Creating A Budget: 6 Months Backpacking in South America

by Jennifer Kolbuc

Taking a bus through the Andes Mountains

I have often been asked how much it costs to go on a backpacking trip. Obviously the amount depends on what you want to see and do, how long you will spend in each place, and how you plan to travel, but in order to give you a rough idea, I documented every dollar that we spent during our 6 months in South America (this had the added benefit of ensuring that we kept our spending on track). Hopefully these numbers will provide some insights into what the hard costs on the ground look like, and a rough framework for you to begin planning your own trip. 

I’ve included how many free nights’ accommodation we had in each country, either from overnight busses or couchsurfing, to give you an idea of how much you can save if you are smart, 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. 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 traveling together, unless otherwise stated. 

Argentina:

Iguazu Falls

  • 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

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:

Machu Picchu

  • 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 

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

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/person
  • Cost of 2 tank dive: $150

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

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 flight home and some startup up funds for when you get back again if you’re not returning directly to work. What are your thoughts on building a budget? Share in the comments below!


You can read more of Jennifer's adventures on her website here or follow her on Twitter @GoGallivanting. Travel, adventure and the desire to always try something new – that is Girl Gone Gallivanting.  Jennifer has travelled to more than 30 countries around the world and hopes to keep adding to that list year after year. When she's not traveling the world she lives in beautiful British Columbia, Canada and works in Public Relations & Social Media.