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Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia | © Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr
Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia | © Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr

11 Cheap and Beautiful Trips to Take in South America

Picture of Sorcha O'Higgins
Updated: 15 December 2017

South America is an incredible continent with a wealth of beautiful, natural landscapes, fascinating cultural diversity and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But if you’re traveling on a budget, how can you get the best of what the continent has to offer? Here are a few affordable trips that you can take in South America.

Amazon, Bolivia

Bolivia is a budget-friendly option for those wishing to explore the amazing Amazon rainforest. A cheaper alternative to Amazon trips in places like Brazil, the Bolivian Amazon is also the road less traveled, meaning there are fewer tourists. But affordability comes at its own cost—it is difficult to reach the Amazon in Bolivia. Trips to the Amazon start from the remote town of Rurrenabaque, and you can choose to fly or get a very long and uncomfortable bus from the capital, La Paz. Once you are there, there are lots of tour options to choose from, the main two being the jungle route (the real Amazon jungle experience) or the pampas route (low-lying wetlands). The pampas route is the cheaper option.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

One of the most popular destinations in all of South America are the vast salt flats located in southern Bolivia. Bolivia is a favourite with backpackers traveling in South America, not just because in general it is one of the continent’s cheapest countries, but also because it has a host of diverse and otherworldly landscapes that can be visited without breaking the bank. Tours to the salt flats last between two and four days, and if you shop around you can usually find pretty cheap deals. Then you can tick the optical illusion photos off your bucket list!

Bike the Death Road, Bolivia

The Death Road just outside the Bolivian capital of La Paz is not as scary as the name suggests, however, it is not for the faint of heart. Saying you have biked the Death Road is something of a badge of honour among travelers in South America, but it doesn’t need to cost a fortune for you to have a badge of your own. There are plenty of tour companies that offer trips to the Death Road in La Paz, and the prices vary wildly, but the main difference is that the more expensive ones offer better lunches and additional activities such as zip lines and finishing the day in a swimming pool. The cheaper options still have everything you need in terms of safety equipment and gear.

Quito, Ecuador

The capital of Ecuador is one of the most budget-friendly cities in South America. It is hard to get to and stands at an amazing 9,000 feet (2,740m) above sea level, but there is plenty to do once you’re there. Travelers can visit the equator, the city’s famous Virgin of El Panecillo monument and check out Pichincha cable car, which brings you to the top of the dormant Pichincha volcano and affords great views back out over the city.

The Parana delta, Argentina

Just a short trip away from the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires is Tigre, a beautiful town located on the Parana delta. A world away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, Tigre is a labyrinth of waterways and islands, and can be reached by public transport, saving you lots of time and money. There are plenty of cheap cabins that can be rented on the island, as long as you’re OK with rustic conditions and relentless mosquitoes in summer. Bring supplies with you and settle in, as buying groceries from the floating shops and getting the water taxi back into town can increase the price of your trip to Tigre very quickly.

Camping in Córdoba, Argentina

The sierras region of Córdoba in Argentina is a great option for those visiting the region on a shoestring. The rolling hills are littered with streams, rivers and gorges, and there are campsites aplenty. The best way to explore the Córdobese countryside is to rent a car, but if that puts too much of a dent in your wallet, there are plenty of local buses that will bring you to different towns from where you can discover the surroundings.

Cartagena, Colombia

This fabulous port city on Colombia’s coast is a great option for people who are looking to chill out on a Caribbean beach against the backdrop of a picturesque colonial city. While Cartagena might challenge those who can’t handle the heat, and it lacks the pristine white beaches that other Caribbean coasts are known for, it offers you bang for your buck as far as beach destinations go. Medellin is also reasonably priced in terms of South American cities, and benefits from year-round spring conditions.

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru

This huge lake in the Andes straddles the border of Bolivia and Peru and is one of the most unique destinations in this part of the continent. From tourist party towns to isolated islands with indigenous communities, Lake Titicaca has lots to offer, and is seriously light on your wallet. Be prepared for no mod cons, especially if you plan on visiting the islands on the Bolivian side, which offer fairly primitive, but definitely memorable lodgings and eateries.

Hiking in Sacred Valley, Peru

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Cusco is located in Peru’s Sacred Valley, and while this area might be most well known as being the jumping off point for visiting Peru’s famous Machu Picchu, there are plenty of options for lovers of the outdoors in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley. If you want to be kind to your wallet, steer clear of Machu Picchu, as there is virtually no way to do it on the cheap, and instead opt for exploring the amazing city of Cusco and its surroundings. It is a serious tourist hub, so there will be lots of opportunities to keep yourself entertained with fellow travelers, and good company doesn’t cost a penny.

Torres del Paine, Chile

Trekking in Torres del Paine is one of the ultimate hikes on the planet. Renowned for its stunning Patagonian scenery, with everything from glaciers, turquoise lagoons and soaring granite peaks, Torres del Paine does not disappoint when it comes to awe-inspiring landscapes. If you want to do the hike on the cheap, opt for camping instead of staying at the lodges, and bring food and drink with you, as the prices are seriously hiked in the national park’s refugios.

Salvador, Brazil

While Salvador might not be a great choice for those who value safety and security, the more intrepid traveler will be wowed not only by the port city’s cheap prices, but also by the authentic Afro-Brazilian culture that abounds and the city’s unique Portuguese colonial architecture. It also has great beaches, food and drink, and is a cheaper alternative destination for Brazil’s famous Carnival.