How To Budget For A Month Backpacking In South America

Backpacking South America is a fantastic experience, and your money goes a long way compared to places like Europe. Here’s a simple breakdown of how much money you should budget and aim to spend for a month backpacking in South America.

How Much Money Do You Need For A Month In South America?

For a month backpacking in South America, you should aim to spend around $1500.

 

Budget travellers will be able to manage a month on around $1000-1200 if they only stick to one or two countries, stay in dorms, and eat mainly at markets.

 

Flashpackers who prefer smaller dorms (or private rooms) and eating at a restaurant once a day should aim for $1500-2000.

 

If you wish to visit the Galapagos Islands during this month, then budget in an extra $500-750 in additional costs for flights, entrance fees and the increased price of food and accommodation on the islands.

South America Daily backpacking Budget

You should aim to budget $50 a day when backpacking South America:

 

  • $10 on food
  • $10 on accommodation
  • $5 on transport (taxis and buses)
  • $25 on activities

 

This will obviously from day to day, and also vary depending on the country you are in but it’s a good rough estimate to stick to.

 

In countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, you will be able to manage $35 a day but in countries like Chile or Brazil, it will be closer to $50.

South America Monthly Backpacking Budget

The table below includes a rough estimate of low-end costs for expert budget travellers, but we wouldn’t recommend this. Better to enjoy your time and not worry about money!

 

The costs here are a rough estimate of prices in South America:

Expense Average Cost (Per Day) Monthly Spend
Accommodation
$8 - 10
$240 - 300
Food
$8 - 10
$240 - 300
Transport
$2 - 5
$60 - 150
Activities
$15 - 25
$450 - 750
Total
$33 - 50
$1000 - 1500

We would also recommend taking $500 extra on top of this budget just in case.

 

So, for 1-month backpacking in South America, aim to take $2000 in total ($1500 in spending money and $500 as back up).

 

You never know what might come up, whether an emergency, a few extra nights out or deciding to splash out a bit on a tour that takes your fancy. Always better to be safe than sorry, and if you don’t spend it, you can just come home with it.

The averages were taken from Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and the budget breakdowns* we created for these countries which you can find here in more detail:

 

 

 

*prices based on our year-long trip around South America in 2019/2020

1 Month South AMerica Itinerary (Ecuador, Peru & Bolivia)

This budget is based on our 1 Month South America Itinerary which visits 3 countries (Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia). This is one of our favourite itineraries because you can see the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, and the Salt Flats, which are arguably three of the best sights in all South America.

 

For this full itinerary in more detail:

 

 

Another benefit of this itinerary is that the differences in price between these three countries are minimal, with Peru being a tiny bit more expensive, and Bolivia being the cheapest.

 

We’ve included a Galapagos Islands budget separately at the end of the post if you wish to include it in your trip as it does add a fair bit to the total spend.

 

Here is the month-long South America itinerary:

 

  • Day 1-3 – Quito
  • Day 4-6 – Cotopaxi National Park
  • Day 7-9 – Baños
  • Day 10-11 – Lima
  • Day 12-13 – Paracas National Park
  • Day 14-15 – Huacachina Oasis
  • Day 16-20 – Cusco and Machu Picchu
  • Day 21-23 – La Paz and Death Road
  • Day 24-26 – Amazon Tour (Rurrenabaque)
  • Day 27 – Uyuni
  • Day 28-30 – Uyuni Salt Flats Tour

 

For a longer itinerary, check out our 3-month plan:

 

 

Cost Of Backpacker Accommodation In South America

The average daily cost for a multi-bed dorm (usually 6-8 beds) ranges between $6-15 in South America.

 

This price will get you a comfortable room in most popular backpacker hostels such as Wild Rover, Loki or Kokopelli. Hostels outside of the main cities are usually a little cheaper than the average hostel price as well.

 

If you want to treat yourself, a double or twin room in a hotel will set you back around $20-30 per night. Twin rooms are great if you are travelling as a pair (like we did) as you can pay a little extra to have some privacy without breaking the bank.

 

 

  • Wild Rover La Paz (Bolivia) – $7 a night
  • Kokopelli Cusco (Peru) – $13 a night
  • Secret Garden Quito (Ecuador) – $7 a night

 

We recommend booking hostels with breakfast included. This means your first meal of the day is covered by your hostel, so you don’t have to worry about eating out 3 times a day.

Cost Of Food In South America

It’s easy to eat on a budget in South America. There are local markets and food stalls everywhere serving cheap meals and lots of backpacker-friendly restaurants too.

 

The best way to stick to a budget is to eat lunch at local markets.

 

Typical lunches include a soup, rice dish with fish or meat, and a drink costing $2-3. They are tasty, cheap, and substantial enough to keep you going until dinner.

 

Eating a meal at a standard restaurant can cost anywhere between $5-10 depending on the place.

 

Most hostels provide breakfast consisting of bread, eggs, jams, fruit, juice and coffee. We always try to book a hostel that includes breakfast so our first meal of the deal is sorted and then we only have to worry about eating out twice. 

 

We aren’t big cookers, and we don’t think its worth it in South America to save money as the local food and markets are so cheap.

Cost Of Transport In South America

The cost of transport in South America is cheap. The best way to travel the continent is with overnight buses as they are cheap. Flights can also be cheap depending on the country you are in. 

Cost Of Buses In South America

Local buses in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia cost on average $1 per hour of journey time.

 

  • Bus journeys in Ecuador are short and rarely costs us more than $4.
  • In Peru, the bus journeys are a little longer so cost more. You will also need to take an overnight bus every now and then which costs approximately $10-15 depending on the journey time.
  • Bolivia was the most expensive for us in terms of transport (we aren’t sure why). Overnight buses from Uyuni to La Paz cost $15-25.

Cost Of Flights In South America

Flight costs vary greatly depending on the time of year and country. Based on the itinerary above, you will need to get two flights:

 

 

  • Guayaquil (Ecuador) > Lima (Peru)
  • Cusco (Peru) > La Paz (Bolivia)

 

Both flights are short (between 1-2 hours) and should cost no more than $100-150.

Cost Of Activities In SOuth America

The cost of activities in each country varies dramatically so we won’t try to come to an average here. There are tonnes of free activities to do such as walking tours and hikes which help you to stick to a budget.

 

Based on the itinerary provided, here are the three big things you will need to plan and budget for:

Machu Picchu (Peru)

There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu: train or bus. The bus is the cheapest so if you are sticking to a budget on your South America trip then do this.

 

  • MP by train (return) – $130-210 depending on times and carriage type
  • MP by bus (return) – $20-30
  • MP ticket – Entrance to Machu Picchu costs $50 when booked on the official government website.

For more information on planning and visiting Machu Picchu, check out our guides below:

 

 

Another cheap way of visiting Machu Picchu is via the Salkantay trek. It’s a 5-day trek that costs $230. All your food and accommodation are included in the price along with the cost of entry to Machu Picchu.

 

For more information on the Salkantay Trek:

 

 

Amazon Tour (Bolivia)

Bolivia is the cheapest and easiest country to visit the Amazon from in South America.

 

In Bolivia, you can take a Pampas tour through the winding rivers to spot animals, or you can do a proper jungle tour deep in the Amazon. We chose a Pampas tour as you get to see more wildlife.

 

On average, a 3-day Pampas tour can range from $150-250 per person.

 

We have friends who have paid $150 for a package tour which included flights. We paid closer to $250 as we booked separately. Don’t make the same mistake we did. Visit in low season, book in person and last minute and you will find a great deal.

 

For more information on booking Amazon tours:

 

 

Uyuni Salt Flats Tour (Bolivia)

The Uyuni Salt Flats tour is one of the best tours in South America. Again, the price varies depending on the time of year you visit.

 

In low season you should be able to get a 3-day tour for $100-150. Expect to pay a little bit more than this in high season due to the higher number of tourists and increased demands.

 

For more information on finding and booking the best Uyuni tour:

 

 

 

Or if you wish to save money and time, you can always choose the 1-day tour:

 

 

How To Budget For The Galapagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are an expensive place to visit, whether on holiday or as a backpacker. In comparison to mainland Ecuador expect to pay more for food, accommodation, and tours.

 

 

  • Average cost of a day tour – $100-150
  • Average minimum cost of basic accommodation – $25-30 per night
  • Average cost of a meal – $10-15 (at a standard restaurant)

 

The added expense of return flights and entrance fees add up to make it an expensive trip. However, you can still visit Galápagos island on a backpacker budget.

 

The best way to do this is to avoid booking tours as there are loads of great free activities to do on each of the islands. Each island has a couple of hostels and cheap hotels where you can find rooms from $20-25 a night, and like the rest of South America, you can find cheap restaurants serving ‘menus of the day’ for $5-6.

 

We’ve detailed all of this and more great tips for visiting the islands on a budget here:

 

 

How Much Money Should I Budget For The Galapagos Islands?

Firstly, there are non-avoidable costs when visiting the Galapagos Islands, and then you need to factor in a daily budget. Here are the costs:

 

  • $440 of non-avoidable expenses for flights and entrance fees.
  • $50 a day budget for food, accommodation, and transport (activities not included)

 

Five days is the minimum amount of time needed to visit the Galápagos Islands. Any less than that and it’s not worth paying the money for flights and entrance fees.

Expense Cost
Flights + Entrance Fees
$440
Daily Budget x 5
$200
Ferry Transport + Taxis
$60
Extras
$100
Total
$800

So, if you wanted to include the Galapagos Islands in your one month South America trip, we recommend budgeting an extra $500-600 for the additional costs of flights and entrance fees. Your daily budget won’t change much as you are taking advantage of the free activities on offer to save money.

 

 

For the full guide on how to visit without a tour (and keep costs down) and the suggested 5-day itinerary, check out the posts below: