Cost of travelling through South America

South America is a huge continent  where costs can vary significantly from country to country. After 119 days of travelling from Colombia down to the bottom of Chile and Argentina, I’ve provided an overall spend, by spend type and then broken down the costs  by country to give you an idea of the cost of travelling through South America for me.

Before I start, a bit of background on how I travelled to give a bit of context as everybody has their own style of travelling. For me, I like to be comfortable. I also carry some expensive equipment as well so safety and security is paramount. This applies to everything from transport to accommodation so at times, this comes at a premium. Sometimes I do have to make compromises but I’m never desperate enough to save money where I would put myself into an extremely unpleasant or a high risk situation where things can go missing. Here’s a basic summary of how I did it:

  • My main travel philosophy is to go slow. This means catching buses, trains or whatever that will minimise costs. Despite this, I still had to catch a few flights to make up time because I had a deadline I had to meet to fly back to Sydney.
  • I always stayed in hostels and picked them based on the highest rating which takes into account location, staff, value for money, security, atmosphere, cleanliness. I didn’t stay in as many private rooms as I did in Central America as they were slightly more expensive. I stayed in a penthouse apartment in Medellin for a month. It was basically the same cost as most dorm rooms in the city but was much more pimping.
  • Most times I would try to get the best quality and most comfortable bus for the long haul rides of over 12 hours. I also had to get a couple of flights due to time constraints to be in particular places and also for security fears in particular areas.
  • I didn’t travel to Brasil like most people do. If I did within that time then I would definitely have spent more money on transport and accommodation depending on what time of the year I went.
  • I love food and if it looked good, I’d buy it. I always tried to splurge every now and then on a local specialty.
  • I’d always pay for laundry. Life’s too short to be spending half a day in a laundromat or hand washing things.
  • There are quite a few touristy things to do in South America and I ended up doing most of them. #YOLO
  • I rarely caught cabs unless if it was late at night. Most times I would catch public transport or walk and as a result I did lose a few pounds and a couple of inches around the waistline.
  • I didn’t cut my hair once on this trip.
  • All of my costs I tracked with the IExpenseit app for smartphones.

 

TOTAL SOUTH AMERICA Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Drinks $722 $6 7%
Education $182 $2 2%
Electronics $148 $1 1%
Entertainment $9 $0 0%
Food $1,367 $11 13%
Accommodation $1,696 $14 16%
Household/Groceries $456 $4 4%
Misc. $64 $1 1%
Personal $266 $2 2%
Transportation $2,172 $18 20%
Tourism $3,401 $29 32%
Utilities $170 $1 2%
Total $10,653 $90 100%
Total days 119
Avg cost per day $90

 

Compared to my Central America cost summary, there haven’t been too many surprises from continent to continent. The significant different between the two was that there were more expenses allocated to tourism such as The Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Torres del Paine W Trek, Iguazu and several other popular tourist attractions. I also spent a lower percentage  on food and drinks because there were  cooking facilities in more South American hostels than in Central America.

 

Colombia Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Drinks $269 $7 14%
Education $182 $5 9%
Electronics $90 $2 5%
Entertainment $9 $0 0%
Food $338 $8 17%
Accommodation $608 $15 31%
Household/Groceries $214 $5 11%
Personal $15 $0 1%
Transportation $191 $5 10%
Tourism $34 $1 2%
Total $1,950 $49 100%
Total days 40
Avg cost per day $49

 

I ended up spending over a month in Medellin and spent 4 weeks living in a two-story four bedroom penthouse apartment in the nice suburb of El Poblado with three others whilst we sub let the other room to friends who were passing through. Although renting a place should theoretically save us money, who was I to say no to a king sized bed and an entire floor to myself?

Although the cost of accommodation was a higher percentage than average, I saved some money on the lower expenditure on transport which included a flight from Cartagena to Medellin. Food and beverage costs were higher because there were plenty of dinner parties going on and we all enjoyed entertaining. The education costs were for two weeks Spanish lessons.

 

Ecuador Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Drinks $150 $9 5%
Electronics $15 $1 0%
Food $195 $11 6%
Accommodation $128 $8 4%
Household/Groceries $24 $1 1%
Personal $47 $3 1%
Transportation $359 $21 11%
Tourism $2,342 $138 72%
Total $3,259 $192 100%
Total days 17
Avg cost per day $192

 

This is an unusual high cost per day primarily driven by spending 10 days on the Galapagos. The last-minute Galapagos Tour itself was early US$2,000 for 8 days and I spent an extra two days there. The transportation costs were also higher because I had to fly from Medellin, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador because of road blockades and strikes that were occurring in the southern parts of Colombia.

 

Peru Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Drinks $47 $3 4%
Electronics $7 $0 1%
Food $219 $12 18%
Accommodation $137 $8 12%
Household/Groceries $10 $1 1%
Personal $72 $4 6%
Transportation $212 $12 18%
Tourism $484 $27 41%
Total $1,188 $66 100%
Total days 18
Avg cost per day $66

 

Similar to Ecuador, the tourism costs are high in Peru. Main contributors to these costs are the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu as well as the Colca Canyon trek outside of Arequipa. Food costs are higher because the hostels I stayed in were not set up for self cooking, and food could only be bought from the restaurant. I found this to be the case in most places throughout Peru and Bolivia where hostel chains have hostels setup along this typical gringo trail.

 

Chile Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Drinks $141.00 $5 7%
Electronics $12 $0 1%
Food $265 $9 14%
Accommodation $493 $18 25%
Household/Groceries $132 $5 7%
Transportation $740 $26 38%
Tourism $176 $6 9%
Total $1,959 $70 100%
Total days 28
Avg cost per day $70

 

Transportation costs in Chile were higher than the total SA average due to the Navimag ferry cost to sail up the western coast. At $500 it would have been $350 more than getting a flight but for me it was a totally unique experience and worth every cent. Accommodation in Chile is quite expensive and I found myself paying on average $18 per day. Most of these costs are from spending more time in Patagonia.

 

Bolivia Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Drinks $35 $4 5%
Food $104 $13 14%
Accommodation $53 $7 7%
Household/Groceries $9 $1 1%
Misc $64 $8 9%
Personal $112 $14 15%
Transportation $51 $6 7%
Tourism $137 $17 19%
Utilities $170 $21 23%
Total $736 $92 100%
Total days 8
Avg cost per day $92

 

Another high cost per day spend but this was mainly to only spending eight days in the country. Three of those days were on the Salt Flats Tour. I also used La Paz as a place to post back (under personal) most of the summer clothing and other items such as Spanish lesson books and my camera bag that I wasn’t using. I also bought a Leatherman knife, polar fleece, gore tex jacket, gloves and some longer sleeve shirts to prepare myself for the evenings on the salt flats as well as for Patagonia further south. Like with Peru, there were no kitchens to cook in t the hostel and although food is cheap in Bolivia, I did enjoy a couple of nice steaks at some more expensive restaurants :)

 

Argentina Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Drinks $80 $3 5%
Electronics $24 $1 2%
Food $246 $10 16%
Accomodation $277 $11 18%
Household/Groceries $67 $3 4%
Personal $20 $1 1%
Transportation $619 $25 40%
Tourism $228 $9 15%
Total $1,560 $62 100%
Total days 25
Avg cost per day $62

 

Steaks, wine, empanadas. That’s what I was doing mostly with my time in Argentina. I did have some amazing meals but managed not to blow out my food budget too much by cooking a lot as well. Transport costs were high due to the fact that the buses were fairly expensive because I caught quite a few semi cama and full cama buses. Due to the huge distances between places, I also bought a plane ticket from Buenos Aires to El Calafate for the start of the Patagonia leg of my trip.

I haven’t gone too in-depth with every country and every type of expenditure and it should be used as a rough guide as well. As you can see, I didn’t quite slum it and probably overindulged in certain areas, but South America for me was all about the adventure and I knew that it would come at a price. Unlike Central America where the routes and activities are quite predictable, South America is a huge continent  and the people I encountered had specific thoughts on how they want to experience it.

If you have any specific questions though, hit me up with a message in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer any questions and update the post.

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Comments

Cost of travelling through South America — 13 Comments

  1. thanks so much for writing this article. it is quite relevant to my current interests/questions about what to do next 😉

    have bookmarked the central american one because of how often i was checking it!

    side note: i think the logistical/analytics articles on your blog are the most unique and bankable parts – you’ve essentially written a bible for anyone wanting to travel over here. jimmy could be onto something!

  2. Wow I was shocked at how high this was. I tell people to budget $30 per day or $1000 per month. In Ecuador I easily spent less than $20 but it’s harder in Colombia/Chile/Argentina.

    I wonder if you pulled out the big ticket items if the cost per day would be closer to mine. Granted I traveled slow and I didn’t have the big items but I spent 9 months there and probably spent 7500 max.
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