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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

3 August 2011

South America budget update

Written by Maureen


We spent just over three weeks in Chile. We had heard that Chile was an expensive country to visit compared to the rest of South America and, in our experience, this is probably true. On the other hand, Chile is a developed country with good infrastructure and we felt very safe everywhere. There was not much price difference across Chile, although San Pedro de Atacama was a bit more expensive, being a well-known tourist destination.

Accommodation cost on average £39, mostly in hostels which were adequate if chilly. We liked best our cabin in Chepu, Chiloe, and our room in Terrace Lodge, Putre. The best food we had in Chile was in Valparaiso where we self-catered (£11 per day). Otherwise, we spent on average £25 per day for uninspiring and occasionally dire food, even though we often skipped lunch or dinner.

Inter-city buses were good value and comfortable; it costs around £16pp for the 9-hour journey from Arica to Calama, or £7 return for the 1.5hr journey from Santiago to Valparaiso. But bear in mind that Chile stretches thousands of miles from north to south. It would take several days of travel by bus to go from Arica on the Peru border to Puerto Montt in the south, hence the three extra flights we took – £278 per person with LAN. We hired a car twice to explore individual areas at £52 a day including petrol. The one from Arica was very old and lacked aircon but somehow it survived the Atacama dust better than we did. Drivers in Chile were considerate and roads were generally good except for one nightmare mud-wallow in Chiloe.

Apart from boat trips to look for otters in Chepu, and two excursions around San Pedro de Atacama, we spent very little on extras. A fancy dinner in Santiago and a 4-hour horse-riding trip in the Atacama desert went under special-fun.

We spent on average £107 per day, excluding the internal flights. Verdict: overspent by £500.

La Paz and Peru

We spent four days in La Paz Bolivia and two weeks in Peru. A UK travel agency arranged all accommodation (generally mid-range hotels on a B&B basis) and bus transport between destinations. Also included in the price was a tour of the Sacred valley including a visit to Machu Picchu by train, and an excursion to Colca canyon. We were otherwise travelling independently. The cost of the tour was £93 per day.

We spent approx £15 per day on food in La Paz, and £33 per day in Peru. We took a few additional excursions although none of these were particularly expensive.

Inevitably (we were in South America after all), we suffered some transport problems which incurred additional costs due to our tight schedule. What really stung, however, was the £400 we had to spend on a last-minute flight from La Paz to Cusco – it’s only 30 minutes long, so that’s £6.33 per person per minute in the air! Probably the most expensive economy seat in history. Although we never got a refund, the local tour agencies who handled our programme were responsive and helped us to deal with problems promptly. Nevertheless…

Excluding the unexpected costs, we spent approx £134 per day which over two weeks amounted to £580 in the red. I’m sure you can spend much less travelling independently and perhaps this is what we should have done.


Ecuador was a splurge since, what the heck, we’re going home after this. Plus we wanted to visit both the Amazon jungle, and the Galapagos, neither of which were exactly budget destinations.

Four days full-board in Sacha lodge in the Amazon costs £140pppn. Flights to Coca, the springboard to the jungle, were an additional £72pp.

Our Galapagos “comfort” cruise included four nights on the boat, two nights in a soulless hotel in Quito and return flights to the Galapagos. The total package costs just under £1,500pp.

We spent four additional nights in Quito, and got some good hotel deals – for £73 per night, we stayed in a 2-bed apartment in modern Quito, and a superior room in a beautiful colonial hotel in old Quito. Ok, I admit I’m a bit fed up with hostels by now. By contrast, in Mindo, for £24 per night we stayed in a comfy cabin set in a lovely garden full of wildlife! We splashed out on our last two nights of the trip and stayed in a resort with its own thermal baths.

We had a couple of nice meals in Ecuador and stuck mainly to tourist restaurants; on average food came to approx £40pd.

We hired a car for four days at £24 a day including petrol. Driving in Ecuador was quite nerve-racking – overtaking on a blind corner in thick fog is normal behaviour. Also, don’t expect signposts and you won’t be disappointed.

We hired a bird-watching guide twice and went horse-riding in a volcanic crater.

£3000 of this went into the special fun budget. So of the rest our average spend was £128, which was £504 over-budget.

At the end of our trip our £100 per day budget ended up £4500 overdrawn, almost 75% of this down to Australia. But still, that means we actually spent an equivalent of £112 per day which doesn’t look too bad. Our special-fun budget (thanks mum and dad!) ended up overdrawn by £680, which is less than £2 per day. The things not included in these figures are (a) our RTW tickets and everything we spent before actually setting out, (b) a few cool items of clothing that we bought and sent straight home, (c) some of our internal flights in Australia – yep, it actually cost even more touring there.

One Response to “South America budget update”

  1. Jami says:


    Would you be able to provide the name of where you hired the used car in Ecuador from? We are looking for a similar option and am having troubles. Thank you and happy travels!

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