If you read this article, you know that one of the most important things to do before going on a long-term journey is to set up your budget. When people ask me how much money do they need for backpacking South America, I always say that it’s a very personal decision. It depends on may factors, for example which countries are on your list? Are you planning to sleep in a tent or you prefer to book a hotel? Such a simple thing as accommodation changes your budget a lot! So please, keep in mind that the budget I share with you today is based on personal preferences made together with my friend. If you want to travel low cost but still comfortably, having access to Internet, hot water and private bedroom, you are probably the same type of traveler as we do and the following guidance may help you a little. Here it goes – my budget for 2 months in South America!
Before I start, I want to clarify one more thing. This budget below is only for 2 months traveling with my friend and has nothing to do with my budget for traveling solo in Ecuador – my second backpacking experience. I decided not to include my stay in Ecuador here, because my budget in that country was way different. I didn’t have to pay for accommodation, food and transportation in many occasions so my budget was much lower and that’s why I prefer to skip Ecuador in this article. Let’s start!
Usually when you’re planning to travel across South America, most of the backpackers will tell you that you will need approximately 1000 dollars a month. This is a good tip to start earning money for your trip, but remember that it depends greatly on which countries you will spend most of your time in and what kind of traveler you are. It also doesn’t include your plane tickets or insurance. I don’t like to assume things, I like to investigate about exactly everything that I should know and when it comes to money, it’s always better to predict all possibles scenarios.
1. Plane tickets and all the costs before traveling
Setting up your daily budget is one thing, and extra cost before you even get on board is another one. The most important and probably the most expensive thing on your list will be the plane tickets. The prices may vary a lot depending on the period you are planning to travel and the country itself, so to learn more about how to book cheap tickets, I invite you to check this article.
In my case, all flight tickets for that trip cost me 1200 USD. It includes the following itinerary:
Barcelona – Lima (direct flight)
Salvador de Bahia – Fortaleza
Fortaleza – Frankfurt
Frankfurt – Barcelona
My ticket from Salvador de Bahia to Frankfurt already included the transfer in Fortaleza, so there was no extra costs.
The second thing you have to pay before traveling are vaccines. Again, it depends on the country you are planning to visit. If you have Brazil on your list, you will have to get vaccinated against yellow fever. The other vaccines are optional and I decided for typhus, hepatitis A and tetanus. I paid for all four vaccines 57 euro in Hospital Bellvitge in Barcelona.
Another important point to think about is the insurance. I bought my insurance in Poland with Euro26 because the option for people under 30 cost me only 90 PLN ( 20 euro) and covered a whole year.
When it comes to entrances, the only one that I bought in advance was the ticket to access Machu Picchu and I quickly realized that I paid almost 3 times more than I would spend buying it in Peru! Basing on my own experience, I suggest you to buy ALL your entrances on the spot. Buying my entrance in advance was the biggest mistake I’ve made.
The last thing is the most personal one in here because it has to do with clothes and equipment. South America was my first backpacking trip so I had absolutely nothing in my closet when it comes to the most important items such as backpack, thermal clothes, portable vessels, sleeping bag etc. I spent around 150 euro only on the most necessary stuff and like I said, this is a very subjective point. For example I refused to buy trekking shoes and any mountain pants. Something that most of the backpackers consider essential for me is nothing more than fashion suicide (you will have to excuse me, that’s just who I am). It’s really up to you and I will write more about packing your luggage in a separate post.
2. Daily costs during the trip
My total budget to spend in South America was 2100 USD and it didn’t include flight tickets and all the expenses that I covered before traveling. This means I had 2100 USD to distribute within 2 months of travel. For the first few weeks, my daily budget was 39 USD (accordingly, 273 USD per week). Due to some unexpected circumstances I had to reduce my budget to 35 USD per day (accordingly, 245 USD weekly) in the middle of the trip. At the end, more or less during the last 2 weeks, my budget reduced even more and it was 28 USD per day. There were days when I spent less than 20 USD and others when my costs were twice bigger. The key is to keep the balance and calculate how much you spend every single day. I was writing all my costs down in my notebook at the end of the day.
Why did my daily budget change during the trip? Because there is no way to predict everything, there will always be some extra costs or some particular situations when you are forced to spend money you didn’t expect to. That’s why it’s always better to add to your budget a little bit of backup. It can be 200 or 300 USD or even more, it’s completely up to you.
What were my daily costs? Bus tickets, taxi and any other kind of transport, accommodation, food, souvenirs, entrance tickets, shipment fees… The list is very long. Let’s go step by step.
My friend and I were always sleeping in hotels and hostels. In a few occasions we also used AirBnB. Our main requirement was to always have a doble room only for us with a private bathroom if only it was possible. We never booked a shared bedroom, slept in a tent or used couchsurfing. Our accommodation budget was approximately 30 USD per room which means 15 USD per person. Sometimes the price was lower, sometimes a little bit bigger, but the average cost per night was 15 USD each one.
The public transport in South America is extremely cheap, even the long distance rides are very affordable comparing to US or Europe. To give you an idea, here you have some examples of bus fees:
From Puno (Peru) to Copacabana (Bolivia) = 19 USD.
From Lima to Ica (Peru) = 12 USD
From Salta to Buenos Aires (Argentina) = 21 USD
From Buenos Aires (Argentina) to Montevideo (Uruguay) = 17 USD
From Rio de Janeiro to Vitoria (Brasil, 22 hours in bus!) = 20 USD
The only flight that I booked during my trip was from Foz do Iguaçu to Rio de Janeiro and it cost me 80 USD.
The transportation costs vary depending on the country, from the cheapest in Peru and Bolivia to the more expensive in Argentina and Brazil.
Taxi in the Andean countries is very cheap and for example crossing Lima from the suburbs to the centre costs around 2 USD. In Brazil it will be between 4-5 USD.
Supermarkets and restaurants
South America is a real paradise for food lovers because you can literally eat a huge plate of local food for 4 dollars. As I was usually booking hotels which included breakfast, I could taste the local cuisine for lunch or dinner.
To give you an example:
A dinner in the centre of Lima (Peru) consisting of chicken, french fries, salad and drink = 6 USD
The same dinner in La Paz, Bolivia = 3 USD
Pizza plus drink in Salta, Argentina = 6 USD
When it comes to supermarkets, surprisingly in many occasions they were less convenient than dining out on the street, especially in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Even then, the prices were extremely low. I used to spend from 2 to 6 dollars per day on supermarket food.
There were also many extra costs in my daily budget which don’t qualify in any previous category. Let’s start with entrance and tour tickets. Here you have some examples:
Machu Picchu entrance cost me 250 euro buying it from Europe. Peruvian travel agencies sell the same package for less than 100 euro. You see? The biggest mistake EVER.
Dessert Tour in Ica = 14 USD
One-Day trip to Rainbow Mountain = 16 USD
Valle Sagrado tour = 18 USD
3 days trip to Salar de Uyuni = 100 USD
Valle de Luna (Chile) tour = 12 USD
Iguazú Falls entrance in Argentina = 9 USD
Iguazú Falls entrance in Brasil = 10 USD
I am not a big fan of organized tours but there are some places in South America which result really difficult to access without a guide, for example Salar de Uyuni is impossible to visit without buying a tour.
The other unusual costs were for example shipping fees on bus stations (0.50 – 1 USD), public toilets (around 0.30 USD), touristic fees ( 1-2 USD), bank commissions (my biggest nightmare, depends on your bank) and of course souvenirs. This last point is the most personal one because some people will stay with typical lame wool sweater, while the others will fill their backpack with handicrafts from every single market (check = my friend). To give you an example, I bought my poncho and wool hat in Peru for 20 USD. Keep in mind that you will always, absolutely ALWAYS, have to bargain!
I won’t go into details explaining how much did I spent on each category every day because it would take me days to finish, but I hope this summary will help you to prepare your own budget!
This includes sleeping in a private room with bathroom, traveling mostly by bus, cooking but also dining out in restaurants, buying some souvenirs and purchasing some organized tours but mostly traveling on my own and without booking anything in advance.
I can honestly say that I met the rule of 1000 USD per month!
Please let me know if you found my budget helpful and if you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to ask me! Good luck with planning your own budget!