How to save money on your South American trip
Many people might rule out a holiday in South America on the grounds that it is too expensive, but there are ways to save money and make that dream trip an affordable reality. Here’s what you need to know:
Tour operator prices to Latin America are often prohibitively expensive. Although some operators offer good value, such as Llama Travel and Journey Latin America’s value range, typical tour prices are high. Unpackage your trip and book it yourself. Get decent insurance and make sure that your Transatlantic flights aren’t going to be affected by a cancelled or delayed short haul connection by purchasing all legs as a through ticket. Don’t be tempted to book airport transfers or tours in advance for the popular destinations as you’ll pay a premium and it’s simple to arrange these on arrival.
Book your trip for shoulder season
Peak period flights to South America are expensive, there’s no getting round it. But if you can be flexible with your dates, then it is possible to slash the cost of your Transatlantic fare. For example, travelling in the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) can reduce prices significantly. Don’t rule out the southern hemisphere winter. Air France flights from London to Lima last June were on sale for a little over £500 (compared to over £1000 in August) and if your planned destination is up in the Andes such as Cusco in Peru or San Pedro de Atacama in Chile then it will be dry and sunny during the daytime – just pack a thick fleece and jacket for the evenings.
Don’t assume the European route will be the cheapest
There are few direct flights to Latin America, meaning demand often outstrips supply which pushes the prices up. Use a flight comparison website to see which routes are cheapest for the dates you wish to travel; many people consider the US and European hubs such as Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid, but there are often deals to be had to west coast destinations via Brazil or Argentina with LATAM. At the time of writing, LAN were offering return fares to Rio for £419. If you’re on a really tight budget but have bags of time, you could consider reaching your final destination overland from Rio or Buenos Aires.
Do your homework on internal flights
Sometimes, overnight buses provide a cheap and surprisingly comfortable alternative to flying. Many large bus companies in Latin America offer cama or semi-cama seating – large spacious seats which recline far enough for you to have a good night’s sleep. Stick to a reputable operator which will use two drivers and ensure they are drug-tested and safe to go behind the wheel. Try Cruz del Sur, for example, between Arequipa and Cusco. If you do need to fly, check the terms and conditions before purchasing. LAN offers sizeable discounts on its internal flights in Chile if you book from a Chilean website (use free software such as Tor) or via a Chilean travel agent – and you don’t have to be Chilean national to take advantage of them. This isn’t the case for all countries; in Argentina, discounted prices are for nationals only.
Don’t rule out hostels and guest houses
Private rooms in hostels increasingly come with private bathrooms and can be a fraction of the cost of a similar quality hotel room. They’re also a good way to meet other like-minded travellers who might be willing to split the cost of tours with you. Use a reliable website such as Booking.com or Hostelbookers.com to fix up your accommodation in advance – use the free cancellation option, monitoring prices so you can cancel and rebook if prices fall before you leave. Check locations carefully so that you are within walking distance of transport operators or the attractions you want to visit.
Package up tours
If you do decide to book tours, some operators will bundle up different day and half-day excursions offering a discount for cash. If you’re booking for the next few days ahead, they’ll be keen to fill their minibus and will want to make sure you don’t take your business elsewhere. This works well where it’s normal to take tours rather than use public transport to visit sites of interest, such as the Sacred Valley near Cusco and Los Flamencos National Reserve in the Chilean Atacama.
In Chilean Patagonia, accommodation providers in the Torres del Paine National Park offered expensive all-inclusive packages. Self-drive from Punta Arenas (four hours) or Puerto Natales (one hour) and drive yourself round the park. Stock up at the supermarket in Puerto Natales for provisions to save buying expensive box lunches from the hotel (and make sure you have a full tank of petrol). The maps and information provided by the visitor centre are excellent and you won’t have wasted money on a guide.