How to get to Latin America cheaply, is a crucial question for many European budget travellers, yet easy answers just don’t’ seem to exist.
Like the continent’s great Mayan and Incan temples, it appears to be another unfathomable dimension to this intriguing part of the world.
However, after a few years there, I managed to uncover some answers that might be useful for those longing to get to Latin America cheaply.
Sometimes, this means travelling in unpredictable or unusual ways, but that’s all part of the fun right?!
- The Ultimate Backpacking South America Packing List
- The Best Budget-Friendly Things to do in Arequipa, Peru
- 10 Important Things To Know Before Backpacking Central America
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#1 Boat Hitching to Get to Latin America Cheaply
So the first, and probably the most adventurous way of getting across to both Central and South America from Europe, or closer enough, is to hitch a ride on a boat across the Atlantic.
Sadly, I’ve not done this myself (such a shame because I would absolutely have loved to), but I do have several close friends that have used this method a number of times.
The key is to find the right time of year in which boats from a particular port will be making the crossing to the Americas.
The one I know most about is November time when many boats leave the Canary Islands (just off the coast of Africa) and set sail across the Atlantic. Arrival destinations vary, but Panama (with its famous canal) is a popular drop off point, as are Mexico and Brazil.
The great thing about such trips are the number of the skills you get to learn, as captains normally teach you all about sails, stars, safety and nautical navigation.
This is something I really found out when I boat-hitched in Southern Africa and it’s an amazing feeling being out on the open sea at night with only the blanket of stars around you. Journeying by boat to Latin America is also an exciting and dead cheap way of getting there as it’s usually free in exchange for work and board, such as cooking and cleaning.
Negative points about hitching on a boat however are largely time-based.
It can take days or even weeks of hanging around ports, asking all sorts of people for a ride, in order to get a lift and then, of course, the voyage itself also takes a long time – a real bummer if you don’t get on with the people on board! But man, what a way to get there!
After all, it’s all about the journey not the destination right!
#2 Flying to Get to Latin America Cheaply
If you want to apt for a more regular form of transport to get to Latin America from Europe however, the plane journey is probably for you!
As always when booking flights, but particularly long-haul ones, remember the 3 crucial rules for finding cheap flights: off-peak, price comparison and cookie clearing.
Choice of Latin American Airport
On top of that, it’s also a good thing to consider your choice of airport when you want to get to Latin America. Panama City is a great arrival or departure point.
Being at the crossroads between Central and South America, and with a big ex-pat population, it offers lots of great priced flights to both Europe and through the US.
Brazil is also generally a cheaper country to fly into or out of given the frequency of flights going there, but do beware, it’s an expensive country once you touch down!
The other alternative is to search for flights into or out of places that are major package tourist destinations i.e. Costa Rica or the Yucatan Peninsula in Southern Mexico.
Often operators sell off seats they haven’t sold to package tourists at incredibly cheap rates, meaning you can land yourself a super deal and escape the crowds once you get there.
From any Latin American Airport to your Destination
From any airport in Latin America, it’s normally then very easy to get into town and catch cheap local buses within or between countries, particularly in the much smaller zone of Central America.
Internal airline carriers also operate many routes within South America, but are not necessarily as cheap as you’d like to think unfortunately.
Avianca, the Colombian airline, has the best fares and is the one I’ve used to travel both from Panama City to Cartagena.
Don’t forget that internal flights can be easily booked within the country only a few days in advance, so there really is no need to pay a premium and book internal flights while you are still at home, unless you need to.
TOP TIP: Check out Skyscanner for the best flight deals around!
Choice of European Airport
In terms of European airports, Frankfurt is a great option to research to get to Latin America, because being a big European hub it’s sure to get you some good deals.
Due to their connections with the continent, Spanish airports also have much cheaper flights.
Make sure to search airlines that depart and arrive into Madrid, as you might be amazed at the price difference compared to flights operating out of London for example.
From Frankfurt or Madrid, you can always then just hop on a budget airline to make the short and cheap trip back to the UK or elsewhere in Europe.
From any European Airport to your Destination
Another option from Madrid home is by train, which I can personally recommend!
When I flew back into Madrid Barajas Airport from Quito in Ecuador, I got the Metro to Madrid Chamartin Station and from there, an overnight into Paris Gare d’Austerlitz.
Not only was this great fun, it was also cheap, as I got a great special offer on couchette, through Rail Europe, which meant I could sleep horizontally too!
With time on my hands, travelling this way allowed me to extend my adventure by enjoying the beautiful Spanish countryside whizzing past beneath a glorious sunset sky and then a croissant breakfast in Paris the next morning … and all without the hassle of airport security and the guilt of an even larger carbon footprint!
Once you’re in Paris, an easy Eurostar ride or ferry trip back to the UK can also help to make a holiday out of the trip home!
So go on, get creative, be brave, think outside the box and see how cheaply you can cross the Atlantic!
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12 thoughts on “How to Get to Latin America Cheaply From Europe”
Hey, great post! I did a lot of research into this before going to Central America, eventually getting a cheap London-Cancun (Mexico) flight with Thomas Cook and then heading overland (with a couple of stops) once there the local transport is pretty cheap though! 🙂
Absolutely Gemma, local overland travel in Central America is really cheap once you get there and everything is relatively close – compared to South America that is! In fact, I’m listing local overland travel as one of the key budget travel tips in a new post I’m writing about how to travel Central America on the cheap! Sounds like you’re already on it!
What a perfect and thorough guide! I feel like SE Asia is so hot right now (especially for European backpackers) that Latin America doesn’t seem to get enough detailed love from the big backpacking blogs.
I’m super keen to dry boat hitching, though like you haven’t done it yet myself. Another traveler also recently told me about ‘repositioning cruises’, which seem to be a bit outside the typical backpacker budget, but seem to be comparable in price to a transatlantic flight, plus your meals are included, so that one might come out cheaper than you’d expect too!
I’ve also noticed that Madrid seems to be a good place to fly out from/into. I’d also add that it seems like, at least in a couple countries (Brazil, Mexico), Portugal is a cheap option as well!
Super useful — will definitely be linking and sharing this 🙂 Thanks and happy backpacking!
Thanks so much Jakob and gold you found the guide useful. I haven’t checked out flights from Portugal before, so that is a great tip – will definitely be looking into that in the future 🙂
Do you have any tips from your friends (or from yourself if you’ve had time to try it out by now!) on personal safety if hitching a ride on a boat?
Sadly I don’t Cat, but lots of my friends use websites that are actually set up for this sort of thing now. Have a google …
Fantastic. I am so grateful to find your post. Your work has helped me greatly. Best wishes from UK omw to Mexico :):)
Great Nino 🙂
I was able to get from Paris to Cayenne for only 288 GBP return. Still had to pay 25 gbp for the bus to Pairs.
But Cayenne helped me get to Suriname, Guyana and Brazil
Wow this is great to know Martin, many thanks for sharing this useful info. Best, Steph 🙂
thank you for your sharing, as for train i could not find suitable train from Madrid to Paris direct without stops.could you help I used app Rome2rio.
Hi Bashir, I would check seat61.com to see if this service is running. It had been halted for a while, but my understanding was that it was back up and running again. Best wishes and happy travels 🙂 Steph