South America is a continent that caters to travelers of all budgets. There are countries that are quite cheap, with accommodation that will cost you little more than a few dollars, and then there are countries that can be very expensive, with every type of accommodation imaginable. Most larger cities have luxurious hotels that cater to both business travelers and vacationers who are looking for high end comfort. You'll also find plenty of hostels throughout this region, as South America is a popular backpacker destination, with the amenities to prove it.
You'll find the greatest diversity in accommodation in the larger cities like Rio de Janeiro or Santiago, but these places also tend to be the more expensive options. Rural areas that are away from the beach but surrounded by culture usually have the most affordable places to sleep, although there is usually a limited selection to choose from.
Ideas to Keep Costs Down
The large backpacker crowd in South America means that there are many facilities which cater specifically to budget travelers. In large cities you won't be at a loss to find accommodation, whether you're looking for luxury comforts or backpacker hostels. There are also several western chains in most major cities in South America. While cities tend to be the most expensive areas throughout the region, they also offer the most flexibility. If you're creative you might be able to keep your costs to a minimum. Consider in advance which neighborhood you want to stay in. Most of the larger cities have a great public transportation system so you can stay almost anywhere and have access to the rest of the city. Look for a neighborhood that is residential in nature and the hostel will likely be slightly cheaper. More importantly, the restaurants and markets in the residential area will be cheaper as well, so not only will your accommodation budget stay low, but so will your food budget. Do make sure the neighborhood is safe however, as safety and security should always be a top priority.
Because there are so many amenities for travelers, it is possible to show up without reservations in most towns and find a good deal. In larger cities this may be a little more difficult or stressful simply because you cannot compare all of your options and you may find yourself lost. If you're not flexible or up for an adventure, then definitely make reservations ahead of time.
The most difficult and expensive time to find accommodation is during Carnival. The Christmas and New Years holidays can also present challenges. If you'll be traveling to South America during any of these times it is critical that you make reservations well in advance. There will not be any last minute deals, as places will fill up completely. Also make sure you fully understand the hotel's cancellation policy. Many do not allow any cancellation refund for reservations that overlap Carnival. There are usually minimum reservation lengths as well. Some hotels and hostels require at least a seven night visit during Carnival. Confirm this policy before making your reservation.
Like many places, it is possible to negotiate prices down in South America. If you're traveling during the low season you will likely be more successful at this. As mentioned above, this is not a realistic option during holidays and festivals, but if a hotel or hostel is not near capacity, you can often get them to reduce the price somewhat.
South America is a good area to consider couchsurfing as well. If your Spanish is good you'll have more options available to you, but even if you only speak English, you're likely to find a host that is friendly and happy to show you around their hometown. Couchsurfing is growing in popularity throughout South America and it can be a fun way to experience the local culture.
Location is one of the prime factors which affects hotel price. Near the beach, in urban areas, and near the prime tourist attractions you will find hotels and hostels that are very expensive. If you're looking to save a little money consider heading inland to more cultural areas. The prices will be lower, the crowds will be less, and you'll have a memorable experience that is far different than anything you might experience at a tourist packed beach. It's a great way to get off the beaten path and stretch your trip not only in length, but also in experience.
Understand Your Options
South America is a diverse continent, and you'll find a diversity of accommodation available throughout the region. There's almost anything available to travelers, from guesthouses, to hostels, to five star hotels. You'll find the widest selection of hotels in the cities, where you can find western chains, local boutique style hotels, or backpacker hostels, often all within the same block. In the rural areas you'll find a less diverse selection, but some more interesting and eclectic options. In some areas you may enjoy doing a homestay, where you can familiarize yourself with the community, meet a lovely family, and live like a local for a short time. During a homestay you may have the opportunity to enjoy any number of activities, from working on the farm to riding a horse or helping with the animals. It's truly a unique cultural experience.
Camping is an option in many national parks or other scenic areas in South America. This can be an enjoyable way to immerse yourself in the stunning beauty and landscape of the area. Bring a tent, or rent one if you don't have one on you. The camping facilities can vary in quality and amenities. Some of the more established campgrounds have full hookups available. There may also be bathrooms and showers nearby as well. More remote camping sites have little more than cleared ground available. Come prepared for whatever the conditions may be.
Hostels are a great way to meet up with fellow travelers. It's great to meet other travelers at the beginning of your trip as they can often provide all kinds of feedback and suggestions for anything from public transportation ideas to itinerary recommendations. If you're traveling alone it can also be nice to hook up with a couple of other travelers who are headed the same way as you. Not only is there safety in numbers, but this can help cut down on costs if you share rooms and split tour guide costs. Hostels are also a great way to socialize while you travel, and because of the popularity of travel in South America, if you plan accordingly, you will be in no shortage of travel companions.
Some people head to South America for a specific activity, whether it's surfing, rock climbing, or trekking. Some hotels and hostels are designed specifically for activity based tourism. There are surfing hostels available in Rio de Janeiro where you can stay on the beach and take surfing lessons directly through your hotel. Classes can be prearranged in advance and all activities may be included in the price of the room. This can be a fun way to experience one or two different activities while you're on the road.
Many people choose to take a language course while they're in South America as well. There are some very well established language programs in several different countries. It's easy to make arrangements ahead of time from your home country, but if you're on the road and decide to do this, it's also easy to make arrangements from within the country as well. Different programs include different things in their price. Some include the price of a dorm room with the price of tuition. Others do not. Do plenty of research prior to enrolling in a class to make sure it is a reputable and successful program.
Some people choose to visit South America through a volunteer program. There are some excellent and reputable volunteer programs available, but there are also many that are far from respectable. Do thorough research to make sure your effort and money is going towards a good cause. Many of these programs provide accommodation to their volunteers. The rooms are generally basic, but comfortable. You may or may not be paired with a roommate. Volunteer programs typically charge a stipend which goes towards the cost of food and board, among other things. It is very important before you join a volunteer program that you inquire about where your money goes. You want to work with a program that keeps the majority of its funds within the local community. Very little of your money should go toward overhead costs and administration. Also confirm that your work will not displace a local employee. While this seems like an obvious problem, some volunteers are not always aware that they are actually taking away valid, paying jobs from community members. More often, however, volunteers show up to find there is little work available for them to do. This can be a frustrating and disheartening experience. Inquire ahead of time about what types of tasks you might be performing. You are likely to have a more rewarding and helpful experience if you have specific professional qualifications that you can offer to a community.
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