What budget do I need to travel backpacking in South America? Is transport very expensive? Can you camp? How do they travel so cheap? Those, and so many questions, are the most frequent when planning a trip for the first time. Answers there are how many travelers. In this kind of guide I will try to share the keys that made Juan and I travel for 18 months with a budget of U $ D 7 per day between the two. The most gasolera / scratch / crota version of me (and not that happy, much less dirty) is about to be revealed. So if you are thinking of taking a backpacking trip through South America, I put the water for a tea (I do not drink mate), bring the notebook, and do not move from here.

For starters, I want to clarify that like any guide written in a blog, the information is intended to be as objective as possible, but not always. I know that traveling by the finger is not for everyone, so I included other options as well. They will not find a corn of numbers and prices, because with the inflation that reigns in a good part of the countries this guide would be outdated very fast, although there are estimates for an idea. Here we go

How do you travel to South America with $ 7 a day?

Normally, and regardless of the type of trip that is, the budget is divided into three basic elements: transportation, food and accommodation. The first part (except within the cities) we solve it by traveling by hand. Even in countries like Bolivia, where buses are very cheap, we choose to extend the thumb: we do not do it just for economic reasons. The food, in general, is also very accessible. Most countries have markets where for a few dollars you can eat rich and nutritious (it’s not that we live on crackers with hash) or you can buy them for cooking. And the accommodation … well, to give you an idea, in 545 days of travel, we only pay 20 nights of hostels. In addition to using Couchsurfing, we camped a lot (and no, we never ended up sleeping under a bridge). The sum of these three + some extra (medicine, museum admission, or craving) give us an average of $ 7 a day. That is to say: it is not that if at 3 in the afternoon we spent that money the rest of the day we passed it to water and leftovers. There are countries that are more expensive than others, so it touches average.

Transportation: how to travel through South America

If you are thinking of getting excited, know that traveling is not as difficult or dangerous as people can imagine. In 18 months, Juan and I covered 36,000 km. at the tip of a thumb, and even managed to get to Antarctica. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience, others are a faster option than public transport. And while this is a budget guide, rather than saving, we choose to travel by finger because it allows us to meet many people, understand the culture from a local perspective, and launch ourselves into the adventure of the unknown. So if you have desire and goodwill, believe me, finger-tapping can be reached anywhere and with unique experiences as a bonus track.

This we brake in paraguay

In Venezuela, heading to some beach

Is it possible to finger in all countries? Is it just as easy?

Well, it is difficult to generalize since the conditions for hitchhiking vary considerably from country to country. Although in all the practice of traveling by finger is legal, in some, such as Ecuador, Uruguay or French Guiana is much more normal and therefore people are more accustomed to slow down than in other places, such as Bolivia or Paraguay. In all cases, a good presence helps a lot. In countries where distances are very long, such as Chile, Argentina or Brazil, truckers may be the best allies. Of course: buy good maps. Do not pretend that the driver knows about that lost ruin that you want to go to. And you always have to be prepared to have good conversations, since the distances you travel are very extensive, and curiosity is often the main reason drivers slow down.

The terms used to refer to the hitchhiker are different in each country. (Be prepared also to explain the idea and the reasons of hitchhiking). In Argentina and in most southern countries, the practice is known as “finger-tapping.” In Brazil, the correct expression is “to take a ride”. In Peru, “throw finger”; in Ecuador “pull finger” and in Colombia “ask for a chance”. Finally, in Venezuela, the most correct (even if it sounds unseemly) is “ask the queue”.

Do you have to oay when travel by hand?

Generally, nobody expects silver in exchange for the trip. However, in Bolivia or some areas of Peru, informal taxis are very frequent and it is very easy to fall into confusion because they can not be identified. They are almost always trucks with the destination sign where they travel or old cars, white. Some carry a small decal on the windshield with the “taxi” sign, but this is not always the case. So it is always better to clarify that you do not take money before you go up (or if you decide to pay, negotiate the price).

Can you make a finger in Bolivia?

Without a doubt, Bolivia is the country where traveling by finger is more difficult, especially in the Andean zone. Generally, the social, economic or adventure reasons one may have are beyond the way of seeing the world of Bolivian culture. This translates into many explanations, long hours of waiting and a lot of time lost in trading. Many will wonder why not pay and now, being that the Bolivian peso is not the most expensive currencies. We have our motives, and it has nothing to do with the economic: when there is silver in between the relationships change, and the experience is conditioned. One stops being a “friend” and happens to be a “client” and nothing is the same. That’s why we prefer to wait.

Tour South America by bus

Although there are almost no trains to move around, the collective networks connect everything and that is great: if you do not encourage to travel by finger, can make a very good trip in collective. That yes: it is important to be prepared because the conditions between country and country and vary tremendously. While in Argentina or Chile, for example, buses are comfortable and there are terminal stations with infrastructure, in others like Bolivia or Peru each company has its terminal station, and a “bed car” can be a straight armchair with a blanket over it. Not to complain, it is part of the adventure.

Eating in South America: let the markets live!

If you are one of those few parents who are hanging around on the web and are worried that if the child is about to go on a trip, he can rest assured that he is not going to die of hunger. Eating in much of South America is much cheaper than eating in Argentina. To give an idea, of the US $ 7 per day, at least U $ D 5 we were going in food. Of course, for the wallet to yield, it is necessary to be a bit selective with what you buy. Instead of sitting in bars or cafes, whenever possible we bought at the market, or in neighborhood shops where local people bought. And as we went up the map, fruits and vegetables became more varied and cheaper, so in addition to economic we ate well.

Mojarra con Arroz – Colombia

Fideos picantes – Surinam

Fritada – Ecuador

Hayacos – Ecuador

Ceviche – Peru

Arepas con atun – Venezuela

Bandeja Paisa – Colombia

Patacones – Colombia

They are prices taken from the market, street stalls or simple dining rooms. And always remember that cooking is sometimes much cheaper.

Empanadas de queso o sopas paraguayas (Paraguay): U$D 1
Seco de pollo (Bolivia): U$D 1,75
Plato de papas rellenas (Bolivia. Lo más): U$D 0,40
Almuerzo completo (Perú): U$D 3
Arroz chaufa (Perú): U$D 2,4
Pollo con papa a la huancaína (Perú): U$D 2
Menú completo (Ecuador. Sopa + pollo o carne con arroz, frijoles + bebida): U$D 2
Plato de fritada ecuatoriana: U$D 1,5
Menú completo (Colombia): U$D 2
Arepa de queso (Colombia): U$D 1
Arepa reina (Venezuela): U$D 2
Presa de pollo con ensalada o arroz (Venezuela): U$D 1,2
Fideos picantes (Surinam): U$D 2,5


Gratuity is not the main reason for membership, but it saves a lot (in addition to the convenience of being able to cook). We use it a lot, but there are countries like Bolivia or Peru where most of the answers come from expatriate gringos: it costs more than local respond.


The tent is a fundamental element for us. We use it a lot. In addition to allowing us to enter into landscapes that are not always populated, it gives us the guarantee that if it rains or something happens, we have the house on its back. It is very difficult to find a campsite as such beyond Argentina, Chile or Uruguay. Most of the time we ended up asking for permission in schools, courtyards, etc. which led to more than once invited us spontaneously. For security reasons we never camped on beaches or in exposed places, and so we never had any theft or bad experiences.


As I said before, we use them very seldom. Traveling by two is possible to find double rooms in more modest hotels at the same price as two dormis in more pro hostels. Either way, a bed costs US $ 8 a night. Take U $ D 10 as a reference, to get an idea. And know that in the place you can always find better rates than those published by the reservation websites.

Health insurance

It is another of the expenses that we do not contemplate in our budget backpackers of 7 U $ D per day. We were so fair, that we did not consider it (if we could, we would have contracted it) It would have been good for us, when in Paraguay a spider stung me and I had my face like a pochoclo, when in Ecuador they bit my thumbs and gave me allergy, when I had to go to the dentist in Colombia, when I had to return in Venezuela or when I got dehydrated in Peru and I almost ended up in a hospital (they wanted to, but I took the sera to the hostel). The most competitive prices for backpackers, have them secure your trip, which compares different options according to each one’s budget. Another thing to keep in mind is that although it is rare that it happens crossing borders by land, in some countries like Colombia or Chile I have been asked to enter via the airport.