Brazil Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Brazil

(Map of Brazil from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Brazil on a Shoestring Budget

US$50 | 170 Brazilian Real

Anyone heading to Brazil and expecting to find a budget travel paradise will be sadly mistaken. It is the most expensive country in South America and our Brazil backpacking budget of $50 puts it roughly in line with an average country in Europe. Given the country’s size and the massive inequality that exists, this figure is only really a rough guide though and. Spend an afternoon or evening in one of the posher areas of Rio or Sao Paulo and you could easily end up blowing this in a matter of hours. However by venturing into cheaper neighbourhoods not to mention cheaper parts of the country, prices tumble and your budget will stretch much further, especially if you have even a basic grasp of Portuguese.

Hostel beds and basic meals are relatively good value on the whole while there are lots of budget-friendly ways to enjoy a night out. What can really cost a lot in Brazil though is getting around the country. You’d need several months to get anywhere close to seeing most of the main travel regions and if you try to cram too much into a small space, you’ll be forking out a lot on internal flights and long-distance buses.

Therefore by focusing on just one part of the country or a couple of regions tops, you can get by on $50/day comfortably enough and perhaps even less. Anything much more ambitious and you might want to start thinking about the ‘more comfortable’ budget below.

See where Brazil ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in South America.


More Comfortable Brazil Backpacker Budget

US$75 | 250 Brazilian Real

Upping your budget to $75 opens up a lot more opportunities. If you have say a month or less in Brazil but wish to visit Rio and a few places on the coast as well as heading to the famous Iguazu falls and into the Amazon then this might be more realistic. The cost of internal flights can be quite high and you won’t have time to take the more budget-friendly but incredibly time-consuming, multi-day boat journey into the Amazon.

If time is less of an issue and you’re willing to opt for slower but cheaper transport, then this budget will allow you to pay for a few more organised trips such as guided excursions deeper into the Amazon. It will also allow you stay in nicer accommodation and enjoy more meals/drinks in better restaurants/bars.


Sample Prices in Brazil

Bus journey from Rio to Sao Paulo (7 hours) – $30

Flight from Rio to Manaus (4 hours) – from $120

0.5 Litre local beer in a bar – $1.75

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $6

Dorm bed in Rio de Janeiro – from $9/night

Private double or twin room in Recife – from $18/night

These prices are as of December 2016.

Compare Brazil prices to the cost of travel in Peru


Money

Currency – Brazilian Real

£1 = 4.25 BRL

€1 = 3.58 BRL

US$1 = 3.38 BRL

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)


MFT Recommends

Check out the Walk on the Favela Hostel in Rio for an authentic Brazilian favela experience just a short walk from the iconic Copacabana Beach.


Street art in Brazil

street art in Sao Paulo, Brazil


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Brazil recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉

Things to do in Sao Paulo

published: July 2014

Sao Paulo is a monster, but you might like it!

sao paulo people

On the bus ride in from Guaralhos International Airport towards the centre of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest metropolis it is only natural to arrive at a far from favourable first impression of Sao Paulo. The buildings are bland and grey giving an almost depressingly Soviet feel to the heartbeat of one of the world’s most colourful countries. While the feeling that this is Rio de Janeiro’s ugly big bully of a brother never quite goes away, the more time you spend in the city and the more little gems you discover, you might just be won over as there are so many things to do in Sao Paulo!

So what’s good in Sao Paulo?


Things to do in Sao Paulo

CULTURE

japanese museum sao paulo

Culture is a fairly vague term but Sao Paulo is widely regarded as the cultural capital of Brazil. First a few numbers for you. The metropolitan region of Sao Paulo is home to around 20 million people who are served by around 25,000 restaurants, 15,000 bars and 90 museums. Therefore you’ll never be short of things to do or places to eat and drink and the quality of these places is often extremely high.

As well as a great culinary scene and lively nightlife (see below) the city has a number of outstanding museums that provide an in depth look at many aspects of Brazilian society. The most well known is MASP (Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo) which has a large collection of art from a variety of the world’s greatest ever artists.

Some others that are worth a visit include the Japanese Immigration Museum and Museu Afro Brasil that provide a look at the role Japanese (there is a large Japanese community in Sao Paulo mostly in the Liberdade area) and African immigrants have played in shaping this extremely diverse country. The latter can be found the vast Parque Ibirapuera which has plenty of other attractions and monuments as well as being a nice place to hang out for an afternoon.


FUTEBOL

football museum

Then there is the national obsession that is football. The Museu do Futebol underneath the terraces at The Pacaembu Stadium might well be the best museum of it’s kind in the world. It offers an entertaining and interactive experience that summarises the history of football in Brazil and documents the highs and lows of past World Cups.

There is a relatively short break between seasons in Brazil so for the vast majority of the year there are matches on with the fiercely competitive Sao Paulo State Championship preceding the 38 game national Championship. The main clubs in town are Corinthians, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo while Santos, the former club of Pele and current star of Brazilian football Neymar are based just outside the city on the coast. These are four of the five most successful clubs in Brazil and it is well worth going to a match to sample the intense atmosphere even if you’re not a huge football fan.


ALTERNATIVE SAO PAULO

street art in sao paulo

The city also boast some intriguing little districts that are worth checking out day or night. The most popular with travellers is Vila Madalena which has a bohemian village feel to it which makes it suddenly quite easy to forget that you are in such a giant metropolis. Numerous budget hostels have sprung up in recent years making this a decent place to base yourself and this area certainly has the closest thing to a backpacker feel in Sao Paulo. It is also the best place to check out some of Sao Paulo’s fabulous street art. The wonderfully named Beco do Batman is a collection of streets and alleys literally covered in the stuff in the heart of Vila Madalena.


NIGHTLIFE

sao paulo nightlife

There are lots of small quirky bars in Vila Madalena, many with live Samba and other types of music. There are numerous districts that are worth venturing to in search of nightlife. Rua Augusta which dissects the giant Avenida Paulista is a safe bet for some decent action and has decent alternative rock clubs. Nearby Bela Vista also has some good nightlife but it’s worth asking a local or someone at your hostel as nightlife here is fairly changeable and what’s hot now might not be in six months time. Regardless you will never be short of places to eat or drink in Sao Paulo whether you’re here at the weekend or not.

 


Other useful pages for backpacking in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is an urban jungle and it’s hard to know where to even begin as you try to discover it. These links may give you some ideas:

Free Walking Tour

Bar Crawl

Sao Paulo on Wikitravel

30 Things to Do in Sao Paulo

Hostels in Sao Paulo

 

Top 10 Latin America Travel Highlights

Top 10 Latin America Travel Highlights

Ordered geographically from North to South, these are our Latin America travel highlights.

1. Smoke cigars, drink rum and travel like it’s 1959 in Havana, Cuba.

Latin America Travel Highlights

Read our Cuba backpacking budget for more info on travel on the Caribbean island.

2. Explore colourful Central America on Chicken buses.

chicken bus in guatemala

3. Reach the summit of an active volcano in Guatemala.

volcano in guatemala

Check out our Central America backpacking route for some inspiration.

4. Discover Caribbean beach paradise beneath snow-capped peaks in Colombia’s Tayrona National Park.

tayrona national park

5. Sail deep into the vastness of the Amazon.

amazon river

6. Follow the Inca Trail up to Machu Pichhu.

machu picchu

One of several destinations on this list to make our South America backpacking route.

7. Lose yourself in a world of salt at Uyuni, Bolivia.

salt flats uyuni bolivia

8. Party hard at Carnaval in Brazil.

carnaval in brazil

9. Witness the World’s most wonderous Waterfalls.

iguace waterfall

10. Explore the incredible landscape of Patagonia.

patagonia argentina

Take on our Backpacking Route for Patagonia.


This article was published in March 2014.


Backpacking Budget for South America

Backpacking Budget for South America

This page aims to give you a rough idea of what a typical backpacking budget for South America might be.

south america map

(Map of South America from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

South America is on the whole, budget-friendly and certainly much cheaper than North America and Europe but that said travel costs can easily mount up. Countries like Brazil are developing quickly and as a result prices are going up. It is also a very large region so trying to see it all is both time-consuming and expensive. Even relatively short-distance airfares are high here so unless you fancy hitch-hiking, buses and coaches are pretty much the only way to get around.

There is more detailed info on this topic in our Backpackers Guide to South America (Ebook).

Daily Travel Costs in South America

$20/day or less : Bolivia

$25/day : Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay

$30/day : Colombia

$40/day : Uruguay

$45/day : Chile, Argentina

$50/day : Brazil

As you can see there’s quite a wide variety between countries so calculating a Latin America travel budget can be difficult. Over the years of running this site, we’ve had various people disagreeing with these figures. Some say Peru or Colombia are far cheaper than Ecuador but bare in mind that although the cost food/accommodation may be similar or even less, you will spend much more on transport in the bigger countries like Peru, Colombia, Argentina or Chile as the destinations are far further away from each other. Ecuador is much more compact with just a few hours on a bus and only a few US Dollars separating most of the popular travel destinations.

On a similar kind of note, prices in Uruguay are comparable to anything you’ll find in Brazil or Argentina and can soar to Western European levels in places but the country is small so again you won’t be spending any extra money on flights or expensive long-distance coaches.

French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana are on the expensive end of the scale but they are so small, visitors often go for a specific purpose rather than on a general trip around the country so we haven’t factored them in. In Venezuela, there is something like 4 different exchange rates so it can vary from being absurdly cheap to extremely expensive depending which one you can get. The country is suffering from a severe economic crisis right now with violent crime rife so it’s probably not the best time to go in any case.

Also it’s well worth noting that prices can really sky-rocket around real tourist hotspots like Rio de Janeiro, Machu Picchu and the natural wonders of Patagonia. A trip to Machu Picchu alone can easily blow your Peru budget in just a few days.

Therefore please take these figures as a guide and not as the definitive answer as everyone and every trip is different.

Monthly Backpacking budget for South America

1 month – £820,  €950, $1000

2 months – £1640, €1900, $2000

3 months – £2460, €2850, $3000

4 months – £3280, €3800, $4000

5 months – £4100, €4750, $5000

6 months – £4920, €5700, $6000

(Exchange rates are correct as of Janaury 2017. Use Dollars as a base and convert it to your currency on current exchange rates if you’re reading this much further in the future)

A figure of $1000 per month is a reasonable starting point for a shoestring budget for the region. Visit predominantly the Andean region of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and you can get by on less. Spend more time in the South of the continent or Brazil and you will probably need more than this.

As mentioned earlier actual transport costs are quite high so longer trips or ones that involve visiting only a few countries will give you better value for money. If you want to get by on a cheaper budget, it’s possible but you’ll have to consider hitch-hiking/camping/couchsurfing etc. which on the whole are viable options, especially in the more expensive countries, which is handy.

Remember there will still be extra expenses on top of this in terms of sorting out flights to/from the region. Many travellers opt to head there via USA with Miami a popular stop and home to some of the better value flights to South American countries, particularly Colombia. Read our backpacking budget for the USA to find out costs there.

The cost of vaccinations, visas and travel insurance are also not included in these figures. The last part is often quite expensive. We recommend World Nomads as they specialise in dealing with backpacker trips.

Read our South America budget travel overview for more on the region.


The Cost of Travel in Other Regions

Southeast Asia | Central America | Europe


How much did travel in South America cost you?

If you have travelled recently in South America then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in the region. Budgets really do vary considerably amongst travellers so there will never be a definitively right figure for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible. Thanks!


 This page was last updated in January 2017.


Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

published: October 2013

MARRAKECH | RIO DE JANEIRO

Contribute to the Funky 100!


Funky 100 – Number 91

5 Funky Things to do in Rio de Janeiro


Why you should Visit…

This is an easy one! It’s hard to think of another city in the world that has so much appeal to a traveller. The stunning setting includes tropical forests, lakes and of course fabulous beaches. Throw in beautiful people and exuberant nightlife and it becomes more a question of why wouldn’t you want to visit Rio?


1) Head East for a day of Snorkelling at Arraial do Cabo

snorkelling in rio de janeiro


2) Go to the secret Pedra do Sal Plaza for Free Samba, Music, Drinks & Food (Mon, Fri, Sat 6pm-10pm)

pedro do sal plaza samba in rio


3) Escape the Urban Jungle and head into the Tijuca National Park

national park rio de janeiro


4) Hop from Bar to Bar in the Historic Lapa district

lapa


5) Relax on Prainha Beach

prainha beach rio de janeiro


BIO

Tips from Rio couchsurfers Kellen, Yuri and Aline who also runs Free Walking Tours of Rio de Janeiro’s cultural and historical sights.


PREVIOUS CITY | FUNKY 100


 

Backpacking Route for Brazil

latin america routes

south america | brazil | patagoniacentral america


Backpacking Route for Brazil

Backpacking in Brazil is challenging due to its sheer size and relative cost in comparison to its near neighbours. Nonetheless it is a hugely rewarding challenge. The country makes up a giant chunk of the South American continent with thousands of miles of stunning coastline, wonderful waterfalls and national parks. You can spend months alone visiting all this before even contemplating venturing into the vast Amazon Rainforest which makes up the North and West of the country. Developing rapidly it may be but Brazilians have not forgotten how to party and visiting during Carnaval season is an experience you will never forget.


TIME NEEDED – 2 MONTHS

If time is no object you could do a week long river trip along the Amazon to Manaus and visit a few other places but 2 months would be a decent amount of time for this route.


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £2450 €2850 $3000

This is based on January 2017 prices and exchange rates. That’s just under 10,000 Reales in local currency. Brazil isn’t cheap these days and is considerably more expensive than most countries in South America. This does not include the cost of flights to/from Brazil, visas or travel insurance.

Read more on the cost of travel in Brazil or view the backpacking costs in all South American countries.


VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR BRAZIL

90 days visa-free for citizens of almost every country in Europe and Latin America. If you are from the USA, Canada, Japan or Australia you will need one. Find out if you need a Brazilian visa here.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend using World Nomads for backpacking trips in South America.


 Brazil Backpacking Route

SAO PAULO

Sao Paulo is South America’s biggest city and with three major international airports it is very accessible from wherever you’re coming from and a logical starting point for a trip around Brazil. Opinions of the cities are its fair to say mixed amongst travellers and Brazilians alike. To some it’s a large and dangerous crime-ridden city that’s difficult to get around and has little of interest to visitors anyway.

Others see it is a lively and diverse 21st century metropolis with great shopping and by South American standards an open-minded attitude towards issues such as homosexuality which is still considered a taboo in much of the continent. Even if it’s for just a day or two, it’s worth experiencing and if you don’t like it then move on.

More on SP: Sao Paulo is a Monster but you might like it!

CURITIBA

This cosmopolitan city in the south of the country has a great history and is home to a mixed population that descends from various parts of Europe. It boasts a lively arts and music scene and has a famous ‘old city’ district in the centre which is over 300 years old. If Sao Paulo was too much for you then Curitiba may be much more to your taste as one of the safest and cleanest cities in Brazil.

ILHA DO MEL

This island is a nice escape from the cities with pleasant beaches, no roads and some great scenery. There are plenty of other nearby islands you can get to by boat either on trips or by hiring your own vessel. The island is very quiet during the week so this is the best time to come if you want to relax. However there is much more in the way of nightlife and parties at the weekend and during holidays.

FLORIANOPOLIS

In and around this city you will find some of the country’s most stunning beaches. The city has a few decent sights such as the 18th century fort and some colourful markets but for backpackers in Brazil, it’s primarily a beach destination. There are some decent budget places to sleep, eat and drink and there is even a party bus complete with bar and DJ that takes visitors to the city’s major nightspots. During the day from the centre you can catch buses to any of Florianopolis’s 42 beaches.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Florida Surf Hostel, Florianopolis 

Budget beds, hammocks and chilled out Brazilian beach vibes. Nice place to say.


FOZ DO IGUAÇU

foz do iguace brazil

It’s a long and tiring trip out to Foz do Iguaçu and is probably best done via a night bus with two direct daily services from Florianopolis. (You may prefer to visit Florianopolis first and then backtrack to Curtiba from where there are more regular and shorter bus services to Foz do Iguaçu). The city is of a medium size but mainly serves as a base for exploring the Iguaçu Falls which are truly one of the natural wonders of the world.

The stunning waterfalls, arguably the most impressive on the face of the earth are one of the undoubted highlights of backpacking in Brazil and indeed South America. The Falls dissect three countries meaning short trips into Argentina and Paraguay are possible from this point.

BONITO

A popular eco-tourism hotspot which allows you to see more of the Pantanal than the areas around the more visited Campo Grande. The town is surrounded by waterfalls and rivers which are clean and clear enough to snorkel in and check out the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit the waters in these parts. It is a long journey from the falls to Bonito, taking around 16 hours including a change of bus in the town of Dourados.

CAMPO GRANDE (For the Pantanal)

pantanal jaguarSome people opt to skip Bonito as there are regular direct buses going from Foz do Iguaçu to Campo Grande taking 12-15 hours with several companies running the route which is popular with backpackers. The Pantanal is a vast area of wetland that is home to an incredible array of wildlife including caiman, jaguars, anacondas, piranhas and much more. Various types of trips can be arranged in Campo Grande or you can use it as a base and explore the region on your own.

RIBEIRÃO PRETO

This is a nice stop to break up the long journey back to the coast. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to find a reasonably cheap flight from Campo Grande to Rio but going by bus is normally cheaper if a little more time-consuming. Ribeirão Preto is around 14 hours from Campo Grande and is served by direct night buses. It is a lively city but not really on the regular backpacker trail. This however is part of its charm and with some bustling bars and a reputation as the draft beer capital of Brazil, it can be a very enjoyable little stop.

campos do jordaoCAMPOS DO JORDÃO

This is another hidden gem that doesn’t receive much in the way of foreign travellers. The somewhat dodgy looking teleforico is worth a ride as it transports you in individual seats to the top of Morro do Elefante which at 1700m above sea level has stunning views of the town and its surroundings which you can see more of on horseback. In the town the architecture and streets are distinctly ancient and it feels somewhat like stepping back in time to a bygone era. The rickety bondinhos (streetcars) offer a unique way to take in more of this quite unusual city.

PARATY

Back on the coast and for the first time in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The coastal town was first settled upon by the Portuguese in 1667 and is one of the oldest in Brazil. It’s another place where you feel as though time has somewhat stood still and it is incomparable to the glitzy modern cities of Rio and Sao Paulo which lie a few hundred kilometers on either side of it. In town, wander around the cobbled streets and admire the churches.

There’s plenty of nature around too with hikes, boat trips, kayaking and diving all popular. It’s also famous for the Bloco de Lama (Mud Carnival) where crowds go to cover themselves in mud and chant but sadly it only happens once a year on the weekend before Carnival. It’s well worth visiting if you’re planning on doing the Rio Carnival.

ILHA GRANDE

This island 150km west of Rio de Janeiro is another of Brazil’s best beach destinations. By night locals and backpackers alike gather in the main square and drink beers in a chilled out atmosphere with local bands playing live music as the backdrop. If you get hungry there are often beachside barbeques. It also holds a dark past with a history that includes slaves, pirates and leper colonies not to mention the ruins of a jail that once housed the most dangerous criminals in Brazil. Reports of ghosts roaming the beaches are not uncommon!

PETROPOLIS

Once the summer retreat of Brazilian emperors thanks to the cooler temperatures and pleasant mountain air, it is now of more interest to day-trippers from Rio. The Museu Imperial and Palacio de Cristal are worthwhile trips that point to the town’s significant history. It’s also popular with the more energetic kind of travellers who come for hiking and rafting trips.

RIO DE JANEIRO

Rio from above

Rio is by some distance Brazil’s most iconic destination and it doesn’t fail to disappoint. The highlight is undoubtedly the famous Carnival in March when the city puts on one of the greatest parties on Earth. It’s a giant street festival with exotic samba performances and all night drinking, singing and dancing. If you can’t make it then, don’t fret as even during the rest of the year this city is easily one of the most exciting on the planet.

It is a city of great contrasts. From the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana to the violent slums than sit on the slopes of the mountains perched over the beautiful harbours and wealthy districts, this is a city that takes some time to understand. There are of course plenty of museums and sights but you will experience more just by being in Rio for a week or more and living and breathing the pulsating Brazilian way of life in the country’s liveliest city.

It is also a great sporting city with the recently renovated Maracana, which hosted the World Cup Final in 2014, one of the world’s most iconic sporting arenas. Brazilian football is world renowned and an obsession for the people in this country. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rio with numerous clubs boasting loyal and passionate fan-bases and matches played throughout the year with the exception of a small break during the heat of summer.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Walk on the Favela Hostel, Rio de Janeiro 

Sociable hostel just up the hill from the world famous Copacabana Beach near one of the city’s lively favelas.


OURO PRETO

Literally meaning ‘black gold’ this is one of the most significant cities in the history of the Americas. In the mid 18th century over 100,000 lived here (double the population of New York City at the time) and it was very much the epicenter of the gold rush. Today numerous funky little museums give you a fascinating insight into life at that time and the city has maintained much of its architectural charm. Several of the famous gold mines can also be visited.

(If you are pushed for time or fed up of buses, you might want to consider flying from Rio to Salvador and missing out Ouro Preto as it is a long way)

SALVADOR

The city and its people are noticeably different from those in the South of the country with Salvador and indeed the whole state of Bahia renowned for being friendly and easy-going. Culturally there is a strong African influence while the city possesses arguably the finest Old Town in the country with some colourful buildings and ancient cobblestone streets. By night it is a great place to party with plenty of cool bars and nightclubs and a varied live music scene that pumps out some of the best beats in Brazil.

The coastal cities of the North East are also known for having the best carnivals in the country. They are all great fun and don’t attract anything like the hordes of tourists that head to the Rio Carnival which bumps prices up for budget travellers. The carnival in Salvador is fantastic and actually bigger than the one in Rio, claiming to be the biggest of its kind in the world.

RECIFE

It’s around 10 hours by road from Salvador to Recife and there aren’t any particularly obvious stops in between but there are long stretches of deserted beaches along the route which could be worth a visit. Just south of town is the coastal city of Maceió which is worth seeing.

Recife is famous for having some of the best urban beaches in the world. Culturally there is a Dutch influence and there are many churches, museums and interesting buildings that reflect the distinct culture of this region. It is also a culinary hotspot with great seafood and sizzling local dishes served up in local restaurants and by plenty of beach vendors. Not a huge backpacking scene though and prices are quite high in the main tourist area.

olindaOLINDA

Only 7km north of Recife is Olinda, which justifies more than just a day-trip from its near neighbour. Since the town was founded almost 500 years ago it is has changed hands several times between the Dutch and the Portuguese and the remnants are very evident in the stunning architecture. Olinda also has a fabulous Carnaval and it is this that the town is most known for. It is basically a 24 hour street party from Friday night to Wednesday morning but with a more local and distinctive small-town feel than the ones further south.

PIPA

Just south of Natal which is where you will need to head to for your onward journey is the lively beach village of Pipa. Popular with Brazilian students, it has some great parties at weekends especially. By day hit the gorgeous beaches or nearby dunes. Some of the beaches attract dolphins which come very close to shore enabling you to potentially tick the ‘swam with dolphins’ box on your bucket list.

FORTALEZA

Fortaleza is a large coastal city in the North-East of Brazil. It has vibrant music scene with various festivals throughout catering to many different genres including the local forró music. Shopping is also excellent here with the Iracema Beach market popular with visitors. The city has a seedier side but this is easily avoided. It is also a good base for exploring some fabulous nearby beaches.

The city has a fairly large international airport and is a decent spot to end your trip or extend it by flying to Manaus, the only real city in the Amazon region of Brazil. From Fortaleza there are daily flights to Lisbon with other European and North American destinations available. You can also fly to pretty much any major Brazilian city.

MANAUS (for the Amazon)

travelling in the amazon

Located right in the middle of the Amazon Jungle on the banks of the Rio Negro which flows to form the Amazon River proper just outside town. The only real way to get in is by plane or by boat. The boat trips are stunning but take around five days from Belem on the Atlantic Coast so following this route it would take around a week to reach Manaus from Fortaleza if you don’t fly.

The city is surprisingly big (Population: 2.5 million) considering its isolated location and has a few interesting sights including a pretty opera house that holds free shows. Naturally though the main attraction is exploring the surrounding rainforest and the humongous Amazon River. There are a huge number of tour operators in Manaus and it’s best to ask around before booking one. Bear in mind you need to travel at least 100km from Manaus to see real virgin rainforest and it is possible to stay for a few nights in the rainforest proper. The best time to visit is probably May to August (visiting in the dry season can be seriously hot!).

From Manaus there are flights to many destinations across South America and also some to Miami. The city also hosted games in the 2014 FIFA World Cup so the airport has been expanded to cater for more flights.


Getting Around Brazil & Accommodation

For flights avianca seem to be the cheapest of the domestic airlines. Sometimes it can be cheaper to fly than catch the bus and obviously it is much quicker between some destinations. Brazil is enormous! Otherwise just head to the bus station (often a long way from the centre) and there are usually very regular buses between most nearby cities.

Hostels in Brazil are on the expensive side in comparison to much of South America. Most of the good ones charge a minimum of US$10/night for a bed in a dorm although cheaper options can be found. The quality of hostels vary. Booking in advance is essential if you are visiting during popular times such as Carnaval and is advisable in big cities where you don’t really want to be wandering the streets with all your belongings, looking for somewhere to stay.


Carnaval

carnaval in salvador

Carnival in Brazil is in February or March. It normally begins the Friday before Ash Wednesday and carries on for at least five days, sometimes over a week. The main carnivals are in Rio and Salvador (above) but it is celebrated nationwide.

Many travellers plan there backpacking trip in Brazil around Carnaval and it is certainly a great time to visit. It won’t be possible to take in all the big ones but it is possible to take in the festivities at more than one. Consider doing two days in Salvador and two in Olinda for example.


Extending your trip

In a country the size of Brazil, you will always have to pick and choose locations, even if you spend the best part of a year in the country. We’ve tried to include the main Brazilian travel highlights but it’s not hard to get off the beaten track. Working in the country is also an option and there is a big drive to improve the standard of English so you may find work in the TEFL industry.

Ricardo Moura Idiomas in the city of Juara is one school that is actively looking for native English speakers to come and work for 1-2 months and help out with advanced students and conversation classes. The position includes accommodation, food, Portuguese lessons and a decent income.

Travel-wise, you can leave Brazil and explore other parts of South America. Some destinations in this article feature in our main South America route but the two could be combined into one massive trip if time is no object.

Nature lovers may also want to check out our Patagonia backpacking route which heads to the very South of this continent whilst taking in some of Argentina and Chile’s great sights.

There is a more detailed longer route for the entire continent including destinations in this one in our Backpackers Guide to South America (ebook).

Pictures courtesy of:
from flickr – Carnaval: JACK TWO & Rio: Fernando Stankuns
from sxc.hu –
Olinda: zeafonso , Campos do Jordao: migueias , Pantanal: boris1968 , Florianopolis: mterraza , Rio Negro: jpaulocv

 


This article was last updated in January 2017.


 

Backpacking Route in South America

latin america routes

south america | brazil | patagonia | central america


Backpacking Route in South America

Want to see South America? Not sure where to start? Well if you need some inspiration then look no further. This is the MFT backpacking route for the continent. There’s so much to see in South America that this trip could take as long as six to twelve months and yet still there is so much more that we had to leave out. For a more detailed guide, check out our Backpackers Guide to South America (E-book).


TIME NEEDED – 5-6 MONTHS

It could be done in less but there is plenty to see and you will be spending A LOT of time on buses so unless you fancy a six hour coach journey every other day, take your time.


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £5000 €5700 $6000

These figures are based on prices and exchange rates as of January 2017. For more detailed info see our South America Backpacking Costs.

Figures don’t include cost of flights to/from S America or other important pre-trip expenses such as getting travel insurance or vaccinations. It is based on taking buses everywhere, staying in hostel dorms or cheap private rooms where prices are comparable.


VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTH AMERICA

Visa requirements aren’t particularly strict in South America, particularly if you are from the EU with 90 days visa-free in most countries on this route. Find out which countries you need a visa for here.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend World Nomads who specialise in dealing with long backpacking trips.


South America Backpacking Route

The map below also includes our Central America itinerary.

The route starts in Colombia which has been experiencing something of a backpacking boom over the past few years and rightly so. It has evolved into a safe, friendly and exciting place to visit with a fabulous mix of big cities, stunning countryside, Caribbean coastlines and Latin American passion.

The route then follows the Andes down through Ecuador taking in historic Quito and a jaw-dropping train ride. Peru is next and for many the highlight of travel in the region: the Inca Trail and a trip to Machu Picchu. Head east into Bolivia and be shocked and inspired in equal measure by the continent’s poorest country before diving into Chile for more spectacular Andean journeys.

Some vibrant big cities await as you head from the Chilean capital of Santiago on the Pacific Coast to buzzing Buenos Aires on the Atlantic coast taking in the heart of Argentina as you go. After months on the road it’s now very much relaxation time as the beautiful beaches of Uruguay and Southern Brazil await before going out with a bang in the ultimate party city of Rio de Janeiro.


Colombia


Fly into Cartagena (possibly via a connecting flight in Bogota) or if you’re coming from Central America consider crossing the Darien Gap from Panama.

cool house in colombia

Cartagena – The old part of Cartagena is a special place with horse-drawn carriages and stylish architecture while the city is on the coast so has a Caribbean flavour. This is a good place to start as there are cheap flights to Miami which is connected to cities all over Europe and North America.

Parque Nacional Tayrona – Skip tacky Santa Marta and Taganga for the beautiful national park with deserted Caribbean beaches and snow-capped peaks.

Mompos- Totally unique town well off the beaten track, stuck in a time-warp with lots of furniture and rocking chairs!

San Gil– Adrenaline junkies paradise with cheap and excellent rafting, paragliding, hydrospeeding and waterfall abseiling.

Villa de Leyva- Colonial town near the capital with a huge square.

Bogota- Cool and much improved capital city. Cyclist’s paradise (especially on Sundays), alternative districts and great museums. Check out our 5 Funky Things to do in Bogota!

Salento – Small town, lots of travellers and some stunning surrounding countryside.

Cali – Colombia’s salsa city with some passionate Colombian nightlife at weekends.

Popayan – Perhaps the most attractive of Colombia’s old towns. Lots of churches and pretty white buildings.

Find out more in our Backpackers Guide to Colombia (a few years old now but still some relevant info).


Colombia-Ecuador


The Popayan-Otavalo leg is potentially very dangerous at night with armed bandits in Western Colombia. Set off very early and consider stopping over in Pasto or Ipiales. The journey is at least 12 hours in total and this is possibly the longest day of travelling on our South America backpacking itinerary. The border crossing is fairly quick and painless at the international bridge between Ipiales (COL) and Tulcan (ECU).

Volcan Cotopaxi Ecuador

Otavalo – Famous for its Saturday market, friendly indigenous people and lots of men sporting dresses and ponytails! Bloodthirsty backpackers may want to visit the town’s cockfighting ring.

Quito – Popular if at times unsafe capital city. The old town is large and interesting but head to the Marsical for an all action international area bursting with backpackers, loads of hostels and lively westernised clubs.

Cotopaxi (above) – Stunning National park with the giant and freezing cold 5900m Volcan Cotopaxi at the centre of it.

Banos – Touristy town but a very pleasant, safe place with its famous baths and surrounded by green mountains. Take a trip into the Amazon which starts just a few kilometers east of the town.

Riobamba – Mountain town with some random buildings and shops. Starting point of the famously steep train ride down to Sibambe.

Sibambe – End of the trainline, little to see but it’s a short trip to Cuenca.

Cuenca – Popular riverside city full of colonial buildings and cool cafes.


Ecuador-Peru


Cross at the Huaquillas border crossing. If you speak Spanish, it’s fairly easy to hitch a lift in one the many lorries that run the route down to Mancora which is about 3 hours south of the border but buses do run to Mancora from Cuenca.

Mancora – Popular beach resort full of drunk gap year students, surfers and an unfortunately high number of thieves.

Trujillo – Truth be told Northern Peru has little in comparison to the south but Trujillo is a decent stopover for a day or so.

Huaraz – Another altitude spot of natural beauty in Peru’s central Sierra. Surprisingly lively nightly entertainment including a decent choice of live music.

Lima – Coastal capital of Peru perched on huge cliffs above the Pacific. It’s okay for a few days but for a capital there’s not much to see.

Huacachina– Much fun to be had here in the giant sand dunes with options including sandboarding and bumpy buggy tours.

Nazca – Famous for its mysterious lines as featured in Indiana Jones. Unfortunately fly-overs are out of the budget of most backpackers.

Cuzco – The ancient Incan capital is still a really impressive sight and great place to hang around for a few days. It’s also the launching pad for the Inca Trail and a visit to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu – The most famous of all the Incan ruins, an incredible place up in the clouds of the Andes mountains. For many travellers this is the highlight of backpacking around South America (below).

Puno – Lively town on the Peruvian banks of Lake Titicaca.

machu picchu

Read about the cost of travel in Peru.


Peru-Bolivia


There are bus companies in Puno who run twice daily trips to Copacabana. The journey is about three hours and includes stops at both border checkpoints. There are no ATM’s in Copacabana the last we knew so make sure you have enough cash before crossing the border. US dollars can be exchanged easily in both towns.

Copacabana – The first town in Bolivia, enjoy the cheapness of the place and hop on a boat to the Isla del Sol.

Isla del Sol – This is the Inca birthplace, a beautiful island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest freshwater lake.

La Paz – One of the smallest and safest capitals on the continent. Street markets, the Coca Museum and the infamous San Pedro prison are very popular with backpackers here.

Sucre – Relaxed town known as ‘la ciudad blanca’ (White City). It is probably the most attractive city in the country.

Potosi – Take a trip down the shockingly dangerous working mines in what is the highest city in the world. A depressing but unforgettable place.

Salar de Uyuni – The world’s largest salt flat is a weirdly charming place and an increasingly popular stop on the South America backpacker trail. You will probably need to do an organised tour here, which can last several days.


Bolivia-Chile


Some travellers do 3 day tours of the salt flats and some companies may offer this as part of a trip between Uyuni, a functional town in Bolivia and San Pedro in Chile. Other options include diving into Northern Argentina via the Villazon border crossing and possibly heading to the attractive city of Salta and then crossing the Argentina-Chile border to reach San Pedro.

San Pedro de Atacama – Stunning landscape around the laid back but somewhat pricey town. See it on a horse or bicycle.

Antofagasta – Unremarkable port offers an insight into life in a non-touristy Chilean city and has good transport links going south.

Copiapo – Sleepy town which burst into the global spotlight in 2010 with the dramatic and very moving rescue of 33 trapped miners.

Vina del Mar – Best beaches in the country with awesome music festival every February.

Valparaiso – Colourful town with a vibrant bohemian culture. A real gem.

Santiago – Capital city with so much to do in and around it. Skiing in the Andes, nice beaches and interesting towns all very close to what is the beating heart of this country.

You can also extend your time in Chile & Argentina and potentially visit Antarctica by following our Backpacking Route in Patagonia.


Chile-Argentina


tango in buenos airesBuses from Santiago to Mendoza take around 8 hours. The route is a fairly spectacular crossing of the Andes and obviously you will see more if you opt for a day bus although night buses do run. You may want to stop off in a village in the mountains to break up the journey and enjoy the incredible scenery. For bus times in Argentina and some of the other countries check out BusBud.

Mendoza – Excellent wine produced here and it’s also not far from Mount Aconcagua, the tallest on the continent.

Cordoba – Second city full of students with a Mediterranean feel. Big city but much more chilled out than Buenos Aires.

Alta Gracia – Small country town outside of Cordoba. The main attraction is Che Guevara’s childhood home, which is now an excellent museum.

Rosario – Interesting big city which includes riverside beaches with an alternative vibe.

Buenos Aires – Fantastic city, take in a passionate football match, the vibrant streetlife, super shopping and lively clubs that party well past dawn. Many travellers view the giant Argentinean capital as their favourite city in all of South America.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Waikiki Hostel, Buenos Aires 

Cheap hostel near a subway station so it’s easy to get around. Sensibly sized 4/5 bed dorms.


Argentina-Uruguay


Colonia is actually a popular daytrip from Buenos Aires so it is very easy to get from Argentina to Uruguay. Buquebus is a company that offers fast boats taking just one hour or cheaper slow boats that do the journey from BA to Colonia in three hours. They also have boats direct to Montevideo and Punta del Este from the docks in Buenos Aires.

Colonia – A short hop across Rio de la Plata from BA, this cobblestone town with lively bars is a great if a little touristy introduction to Uruguay.

Montevideo – Small and very pleasant by the standards of capitals in Latin America. Popular with artists and architecture lovers.

Piriapolis – Budget beach resort with fun stuff including jet skiing, windsurfing and banana boating.

Punta Del Este – Most popular beaches in the region and some banging nightlife!

Cabo Polonio – A tiny coastal village with sea lions, penguins, whales, rustic hostels and lots of hippies.


Uruguay-Brazil


Cross the border on foot at the town of Chuy north of Punta del Este but still on the coast. The main street is called Avenue Brasil/Uruguay and is where you will find the immigration controls There is accomodation in the town if you don’t want to head straight to Porto Alegre. This is where backpacking through South America suddenly gets a bit more expensive. Read more on the cost of travel in Brazil.

Porto Alegre – City with interesting museums, arts and music.

Iguacu Falls – Spectacular waterfalls where three countries meet. Pop over into Paraguay if you’re looking to tick another country off your list. Iguacu Falls is one of our Top 10 Latin America Travel Experiences!

Curitiba – Historic buildings, interesting art scenes and a European influence give Curitiba a different feel to other cities in Brazil.

Ilha do Mel – Enchanting island with top notch beaches, surfing and even lively youthful parties in the peak season. Cars are banned!

Sao Paulo – The biggest city in the southern hemisphere is chaotic but worth a visit just to get a feel for one of the world’s mega-cities. More on the monster that is Sao Paulo here!

Paraty – Stunningly preserved 18th century colonial town with so many beaches and islands nearby you are literally spoilt for choice.

Ihla Grande – More amazing Brazilian beaches, lush forests and some lively island parties.

Petropolis – Easy day trip from the heat of Rio but it’s worth crashing in this historic mountain town for a night.

Rio de Janeiro- Rio would make a spectacular ending to your time travelling in South America. Time it to get here in March for the Rio Carnival. The city of sun, sea and sin is so much fun! Check out our 5 funky things to do in Rio!


MFT RECOMMENDS – Walk on the Favela Hostel, Rio de Janeiro 

Sociable hostel just a 10 minute walk to the world famous Copacabana Beach but with a real local vibe.


Rio de Janeiro skyline

(for more on Brazil see our backpacking route for Brazil)


  Budget Accommodation in South America

You don’t really have to book accommodation in advance in most of the stops on this route however during festivals or at weekends in big cities, the best budget hostels sell out quickly so in such cases you may prefer a reservation. Many of the real cheap places in the Andean region are not found online.


Options for extending your trip in South America

There are loads of other places you could visit and routes you could take, it’s all down to what interests you really. Other possible stops include Medellin in Colombia which is another great city but given Colombia is a big country with plenty of long journeys you may look for a more direct route. If the infamous city of Pablo Escobar and the Colombian Cartels appeals to you, then you could always head south from Cartagena and miss out the national park, Mompos and San Gil in the East of the country.

If you had a whole year at your disposal then it’s well worth venturing deeper into the Amazon. Iquitos in Peru gets rave reviews from backpackers many of whom visit the shaman nearby and experiment with the native visionary and very trippy medicine ayahuasca. Indeed if nature is more your thing and then you could do an entirely different route to the mostly mountainous and coastal route above. The Amazon is enormous and despite deforestation it still covers a huge portion of the continent and extends from Brazil into Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as well as Surinam, Venezuela and the Guineas. Following the course of the Amazon River would also be an option.

Another extension would be to start in Venezuela or one of the smaller less visited countries on the Caribbean Coast. This would enable you to do a big loop and potentially even visit every country on the continent.

Ecuador is small and very diverse with coastal, mountainous and jungle regions so you could easily hit the coast or head further into the jungle without any major detours. Head to the full-moon parties in Montanita for some moonlight raving.

With more time and money travelling down to Patagonia in the south of Chile and Argentina is immensely rewarding. You can even arrange trips to Antarctica from backpacker friendly Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. You could also see more of Chile this way and consider hitchhiking to cut costs as it’s very safe and popular in this part of South America.


Options for shortening this route

There are obviously ways to shorten the route. One would be to skip Colombia, Ecuador and northern Peru by flying into Lima and going from there. You would be missing out on a lot of great places but if you’re limited on time then you will have to pick and choose what you want to see the most. Adding a few flights into the mix would speed up your journey. One possibility would be flying from Quito to Cuzco and then heading on the Inca trail. Peru is a very large country and the ascent up to Cuzco by land is something of a nightmare so a flight although more expensive may not be a bad bet if you can find some reasonable deals.

If a tight budget is your main concern then you should consider missing out Brazil, the most expensive country on the continent and flying home from Buenos Aires. Chile could also be missed for the sake of more time in dirt cheap Bolivia and then travel down either through Northern Argentina or by heading east to Paraguay, which is more budget-friendly.

 

Pics courtesy of Fernando Stankuns (Rio), Pablo Flores (Che Museum), Richard Ijzermans (Cotopaxi) and AlCortes (San Gil) on flickr.


 This page was last updated in January 2017