What it Costs to Spend 72 Days in South America

After 2,298 photographs, 588 blood sugar checks, 83 hours on buses and 24 different accommodations, we spend a whopping $10,690 in South America over 72 days. And before we go any further, we’d say it was worth every penny!

It’s funny, Laura and I were chatting last night over dinner about what we might have done differently and it was minimal. Sure we might have changed a few of the accommodations we chose or spent more or less time in some places. But after looking back, we are pleased with all of our choices except one: We didn’t make it to Patagonia, and have agreed that our future absolutely holds a return trip.

So you may wonder what you get for $10,690 and was it worth it? The short answer is you get a lot and it was absolutely worth it! We traveled for 2.5 months through five countries—Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina—and visited major tourist areas like Galapagos, Cusco, Amazon, Machu Picchu, Bolivian Salt Flats, Santiago, Mendoza and Buenos Aires. Please read our past posts or check out Laura’s pictures for more information on what we saw and did.

Along the way, we tracked every penny spent and categorized each expense by date, location, local currency, currency conversion rate based on our actual exchange rate, and expense type. If you have specific questions about our expenses, please reach out to us directly. We’re happy to share the raw data to help you plan your own ATW trip one day!

To look at our budget through an appropriate lens, our travel style falls under the “flashpacker” category. This means we will book the cheapest place to stay in town…as long as it has the minimum comforts we want. We look for places with private rooms, hot water, decent internet and a location in the central area of the city. However, we do opt for public transportation over private cars when possible (which provided a 90% savings in transportation costs in some places), rarely drank alcohol when out for dinner (a common big travel expense), and ate dinner at home when the economics made sense (roughly 50% of the time).

For tours (Galapagos, Amazon, Salt Flats, Mendoza Wine), we booked high-value, reputable budget tours. In other words, we did not book the cheapest tour, but something at the low-end of the scale without hurting the environment or compromising on safety (you want life preservers on your boat cruise!). These budget tours meant we slept at hostels instead of five-star hotels. However, the itineraries and sights tended to be identical to the high-end tours.

So how can we look at these numbers? Let’s start with the largest category—Activities—which is inclusive of every organized tour, guide, museum/art gallery/church admission, and day trip, as well as tips to guides/porters. In this category, we spent the most money: $5,011.

Here’s another way to look at it: if I back out what we spent on activities, then we only spent $5,679 or $79 per day to cover all of our daily expenses during the 72 days in South America, including our flights (we used airline miles). Pretty inexpensive, right?

Check out this chart, which summarized our total expenses by category and shows what the daily costs were for each category.

CATEGORYCOSTDAILY COST
GRAND TOTAL LESS: ACTIVITIES$5,679$79
Accommodations$1,608$22
Activities$5,011$70
Clothing$37$1
Dining Out$935$13
Fees$792$11
Flight$985$14
Gift$83$1
Grocery$484$7
Healthcare$97$1
Laundry$43$1
Transportation$615$9
GRAND TOTAL$10,690$148

At the bottom of this chart, you can see a daily cost of $79, which is after we remove activities.

This second chart shows what we spent at each major location compared to our budget, as well as what our actual daily cost was at each location. The idea is to show you what the daily cost range was at different locations, as well as where we over- or under-spent and why.

LocationDaily CostTotal ActualTotal BudgetVarianceComments
TOTAL$148$10,690$9,632-$1,058Over budget and totally worth it!
Quito, Ecuador$53$425$330$95Random daily overspending
Galapagos$302$4,222$3,500$722Over because of flight cost (not budgeted for)
Amazon$211$844$500$344Over because of tour cost (selected eco-friendly tour operator)
Lima, Peru - - $350-$350Skipped location
Cusco/Machu Pichu$109$982$1,350-$368Under budget because we cut daily spending habits due to Galapagos cost
Lake Titicaca$46$183$436-$253Under budget because we spent four days here instead of one week
Bolivia Salt Flats$118$826$566$260Over budget because we had a more expensive English-speaking tour
Santiago, Chile$107$1,180$616$564Over budget because we added in a stop in San Pedro and we stayed extra days
Mendoza, Argentina$106$740$658$82Over budget because we love wine!
Buenos Aires$161$1,288$1,326-$38

We hope this post inspires you to travel more, because traveling isn’t as expensive as we sometimes think it can be. I wonder what our trip cost would be if we spread out our itinerary over a series of one- or two-week vacations? I’m guessing triple the cost!

Lastly, we learned so much about communicating, spending and budgeting as a couple. Perhaps another blog post is in order on what we learnt, what we changed, plus tips to stretch your dollar further (hint, hint!)…

~Peter

3 comments

  1. Peter, you and Laura are definitely inspiring me on taking an ATW travels!! The destinations are breathtaking and most of these locations are also on my ‘bucket’ list! I’m happy for the both of you to take on the trip and sharing it with all of us! I can’t wait to see and read about the African travels!

  2. WOW you guys rock! I think only you two could pull off this data collection! Very helpful. Can’t wait to hear about Africa!!!

  3. This post is so helpful, thank you.

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