Building a Budget for Backpacking across South America

One of the most important questions I often get asked about planning a backpacking trip is how much does it cost? To help with this I documented every dollar that we spent during our 6 months in South America both so we could ensure that we kept our spending on track and also so I could share some insights on what the hard costs look like. While there is no hard and fast answer to creating a budget as it depends on what you want to see, how long you will spend in each country and how you plan to travel between destinations, hopefully the numbers below will help to build out a rough framework.

Budgeting for a trip on the road
Build your budget and get out there!

I’ve also included how many free nights’ accommodation we had in each country either from overnight busses or couchsurfing to give you an idea on areas to save as accommodation is often the biggest expense. We shopped around quite a bit for hostels to ensure we were getting the best deal and rarely booked in advance. The hostel numbers below indicate a private double room for two people. The food costs below represent a combination of some meals out at restaurants and some cooked in our hostels for two people. Transportation, unless otherwise stated, was always by bus for long distances and the occasional taxi around town.  All figures below are in approximate US dollars at the time of exchange for each country for two people travelling together unless otherwise stated. If you are going to be travelling solo, you can divide the food, transport and accommodation in half, however it is often easier to bargain for a better deal for tours and transport with two or more travellers in a group.

Iguazu Falls Park Entrance Fee
Day spent at Iguazu Falls: $30

Argentina:

Average Cost per Person per Day: $52.00

Average Cost of a Hostel: $32/night

Average Spent on Food: $25/day

Total Transportation Costs: $762

Number of free nights of accommodation with overnight buses and couchsurfing: 9

Other costs to consider: $75 reciprocity fee due prior to arrival, entrance fee to Iguazu Falls: $30 per person, cost of wine tour in Mendoza: $30 per person

Chile:

Average Cost per Person per Day: $44.00

Average Cost of a Hostel: $25/night

Average Spent on Food: $27/day

Total Transportation Costs: $300

Number of free nights of accommodation with overnight buses and couchsurfing: 10

Other costs to consider: $50/person cost of two tour options through the Atacama Desert, $120 cost of a bus tickets from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama

Salt Flat Tour, Bolivia
3 Day Tour through the Salt Flats: $150

Bolivia:

Average Cost per Person per Day: $37.00

Average Cost of a Hostel: $20/night

Average Spent on Food: $23/day

Total Transportation Costs: $136

Number of free nights of accommodation with overnight buses: 1

Other costs to consider: $150 per person for a 3 day salt flat tour starting in San Pedro de Atacama and ending in Uyuni including all meals, accommodation and transport. Splurged on two nights of accommodation in Copacabana at $37/night.

Peru:

Average Cost per Person per Day: $37.00

Average Cost of a Hostel: $21/night

Average Spent on Food: $22/day

Total Transportation Costs: $302

Number of free nights of accommodation with overnight buses and couchsurfing: 9

Other costs to consider: $80 per person for 2 day/1 night hike to Colca Canyon, $230 per person for 4 days/4 nights Machu Picchu Jungle Trek

Last minute trips to Galapagos
A trip to the Galapgos isn’t cheap, but you can save by booking last minute

Galapagos:

Average Cost per Person per Day: $260.00

Average Cost of a Hostel on San Cristobal: $20/night

Cost of 5 Day/4 Night Cruise: $1100 per person

Cost of flight to Galapagos: $400 per person

Cost of 2 tank dive: $150 per person

Click for more detailed information on booking a last minute trip to Galapagos.

Ecuador:

Average Cost per Person per Day: $23.00

Average Cost of a Hostel: $22/night

Average Spent on Food: $22/day

Total Transportation Costs: $100

Total Other Costs: $100

Number of free nights of accommodation with overnight buses and couchsurfing: 1

Colombia:

Average Cost per Person per Day: $54.00

Average Cost of a Hostel: $23/night

Average Spent on Food: $23/day

Total Transportation Costs: $460 (not including sailboat to Panama)

Total Other Costs: $120

Number of free nights of accommodation with overnight buses and couchsurfing: 3

Other costs to consider: $550/person 5 nights/4 day sailing trip to Panama, $35 cost of flight from Medellin to Cartagena

Sailing to Panama from Colombia
1 hour flight = same cost as 5 day sailing trip – what will you choose?

When in doubt, it’s always best to budget on the higher end and have more money in your savings account that you need. From breaking your camera to leaving your rain jacket behind on the bus, unexpected costs are sure to arise on your trip. At the very least, be sure you’ve got enough money for a return flight and some startup funds for when you return back home again if you’re not returning directly to work. What are your thoughts on building a budget? Share in the comments below!

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