How much does it cost to travel 7 months in South America

“How much did you spend for the trip in South America?” This is probably the question that we have been asked the most since we came back from South America (ok maybe after “How was it?“). And I know that actually, many more didn’t dare to ask it. But it’s ok to ask. I have been so much under the charm of South America that I am whising everybody to have the opportunity to go and travel on this beautiful continent one day. People usually skip the continent because they think South America is too expensive for a long trip. But is it really?

During our 222 days (more than 7 months) in South America, we tracked our expenses on the road day by day and upon our return I did a proper financial reconciliation to check that our travel budget figures were right. – 🙂 Yes, that’s a professional deformation.

So here you get it all: the full break down of our spendings, cost item by cost item and country by country, figures you can use to plan your RTW trip, a 6 months long trip or even just a nice vacation in South America!

Travel budget South America – breakdown per cost items

For the complete trip and our 7 months and a half on the road, we spent a total of $15.209 / 11.300€. Plane tickets, insurance, bus, hostel nights, food, drinks, park entrance fees, volcano climbing, diving, horse-riding and much more, for a 31 weeks journey, the equivalent of more than 10-15 normal vacation trips. Not that bad. And probably more accessible than you thought.

Enjoying the trip, Volcano Avenue, Ecuador

Enjoying the trip on a budget, Volcano Avenue, Ecuador

Actual spendings per person for our South America trip (base 2 people)

Spendings Item In $ In %
Pre-trip International plane tickets 1752 12%
Insurance 293 2%
Health/ vaccinations 690 5%
Daily spendings Food 2805 18%
Accommodation 2531 17%
Transportation 2637 17%
Activities 3550 23%
Drinks 239 2%
Others 713 5%
Total trip 15209  

 

Pre-trip spendings

International plane tickets. This amount includes 4 different journey that we bought individually: Frankfurt – Cartagena, Ushuaia – Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires – Madrid, Madrid – Bruxelles
Note that we spent almost $700  for immunizations vs an initial planned budget of $450.

 

Daily spendings

In every country, we ended up with the same average pattern. We would spend almost the same amount on food, transportation and accommodation.
Activities is our number one branch of spendings, because we just love active travelling!
In category “others” I included gifts, souvenirs, shipping of things to home, clothes, haircuts, laundry…etc

 

Travel budget South America – Breakdown per country

But you probably want to have a bit more detailed look. Behind these global number, our trip covered 9 countries (10 if you count Galapagos separately) each with their own tonalities and costs.

 

Daily budget per country per person, South America

Country days spendings in $ daily budget in $
Colombia 27 1670 62
Ecuador 35 1443 41
Galapagos 10 1466 147
Peru 22 1273 58
Bolivia 21 806 38
Paraguay 3 101 34
Brazil 22 1581 72
Argentina 38 2374 62
Chile 33 1605 49
Uruguay 5 369 74

What does these amounts really cover, King bed suite or hitchhiking?

We didn’t go dirt cheap. We had been working hard to pay for this trip and after 4 years of professional life, this was a nice way to treat ourselves with something exceptional.  Most of the places we stayed in were basic but clean. The really shabby ones, we passed on, admitting with a smile that “We [were] a bit too old for that“. And we treated ourselves with a good restaurant at least once a month, because we love food.

 

How we travelled in the cheapest countries: Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.

In Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia we stayed in private rooms every night, ate out all the time and could afford taxis due to the low prices. In these country being a solo traveler will probably cost you a bit more.

For more information about Colombia prices, check the detailed budget page: Travelling in Colombia on a budget

And in the more expensive ones: Brazil and Uruguay, a bit cheaper Argentina and Chile.

Special treat for my birthday: a night in a boutique hotel in the heart of San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

Birthday treat: night in boutique hotel in the heart of San Telmo, B.A.

In Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, life is more expensive and we stayed almost all the time in dorms and cooked to save money. Where you sleep can make a big difference: in Brazil, we were lucky to be welcomed at one of my friends for several nights. In Chile and Argentina, we spend more than 20 nights camping, some of them for free, which explains a bit the final daily figure.

Rio de Janeiro was the most expensive place of the trip and it’s reasonable to budget around $90 a day.

Countries that are less touristy like Paraguay may get quite expensive as you will find less backpacker alternatives.

Out of the race: Galapagos

I already dedicated a complete post to the Galapagos’ budget. Exceptional region, exceptional prices. Read more here.

 

How priceless but expensive activities affect your budget

Because we are active travellers, activities consisted of more than almost a fourth of our budget. We saved on daily costs taking public transportation or sharing bathrooms to be able to do amazing activities that we had been dreaming off. Looking back, there is nothing we regret we didn’t do because we could not afford it, we just always made it work.

But not everybody think that hiking for 10h a day is fun. Especially if you have to pay a hell lot of money for it. This is what the third table is about. Here I am separating the major activities (more than a day) to give an idea of the “normal” cost of living for a backpacker. You then get a daily budget for the country including accommodation, food, transportation and small activities such as entrance to monuments or football game.

Country Major activities realized Cost in $ Daily $ cost without
Bolivia Salar de Uyuni 3 day tour, Huyana Potosi climb 336 22
Ecuador Amazonas forest 3 day tour, Cotopaxi climb 390 30
Peru 5 day trek to Machu Picchu 522 34
Chile Ice-trekking on Grey Glacier 150 44
Colombia Open water diving certificate 325 50
Argentina 2 days of car rental 85 60
Uruguay Horse riding classes 60 62
Brazil no big activity 0 72

*Galapagos is excluded from this table as every day was an extraordinary activity*!

NB: Figures based on a 6 + months travel in South America, June 2014 to February 2015. See the itinerary.

I hope all these figures will be helpful to prepare your own dream trip!

{the grown-up gap year series}

14 thoughts on “How much does it cost to travel 7 months in South America

  1. Daniel says:

    Hello Amandine,

    very useful information! I am algo going for 7 months in SA very soon and the budget you wrote is more or less what I was expecting. How many people did you travel with?

    thanks
    Daniel

    • amandine.durey@gmail.com says:

      Hello Daniel,
      Glad you found it useful! We were two people- fun to share the trip. In the countries with lower cost of travel, it will cost a bit more for solo travelers (I would count almost double for accommodation as private rooms in guesthouse are more standard than single bed in a dorm).
      Happy travels!

    • Raffa says:

      Hi Amandine,
      You have written lots of your budgets in $$. I am wondering if this is $USD or $AUD (Australian Dollars?)
      Thanks 🙂

      • Amandine says:

        Excellent question! All in USD dollars. I will actually add this in all articles where I mention $. Thanks for the tip and happy travels!

  2. shane says:

    Hello Amandine,
    Your information is very good, as i am doing the same route and itinerary that you have done. Did you fly with Condor from Frankfurt? I am flying from Frankfurt to Cartagena next week. How was the flight if it was with Condor? Were you asked for proof of onward travel?
    Thanks
    Shane

    • amandine.durey@gmail.com says:

      Hi Shane!
      Exciting trip ahead! Indeed I flew with Condor from Frankfurt to Panama, and then a local company from Panama to Cartagena.
      We were not asked any proof of onward travel, though we were prepared for it. As I could not find reliable information on the web we bought cheap ticket between Colombia and Ecuador *Cali to Esmeralda(. Then we just took the plane instead of the bus for this short trip.
      The flight was quite good with Condor, considering it was a charter and really cheap tickets. The food was decent and in sufficient quantities even if we didnot buy the premium food add/on. . Please note that on our flight there were no entertainment system. We didn t care, we were so excited about the trip!

      Have a fantastic trip!

  3. Ilaria says:

    I just wanted to tell you that this is the best page ever!!!! I am planning my trip to south america and your tips are incredibly helpful! I am italian (girl) and 26 years old going alone there. I am collecting every info I have in order to be prepared. I’d like to go from february to july, hope this is a good period.
    Thank you very much for everything! Simply amazing!!!!!! Very much appreciated the list with the expenses 🙂

    • Amandine says:

      Many thanks Ilaria, I am glad you find it useful. Keep it mind you will travel 2 years after me so just to be on the safe side, I would add 10% on the prices I mention to take in account potential inflation. If it ends up being cheaper you will always find ways to spend the money ;).
      South America is great all year around, if you plan to go to Patagonia I would probably do so first as it is really cold in winter!
      Enjoy!!!

  4. Kieron Wainwright says:

    Hi, Thank for this page. very interesting/fascinating and inspiring :).
    Just wanted ask about the Budget, was that per person or was that the total budget for both of you?
    Me and my partner are planning 10 moths in Central and South America next year starting in Cuba, Literally cannot wait 🙂

    Thanks
    K

    • Amandine says:

      Hi there!
      So the 15.000dollars (as well as all figures on this post) are for one person.
      Depending the kind of luxury and activities you want to do, you will probably be somewhere between -20% and +20% of this amount for a similar trip.
      Your plans sound amazing!!
      Let us know how it goes!

  5. Lynda says:

    Excellent information thank you, I am hoping to go mid January, it’s a last minute trip and I have very little research or planning done, I was informed that long distance buses were the cheapest way to travel, however looking at the bus websites a one way trip from Buenos Aires to el calafe is priced at 650 us dollars which seems to me hugely expensive, flight prices are much cheaper, can you remember the bus prices? Any information would be very welcome, many thanks

    • Amandine says:

      Hello Lynda,
      Indeed usually buses are the cheapest but that may not be the case on this trip. It is difficult to realize but Buenos Aires – El Calafate is a 2500km trip! So it is a loooong distance and time! If you don’t plan to stop in between check flights maybe?
      I have been digging in my records – old from 2 years remember… Looks like our longest bus trip (El bolson to El chalten) costed around $170 per person and it is half of your distance so yes I would say the price seems excessive – even taking in account inflation…
      I have found that prices from website and over there can vary quite a lot. Part of the reason is because in some countries in South America as a foreigner you will be charged more buying online (was definitely the case for Brazil when we were there). We have always bought at the ticket office -on popular routes you may have to wait 2-3 days to have a spot tough… Also, the currency in Argentina is not really stable so it can explain that this seems huge in dollars…
      Not sure how much it helps…? Let us know what you experience is and I will update the article for future travellers!

  6. Brittany says:

    What a seriously amazing blog! Thank-you so much for sharing is such detail. We are planning a 12 month trip and were overwhelmed with where to start until we found this!
    I am sitting here so eager to start our trip!!

    • Amandine says:

      Hi brittany!
      i am delighted it is helpful. Remember the budget start to be a bit dated and to add a little bit extra for margin 😉
      Planning is a really fun part of the trip. Remember to leave so space for the unplanned (both itinerary and budget wise)
      Have a blast!

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