For those travelling on a budget, and ready to see the world post COVID-19

How great is travelling? It is one of life’s most beautiful treasures. How about free stuff? It makes anything seem so much sweeter. The elusive pairing of travel and free is what many budget wanderers dream of.

My husband and I have spent months to years living, backpacking, and road tripping through South America (always on a budget). So in honour of all people who want to see the world with minimal cost, this article is dedicated to you.

I’ll first put in my top 10 picks, and then feel free to scroll below for some top free (or near free) places to see broken down by country.

My top 10

  1. El Chaltén, Argentina – the ultimate destination for any traveller. Chaltén is an untouched town that is perfect for nature lovers and surprisingly 100% free. I don’t think this will last forever, but until then let’s enjoy it. You can hike many picturesque trails to glaciers, lagoons and the famous Fitzroy Mountain Range. The town itself is charming (though mainly closed down in winter months)
  2. Torres del Paine (on the cheap), Chile – so most people think you have to pay thousands of dollars to visit Torres del Paine. You can actually do it for little to no money in a rental/or private vehicle with your own food. I have another article with more details here. The only price you need to pay is admission $42-$50 AUD depending on the season
  3. Ruta 68, Argentina – the ultimate road trip. This road takes you through the north west of Argentina and is full of unique red rock formations and beautiful valleys – all, you guessed it, free
  4. Parque Nacional Iberá, Argentina – a very new national park in the north east Argentina that is full of wildlife and FREE. The only catch is the accessibility, 4×4 is necessary if it has been raining (and it rains a lot there)
  5. Futaleufú, Chile – this southern Chilean town is in a national park and is surrounded by mint green rivers and snow dusted mountains. The many trails to different turquoise lakes, rivers and panoramic vantage points are all free… The people also give a very warm welcome
  6. The hot springs of Puyehue, Chile – 100% natural hot springs that are also 100% free of charge. This place has nearby camping facilities and all you need to bring is a shovel to dig down into the thermal waters
  7. Carretera Austral, Chile – another epic road trip that boasts life changing views for no added cost. The only price is the petrol and mode of transport. Hitchhiking is more challenging, but not impossible
  8. Montaña de 14 Colores, Argentina – forget the Rainbow Mountain in Peru. This place is the colourful mountain to visit! The price is around $6 AUD to enter and you won’t regret it. The added bonus – you can get there in the comfort of your own car or a bus! So the literally breath taking hike can be skipped
  9. Salinas Grandes, Argentina – the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia are the more famous salt flats to visit in South America. However, Argentina is home to easily accessible salt flats that can be visited for little to no money. Salinas Grandes are literally on the side of the highway connecting Argentina and Chile, and are the third largest salt flats in South America. You can venture in by foot for free, or pay a fee of around $10 AUD for a guide and enter the salt flats by vehicle
  10. Chiloé, Chile – the magical island of Chiloé is home to many myths and legends. From the little trauco who impregnates young women to the ghost ship called Caleuche which captures fishermen. Chiloé can be explored from top to bottom for minimal cost, the famous palafito houses and whimsical churches can all be enjoyed for free

How to get around

Okay so these places sound amazing…but how do I get there? Well once you’re in the country it depends on your budget. We found buying a car and then selling it worked for us. For some renting a car is a better option. You can travel for even less by utilising public transport or hitch hiking. Buses are the best mode of public transport in South America, with many bus companies serving almost every possible route. Hitch hiking is possible, but obviously with more risk and less stability. Despite this, we met many hitch hikers on our travels who made it all around South America this way (you may need to wait a few hours for a willing driver).

Argentina – extras

  • Buenos Aires – this capital city is one of my favourite cities of South America. It is full of colourful buildings, art and great food. You can spend days exploring the city for no cost – seeing the Recoleta Cemetery, El Ateneo Grand Splendid (the theatre turned library), the giant obelisk, plazas and more
  • Bariloche – this southern town is surrounded by natural beauty and can be the springboard to different nature trails. You can easily spend a few days strolling the path by the lake and exploring it’s historic centre. Lake Nahuel Huapi nearby is truly stunning and free of charge
  • Jesuit Ruins in Misiones – this interesting part of history is preserved beautifully into 4 different sites. They aren’t heavily visited and it is a one off payment to see all four. It is $6.9 AUD for foreigners, a very fair price

Chile – extras

  • Frutillar/Villarrica/Pucón – these three towns are are nearby in a region dotted with volcanos and lakes. Visiting this area is like a fairytale, just walking through the streets and sitting by the lakes is enough to warm any traveller’s heart
  • Santiago – the capital of Chile, this is a large city with millions of people. It is enclosed by the Andes mountain range and the coastal mountain range, creating a little basin inside that is called Santiago. The top free picks of this city would include – climbing up the hills San Cristóbal and Santa Lucía. My TOP pick would have to be the Museo de la memoria y los derechos humanos or Museum of Memory and Human rights . This museum chronicles the terrible events of the military dictatorship of Pinochet, and sheds lights on the recent history of Chile. A poignant museum that travellers should see to understand the mindset of the Chilean people