South America Living

The Tourist Tax in South America; Be Prepared!

by Molly McHugh, Former Editor/Publisher of South America Living.     About the Author

You’ve planned your trip to a tee, even included a couple hundred dollars extra in your budget for unexpected expenses. What you may not have planned for, however, is the tourist tax you are going to get added to just about everything you buy and most tourist attractions you visit.

When living in Esquel two summers ago and riding the Old Patagonia Express with an American we had to pay triple what Argentinians pay (around $80 USD each versus an approximate $25 USD). He ranted for close to an hour and even vowed to send President Cristina a letter. “We don’t charge tourists more to visit places in the U.S. Why should we have to pay more when visiting Argentina?” he lamented.

You just do… and had better get used to it when visiting many locations in South America. Traveling through Posadas, Argentina on the way to Iguazu Falls and want to see the San Ignacio Mini ruins? What you will see first upon buying your ticket is a sign with prices listed for locals, nationals and “us” – the extranjeros (foreigners in English). Again, triple the cost.

It isn’t just major attractions that get the tourist tax added in, you will be charged an extra peso here, extra sole there… when buying food items, shopping in a local tienda (shop in English), etc. My son recently spent a day taking photographs on the northside of Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. In addition to gushing about how cool it was he had this story to tell:

“Everything was more expensive (than Copacabana). When I went into a store to buy cookies there were two prices on the package, 1.50 bolivianos and 2 bolivianos. The owner tried to charge me 2 bolivianos but I said isn’t it only 1.50? He said no, that was the price for the locals, I had to pay 2. What a rip-off… I bought the same cookies in Copacabana for only 1 boliviano!”

The tourist tax. No matter where you go, even to remote islands on a lake… it is an ever-present reality in South America.

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