The Americas- North America and South America have a variety of gems to offer travelers and explorers. It’s interesting how the North American region is not so friendly on the pocket, but South America is just the opposite. Apart from all the scenic locations and exciting destinations in South America, it’s budget-friendly nature makes it quite the destination to explore for your next trip.
We got some of the top travel bloggers to list the best budget travel destinations in both South America & North America.
Best Budget Travel Destinations In America: South America
Recommended by James Ian
Ecuador is a great budget destination. Not only a fascinating country with plenty to see, but it is also very cheap. The currency is the US dollar, which also makes it easy, especially for Americans. Despite its small size, Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands, beaches, the Andes and the Amazon Rainforest, so there is incredible diversity in the types of travel experiences you can have.
Quito, the capital city, is the most expensive part of Ecuador, other than the Galapagos Islands. In Quito, a simple breakfast costs about $1.50 – $3.00, lunch is $2.00 – $5.00, dinner in a budget restaurant is around $3.50 – $8.00 and local beer will set you back $1.00 – $1.50. Local beers are always cheaper than imported, of course. Two popular things to do in Quito are the Teleferico cable car, which costs $8.50, and the equator (Mitad del Mundo), which costs $2.00. A tourist bus or taxi to the equator costs $30 return, but it’s only 40c each way on the local bus! You can get a dorm bed in a hostel for $10-$15 and you can get a double room in a budget hotel for less than $40 per night easily. You can get even cheaper beds outside of Quito. In Banos, one of my favorite towns, you can rent a bicycle for $10 and ride down the Andes – a cheap and fun activity. Even the Galapagos Islands can be done on the cheap if you do a land-based trip, staying in hostels and doing day trips by boat to other islands.
Daily Budget: $40
Cost Saving Tips: Go local. Drink local beer, eat local food and take local buses. It is MUCH cheaper.
Recommended by Katie
With idyllic beaches and all-inclusive resorts, there are many ways to break the bank while traveling in Mexico. But if you get outside the super touristy areas and stay away from luxury resorts, this country will surprise you in many ways – including just how budget-friendly it can be.
As a general rule, the interior of Mexico tends to be much cheaper than the beach towns that draw tourists from around the world. If you’re on a backpacker budget, you can certainly still check out the sandy shores, but plan to spend some time inland as well to even out your spending. Plus, you’ll find the country’s interior is generally less touristy and packed full of culture, history, and incredible food.
With a burgeoning foodie scene in some of the bigger cities, you might want to set aside a little cash set aside for a “splurge” meal. But if you’re truly on a shoestring budget, stick local restaurants where you’ll be able to have a delicious (and filling!) meal for around $3-4. And for an even cheaper dining option, seek out street food. Tacos are always a good choice, and depending on which city you’re in, you can find them for as little as 4 for $1. Add a local beer to your meal for another $1. Cha-ching!
Getting around Mexico is quite easy with public transportation, and like everything in this country, there are different price points. VIP buses are super comfortable – think plush seats, personal televisions, and strong AC – but they will take a toll on your wallet if you splurge each time. The lower class options can be half the price (think $25 instead of $55 for an 8-hour journey), and while not quite as posh, aren’t uncomfortable.
When it comes to accommodation, expect to pay between $6 – $15 for a dorm bed (depending on the city and quality of hostel), and between $20 – $30 for a nice, yet budget-friendly private room. Prices go up from there, as vacationers will be able to find all levels of luxury accommodation around Mexico. Booking with hostels or smaller guesthouses will help you stick to a budget.
Daily Budget: $40
Cost Saving Tips: Eat lots of street food, as it will be some of the most delicious meals of your trip as well as the cheapest! Also, traveling around inland Mexico is going to be generally cheaper than the beach towns, so consider this as you plan your trip.
Recommended by Gábor
Cuba is one of the countries that change the most rapidly in the world. Since the recent death of Fidel Castro, Cuba has become more and more open to visitors, which give you the chance to get to know the highlights of this Caribbean country.
In spite of the recent tourist boom, Cuba can still be considered as a budget destination, especially if you can adapt to local particularities. You can travel around for less than $50 per day if you stay in local homestays called Casas particulares, in which you will pay around $30 for a double room. Food and beer are quite cheap, especially if you attend the local restaurants and food stalls where you will pay less than $1 for a pizza or a plate of pasta. You can also find places where you will pay $1-2 for a delicious mojito or other cocktails. The most expensive is probably moving around since the bus trips are not much cheaper than in richer, since you can only use the bus companies directed to tourists, and can’t hop on the local long-distance buses. Fortunately, you will not spend too much money on the Internet either, since you can purchase cards for $2 that gives you couple-hour access to the web.
Amongst the places to visit in Cuba, you can’t miss out on Havana, one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America with such a rich colonial history and a decadent atmosphere. Other colonial cities such as Cienfuegos and Trinidad are also wonderful examples of the colonial heritage of Cuba. There are also many beautiful sights to visit for nature and beach lovers. The mountainous landscape around Viñales is part of the UNESCO World Heritage, while the variety of white sand beaches in the cayos (small islands) is simply infinite.
Daily Budget: $50
Cost Saving Tips: Free tours in Havana, eating at local food stalls
Recommended by Sean
Peru, famously known for the Incan ruins of Machu Pichu in the Sacred Valley and Rainbow Mountain in the South, would probably surprise you as a budget destination. How could a place that house one of the seven wonders of the world and many other marvelous sites be cheap? The truth is, outside of the tours, Peru is an extremely cheap country. A local meal can be as cheap as 5 PEN, or 1.5 USD. That will include an appetizer, main course, and a beverage. A can of beer is about 1 USD in the supermarket. A very frugal daily budget could be as cheap as 15 USD. But if you want to splurge a little bit, maybe some nicer food or a beer here and there, you will be looking at around 25-30 USD per day. Not only is Peru cheap, but it also has so much to offer. Want to relax by the beach? Stop by the beautiful and clean beach town of Mancora in the North. Want to see some caimans and anacondas in the rainforest? Go to the city of Iquitos (the only city reachable only by boat or plane) and jump right in (Don’t forget your malaria pills and vaccines). Interested in hiking the Andes? Go to the city of Huaraz located ~3000m in altitude and pick your trek of choice. The national parks there are filled with beautiful lagoons and amazing glaciers. Want to go sandboarding and ride a sand buggy? Go to the town of Ica and you can have it all. Make sure you check out the town (and oasis) of Huacachina while you are there, it is absolutely surreal. Last but not least, check out Cusco and visit the historical Machu Picchu yourself!
Daily Budget: $25
Cost Saving Tips: Restaurants will usually have some called menu, which is like the menu of the day thing which is much cheaper than other from the actual menu. Menu of the day comes with an appetizer, main course, and beverage and is usually very cheap!
Recommended by Daniel
When looking for the best budget travel destinations around the world be sure to add Colombia to your list. With so many amazing free things to do from sunning in the Caribbean to touring the Coffee Triangle and exploring some of South America’s most innovative cities. You shouldn’t have any problem finding activities that won’t break the bank. Many travelers and backpackers in South America have no trouble on $20USD a day finding accommodation and food with ample room for activities.
For example, in cities like Medellin, you can have a great night out in El Poblado and spend minimal money. A bottle of ice-cold beer in Colombia costs less than $1USD. Worried about what you’ll eat? Without any effort, you find the ‘menu of the day’ in most places for $3USD or sometimes even less.
Within your $20USD per day budget in Medellin, you could head over to the Botanical Gardens in the center of Medellin and be in the most serene environment. Filled with exotic plants and you’ll see the wildlife thriving in its natural habitat. In the same day, you can jump on the famous Metro-Cable for just $1USD and take a cable car up to Arvi Park in Santa Elena. From there you could spend the whole day exploring trails, connecting with nature and discovering art and crafts by local artists.
All in all, Colombia makes a superb budget travel destination for anyone looking to have a fulfilling time on a small budget.
Daily Budget: $20
Cost Saving Tips: Use public transport. Find the ‘Menu of the Day’ at lunch time. Get out into the coffee region for cheaper accommodation.
Recommended by Mar Pages
El Salvador is one of the most affordable destinations in Central America and in the world. The country is very small, making it easy and convenient to travel around on the local buses for less than $1 and because it is one of the least popular, it has yet to experience the double tourist-local pricing of other places in the region. Food and drinks cost just a few dollars and there aren’t that many bucket list activities that will increase your travel budget.
Food can be extremely affordable, with a couple of filling pupusas (the local food favorite made of corn tortillas filled with anything from meat to cheese and then lightly fried) costing around $1 and street food and snacks widely available throughout the country.
While there are some sights and activities worth the splurge and the ticket price, a lot of the best places to visit in El Salvador are actually free. San Salvador has nice architecture and history, though half a day is usually enough as the city is one of the most dangerous parts of the country, and the Ruta de las Flores route, covering four colonial and pretty towns are also free to explore on food, getting lost on the small pedestrian cobblestone streets.
One of the few things to do in El Salvador that will require a small budget is surfing, a popular reason to visit the coastal areas where waves are constant. But even then, prices of surfing or learning to surf there are much lower than anywhere else and equipment rental can be very cheap too. And you can’t leave without climbing one of the volcanos, Santa Ana is the most popular and spectacular with the lake at the top
Daily Budget: $25
Cost Saving Tips: Take public transportation, buses cover all major routes and are used by the locals. You can town hop for less than $1
Recommended by Julie Sande
Nicaragua is a beautiful country that lies with El Salvador and Honduras on one side, and Panama on the other side. It may be argued that it’s overshadowed by it’s much more popular neighbor Panama, and Costa Rica not too far away either. However, Nicaragua has a lot to offer on its fairly little space of land. Nicaragua is filled with volcanos (both active and dormant), beautiful beaches for relaxing and surfing, colonial towns and lakes. One of the lakes is Nicaragua Lake, the biggest lake in Central America, and on it sits Ometepe Island. Ometepe is not any Island, but a volcanic island made out of two volcanos. The quickest way to get there is by a 1-hour ferry ride.
You can experience all of what Nicaragua has to offer on a very tight budget. If you are a backpacker, you can find a bed in a dorm from about 5 dollars a night. Hotel rooms start from about the same price too. Most of the activities, from renting a surfboard, surf classes, volcano hikes, and other volcano activities are all under 20 dollars per day. Local store bought beer can be enjoyed for 1 dollar and you can get a lunch menu for as little as 2 dollars in local restaurants and markets. If you’re looking for an adventure and at the same time want to make your trip as affordable as possible, Nicaragua is the place to go.
Daily Budget: $20
Cost Saving Tips: To save those extra bucks I really recommend traveling by local bus. I’ve had only good experiences. Local buses are fairly frequent between most towns in Nicaragua and just a fraction of the price for the same distances by shuttle or an organized tour.
Recommended by Bradley
After 3 months spent traveling through Central America, Guatemala ended up being the biggest surprise for me. I really wasn’t sure what to expect and had heard a lot of concerns online about things like safety. However, in the end, it was an awesome budget backpacking destination! Getting around is very easy and there are plenty of transfers between most popular spots.
These are between $10 and $15, depending on how long they take. Accommodation is super cheap, with decent budget hostels being around $5 per bed per night. My partner and I stayed in hotels/homestays as much as possible and tended to pay between $10 and $20 for a small air-conditioned double room. Food and drinks are very reasonable, especially if you catch happy hour.
All locations have happy hour drinks deals where beers are about $1 and margaritas are between $1 and $2. There are many free things to do in Guatemala, but even major tourist spots are not yet expensive. The exception being Tikal which was about $30 for entry and the transport there and back. Other cheap and great things to do in Guatemala include going on a coffee tour, discovering other Mayan sites and visiting Lake Atitlan for a few days.
Daily Budget: $25
Cost Saving Tips: Make use of happy hour drink deals, don’t buy any tours or transfers online, use public transport where possible
Recommended by Steph
Bolivia is not only one of South America’s cheapest destinations for travelers, but it’s also one of the continent’s least visited, making it ideal for those seeking a true adventure. You can find really comfortable guest houses and hotels with double rooms for less than $50 USD per night in the cities and for even cheaper in rural areas while eating out is similarly inexpensive. Head to the local market (top tip: always pick the stand with the greatest number of customers to avoid “Bolivia belly”) and get a hearty, two-course meal for less than $2 USD or take your pick of the local street food. The papas rellenas (deep-fried mashed potato stuffed with ground meat) and salteñas (pastry shell snacks filled with meat, onions and a thick gravy) will set you back around 50 cents each and make for a filling snack.
Transportation across the country is also incredibly cheap, making it very easy to explore the length and breadth of this exceptionally geographically diverse country. You can expect to pay under $30 USD for a 12-hour bus journey between the two most touristy cities, La Paz and Sucre, while flights are a snip at only $80 USD for this same trip.
While you’re here, there’s no excuse to not visit the country’s most acclaimed sights, including the Salar de Uyuni, aka the Bolivian salt flats, which are the largest in the world. A three-day tour, starting from Tupiza rather than Uyuni (the former of which receives fewer tourists so you spend more time without other travelers during your tour) should cost no more $250 USD, all food, accommodation, transport and English-speaking guides included.
Daily Budget: $50
Cost Saving Tips: Eat at local markets or at street stalls; opt to stay in small local guesthouses which are often cheaper than hostels (but often not advertised on online booking websites).
Best Budget Destinations In America: North America
For regular travelers and backpackers, North America is not quite the favorite when it comes to travel budgets. Although here’s a quick tip to explore the capital city of USA on a budget.
Recommended by Margie DQ
Visiting the Smithsonian Museums and Memorials in Washington D.C. are free. Most people visit the capital of the United States to tour the history of the country and most of the attractions are free. Even the Capitol Building, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court offer free tours to the public. The National Zoo is also free to enter. There are also some popular privately owned museums such as the Spy Museum and the Newseum that will cost $15-20 to enter.
Accommodations in Washington D.C. will cost you though. Hotels in the city center can get pricey – upwards of $200-500 a night or more. I would recommend staying a little further away from the main area for a more budget-friendly rate closer to the $100-150 mark and be sure your hotel is near a Metro stop. The Metro in Washington D.C. is very easy to use and costs $2-4 via trip.
The cost of food depends on where you go. Washington DC has a number of food trucks that offer inexpensive options along the National Mall area. Try to stay away from the food courts at museums, as those tend to have higher prices. Washington D.C. has a wide variety of world cuisines at several price points. Restaurants vary from casual to upscale, so be sure to check online to choose places that are more suited to your wallet or taste.
Daily Budget: $50
Any more tips and destinations on your mind? Let us know in the comments below!