Overall, South America is quite cheap to travel in, although there are some notable price differences between countries. Below, we’ll take a deeper look at the cost of travel in South America. There are suggested daily budgets for each country and a monthly South America backpacking budget which should help you decide how much you will need to travel around the continent.
Cost of Travel in South America in 2023
South America backpacking budget
|Country||Estimated Daily Backpacking Budget (USD)|
Depending on which country you are in, you will need around $20-40 per day to backpack around South America on a shoestring budget. Things are cheaper in the Andean region of Ecuador, Peru and particularly Bolivia. While Chile, Brazil and Uruguay rank as the most expensive countries in South America for travel.
This budget to backpack South America is based on solo travellers staying in hostels (mostly dorms), travelling everywhere by bus and either preparing their own food or eating mostly in budget restaurants with the odd night out but nothing too crazy nor too often.
Much will depend on your style of travel though and how quickly you move around. Budget a bit more on transport in the bigger countries like Peru, Colombia, Argentina or Chile as the main destinations are typically much further away from each other. Whereas Ecuador for example is much more compact with just a few hours on a bus and only a few US Dollars separating most of the popular places.
Your exact expenditure will most likely differ from the table above depending on some of these factors, although hopefully not by too much. It’s also worth noting that travelling South America as a couple or with a friend is generally very slightly cheaper as you can sometimes split costs on accommodation or transport.
These are uncertain economic times though with some pretty serious economic problems in Argentina for example where inflation soared to a ridiculous 70% in 2022. Therefore, do keep an eye on any important economic developments and changing exchange rates. Costs can rise or fall significantly in a relatively short time if you’re coming to the region with US Dollars, Euros or another currency.
Monthly budget to backpack South America
|How long?||Possible Budget (USD)||Possible Budget (EUR)||Possible Budget (GBP)|
|1 Month in South America||$1000||€925||£800|
|2 Months in South America||$2000||€1850||£1600|
|3 Months in South America||$3000||€2775||£2400|
|4 Months in South America||$4000||€3700||£3200|
|5 Months in South America||$5000||€4625||£4000|
|6 Months in South America||$6000||€5550||£4800|
A figure of around $1000 per month is a reasonable starting point for a shoestring budget to backpack South America. You can usually get by on less in the Andes but spend more time in the South of the continent or Brazil and you will probably need more than this.
Travel around the continent at a relatively relaxed pace, including time in most of the major countries and a budget for 6 months in South America might come to around $6000. This excludes the cost of flights to/from the region or any other pre-trip expenses such as the cost of travel insurance for your backpacking trip.
We have focused on the most visited countries in South America for these figures. Visiting any of the other four countries in the continent would certainly mean getting well off the beaten path and would most likely involve spending more money. 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. Venezuela meanwhile can also be expensive although things are a bit more complicated there with economic uncertainty and multiple currencies in circulation.
How much money do you need to backpack South America on a more comfortable budget?
The above figures are very much designed for shoestring travellers. It may be advisable to allow for a slightly bigger daily and monthly spend, particularly if you’ve not got much experience of independent travel.
By increasing your South America backpacking budget by around $10/day or $300/month, you will have far more room for doing lots of extra trips and excursions that a shoestring traveller may not be able to afford. It will also give you more freedom for taking the odd flight (internal ones are much cheaper than international ones) as the thrill of travelling everywhere by bus does quickly wear off.
No matter how hard you try to keep costs down, there will be isolated days where you go way over budget. Prices can really sky-rocket around major tourist hot-spots like Rio de Janeiro, Machu Picchu (closed at the time of writing) and the natural wonders of Patagonia.
There are also seasonal variations in some places with costs often much cheaper outside of peak season. However, given “peak season” varies between countries and destinations, these swings typically average out for anyone on an extended trip in South America.
How to save money as a budget traveller in South America
Don’t try to visit everywhere!
It’s tempting to look at South America on a map and realise that there aren’t many countries, so why not visit them all? That’s not a great idea, unless you’ve literally got a whole year in the region. Even that may not be enough (spoiler: South America is really big!).
Given a significant portion of any South America travel budget goes on bus tickets and getting from A to B, slowing down your pace of travel and focusing on only a few countries will save you money. That’s particularly true if you focus on the Andes and skip more expensive places like Brazil and Uruguay.
There are also the temptation to combine visiting South America with Central America (where travel is also pretty cheap) but again that may be a bit ambitious and will add to you overall costs as getting between the two regions is harder than it looks.
Consider doing work exchanges
If you’re worried about not being able to stick to the budgets above, then work exchanges are worth considering. Worldpackers is a platform that enables travellers to find placements and while you won’t get paid, you get to experience life in another country and can be provided with free accommodation, food and other benefits, which will allow you to spend longer in South America and spend less money.
It does cost $49/year to sign up but you can use the code ‘MYFUNKYTRAVELWP’ for a $10 discount on that. The membership fee will easily pay for itself in terms of savings as you’ll be able to cut your daily budget down to almost nothing during the weeks where you are doing work exchanges with hundreds of options across South America.
Eat like a Local
Many local restaurants across South America offer special set meals for lunch (“menú del dia”). In cheaper countries these may only be a few dollars but are typically generous portions that will keep you going for the day. They are particularly good in Peru which has arguably the best cuisine in the whole region. There are often decent, budget-friendly offerings at breakfast too.
Wherever you are, observe how and where the locals eat and you probably won’t go too far wrong. Knowing a bit of Spanish will help too as menus won’t be in English aside from the more expensive tourist restaurants which will quickly destroy your daily backpacking budget for South America.
All backpacking budgets were last updated in January 2023 according to prices and exchange rates at that time.