12 Cheap Latin American Cities For Budget Nomads Looking to Head South
Forget what you’ve heard. Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you have more time than money. With a little flexibility and a commitment to staying long-term, you can live abroad for pennies on the dollar. In certain Latin American cities, the cost of living is 70-80% cheaper than a similar lifestyle in the United States.
I’m not talking about living like a bum in a hostel dorm for months on end, either. Hostel living is fine, but it’s not a sustainable way to travel for digital nomads. You can live dirt cheap in many Latin American cities with your own apartment, WiFi, hot water, etc. for a lot less than you think.
For example, in Cali, Colombia – I had a studio apartment with a full kitchen, stainless steel refrigerator, hot water, fast wifi, and a decent view for only $310 (USD) a month. Not to mention I was right in the middle of a “Zona Rosa” or nightlife area. I could walk to coffee shops, bars, clubs, restaurants, and my gym. Talk about value!
12 Cheap Latin American Cities For Budget Nomads Looking to Head South
If you’re looking to travel and live in Latin American cities on a budget, here are 12 great places to start:
Since I’ve already talked about Cali, Colombia a bit, let’s start there. Cali may be the cheapest “big” city I’ve ever lived in. A huge breakfast was $2, Uber rides across the whole town cost $4-5, rent was dirt cheap, and drinks can be had for $1-3. Nothing came close to being “expensive” here.
While Cali has a reputation for violence, the city can be as safe as you make it. General precautions will get you far. Just live in a nice area of the city, don’t walk around unsavory areas alone at night, and never take a taxi off the street. Trust me – Cali is worth it. The Salsa Capital of the World is bustling with culture and a unique energy. Plus, the stunning nature around the city add to its allure.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
If you’re looking for a dirt cheap Latin American locale where you can surf and party until your heart is content, then San Juan del Sur is for you. The town on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua is a backpackers haven filled with young people ready for some waves and the occasional Sunday Funday fiesta.
While I was only in town for a week, I was baffled by the cheap cost of living. Huge meals can be found for $3-5, and apartments were even less expensive. I made friends with a guy who was renting a furnished three-bedroom apartment in the center of town for $200 a month. That’s a tough price to beat for beachside living.
Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The first settlement in the Americas is a fantastic place to spend some time living on the cheap. Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is filled to the brims with history, tourist attractions, energetic locals, and a whole lot of nightlife. It’s near to impossible to get bored here with all the hustle and bustle. Plus, the beach is just a 45-minute bus ride away.
The nicer areas of Santo Domingo can be pretty pricey, but Zona Colonial is tailor-made for tourism. This means you can find rentals for cheap throughout the area. A decent studio apartment with A/C will only run you $400-500 with a little effort. Plus, a gym membership costs $8 a month, and fresh juices can be found for $1 throughout the area.
If keeping things under budget is your primary concern, then Huanchaco may be for you. This small beach town in Peru may be the cheapest place I’ve ever been. And I’ve traveled through Nicaragua! Studio apartments run $150-400 per month, while private rooms in apartments only cost $75-250 depending on the location and quality.
You can find dirt cheap surf lessons in the city and renting a board for a month should only cost you $100-150. Food isn’t much, either. I found a restaurant that offered delicious chicken breasts and rice for around $3 per meal. If you’re looking to chill out, get some work done, surf, and live on the cheap – there aren’t many better places than Huanchaco.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
A budding digital nomad destination, Playa del Carmen isn’t a secret these days. Tourists, travelers, and hustlers all flock to this beachside paradise. While the influx of tourists has raised the prices in the city, you can still find decent studio apartments around the center for $400-550 a month.
Luckily, the city has retained a bit of its original charm. Fresh juices and authentic Mexican food are still available for cheap outside the tourist zones in Playa del Carmen. Plus, the beach areas are always free. For digital nomads, the cafe culture in Playa is developing nicely, too.
Known as one of the cheapest places to take Spanish lessons in the world, the charming colonial city of Antigua is a hotspot in Central America. Travelers flock to learn Spanish, explore the stunning nature surrounding the city, and party a little bit. The low prices don’t hurt, either.
While I haven’t been, Guatemala is too cheap of a destination to leave off this list. Friends have told me that monthly rent can be found for $200-400 for a small apartment or furnished room in a stunning colonial home. Meals will run you $3-5 throughout the city, and tourist excursions cost half of what they do in other countries not named Nicaragua.
Costa Rica isn’t one of my favorite countries, but San Jose can be pretty darn cheap. Studio apartments in the center or student areas can run $350-500 a month and nightlife costs next to nothing. $20 will have you bar hopping and boozing all night – if you do it right.
The benefit of living in San Jose, Costa Rica is the proximity to beautiful nature and beach towns throughout Costa Rica. A quick, cheap bus ride from the capital can have you on world-class beaches or in the cloud forest within an hour or two. One could live a nice lifestyle spending weeks in San Jose and weekends exploring the lush scenery and wild waves.
Santiago, Dominican Republic
The second largest city in the Dominican Republic can be quite a steal – if you handle accommodation properly. Apartments can be found for $400-550 a month in nice areas of the city, but you’ll probably need to boots on the ground to find them. That being said – Santiago de los Caballeros is pretty cheap overall.
Full meals can be found for $3-5 and the nightlife costs next to nothing. Most clubs offer free entry and bottles typically run $17-40 depending on the type of liquor you buy. Basing up in this city could be dirt cheap – just remember you won’t find much tourism infrastructure here.
Another booming digital nomad hotspot in Latin America, Medellin has seen a renaissance unlike few have seen before. Once overrun with drug cartel violence, the city is now a hotbed of online hustlers and travelers looking to live on the cheap. Filled with culture, you can find apartments from $300-500 a month here in “safer” areas.
Food, gym memberships, and nightlife can all be done for cheap in Medellin, too. Just get out of Parque Lleras and costs miraculously plummet. One of my fondest travel memories was working a basketball camp with hundreds of young kids in a finca just outside Medellin.
Travelers have been visiting the jump off point for Machu Pichu for decades. The place has a magical vibe to it that draws many to stay longer than planned. With bustling nightlife and incredible nature to explore, it’s easy to see why many people get stuck here for a month or two.
Prices are pretty cheap. Get off Airbnb and you’ll find cheap hotel rooms for $11 a night right in the center of the city (just try not to get kicked out after the second night like I did). Apartments can be had for $300-450 a month, and the nightlife won’t come close to breaking the bank. Drinks are dirt cheap in this backpacking hotspot.
When you’re looking for affordable living in Latin America, Nicaragua should immediately come to mind. There’s not an expensive city in the whole country. The capital of Managua is no exception. Drinks at most bars cost $1-2, and a nice meal at a restaurant typically runs $4-7.
While it can be difficult to find apartments online due to the lack of tourism, rentals should only run $300-500 a month for a decent spot in a good location. Plus, you’ll be able to take $1-5 buses from the capital to a number of sweet beach towns and colonial cities throughout the country.
I may have saved the best for last. I love Bogota. You won’t find much better value anywhere in Latin America than living in the Chapinero district. Apartments for $250-400 a month. Gym memberships for $20 a month. Meals for $3-4. Pints of beer for $2. Manicures for $2. Heck, you can even get your jeans tailored for $3.
It’s really, really cheap. And the city can be a lot of fun. Boasting some of the best nightlife in all of Latin America, Bogota offers a lot to the budget traveler looking for a little fun. Spanish lessons are also reasonably in the city, and Gringo Tuesdays are not to be missed.
Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.