We show how we kept our South America travel budget low. Backpacking South America is an amazing experience and can be done super cheap. It is important to remember that there is a dramatic variation in prices between countries when planning a trip.
We spent $3881 in 275 days (over 8 months) so an average budget of $14.11 each per day. Keep on reading if you want to know how we did this! We give our exact budget per country for backpacking through South America.
The fine print: Argentina, Brazil and Chile are more developed countries with first world prices. If you are not careful with your money, travel by bus, stay in hostels and eat in restaurants traveling here is going to cost a fortune. Peru and Bolivia on the other hand are third world countries with corresponding prices.
The cost of travel in Venezuela was so low it is in a budget travel category of it’s own. Be aware that crime is a very realistic consideration when traveling here.
We traveled all South American countries on a tight budget, it is very possible. The cost of travel in each country is not only dependent on price. Some examples; Chile is an expensive, but safe country that is very camping and hitchhike friendly and it is possible to hike independent. In contrast Bolivia is a cheap country, but crime can be a problem and activities are expensive. Consequently we spent more per day in Bolivia than Chile.
All prices in this entry are what we experienced ourselves and is accurate since we write down everything we spend everyday. You can see our budget, but we also list some alternatives to help you plan. For each country find links to blog entries with more details.
Backpacking South America
We spent 1 851 135 COP ($636) in 31 days, thus 59 714 COP ($20.50) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses. We loved Colombia, nice people, interesting culture and so many amazing things to do and see. Our budget was a bit on the high side for us, but this amount includes white water rafting, paragliding and a plane ticket from Bogota to Leticia.
We spent very little on food by buying groceries in the supermarket and cooking in the hostel. You can see exactly how we regulated our budget in our Colombia Budget Backpacker’s Guide.
Hostel prices varied between 15 000 and 30 000 COP ($5-$10) for a dormitory bed. Transport was expensive. We saved a lot on accommodation by taking night buses for longer distances, thus saving on a night’s accommodation. We did not hitchhike in Colombia (no reason). Want to see prices or make a booking?
2.5 hour bus ride is about $4.50, public transport in the city $1-2 per day.
Adventure activities was well priced in Colombia, it was the only country we decided to splurge on white water rafting ($40) and paragliding ($20). Diving is unfortunately expensive.
Alya was in Cartagena a couple of years ago and said it was the most expensive place she went to in Colombia. In Booking.com there are many hostels with dormitory beds ranging between $7-$11.
- Free walking tour in Medellin – excellent!
- Hiking around San Gill – well marked 3 day trail to do on your own.
- Walk around in The Tatacoa Desert.
- Coffee tasting in Salento, cheap not free, but a must for a coffee lover.
See our complete Colombia Budget Backpacker’s Guide
We spent BRL 2429 ($754) in 44 days, thus BRL 55 ($ 17) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
Don’t look at our budget and think it is an cheap country, Brazil is very expensive. Our avg budget for Brazil was good because we spent 12 days on a slow boat/cargo ship on the Amazon during which we could not spend money. We hiked around Ilha Grande island for five days, that was amazing and very cheap. We camped when possible.
We did hitchhike sometimes, but getting rides in Brazil was not always easy and we also traveled by bus. Transport in Brazil is expensive, a bus from Rio De Janeiro to Foz do Iguazu (19 hours) is R$ 175 ($55).
The South of Brazil
It was much more expensive than the north, our budget was $15 avg until we reached Rio! There are some “must see” tourist attractions in and around Rio de Janeiro that are expensive.
Some prices in Brazil: cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain BRL 70 ($22), entrance Christ the Redeemer statue BRL 30 ($ 9.30) we hiked up the price is $15 if you take transport, entrance Foz do Iguacu BRL 55 ($ 17), dorm bed in hostel $5-$10
Walk up to the Jesus Christ Statue from Parque large and save $2.
- Cruise down the Amazon on a slowboat.
- Do a free walking tour in Rio de Janeiro.
- Free in Rio.
- go to Copacabana beach
- Walk around the favelas
- Go to Parque Lage.
- Hike around Ilha Grande with a tent, we only had a week, but you can easily spend 3 weeks walking around this paradise.
More about our travels in Brazil
We spent VEF 107 999 ($155) in 29 days, thus VEF 30723 ($5.31) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
We had some great experiences backpacking in Venezuela. The people are very friendly and it really is a beautiful country, but traveling here is frustrating at times. The main annoyances being standing in line, the police, bad service, empty shops and crime.
For foreign travelers this is an unbelievably cheap country. Our average budget was below $6 a day each all inclusive. Our cheapest country traveling in South America.
THE CURRENCY ISSUE
When we were here, September 2015, the official exchange rate was $1=B6, on the black market you could however buy B700 with $1! This means that a Coke will only cost 27c at the black market rate, but you will pay $33 for the same Coke at the official exchange rate! If you bring cash it is an unbelievably cheap country to travel. If however you draw money at an ATM or pay by credit card at the official rate it is maybe the most expensive country in the world.
BUDGET AND PRICES
Our average budget was $5.31 a day each all inclusive.
Some prices: 10 hour bus ride B1300 ($2), 600ml Coke B200 ($0.27), beer B35 ($0.05), Lunch (big meal, chicken, rice, salad, vegetables) B700 ($1), budget hotel double room B1700 ($2.40), fancy guesthouse on the beach B3000 ($4.20), Medium Pizza (wood fired) B1200 ($1.70)
Most things, don’t get robbed.
More about our travels in Venezuela
- Travel Venezuela, a backpacking guide.
- Roraima on a budget, lost world in Venezuela
- Want to see prices or make a booking?
We spent PEN 2008 ($ 592) in 37 days, thus PEN 54.20 ($ 15.95) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
Peru has an amazing variety of attractions e.g. Lake Titicaca, the Amazon and Machu Picchu. It is a very affordable country if you avoid tourist traps. We did 3 amazing multi-day hikes from Cusco. This made Peru cheaper not more expensive. Doing independent hikes costs were minimum. During hikes accommodation was free and food was very cheap.
Double room in a hostal PEN 52 ($15) per night. Dormitory Bed PEN 17 ($5) per night. Want to see prices or make a booking?
Some hostels include breakfast, usually simple (yes read not enough). We drank a lot of tea in the mountains of Peru. Most hostels give unlimited free coco tea since it helps with altitude sickness. The best place for lunch is a menu at one of the local restaurants. A Peruvian menú is a set meal including a starter (normally soup or a small salad), a main course, a drink and sometimes a small dessert. The price is PEN 5 – 10 ($1.5-3), we usually paid about $1.80 for lunch.
We often used buses, the prices varied, we paid about PEN 15 ($4.50) for a longer bus ride of 6 hours (380km). Shorter rides of around 2 and a half hours were about PEN 10 ($3).
Machu Picchu entrance is $40 including Machu Picchu Mountain. Machu Picchu is amazing despite the 4000 tourists a day, a must see. I recommend skipping the Inca Trail, hike a different route. There are many amazing hikes around Cuzco and several options to hike to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is the most famous and most touristy, this does not make it the best. See our Salkantay to Machu Picchu, an alternative route article for more on the topic.
Buy trekking gear in Cuzco, it is cheap! We bought a National Geographic Tent in Cuzco for $38, we saw an identical tent in Argentina for over $200! (definitely not a fake)
- Hike independent
- carry your own bag and use a map instead of a guide, there are some of the world’s best hikes in the Peruvian Andes! CLICK HERE for some amazing hikes that we did around Peru.
- Take a slowboat trip in the amazon from Iquitos to Leticia. Awesome activity when traveling South America on the cheap.
We spent BOB 2020 ($ 294) in 15 days, thus BOB 135 ($ 19) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
Excluding the Uyuni Tour our budget was as follows: BOB 1164 ($167) in 12 days thus BOB 384 ($ 13.90) each per day.
Bolivia is known as the cheapest country in South America, but we had a quite a high budget here. Food and accommodation were well priced, but activities and tours were expensive like in all other countries. We were discouraged from hiking and camping on our own, due to muggings and robberies. If you travel by bus and stay in hostels during your travels Bolivia will probably be your cheapest country.
Accommodation was cheap at BOB 25 to 35 ($10-$12) for a double room per night. Hostel bed $7 per night. Want to see prices or make a booking?
Similar to Peru a set menu “menu del dia” at a local restaurants is good value for money at around pen 6-10 ($2-4). It is normally a main course, a drink and sometimes a small desert. We often bought food at the market and cooked for ourselves, some prices: 4 tomatoes BOB 3, cucumber BOB 1, onion BOB 1.5, Egg BOB0.60, Bread 0.50, Cheese 200gm BOB 6. Total for shopping BOB 12.60 ($1.80).
A 11 hour bus from La Paz to Sucre (700km) cost BOB 80 ($11.50), 7 hour bus from Sucre to Uyuni (370km) cost BOB 70 ($10).
SALT FLATS TOUR SALAR DE UYUNI
You can do this independent if you have a motorbike, bicycle or Jeep. Otherwise like us you will have to take a tour. It was expensive, but amazing. The cheapest tour we could find was $93 (BOB 645) with and additional $29 (BOB 206) for park fees. This significantly inflated our budget.
Our Uyuni saltflats on a backpacker budget guide.
- In La Paz take a collectivo BOB 6 ($1) and go and walk around the beautiful Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) entrance is BOB 20 ($3).
- Go to the interesting witches market in La Paz, it is free.
- In Sucre walk to “7 Cascadas” (7 Waterfalls) outside the city.
We spent CLP 653 600 ($ 979,50) in 82 days, thus CLP 11 970 ($ 11.95) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
Chile was our favorite country traveling in South America. It is an expensive country, but an amazing place to backpack on a budget. How could we travel here with so little money? Camping, hitchhiking and couchsurfing. Chilean people are unreal, we have many stories about their fantastic hospitality. We never used public transport in Chile hitchhiking thousands of kilometers, it was safe and easy and we met some amazing people. We did many multi-day hikes here and because we did it on our own it was very cheap.
Hitchhiking worked fantastic for us in Chile all the way from the most Northern to Southern towns, San Pedro de Atacama to Villa O’Higgins.
Traveling overland by bus is expensive a 200 km ride from Santiago to Pichelimu ( 3 hours) costs $10.
To hike Torres del Paine your options are hitchhiking or flying there. Famous blogger Nomadic Matt did a 10 day tour with Intrepid from Santiago costing $3235. Look at the article here. Not really a budget backpacker option, with 10 days costing more than triple what I spent traveling all over Chile in 82 days!
This is the country to travel with a tent, there are campsites everywhere. When there were non we did some ‘bush camping’ and even pitched our tent at a fuel station. We made great friends couchsurfing and off course saved a lot on accommodation in the cities this way. If you look at hostel prices you can see that if you do not camp accommodation in Patagonia will cost you a fortune.
- Camping CLP 2000-7000 ($3 t0 $10)
- Hostel in Santiago. Bed in dormitory – $9, Standard double room – $36
- Hostel in Coiyhaique. Bed in dormitory – $22, Standard double room – $60
- Want to see prices or make a booking?
We usually bought food at the supermarket and cooked or made a sandwich. Shopping varied but avg of about CLP 5000 ($ 7.50) per meal, $3.50 each. For breakfast we normally had cereal or rolls with butter.
Don’t miss the curanto in Chiloe! It is shellfish, pork, sausage, potatoes slow cooked under the sand in a pot. A awesome bargain meal in Pichilemu is ceviche, raw fish in lime juice with onion and chile CLP 1500 ($2.20).
Chile produces quality wine at great prices, in Pichelimu at the beach on the wine trail we opened a bottle of Carmenere next to the fire everynight! about CLP 2500 ($3) for a very drinkable bottle.
- Camp, we discovered some of the most beautiful places you can imagine.
- The amazing waterfalls and pools of Siete Tasas
- the surf and beaches of Piche Limu
- the unreal nature in Patagonia of Pumalin park.
- Hike, we hiked many amazing routes in Chile, CLICK HERE .
- Since you can hike independent in Chile it was very cheap. We had our own camping gear and only bought food for the hike.
- Doing the famous O circuit of Torres del Paine only cost us $53 each in total for 7 days!
See our complete Torres guide Torres del Paine hiking guide. The O circuit.
We spent ARS 4238 ($ 212) in 17 days, thus ARS 297 ($ 13.97) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
Budget wise I experienced Argentina very similar to Chile, an expensive country, but safe to hitchhike, camp and couchsurf. Great food and wine, friendly people with beautiful landscapes and cosmopolitan cities. Hiking, camping and wine was great and not too expensive so we tried to stick to these. Alya traveled Argentina extensively a couple of years ago and says it used to be a cheap country to travel. Until December 2015 the Argentinian Peso had a fixed exchange rate. Similar to Venezuela this created a huge US dollar black market where you could buy 50-100% more pesos per dollar. This stopped when Argentina got rid of the official exchange rate.
Food is definitely one of the highlights in Argentina. They have a reputation for good steak, wine and mate and this is well deserved. Steak in a restaurant and on the barbecue was first class. A good quality Bife de Chorizo (sirloin steak) is between ARS 150 and 300 ($10-20) in a restaurant in Buenos Aires. Argentinians are addicted to Dulce de leche (caramel/boiled condensed milk), big containers are cheap. We ate lots of dulce de leche on Maria biscuits during hikes. Ice cream and alfajores sweets is something not to be missed! The top of the range sweets Cachafas Afajores and Freddo ice cream is worth buying once to taste. Falling back on Grido ice cream and Guymallen alfajores for a fraction of the price is a good budget strategy.
Transport in Argentina is very expensive, The buses are comfortable and by taking a night bus you can save on accommodation. A bus from Bariloche to Buenos Aires (20h) starts at 1200 ARS ($80).
We broke our hitchhiking records in Argentina by traveling almost 4000 km in 2 rides from Punta Arenas in Chile all the way to Buenos Aires. This trip would have cost us $180 by bus. I will not recommend hitchhiking around the cities it took us 2 days to get out of Buenos Aires!
In Buenos Aires a dormitory bed in a hostel costs ARS 90-150 ($6-10). A budget double room starts at ARS 380 ($25). Camping at El Chalten cost ARS 80 ($5.40) per day, a dormitory bed in a hostel here starts at ARS 150 ($10). Want to see prices or make a booking?
- Hike and Camp at El Chalten, the route and camping on route is free.
We spent UYU 3954 ($ 140) in 7 days, thus 564 UYU ($20.50) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
Uruguay is known as an expensive country with top quality beef and people living on Mate, sort of a super Argentina, this is not too far off. Most backpackers arrive in Uruguay by ferry straight from Buenos Aires ($40). The ferry is expensive and we decided to hitchhike the long way around, it took a long time. It is a country well known for it’s beaches, which is great for budget travelers. Unfortunately the weather was bad and the water dirty when we were here.
Eating in restaurants is very expensive. Lunch in a local restaurant cost about UYU 350 ($12). A Mcdonald’s meal is about UYU 270 ($9.50). Shopping and cooking the prices are not that crazy:
rice 1kg UYU 40 ($1.40), chicken 500g UYU 110 ($3.90), Tomatoes 1kg 80 UYU ($2.90). Less than $3 per person to cook. A bottle of wine UYU 190 ($6.50). 500ml beer UYU 54 ($1.90).
A bed in a hostel in Montevideo was UYU 280 ($10), Colonia del Sacramento was a beautiful town hostel beds here start at UYU 385 ($ 13.50) per night. We were lucky to camp for free at a beer festival in Paysandu when we came over the border. Want to see prices or make a booking?
We spent PYG 191 000 ($ 34) in 3 days, thus 63 666 PYG ($12) each per day including all food, transport and other expenses.
We only touched on Paraguay, staying in Ciudad del Este for 3 days. Many people come her to shop for cheap electronics. It was a good place for me to buy a new I-phone charger.
Itaipu dam, the second biggest dam in the world is a nice site to go to from the city, the tour is free. The massive network of waterfalls that they flooded to build the dam would have been even nicer. Apparently it was bigger and more impressive than Iguazu!
Double room PYG 94 333 ($17) Want to see prices or make a booking?
Backpacking South America budget travel tips
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