Dwindling Fortunes Update: November 2013

The cost of living in Guatemala (and a bit of Mexico)

The main piece of news concerning November is our departure from Mexico. A country we had shortly visited in 2011 surprisingly became one of our favorite destinations in the world, and one we hope to return to at some point in the future.

Even though we merely scratched the surface of what that gigantic country has to offer, we still managed to see friends in Cholula, climb the magnificent pyramids of Teotihuacán, discover the ridiculously diverse cuisine of Oaxaca, get high on mushrooms in the mountains of San José del Pacífico, learn to surf in Puerto Escondido, eat some amazing fish tacos in Mazunte, tackle gigantic scorpions in Bahias de Huatulco, learn a lot about coffee in Chiapas, see the waterfalls of Agua Azul, visit the temples of Palenque, witness the Day of the Dead and fall in love with the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

After 5 whole months in Mexico, we made our way to Guatemala, starting off in the town of Panajachel, picturesquely situated by the shores of Lake Atitlán. It was in our new home facing the Tolimán and San Pedro volcanoes that we celebrated our 6-month anniversary of long-term travel, a milestone we signaled with a homemade lunch with friends and a sparkling new video.

It’s been quite the ride…

Anyway, on with the data:

Guatemalan Quetzales

For the purpose of tracking our expenses we purchased a brilliant app called Trail Wallet, available for all gadgets starting with “i”.

The procedure is simple: we input our daily budget, fill in our own currency (EUR) and also choose the currency of the country we’re in (currently, GTQ). We then enter our purchases in GTQ, and the app will let us know how much we are spending in EUR and how we are faring in regards to our daily budget. We can also assign categories to our ruinous lifestyle. Here’s how it looked on the last day of November:

Trail wallet november summary

Our daily budget is 50 EUR total. We averaged 25.44 EUR for the month of November, which means we spent 51% of our allocated budget. As mentioned before, we (finally) left Mexico for Guatemala, so we had the usual incremental expenses that go with changing territories.

On with the financial data then. Unless specified otherwise, all numbers refer to our total costs as a couple.

Below is the general chart for the month of November.

Trail wallet november general

Each lovely color represents a category. We’ve added the following:


Most of the money we spent in November went for Accommodation, Food, and… Transport!


Trail wallet november accommodation

Even with the increased expenses tied to moving to a new country, we still managed to keep our accommodation costs to a reasonable level. As we slowly travel through Central America, we are becoming savvier customers, and are constantly on the lookout for good deals on rooms or apartments, which are generally much cheaper than hotels and even hostels.

Below is the daily rate of the three places we’ve stayed in. The exchange rate is approximate, since the Euro is as reliable as a Delorean.

100 MXN (6 EUR) – Casa de la Vista (room, San Cristóbal)
210 GTQ (20 EUR) – Hotel El Sol (hotel, Panajachel)
70 GTQ (7 EUR) – Apartamentos Don Moisés (apartment, Panajachel)

Average = 11 EUR

The room we had at Casa de la Vista in San Cristóbal is the cheapest option we have found so far in our travels. Not only was the room spacious, clean and enhanced by the use of an enormous kitchen and patio, it also permitted us to meet other lovely travelers and their pets (shout out to Milka and Ambrosio!), not to mention befriending the wonderful owners of Casa de la Vista, Luis and Silvana.

Our ideal plan when visiting a new place is thus: we book a cheap(ish) hotel or hostel in advance for a week and try get a feel of the town/city/beach, to see if we would like to stick around for a longer period.

Moving to Guatemala, we opted to stay at a hotel for a week, to ensure we would have a quiet base from which to explore our new surroundings. Hotel El Sol is Japanese/Guatemalan-owned, which we thought cute and enticing.

We have been madly in love with Japan ever since we visited in 2010, and could not miss an opportunity to at least get a taste of the sunrise island. It turned out to be a great choice, since the hotel was quiet, spotlessly clean and moderately priced.

However, shortly after our first glimpse of Lake Atitlán we decided to find a monthly rental, since a week was not going to cut it.

Enter a serendipitous encounter in San Cristóbal, which led to a reunion in Panajachel, in turn prompting a query of available options, finally concluding in our new home at Apartamentos Don Moisés, where we have a fully-equipped apartment (kitchen, bathroom, internet, etc) for the monthly price of 2100 GTQ/200 EUR.

Our apartment is located on a hill overlooking Lake Atitlán, and its distance from the center of Panajachel suits us well. Our morning walk takes us to Calle Santander in 20 minutes, and if pressed for time or just feeling lazy we can always hail a tuk-tuk (5 GTQ/0.5 EUR pp) or a pick-up full of smiling locals on their way to the market (3 GTQ/0.30 EUR pp).

We also have a bit of a view:

Panajachel Lake Atitlán


Trail wallet november food

The more we learn the ropes of long-term travel, the more we appreciate the huge savings that can be made by buying locally and cooking meals at home. Our food budget was one of the highest since we started traveling, mainly because while staying at the Hotel El Sol we ate out every day.

The meals in Panajachel are usually inexpensive and delicious, but 6 EUR here and 4 EUR there can still make an impressive dent. Hence, even though we greatly enjoyed our tofu, rice and vegetable soups at Deli Jasmin, we are happy to have a kitchen again.


Trail wallet november transport

You move countries, you pay for transport…

As extensively discussed in our post detailing our border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala, we decided to take a direct shuttle from San Cristóbal de las Casas to Panajachel, which although practical was financially draining.

Other costs included the occasional tuk-tuk and pick-up in Panajachel, but these are hardly significant…

Other Categories

Trail Wallet other expenses collage

The remaining categories were responsible for 21.16% of our total costs.

Culture got a bit inflated this month, but with good cause: we took a day trip to the gorgeous ruins of Palenque, stopping at Agua Azul and the Misol-Ha waterfalls along the way, and visited the charming Casa Na Bolom, a small but rich museum dedicated to the lives and explorations of Frans and Gertrude Blom. All money well spent.

Lifestyle is a fancy word for nicotine addiction. We’ve managed to keep our cancer costs low, so maybe our dying cells won’t notice.

Entertainment usually means alcohol. We’re undergoing a dry spell at the moment, so this category was left empty.

Health costs, although not in the same magnitude as last month’s catastrophic descent into medical chaos, were still a tad high, courtesy of ongoing medical bills and the odd toothbrush.

Miscellaneous can be anything, and this month it was mostly laundry and the exit tax of 295 MXN/17 EUR for foreign tourists we had to pay when leaving Mexico. I’ll admit that one hurt… But hey, we’re alive and have no regrets!

Summing up: considering the costs incurred whenever moving around and my body’s continuous struggle to stay afloat, it was not a bad month…

Again, accommodation is a huge financial drain, so whenever we manage to bring its costs down everybody wins and we get another bonus round on this long-term travel carousel.

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4 Responses

  1. Wow, this post is both extremely detailed and amazing! I’ve been throwing ideas around of ideas how I can keep track of my spending when i leave next year and this app sounds pretty great.

    • FW North says:

      Thank you, you’re very kind. We’re great fans of the Trail Wallet, particularly since we’re running on savings and money has a tendency to run away from us 🙂 The folks at Never Ending Voyage are responsible for the app – you should check them out, they have a very lovely and informative travel website. Good luck and safe travels!

  2. There are few things I love more than geeking out on travel-related figures. Nice job on spending only half of your budget. You can travel twice as long! 😀

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