South America is one of the most sought-after destinations by travelers in the world. Here is a list of the best 10 destinations in South America for backpackers and several recommendations and tips. South America is one of the most sought-after destinations by backpackers in the world since it brings together several characteristics that make it ideal for a trip of this style: a unique and very varied culture, good food, a common language, landscapes that go from beaches to jungle and mega-cities with great nightlife to the absolute tranquility of the mountains, and to complete the combo, it can be very economical.
If there is something that foreigners quickly realize when they start backpacking through South America, it is that this continent is much more diverse than they imagined and that there is much more to discover than the typical images of Machu Picchu and the Christ Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro that everyone saw before arriving.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires is one of the largest and most exciting cities in Latin America, with a cultural and nightlife offer like very few have. This means that many foreigners who arrive in the Argentine capital with plans to stay for a few days end up extending their stay, surprised by the social life of the city. And not only that there are a lot of activities to take advantage of, but many of them are even completely free, such as guided tours, concerts, museum tickets, and tango classes, which makes it one of the best destinations in South America for backpackers.
If you are looking for free plans to do in Buenos Aires, you will find some of the best options in the Kirchner Cultural Center, the Recoleta Cultural Center (located steps from the famous Recoleta Cemetery), the guided tours organized by the Government of the City and tango classes for beginners from Fundación Tango Argentino.
When it comes to prioritizing, most travelers who do not have enough time to visit vast Argentina, are inclined to know Buenos Aires and Patagonia, without including the region known as NOA (Argentine Northwest) in their itinerary, comprised of the provinces of Tucumán, Salta, and Jujuy.
Those who do, find an area of the country completely different from the others, in which the landscapes, customs, and food are much more similar to that of the Andean neighbor’s Bolivia and Peru. In addition to differentiating itself in these aspects from the rest of the country, it should be noted that this region is also the one with the lowest cost of living in Argentina. Especially if you travel through Patagonia, you will notice a big difference in prices in terms of accommodation, food, and transportation. Not only because it is cheaper to travel here than in other parts of Argentina is that we consider it one of the best destinations in South America for backpackers, but also because it is a region with a unique charm.
Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, Chile
Separated by less than 10 kilometers, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are two of the most picturesque cities in Chile. Their relative proximity to Santiago makes them two highly visited destinations, and although for many it is a day trip from the capital, we recommend that you base yourself in Valparaíso to be able to dedicate the time they deserve.
Viña del Mar is famous for its beaches, although if you have been traveling to other parts of South America -especially the Caribbean- you will find it freezing. On the other hand, Valparaíso is a more cultural city and one of the most important ports on the Pacific coast. It was declared a World Heritage Site for its architecture that makes it unique, where the Spanish colonial legacy is mixed with the Victorian style brought by British immigrants. A very notorious characteristic of Valparaíso is the elevators, which, unlike other cities, are not used mainly for tourist purposes but rather as a means of transport for the locals due to the slopes of the terrain.
La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz is a tiring and engaging city. It tires you with its noise, smog, and the slopes, which if they weren’t enough, you have to climb them in the highest capital in the world. But with that same intensity, it also grabs you, with its colors, flavors, and mountains that protect it.
Not only is it one of the cheapest cities in South America (you can eat for USD 3 and sleep in hostels for USD 5-7), but it also has a character unlike any other. Perhaps when you arrive you want to escape from it, but it is very likely that when you start to walk it calmly you will end up wanting to stay to discover it, and understand why it is one of the destinations in South America preferred by backpackers.
Machu Picchu is the most sought after destination for most of those who travel for the first time to South America, and that makes Cusco one of the most tourist cities on the continent.
Although Peru is one of the cheapest countries to travel to, the number of visitors means that prices are higher than in the rest of the country. A basic rule of thumb is that the closer you get to the historic center, the more expensive accommodation and food will be, but the options are so wide that you will always find something that suits your pocket. Backpacker accommodations range from basic campsites for about $ 2 or 3 to hostels with more amenities in the $ 15-20 range, and you can eat very well for $ 3.
Many say that in Cusco “they charge you for everything”, but personally I think it is one of those cities where you do not need to spend a lot of money on tickets, since going for a walk enjoying the daily activity and the colors of the markets are its main attraction. To get a first impression of the city, you can start by doing one of the free tours of Inkan Milky Way or Free Walking Tours Peru.