Backpacking South America, my route, total cost and few tips

It took me 4 months to save money and plan my backpacking trip around South America. Being busy earning cash for my travel, I was also occupied thinking about packing, researching visas issues, planning my route and budget. It really is not so complicated, but it was my first backpacking trip in my life, and I did not have any friends that done it before, who could help me with some tips, to share some experience. I had to heavily rely on internet info and other blogs pots to prepare. Yet, I still think there is not that much info about it. Here, I will share with you some info about places, I have visited, how I was getting from A to B, my budget, packing and some other tips.

Planning your route 

I have to admit that I am very proud of my path. I have visited all major attractions (like Iguazu Falls, Atacama Desert, Salar de Uyuni, Machu Picchu, Titicaca Lake, Dead Road), and I stay in really amazing places. The only thing I haven’t seen was Angels Falls, as my plane from Bogota to Caracas, in Venezuela, got cancelled, so I decided just to skip this one. But Now, I am thinking that I shouldn’t. Venezuela is truly beautiful, and you can see a tropical forest as well. Basically, I did not plan my whole way around SA back home. I did only think that I will try to visit all countries on this continent and I set major things I want to see, then I was building my expected way around these places. I think, I did well at the end, as I saw 9 countries in total. I booked my hostels/hotels only in 3 first locations, and I planed my route only in the country I started from, Brazil. Then everything was natural, I was planning my way on weekly basis, changing my mind from time to time. Everything turned out pretty well, and I do highly recommend to fallow my way, but not staying as long in Florianopolis, Santiago and Montanita, as you can add some extra locations to your trip, in Paraguay for example, or just adding Venezuela at the end. I think 6 days is an absolute maximum to stay in one place.

Please note, that real-life vikitravel can be found in every hostel`s kitchen, since there is loads of other backpackers to share their experience and recommend great places to see. Always worth listen and talking to them!

Brazil: Sao Paulo (3 nights) – Florianopolis (8 nights) – Foz do Iguaçu (4 nights) – Paraguay: Ciudad del Este (1 day) – Argentina: Buenos Aires (6 nights) – Uruguay: Colonia del Sacramento (1 day) – Argentina: Mendoza (2 nights) – Chile: Santiago (11 nights) – Valparaiso (1 day)-Vina del Mar (1 day) – San Pedro de Atacama (6 nights) – Bolivia:– 3 days trip via desert from San Pedro to Uyuni – Uyuni (3 nights) – Potosi (6 nights) – Sucre (6 nigts) – Cochabamba (3 nights) – La Paz (4 nights) – Copacabana (2 nights) – Peru: Puno (3 nights) – Cuzco (4 nights) – Aquas Qalientes, Machu Picchu ( 1 night) – Cuzco (2 nights) – Lima (3 nights) – Mancora (6 nights) – Ecuador: Guayaquil (1 night) – Montanita (10 nights) – Banos (4 nights) – Quito (3 nights) – Colombia: Cali (6 nights) – Bogota (7 nights).

Transport

I traveled around South America only by bus. Just once I used a ferry from Buenos Aires to Uruguay. There are loads of companies to choose from in every single country. Mostly possible to book online in advance, except in Bolivia. Flying is very expensive and a bit pointless while backpacking. Train is an option too, especially now is getting more and more popular, but since I have not used it even once, I can not advise you on this service. I found this blog to be very useful, for people, that want to travel by train. For bus prices in each country you can have a look here. Regarding buses, they are very comfortable, except Bolivia, and mostly affordable, except Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

I am afraid missing bags, from the storage space under the bus, are very common, thought nothing like that happened to me, other travelers, I have met, experienced it. There is nothing you can do about it, just hope that it wont happened to you. Always keep all valuable stuff in a small bag pack with you in the bus, try not to have expensive gear, clothes and shoes, not to miss it too much, just in case.

Border crossing

 As a Polish nation, I do not need any visa for any country in South America. There is no fee to pay too, not even a tax (that you pay sometimes in Central America). That is for most of the European countries, even England, Germany and France. Border crossing was always nice and smooth for me, with no any hassle, trouble or any major issues. Actually, border personnel was always extra nice and very interested in me, probably due the fact that not so many polish travel are in that part of the world. Blond hair and green eyes helped too, I guess. Just queuing for the stamp out/stamp in was annoying sometimes (especially at night). Please note that basic Spanish is essential, as they may ask where are you going to stay, or what is your occupation. It can be also a great time to eat, as there is always loads of food stands around to choose from (not between Argentina-Chile). Bus driver always wait for everyone and count them to be sure all are in, before continuing journey, unless he doesn’t give a damn about it..nah joking, usually he does. Don`t try to smuggle anything, sniffing dogs are present at every border, and in Colombia, even on any route to stop the bus and search bags and passengers.  Thought, I did not have any problems at the border, I’ve heard some stories from male travelers that were experiencing some problems, or being asked to pay a fee, that, of course, wasn’t required.

Budget

For the 4 months of traveling, excluding flying to this continent from Europe, I have spent 5.800-6.000$, that including everything, staying 70% of the time in hostels, rest in hotels, all the bus travel, food, trips, activities, tickets, parties, just excluding flying to this continent from Europe. Please keep checking fly4free website for cheap deal on flys to South America, I bought mine from Belgium to Sao Paulo in Brazil with return for 600$, but can get even cheaper than that. Here is my other blog post, where I look in to prices of each country with estimated daily budget.

Health insurance

Absolutely essential and one of the most important things before traveling. Can be easily purchase online, and is very affordable. You can buy it just day before your departure, and the price will be still the same. If you are not planning anything like surfing, winter-sports, just buy the cheapest one to cover medical bills. Otherwise, if you have some crazy plans, read what your insurance will cover, trust me, I am a layer. No point to buy an extra option for electronic losses (phones, tablets, laptops..etc), unless of course it is a very good and expensive policy. My friend had her staff covered, and after been theft from her expensive Nikon camera, got 20£ as of insurance for it! Medical cover is the most essential one for a backpacker. I bought mine for around 100$ for 6 months of my travel.

Safety

 Just go. Safety is your last thing to worry about before back packing. People are mostly travel alone now anyway, especially in South America. It is a very safe place, even for solo females, like myself. Just be intelligent and don’t act stupidly (walking alone at night, going out with strangers….etc).

Apps

Maps.me is the most important application. Please don’t take a fancy phone with you, unless you can afford losing it, but good smartphone that runs this app smoothly is essential. Old Samsung s series are probably the best. I say it, as I was robbed in Chile, losing my camera, tablet and good glasses, so I experienced it myself. Coming back to maps.me, it is an application that allow you to store and later use maps without wifi. You will be even able to use navigation that will show you your location and directions (no wifi needes, as it runs on GPS). I have to say, I was impresses, as GPS was working for me even high in Bolivian mountains, just almost everywhere, and always in cities and town. Apart from street names, there are almost all hostels, hotels, shops, places of interest, all public offices (post office, police, etc). You gonna use it a lot, like I did. App is free of charge.

Other app I used was booking.com, but please note, booking in advance is more expensive than just good old turning at the hostel doors and checking in.

Flickr app is great too. It upload all your photos from your phone automatically (once connected to the internet, just turning the app on), so you are avoiding losing them with your phone. Free app again, but just need to create an account (that is free too).

Kindle/ebook/app to read as ebooks is essential for every book lover, like myself.

Packing

Hmm, it is a very good question. I can just give you a few tips, I found be useful during all my backpacking trips:

  • Less is more. First and most important. Do not take much with you, take half what you are planning in the first place. Clothes are very cheap in South America, especially in Bolivia and Colombia, and by buying them you are getting an amazing souvenir too. Something special in your wardrobe, trust me. I had an umbrella, but haven’t used it even once, so pointless to take. Shoes: funny story, as planning loads of hiking, especially in Bolivia and Peru, I bought and took very expensive Timberlands-throw them to the bin already in Brazil and was just wearing converse (for all my hiking, at the beach, on snow, salt, swamps, deserts). 2 pairs is max to take.
  • Good light waterproof jacket and cover for backpack is a must. Here, I really love The North Face jackets, they just wont let you get wet!!
  • For girls: hairdryer is not needed, but you may want to use it in Bolivia sometimes, as of a cold temperature. Still, not worth taking it with you, there are always females around to borrow one, if needed.
  • Nova-days, we just cant live without our smartphones, so it is very important to have an extension for the socket, as in many hostels they are far way from your bed.
  • Don`t try to save money buying a cheap backpack. It is one of the most important things and your home for next months. It will be on your back for many many hours, so very good, comfortable straps are essential. It really needs to be a top quality one. I bought a cheap one, had to sewn it many times, and I’ve wounds on my shoulders from a very bad straps, trust me, hurt a lot!
  • Apart from the shoes, I binned quickly, Lonely Planet book on South America got left in my third hotel, simply because I didn’t want to carry such a heavy guide-book, since everything I needed was online. Maybe for people staying in tents, when internet connection is not always available, might be helpful, but otherwise you will be just fine with your smart phone.

Last tips

  • Please, wherever you are flying to, don`t stay just one night in your first location. Your body need to rest after a long fly and adapt to the new climate. It took me 4 days, when I landed in Brazil in November, from a cold Europe.
  •  I`ve had 50 Euros always in my purse, just in case. Cash machine is not always available. US Dollars are good too.
  • When it comes to thieving and robberies, South America is a leader. Please, always keep an eye on your valuables. Do not keep your backpack behind, always on one arm on the side or on your chest. I was also tithening straps from the zip together.
  • Don`t drink a tab water anywhere, unless its confirmed by staff in hotel/hostel or by sigh close the tap.
  • Planning to buy outstanding sweater, cardigan? Leave it for Bolivia and Peru! Best quality (especially alpaca`s wool) and price.
  • Try to, if possible, have to different type of a card. I`ve had a Visa and MasterCard, and I found that sometime just first one worked, sometimes second. My MasterCard (credit card) was definitely used more often. 
  • Your passport and your wallet is your main priority! Never leave it alone, even in a locker in hostel! You don`t even relies how easy is to open it for professional. I got robbed this way in Santiago, in Chile.
  • Before departure, I gave my mother copy of my passport, insurance, injections I took, all pin numbers and account details, just in case and for peace of my mind. Please do so as well, leave it with someone you trust and memorize phone number, you newer know what might happen.
  • Take 2 types (thin and thick) of padlock, as they are not always available, and some lockers got a thin holes (to use smaller one). Don`t worry if you will forget, they are widely available to purchase almost everywhere, along wit socket extensions and adapters.
  • Do not panic if there is an error in a cash machine, it may not be your card, but machine might be just empty. It really is a common problem. I remember, in Buenos Aires, I’ve had to try 6 of them, before finding one with a money in it.
  • As a budget backpackers, always check general prices in each country. You can have a look here too. A very expensive trip on Amazon trough a rain forest might be very cheap Bolivia, Colombia or Venezuela.

Buenos Aires-Uruguay by ferry

  It would be a crime not to pop in to any of Uruguayan city or town while in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Especially if you will fallow my way of thinking: “common Anna, you may not have this occasion in your life again”. Visiting close by Uruguay is well easy and well possible, but that of course if you have some spare time. There are few options to get there from Buenos Aires. Apart from the bus, that can take you everywhere in South America, you can fly (very expensive and a bit pointless) or just take a ferry. Here, we will look in to the last option of transport, simply because I used it for my one day trip to Uruguay, to Colonia del Sacramento specifically. Ferry, apart from being nice option for a trip, can be a great way to move to your next location while backpacking South America. I guess buses are the cheapest option, and there is loads of info about timetable and price online, so I will just concentrate on the water-path. The ferry, as a way quicker option than bus, can be also a great break from bus traveling, as if you are backpacking, like I did, you will be spending loads of time in them, I mean looooads.

  So basically, you can choose between two kind of trips (places) you can reach by ferry. First one will take you all the way to Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, second to Colonia del Sacramento, a cute, quiet and small colonial town by the cost. As stated before, I took a trip to Colonia, but definitely would pick Montevideo over now. You can also see both, if you have time of course, as from Colonia you can catch a bus to capital that takes 3 hours of journey. Please note that these companies do operates between other towns and cities, but Montevideo and Colonia is the only touristic one, that’s why I am not mentioning other places here.

Companies, service and routes

   The Buenos Aires-Montevideo or Colonia del Sacramento ferry route is currently operated by 3 companies. The Buquebus service runs up to 13 times per week, while the Colonia Express service runs up to 3 times per day.  The Seacat company is the third option to choose from.

Buquebus provides two services to Colonia del Sacramento – one faster and more expensive and the other is slower and therefore cheaper. The faster Buquebus catamaran ferry (1h15mins) is usually quite crowded with day tourists and travel groups.IMG_2588 Cheaper prices are well possible to find when booking in advance and online. The fast boats have a free wireless internet. The slower boat takes about 3 hours and it is the one I took. However, checking now the web page, I can no longer find this service. Shame, I really loved my 3 hours on the endless sea. Both kind of boats have a restaurant, cafe and an off duty shops. Buenos Aires to Montevideo service takes 2h15mins and arrives at the Ciudad Vieja district of Montevideo, situated very close to downtown. Terminal is located at Antártida Argentina 821, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires (same for Seacat).

Colonia Express  takes roughly 1h to reach Colonia and 3h45mins to reach Montevideo. There is no wifi provided but there is a duty-free shop and a small bar selling snacks and coffees. Terminal is located at Av. Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane 155, Puerto Madero Sur, Buenos Aires.

Seacat ferry to Montevideo takes 4h15mins, to Colonia is 1h. Termina is located at Antártida Argentina 821, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires (same for Buquebus).

Prices as of July 2017

Busquebus (webside here) is the most expensive and offers ticket one way economy class to Montevideo from 93$, however return ticket starts at 43$ (can’t believe I picked this company!). Day trip to Colonia cost around 80$ (same day return) economy class fast 1h15min boat, which doesn’t seems like a great discount as single journey starts from 47$.

Colonia Express (website here) offers a day trips (so with return the same day) to Colonia that cost from 70$ (the cheapest) up to 115 $, depending on time and day. One way to Colonia cost around 38$ in the cheapest economy class. To Montevideo one way ticket cost around 45$ in the cheapest economy class.

Seacat (webside here) day trip to Colonia (return the same day) ferry cost from 75$ (economy), and it seem to be a steady price. Buenos Aires-Montevideo cost 43$ for one way cheapest economy class.

Buying a ticket

    It is not necessary to pre-book your ticket online, but it can save you some money, and it is a good idea during a holiday, when loads of people travel on this route. Buying in advance can also save you some stress, as there might be a long queue to get a ticket just before the departure. As mentioned, you can purchase your ticket online, thought the web page for Busquebus is very poorly designed, with a very misleading currencies in dollars. However, if you are not in Buenos Aires, it is best to book and buy online before the departure. My hostel was very close to the Busquebus terminal, so I just walked there, and I bought a ticket at the agent located inside. I can’t say stuff speaks well English, but we closed the deal without any major hassle. You can pay by cash or card, and as far as I remember, I purchased a day return the cheapest option to Colonia (3h of journey) and I paid around 70-80$ (December 2015).

Remember to check-in

  Please do keep in your mind that this is an international journey that required you to check-in at the doc with your passport and bag, if you have one. Same as at the airport, you will have to get in a queue lane towards your check-in desk. You should also be at the terminal at least an hour and a half before the departure for immigration purposes etc. Your passport will be checked, but you will get stamped after check-in, but before waiting area. I can’t remember seeing off duty shops there, but they are at the ferry, with a very good prices, especially for cosmetics. liquor is also available to purchase too.

Time change

  Please do keep in you mind that a time difference between Uruguay and Argentina, with Uruguay being ahead, is one hour. Important to know the proper return departure time. I wasn`t aware of it, and I arrived at the dock an hour ahead, when I coud enjoy the Colonial old town longer.

Last tips

  • Argentinian pesos are widely used in Colonia. I paid in the restaurant by them for my bill.
  • Very cute touristic old town in Colonia, by the cost, is easily accessible just on food, so no need to take a taxi.
  • For a budget backpacker is better to get your own food and take with, as restaurants in Uruguay are very expensive, with pizzas and burgers starting at 10$ as the cheapest option. You can get a snack with you for the time of journey too, as again, restaurant inside the ferry is very pricey and to be honest, not the best one.
  • 3-4 hours is more than enough to visit Colonia del Sacramento.
  • If you plan to pick Montevideo over Colonia del Sacramento, which I really think is a better option, you need to stay a minimum of one night in capital to do a proper city-seeing.

  • Please consider buying a ticket in advance for weekends and the peak season (Christmas until the end of February).

Say hello to my little friend

  Learning salsa, visiting places, meeting new people, chatting with locals, enjoying night life. My time in Colombia was definitely beyond my expectations and came as a highlight. I just wish I could have more time to spend there. As just of my 10 days slot before flying to Panama, I could only see Cali and Bogotá. Sadly, I had to skip Medellin, the city I always wanted to visit. However, I`ve had enough time to absolutely fall in love with locals. They charmed me with their kindness, passion for dance, music and general love for life. Thought, Latino are well known for being very enthusiastic about dance and music, yet they still managed to surprised me how much they really do love it, and how important it is in their lives. And here we are in Cali, the city where salsa is coming from. Walking around, high on a coffee, I was able to truly discover this, once one of the most dangerous in the world, city. I saw people enjoying their life, dancing on the streets, being always surrounded by the music that could be heard from cars, houses, phones, cd players, literally from every corner. You really have to try hard to find a quiet place there. So many things happen always around, leisure areas are usually full of people. This can be hardly found in busy western countries that seems so gray next to colorful and vibrant Colombia. I met loads of local friends there along with other travelers. Not surprisingly, they all said that Colombia was one of the best destinations of their backpacking trips. I am just hoping, I will go back to to this country, there is still so much to experience and discover for me. Hopefully one day…

My highlights

  • Enjoying live events in Parque Artesanal Loma de la Cruz.
  • Watching Colombians dance salsa on the street.
  • Lunch in mercado with just locals.
  • Late night in Salsa Club, where I learned to dance it.
  • Starting every morning with the best coffee in the world.
  • Chilling on the hill around San Antonio Church.
  • Enjoying rice and beans almost as good as in Brazil.
  • Hanging out with Manu Chao crew, as they stayed in my hotel during his tour.
  • Few scary night walks back to hotel.
  • White rum with Russian version of Jack Sparrow (hello Anton;).
  • Sweet bamboo juice.
  • Making loads of amazing friends.

Titicaca Lake, Copacabana vs Puno

   Holding the title of highest navigable lake on the planet, as well as on my list of the most beautiful water basins in the world, tucked away high in the Andes between snow-covered peaks, Lake Titicaca is one of the most popular places to see in South America. Known for its unique panorama during the day and the night-time, crystal-clear air and water, combine with mountain range around. Believed to be the birthplace of the first Incas, along with the sun, moon and stars, when creator came out of the lake.

   The main two bases to explore Lake Titicaca (and other sites in the region) are Puno in Peru and Copacabana in Bolivia. From Copacabana, most tour operators run a day trips to the Isla del Sol, with a quick stop at the Isla de la Luna. I did visit these two mentioned towns, and I stayed minimum of two nights in each, which gave me some time to look around in both. If you’re backpacking and having loads of time, you can stop in both to see the Bolivian and Peruvian side of Titicaca.  However, if you’re rushing a bit, I would definitely suggest staying just in Copacabana in Bolivia. Why? Well, for few reasons really. Bolivian town is way smaller and cutter. Very touristic too, which I don’t always like, but can be handy when it comes to accommodation and organized trips. Lake is looking really amazing (way better) from this side as well, you can hike some mountains around to spot the stunning panorama of the pool and surrounded areas. In Puno, the lake side can`t be really accessible properly, there is no beach to sit and enjoy, and there’s not so many hills from where you can get a good grip of Titicaca. Having said all that, I loved Puno for its truly Peruvian vibe. There is loads of street food stands around, loads of mercados to grab a very tasty local meal, stand with fresh fruits, vegetables, colorful ladies with coca leafs…everything really.

This can not be found in Copacabana, I was really struggling there to find a proper local food, and once I even ended up ordering a pizza. Not so cool. However, It’s just a food, and I think exploring the lake is the reason we are there in the first place, so again, that points us towards Copacabana over Puno. there is also loads of hotels by the lake (I was lucky to be in one), when in Puno you can hardly find any so close to the water. So I think we have a winner at the end-Copacabana. The other reason to stay at just one place is the fact that any route you will take to get there, you will be able to have another good look at the lake, as streets are usually around Titicaca. If you will come from  La Paz, like myself, to Copacabana, you will even cross the lake on the boat.  Either way you will choose, the bottom line is not to skip this place. Trust me, Titicaca will stay in your heart forever.

Convincing photos to choose an organized trip from San Pedro to Uyuni

   If you are still thinking whether you should cross the border between Chile and Bolivia yourself, please stop right now! Magnificent Salar de Uyuni is a must do place while in Bolivia or Northern part of Chile. Tourists usually do visit this absolutely stunning and unique place from Uyuni, the town in Bolivia, or from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It is not so difficult to get to salt flats without any guide, but tour agencies, that can be found in many towns all around, came up with a wonderful 3 or 4 days tour that include Salar de Uyuni, as number one attractions, along with many more wonderful places, that you can see only with a guide. Dry salty area, as a highlight, will become just like an addition next to them. Salar de Uyuni will get overshadowed by beautiful lagoons, geysers, deserts, volcanoes, truly remote villages, you will spend a night in, and interesting rock formations. It is one of the most bizarre and beautiful places in the world, you just can not miss, especially while so close to it. Paying only 180$ for a 3 day tour is just a bargain we have to grab. Unluckily, I have lost loads of my photos from the trip, but I hope the remaining ones will be convincing enough to you to buy a this trip.

DIY Machu Picchu as a must choice

    Machu Picchu. We all heard this name before. Most popular place in South America, maybe even in the world, that attracts thousands of visitors every week, and my biggest mistake. Arriving at Cuzco already gives you the idea how many travelers from all around the world do come to see the biggest remaining Incas town. Streets of this Peruvian town are just packed with many agencies that offer an organized tours to see Machu Picchu that include everything. Sounds nice and easy, why not? Well, no. As soon as I arrived to Cuzco, I went to the first agency, I spotted, to buy a 2 days trip. I did not plan on doing so, but as soon as I saw the price, I did. I paid only 95$, and in this price I`​ve had a transport, one night in a hotel, ticket to Machu Picchu side, lunch, dinner in the evening and an English-speaking guide. I did some research before on prices, and it was always coming as a 300$ all together, that`​s why as soon as I saw the price of 95$, I just bought a trip. The problem was that we have been given only max of 5 hours at the side. This is not enough! You need a whole full day to properly explore it! I did not hike the mountain, I did not go to see the Sun Gate. I didn`t even see the Aguas Calientes, closest village to Machu Picchu, properly. That is a big hole in your heart, and I just do not want you to experience it. Yes, maybe there are some agencies that do offer a 3-4 days trips where you can spend the whole day in this Incas town. Not a problem then, just book it. Otherwise never book a 2 days tour. Here, remembering planning on getting there myself, I will share with you how to rich Machu yourself.

   Step one and most important. Please do book your ticket for Machu Picchu side in advance. Thought, I bought a tour just 3 days before going, I`ve read that it is more difficult for solo visitors to purchase one. You can do it online and you need your passport to purchase it. Here is a link to click. You can also do it in the office in Cuzco and Aguas Calientes.



Option number one (cheap)

  1. Lets start from Cuzco, town in Peru, as a nice and easy option to begin, thought very beautiful itself. So take a bus from Cuzco to Santa Maria (towards Quillabamba) as early in the morning as possible. The bus will take 5-6 hours.
  2. Catch a collective from Santa Maria to Hidroelectrica (an hour of journey).
  3. From Hidroelectrica just walk following the rails to the town called Aguas Calientes. Shouldn’t take longer than 2.5 hours. Of course, you can take a train, but the area around is way to beautiful to just to do it.
  4. Stay minimum for two nights in Aguas Calientes (loads of dorms available).
  5. Start the scent of Machu Picchu early in the morning. I would say 4-5 am.
  6. Climb the steps to the entrance and wait in a queue to enter (have a passport with you). Climbing should take around 2 hours. You can also take a 20-minute bus ride that operates every 15 minutes starting at 5:30 a.m. (24$ adult round trip, 12$ child round trip). Side is open from 6 am till 5 pm.
  7. Stay there till they will close the door and return to spend another night in Aguas Calientes.


    Option number two (most expensive)

  1. Take a train from Cusco straight to Aguas Calientes. It is quiet expensive, but if you can spare some money, it will be quickest and most convenient option that will take less than 5 hours (1h to Poroy+3.5h in the train). The so-called Cuzco train station is in the nearby town of Poroy. I will take an hour to get from central Cusco to the train station by taxi. Bus is an option as well.


Option number three (the cheapest)

  1. Take a van/collective from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo (less than an hour of journey).
  2. Take a van  to the Kilometre 82 train station, a 30-minute journey from where you will start walking to Aguas Calientes.
  3. Walk 30 km to Aguas Calientes, following the rail line. You can take a rail too from there, but the whole path is just amazing, and it should take just less than 8 hours.



South America in numbers-cost of accommodation, transport and food

   Backpacking, as a new way of life for loads of us, or just as an episode, always requires loads of planning ahead. It is probably the fastest growing way of traveling nowadays, especially for young people. Costing, creating your trail and allocating the amount of time, you are planning to spend in each place, is something every traveler came across. ffffdd I know it from autopsy, especially from my 6 months trip in South America. Budget was as important to me as a discovery of every possible amazing place in this colorful continent. It is not easy to find this balance, but well possible. I, myself, spend more time in Bolivia and less in Argentina, to keep my finances in place. Luckily, Bolivia became as the highlight of my journey, and I found Argentina least attractive. Mathematics and rational thinking is laughing at as at this point, as of the fact that longer you are planning to travel, the cheaper it will get. I did my backpacking in 2015-2016, but I have rechecked the recent, as of May 2017, prices, to provide you with a very current information on Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. So where do we stand with the cost? Lets have a look.


Argentina

Overlook: Most expensive in South America and expensive in general. Difficult to fully explore and enjoy for a budget backpacker, but possible to survive.

Accommodation: Not as expensive as food and transport. Hostels starts from just 7$, hotels from 14$.

Transport: Extremely expensive as of South American pricing.

   Buses: Thought, the distances in Argentina are great, and you know you will need usually 10-20h to get from A to B, they are still way more expensive than expected. If you are brave, try to hitchhiking. Otherwise expect to pay around 100$ for a 10-12h of a journey. I paid around 180$ for a fully recline chair from Puerto Iguazu to Buenos Aires, and it took 22 hours.

     Public: 0.40$ in Buenos Aires for a single ride. Please note that you need to buy a Sube Card, or you can pay to someone to swipe you in.

      Taxi: Since there is one official tariff, you are not going to be charged more. Relatively  cheap at 0.92$ for 1 km.

Food: Hot-dog and burger stands are on every corner in Buenos Aires, and usually cost 3$, but meal in restaurant is for 15-20$.

Daily budget: You can easily make it at 35$ a day, but this does not include traveling between cities, going and eating out.


Bolivia

Overlook: One of the cheapest countries in South America. Please do enjoy, buy organized trips, eat only out, stock up on anything you need (clothes, backpack, etc).

Accommodation: Hostels start at 4-5$, hotels at 8$.

Transport: Very cheap, especially between cities (dodgy buses with no toilet), very cheap to travel around the city too.

      Buses: Depending on the comfort, 1-3$ for 1h of journey.

    Public: 0.15$ for micro bus for single journey, 0.40 $ for single ride in a van (La Paz).

      Taxi: 1.43$ for 1 km.

Food: Main meal in the market (with drink) cost 1-2$. Soup 0.50$.

Daily budget: Possible to make it with just 15$ a day.


Brazil

Overlook: Not cheap, not expensive either. Buses tend to be pricey, but accommodation and food are affordable.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5$, hotels at 12$ (Sao Paulo).

Transport:

    Buses: 40-50$ as the cheapest sit for 11h of journey (Catarinense company).

    Public: 1$ for single journey by metro, 0.74-1.10$ for the bus (Sao Paulo).

     Taxi: 0.82$ for 1 km (Sao Paulo).

Food: Kilo shops are the cheapest, it is a buffet style restaurant, where you dish the food yourself, and you pay for the weight of it. Approx 7-8$ for 1 kg.

Daily budget: Can start from 20-25$ a day.


Chile

Overlook: A bit more expensive then Brazil, cheaper than Argentina. Buses and restaurants are expensive, accommodation is not so cheap as well.

Accommodation: Hostels start at 9$, hotels at 25$.

Transport: Relatively expensive.

    Buses: Expensive, but you can save by buying in advance (around 20% cheaper). Around 100$ for 22h of journey (Santiago to San Pedro).

    Public: You have to buy a Bip card that cost 2.24$. Micros always cost 1$ per trip, and the metro ranges from 0.90$ to 1.05$, depending on the time. If you ride the bus then transfer to the metro within 60 minutes, you will just be charged the difference in fare.

     Taxi: 0.97$ for 1km. Please note that its normal to cheat on tourists. I did not watch the tariff, and I paid 35$ for 5 km!!!

Food: Expensive to eat out in a restaurant in Santiago, easily 15$ for a lunch for one person. Fast foods and food stands (hot-dogs, chips, burgers, pizza slices) are cheaper (3-5$) and can be found very often. There is a big, main mercado, where you can eat for 5-6$ in Santiago.

Daily budget: Starts from 20-25$, and can be done for 20 $ only when cooking by itself.


Colombia

Overlook: One of the cheapest country.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5-6$, hotels at 10$.

Transport: Public, taxis and domestic transport is very cheap.

    Buses: 11h of journey starts at 25$ (Cali-Bogota).

     Public: 0.49$ for single journey.

  Taxi: 1.54$ for 1km. Please use only licensed taxis, ideally recommend by hotel

Food: Very cheap to eat out. Rice, beans and meat can be found at 1.5$.

Daily budget: You can survive at 15$ a day.


Ecuador

Overlook: Vary from very cheap (in less touristic places) to more expensive (Montanita, Banos).

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5$, hotels at 10$ (Quito). Hostels starts at 10$, hotels from 25 in very touristic Montanita.

Transport: Cheap in general.

     Buses: 1-1.5$ for an hour of journey.

     Public: 0.25$ for single ride (Quito).

     Taxi: 0.40$ for 1km (Quito)

Food: Loads of very cheap places to eat. Rice, meat, salad with drink can be found for 3-4$.

Daily budget: Can start from 20$ a day.


Paraguay

Overlook: Very cheap, the cheapest next to Bolivia when it comes to food, transport and accommodation.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5$, hotels at 8$.

Transport:

      Buses: starts at 1$ for 1h of journey.

  Public: 0.40-0.60$ for a single ride (Asunción).

     Taxi: 0.94$ for 1 km (Asunción)

Food: Very cheap, if not the cheapest in South America. Main meal can be found from 1.5$ in mercado area.

Daily budget: 20$ a day, but can be done from 15$.


Peru

Overlook: Peru is very affordable, just a little bit more expensive than Bolivia, cheaper than Ecuador. Cusco, from where you can do Machu Picchu, is most expensive with Miraflores area in Lima.

Accommodation: Hostels start at 6$, hotels at 8$ (hotels at this price are in a very dodgy areas in Lima).

Transport:

      Buses: Can be found at very affordable price or for twice more for the same standard bus, so it is good to do some research. Starts from only 35$ from Lima to Mancora (18h of journey). Here I have to reccommend a Civa bus company as of a cheap price and very good confort.

   Public: Starts at 0.15$ for single ride (Lima).

     Taxi: 1.52$ for 1 km (Lima)

Food: Very cheap, in mercados possible to find a main meal for 1.5$.

Daily budget: Same as Bolivia and Paraguay starts at 20$, but can be done even from 15$.


Uruguay

Overlook: Expensive, just a little bit cheaper than Argentina, thought the size helps to explore it better.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 12$, hotels at 16$.

Transport:

     Buses: Around 7$ for 2h of journey.

 Public: 1.10$ for a single ticket (Montevideo).

    Taxi: 0.74$ for 1 km (Montevideo).

Food: Very expensive to eat out, especially in the evening in the restaurant. Lunches starts at 8-10$, but as the cheapest one in a dodgy place.

Daily budget: Can start from 35$, very similar to Argentina.


Bolivia in one finger

       Bolivia is, and probably always will be, one of the most diverse, colorful and simply amazing country, I have ever visited. I felt in love with the landscape, people and atmosphere as soon as I crossed the border on the desert between Chile and Bolivia. It was one of the seventeen countries, I have visited during my six months backpacking trip through South and Central America. Even planning this trip at home, I already knew that Bolivia will be my favorite destination, the one I will remember forever, and it happened to be one indeed.  In this section, I will quickly tell you about my experience, but my main goal is to give you an overall look at prices, transport and food in this absolutely stunning country.

       Probably the hardest thing to deal with in Bolivia, and pretty much in every Latin country, is zero to minimum English-speaking people around. I have to admit that, it was difficult at times with my limited Spanish. You really have to learn basics to travel in Bolivia, otherwise you may miss or lose on loads of things. Thought, in most hotels or hostels receptionists speak English, it’s not always guaranteed, and remember that they are not going to be with you everywhere anyway.  But here’s something to cheer DSC_0023.JPGyou up. Bolivia is one of the cheapest places in South America, I think only Paraguay is cheaper, so enjoy! That can also be handy in taking spanish classes there. Sucre, capital, is most popular for it with prices starting just under 5$ for a day long course. Apart from study, once there, if you need a new clothes, buy them, that’s the best place to stock up on anything you need. Don’t also waste your time in the hostel’s kitchen to cook. You can get an amazing main meal for just 1-1.5$ that comes usually with drink and sometimes even with soup.  Trips are very affordable, even that I prefer always to do everything on my own, I bought few, and I was very pleased with them. Plus, I have met other travelers too, while doing them. Prices depends on season, agency and your negotiation skills, but let’s say one day trip to the jungle can cost around 20$, including all meals, transport and guide.  Ha, almost forgot to mention how important negotiations are. Try to do it if possible, especially while dealing with  travel agents, you can always get discount. I never done it while buying food or meals, simply as It was cheap already.  I was even paying more, just as I felt that they deserved a little bit extra from us, tourists. But hey, do what you want!

       Transport.  When it comes to transport you wallet is happy, but your back not so. Buses are very cheap, but that reflects on the comfort you are getting. There is not much choice around too. Well, loads of companies, but with the same standard buses (as of Feb 2016), so there is no need to look around to much, check just few to get the cheapest price (they don’t differ that much neither) and buy a ticket.  Average bus ride for 8h will cost you no more than 11-12$. 80% of the bused do not have a toilet, or there is one, but permanently closed to public view. Don’t panic, bus driver will be stopping very often next to the toilets, restaurants and shops, so you will be able to stuck up on food or use a loo. Your intake and outtake will be well taken care of on the road. You don’t even have to go to the shop really, there will be loads ofCSC_0050.JPG colorful ladies popping in to the bus to sell all kind of food and drinks. From hot meat, corns (my fav, miss them with all my heart), vegetarian or meaty delicious pastry, to nuts, all kind of fruits and sweets. Try saltena, they are all homemade and extremely delicious!!!  Anyway, even that I mentioned how uncomfortable buses can be, with minimum recline chairs and no toilet in, there will be nothing more amazing and beautiful than what you will see through the window on the road. Landscape is just breath-taking. You think you are getting from A to B, but what you’re really doing is having an amazing cheap trip thought the Andes, valleys and jungle.

    Now few worlds about city transport. Don’t hesitate to take a taxi if you need one. It’s very very cheap, but always remember to agree on the price before getting in. I am not saying they will try to cheat on you, as I found Bolivians very fair, but just in case. For example 5km will cost you around 3$. Buses and minibuses are way cheaper. It is very difficult to get your head around, but once you master it, just go for it! See yourself the real Bolivian transport system, extremely dodgy buses full of amazing people. For example, in La Paz you will be CSC_0053.JPGshock how buses do run, but they always have a destination shown on the front window, and they do go to the main “backpacker interest” places, so chill out.  From minibus you can get off where you want, and get in where you want, just wave your hand or tell the driver to stop. They will cost you around 0.20$.

       Hostels and hotels are very cheap too.  Usually I was paying max 8$ per night. In one of the best Hotels, with balcony and view on Titicaca lake in Copacabana, I paid 35$ (oh well, I need that from time to time), so you can see that good ones are affordable too. There are loads of places to stay around, and I mean it! It is like a backpacker dream land, so you will not look for to long to find a place you like. Bolivia is elevated, so the temperature range tend to be as the lowest in South America. That’s why in most hostels you will get a hot water, so enjoy till last, as in other countries that’s like a rare pleasure.

      At the beginning of my trip (in Brazil, Argentina and Chile), I was using a booking.com, but I quickly discovered that I am just paying more, as of booking.com fesses, so do look yourself or look online and then just go to your accomodationl. There is hardly any hotel, hostel that is fully booked.  As I mention before, it`s loads of them, especially in the city canter area and near all bus stations, so you won’t end up walking with your backpack for too long.

      Maps.me. Please do get a maps.me app. It saved my life many many times. You can use maps with no internet connection, and even, as because it uses a GPS, it will show you your location in most of the places. Plus it has hostels, shops and all places of interest on it, which make it easier to find your way around.

       Food in Bolivia is like a dream. I loved it a lot, I guess, I still do, but it’s not a culinary side, so I will spare youDSC_0280.JPG writing much about it, however, it’s cheap, homemade, delicious and it’s available on every corner. Always go to the big markets (Mercados) to eat. Everything is there, and usually (in every place I visited so far was like that) is divided in sections with fruits, vegetables, meat, clothes, cosmetics, and then there is that amazing food area, I am talking about. Oh, public toilets are there too. Well to be honest they are very dirty, smelly and not nice in general, but please don’t act with your nose up. It is a third world country, people live in this condition and often don’t have a choice. Think how lucky and fortunate you are. Use it, pay and leave. Well anyway, coming back to my favorite topic, please do visit Mercado and try the food there. Its traditional, made in front of you and very very cheap. As I wrote above, the average price for the main meal and drink is 1.5$. Though it’s not much of vegetarian range there, you can find something anyway. Otherwise you can have a delicious meat (chicken, beef) with salad and rice or potatoes. Pasta is very popular too. Dishes differ from very mild to very spicy. The most amazing thing is that you will eat with locals. They are all very nice and they will always talk to you. I really would like to highlight places like that, as usually I was the only traveler there, an20160201_120505.jpgd that gave me the chance to truly experience a daily life in Bolivia and atmosphere.  Don’t be scared and don’t listen about food poisoning, upset tummy etc. For the whole 6 months (and trust me, I ate the cheapest street food, sometimes even sitting on my bum on the street..see pic there –>), and I’ve never ever experience anything like that!! Be brave and don’t act posh, but if you are like that, then Bolivia is definitely not for you!!

    Girls, now you can relax, finally. There will be non to minimum harassment from Latinos in Bolivia towards you. It’s very interesting about that place, and I still don’t understand why. People are very distant there, not pushy at all, but nice when it comes to interaction. I think Nicaragua and Salvador are on the top of the list, when sometimes, I was wishing, I could just give them a good old face palm.  So, enjoy it and walk around without unwanted attention. At the same time, I felt like Bolivia is the safest place too.

Must do activities while in Baños, Ecuador

     Without a long beginning about Baños, you can find here, I will take you straight to the best activities to do while in this marvelous Ecuadorian town.

1. Cycling day tour trough the waterfalls.

   Ruta de las Cascadas is the name you want to remember. This road goes via all the beautiful waterfalls ending right at the biggest one called El Pailón del Diablo. Yep, the name perfectly describes the evil powers of these wild waters. But starting from the beginning, the road itself makes a perfect  bike trial that you will need just  half of a day to complete. The whole path is only an 18 km long, and mostly downhill, which makes it easy to explore. Even that you will cycle mostly on the motorway (no worries….the nature will accompany you all the way trough), you will be safe, as it is a very touristic road, and you will probably see many cyclists on your way. Alternatively, you can walk there too, but that will be a day long trip, so really up to you. Whatever way of doing trial you pick, you will be fulfil with the stunning fauna (many eagles) and flora of this amazing part of the world. I personally would suggest renting a bike, as the whole way has been especially remake for cyclists, and that’s not so common in Ecuador 😉 Please note that there is another option-bus, that can take you right by the entrance of El Pailón del Diablo, but you wont be able to see all other waterfalls on the way, just the biggest one at the end, thought most impressive one. Surprisingly, there are also minibuses, well vans, where you can put your bike in and ride back to Baños, if you are tired after your trip to el Diablo. They are easy to find, usually waiting just next to the entrance, and they leave once are full (5-6 people). I waited just 20 minutes and was first on the board.fdfdfdfdfd.jpg

  You can hire a bike from every singe corner in Baños, loads of hostels provide that service too. The price depend on the quality of the bike and the length of the rental time but usually range from 5-10$ for the whole day. You will be given all the needed gear like: helmet, pump and spare tube. Look after your helmet, I’ve left mine somewhere on the road (dunno how) and had to pay 40$ to the agency. Even my Shrek like a smile did not help :/ Oh well….happens. Once you ready, you can head off. Every agency or hostel will provide you with a free map, you can fallow. Frankly, the road is so straight forward, with all the sights pointing the way, you really wont be needing it much. Just to locate all waterfalls.

   From the city center you will take a main road to the west. The name of it, surprisingly same like this trial, is Ruta de las Cascadas. During the course of the trip you will also get s chance to do a quick zipline or ride an old rickety cable car. I even saw a little bungee jump spot. Food stands with drinks are also on your way. Before the main attraction, El Pailón del Diablo, you will see many other waterfalls, but please note that not all of theme are visible from the road. To spot some you may have to walk downhill a bit or up. Just fallow the map, you have been given, they should explain how to get the best view of them.

    Once you are at your final destination, you will have to leave your bike somewhere. The hostel or agency will provide you with a good lock or you can climb right at the top of a tree to leave your bike there, if you don’t know how to use it. The fee for the entrance is just 1.5 $ and that’s for the bottom part, from where you will see the whole waterfalls anyway. Please remember to bring a waterproof jacket if you’re planning on getting very close to the falling waters. There is another option too (with the fee of another 1.5$) to see the falls from the top, but by the time I was there, that part was closed due to some maintenance (April 2016). Wait! I think I know now who took my helmet.ecuador.jpg

    Now after seeing all the waterfalls you can either cycle back or take the van, I mention previously. Just remember, while making your mind, that the way back will be uphill.

   Just quickly at the end I would like to add that el Diablo was second most magnificent waterfalls, after Iquazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina, I have ever seen.

2. Swing high on Casa del Arbol.

    Fancy a swing right up to the sky? Why not! Seems like everything is possible in Baños. So called Swing at the End of the World is one of the most popular attractions there. Basically you are getting (by food, bike or bus) right to the top of the mountain 2600 meters above sea level. hyhy.jpgOnce there, if the weather is good, you will get an amazing panorama of the surrounded area, town beneath  and mountain range around that will include the volcano itself. As of 2017 is still active, so you will be able to see the eruption that is accompanied by bursting ash clouds from caldera. So that’s pretty amazing already, but you still have to face swinging in the air, don’t you? Yes you do! The treehouse is located just 200 meter above from the entrance to the side. Once you will see a little cute wooden building, you will see the swings too that are attached to it. There are two of them. The interesting fact is that nobody knows who set this whole thing up. I personally have a theory that it has been built by the aliens as a catapult, that was used by them to shot them back home. Well…whatever the destination of it was or is, go for it, have some fun, feel some adrenaline, swing. It is safe (relatively) and not as scary, as it may look on the photos. The restaurant, close by, is nice and not to pricy. I can’t say that they  have a rich menu, but hungry ar thirsty will find something for sure. Probably after an hour you will be done, since there’s not much to do around. Now you can cycle, walk or take a bus back to the town.

    So In order to get there by bus, you have to catch one from Rocafuerte and Pastaza stand, with first leaving at 6 a.m (for vampires). There is more realistic option at 11 a.m. The ticket cost just 1$ each way and the bus, that will take you all the way up, will wait for you there. The return time is 1 p.m. That’s pretty much all the time you need there to spot the volcano, panorama and to have a swing.

    You can book a tour there too, but really, it is so easy to get there by yourself that in this case is just a waste of money. The bus will, as I mention, costs $1 each way per person, and entry to the side is an additional $1 per person….so that’s 3$ for the whole trip. Whaaat?

    Again cycling and hiking is always an option. Regarding the bike ride, it really is for a fit person, as you will have to cycle right up. Having said that, road is nice and smooth.

   Walking? Much possible, but It will be a day tour, and I have heard of a better hiking paths than this one, so I would really suggest bus over the foot.

3. Relax in hot spring.

   Since the Baños means bath in Spanish, you can not go there without soaking in a hot spring. The town is well known for it, and loads of people comes here for its natural healing goodness from all around the country. You don’t have to look to far to find one. Spring pools are very cheap, and they are open all they long everyday. If you not keen on sharing the bath with to many visitors, try to go early morning. Maybe even that’s better, when the temperature of the air is still low. Either time you will pick, you will enjoy a lot both: the water and the background around. I, personally, couldn’t stay for too long in hot, but if you do like it, it is a perfect place for you. The price for the entrance is 2$ before 16.00 and 3$ after. The hair cover is available for borrowing with a fee of 1$.   One of the most popular pool to choose is called Las Piscinas de la Virgen.

  Soaked well? Feeling relaxed? So its part for the activity number 4.

4. Hiking

     I will be honest with you on this one. I did not do any hiking once in Baños. I was just simply lacking of time to do so.  I don’t really like writing or giving tips on something, I did not experience. However, since the hostel kitchen is better than Vikitravel, I got to learned that the area is full of great hiking trials that are easy to fallow and complete. Please ask locals or other travelers at your accommodation for some advice on it. I am sure most hotels will have a map with best ones to do. I can assure you, yet, that the entrance fee is as much as free and you will be able to spend a day in a stunning Ecuadorian nature in peace.

5. Bike ride to Puyo

  sasasasasasas.jpg This bike trip is very similar to the first one, I wrote about. It is just that the distance is way longer finishing right at the village called Puyo. The whole road is 60 kilometres long, so if you are planning on going, I would suggest starting in the early morning. For a fit person is around 4 hours on a bike. Again you are taking a road towards west (Ruat de las Cascasas), and again you will have loads of wonderfully waterfalls (yep, they are still there) on your way, combine with stunning Ecuadorian nature that will reward you with its magnificent beauty after all the cycling you will do. This time I am not so sure if you can get back on a van from Puyo, but surly from the entrance by El Pailón del Diablo.