La Paz, Bolivia
As the biggest urban area of the cheapest country in the continent, La Paz is bound to bring a bargain or two. Travelers needn’t be rich to relish in thumping nightlife, trek among jaw-dropping mountains, or just savor the sights of this crazy high altitude city.
Although a jeep tour of the surreal Uyuni salt flats and its otherworldly nearby natural attractions may be the single biggest expenditure backpackers face in Bolivia, this bucket list destination still only sets them back US$150 or so. Unbeatable value, really.
Keen to explore the grandeur of the Spanish new world empire without breaking the bank? Then the Bolivian city of Sucre is the best bet in South America. Laughably cheap food, lodging and sightseeing excursions make this stunning colonial gem a must while in the region.
Almost everyone who visits South America yearns to explore the mighty Amazon, and there is nowhere cheaper to do so than the northern Bolivian jungle town of Rurrenabaque. Give those exclusive high-end jungle lodges a miss and get down-and-dirty with exotic wildlife on a dirt cheap three-day pampas tour.
Lake Titicaca, Peru and Bolivia
As the poorest region of both Bolivia and Peru, a visit to Lake Titicaca is refreshingly easy on the wallet. Explore ancient Inca archaeological sites and interact with colorfully dressed indigenous locals as you gaze over the shimmering waters of the world’s highest navigable lake.
Although Miraflores’ top bars and restaurants are notoriously upmarket, the rest of the city is a dead set bargain. Munch on fresh ceviche at a roadside stall, sip on pisco sour at a local watering hole, or meander through the colonial sights of this phenomenal city in the smug knowledge that your budget is well and truly in check.
Something of a backpackers’ paradise, there is little more to do in this desert oasis town than sit back and enjoy the views. That is, of course, unless you are interested in a loco yet surprisingly cost-effective dune buggy ride that includes an adrenaline-pumping sandboarding foray.
Once the most important city of the Inca and the Spanish, modern day Cusco may seem a little pricey by Peruvian standards. Nevertheless, it still offers excellent value for money for travelers wishing to indulge in a little ancient history, cultural immersion, or the buzzing all-night party scene.
The Sacred Valley, Peru
Savvy travelers can take advantage of public transport and family-run lodging to keep costs down as they explore the region’s plethora of awe-inspiring archaeological sites. As for Machu Picchu, it’s possible to arrive via a series of local buses to avoid paying for that extortionate tourist train.
The Peruvian highlands, Peru
Get right off the beaten track and avoid those pesky gringo prices by traversing through a little known portion of Peru – the unforgettable Andean highlands. From Ayacucho to Cajamarca and everything in between, this breathtaking yet undiscovered mountainous region is so cheap it will leave you wondering where all the backpackers are.
Argentina is not an especially cheap country. Thankfully, however, its vino is inexpensive and delicious, while a bicycle tour of the finest Mendoza vineyards can be done for next to nothing. Better yet, a bottle of the locally produced good stuff can be picked up for peanuts. Salud!
Ecuador’s high altitude capital is undeniably easy on the wallet, made all the better by the fact that most of the country’s dazzling attractions are just a short (and very cheap) bus ride away. Best of all, the local US dollar currency makes it super satisfying to realize just how little you’re spending each day.
For a budget-friendly opportunity to get some bucket list adventure sports out of the way, the subtropical Ecuadorian town of Baños ticks all the boxes. Mountain biking, hiking, climbing and rafting are just a few of the options available in this stunning backpacker mecca.
After a well-deserved beach break? Admittedly, the best stretches of sand in South America are in Brazil, but who really has that kind of money? Instead, opt for the up-and-coming beachside town of Montañita, where solid breaks, a bohemian vibe and a low cost of living keep travelers hanging around much longer than expected.
Patagonia, Argentina and Chile
“Rubbish”, you say, “Patagonia is the most expensive place in South America”. While this might be true, outdoor enthusiasts can spend a pittance by camping every day and hitching a ride with friendly locals between jaw-dropping destinations. Just be sure to visit in summer when it’s actually warm enough to survive.