The Cheapest Countries Every Backpacker Should Visit in Central & South America

Ever since the 2-year hiatus on the travel industry in 2020, travel has gotten severely expensive. People are “making up for lost time”, while some tourists are justifying these ludicrous prices on the fact that they haven’t traveled in years, and owners are making up for the money they lost. It sucks, but it’s the reality of the tourism industry these days. It doesn’t have to make it impossible for the rest of us to travel and there are still affordable places on our radar and places that are struggling that are relying on our support.

Central and South America are truly immense and for that reason I’ve only included the countries and places that I know are affordable from personal experiences and excluded expensive countries like the oversaturated, overpriced Caribbean Islands, and the astronomically priced Uruguay and Chile. Whether you seek sun-soaked beaches, colonial charm, vibrant cities, or natural wonders, these Latin American destinations have something to suit every traveler’s taste and budget.


Mexico has always been a tourist hot-spot. The country is truly massive and there are so many different places to choose from. It is a country renowned for its affordability, making it an enticing destination for budget-conscious travelers. Whether you’re seeking the big city vibe, pristine beaches, or historical landmarks, Mexico offers a ton of affordable options. The influx of American “digital nomads” has put a strain on some Mexican cities and has dramatically driven up the cost of expat and remote-work friendly neighborhoods in places like Roma Norte in Mexico City, small surf towns like Sayulita, Nayarit, and more established cities like Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo. There are still affordable options and some popular ones include Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca City, Guadalajara, Huatulco, and Chiapas.


Belize, a Central American gem, offers affordable adventures for travelers. Known for its breathtaking turquoise waters and world-class diving spots, Belize boasts popular destinations such as Ambergris Caye, Umaya Village and Caye Caulker. These islands provide budget-friendly accommodations, delicious local cuisine, and affordable water activities. Safety-wise, it is advisable to take standard precautions and be mindful of your surroundings, particularly in big cities. A bonus in Belize is that they speak English making it easier for the less-experienced traveler that doesn’t understand Spanish.


Guatemala offers an abundance of budget-friendly options for intrepid explorers. The ancient city of Antigua is a popular destination, renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture and culture. There are a lot of budget accommodations like hostels and short term rentals, local markets, and affordable dining options. While Guatemala has some safety concerns, particularly in certain big cities, exercising caution and staying informed can contribute to a safe and enjoyable trip. Lake Atitlan is also a very famous overnight volcano hike, where you can see an active volcano when it isn’t too smokey. It’s become very popular for backpackers and hikers. Guatemala is known to have some of the easiest to understand Spanish, making it a great place for novice speakers to learn the language.


Honduras, located in Central America, offers budget-friendly options for travelers. The Bay Islands, including Roatán and Utila, are renowned for their stunning beaches and vibrant coral reefs. These islands provide a range of affordable accommodations, dive shops, and local eateries. Safety can vary in different parts of Honduras, so it’s recommended to research and follow local advice to ensure a safe journey. There are tons of affordable transportation and accommodation options and many organized tours that make traveling the country easy and safe.

El Salvador

El Salvador, often overshadowed by its neighboring countries, is a very affordable destination waiting to be explored. The coastal town of El Tunco is a favorite among surfers and beach lovers. It’s super laid-back atmosphere, affordable hostels, and beachside eateries make it an ideal budget destination. Safety concerns still exist in certain areas of El Salvador, so it’s important to stay informed and take precautions while traveling. San Salvador offers cheap and quick flights from many cities in USA making it easy to get to. Also make sure to try a Pupusa when you visit El Salvador, they’re truly delicious.


Nicaragua, known for its diverse landscapes and culture, offers affordable adventures for travelers. The colonial cities of Granada and Leon are popular destinations, with their colorful architecture, historic churches, and lively markets. Budget-friendly accommodations and local restaurants can easily be found anywhere you go. There are also many surftowns for the adventurous backpacker, San Juan Del Sur, being the most popular. Volcano hikes, ziplining, kayaking, scuba diving, and horseback riding are some of the other adventurous things that are easy to find in Nicaragua. While Nicaragua has experienced some political unrest in recent years, many areas are safe for tourists. It’s advisable to stay updated on the current situation and follow local guidance. Islands like Ometepe and Little Corn Island. The landscapes are very similar to Costa Rica and the price is significantly less expensive, which is why I don’t even recommend Costa Rica to anyone. Nicaraguan cities offer chicken busses which are essentially old school-busses converted to public transport and are very affordable and usually take you anywhere you’d need to, but don’t expect to find a bus schedule on Google maps. Another impressive thing to note is that Nicaragua has an active 19 volcanoes, while Costa Rica only has 6.

Costa Rica

I want to make it abundantly clear that I have only included Costa Rica on this list because it’s beautiful and there are ways to travel it cheaply, but having said that, it is very expensive and I recommend Nicaragua or Panama over Costa Rica for similar landscapes and options.


Panama is truly a country of dramatic contrasts. It provides a range of affordable experiences for budget travelers but also the option of luxury and high-life for those who can afford it. Panama City, with its modern skyline and historic Casco Viejo district, offers budget-friendly accommodations, street food stalls, and a vibrant nightlife but also offers world-class hotels, and international five star cuisine, giving you the best of both worlds if you so please. The country also boasts stunning natural beauty, such as the San Blas Islands and Bocas del Toro, where budget-friendly accommodations and water activities abound. Safety is generally satisfactory in tourist areas, but it’s always wise to remain cautious and aware of your surroundings. There are budget-friendly transportation options available but take it from me, they are not the easiest. I took a bus from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro and the bus driver was a maniac, blaring music the entire time, and had the air conditioner on full blast. On the way back we made sure to trade the 18-hour bus ride for a 45 minute plane. If you book early the planes can cost the same as the bus.


Colombia, a diverse and budget-friendly destination, has seen a huge surge in tourism in recent years. The city of Medellín, known for its transformation from a troubled past to a world-renowned city, offers affordable accommodations, delicious street food, and a lively arts and culture scene, and some of the best nightlife in South America. Cartagena, with its colonial charm and Caribbean beaches, also caters to various budgets with a range of accommodations and dining options. While Colombia has made significant strides in terms of safety, it’s still advisable to exercise caution, particularly in certain areas. Although Medellin and Cartagena are the two most popular destinations in Colombia, they are consequently the most expensive, but still it’s possible to find some cheaper places in both. Santa Marta and it’s surrounding areas are my personal favorites, offering beautiful beaches and some incredible hikes like the Ciudad Perdido.


Brazil, a vast and diverse country, offers a mix of budget-friendly destinations and also some very expensive options. The entire coastline is scattered with thousands of beaches, and it could take months if not years to visit them all. The city of Rio de Janeiro is renowned for its iconic attractions like Copacabana Beach and Christ the Redeemer. Travelers can find affordable accommodations in neighborhoods like Santa Teresa and Lapa, and enjoy delicious street food and local markets. Safety in Brazil can vary depending on the region, so it’s important to research and follow local advice to ensure a safe trip. If you’re planning to visit Brazil during Carneval, I highly recommend you book early! The prices can fluctuate and if you wait too long, be very expensive. Sao Paolo, is one of my favorite big cities in the world, offering surprisingly the best Japanese food I’ve had in my life, outside of Japan. Unfortunately there are no beaches in the city itself, but Flixbus offers a cheap bus between Rio and Sao Paolo making it possible to tackle both in one trip if you’re strapped for time.


Peru, home to the legendary Machu Picchu and vibrant cultural heritage, offers tons of budget-friendly adventures. The city of Cusco serves as the gateway to Machu Picchu and provides affordable accommodations, local markets, and budget eateries. Additionally, the capital city of Lima offers a mix of historical sites, world-class cuisine, and affordable accommodations in neighborhoods like Miraflores and Barranco. Peru is generally considered safe for tourists, but it’s recommended to take necessary precautions, particularly in crowded areas and tourist hotspots. If you’re planning on visiting, make sure you’re ready and take your time, as alot of tourists can get severe altitude sickness.


Ecuador, a small yet diverse country, offers affordable experiences for travelers. The city of Quito, with its colonial charm and stunning views, provides budget-friendly accommodations, local markets, and inexpensive street food. The Galapagos Islands, although pricier due to park fees, offer budget-friendly options such as island hopping and land-based tours. Their main currency is USD so keep that in mind, as it’s not as cheap as surrounding countries. Ecuador is considered relatively safe for tourists, but it’s important to stay cautious, especially in urban areas and crowded places.


Bolivia, a country rich in natural wonders and cultural heritage, offers budget-friendly opportunities for exploration. The city of La Paz, nestled amidst breathtaking mountain landscapes, provides affordable accommodations, street markets, and budget-friendly eateries. The Uyuni Salt Flats, a must-visit destination, offers budget tours for travelers. While Bolivia is generally safe for tourists, it’s recommended to stay cautious and be aware of potential altitude-related health issues.


Paraguay, often overlooked by travelers, offers affordable and off-the-beaten-path experiences. The capital city of Asunción provides budget-friendly accommodations, local markets, and cultural attractions. The country also offers natural gems like the Jesuit Missions of Trinidad and Jesús, which provide affordable guided tours. Paraguay is generally considered safe for tourists, but it’s always wise to take necessary precautions and be mindful of your surroundings. If you’re planning to visit Paraguay, then I highly recommend you make a weekend trip out of the Saltos Monday and Iguazu Falls of Brazil & Arentina. I go into more detail about the Iguazu Falls and the 3 Frontiers here. You can visit 3 countries in one day and visit some of the most incredible waterfalls you’ll ever see in your entire life. It’s a perfect place to start or end your Paraguay trip.


Argentina, a very Europeanesque country, offers a mix of affordable and luxurious experiences. Buenos Aires, the vibrant capital, provides budget accommodations in their most popular neighborhoods , along with affordable dining options and tango shows. The country’s natural wonders, such as Iguazu Falls and the stunning landscapes of Patagonia, also offer budget-friendly adventures. Argentina is generally safe for tourists, but it’s recommended to exercise caution, particularly in crowded areas and public transportation. Argentina has some of the best meat options I’ve ever had in my life, and it’s Italian influence really shows with their incredible options of wine and cheese. Air Travel is quite affordable in Argentina if you book early, but make sure to do searches on the budget airlines like Fly Bondi, because some search engines don’t include the budget airlines!

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