South America travel budget for Backpackers

South America
South America

South America travel budget – South America is a fantastic continent to travel on a budget. There is a dramatic variation in prices between countries.

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! Exact budget per country.

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.

South America Travel Map Stingy Nomads
South America Travel Map Stingy Nomads

COLOMBIA

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.

colombia
At $20 per day each our budget was on the high side for Colombia, but we did awesome things. Camping at the airport helped with our budget! South America travel budget

FOOD

We spent very little on food by buying groceries in the supermarket and cooking in the hostel. An example of a typical receipt for grocery shopping can be seen in our Colombia Budget Backpacker’s Guide.

ACCOMMODATION

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).

TRANSPORT

2.5 hour bus ride is about $4.50, public transport in the city $1-2 per day.

ACTIVITIES

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.

TIPS

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.

BUDGET ACTIVITIES

  • 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.

CLICK HERE for our complete Colombia Budget Backpacker’s Guide. South America travel budget

BRAZIL

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.

brazil
Amazing Brazil, Iguazu Falls, hiking around Ilha Grande, Rio De Janeiro and two weeks on cargo ships on the Amazon. South America travel budget

TRANSPORT

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

TIPS

Walk up to the Jesus Christ Statue from Parque large and save R 20.

BUDGET ACTIVITIES

  • 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

Amazon cruise by slowboat.

Iguazu, which side?

Ilha Grande, hiking around an island.

VENEZUELA

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. South America travel budget

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)

Venezuela travel
Venezuela, the ultimate adventure-budget travel country. South America travel budget

BUDGET ACTIVITIES

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

PERU

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.

ACCOMMODATION

Double room in a hostal PEN 52 ($15) per night. Dormitory Bed  PEN 17 ($5) per night.

FOOD

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.

TRANSPORT

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).

TIPS

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)

trekking peru
Trekking in Peru was very cheap, we had an amazing time and saw some unreal places! South America travel budget

BUDGET ACTIVITIES

  • 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. South America travel budget

BOLIVIA

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

Accommodation was cheap at BOB 25 to 35 ($10-$12) for a double room per night. Hostel bed $7 per night.

FOOD

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).

TRANSPORT

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).

Bolivia -The Uyuni Salt desert was one of the highlights of South America! South America travel budget
Bolivia -The Uyuni Salt desert was one of the highlights of South America! South America travel budget

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.

CLICK HERE for our Uyuni saltflats on a backpacker budget guide.

BUDGET ACTIVITIES

  • 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.  South America travel budget

CHILE

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.

TRANSPORT

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!

ACCOMMODATION

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

Chile - picking so few photos of over 2 months that we spent in this amazing country is harder than traveling here on a $13 per day budget! South America travel budget
Chile – picking so few photos of over 2 months that we spent in this amazing country is harder than traveling here on a $13 per day budget! South America travel budget

FOOD

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.

BUDGET ACTIVITIES

  • 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.

ARGENTINA

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

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

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!

ACCOMMODATION

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).

BUDGET ACTIVITIES

  • Hike and Camp at El Chalten, the route and camping on route is free.    South America travel budget
Argentina, it takes careful traveling to see these amazing sites on a budget! South America travel budget
Argentina, it takes careful traveling to see these amazing sites on a budget! South America travel budget

URUGUAY

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.

FOOD

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).

ACCOMMODATION

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. South America travel budget

PARAGUAY

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!

ACCOMMODATION

Double room PYG 94 333 ($17)

South America travel budget

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27 Comments

  • Campbell and Alya, thank you for being soooo helpful in assisting backpackers on a budget through this post of yours. I am so glad to be landing on your website. I am backpacking Latin America(Starting with Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia….Mexico(may be) ) starting this November 20th. My Indian passport makes it kinda difficult to travel to Uruguay. This will be my first travel experience outside India and Nepal. I plan to travel anywhere between 6 months to 12 months depending on the travel vibes and the money of course. On discussing with a couple of other Indian backpackers(there are very few of us out there, yet) and reading different blogs I am planning to travel on a budget of $10-$15 per day in the continent. It seemed very unlikely until I came across your post. I know the drill about surviving on this budget and I think there is so much to gain from your post to help me achieve this. I have plans to hitchhike, couchsurf and camp(I will be carrying one myself straight from Inida) and cook my own meals wherever possible. I will be able to travel on a $450 per month budget for 10 months. If there is something more you would want to advise or suggest me, please do. I have sent you guys an email as well.

    Thanks again for writing this and happy travels 🙂

    • Hello Rajat thanks for reading and your nice comment, it is always great if our posts are helpful! You are aiming for a tight budget but it is certainly not impossible. It looks like you are planning to use all our big money saving strategies. I think being 2 also saved us a bit since we shared a lot of things. Also hitchhiking and camping it is always great to be 2, so try to travel with a buddy (girl get rides easier). Learn some spanish, it will make your life a lot easier. Nice thing about your plan is that you are going from expensive countries cheaper.
      We did not receive an email from you, did you use contact us from the website?
      Safe travels!

  • Really good and clear information. You are a great help to many travelers! I am planning a trip in which I want to camp when possible, but I am definitely a hammock person. I know it varies from country to country, and even within a country (obviously less options in the Andes), but do you think that hammock only camping is possible without too much hassle?

    • Hello, Matthew! Thank you! Only hammock will be ok for Brazil climate wise everywhere, in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru on the beach and in the North of Chile and Argentina. I’m just not sure about safety issue, with a tent you can put all your stuff inside but in campsites or very remote places in should be ok.
      Good luck!

  • wow, this is an amazing post! i’m backpacking in south america for 6 months and this is going to be a big help with planning! Also, I’m doing part of the trip by myself and was wondering how you feel about hiking/camping solo? Or is likely that I would meet other travelers along the way and maybe join their group?

    • Hello! Thank you for your comment!
      About hiking and camping alone it depends on a country, e.g. in Chile it’s safe you can easy hike in all National parks on your own. Camping in campsites is 100% safe we met some guys and girls (even a pregnant one) camping and even hiking alone. For some hikes like Torres del Paine or Salkantay even if you start alone you’ll meet many other travellers doing the same route so can join them in process. In general in all popular hiking destinations there are many tourists if you stay in a hostel I’m sure you’ll be able to find people willing to do a hike with you. If you have more questions we’ll be happy to answer!
      Good luck!

  • Hello there, so happy i have stumbled upon your blog! 🙂 This really helps, since we’re planning a 3-4 months trip to South America next year,and were looking for a realistic budget estimation 🙂 Will definitely save your article for future research :)) Cheers!

    • Hi, guys! Thank you for reading! We hope our article will help you to plan your trip! If you have any questions we’ll be happy to help!
      Good luck!

  • Hey this was a great read. I’m going to South America for three months and struggling to budget. The most expensive is travelling from country to country. I am only going for three months but travelling to most countries.

    • Hello Danielle, thanks for reading! I agree if you travel such big distances in 3 months transport is going to be a major expense. Hitchhiking saved us a lot of money, but safety is always a concern especially if you are traveling solo. Taking night buses helps, saving on accommodation. Traveling with a tent was probably our biggest money saver.
      Safe Travels!

  • Hi think your website is great we are going to South America in February for 3 months with an budget of $4400 all in for the two of us.Going from Brazil to Peru finishing in Columbia In your opinion is this budget realistic.

    • Hi Kyle, thanks for reading! That is about $24.50 per day each. It depends on how long you are going to spend in which country and what you are planning to do. It is certainly possible. You will have to stay in dormitories/camping sometimes, cook yourself and minimize guided tours. I think Brazil is the most expensive of the three countries. We explain how we kept our budgets low in each country. Please shout if we can help. Enjoy, Safe Travels!

  • Thanks for this post! I am travelling there in 2017 and was curious of the price of food and drink will definitely make budgeting easier!

    • Hello. Jessica!
      Thank you! We’re glad you found it helpful! If you have more questions about South America don’t hesitate asking!
      Good luck!

  • Hello there,

    Great post. Going there in 2017 and I was specially wondering how much Chile would cost and this is pretty realistic. I am adding it on my list now 🙂

    • Hello Caroline, thank you for reading glad you liked the entry. We spent three amazing months around Chile, camping and hiking in some unreal places in the snow, desert and forests. This link http://stingynomads.com/chile/ to see all our entries on Chile for more specific budget, tips and photos on each place. Sure you will love Chile. Please ask if you have any questions. Safe travels

  • Hey guys, thanks for this, great to see how you cut costs. Quick question, as a South African, did you need a visa for Bolivia and what did it cost you? (Did you have to get it before or on arrival?)
    Thank you :). Ciao Kate

    • Hi, Kate!
      Thank you! South Africans do need visa for Bolivia. We got 30-day visa in Puno, Peru at the Bolivian consulate for free, you just need to bring all required documents (booking, itinerary etc.). It took two hours to get it. Apparently you can get it in Bolivian consulate in Cusco and Lima or any other neighbour to Bolivia county.
      Good luck!

    • Hi, Nick!
      Thank you! If you have more questions on traveling South America don’t hesitate to ask, we’ll be glad to help you!
      Good luck!

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