Transportation in South America

Transportation in South America

One of the great things about South America is that, with a little advance planning and bargain-hunting, transportation can be quite cheap. Costs vary quite a bit by country, so do your research. In general here’s what you need to know:

Inexpensive Countries:


Mid-Priced Countries:


Expensive Countries:


Long Distance Buses: The vast majority of tourist and backpacker travel in South America takes place by intercity buses. There are dozens of different bus companies, all specializing in different parts of the country. In general, expect to pay between $1 and $5 an hour to travel by intercity bus. Always remember that in high season prices may rise significantly.

For example, in Ecuador a bus from Otavalo to Quito is about two hours and costs $2. However, in Argentina a bus from Mendoza to Buenos Aires is about 15 hours and costs $75. Regardless of where you are; try to break down your bus costs by dollar per hour traveled. It’s a good way to make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Additionally, during low season, it never hurts to politely do a little bargaining. Some bus companies are amenable to giving you a little discount.

Cars:  Car rental, while generally possible with an American or European driver’s license, is expensive and largely impractical. Additionally, you’ll have to worry about parking, paying expensive highway tolls, and high fuel costs in many countries. However, if you do want to live on the wild side and rent a car, expect to pay about $50 a day.

Domestic Flights: Domestic flights, (meaning within one South American country) can be quite cheap if you buy ahead of time and look for “promociones” or specials. In some cases, such as Colombia, they can even be cheaper than taking the bus. Remember that, like everywhere else, airlines are increasingly charging for checked or sometimes even carry-on luggage. Make sure that the price that you are seeing includes all taxes, fees, and includes all luggage you plan to bring.

International Flights: International flights in South America are generally expensive, especially when compared to Europe and the United States. Do extensive research on ITA Matrix and other travel websites, but you’ll find it difficult to find bargains. This is especially true when you are seeking to fly to smaller cities. Your best bet for finding reasonably priced flights is to fly from one major hub to another: Bogota to Lima, Santiago to Buenos Aires, or Rio de Janiero to Montivideo, for example.

Taxis: In general taxis throughout South America are reasonably priced when compared to American or European prices. This is especially true in the Andean countries. Make sure you understand how the taxi system works. Generally taxis are often metered, although in some areas fares are negotiated beforehand. While most taxi drivers are honest, it is not unheard of for them to try to charge foreigners more; sometimes as much as double. If faced with such a situation be firm but polite.

Intracity Buses/Local Public Transportation: Intracity buses and local public transportation offer the best deal of all in South America. They are often heavily subsidized by local governments for political purposes, and in almost all cities outside of Brazil, routes on public transport cost less than a dollar. As always, be careful on public transport in big cities, as they are known to be magnets for pick-pockets.

Walking: The most economical way of all to get around! Although make sure you know your surroundings, and don’t walk around at night, especially in poorly lit areas.

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