10 South American Cities Ranked Cheapest to Most Expensive

Want to know the cheapest city to travel in South America?

When it comes to traveling in South America, it is generally budget friendly in terms of getting around. However, there are big variations across the continent. Not all countries are the same!

Of course cities are usually more expensive than smaller towns for accommodation, so staying outside cities can help you to trim your budget even further. But also some countries are twice as expensive as others, for example hostels in Brazil can be twice the price as hostels in Bolivia. And Colombia is nearly twice as expensive as neighboring Ecuador.

Here are ten of the best South America's cities for visitors ranked from cities where you can survive on a shoestring to those that are for a luxury holiday

  • 01 of 10

    This high altitude capital stands at nearly three thousand meters above sea level. There are so many things to do in Quito including visiting the sixteenth century church dedicated to Saint Francis, or taking the cable car or hiking (if you are on a real budget!) up to the Pichincha volcano.

    The city is great for hostels with the cheapest dorm beds available from below $6 per night. Street foods such as humitas and patacones are tasty and make it easy to eat on a budget. There are some good transport links around the city, and the bus from the center to the old city is convenient and is just 25 cents.

    If you're planning to travel around the country, Quito is a great base with many key destinations only a few hours away. Buses generally cost $1 per hour, which makes even a distant location quite affordable.

  • 02 of 10
    Congress, La Paz
    ••• Congress, La Paz. ArtToday.com

    Bolivia is widely considered to be one of the cheapest places to travel in South America. It is no surprise that the highest altitude capital in the world ranks well with the low cost of accommodation. 

    The colonial architecture in La Paz is very impressive. Calle Jaen is one of the best preserved streets, and it's only a short trip out to the historic site of Tiwanaku, and strolling among the bizarre items for sale at the Witches' Market are among the highlights for visitors. Hostel beds here are very inexpensive, with many available for the equivalent of less than $5 per night.

  • 03 of 10
    ••• Colonial building reflect into a pool of water after a rainstorm. Ayngelina Brogan

    The historic city of Cartagena is famous for its stunning old town, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Exploring the fortified walls of the city and the fascinating churches makes this a popular destination. While considered a luxury destination with many top hotels it is also budget friendly with dorm beds from $8 and upwards available - although shop around as prices and quality can vary significantly.

    When eating look for the 'corrientes', a satisfying set menu in local restaurants which usually has meat, rice, patacones and a side salad, and is usually $2-$5.

    READ: Top 10 Things to Do in Cartagena

  • 04 of 10
    Archbishops Palace Lima Peru
    ••• Archbishops Palace Lima Peru. ArtToday.com

    The Peruvian capital is a stunning coastal city, with a wealth of museums unlocking the colonial and the pre-Columbian history of the country.

    But Lima is also a city with fantastic diversity and the bohemian Barranco district is a very exciting place to visit. Food and drink here is not quite as cheap as some of the other cities in South America, but the quality is excellent. 

    The national dish, ceviche, is found in almost every district of the city. Dorm rooms in the tourist district of Miraflores are however still very affordable, usually costing from around $7 per night.

    READ: How to Spend 24 Hours in Lima

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires Argentina
    ••• Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, Argentina. ClipArt.com

    Buenos Aires is a vibrant city that is not only the economic heart of Argentina, but is also a lively city that is passionate about the Tango.

    The city also has some great architecture, while the colorful La Boca district is famous for its painted buildings, although avoid arranging accommodation here as it isn't always the best area of the city after nightfall.

    Dorm beds can usually be found in the city for around $10, while inexpensive takeaway food such as hotdogs or burgers will usually cost around a dollar.

    READ: 5 Fun Things to Do with Kids in Buenos Aires

  • 06 of 10

    Cusco, Peru

    Looking down on Machu Picchu
    ••• Looking down on Machu Picchu. ClipArt.com

    Best known as the staging post for those who are hoping to travel on to Machu Picchu, Cusco is a beautiful city. 

    Not only is it an access point to Machu Picchu but it also stands below the historic ruins of Sacsayhuaman and is a great destination in its own right. There are also several lovely buildings worth visiting in the city, while those wanting to test their moves can join a salsa class in one of the salsa schools. 

    Prices here are a little more expensive, with few dorm beds available below $10 a night, if you want a private room and speak some Spanish look for a "hospedaje" which is kind of equivalent to a Peruvian B&B, it's where locals stay on a budget.

    Head to the market to eat as lunchtime specials are usually available for the equivalent of $4-$5.

    READ: Machu Picchu on a Budget

  • 07 of 10

    Santiago Chile

    Mercado Central, Santiago
    ••• Mercado Central, Santiago. Bill Glover

    There are so many reasons to visit Chile and its capital city, Santiago just one of the best reasons. While Santiago is a modern capital is prone to earthquakes, don't let that scare you as many of the newer skyscrapers have distinct structures to ride through such vibrations.

    Santiago is home to the famous poet Pablo Neruda, known throughout the world for his beautiful love poems.  

    Explore the city inexpensively by foot, checking out the neighborhoods of La Chascona and Providencia, a district with plenty of live music venues.

    Hostel beds are usually around $10 per night. There are a wide range of budget options for food, don't miss the street food "completo" a large hot dog with all of the traditional trimmings.

  • 08 of 10
    Ipanema Beach
    ••• Ipanema Beach. Charles Briscoe-Knight / Getty Images

    The party capital of the continent is particularly expensive during the carnival festivities. Even outside of the biggest event of the year, prices in Rio are rarely among the cheapest on the continent.

    However, you have easy access to the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and a wealth of attractions, including the free hike up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

    The most basic hostel beds are usually around $13, while eating where the locals eat will help you to keep costs down, with lunch meals from around $5.

    READ: 7 Free Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    Legislative Palace, Montevideo
    ••• Legislative Palace, Montevideo. Medioimages/Photodisc / Getty Images

    The capital of Uruguay is well preserved, and the head of one of the most stable economies on the continent. It is not surprising that it is also one of the more expensive places to visit.

    There is plenty of architecture and museums to explore, while entry to the football museum at the stadium which hosted two world cup finals is around the equivalent of $3.

    Hostel dorm beds usually start from around $12. Food varies but the chivito is an inexpensive sandwich that is tasty and loved by the locals.

    READ: Where to Find Cowboys in South America 

  • 10 of 10
    Sao Paulo Street
    ••• Sao Paulo Street. Ron Miller, All Rights Reserved http://www.RonTravel.com

    Home to some of the best hotels in the country, the economic powerhouse of Brazil is one of the most expensive places to visit. Yet there are plenty of things to do in Sao Paulo and many free activities that can keep the leanest backpacker on a strict budget.

    While it appears that carnival and the Gay Pride parade are great sources of free entertainment, accommodation is scarce and much more expensive. Even if off season  but even on a normal hostels beds begin around $11, and hostels in good locations will usually be more expensive.

    READ: 7 Free Things to Do in Sao Paulo