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10 Best Places to Visit in South America – Inexpensive Travel Destinations


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From dazzling beaches to breathtaking mountains, South America is full of things to see and do. It’s also full of inexpensive destinations that will knock your socks off. Whether your interests include hiking through ruins or sunning on the sand, the continent is worth a second look if you want to travel abroad on a budget.

Overall, South America is much safer and more politically stable than it has been in decades, but it doesn’t yet have hordes of North American tourists or the high price tags that come with most Western European destinations. It also uses the same time zones as the United States, which means you won’t spend half your trip feeling jet-lagged and waking at odd hours.

If you’re looking for an international getaway that won’t break the bank, check out these 10 great South American destinations.

1. Quito, Ecuador

Quito Ecuador Towers Of Basilica Del Voto

Sandwiched between stunning Andean peaks, the South American capital city of Quito will take your breath away, and not just because it’s 9,186 feet above sea level. It has one of the best-preserved historic centers in Latin America, according to UNESCO, which made it a heritage site in 1978.

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You could spend an entire day wandering Quito’s streets, taking in the sights and stopping for a drink or inexpensive meal when your feet need a rest. It’s also a great jumping-off point for touring other parts of Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands, which are off the west coast of the country.

When to Go

The average temperature in Quito doesn’t vary much, making it a great place to visit any time of the year. The country falls along the earth’s equator – thus the name “Ecuador” – but due to its high elevation, Quito’s temperatures are mild and consistent year-round.

Whenever you go, bring sunscreen, a hat, and more sunscreen. Quito’s cool temperatures and misty mornings might trick you into thinking you won’t get sunburned, but you will. Since it’s situated both on the equator and at a very high altitude, you’ll get a ton of sun exposure. Take a few precautions to protect yourself from the sun’s rays, and you won’t have to spend the remainder of your trip with a painful burn.

What to See

There are so many things to see and do in Quito, it’s hard to know where to start, and the good news is that all the sights are either free of charge or extremely affordable. Even better, Quito uses the American dollar as its currency, so it’s easy to know precisely how little you’re spending.

Be sure to check out the Basilica del Voto Nacional. It’s constructed from concrete made to look like stone and has gargoyles in the shape of turtles spouting from its eaves. But what makes it truly unique is that you can pay $1 to go up in the bell tower and test your nerves as you climb higher and higher above the city, held to the church spire by only a waist-high wrought iron fence. In a more litigious country, there’s no way tourists could experience something like this, so take advantage of these fantastic views for pennies while you’re in Ecuador.

Other top destinations include:

  • The Winged Virgin Mary on A Hill. This statue on El Panecillo hill is free to visit and costs about $3 to $4 to get to by taxi.
  • Quito Botanical Gardens. Entrance to this garden is only $3.50, and you can easily fill an afternoon here.
  • La Ronda. Stroll down this beautiful and quaint cobblestone pedestrian walkway studded with bars, restaurants, and shops.
  • Mercado Central. This amazing food hall and marketplace sells produce, meat, seafood, and freshly squeezed juices. A stop here will give you a taste of traditional Ecuadorian cuisine that’s authentic, delicious, and easy on the wallet.

Where to Stay

The most popular areas to stay in Quito are the old town and the new town area around the Plaza Foch. Staying in the old town will have you right in the heart of beautiful colonial architecture and most of Quito’s museums and churches, whereas staying near Plaza Foch offers more nightlife, bars, and restaurants. Either way, both areas are only about a $4 taxi ride from each other and offer a variety of inexpensive hotels through or Expedia, hostels, and Airbnb rental options, depending on the length of your stay and preference.

How to Save

Take a free walking tour with Free Walking Tour, which is run by the wonderful people at Community Hostel. (It’s tip-based, so be sure to bring $5 to $10 for a tip.) You’ll get a three-hour comprehensive crash course from a native Ecuadorian who speaks perfect English and wants to make sure everyone leaves loving their city as much as they do.

During our week in Quito, my group and I took the walking tour twice; it was that good. We then signed up for additional activities through the hostel for the rest of our trip. The sense of community and friendly staff had us wishing we’d stayed with them instead of at the apartment we rented. If you want to experience Quito like a local and save a few bucks while doing it, you can’t go wrong with Community Hostel and Free Walking Tour Ecuador.

2. La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz Bolivia Women In Traditional Clothing Shopping In Streets

One of only two landlocked countries in South America, Bolivia is off the beaten path for travelers, which means it offers great deals for those who make the effort to visit. It’s named for Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary who led the country’s fight for independence from Spain.

The governmental capital of Bolivia, La Paz is the highest-altitude national capital city in the world. Even higher than Quito, it sits at over 13,100 feet above sea level, so if you find yourself out of breath just walking down the street, it’s not because you’re out of shape. One of the best ways to get around is by one of the many cable car lines crisscrossing the city, which only cost about 50 cents per ride.

When to Go

Like Quito, La Paz is temperate and doesn’t experience large swings in temperature based on the time of year. Overall, it’s cool and cloudy year-round, which makes it a pleasant destination at any time.

If you want to avoid crowds, don’t visit during the holiday season in December or January. The summer months are generally the least popular times for tourists, which can also make accommodations and tours more affordable.

What to See

Popular sights in La Paz include Sopocachi, an artsy neighborhood known for its cafes and beautiful streets, and the Feria 16 de Julio, one of Latin America’s largest open-air markets. It offers one-stop shopping for anything you could need, from brightly colored Andean jewelry to hand-knit sweaters and socks to fruit and vegetable stalls.

The Calle Jaen, a beautifully preserved colonial street in La Paz, houses five small museums you can visit on a single ticket that costs less than $5. If you’re interested in learning about Bolivia’s musical history, colonial life, folklore, and art, this collection of museums should be on your list.

Finally, don’t miss Cholita Wrestling, which takes place on Sunday afternoons at the Multifuncional de la Ceja de el Alto. This spectacle involves indigenous Aymara women wrestling to a soundtrack of exuberant Bolivian music and costs $8.50.

Where to Stay

The most popular areas of town for tourist accommodations are the trendy Sopocachi neighborhood, which is full of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, and El Centro, which is centrally located and an easy jumping-off point for most of the main tourist attractions in La Paz.

If you’re looking to experience the real La Paz, consider staying in the San Pedro neighborhood, which doesn’t feel as frenetic as El Centro with its traffic and congestion. While there aren’t a ton of attractions in San Pedro, it’s a great home base for extended stays, people traveling with kids, or those who want a slower, quieter visit to this sometimes overwhelming city.

How to Save

Spend an afternoon perusing wares at the famous Witches’ Market, Mercado de las Brujas, where you’ll find any number of potions, charms, and folk remedies for ailments. You’ll also see plenty of llama fetuses, which are traditionally buried under buildings to appease the gods and bring good luck. If you’re not currently in the market for a dried llama fetus, simply wandering and window shopping at Mercado de las Brujas won’t cost you a thing.

3. Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena Colombia Skyline Cityscape

After a decades-long reputation as too dangerous to visit, Colombia is experiencing something of a renaissance. That’s nowhere more evident than in the Caribbean port city of Cartagena.

Just a few hours’ flight from several southern hubs in the United States, Cartagena is a great destination for a long weekend getaway or as a launching point for a much longer, comprehensive tour of South America’s greatest hits. Cartagena is a common port of call for cruises, and you can find flights to and from the city a song; last year, I got $300 round-trip flights from Atlanta for a long weekend in July. Once you’re there, you’ll be surprised by how inexpensive it is to eat and drink like a king in Cartagena.

When to Go

Temperatures in Cartagena are sizzling any time of the year. If you’re concerned about beating the heat, visit in the early part of the year; from January to March, daily temperatures are in the mid- to high-70s.

If you’re looking to beat the crowds and don’t mind the heat, Cartagena’s slow season is August through November, and you can find great deals at this time, especially on accommodations. Tourists and locals clear out of the city during the hottest months of June through September.

No matter what time of year you visit, it will be humid, with warm sea breezes sweeping off the Caribbean and brief rain showers almost daily.

What to See

Cartagena is an active port city and isn’t known for its beaches, so don’t look to it to fulfill your Caribbean beach fantasies. What you should plan on doing, however, is eating, drinking, and wandering to your heart’s content. Boasting one of South America’s most extensive and well-preserved colonial old towns, the historic walled city is a photographer’s dream. It’s also extremely safe, well-lit, and easy to navigate, even at night.

If you’re anything of a gourmand or seafood fan, you’ll be blown away by the offerings in Cartagena and how affordable they are. It’s known for its ceviche, which is so cheap and plentiful, you might actually find yourself getting tired of fish by the end of your trip. Not to worry; there are plenty of other delicious foods to enjoy in Cartagena, including freshly squeezed fruit juices and arepas, maize flatbreads often stuffed with cheese or meat that cost less than 50 cents from the stalls dotting the streets of both the old town and the Getsemani neighborhood.

Where to Stay

The most common area of town for tourist accommodations is the old town, or walled city, where there’s a great selection of hostels and budget hotels in addition to pricier, higher-end options. More intrepid travelers may want to explore the Getsemani neighborhood, which has an active nightlife and is home to many famous salsa clubs.

How to Save

One of the most popular things to do in Cartagena is visiting a salsa club such as the famous Cafe Havana or Donde Fidel. All of the best clubs will charge a cover, which increases in price as the night wears on.

I recommend going to Bazurto Social Club. It’s the most wallet-friendly option I found in the city, starting at about $5 depending on the night’s band. If you get there early, you can pay a much-reduced entry fee and then come back later in the evening and skip the line. If you choose to stick around instead, you’ll get a free dance lesson before the live music begins.

Around 9pm every Thursday, local dancers teach Champeta moves. One of Colombia’s biggest dance crazes, Champeta was created by Colombian’s African-descended inhabitants. It gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s in the coastal regions of Colombia, where it’s now a staple of any good salsa club, including Bazurto. The tiny dance floor at Bazurto gets rowdy and crowded as the night wears on, but it’s a good time with a great mix of locals and tourists alike.

4. Santiago, Chile

Santiago Chile Cityscape Mountains

Technically one of the more expensive countries in South America, Chile is still affordable by North American standards, and by taking advantage of free and inexpensive attractions and staying in budget accommodations, you can see and do plenty of amazing things in Santiago without blowing your budget.

When to Go

Unlike some other South American destinations, temperatures in Santiago can vary a lot depending on the time of year. If you’re looking for warm weather, visit in December, January, and February when temperatures are in the 80s and 90s. If you’re looking to beat the heat, visit in June, July, or August for temperatures in the 60s. Remember, south of the equator, it’s wintertime during our summer months and vice versa, so pack accordingly.

What to See

One of the best things to do in Santiago on a budget is to take advantage of the city’s myriad parks and free outdoor spaces. The Quinta Normal Park is home to or nearby several museums and cultural sights, including the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. Dedicated to the victims of the 17-year Pinochet regime, this museum is a touching tribute to the countless Chileans who suffered under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. A visit to this newer museum won’t cost you more than about $3. Purchase the English language audio guide for another $3 for an in-depth understanding of the museum’s many exhibits.

A great way to stretch your legs and see the city is by signing up with Free Tours Santiago, which offers daily free walking tours of the city in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. This tour, which will take you through some of the most picturesque barrios in the city, is tip-based, so bring some Chilean pesos for your guide.

Finally, check out Mercado Central, Santiago’s most famous market, for quality seafood, wine, and a strong pisco sour, the classic South American cocktail made out of pisco liquor and citrus juice.

Where to Stay

The Bellavista neighborhood is a good home base for visiting Santiago, given both its walkability and proximity to the Baquedano metro station. There are many affordable hostels and hotels in the neighborhood, including Rado Hostel and Hostal Providencia. A shared room in either of these hostels will only set you back about $20 a night, depending on which time of year you visit.

How to Save

Public transportation in Santiago is inexpensive, safe, and efficient, so skip the taxis and take the bus or metro instead. Save on food and souvenirs by shopping at the La Vega Central Market or the Santa Lucia Market. Both are great places to find a wide selection of fresh fruit, cheap eats, and affordable handicrafts and trinkets.

If you’re at all interested in wine, you’ll be blown away by how inexpensively you can get some excellent vino in Chile. It’s the seventh-largest wine-producing country in the world and has been growing wine grapes since the Spanish brought vines with them to the region in the 16th century. If you buy bottles of wine from the supermarket instead of a specialized wine store or private vineyard, it’s even more of a bargain.

5. Paracas, Peru

Paracas Peru Peruvian Coast Sea Lions

Sometimes called the poor man’s Galapagos, the town of Paracas on the Pacific coast of Peru is a hidden gem that’s often overlooked for flashier tourist spots like Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. If you’re looking for a great budget getaway in Peru, Paracas should be at the top of your list.

It features beautiful sandy beaches, natural attractions, and a prehistoric petroglyph inexplicably etched into a sandy hillside. A small town with a laid-back attitude, Paracas is a great alternative to the frenzied feel of some of South America’s bigger cities.

When to Go

February is the hottest month in Paracas, but with temperatures only reaching about 75 to 80 degrees in February, it’s still a good time to visit this tiny town. The coldest time of year is the Peruvian winter months of June, July, and August when highs are in the 60s. If you’re hoping to swim or snorkel, visit from December through February. There’s very little rain or fog year-round, so no matter when you visit, you’re almost guaranteed clear, sunny days.

What to See

The most popular attraction in Paracas is the Ballestas Islands, a series of rocky islands just off the coast of Peru. They’re home to seals, birds like the blue-footed booby and Guanay cormorant, sea lions, and the Humboldt penguin, a medium-sized bird listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The best way to book your boat to the Ballestas Islands is to wander into town and haggle a price with any of the local tour companies along the main strip.

You should also pay a visit to the Paracas National Reserve, one of the largest protected natural areas in South America. It encompasses the Paracas Peninsula, a large part of the desert, and part of the sea itself; almost 65% of the reserve consists of the sea and islands.

It’s easy to get to and from Paracas. You can book a tour ahead of time with any number of agencies, such as Get Your Guide, or you can book something once you’re on the ground in Paracas, which may give you more haggling power.

Finally, plan to spend a day or two just relaxing on Paracas’ beautiful beaches.

Where to Stay

There are some great budget accommodation options in tiny Paracas, including the Kokopelli Hostel and the family-run Backpacker House Soler, both of which have rooms starting at about $20.

How to Save

Your money will go far in Paracas, but it’s important to note that if you book tours with big agencies headquartered in Lima, your money won’t stay in the local economy and help the people who live in Paracas. Consider using local tour guides, eating in the authentic restaurants dotting the town, and staying in a locally owned hostel or hotel instead of one owned by a large American hotel conglomerate. Often, eating and shopping locally can be more affordable anyway, so it’s a nice way to be both a frugal and a conscientious traveler.

6. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio De Janeiro Brazil Christ The Redeemer Statue

The second largest city in Brazil behind Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful, energetic place that’s worth a spot on any South American itinerary. It’s especially frenzied during Carnival, the huge festival held every year before the beginning of Lent. Rio is a magical blend of natural wonders, beautiful beaches, and thriving cultural attractions. If you stick to budget accommodations and follow these tips, you can definitely enjoy it on a budget.

When to Go

If you want to see Rio on a budget, don’t go during Carnival. There’s plenty to do in this city at any time of the year.

Since it’s below the equator, the months of November, December, and January are sweltering here. The peak tourist season is in August when temperatures are generally only in the mid-70s. Any time of year, it’s likely to be sunny and clear, so pack a hat and sunscreen.

What to See

Can’t-miss sights include Sugarloaf Mountain, which is 1,300 feet tall and rises out of the land like a huge loaf of bread. There’s a tram running to the top, but you can save the $18 and hike to the top to earn the view if you prefer.

Be sure to check out Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer. This enormous, 100-foot high statue of Jesus atop Corcovado Mountain is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Tram tickets to the top of the mountain cost around $20 in high season and $16 in low season.

Pay a visit to the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, a calm oasis in this busy city where you could easily spend an entire day. Keep a lookout for the tiny marmosets dotting the treetops; they are everywhere.

Finally, a trip to one of the several famous beaches that dot Rio de Janeiro won’t cost you a thing. The most famous is Copacabana, but Ipanema and Leblon are also gorgeous and often less touristy.

Where to Stay

Skip the expensive accommodations in Copacabana and stay at a hostel in the laid-back, hippie neighborhood of Santa Teresa, where abandoned mansions stand next to bars and fun cafes. Check out the Alma de Santa Guest House or the Rio Forest Hostel. If your budget allows, pick a hostel with a swimming pool or rooftop deck, as these can be a great way to relax and escape the chaos of Rio.

How to Save

Take public transportation instead of taxis to get around, especially during the daytime when you don’t have to worry about safety except for the basic precautions you’d take in a big city. The traffic in Rio can be pretty bad, which means you’ll be stuck in gridlock watching your meter price go higher and higher if you take a taxi. Buses in Rio are safe, efficient, and inexpensive; a one-way ticket to most zones in the city costs less than a dollar.

Save on breakfast or lunch by stopping for a misto – a melted cheese sandwich, sometimes with a slice of ham, served hot – at any of the small street stalls and counter-service restaurants around the city. A good misto shouldn’t cost you more than a dollar. You can also pick up a delightfully refreshing açaí bowl from any number of stands around the city for just a few dollars. With the sun beating down on you, this icy cold bowl will hit the spot.

7. Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre Bolivia Hills Town Sunny Day

One of the safest cities in South America and relatively untouched by North American tourism, Sucre is a gem of a destination. It’s surrounded by the Andes and often called the “white city” because of the beautiful whitewashed churches and colonial buildings in the old city.

It’s also one of the capitals of Bolivia. That’s right; the country has two capitals. La Paz is the administrative capital, and Sucre is the constitutional capital. With only about 250,000 people and a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere, Sucre is definitely worth a visit.

When to Go

Sucre is temperate and has a relatively stable climate, which means temperatures vary little throughout the year, and it never gets unbearably hot or bitterly cold like some places in South America.

If you want to beat the crowds, visit in July or August; if you want to be there in high season, the most popular month to visit is January. Whenever you go, you’ll have great weather, and because of Sucre’s low profile, you probably won’t see throngs of tourists, even during high season.

What to See

Sucre’s famous markets are not to be missed. At the main market, Mercado Central, you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, dried herbs, household goods, and more. The top floor of the market is a food hall where you can find traditional Bolivian fare for a great deal. The Mercado Campesino, which is perhaps the most famous, is an enormous, sprawling outdoor market covering almost 10 blocks. Weave your way through various vendors and artisans here and grab a bite at any of the many street food vendors.

Finally, visit the world’s largest collection of dinosaur prints at Parque Cretácico, located just outside the city at a concrete quarry. It’s only about $3 to visit, and you can easily spend a few hours gazing at the over 5,000 footprints, a museum complete with life-size replicas, and excavated rocks that contain the invertebrate fossils of many dinosaur species.

Where to Stay

The most popular area of town for tourist accommodations is around the main square, Plaza 25 de Mayo. There are plenty of hostels and budget accommodations here, including Hostal CasArte Takubamba and The Beehive, which was started to help educate local women in hospitality and entrepreneurship and seeks to teach its guests its mission too. Profits go toward maintaining this mission and supporting other social projects in Sucre.

How to Save

Other than eating at the markets, you can keep your expenses in Sucre in check by visiting the stunning churches throughout the city. Most are free or inexpensive to view, including the Sucre Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in the country, and the Convento de San Felipe Neri, a former monastery that offers an amazing view of the city from its bell tower, which you can gain access to for less than $2.

8. Peruvian Highlands, Peru

Peruvian Highlands Llamas Walking Peru

The Peruvian Highlands, which make up almost 30% of the country of Peru, are the part of the Andes that run through this skinny country bordering Ecuador and Brazil. The highlands include Machu Picchu, but don’t just make a beeline for this famous sight. Take the time to explore other parts of the Peruvian Highlands, including the Inca Trail and towns like Pisac, and you’ll have a more authentic Peruvian experience that will be easier on your wallet.

When to Go

Peru has two main seasons. The dry season, which is between May and October, is also the most popular season for tourists, and prices to peak destinations like Machu Picchu reflect that popularity. You’ll pay higher rates and have to book accommodations much further in advance if you visit during this time.

The wet season is generally from November to March, and there will be markedly fewer visitors and lower rates on hotels and tours during these months. If you’re prepared for wet weather, the low season can be a delightful and affordable time to visit Peru.

What to See

Depending on how much time you have and how active you’d like your trip to be, you can build an itinerary of a few days to weeks of hiking and camping through the Andes. Visit Colca Canyon in the southern part of Peru, one of the world’s deepest canyons and a popular trip for hikers. It contains a deep green valley, traditional villages, and the terraced agriculture that has been used to farm mountainous terrain for thousands of years. Colca Canyon is also home to the Andean condor, the giant vulture that’s the largest flying bird in the world.

If you’re looking for ruins, head to Ollantaytambo, which is often the starting point for those hiking the Inca Trail. Not quite as famous as Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo was the last holdout of the Inca resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru. It’s also where the Inca retreated to when Cusco fell to the Spanish.

Finally, if you want to experience a laid-back city with plenty of tradition, spend a few days in Huancavelica. It’s a good starting point for multi-day hikes and offers mineral hot springs, a few ruins of its own, and beautiful colonial plazas for strolling and picnics.

Where to Stay

There are accommodations at all prices along the Inca Trail, so your best bet is to determine your budget – taking into consideration whether you’re visiting in high tourist season or low – and then do some comparison shopping to see what fits your needs.

You may find that splurging on a nice hotel is the perfect reward for days of hiking, or you might want to pack your three-season tent and set up in the great outdoors. The Peruvian Highlands are extensive, so do your research and bear in mind these ways to save on hotels.

How to Save

Visit in the low season or skip the big tourist sites for a more authentic, in-depth look at how people live in the Peruvian Highlands. Consider a homestay, in which you can stay for a night or two with a family who will host you and show you what it’s like to be a resident instead of a tourist. Be sure to pick a reputable company whose mission includes helping the people you’ll be staying with, such as Alternative Peru and Homestay Peru.

9. Cordoba, Argentina

Cordoba Argentina Sarmiento Park

The second-largest city in Argentina, Cordoba has a reputation for being a more relaxed, easygoing city than Buenos Aires. It’s also home to the country’s oldest university, and parts of it definitely feel like a fun college town, complete with broke-student prices. Whether you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping activities like parasailing, want to view priceless pieces of art, or want to learn a bit more about the country’s “Dirty War,” the city of Cordoba has it all.

When to Go

Cordoba has a subtropical climate with four separate seasons, unlike many of the other places on this list. Summer in Cordoba is from November to March; temperatures usually reach the mid-90s during these months, and it can get even hotter at the height of summer. The most popular tourist season falls between July and September when the weather is in the much more temperate 50s and 60s.

If you’re willing to stand some warmer temperatures, though, February is the least-popular month to visit the city, and you can score some great deals as a result. Consider escaping the chilly North American winter and visiting Cordoba for a shot of sunshine in February or March.

What to See

One of the most important and chilling things to see in Cordoba is the Museo de la Memoria, which is dedicated to the period from 1974 to 1983 when Argentina was run by a military junta. Exhibits include pictures and personal effects of the tens of thousands of opponents of the regime, who were “disappeared,” or killed, by the regime to quell any chance of an uprising. Admission is free.

Another museum worth a visit is the Evita Fine Arts Museum, housed in a Beaux-Arts mansion called Ferreyra Palace and built between 1912 and 1916. The artwork, including paintings by Picasso, is terrific, and the lavish mansion and grounds are a sight to see as well.

Where to Stay

Check out Güemes, an alternative, artsy neighborhood just southwest of the center of the city. It’s a fun area with a slightly more laid-back nightlife than the high-energy clubs of Nueva Cordoba. If you’d rather be in the middle of the action or want to be closer to most of Cordoba’s more popular sights, then Nueva Cordoba is your best bet.

How to Save

You’ll generally pay a bit more for food in Argentina than you will in the cheapest South American countries like Ecuador and Bolivia, but there are two things that are an especially good value: wine and meat. You can find a phenomenal bottle of wine at any grocery store or corner store for about $4, and a nice steak dinner is usually extremely affordable.

Other food options can be surprisingly expensive. A sandwich with fries for lunch could set you back $6 to $8, but a fancy meal at an upscale restaurant will only be about $20 to $25, so bear this in mind when planning your daily itinerary.

10. Asuncion, Paraguay

Asuncion Paraguay Pink Presidential Palace Night View

The other landlocked country on the South American continent, Paraguay is also one of the least expensive countries to visit. And there’s plenty to see and do in Paraguay; it’s brimming with stunning buildings, a strong national soccer team with enthusiastic fans, delicious food, and interesting culture, with “mestizo” (those of Spanish and Amerindian heritage) comprising 80% of its population.

The capital of Paraguay, Asuncion, is on the border of Paraguay and Argentina and is also the largest city in the country. It’s a great jumping-off point for visiting Gran Chaco, Itaipu Dam, and Encarnacion, but the city of Asuncion is worthy of a visit all on its own.

When to Go

If you’re looking for warm weather, visit Asuncion in December, January, or February when highs can reach 100 degrees. The mildest weather is in May, June, and July when it’s a much more moderate 60 to 70 degrees. Asuncion only gets a few days of frost at most each year, and it almost never snows.

The most popular months for tourists are January and May, but if you time your visit for other months, you’ll likely have your pick of accommodations at a bargain.

What to See

One of the best ways to enjoy Asuncion without spending too much is with a stroll through its many parks and squares. Start at the botanic garden, the Jardin Botanico y Zoologico, where the entrance fee is less than $2 for an adult, and choose one of the two trails within the park for a lovely stroll.

The zoo, which is in the park, isn’t too impressive, so skip that and instead head to the Plaza de los Heroes. This square, which is a great place to sit and rest for a while, houses a monument to the victims of the Stroessner dictatorship, a 35-year reign during which dissidents were tortured and killed. A statue of Stroessner that was hacked to pieces is now encased in concrete in the square.

Next, head to the Museo del Barro, a free museum that houses historical and modern Paraguayan art, native crafts, pottery, and Jesuit and Franciscan art.

Where to Stay

Ascuncion offers plenty of great budget-friendly accommodations. The most popular place to stay is in the city center, where most of the hotels and hostels are located. If you’re there during the low season, you’ll likely have your pick of options and may even be able to negotiate your rate below the initial quote. The Black Cat Hostel and Estacion Central Hostel are both in great locations and won’t set you back more than about $20 per night for a shared room.

How to Save

If you’re looking for authentic Paraguayan souvenirs, be sure to pick up some pieces of Ñandutí, the traditional embroidered lace whose name means “spider web” in Guarani, the most commonly spoken indigenous language in the country. A fabric backing is stretched across a frame and then worked by hand, resulting in an intricate, delicately woven piece of lace. Much of the souvenirs you’re likely to find in Paraguay will, unfortunately, likely be low-quality or black market goods, so if you’re looking for some real craftsmanship for a great price, take home some Ñandutí lace.

Final Word

Don’t let the fact that you don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese keep you from visiting South America. I speak only broken Spanish and one word of Portuguese (“obrigado,” which means “thank you”), and even some of the remotest South American locales, I was able to get by just fine with a pocket dictionary, pantomiming, and a friendly smile. This amazing continent is safe, friendly, spectacularly beautiful, and worth a visit for any traveler seeking an adventure on a budget.

Have you ever been to South America? What’s your favorite little-known destination?


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A grant writer and personal finance fanatic, Marisa is an avid traveler who lives in Pittsburgh, PA. When she’s not reading or writing for work or play, she enjoys running, thrifting, and searching for the most authentic Mexican food in the city.