In this travel hack guide, we tell you the cheapest ways for backpacking south america. Backpacking South America is not recommended for the novice backpacker, and you will soon realise this with the type of travellers you bump into. Most backpackers in South America are usually more experienced and a little older (around 30+) compared to the backpackers you’ll see in South East Asia for example.
Cheap Transport In South America
South America is a massive continent, and I’d recommend 6 months minimum to travel around. I managed to do the whole continent in 6 months but that was at a fairly quick pace. The more time you have the better.
Flights within South America itself to other countries (even neighbouring countries) are very expensive. My flight from Europe to Brazil was actually cheaper than most flights between neighbouring countries in South America! South America has the most expensive flights in the world, so this form of travel is not recommended between countries. However, flights between cities within the same country are reasonably priced. So if you’re in a big country such as Brazil or Argentina, then feel free to fly between cities that are some distance apart. For travel to another country in South America, it is recommended to take the bus.
Long Bus Rides In South America
When I say long, I’m not kidding. Expect bus rides of up to 24 hours! But the good news is that most of these busses are very comfortable. I highly recommend paying extra for a seat that reclines or even lies flat. When it is such a long journey of 20+ hours you’ll be glad you did! At first, I dreaded going on such a long bus ride, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I expected. A third of the time will already be spent sleeping. The remaining time can be spent watching movies, listening to music, or doing some reading.
If you can’t handle the thought of such a long bus ride, then make sure you use a bus to travel over the border to another country. Remember, flights across international borders are very expensive in South America! But if you want to minimise the time spent on a bus, then take flights between cities of the same country, and use a bus to travel over the border. For example, get a flight to the city closest to the border of the country you want to visit, then take the bus for the rest of the journey over the border.
The only other time you may want to take a flight over a bus is on rough, windy journeys. This is particularly the case around the Andes ranges in places like Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia. If you’re prone to motion sickness, then you may want to opt for a flight between cities instead of the bus. Some bus routes in South America can be very stomach-churning!
To find the best prices for bus journeys in South America, I highly recommend BusBud. Make sure you try and book in advance by at least a few days.
Uber For Travel Within Cities
Once you’ve arrived at your destination by bus (or flight), the easiest and cheapest way to get from the bus terminal to your accommodation is Uber.
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Sure you can rough it and find a local bus, but it’s not easy or particularly safe. Many parts of South America have high levels of crime, especially robbery and theft. Do you really want to lug around a heavy backpack or suitcase on an old bus, not knowing where it goes and hoping you won’t be robbed? Of course you don’t. Take my advice and always use Uber when travelling between the Bus Terminal/Airport and your accommodation. Uber is also much safer than regular Taxis in South America, and they aren’t able to scam or overcharge you.
However, you will find that some parts of South America don’t always have Uber. In this case, you will be forced to take a local Taxi. If you have to do this, my advice is to approach a Taxi driver that isn’t begging for your service. When you arrive at a bus terminal in South America, it is common to be approached by many guys yelling out “Taxi!”. If one seems too keen, then don’t risk it. Always better to approach one that isn’t begging for your service. Also ensure that they always turn the meter on, and watch google maps to ensure that they stick to the route. If possible, try and keep your luggage close to you in the back of the car rather than putting it in the trunk.
There are some parts of South America where it is simply too dangerous to walk on the street at night. The most dangerous two would be Brazil and Colombia. If you’re in a place like Rio De Janeiro for example, never risk walking on the street at night, even short distances. It is far safer to always use Uber if you have to go out at night. Many locals gave me this advice several times, particularly in Brazil. Listen to them, they know what they are talking about!
Cheap Accommodation In South America
I recommend using Airbnb when travelling in South America, especially in cheaper countries.
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In the more expensive countries such as Chile and Uruguay, you may want to stay at a hostel instead to save on costs. When I was in Brazil in March 2019, cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo were considerably expensive for accommodation, so I opted for a hostel here instead. Sometimes a hostel can actually be a good option every now and then to meet other travellers and get tips/advice. However, I wouldn’t want to stay in one longer than a week. I recommend using the Hostelworld to find the cheapest prices on hostels throughout South America.
Conclusion – Backpacking South America
By far the cheapest way for backpacking South America is by bus. However, if you want to balance it out then take flights between cities in the same country, because this will be more reasonably priced. Always remember to travel by bus when crossing a border, because this will be significantly cheaper than flying. When you arrive at the bus terminal always use Uber to get to your accommodation.