How To Prepare For South America

How To Prepare For A Trip To South America: 31 FAQs Answered

How do you prepare for a trip to South America? Here are 31 commonly asked questions, answered an expert (me) so you can have the trip of a lifetime!

Contents

South America Timing, Itinerary & Route FAQ's

1. When's The Best Time To Visit South America?

South America is a big place with a variety of landscapes and micro-climates, from misty cloud forests in Ecuador to low lying deserts in Peru.  

 

Due to such variety, there isn’t one specific month that’s optimal for visiting.

 

However, the best time to visit in general to visit South America is between May-October where most of the countries have their dry seasons.

Downloadable PDF timetable demonstrating the best time to visit south America

When's The Best Time To Visit South America?

Sign up for a FREE PDF outlining the best months to visit every country:

2. What's The Best Travel Route Through South America?

The best South America travel route is one that follows the summer weather.

 

It’s also one that takes you through neighboring countries so you’re taking the most efficient and cost-effective route.

 

The best route through South America is one like this:

Month Country Season
July
Colombia
High Season / Summer
August
Ecuador
High Season / Summer
September
Peru
High Season / Summer
October
Bolivia
High Season / Summer
November
Chile
Shoulder Season / Spring
December
Argentina
High Season / Summer
January
Brazil
High Season / Summer

Obviously, this route is only possible for those of you with the ability to travel long term. For short term trips, do your research and try to visit countries during shoulder or peak seasons.

 

A shortened travel route that still gets the best weather through South America looks like this:

 

 

  • August – Colombia/Ecuador
  • September – Peru/Bolivia
  • October – Chile and Argentina
  • November – Brazil

 

However, don’t let this put you off planning a trip outside of these months.

 

I spent time in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia from October to January which is considered ‘winter’ which just means rainy reason. But I rarely experienced bad weather that ruined my trip.

 

Some forward planning always helps though. Ending up in a country during rainy season can have an impact on your trip as you might not be able to do certain tours due to the weather conditions. 

 

For example, February is the wettest month in Bolivia and this may affect Salt Flat tours as some parts of the desert become flooded and inaccessible.

Picture of a lake in South America

3. How Long Do You Need To Travel South America?

You need 3-6 months as a bare minimum to see the most popular countries in South America – Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

 

This is a huge continent, so you won’t be able to see every country. It took me 6 months and I still didn’t get to see much of Brazil or Argentina.

 

Don’t let that put you off though. You can easily see 2-3 countries in month with a well planned itinerary.

 

One of the most popular itineraries on this website is the month-long one.

 

I’ve outlined 4 options in the full post, but the favourite is the first on the list that covers Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

 

This itinerary takes you from Cotopaxi Volcano to Machu Picchu to the Salt Flats, all within the space of 4 weeks.

 

Download it below:

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FREE 1-Month South America Itinerary PDF

4. Is 'X' Amount Of Weeks Enough To Travel South America?

2-3 weeks isn’t long enough to see South America, but you can still see two countries in this time.

 

I recommend a minimum of one week in one country to see the main highlight.

 

For example, you can spend a week in Cusco and see Machu Picchu. You can then fly to Bolivia to visit the Salt Flats.

 

Head to the different itinerary pages for more:

 

5. WHat's The Best Country In South America To Visit For The First Time?

If you’re visiting South America for the first time, I would recommend visiting Peru first.

 

Why? Peru has a number of things that make travelling as a first-timer a lot easier, such as:

 

 

  • Great hostel chains – Peru has 3-4 great hostel chains which can be found in the major cities. The staff speak great English and are always happy to help.
  • A simple route – Peru has a well-established backpacker trail that starts in Lima and ends in Cusco. This makes travelling the country easy and it’s ideal for meeting other travellers along the way.
  • Safe – compared to it’s neighbours, Peru is one of the safest countries in South America
  • Cheap – whilst it is a popular destination, it’s still cheap compared to travelling in Brazil, Argentina or Chile. 
Why You Should Visit Peru First When Going To South America

South America Packing And Gear FAQ's

5. What Clothes Should I Pack For South America?

You need to pack for summer and winter when visiting South America due to the variety of micro-climates.

 

With the Andes going through seven countries, one day you can be enjoying warm weather and sunny skies at sea level, and the next, you’ll be cold and wet in a high-altitude mountain town.

 

You’ll need shorts, sandals and vests for when you’re at the beach and then base layers, hiking boots, a thermal jumper and a waterproof windbreaker for when you’re in the mountains.

 

Even if you aren’t into hiking, you’ll still want some decent shoes, trousers, a warm jumper and a rain jacket for when you’re in high altitude cities like La Paz or Quito as they are much colder.

For the full packing list, head to the post below:

 

 

  • The Ultimate Packing List For South America

6. What Should I Wear Hiking In South America?

  • Hiking boots – fully waterproof and ankle high are essential for trekking in the Andes. I went into my local Mountain Warehouse and picked up a pair of these and they haven’t let me down since. 
Best Hiking Boots For South America: Mountain Warehouse Hiking Boots
  • Mid-layer fleece – a fleece is lightweight but warm, perfect for whipping on and off when trekking to regulate your temperature. Great in the evenings as well when it’s much colder. I go with R1 Zip-Neck from Patagonia. Mens | Womens
Best Mid-layer Fleece For South America: Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullover
  • Waterproof windbreaker – much needed when trekking in the Andes to deal with the biting winds and rapidly changing weather. I like to use the Patagonia TorrentShell 3L. Its lightweight, warm and packable. The jacket self-stuffs into one of the handwarmer pockets with carabiner clip-in loop. Mens | Womens
Best Waterproof for South America: Patagonia 3L Torrentshell Waterproof
  • Hiking Socks – a few pairs of sturdy merino wool socks that don’t rub. There’s nothing worse than getting a blister whilst hiking. If you are from the UK, try these on Amazon.
Best Hiking Socks For South America
Aconcagua National Park, Mendoza (Argentina)

7. Do I Need Hiking Boots For South America?

Yes you need hiking boots for South America.

 

South America is a trekking playground, and it has several of the top treks in the world, most notably the 5-day Salkantay Trek in Peru.

 

Don’t be an idiot like I was and go out with just a pair of trainers. After a week in Ecuador, having completed two treks in trainers, I realised I had made a huge mistake.

 

Invest in solid pair of hiking shoes and you won’t regret it.

 

I would recommend:

 

  • Boots over shoes – Boots come up over your ankles. I prefer the extra ankle support of a boot and felt that the ankle high boots gave me the support I needed. There were zero ankles rolled over my 6-month trip..
  • Waterproof – There were several times I stepped in a huge puddle or small river and didn’t notice. If I had been wearing hiking shoes, my socks would have been soaked.

TOP TIP: Always buy your hiking boots a size bigger. Your feet will get hot and swell up whilst hiking so you need to extra room!

Best Hiking Boots For South America

8. What Toiletries Do I Need For South America?

You don’t need anything different from what you would usually take to a hot country.

 

I recommend:

 

  • Sunscreen – a good factor 50SPF for your face for when you are hiking. As you get higher up, the sun is more powerful and you’ll get burnt. I like Sun Bum

 

  • Medical Supplies – take a mini-medical pack with you with plasters etc. Always comes in handy. This one on amazon is cheap and lightweight. 

 

  • Blister Plasters – you might get blisters with all the walking and hiking. Take a pack of blister plasters, you’ll definitely need them after a 5-day trek like Salkantay.

9. What are Some Other Travel Essentials I Need For South America?

Here are 4 travel essentials for South America that I always bring with me:

 

 

  • Hydroflask Water Bottle – super lightweight and designed for hiking. You can also refill it at hostels that have filtered water. You cant drink tap water in South America. (see below)

 

  • Portable Charger – a portable charger always comes in handy on long buses. It’s also useful in hostels as it’s difficult to find a plug socket sometimes, especially if you’re in a big dorm with only one outlet. Anker are my favourites.  

 

  • Travel Adapterthis one is my favourite. It’s lightweight and holds firmly into most sockets.

 

  • Extension Lead – taking an extension lead is a great little travel hack. You can use your travel adapter to plug it into the mains and then plug in all your home appliances to the extension lead. This one is is my favourite as it packs better compared to the long ones . 

Hydro Flask Trail Series

This is my favourite water bottle for travelling South America for several reasons: 

 

  • Lightweight 
  • Durable
  • Stays clean 
  • Keeps drinks cold for 24 hours

Check it out here. 

Best Water Bottle for South America: Hydroflask Trail Series
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Your Dream South America Trip is A Click Away...

Escape the overwhelm of trip planning. I’ll craft your perfect South American adventure, uniquely personalized to your interests and dreams – all for free!

Joe from Shall We Go Home Travel on the boardwalks behind Perito Moreno Glacier

This could be you, living your dream trip in Patagonia.

South America Backpack FAQS

10. Backpack or Suitcase For SOuth America?

The answer is neither, take a hybrid backpack that has wheels to South America.

 

I spent 6 months travelling South America and took with me an eagle creek 85L wheeled backpack.

 

I never once had to wear it on my back. The only time it was a little annoying was in towns like Cusco that had narrow pavements and cobbled streets.

 

Why not just take a wheeled suitcase? Several reasons:

 

 

  • The shape and structure of a wheeled backpack is much more suitable to hostels. The long and narrow bag can be stood up or laid flat and hardly takes up any room.
  • Backpacks also fit into lockers easier compared to a suitcase and can be locked away and kept safe underneath your bed.
  • It can be put on your back if needed. Best of both worlds.

 

Here’s a quick comparison of the advantages of a suitcase vs a backpack vs a hybrid:

Table comparing a suitcase to a backpack for travelling South America

For the full breakdown comparison between backpacks, suitcases and hybrids, along with my suggestions for the best options in each category, head to the post below:

 

 

11. What’s The Best Backpack For South America?

The best backpack for South America is the Osprey Farpoint 50-70L.

 

It’s reasonably priced and perfect for first time backpackers visiting South America.

 

It also comes with a 15L detachable day pack.

 

This is great for two reasons:

 

1) You can attach them together when on the move and check them both as one back for flights.

 

2) You can then detach the smaller pack when you’re in one place to use it as a day pack  when exploring.

 

If you’re planning on hiking and doing your own camping, then a more technical hiking backpack may be the one for you.

 

The best option is the 65L Atmos AG. 

Best Backpack For South America (Osprey Farpoint)
Best Backpack For South America (Osprey Farpoint)

12. What Size Backpack Should I Take To South America?

The size of the backpack you should take to South America depends on several factors:

 

  • the duration of your trip
  • the countries you plan to visit
  • the activities you intend to undertake (like hiking)

 

Here are some backpack size recommendations for specific countries in South America:

Country Gear Backpack Size (L) Day Pack Size (L)
Colombia / Brazil
Warm weather clothes, trousers and a jumper for the rare cold evenings
45-60L
20-30L
Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia
Warm weather clothes, cold weather clothes and hiking gear
60-70L
30-40L
Argentina / Chile
Warm weather clothes, cold weather clothes. Hiking gear for multi-day treks
70-80L
40L

I took an 85L wheeled hybrid backpack along with a 30L daypack on my first extended trip to South America.

 

However, I also had camera equipment that took up at least 20L in my bag.

 

Therefore, I would recommend taking between 60-70L for your backpack and 30-40L for a day pack when travelling South America.

 

My current combo is:

 

13. What's The Best DayPack For South America?

The best daypack for South America should have:

 

  • A 30-40L Capacity 
  • Comfortable shoulder straps (and preferably a chest or waist strap too)
  • External water bottle holder 
  • Waterproof or at least water resistant 
  • Laptop sleeve 

 

The best bag that meets this criteria in my opinion is the Tortuga 40L Travel backpack.

 

You get the space and organization of a suitcase with the comfort and flexibility of a backpack.

 

Here’s why it’s so great:

14. What Other Luggage Do I Need When Travelling South America?

The 60+L wheeled backpack and 30+L daypack is best luggage combo when travelling South America.

 

One other bag I think is useful and necessary is the fanny pack.

 

This is useful for several reasons:

 

 

  • Easier to access – I usually keep my passport and phone in a fanny pack across my chest when in airports to access them easier when I reach the gate. Its also useful to keep with me when on the plane with essentials so I don’t have to keep getting up and getting things from my bag.

 

  • Safety – having a fanny pack around your chest or hip is a safer way to store important items.

 

  • Extra space – at times during my South America trip I would buy something extra which would overload my back. Having a fanny pack meant I could take a few items out of my day pack to lighten the load.

 

  • Simple – on days when I want to explore a new city but not take a bag, I could just chuck a few essentials in my fanny pack and sling my camera over my shoulder.

 

Two other bags I think are useful but not always necessary are packable daypacks and wet bags.

Best Fannypack for South America (Matador Freerain)
Best Fannypack for South America (Matador Freerain)

What’s The Best Fanny Pack For South America?

A waterproof fanny pack is essential for when you are travelling South America.

 

The weather in South America is erratic.

 

One minute it will be hot and the next it will be raining. There’s nothing worse than getting caught in a shower in the Andes and for all your gear to be soaked.

 

I am a big fan of the Matador Packable Range.

 

Their gear packs down into much smaller sizes so it can be stored away when you’re not using it.

 

And most of the bags are waterproof and designed for the outdoors.

 

 

South America Transport FAQS

15. What's The Best Way To Get Around South America?

The best way to get around South America if you’re on a budget is by bus.

 

Buses are cheap and the services are good quality. Some of the distances are long which require an overnight bus but I always found these comfortable and easy to sleep on.

 

To this day I continue to use Busbud to find the best prices and times.

 

However, you don’t always need to book online. For most places in South America, you can simply go to the bus station the day of your departure and hop on the next bus.

Here is a list of best and safest bus companies to use in each country that are reputable:

 

  • Colombia – Rapido Ochoa. However, I would personally get internal flights. They are cheap and quick whereas the bus journeys in Colombia are 10-12 hours long at a minimum. The topography of Colombia is rough too meaning the roads are bumpy and curvy, making for an unenjoyable ride.
  • Ecuador – unfortunately Ecuador doesn’t have an establish company that covers the country, so you’ll just have to use local buses. Don’t worry though, I spent a month in Ecuador and never had an issue on the local buses.
  • Peru – Cruz Del Sur or Peru Bus
  • Bolivia – Trans Copacabana
  • Chile, Argentina, and Brazil – take internal flights. These countries are so big that the journey times mean a bus is never worth the hassle. The buses are almost as expensive as the flights as well.
The Road To El Chalten (Argentina)

16. What's The Cheapest Way To Travel Between Countries In South America?

The cheapest way to travel between some countries in South America will be by bus.

 

For example, you can take many buses across the borders in South America:

 

 

  • Cusco to Copacabana – you can take a 9-hour overnight bus from Peru to Bolivia
  • Uyuni to Atacama – most Salt Flat tours will start in Uyuni and drop you at the border of Chile. You can then take a 45-minute bus to San Pedro De Atacama.
  • Santiago to Mendoza – you can take an 8-hour bus from Chile to Argentina.

 

However, if you are doing an extended trip through South America, then there will be times you’ll need to fly.

 

For example, the Colombia/Ecuador border crossing is one you’ll probably want to miss. So it would be better to fly from somewhere like Bogota to Quito.

 

Also Ecuador/Peru isn’t a common border crossing.

 

Unless you want to go to Mancora (the surf town in the north of Peru), most people will fly straight to Lima. 

17. How Do I Find Cheap Flights Around South America?

Flights won’t break the bank in South America.

 

I flew from Guayaquil (in Ecuador) to Lima in Peru for under $100.

 

However, they will start to add up if you have to keep flying from country to country. 

 

I’ve been using WayAway Plus to book all my flights whilst travelling around South America.

 

You get cashback on:

 

  • Flights – finds the cheapeast flights and gives you 5% cashback on all flights booked
  • Accommodation – up to 20% cashback on selected deals with Booking.com and 6% with HostelWorld
  • Tours – up to 8% cashback with GetYourGuide and 6% with Viator
Rio De Janeiro views

South America Money FAQS

18. Do YoU Need Cash In South America?

Yes, you’ll need cash for taxis, local buses and smaller restaurants that don’t have card machines.

 

You’ll also need cash when you’re in the less economically developed countries or going off the beaten track. Especially, in places like Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. 

 

For example, if you’re trekking in the countryside in Ecuador, you’ll 100% need cash as hostels and restaurants won’t have card machines. 

 

However, you won’t need it as much in big cities. Places like Medellin, Buenos Aires and Rio are all well-developed and I rarely ever needed cash. I just used my card. 

19. What's The BeSt Card To Use In South America?

Mastercard and Visa are accepted in South America. However, I would avoid using a credit card as you’re bank will charge you for foreign transactions.

 

I recommend using a debit card that:

 

  • Offers a good exchange rate
  • Doesn’t charge for foreign withdrawals
  • Doesn’t charge for foreign transactions

 

If you’re from the UK, I would recommend getting a Monzo card before travelling to South America. 

 

If you upgrade to Monzo Premium, for £15 a month, you get phone insurance, discount on airport lounges and worldwide travel insurance included. Not a bad deal.

 

In the USA, one of the best currency cards for South America is Revolut as they don’t charge you fees for withdrawing cash in a foreign currency. 

Best Credit Card For South America

20. How Much Does A Month In South America Cost?

For a month backpacking in South America, you should aim to spend around $1500.

 

Budget travellers will be able to manage a month on around $1000-1200 if they only stick to one or two countries, stay in dorms, and eat mainly at markets.

 

Flashpackers who prefer smaller dorms (or private rooms) and eating at a restaurant once a day should aim for $1500-2000.

 

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Budget Realistic Flashpacker
Daily Budget
$35
$50
$75
Weekly Budget
$245
$350
$525
Total One Month South America Budget
$980
$1400
$2100

Check out the budget guide linked below to help you plan your spending:

 

 

Joe from Shall We Go Home Travel on the boardwalks behind Perito Moreno Glacier

South America Health & Safety FAQS

21. What's The Food Like In South America?

I personally love the food in South America, especially Peruvian food. Ceviche is one of my favourite dishes.

 

Each country will have its own cuisine and popular dishes and I recommend you get out of your comfort zone and try them.

 

Here are a few to try:

 

  • Argentina – Choripan, Asado and Alfajores
  • Peru – Ceviche, Lomo Saltado
  • Ecuador – Bolon de Verde, Encebollado
  • Chile – Pastel De Choclo, Cazuela
  • Brazil – Coxinha, Feijoada
  • Colombia – Bandeja Paisa

The ultimate budget hack when travelling South America is to look for restaurants offering ‘menu del dia’. They aren’t hard to find, and you’ll notice locals populating these restaurants.

 

The ‘menu del dia’ is a set menu that usually consists of a main meal such as rice and meat, a side dish such as a soup, and a drink.

 

They cost between $3-5 depending on the country you are in.

 

Markets stalls will also offer a set menu. This is a filling meal that will help you stick to a budget. I would have free breakfast at the hostel, find a ‘menu del dia’ in the local market for lunch and then usually treat myself to a restaurant meal in the evenings.

22. Do I Need Vaccinations For South America?

You’ll need a few vaccinations before you travel to South America. Some you may have had as a child though.

 

I’m from the UK and got all my vaccinations free with the NHS. Sorry Americans, I don’t know how it works in your country!

 

For UK citizens, the best thing to do is speak to your local GP and tell them your travel plans. They will have records of your vaccinations and then tell you which ones you need.

 

The likely vaccinations you’ll need before you travel to South America are:

 

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • Japanese Encephalitis – this is caught from mosquitos. Essential if you are visiting in the Amazon, tropical climates or places during rainy season.
  • Yellow Fever – some countries in South America will require proof of your yellow fever vaccination before entering.
  • Boosters – you may need boosters for some jabs you got as a kid such as MMR or tetanus.

TOP TIP: The rabies vaccine is optional. In the UK, you can’t get it free on the NHS and you’ll have to pay for it. It’s given in 3 does over 28 days so make sure you plan ahead of time before your trip. 

Quilotoa Crater

23. What's The Best Way TO Deal With Altitude In South America?

Dealing with altitude in South America is an issue for many people.

 

Some have to deal with a constant headache or nausea whilst others feel exhausted and are unable to do much for a day or two.

 

Here are some useful tips for dealing with altitude in South America:

 

 

  • Take your first days slowly – When arriving somewhere with a high altitude (let’s take Quito for example at 2800m), take a couple of days to acclimatise. Don’t plan any strenuous activities and see how you feel. Get lots of sleep and stay rested.
  • Food – stay hydrated and well fed, and eat lots of bananas – potassium helps.
  • Medication – you can buy coca leaves from local markets. The locals chew on them to help with altitude sickness. If you’re still struggling head to a pharmacy and buy altitude sickness pills such as Acetazolamide (sold under the name of Diamox).
  • Build up – if you can, plan your trip in a way so that you start at lower elevations and build up slowly, adjusting a little each time.

TOP TIP: Travelling through Peru is a good way to adapt to altitude. You’ll arrive in Lima and travel down the coast to Paracas, enjoying sea level altitude for a week. Then when you reach Arequipa, you’ll need to acclimatise to 2300m. If all is good here, Cusco is the next stop. 

You’re now at 3400m in Cusco. Take the first couple of days easy and don’t do any strenuous activities. If you’re fine walking around then great, you should be fine everywhere else. After some time in Cusco, why not go even higher - 4500m on the Salkantay trek or 5200m at Rainbow Mountain!

24. Is South America Safe?

Safety is a big concern for travellers heading to South America.

 

During my time there I was never robbed in person, however I have heard stories of people getting robbed from other travellers.

 

If you stick to crowded areas and don’t go out alone at night to random parts of the city, the likelihood of you getting into trouble is low.

 

We met several people who had their phones stolen from their pockets during Carnival in Brazil.

 

Try to use a sling or fanny pack where possible to protect your money.

 

The one time I had our stuff stolen was in a hostel in Chile.

 

We put our laptops in a storage locker and left some smaller items in our backpack which was left out in the dorm thinking it would be fine. We came back from dinner and didn’t realise until a day later that someone had taken some of our smaller electronic items.

 

Always lock up your backpack in your locker whilst staying in dorms.

 

Most small scams come from taxi drivers so it’s always good to be aware. Always make sure they turn the meter on before driving off.

 

In some places, you’ll find taxis that don’t have meters.

 

If this is the case, always agree on a price first. Before getting in, ask ‘cuanto cuesta’ which means how much. Agree on a price beforehand otherwise you will get stung when they drop you off or end up in an argument.

Cuppa To Coppa Travels has a great blog on the top scams to watch out for in South America:

 

 

25. Can I Drink The Tap Water In South America?

No, the tap water in South America isn’t drinkable.

 

Unfortunately, this means you’ll go through a lot of plastic water bottles during your time there.

 

The best thing to do is to bring a 1L flask that you can refill at hostels.

 

Some hostels will have a fountain or cooler with drinkable water. However, I was surprised to find that even then they were few and far between.

 

My flask of choice whilst backpacking South America was the 1L (40oz) Lightweight Wide Mouth Trail Series from Hydroflask.

 

It’s 20% lighter than the other flasks they make, which is ideal when you’re carrying it around all day or hiking.

26. Do I Need Travel Insurance Before I Go To South America?

Getting travel insurance is a must before travelling to South America.

 

The two things you need to protect, when travelling to any foreign country not just South America, are yourself and your gear.

 

The two things that are most likely to happen to you are:

 

  • you get sick or hurt
  • your stuff breaks or gets stolen.

Over a long enough period, one or the other will happen.

 

During our time in South America, we were very lucky to not have anything disastrous happen, but both of these things happened to us.

 

One of my friends got bitten by a dog on a trek and had to get rabies jabs. This cost around $200 which was paid back by the travel insurance company.

 

We also had some small items stollen from our bags whilst staying at a hostel.

 

All we had to do was visit the police station, file out a police report and give this to the insurance company. We received a payout for this and were able to replace the items shortly after.

 

The biggest thing you want to protect yourself from though is serious illness.

 

You never know what can happen and if you hurt yourself badly during a trek, or catch something nasty, you could end up in hospital for days or even weeks and you’ll need to be covered.

 

Get travel insurance! It gives you peace of mind so that you can enjoy your travels.

a kayak on Chile's Lake District

South America Hostels & Tours FAQS

27. What Are The Hostels Like In South America?

There are some top-quality hostels in South America, and I was impressed by what was on offer.

 

Aside from some great stand-alone hostels like Milhouse in Buenos Aires you also have chains running in some countries for consistency.

 

Colombia has some great chains like ‘The Dreamer’ and ‘Masaya’.

 

They are also cheap, and you can expect to pay anywhere between $6-12 a night for a dorm room.

 

In Ecuador, Secret Garden and Community Hostels are great. Peru has Wild Rover, Loki and Kokopelli. The latter being my favourite due to the high-quality dorm rooms.

 

Bolivia doesn’t have many hostel chains but several well-run individual hostels.  

 

My favourite is The Nest in La Paz.

 

Chile and Argentina are much more built-up countries and have a variety of hostels suitable for budget backpackers and flashpackers.

For the full list of my favourite hostels in South America, head to the post below:

 

 

28. Should I Book Tours Online In South America?

The beauty of south America is that you can visit most places without a tour – even the Galapagos Islands!

 

Do your research and if you prefer adventure, try to visit places without booking a tour guide.

 

For example, Paracas National Reserve and Colca Canyon in Peru can easily be visited without a tour.

 

When you are in a big city like Quito, you can easily be tempted into booking a $50 day tour into the countryside or to the next town along. Again, these places are much better visited by yourself. Mindo and Otavalo are two examples where you will save money and have a much better time by skipping a tour.

 

For any tours you do wish or need to book, online booking still isn’t the way forward. The online prices are set and often over inflated. If you can, book in person and use your haggling skills to get the best price. Haggling is completely acceptable in South America!

 

Me and some friends got a great Uyuni Salt Flat tour deal with Salty Desert Adventours by visiting their office and haggling. However, when we booked our Amazon tour in Bolivia online, we realised we messed up as most people we spoke to on our tour got theirs for half the price by booking in person.

 

If you are going to book a tour, I would recommend doing your research first and seeing what’s on offer. In some cases, booking beforehand is the only way.

 

For example, Rainbow Mountain in Peru can’t be visited without a tour. Its too far away and requires too much admin. A tour is high quality, costs $50, and includes all your meals and transport.

 

When I did book day tours, I would compare between Viator and GetYourGuide to find the tours with the best prices and reviews.

29. What's The Best Sim Card To Get For South America?

If you are travelling to multiple countries in South America, I would recommend getting an eSIM (digital SIM card) instead of a physical SIM card.

 

An eSIM is better than a physical SIM card for a couple of reasons:

 

 

  • Firstly, you can access the Internet from any country in South America without having to pay excessive roaming charges.
  • Secondly, you don’t waste time looking for a local plastic SIM card. An eSIM can be activated either immediately after installation or upon arrival at the your destination.

 

When I first travelled to South America, I bought a sim card in most countries as I was there for a month or more.

 

This can be a bit tricky if you don’t speak Spanish but if you go to a mobile shop, the clerks are more than happy to help. I had a guy in Argentina talk me through the whole process in perfect English.

 

However, having to do this in every new country I went to became annoying.

 

I now use Airalo.

 

Simply download the app, buy the digital sim, and then use the app to switch sims when you reach your destination and you’ll have data on the go.

lakes and islands in Bariloche

South America Random FAQS

30. Do I Need Visas For South America?

Travel in South America is simple for both US and UK citizens. 

 

All countries require a tourist visa but these can be purchased on arrival in each country. Tourist visas for most countries last 90 days however Peru allows 180 days. 

 

In previous years, reciprocity fees were required to be paid by US citizens on arrival to some South American countries. For example, Bolivia required a $160 reciprocity fee. Brazil and Chile also had similar fees.

 

However, these have all been waived as of 2019. 

31. Should I Learn Spanish Before I Go To South America?

Yes, you should 100% learn basic Spanish before you travel South America.

 

South America is home to 9 Spanish speaking countries, with Brazil being the only one that speaks Portuguese. This means learning a little Spanish before you go can go a long way, especially as many of the locals don’t speak English.

 

As a bare minimum, I would recommend picking up some basic vocabulary like numbers and some simple phrases.

 

The official levels outlined by Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERF) are used around the world to designate language proficiency.

 

After completion of the first beginner level (A1), a person can “Understand and use very basic expressions to satisfy concrete needs. Introduce themselves and ask other questions about personal details. Interact simply if the other person speaks slowly and clearly.”

 

On Duolingo, you can complete this in 1-2 months if you are consistent.

In big cities, you’ll be fine and most of the staff in hostels and tour companies will speak English. However, once you get to border towns and places off the beaten track, you’ll need to know some Spanish to help you get by.

 

Knowing basic Spanish also means you are less likely to be taken advantage of as you look like less of a tourist. I would always ask cab drivers how much a ride would cost and then having a brief chat with them in the cab.

 

As a bonus, it’s also fun being able to speak to locals and they will always appreciate the effort put in. You’ll have a much more authentic experience if you can interact and involve yourself with the local community as much as possible.

 

Here are some basic phrases to learn that can make your trip that much easier:

 

  1. ¿Dónde está … el baño? – Where is the bathroom?
  • Useful when you need to find restroom facilities. Use ‘donde esta’ to ask for anything you need to find like a pharmacy or a bank

 

  1. ¿Cuál es el plato/menu del día? – What is the dish of the day?
  • Helpful when dining at local restaurants to ask about daily specials. The menu of the day is often a set meal for $2-3 and great for eating on a budget

 

  1. Me gustaría una cerveza, por favor. – I would like a beer, please.
  • Use this as a polite way of ordering a drink in a bar or restaurant.

 

  1. ¿Puedes ayudarme? – Can you help me?
  • A polite way to ask for help

 

  1. ¿Cómo llego a…? – How do I get to…?
  • Useful when seeking directions to a specific place.

 

  1. ¿Qué recomiendas para comer aquí? – What do you recommend to eat here?
  • A great question to ask for food recommendations from locals.

 

  1. ¿Cuánto cuesta el tour/excursión? – How much does the tour/excursion cost?
  • Handy when inquiring about the price of guided tours or activities.Use ‘cuanto cuesta’ to ask how many anything is. Especially useful before getting into cabs to agree on a price.

A simple pocket-sized phrasebook like this one can be a lifesaver at times.

 

I took this with me on my first trip and used it in many situations during my first few weeks in South America before eventually signing up to a language school.

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