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Adventures on a Budget: Trekking South America

When you think of epic treks around the world some names immediately jump out; Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and the Inca Trail to name a few. Although all three will provide travelers with an unforgettable challenge and stunning scenery, they also come with a hefty price tag. The table below shows the base price for a 10-day trip that includes nothing but airfare and a tour with a reputable midlevel operator:

 
Roundtrip flight from LAX
Tour Price
Total

Kilimanjaro
$1,275 to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
$1,785 (Ultimate Kilimanjaro)
$3,060

Everest Base Camp
$1,139 to Kathmandu, Nepal
$1,410 (Intrepid Tours)
$2,549

Inca Trail
$1,149 to Cuzco, Peru
$2,095 (Southern Explorations)
$3,244

During a recent visit to Cuzco I decided to do some research into the ways travelers could save money while still experiencing these once in a lifetime adventures.

Tip #1: Go Local – While Southern Explorations is known for providing excellent service on their trips, a large part of what clients are paying for is peace of mind. Booking in advance with a company with an international presence can take the stress out of the initial days of your trip, however it comes at price. For those on a budget, ask for recommendations from friends, check out blog posts from others who have gone before and spend your first few days in Cuzco talking with local operators. While many sacrifice much of the comfort offered on a Southern Explorations tour, operators such as SAS, Llama Path and Chaska are known for offering great service for about $1,500 less.

 
Roundtrip flight from LAX
Tour Price
Total

Inca Trail with local operator
$1,149 to Cuzco
$520 (Chaska Tours)
$1669

Tip #2: Try an Alternative Route – While the Inca Trail is certainly the most history route used to arrive at Machu Picchu it is by no means the only route. When the Peruvian government instituted a limit on the number of people who could embark on the Inca Trail to 500 per day (including guides and porters), alternative routes began to grow in popularity. Today debates rage as to which route, the Inca Trail, Salkantay, or Lares is the most impressive hike to the famous ruins while others prefer to skip Machu Picchu and the crowds all together and hike to one of the last known Incan cities, Choquequirao. This site, perched high atop a nearby section of the Andes, is still under excavation and can often be explored with less than a dozen other visitors making for a completely distinct experience. Exploring one of these alternate routes can often save you another $100 off the price of the Inca Trail trek.

 
Roundtrip flight from LAX
Tour Price
Total

Salkantay Trek
$1,149 to Cuzco
$405 (United Mice)
$1554

Tip #3: Consider Skipping the Guide – A general tip that isn’t applicable in all cases. For those hiking the Inca Trail a certified guide is mandatory so there is no way around this expense. However south of Peru in Patagonia some of the world’s most famous treks, the Torres del Paine Circuit or the trails around El Chalten, are easily conquered without a guide. For those equipped with their own tent and sleeping bag the trip costs can be limited to flight and food. Do a little research before your trip to find out if this is an option.

Tip #4: Go off the Beaten Path – While in Cuzco a number of experienced hikers claimed that those looking for a less touristy adventure were better off catching a flight back to Lima and then a bus to Huarez to tackle the Cordillera Blanca Mountains. Listed by The Telegraph as one of the world’s ten best treks what this range lacks in notoriety it makes up for in stunning diverse scenery at a price that is tough to match for those looking for an international adventure. Much like in Cuzco, the best deals are found on the ground rather than booking in advance.

 
Roundtrip flight from LAX
Tour Price
Total

The Cordillera Blanca Santa Cruz Loop
$900 to Lima
$120 (Casa de Guias)
$1020

Naturally these prices are estimates and leave out numerous extra costs associated with any trip such as tips for guides and hotels and food before and after organized tours.

If anyone has their own recommendations for adventure travelers on a budget leave a comment below; all suggestions are welcome.