The hillside below is completely covered by tin roofs and make shift brick walls.


View of the “comunas”.


The park is close to Medellín, but remote enough to have the trails to yourself. Every day of the week you’ll be able to find at least 10 stalls at the Arví Market. The market is held at the top of the metro cable and boasts local foods and products from the region. Snacking on some delicious food prior to walking around the park kept us full and happy the entire time we were there.

Cheesy good bread at the market.

4. Hit the Town

Poblado is poppin’ Thursday through Saturday nights and we got to enjoy a couple nights out. One of the great things about Medellin, and a lot of South America, is sitting in the city plaza with your friends, drinking a beer.

Clubs, restaurants and bars line the streets with well dressed Colombians and underdressed tourists eager to dance. Cover charges are pretty steep at the clubs but people will pay for good music and dancing. It’s common to be out until the early morning hours.

After spending some solid time in Medellin we were ready for a break from the city and decided to make our way south towards Salento…