South America’s Hidden Gems: Top 5 Budget-Friendly Destinations for Thrifty Travelers

Presidential palace, Asunción, Paraguay

South America is a treasure trove of budget-friendly destinations that offer breathtaking landscapes, vibrant cultures, and rich history. In this article, we will unveil the top 5 affordable destinations in South America, complete with must-see highlights, the approximate cost of accommodation for a 4-star hotel, and the average cost of a meal at a restaurant. Get ready to explore these wallet-friendly gems and create unforgettable memories without breaking the bank!

Affordable destinations in South America

1. La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz Highlights:

La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, is a city known for its unique geography, indigenous culture, and vibrant markets. Here are some things to do in La Paz, along with budget-friendly options:

  1. Witches’ Market (Mercado de las Brujas): Explore the Witches’ Market to experience the local culture and browse through stalls selling traditional remedies, herbs, and handicrafts.

  2. Plaza Murillo: Visit Plaza Murillo, the main square of La Paz, surrounded by important government buildings. Take a stroll and observe the local life and architecture.

  3. Cable Car Ride: Take a ride on the Mi Teleférico cable car system to enjoy panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains. It’s an affordable and unique way to see the city.

  4. Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna): Explore this unique landscape located just outside the city. The entrance fee is usually minimal, and you can wander through the rock formations and paths.

  5. San Francisco Church: Visit the San Francisco Church, a historic and beautiful church with intricate architecture. Entrance fees are usually reasonable.

  6. Lucha Libre Wrestling: Experience the local wrestling scene by attending a Lucha Libre wrestling match. It’s an entertaining and budget-friendly evening activity.

  7. Mercado Rodriguez: Explore this local market to sample traditional Bolivian food and snacks at affordable prices.

  8. Explore Street Art: La Paz has a growing street art scene. Take a walk around Sopocachi neighborhood to discover colorful murals and graffiti.

  9. Plaza San Pedro: Visit Plaza San Pedro, another bustling square in the city, known for its vibrant street food scene and local markets.

  10. Coca Museum: Learn about the cultural and historical significance of coca leaves at the Coca Museum. The entrance fee is usually reasonable.

  11. Hiking: La Paz is surrounded by stunning natural landscapes. Consider going for budget-friendly hikes in areas like the Valle de las Animas or Muela del Diablo.

  12. Local Markets: Explore markets like Mercado Lanza and Mercado Camacho to experience the local food, produce, and crafts. These markets offer budget-friendly shopping and dining options.

  13. Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana: Visit this beautiful basilica, known for its architecture and religious significance. The entrance fee is typically low.

  14. People-Watching at Plaza Abaroa: Spend some time at Plaza Abaroa, a popular gathering spot where you can people-watch and soak in the local atmosphere.

  15. Budget Accommodations: La Paz offers a range of budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses for accommodation. Look for options in the Sopocachi and San Pedro neighborhoods.

  16. Local Transportation: Utilize local transportation options like minibusses (locally known as micros) to get around the city economically.

Remember that La Paz’s elevation is quite high, so take it easy and stay hydrated as you explore the city. By focusing on these budget-friendly activities and accommodations, you can make the most of your visit to La Paz without straining your wallet.

Accommodation In La Paz:

Approx. $60-$100 per night for a 4-star hotel

Meal at a Restaurant In La Paz:

Approx. $3-$10 per person

Cable Car, La Paz, Bolivia

2. Quito, Ecuador

Quito Highlights:

Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is known for its rich history, stunning colonial architecture, and its location near the equator. Here are some things to do in Quito, along with budget-friendly options:

  1. Historic Center (Centro Histórico): Explore Quito’s well-preserved historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring beautiful colonial architecture, churches, and plazas like Independence Square (Plaza de la Independencia).

  2. Basilica del Voto Nacional: Visit this impressive basilica known for its stunning architecture and panoramic views from its towers. Climbing the towers is usually budget-friendly.

  3. TelefériQo: Take a ride on the TelefériQo cable car to enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding Andes mountains. The cost of the cable car ride is typically affordable.

  4. Mitad del Mundo: Visit the “Middle of the World” monument located on the equator. While the monument itself might have an entrance fee, there are often budget-friendly ways to visit the surrounding attractions and experience being on the equator.

  5. La Ronda: Stroll through the charming La Ronda street in the historic center, known for its traditional architecture, artisan workshops, and local cafes.

  6. Mercado Central: Explore the Mercado Central, a bustling local market where you can sample Ecuadorian cuisine and buy fresh produce, crafts, and souvenirs.

  7. Parque El Ejido: Enjoy Parque El Ejido, a popular park where you can find handicrafts, art, and souvenirs at the weekend artisan market.

  8. Parque La Carolina: Spend time at Parque La Carolina, a large urban park with walking paths, sports facilities, and green spaces. It’s a great place for picnics and relaxation.

  9. Plaza Foch: Experience Quito’s nightlife and social scene at Plaza Foch, a hub for restaurants, bars, and clubs.

  10. Museo de la Ciudad: Visit the City Museum to learn about Quito’s history and culture. The entrance fee is usually quite reasonable.

  11. La Mariscal Craft Market: Explore this market in the La Mariscal neighborhood to find locally crafted textiles, jewelry, and artwork.

  12. Local Eateries: Enjoy budget-friendly Ecuadorian cuisine at local eateries and street food stalls. Don’t miss out on trying empanadas, ceviche, and other traditional dishes.

  13. Free Walking Tours: Many tour operators offer free walking tours of the historic center, which can provide you with insights into the city’s history and culture.

  14. Botanical Garden of Quito: Visit the Botanical Garden, where you can explore a diverse range of plants and trees native to Ecuador. The entrance fee is usually modest.

  15. Budget Accommodations: Quito offers various budget-friendly accommodations, including hostels and guesthouses. Look for options in neighborhoods like La Mariscal and La Floresta.

  16. Local Buses: Use the local bus system to get around the city inexpensively.

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By focusing on these budget-friendly activities, utilizing local transportation, and staying in affordable accommodations, you can have an enriching and enjoyable experience in Quito without overspending.

Accommodation In Quito:

Approx. $70-$120 per night for a 4-star hotel

Meal at a Restaurant In Quito:

Approx. $5-$15 per person

Quito, church clock tower, Ecuador

3. Medellin, Colombia

Medellin Highlights:

Medellín, Colombia, is known for its transformation from a once-dangerous city to a vibrant and innovative cultural hub. Here are some things to do in Medellín, along with budget-friendly options:

  1. Comuna 13: Take a guided tour of Comuna 13, a neighborhood that has undergone a remarkable transformation with colorful street art and a vibrant community spirit. Many tours are affordable and provide insights into the area’s history.

  2. Parque Arví: Reach Parque Arví via the metro and cable car. Enjoy hiking trails, ecological walks, and beautiful views of the city. The cost of the metro and cable car ride is reasonable.

  3. Botero Plaza: Visit Botero Plaza, where you can see sculptures by the renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Strolling around the plaza is free.

  4. Pueblito Paisa: Visit this replica of a traditional Antioquian village on Nutibara Hill. It offers panoramic views of the city and is often accessible for a minimal fee.

  5. Metrocable: Take a ride on the city’s metro cable cars for a unique perspective of Medellín and its surrounding neighborhoods. The fare is quite affordable.

  6. Graffiti Tour: Join a graffiti tour to learn about Medellín’s street art scene and its social and cultural significance.

  7. Plaza Botero: Explore Plaza Botero in the city center, surrounded by sculptures by Fernando Botero. It’s a great spot for people-watching.

  8. Jardín Botánico: Visit the Botanical Garden, a tranquil oasis in the city, featuring a wide variety of plants and gardens. The entrance fee is typically affordable.

  9. Museo de Antioquia: Check out the Museum of Antioquia to see a collection of Colombian art, including works by Fernando Botero. Some days offer free admission.

  10. Local Markets: Experience local life at markets like Mercado Minorista and Mercado de San Alejo, where you can find fresh produce, crafts, and more.

  11. Barefoot Park (Parque de los Pies Descalzos): Enjoy this interactive park where you can walk barefoot through various textures like sand, water, and grass. It’s a free and fun activity.

  12. Cerro Quitasol: Hike Cerro Quitasol, a local hill offering hiking trails and beautiful views. The hike itself is budget-friendly.

  13. Street Food: Sample Medellín’s delicious street food offerings, including arepas, empanadas, and tropical fruits.

  14. Salsa Dancing: Join free or low-cost salsa classes or find budget-friendly salsa clubs to practice your dance moves.

  15. Local Transportation: Use the efficient and inexpensive metro system to explore different parts of the city.

  16. Hostels and Budget Accommodations: Medellín offers a variety of budget-friendly accommodations, especially in areas like El Poblado and Laureles.

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By embracing these budget-friendly options and exploring the city’s cultural, artistic, and natural attractions, you can have a memorable and affordable experience in Medellín.

Accommodation In Medellin:

Approx. $80-$130 per night for a 4-star hotel

Meal at a Restaurant In Medellin:

Approx. $5-$15 per person

View Over Medellín From The Comuna13 Comuna13, Colombia

4. Cusco, Peru

Cusco Highlights:

Cusco, Peru, is renowned for its rich history as the former capital of the Inca Empire and its proximity to the iconic Machu Picchu. Here are some things to do in Cusco, along with budget-friendly options:

  1. Plaza de Armas: Explore the main square of Cusco, Plaza de Armas, surrounded by historic buildings, shops, and restaurants. It’s a great starting point to soak in the city’s atmosphere.

  2. Sacsayhuaman: Visit the impressive Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman, located just outside of Cusco. Entry is usually included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket, which provides access to several sites.

  3. San Pedro Market: Immerse yourself in local life at San Pedro Market, where you can find fresh produce, textiles, crafts, and affordable Peruvian cuisine.

  4. Qorikancha: Explore the Qorikancha, also known as the Temple of the Sun, showcasing the fusion of Inca and Spanish colonial architecture. Entrance fees are reasonable.

  5. Free Walking Tours: Join a free walking tour to learn about Cusco’s history, architecture, and culture. These tours often operate on a tip-based system.

  6. Cusco Cathedral: Admire the architecture of the Cusco Cathedral located on Plaza de Armas. Entry fees are typically moderate.

  7. Explore the Neighborhoods: Wander through neighborhoods like San Blas and San Cristobal, known for their artisan workshops, quaint streets, and beautiful viewpoints.

  8. Calle Hatunrumiyoc: Visit this street in the historic center to see the famous 12-sided stone, an example of Inca stonework.

  9. Cusco Planetarium: Learn about Inca astronomy and observe the night sky at the Cusco Planetarium. Entry fees are generally reasonable.

  10. Inca Trail: If you’re up for a trek, consider the budget-friendly alternative known as the “Short Inca Trail” that offers a shorter version of the classic trek to Machu Picchu.

  11. Pisac Ruins: Take a bus or shared taxi to the Pisac Ruins, another Inca archaeological site offering impressive views of the surrounding landscape.

  12. Peruvian Cuisine: Savor affordable Peruvian dishes at local eateries and markets. Don’t miss trying dishes like ceviche, anticuchos, and papa a la huancaina.

  13. Local Transportation: Use local transportation options like combis (shared minibuses) to reach nearby attractions without breaking the bank.

  14. Budget Accommodations: Cusco has a range of budget-friendly accommodations including hostels and guesthouses in areas like San Blas and San Pedro.

  15. Cusco Tourist Ticket: Consider purchasing the Cusco Tourist Ticket, which provides access to multiple attractions, including some mentioned above, at a discounted rate.

  16. Join Cultural Workshops: Some places in Cusco offer affordable workshops where you can learn about traditional crafts, textiles, and more.

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By taking advantage of these budget-friendly options, you can make the most of your time in Cusco while exploring its historical and cultural treasures without straining your wallet.

Accommodation In Cusco:

Approx. $70-$120 per night for a 4-star hotel

Meal at a Restaurant In Cusco:

Approx. $5-$15 per person

Machu Picchu in Peru

5. Asunción, Paraguay

Asunción Highlights:

Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay, offers a blend of colonial history, cultural attractions, and vibrant local life. Here are some things to do in Asunción, along with budget-friendly options:

  1. Plaza de los Héroes: Visit this central square that honors Paraguay’s heroes and historical figures. It’s a great starting point for exploring the city.

  2. Palacio de los López: Admire the grand architecture of the Presidential Palace, which is open to the public on weekends. Check the schedule for guided tours.

  3. Costanera de Asunción: Take a stroll along the riverfront promenade, enjoying the views of the Paraguay River and the city skyline.

  4. Museo del Barro: Explore the Museum of Indigenous and Popular Arts, featuring a diverse collection of Paraguayan art and crafts. Entrance fees are usually affordable.

  5. Panteón de los Héroes: Visit the National Pantheon of the Heroes, a mausoleum dedicated to Paraguay’s historical figures. It’s free to enter and offers insight into the nation’s history.

  6. Casa de la Independencia: Discover the Casa de la Independencia, a historic house museum that played a role in Paraguay’s fight for independence. Entrance fees are usually modest.

  7. Ñu Guasu Park: Enjoy a relaxing day at this city park, perfect for picnics, walks, and outdoor activities.

  8. Local Markets: Immerse yourself in local life by visiting markets like Mercado 4, where you can find a variety of goods including fresh produce, crafts, and clothing.

  9. Ykua Bolaños: Try the traditional Paraguayan drink, tereré, at Ykua Bolaños, a popular spot for enjoying this refreshing herbal infusion.

  10. Visit the Metropolitan Cathedral: Explore the Metropolitan Cathedral, an important religious and historical site in the city.

  11. Public Art and Murals: Asunción has a growing street art scene. Wander around neighborhoods like Ricardo Brugada to discover colorful murals and urban art.

  12. Feria de los Artesanos: Browse handmade crafts, textiles, and artwork at this artisan fair located in the city center.

  13. Parque Ñu Guasu: Relax and enjoy the greenery at Parque Ñu Guasu, a large urban park that’s ideal for picnics and leisurely walks.

  14. Local Eateries: Sample Paraguayan cuisine at local eateries and street food stalls. Don’t miss traditional dishes like sopa paraguaya and chipa.

  15. Budget Accommodations: Look for budget-friendly lodging options in the city, such as guesthouses and hostels.

  16. Public Transportation: Use the city’s affordable public transportation system to get around.

By taking advantage of these budget-friendly options and exploring the local culture and attractions, you can have a fulfilling experience in Asunción without overspending.

Accommodation In Asunción:

Approx. $60-$100 per night for a 4-star hotel

Meal at a Restaurant In Asunción:

Approx. $5-$12 per person

Presidential palace, Asunción, Paraguay

Top 5 Budget Friendly Destinations in South America Conclusion

South America offers budget-friendly destinations that captivate travelers with their natural wonders, cultural heritage, and unique experiences. Whether you’re exploring the surreal landscapes of Bolivia, diving into the history of Ecuador, embracing the vibrant atmosphere of Colombia, uncovering ancient ruins in Peru, or immersing yourself in the charm of Paraguay, these top 5 budget-friendly destinations in South America will leave you in awe without emptying your wallet. So, embark on an affordable adventure, savor delicious local cuisine, and create memories that will last a lifetime, all while staying within your budget!