Tackle South America on a budget this summer
Young people are constantly saying how badly they want to explore the Latin American region and have that “transcending experience”, but holidays in South America are either advertised as super exotic and incredibly expensive; or as too much of a headache to plan a low-budget trip.
The truth is however; South America is probably the cheapest place you can travel to. After doing extensive research and having lived in the region for 20-years I can guarantee that £6.5 a day covers your basic, daily expenses and on average a hostel bed can cost you £5 per night. If you are lucky, sometimes locals welcome travellers into their homes, insisting on nothing in return but showing you their culture and way of life. There is nothing like the South American hospitality.
The most expensive part of the trip is buying the plane tickets so my advice is to travel during the off-peak season. For instance, In March you can get round-trip fares to Rio de Janeiro for about £500.
Here’s a South American itinerary suitable for summer, tailored to the young and broke. You will find a fair amount of relaxation, adventure, city tours and enriching experiences. It is impossible to cover the whole region without going overboard, but you are about to discover the most precious hidden gems.
Start by buying a plane ticket to Rio de Janeiro – one of the cheapest fares I found was £360 for the end of May. In the cosmopolitan city that never sleeps, and the place where a tan is achievable all year round, you will definitely have the chance to enjoy the iconic beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. A must-see is the giant statue of Christ The Redeemer up in the mountains at about 710 metres above sea level; here you can experience an amazing panoramic view of the city. For the more adventurous, tour the Favelas, the Brazilian slums, which I guarantee is something you haven’t seen before.
Next, travel to the Iguassu Falls, a region that is shared between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. It holds the largest waterfalls system in the world. The views are breathtaking, as nature in action often is; and sightings of exotic species are very common in the area.
You can take a bus to our next destination from Ciudad del Este (Paraguayan side of the falls) to Asunción for just £7
-Rio to Iguaçu Falls plane fare £56
-Iguaçu National Park entrance £29
Known as the heart of South America for its strategic location, Paraguay is the only bilingual country in the region, speaking Spanish and native Guaraní. Hop on a bus from the Paraguayan side of the Iguaçu Falls: Ciudad del Este to the capital Asunción for a city of cultural history.
The strong suit of Paraguay, only known to a few, is the ecotourism. The breath-taking views of the nature reserves are often enjoyed solely between you and your guide, who can lead the way to a hidden waterfall in the forest called Salto Cristal and to the hills of Caaguazú. Agencies organise group activities from the city centre, taking you to the forest, hills and waterfalls on bikes or terrain vehicles for as cheap as £6.
The traditional neighbouring towns of San Bernardino and Areguá are not to be missed. These towns were built around the shores of the Lago Ypacarai and it has been rumoured The Beatles vacationed here in the 1960’s, not only because of it’s sheer beauty but also because of a love that stemmed from the fact that absolutely no one had any idea who they were. The markets lining the town-centre display crafts from the native tribe: the Guaraníes.
-Guided tour £10 (party of four)
-Bus ticket Asunción to Areguá/San Bernardino £1.5
-Bus Asuncion to La Paz (Stopping at Santa Cruz) £50
Another popular hotspot amongst western travellers is Bolivia, which homes the largest and highest salt desert in the world: Salar de Uyuni. From La Paz night buses run to Uyuni where you can experience a jeep tour to the unique salt desert and take in the views of the world upside down as reflected in the salt.
The capital La Paz sits at nearly 12,000 feet in a bowl ringed by mountains and is filled with native customs, making it the perfect place to immerse yourself in Bolivian culture. The Mercado de Brujas (Witch Market) offers the tourist the unique opportunity to experience tradition and get acquainted with native crafts, handmade items, medicinal plants, and amulets. All of which are elements used for Aymará rituals of the natives.
A cable-car system called Mi Teleférico, where gondolas glide up and down the hillsides, skimming the skyline only costs 30 pence for a one-way ticket.
-Tourist bus to Uyuni £25
-Bus from La Paz to Cuzco (Stopping at Copacabana) £27
Last on the list is the land of the Incas, the ancient empire. Start with one of the most important Peruvian cities, Cusco, previously the capital of the Incan Empire. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1983 by UNESCO, and is commonly referred to as the Rome of America.
The Peruvian culture is filled with legends, gods and isolated ancient cities, the most notorious being Machu Picchu. Built before the XV century, the city is considered an architectural masterpiece and was named in 2007 one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Machu Picchu is strategically located between the Andes Mountains and the amazonic forest, which was the reason it stayed hidden from the modern world until the early XX century.
There are different ways to get to the city: for the more adventurous and physically able hiking the Inca trail is a very attracting option. It takes you on a scenic route which lasts approximately three days. However, the most convenient and fastest option is public transport: a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and then a 15 minute bus journey to Machu Picchu.
-Macchu Picchu entrance £30
-Round-trip train ticket Cusco to Aguas Calientes £67
Finally, it is time to return home. Plane tickets in July from Cusco to London retail for about £600, but you can bag yourself a cheaper flight if you choose to travel from the country’s capital: Lima.
My last tip for saving money on a budget is to plan in advance, but sometimes spontaneous trips gives you the best memories. I will leave you with the famous saying “you can always make more money; but you cannot make more time”.
Explore, Grow and Discover.