If you’re planning a budget-friendly trip to a fantastic location, then you shouldn’t cross South America off your list. Yes, some of the major countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, can be quite expensive due to high flight rates and pricey accommodations, but there are definitely South American destinations you can visit on a shoestring budget.
I’m a travel junkie, and I’ve visited the continent on several occasions. If I’m being honest, some of my cheapest visits have been the most fascinating. Sometimes, I would fly into a country like Ecuador for as little as $194. Then I’d simply take buses to my other destinations.
This method didn’t only save me a lot of money, it also exposed me to a richer cultural and local experience. So, if you’re trying to create unforgettable memories (and eat superb cuisine!) in South America while spending as little as possible, it’s definitely doable.
The Cheapest Places To Have A Fantastic Time In South America
Many people immediately think of Southeast Asian countries when looking for budget-friendly trips, but even these aren’t always on the cheap side, with a trek in Nepal, for instance, costing up to $1500 per person.
It took me a while to catch up with South America’s poorly kept secret. It wasn’t until I received a few international travel updates that I decided to make my first trip. I’ve made several since then, and I’ve barely regretted any!
Based on my several visits, lots of research, and some information from my travel expert buddies, these are the cheapest places to have an unforgettable trip in South America:
- Machu Picchu
- Uyuni Salt Flats
- Lake Titicaca
Photo: Rod Waddington
Home to Spanish colonial architecture and Incan ruins, Cusco is one of the most visually fascinating places to visit in Peru. From narrow streets to baroque cathedrals and colorful indigenous clothing, walking around the city alone offers an immersive experience.
One of the best things about Cusco is the local Andean cuisine, which is delicious and cheap. I had a superb dining experience in the city, spending as little as $7 a day. The nightlife is incredibly active, and you’re bound to make new friends if you’re the type to party all night long.
Accommodation and transport are hardly expensive, and you’d probably not need to spend more than $30 a day if you stick to hostels and public transport. While museums, galleries, and a few historic ruins abound in the city, for most tourists in Cusco, all roads lead to Peru’s grand attraction: Machu Picchu.
Photo: Fabien Moliné
Machu Picchu can be a surprisingly affordable place to visit. Being one of the most famous tourist attractions in South America, it’s typically expensive for many tourists, but that’s only for those who aren’t willing to find cheaper means of transport and accommodation.
While you can’t avoid the excessive crowds that visit the iconic site all year round, you can definitely avoid the expensive tourist fares. If you are already in Cusco (where you can already find budget housing), simply take a series of local buses or book one of the cheapest trains. The whole trip hardly costs more than $100.
Oh, and what’s there to see in Machu Picchu? It’s the famous “Lost City of the Incas” which was untouched by colonizers and has been preserved for hundreds of years. Located over 2000 meters above sea level, it certainly earns its place as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.
Uyuni Salt Flats
Photo: Leonardo Rossatti
The Salar de Uyuni is the sole reason many tourists visit Bolivia. The largest salt flat in the world, its scenery is almost otherworldly. Depending on what season of the year you visit, you will either see Uyuni as a vast expanse of rock-hard salt or as a large, natural mirror.
There are several fascinating things to witness, including volcanic sites, hotels made entirely out of salt, and the famous Laguna Colorada, the red-colored lake with flamingos.
A tour around Uyuni typically consists of driving around in a Jeep filled with no more than four passengers. A three-day jeep tour costs about $150, and that covers feeding plus most of the sights on the trip.
Photo: Shad Meeg
With hostels that cost $10 per day and local transportation possibly as low as $7, Quito is certainly a cheap place to visit in South America. It is Ecuador’s capital and the second-highest capital city in the world after La Paz.
Quito hasn’t made this list just because it is budget-friendly. With beautiful cathedrals, a colorful historic town, amazingly cheap local cuisine, and several volcano hiking trails, it’s more than worthy of a tourist’s visit.
You can also go ziplining or visit the world’s second-highest cable car, the Teleferico. And of course, there’s the city’s main tourist attraction, the equator, which is near the Mitad del Muno monument. Entrance into the park is usually $5.
Photo: Jeison Higuita
Lake Titicaca is the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world. This picturesque location has a fairly low standard of living, making it one of the most affordable tourist attractions in South America.
The lake lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. A trip along it exposes you to tranquil, inhabited islands. With colorful indigenous people, ancient Inca ruins, and a group of floating, moving islands on the itinerary, the tour offers a very scenic experience.
While a two-hour tour only costs $10, the average cost of transportation, accommodation, and feeding is about $45.