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Times, in a financial context, are tough. Well, in many ways they’re tough (relatively speaking that is), but for now I’ll keep the focus on the money side of things. And on that score, they’ve been made even tougher by a visa oversight on my part. Hence the Colombian government will be taking even more of my hard earned cash, outside of what I already give indirectly in taxes (a nice proportion of that via the brewing company Bavaria).

So despite what many of the more deprived in Bogotá seem to think when they see the foreign face, I don’t have vast sums of money to spread around. If only. Indeed, I wager many locals here have much more to spare than I, yet beggars still seem more inclined to pester the ‘outsider’. Perhaps we’re just more giving?

That aside, and given the circumstances, one must be wise with his resources, live within one’s means. And while Bogotá isn’t the cheapest of cities one could settle in around these parts, I’ve managed to find the daily deals, as is my wont, in the centre and its environs to keep my head above water. What’s more, adhering to the following ‘monetary marvels’ even allows you maintain a, ahem, healthy social life – good for mental well-being that. For sure, these may not be to everyone’s taste, so take them or leave them as you please. I won’t be offended.

The home of cheap oatmeal in downtown Bogotá

The very friendly Doña Celia and her two able helpers. The best place to get oatmeal in the centre of Bogotá.

Bargain breakfasts, and more!
For many Westerners who desire fruit and wholegrain, unsweetened cereals to kick-start the day, sourcing such things in Bogotá’s supermarkets will set you back quite a few pesos, more than it really should. Fruit is best purchased in local tiendas, specialised markets (such as Paloquemao on Calle 19 with Carrera 27), or on the street. Generally the latter is as good as it gets price wise; and in terms of the centre you’ll normally find vendors with their carts of strawberries, granadilla, grapes, or whatever hanging around Avenida Jiménez with Carrera 10 in the afternoons. Two kilograms of strawberries for 2,000 pesos (roughly one U.S. dollar) is not to be sniffed at.

Best-priced oatmeal in the centre – 4,000 pesos per kilo – can be found in the ‘La Macarena’ market on Calle 19, between Carreras 8 and 9. Not only that, but the very friendly lady-in-charge is usually good to throw in a few free goodies. (Oops, I should keep that quiet.)

Two important, refreshing exceptions to the no-go supermarkets for fruit (and vegetables) are Surtimax and La 14. The former has a store in the centre on Carrera 10 with Jiménez and regularly has decent prices on a host of products.

La 14’s sole store in the city is located in Centro Comercial (shopping centre/mall) Calima, close to the aforementioned Paloquemao. Daily offers include decent sized bags of various fruit and veg for 1,000 pesos. Plus, Calima runs a free shuttle bus service to the mall from various locations across the city. You see, some people in this city can do customer service, when they put their minds to it.

Light, yet fulfilling, lunches
As I mentioned a few weeks back in ‘Colombia’s battle with the bulge’, it’s usually best and cheaper to do your own cooking in this city (and in most others for that matter).* The locations mentioned above are good and economical for whatever vegetables you’re looking for, as well as various beans/lentils, grains, and eggs. You’ll find meat products there, but anything close to quality in that regard in these parts is pretty expensive, chicken excepted.

Now my appetite for the cheap, standard almuerzos (lunches) has waned considerably over the last couple of years. However, if you’re not in the mood to cook but don’t have much to spend, there are a host of places in the centre offering soup and and a main dish for in and around 4,000 pesos.

Fabulous (and cheap) fruit

Who wouldn’t trust this man to buy fruit from?

Satisfying snacks
On those, erm, rare hungover days or when things are really tight, there’s an empanada place on Calle 19 (‘complicatedly’ named ‘Empanadas de la 19’), next to the La Macarena market mentioned above, that certainly offers value for money. At 1,000 pesos a go, the standard bites here are decent hunger-busters – unless you’re famished, one is typically enough. Also, they don’t seem to be cooked in a bath of lard, as is the case for the adjacent place offering the same fare (careful now).

You don’t have to look too far for bakeries/cafés (panaderías as they’re known here) in the city. My favourites right now, both for price and friendliness/customer appreciation, are located in La Perseverancia, on Calle 32 between Carreras 4 and 5. 800 pesos (40 U.S. cents approx) for a coffee with milk along with a bread of your choice is more than agreeable.

An evening tipple
As some of you may have guessed, I’m partial to the odd beer; it’s a socialising thing (and something to help me sleep in my new noisy lodgings). For me the location/venue is very much secondary to the company I’m with and the price. Once again, La Perseverancia comes up trumps in this regard. This might be your typical working-class, hard-pressed Bogotá barrio, but you’ll do well to find people as welcoming (if at first a little curious) than in the numerous watering holes here. Many a night I’ve gone out for just one beer, only to be gifted many more (I’ll put it down to my affability). Plus, at 2,500 pesos for a 750 ml beer, things are firmly in that sought after cheap and cheerful category.

The same goes for barrio Egipto, while there are an odd few places in La Candelaría/Las Aguas that come close to such standards.** However some tienda/bar owners in those latter locations have developed disappointing money-grabbing habits at the expense of customer service. Their loss.

Budget bathing
Perhaps a bit of an odd one to finish on, but one thing many expatriates here comment on is the high cost of toiletries; and of course you can’t have an exclusive night out in La Perseverancia without having scrubbed up well. Normally the best place to get products such as shampoo and deodorant at reasonable prices are the ‘mil’ (1,000 peso) shops, with many of them scattered around the centre. They can, however, be a bit hit-and-miss as to what they have available. There’s always the border run to Venezuela to stock up; maybe not right now though.

So some small ways to help keep in the black in Bogotá while not having to go underground altogether. They might come in handy for a (possibly) soon to be unemployed city mayor. You know where to find me.
*That previous post can be found here:
Colombia’s battle with the bulge
**For a related piece on some my favourite watering holes, see:
Bogotá’s simple pleasures II; ‘Up the hill’, ‘Nazi’ and free beer

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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