A Digital Nomad Budget: One Year in South America

To celebrate the launch of our free ebook South America Highlights, it’s South America Week on Never Ending Voyage. We’ve compiled the favourite destinations on the continent of 31 experienced travellers and today we share exactly how much we spent during our one year in South America.

We began our new life as digital nomads in South America in March 2010 and spent a year travelling slowly up through the continent. Although we have shared our expenses before this is the first time we’ve included Colombia and presented the total expenses in one place.

Here are the details of how much we spent for two people.

Expenses for One Year in South America (for two people)

Summary
CountryTotal SpentDays in countryCost per day
Brazil£135417£79.65
Argentina£5374146£36.81
Paraguay£76421£36.38
Bolivia£106944£24.30
Peru£170048£35.42
Colombia£346279£43.82
TOTALS:£13,723.00355£38.66
Breakdown
CountryAccommodationFoodTransportEntertainmentOtherTotal Per Day
Brazil£42.59£23.12£9.35£3.71£0.88£79.65
Argentina£17.11£11.92£3.99£2.36£1.43£36.81
Paraguay£17.76£9.29£5.95£1.05£2.33£36.38
Bolivia£10.39£8.61£1.95£2.41£0.93£24.30
Peru£15.52£10.71£7.88£0.54£0.77£35.42
Colombia£26.18£11.59£2.97£0.96£2.11£43.82
Summary
CountryTotal SpentDays in countryCost per day
Brazil$2,112.2417$124.25
Argentina$8,383.44146$57.42
Paraguay$1,191.8421$56.75
Bolivia$1,667.6444$37.90
Peru$2,652.0048$55.25
Colombia$5,400.7279$68.36
TOTALS:$21,407.88355$60.30
Breakdown
CountryAccommodationFoodTransportEntertainmentOtherTotal Per Day
Brazil$66.44$36.06$14.59$5.78$1.38$124.25
Argentina$26.69$18.59$6.23$3.68$2.23$57.42
Paraguay$27.71$14.49$9.29$1.63$3.64$56.75
Bolivia$16.20$13.44$3.05$3.76$1.45$37.90
Peru$24.21$16.71$12.29$0.85$1.20$55.25
Colombia$40.84$18.09$4.64$1.50$3.30$68.36

The second table above is the breakdown of how much this works out on an average daily basis.

Notes on Our Expenses

  • These costs cover our basic daily expenses for two people. Larger items are accounted for separately (see below).
  • We definitely could have spent less as we did not skimp on food and sometimes stayed at more expensive hotels. Even when we could find cheap hotels and hostels we usually had a double room with private bathroom.
  • We rented apartments in Buenos Aires and Salta in Argentina and Medellin, Colombia which helped keep costs down. Although we rented quite luxurious apartments it usually cost about the same per night as a hostel room, plus we could cook for ourselves, and saved money on transport by not moving around quickly.
  • Entertainment includes going out to bars and events (which we don’t do often) as well as non-major activities such as horse riding and entrance fees to attractions and museums.
  • Other includes laundry, medical supplies, extra clothing, and other miscellaneous items.

Country Notes & Extra Expenses

The above costs are for our basic daily expenses. We budgeted separately for major activities, tours and flights. Here are some notes on our travel style in each country and our extra expenses (for two people).

Brazil

  • Brazil was the most expensive country we visited but we did spend our three weeks in some of the most expensive parts of the country: Rio de Janeiro, Isla Grande and Paraty.
Extra Expenses Brazil
Flights Rio-Buenos Aires £358
Total £358

Argentina

  • We spent two months in Buenos Aires and Salta plus shorter trips to Iguazu Falls and a road trip around northwest Argentina.
  • We couchsurfed for one week and house sat for three weeks in Salta so had no accommodation expenses.
  • Transport costs included hiring a car for a week (US$275). Buses are fine most of the time but car hire can make things easier in certain parts of the country. You can book locally or search for deals on sites like Expedia.
  • Other costs included buying extra warm clothes.
Extra Expenses Argentina
Spanish Classes (60 hours of group classes each) £444
Spanish Classes (35 hours of private classes) £327
Total £771

Paraguay

  • We spent four nights couchsurfing which saved on accommodation costs.
  • Eight nights were spent in catered accommodation which included all our meals.

Bolivia

  • Bolivia was the cheapest country we visited.
  • We were able to find decent double en-suite rooms for £10 (US$16) a night.
  • You could spend less by staying in more basic rooms and eating local food. As we are vegetarian we had to eat in more expensive tourist restaurants most of the time.
  • Although our daily expenses were low we spent a lot on tours (to the salt flats and Amazon jungle) and flights to and from the Amazon region. See breakdown of extra expenses below.
Extra Expenses Bolivia
Flights to/from Amazon £320.43
Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) tour £222.22
Spanish lessons (10 hours private) £36.11
Pampas tour £101.85
Jungle lodge £275.55 Total £956.16

Peru

  • Peru was more expensive than Bolivia and we particularly felt this in accommodation prices. In Bolivia we could get a comfortable room for US$16, butin Peru what we got for US$25wasn’t great so we sometimes paid more.
  • Most buses are overnight and distances are long so we went for cama class with the best bus companies (Cruz del Sur & Movil Tours). You could get much cheaper, less comfortable buses.
  • We volunteered at a mountain lodge, where we got free food and accommodation for nearly three weeks.
  • We got stuck in Huaraz for two days because of protesters blocking the roads. We missed our flight to Colombia and had to pay to change it.
Extra Expenses Peru
Machu Picchu (train, bus and entrance) £197.53
Flights Lima – Medellin, Colombia £470.10
Changing flight date £73.83
Total £741.46

Colombia

  • We rented an apartment in Medellin for two months and then spent a few weeks travelling around the country.
  • We got tired of the long bus journeys and flew from Bogota to the Caribbean Coast.
Extra Expenses Colombia
Spanish classes (10 hours private) £87
Flights Bogota-Santa Marta £97
Total £184

Grand Total

If you include our extra expenses in total we spent £16,734 (US $26,246) for two people during our year in South America. This works out at £23.57 (US $37) per person per day.

We could have spent less as we by no means travelled on a rock bottom budget. We stayed in decent double rooms with private ensuites, rented luxurious apartments when we needed a break from travel, didn’t skimp on food, took the occasional flight, and did plenty of activities and Spanish classes. The fact that we travelled slowly helped to make up for our splurges and keep our costs down.

Although South America wasn’t as inexpensive as most of Asia it’s still a very affordable place to travel.

To see our route in South America take a look at our map.

Trail Wallet

Trail Wallet

Have you travelled in South America? Leave a comment and tell us about your travel costs.

38 thoughts on A Digital Nomad Budget: One Year in South America

  1. Awesome info guys, thanks for the detailed pricing information! Very useful indeed…. would be super useful if you could create a similar guide on Thailand!

    Cheers, looking forward to more great content!

  2. Thanks – this is a huge help. Headed to S. America later this year for a few months with my wife and it is nice to have an idea on a budget conscious trip without staying in the nastiest of hostels or taking the longest, most uncomfortable bus rides.

  3. Wow! That is so helpful to travellers! Great idea. Apartments are the way to go, aren’t they? As you know, we love our Price Check Shopping Lists that we do for places, where we include a shopping docket for a grocery list for a place we’ve settled into for a while. Did you do that kind of breakdown as well? I’d love to see what day to day groceries cost in countries like Peru and Bolivia these days.

  4. we are currently living in Costa Rica for 3 months and we’ve been keeping track of our daily expenses, including groceries as we did some pricing the first week we were here to figure out where to get what. thanks for the interesting compare/contrast of these different countries!

    • It is interesting to track your expenses and be able to compare to different countries. We knew Brazil was expensive but didn’t realise that it was over double the cost of everywhere else we travelled.

  5. These sort of posts are really interesting! Thanks for taking the time to keep track of everything, break it down, and write about it. Personally, I would only be able to look at my bank account, see how much it had dropped, and divide by the number of days since I last checked (not very useful, I know) ;)

  6. I think we tend to travel pretty similarly, so it’s neat to see how much we would potentially spend in South America. :) Interesting to see which countries are more and less expensive – some of them surprised me.

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  8. Thanks for the budget breakdown – is a very useful reference!. Am starting a two year cycling & birdwatching trip covering the entire SA continent shortly, but had been quite stumped with realistic budget vs objective.

  9. Wow – I’m impressed with how much detail you put into keeping track of your expenses. This is very helpful for me because I am going to Buenos Aires, Iguassu Falls, and Machu Picchu within the year. Thanks!

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  12. Great information – thanks very much. Great SA e-book as well. Really appreciate your generosity in sharing so much information. South America will be our first stop, as well, and the information that you have provided has made our pre-trip planning so much easier. Thanks again! :)

  13. Thanks for useful budget details. Glad I’m not the only one who breaks down spending! Currently in India and debating heading to South America (via Africa after Burma and China) but India is our favourite place in the world so will it be a disappointment?

    • It will be very different. It’ll be much easier than travel in India and less colourful but there are good things you don’t have in India like good wine, European style plazas and architecture and the chance to learn Spanish.

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  15. Thank you for tracking this, we did the sam thing in SE Asia and are planning a trip to South America now so this is really really really helpful. Appreciate you posting.

  16. This has been great help. I’m planing a similar trip (likely longer) and It’s great to see region-specific budget (not just RTW) details. I noticed you took a lot of Spanish classes, did you speak any before you left? I speak Spanish rather well, so I don’t have much plan to take classes while I’m there. Other than Couchsurfing and volunteering I was thinking of working in hostels (since my Spanish is good), do you have any experience with that or know of any other blogs I might find that on?
    Thanks!

    • Simon didn’t speak Spanish and I had basic Spanish. If you already speak it you should be fine as you’ll have plenty of practice. I don’t know anyone who has worked in hostels but techically it’s possible. I’m not sure you’ll get paid but you could work in exchange for a room. I sometimes see opportunities on helpx.net. Good luck with it!

  17. I am planing a similar trip beginning march 2014. Do you or any of the other posters have any idea how much these prices have changed since your trip in 2010?
    Also, regarding the extras, are there any you wish you had avoided for any reason.

    if you have time to get back to me i would be most grateful.

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  19. Your budget is about right. I did 378 days and spent £11637.27. This included 2 survival courses, bank charges, high quality camping gear before I left UK. Accommodation mainly hostel type, surfing gear purchased, overland travel, food, flights there and back. Meals out regularly, Sometimes luxury hotels, laptop software, vaccinations jabs, occasional social entertainment and gym memberships.

    Days spent in each country:
    Brazil 147
    French Guiena 3
    Columbia 2
    Bolivia 31
    Peru 87
    Chile 47
    Argentina 54
    Paraguay 7

    Don’t knock Brazil of the radar for expense. This country has to be done at a slower pace for the expense to balance out!

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