Before we arrived in the country, our prospects for seeing Namibia on the cheap were looking quite grim. Most of the package safaris we found online were north of the US$125 per day which is astronomical compared to most of the places we’ve gone (Palau excluded!). As with many other African countries, the general advice to budget travelers is to not book ahead but instead just turn up and look for a last minute discount.

The crew on our final morning.
The crew on our final morning.

We were thrilled when we met Chad, the owner of the Cardboard Box Travel Shop (and hostel) the day after we arrived in Windhoek. He was planning to try out a new business idea he had come up with for in a few days time. His idea was a “participation safari” for budget-oriented travelers. Basically, he would provide the vehicle, a guide (himself) and all the necessary equipment for NAD3500 per person for an 8-day itinerary. In addition to this cost, we would be responsible for paying for our own camping and park entrance fees.

As for the “participation” part of the safari deal, we would be responsible for preparing our own food and making/breaking camp each day. The food aspect of it was good fun. Given Amy’s vegan diet and my enthusiasm for burning things over an open fire, we would just assume do our own thing on that front. The near-daily access to Namibian grocery stores, which were well stocked, made it easy to get supplies and we even found exotic things like veggie sausages in the stores.

Gems (squash) stuffed with carrots and onions then roasted on the braai
Gems (squash) stuffed with carrots and onions then roasted on the braai

Helping setup and take-down the camp each night became part of the daily routine. Chad’s tents were of the industrial strength (military?) variety but they were easy enough to setup. These tents could have easily slept four people but we were assigned two people per tent. He also had some nice mattress pads and quality sleeping bags – what I would’ve given for those in Mongolia!

I became the roof loading specialist.
I became the roof loading specialist.

Overall, Chad’s safari was an excellent experience and on top of that he’s a great guy. His budget safari idea is a great one and I definitely think there is a niche in the budget travel market to be filled. In retrospect, I would say that the “turn up and see what happens” approach to budget travel in Namibia is a risky one. Unlike some of the bigger safari destinations (e.g. Kenya, Tanzania) there just didn’t seem to be a large volume of tours leaving from Windhoek and I think we were quite lucky. Hopefully Chad can make his new idea work to help open Namibia up to backpackers!

8-day Safari Budget Summary

  • “Participation” safari for two: NAD7000 ($875)
  • Groceries: NAD790 (US$ 98.73)
  • Two nights camping plus park fees at Etosha National Park: NAD770 (US$96.25)
  • One night camping in Damaraland: NAD180 (US$22.50)
  • Misc entrance fees: NAD260 (US$32.50)
  • Two nights at guesthouse in Swako plus laundry: NAD840 (US$105)
  • Two nights camping plus park fees at Sossousvlei: NAD1000 (US$125)

Total for two people: US$1355 (or $85 per person per day)

1st Class Observation car is at the back of the train
1st Class Observation car is at the back of the train

As you can tell from the recent blog posts, the trains were one of my favorite things about Sri Lanka. At the very end of our stay we finally managed to score some tickets for the ’1st class observation’ car that I had heard people rave about. They have a special car at the end of the car with huge glass windows that face down the tracks. The $7 fare for the all-day journey makes this a very attractive option for tourists and locals alike. As an added bonus the fare includes assigned seats – yes, assigned seats on a form of Sri Lankan public transport!

Starting from Ella the route crosses through some of the very best scenery that the hill country has to offer. Tons of tea plantations, the occasional temple, some forests and many many tunnels. The weather was constantly on the change. Sunny one moment, dense fog the next moment with maybe with a little drizzle and then even more sun. The observation car was about half full that day so we were able to rotate seats with the others to have some time in the ‘front row’ near the windows. Such a great way to travel.

We spent our last full day exploring Colombo. The city isn’t exactly the crown jewel in the Sri Lankan tourist circuit but it does have a few worthwhile diversions. We dropped by the National History Museum for a couple of hours and got a nice recap of places we had visited while we sweated like crazy (the museum could use a few more fans, I know AC is asking too much). After that we found one of Sri Lanka’s highest end shopping malls (Odel) and mooched some of their air conditioning while perusing a bookstore. The mall is tiny but it is built into what looks to be an old colonial-era building. Pretty nicely executed if you ask me.

The National Museum
The National Museum

Back in the heat, we stopped by the Gangaramaya Temple on our way to Galle Face Green – a lively park right along the coast. The well-known Galle Face Hotel is just at the south end of the green so we popped in for some drinks at sunset. Our perfectly timed arrival got us seats at the front just before the place the place filled up! I don’t remember exactly what was in our cocktails but mine was nicely executed with some of the local spices (like real cinnamon!) and, of course, gin.

After happy hour, we bussed it back towards the Kollupitiya neighborhood where we were staying. One big turn-off about Colombo is the lack of budget accommodations in the center – there is next to nothing! The few budget options we could find were fully-booked and we ended up spending an astronomical $96 for our one night stay. In retrospect, it would have been much better to drop $140 to stay at the Galle Face Hotel. At least that hotel has a nice pool and quirky colonial architecture.

Drinks at the Galle Face Hotel
Drinks at the Galle Face Hotel

Despite our splurge on accommodations on the last night, Sri Lanka was exceptionally friendly to our budget. When it was all said and done, we spent about $25 per person per day over the course of our 25-day visit. This included a few splurges (like our elephant safari and the visit to Pigeon Island) as well. If we had visited more of the national parks we would have ended up a little higher but all in all, it is a very cheap destination.

So that’s that. What an incredible country and I am very glad we devoted almost a month to it. I am sure it will stand out as being one of the highlights of our RTW trip and I would gladly come back for another visit. In closing, Amy and I thought it would be good to list out some of the best parts of our Sri Lanka experience.

  • Elephant House brand ginger beer: burn-your-nostrils refreshing
  • Rice and curry: it’s not as simple as it sounds
  • Train travel (also hanging out of over-crowded trains)
  • Tuskers!
  • Fun interactions with the many English-speaking locals
  • Finally learning to eat with our hands
  • Clothes drying racks in just about every hotel room
  • Leftover British formalities (“Would the madame like some more ginger beer?”)
  • The rolling green hills of the tea plantations
Train to Colombo
We finally managed to buy some first class tickets!
We finally managed to buy some first class tickets!
Black-hooded Oriole
Black-hooded Oriole
1st Class Observation car is at the back of the train
1st Class Observation car is at the back of the train
Some locals were keen to have their photos taken with Amy
Some locals were keen to have their photos taken with Amy
The National Museum
The National Museum
Galle Face Promenade in Colombo
Galle Face Promenade in Colombo
Drinks at the Galle Face Hotel
Drinks at the Galle Face Hotel
A nice Indian thali to close out our Sri Lanka food adventures
A nice Indian thali to close out our Sri Lanka food adventures
One final bus ride in our favorite seats - last row!
One final bus ride in our favorite seats – last row!
Kuwait, Male, Sharjah and London are some of the fun destinations from CMB
Kuwait, Male, Sharjah and London are some of the fun destinations from CMB

Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Apina Tupuna Guesthouse

Easter Island has a reputation for being a very expensive travel destination and in some ways this is well-deserved.  With round-trip ticket prices from the mainland reaching towards $1000, getting there is certainly expensive.  If you can get past the transportation costs (book with miles!) then, with a little effort, the island can be surprisingly affordable.  About the same as mainland Chile.

Guesthouse kitchen
Guesthouse kitchen

Accommodation options on Rapa Nui range from high-end resorts all the way down to camping.  Though guesthouse prices are much higher than they were a few years back (when a friend of mine visited) we were still able to find a double room with shared bath at a conveniently located guesthouse for 22,000 CLP per night (about 44 USD).  This included breakfast and access to a shared kitchen.

Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers.  Our first meal on Easter Island.
Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers. Our first meal on Easter Island.

Prepared food is perhaps the biggest budget killer.  At the cheap take-away places in Hanga Roa you are looking at $10 or more for a meal and at the proper restaurants upwards of $20 or more.  A far more economical option is to prepare your own food.  The grocery store prices are certainly higher than the mainland but it is still much cheaper than eating out.

Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors
Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors

Before we left the mainland we stocked up on some staples (rice, lentils, split peas).  During our first afternoon on the island we scoured the minimarkets and found nothing but extremely expensive and bad-looking produce.  We learned later that the produce sold in the minimarkets all comes from the mainland on Wednesday’s LAN flight and we were shopping on a Tuesday.  Week-old vegetables aren’t that appetizing!  A far better option was found the next morning at the town feria were locally-grown produce is sold.  Lower prices and higher quality but you have to get there early to get the best veggies.

Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad.  Made with local produce.
Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad. Made with local produce.

Using what was at hand, Amy came up with some delicious meals for us to enjoy and I did my best as sous chef and dishwasher.  We had everything from pasta salad to mango-avocado salsa served over rice to curried split peas and rice with chard.  We cooked once a day and stretched each dish into two meals.  Our total spend on food for our six-night stay for two people was under $45!

Empanada dog.  Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour.  He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.
Empanada dog. Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour. He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.

The other costs that visitors face on the island are entry fees and transportation.  The good news is that most of the ahu scattered around the island are completely free to visit.  There is a rather steep entry fee to the island’s two park sites (Orongo and Rano Raraku) but you only pay the 30,000 CLP (60 USD) fee once to enter both sites.  On arrival at the airport we were happy to find that the park rangers were pre-selling tickets for 25,000 CLP.  If visiting Easter, keep an eye out for the desk just before the baggage claim area.

The main drag in Hanga Roa
The main drag in Hanga Roa

As for transportation, there are a number of options.  Of course you can walk to many of the sights that surround Hanga Roa without much problem.  The farther flung sights at the east end of the island are best reached by guided tour or vehicle rental.  With two people, renting a car for the day was a much better deal and we could dodge the tour groups.  Hitching might also be an option (numerous locals offered us rides) to drive down costs even further.

Easter Island is a destination that can be made affordable with a little effort.  Getting to the island can be accomplished with a strategic credit card sign-up bonus or two.  Sightseeing on foot and cooking helps the traveler realize even more savings.  Of course food shopping, cooking, and walking around take some time so I would highly recommend a 5+ day visit.  It is an island paradise, so what’s the rush?

Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau
Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau

Budget Summary:

  • Accommodations: $273.68 (six nights)
  • Entrance Fees: $105.26
  • Food: $44.74
  • Car Rental (with fuel): $58.95
  • Internet access: $5.05
  • Total spent for six days on Easter Island: $487.69 ($40.64 per person, per day)

Another travel blogger has posted his budget for a recent trip to Rapa Nui.  Check it out here.

Easter Island – Island Life
Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Our room at Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Our room at Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Guesthouse kitchen
Guesthouse kitchen
Guesthouse common room
Guesthouse common room
Front lawn of our guest house.  A large visitor offshore that day!
Front lawn of our guest house. A large visitor offshore that day!
Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors
Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors
Breakfast was included
Breakfast was included
Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers.  Our first meal on Easter Island.
Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers. Our first meal on Easter Island.
Tomato and avocado sandwiches ad guava juice.
Tomato and avocado sandwiches ad guava juice.
Curried split peas and green beans with rice and wine from the mainland (alcohol is expensive)
Curried split peas and green beans with rice and wine from the mainland (alcohol is expensive)
Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad.  Made with local produce.
Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad. Made with local produce.
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy's favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy’s favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Strange flowers!
Strange flowers!
The daily flight from Santiago
The daily flight from Santiago
The weekly cargo ship from Chile
The weekly cargo ship from Chile
Occasionally cruise ships visit the island.  This is Royal Princess headed for Australia.
Occasionally cruise ships visit the island. This is Royal Princess headed for Australia.
Empanada dog.  Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour.  He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.
Empanada dog. Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour. He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.
Local game of fútbal
Local game of fútbal
Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau
Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau
The bay at Hanga Roa
The bay at Hanga Roa
The main drag in Hanga Roa
The main drag in Hanga Roa
Setting of the full moon.
Setting of the full moon.


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