Everything You Need to Know Before Traveling to South America

Here's our guide on everything you need to know before traveling to South America.
 

Are you planning your big trip to South America? No matter how many countries you want to visit, there are several things you should know. We were traveling in South America for almost a year, and here's our guide on everything you need to know before traveling to this continent.


South America is a mesmerizing continent which has been increasingly popular among travelers in the past decade or so.

When it comes to diversity, it is hard to compare South America with any other destination in the world.

You can swim in the sea, hike high in the mountains, admire Incan ruins shrouded in mist, watch unique wildlife, go deep into the jungle, travel across salt flats, get lost in bustling cities, climb volcanoes or enjoy strolling around colonial architecture, and there still will be plenty of things to see and do.

When planning your long-term trip around the region or only vacation to one or two South American countries, there are many things you should know as the way of life, customs and overall the conditions and situations you will come across are (most likely) completely different than in the parts of the world you are coming from.

Although the trip to South America was not our first long-term journey, there were still many things we wish we knew before we got on a plane with a one-way ticket.

As we hadn't done much research before our adventure has started, we often had to learn the hard way when on the road.

That's why we've created this lengthy post aiming to help you out before your big trip. Here's everything you need to know before traveling to South America.

South America is an amazing place to visit.

ENGLISH IS NOT WIDELY SPOKEN

If there is one most important thing you should know before traveling to South America, it would be the fact that English is not widely spoken on this continent.

And we are very euphemistic here. We started our year-long trip around South and Central America in Colombia, and very soon we understood that it must be us who start learning Spanish, and better sooner or later as no one understood us a word. A receptionist in a hotel did not know words like money or water, and on a bus station, we had to gesticulate frantically to buy tickets to the destination we wanted to travel.

We hear the voices that it is polite to learn basic phrases before traveling to a foreign country, but honestly, first, we spent a very busy year before in Canada, and one day we simply packed and left for South America, and second, we did not know or did not expect that not even people working in tourism industry won't understand English at all. Had someone told us before our departure, we wouldn't probably have believed him that the situation is that bad anyway.

After the first week, we knew that if we want to at least order food in a restaurant or purchase a bus ticket, we must learn some basic Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil - it is not that similar as you would think).

Of course, the situation is a bit different when you visit bigger cities (although not really) or when you are staying in fancier hotels, eat in luxury restaurants or book tours with an incoming travel agency working a lot with foreign clients. But when traveling like us, on a limited budget, we advise you to start learning the language before you set off for your adventure.

English is not widely spoken in South America, and you should learn basic Spanish words and phrases.

USE SUNSCREEN ALL THE TIME

South America is a continent full of contrasts, but one thing is certain.

You will spend most of your time near the equator, near the sea or at high altitude, and everywhere you go the sun is strong, or at least too strong for anyone with pale skin, but those of you with darker skin should not underestimate the power of sun rays in South America either.

It does not matter when it is cloudy or when it rains, we recommend you to protect your skin, and sunscreen is only one of several items you should consider using on a daily basis.

Here are four essentials you should pack with you for your South America trip to stay protected against the sun.

  • Sunscreen | Toiletries are pretty expensive in South America, so it is better to arrive with own sunscreen. You can also use a biodegradable sunscreen for water activities.

  • Sun Hat for Him & for Her | Use anything to cover your head, either trendy straw sun hats or a regular hat.

  • Lip Balm with Sunscreen | A common mistake when traveling is to use only sunscreen but forget to protect your lips. Lip Balm also helps to protect your lips against the wind.

  • Sunglasses for Him & for Her | Keep your eyesight protected as well.


WEATHER CHANGES A LOT

South America is a vast region, so you should always check what part of the continent you'll be visiting and when.

Temperatures and seasons can change from country to country, but as some countries in South America belong among the largest in the world, it is not uncommon that the weather changes dramatically within the country, basically overnight as you travel from one place to another. Temperatures are not dependent only on a season but also on an altitude.

You can spend one day on the Galapagos Islands by the sea and the other day almost at 3000 meters high in Quito. One day you will be shivering at the end of the world in Ushuaia, and next day sweating in Buenos Aires. You get the idea.

Those are extremes you need to think about a lot, and sometimes adjust your plans according to the weather forecast.

We found forecasts for South America quite accurate we usually followed iPhone native weather app.

Weather changes every day in South America especially in the Andes mountains.

PACK A BIT OF EVERYTHING

Because of the unpredictable weather and changes in elevation, it is pretty clear you cannot take packing for South America lightly.

If you plan on traveling long-term or visit at least three or four countries, it is necessary to pack a bit of everything, so do not expect your backpack will be super light. On the other hand, you do not have to overpack - the best recommendation we can give you is to bring along a lot of layers and functional clothes you can easily combine.

We've written a full in-depth post What to Pack for South America, so check out what you should pack and what you can leave behind.


IT IS POSSIBLE TO BARGAIN

When shopping on the market for food or clothes, expect to bargain.

It is always better to know approximately how much things cost in the country you are visiting, so you'll have at least an idea if a vendor wants to rip you off or if the rate is fair. Before you start bargaining, always factor in the altitude and accessibility. You cannot expect the same prices in a remote village somewhere in the Peruvian mountains as in Cusco.

First, we must say that we did not have to haggle that often in South America like in South East Asia, where it was after some time annoying to spend several minutes every day by haggling for the 'right' price.

Yes, some people in South America, of course, once they see a tourist increase magically their rates, and sometimes it is quite sad or rather discouraging when you see how much you were charged for a bus ticket when others pay only pennies, but it is how it is, and the only thing you can do is to ask for the price beforehand.

There is one rule before you start bargaining.

Always do it respectfully.

If it is not absolutely necessary and the thing you want to buy is reasonably priced (or even slightly overpriced), we think it is sometimes better to pay as much the vendor asks, especially when buying vegetables or fruit - you can see that many local people are really poor, so you'll at least help them to support their families.

It's possible to bargain in the local markets.

THE CONTINENT IS HUGE, AND YOU WILL SPEND A LOT OF TIME ON A BUS

We cannot even remember how many overnight buses we took when traveling in South America.

My rough guess? A lot.

South America is a huge continent, and sometimes there was no other option on how to get from one destination to another than 10+ hours-long ride. No matter how uncomfortable it was (sometimes the buses were quite ok though), traveling by night buses was often necessary in order to save time and money for accommodation.

But we did not travel only overnight but during the day as well, which was often worse because we killed all day, and we arrived at our new destination completely exhausted.

When in South America, always count in your itinerary travel times - always check online how long the journey should take - roads are often winding and rarely in good condition (the exception was Ecuador with new perfect roads, at least on the well-trodden tourist path), and even when a map shows you that distance between two places is 200 kilometers, it does not matter the ride cannot take eight or more hours.

In case you are traveling to South America for your holiday, you will probably have to fly between destinations from time to time to save time and to be able to fit all must-visit attractions on two or three weeks itinerary. Although we had unlimited time, we took three flights in South America when we needed to cover long distances.

When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.


SAFETY IN SOUTH AMERICA

When it comes to the questions of safety, South America does not have the best reputation, but before you decide against visiting the continent, hear us out. Everything is not as bad as you can read in the papers (always use your critical thinking - it is more popular to write about negative stuff than about positive ones).

Before traveling to South America, we were also worried and were not sure what we can expect in terms of safety, but except for one stolen phone in Bogota (my fault as I was not paying attention), nothing bad happened.

There are several rules you should follow anytime, and in most cases, you should enjoy your travels without any issues.

Always use your common sense.

When you have a feeling there is something weird going on, always try to get out as quick as you can. It is always better not to hail a cab on the street, but ask in your hostel to call you one or use Uber. Do not wander around empty streets after dark. Do not drink alcohol with strangers. Do not show off your valuables and rather leave extra money or credit cards in your hotel room.

These are a few well-known rules you should never forget when traveling in South America.

Don’t get discouraged though and trust us, most of the locals are nice and friendly people.

On the other hand, as in every other country or continent in the world, there are some bad people who can try to ruin your experience, and we cannot pretend the trip around South America is completely risk-free.

Except for our personal experience of being robbed, we also met, for example, an elderly couple mugged at gunpoint in Valparaiso, or another couple whose luggage was stolen on a bus to Lake Titicaca. Always keep an eye on your valuables and be aware of your surroundings when exploring the city.

When you get to a situation that someone wants to rob you, never fight back and give him anything he wants as it is better to lose iPhone than your life.

We've written a detailed post on How to Stay Safe When Traveling in South America, so check it out and stay safe!

You have to follow basic safety rules, tips, and advice when traveling to South America.

BUS FROM QUITO TO LATACUNGA

Although there are probably many places in South America where it is more than necessary to keep an eye on your belongings, there is one bus route in Ecuador, where you should pay attention twice as much.

One of the most popular destinations in Ecuador is the city of Latacunga which serves as a base for visiting Cotopaxi National Park and hiking Quilotoa Loop. Thieves often wait in a bus in Quito heading to Latacunga and pretend they want to help you to find your seat and with your luggage. What they are really doing is that they will distract you and disappear from the bus before you notice something is missing.

We've heard multiple stories about this happening on this route, and it happened even to us personally, but from the very beginning we had a feeling something weird is going on, so we held our backpacks with valuables tight no matter how much the thief was pushing us to put them on an overhead shelf.

Be super careful here, and always keep backpacks on your lap!


ALTITUDE

Some of the best tourist destinations and must-visit places in South America are at high elevation, so altitude sickness is a real thing, and it is important to acclimatize well.

It almost does not matter what country are you going to visit as there is a chance you will spend some of your time at altitude anyway. Colombia has, for example, Los Nevados National Park where you can climb to 5000 meters, Peru has the famous Rainbow Mountain or Bolivia the must-see Salar de Uyuni.

When traveling long-term, it is much easier to acclimatize as you'll have as much time as you need, but even when visiting South America for a short holiday, you should not underestimate the altitude sickness, and rather spend two days in Cusco before hiking the Inca Trail, otherwise you can easily ruin the rest of your vacation.

The best way how to acclimatize well is to drink a lot of water (coca tea is great too), eat light meals, do light physical activity, do not drink alcohol and always climb higher step by step.

Proper acclimatization is the key to success in high altitude destinations in South America.

VISA

Most of the nationalities do not need visas when traveling to South America. Some countries need to pay reciprocal fees though, so it is always better to check up-to-date requirements for your country before you go.

To see whether you need a visa or not, search online before your trip.


CURRENCY

When traveling to multiple countries in South America, you will have to either change money or withdraw money from ATM as currencies differ. When traveling from the USA, the best country for traveling currency-wise is Ecuador, where the official currency is US dollars, but all other countries use different money.

Always try to keep only as much money you think you are going to need in every country, as the exchange rate fluctuates, and for example, Argentina has been for the past couple of years struggling with huge inflation, and it is for sure not the currency you want to keep when not necessary.

Payments with credit cards are often unfavorable as the businesses charge an additional percentage (usually 4%), but it also depends on your bank and your bank account settings, so always find out the current situation beforehand so you won't lose money.

Cash is the king in South America, but you can pay with credit cards in bigger cities.

ALWAYS HAVE CASH AND DOLLARS

In most of the countries in South America, there is one rule.

Cash is the king.

No matter where you go, always carry at least a small amount of cash in local currency with you and dollars as a backup. We paid cash everywhere and found it the best because we never had to worry if in our next destination will be ATM or a business accepting credit card.

Usually, you won't have any problem to pay with a credit card or to withdraw money in large modern cities such as Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, but in more remote places, we can give you as an example Carretera Austral in Patagonia, it will be much harder to find a place where it is possible to use credit card for payments.

Also, it is wise to carry $100 or $200 with you in case of an emergency.

We never met a person in South or Central America who would not accept US dollars.

There is a strong tipping culture in South America, so remember to withdraw a bit more in case you plan on doing some guided hikes such as Salkantay Trek as it is customary to tip here in cash (local currency is always preferred).


SEASONS ARE REAL

Most of the South American countries have two distinct seasons, the wet, and dry one.

Not only we had already said the weather on the continent changes a lot but also a number of visitors change according to the seasons when the dry period is unsurprisingly the more popular one.

When deciding on when to travel to South America, you should always consider what season might be the best for you. The high dry season is for sure better, but you can expect more people, higher prices, and you will have to book accommodation and tours long in advance without any possibility to change it later.

The low season gives you more freedom, but you can often expect rain or lower temperatures, so traveling during this period is better for more flexible visitors or for backpackers traveling on a budget. It is always not easy to figure out what is the best time to travel to South America, but we suggest to focus on shoulder seasons - usually a month before and after the high season.

In general, there are two seasons in South America, dry and wet. In Patagonia, there is also winter.

HOW TO GET AROUND

Getting around South America depends on many important factors like your budget and time, only to name a few.

When traveling by land, you have usually two options on how to get around. Either by regular buses or with colectivos, small vans which usually travel faster between destinations, but are often less comfortable and do not have a fixed schedule but leave the terminal when full (or when the driver finally decides to start the engine).

In Colombia, we rarely traveled with buses as distances between destinations were not that far, so it was faster to jump on a colectivo (there was also often no other option), but for example, in Brazil, we always traveled by comfortable buses.

If you are short on time or you prefer to travel more comfortably, you can fly between destinations.

It's easy getting around South America by public transport called colectivo.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

We never leave our home without travel insurance, and it does not matter if we go skiing for three days abroad or if we plan on traveling in South America for a year.

You can never know what is going to happen - you can be robbed on a bus, get injured when hiking in the mountains or simply get sick - and even though we hope these scenarios won't become a reality, it is always better to pay a bit more for your trip and be safe than sorry.

There are many insurance companies out there you can choose from, we like World Nomads Travel Insurance because it has been designed by travelers for travelers and provides insurance to travelers from over 140 countries.


TAKE IT SLOWLY

Traveling around South America is often neither comfortable nor easy, so rather than rushing from one place to another, we recommend you to take it slowly and explore one part of every country on your itinerary thoroughly.

Lately, the term slow travel has become overly popular, and although we don't think you must exaggerate it and stay everywhere more than a week to soak up the atmosphere, it is not a bad idea to spend in every destination three nights to get the sense of the place.

South America is a unique continent which can change your perception of the world we live in, you will be more aware about environment and you will realize the strongly visible line between wealthy and poor people and it would be a shame not to comprehend it while in the region.

Slow travel is the best way how to explore South America.

EATING OUT IS OFTEN CHEAPER

When traveling on a budget in South America, it is often cheaper to eat out (we are talking about the local eateries) than to buy food and cook in a hostel.

There were countries such as Peru or Bolivia where it made no sense to go to the supermarket as ingredients to cook meal were really much more expensive than eating in a local restaurant. In those countries, we usually only bought fruit on a market or vegetables and pastries when we could not see rice and chicken anymore, but otherwise, we were always able to find a restaurant serving ‘menu del dia’ (menu of the day) consisting of soup and main course for $2 - $3.

On the other hand, we found restaurants in Ecuador in some places quite expensive (it is because they use dollars), so we were often looking for hostels with a kitchen so we could cook, and the same we did in Patagonia and Brazil.


WIFI & DATA & CELL PHONE COVERAGE

To be honest, we were overall pleasantly surprised by how wifi worked well in South America.

Every hostel or hotel where we ever stayed in provided guests with free wifi, and although the speed was not always great, we never had a problem to check the e-mail, read the news, get in touch with our families or even upload photos or blog posts.

Sometimes the signal for sure could have been better, but we were always aware where we are, and when the wifi was slow somewhere in the mountains, we certainly could understand it and did not expect miracles. We would probably not schedule important business calls when in South America, but when you need to work on the road, you can always find an upscale hotel with a better connection or a modern coffee shop.

In every country, we always purchased a sim card with data and limited minutes. The cell phone coverage and data usually worked well in the cities, but the signal was often non-existent once we traveled between cities or larger settlements, so we could never rely on it.

You will find reliable Wi-Fi even in cheap hostels in South America.

VACCINATION

When traveling to South America, you are required to have a yellow fever vaccination.

It is true that as we were crossing borders via land most of the time, no one ever asked us to show the proof of vaccination, but we would not risk it (it is still in your own interest to be vaccinated). The only time we had to show the yellow fever card was when we flew from Brazil to Panama.

In case you still don't have your vaccination, you should schedule your appointment as soon as you can because we had a problem to find a hospital with the serum as there was a worldwide shortage of yellow fever vaccines.

We even got shot only for a year, not for a lifetime.

Among other vaccinations, you should consider having if you don't have them already are Tetanus, Hepatitis A, and Typhoid.


FOOD & DRINKS

We had probably said that before and must repeat it again. We were not blown away by South American cuisine. But here we must point out that the main reason could have been our budget. We usually ate the same food locals did in small restaurants and eateries, and we found the meals either tasteless or too fried, and what was the biggest problem, we had a feeling that everyone cooks three same meals all over again and that's it. At the end of our journey, we must admit that we thought if we would ever see a chicken with rice, we might get crazy.

On the other hand, fruits and vegetable were great everywhere we went (except for Patagonia where it was hard to buy anything fresh), and we always had great food when on an organized tour.

We believe that if your budget for traveling is a bit higher, you will enjoy eating out though.

People in South America have quite a large problem with obesity, and we think it is mostly because they drink a lot of pops and overly sweet drinks. We usually bought water which was not as cheap as we are used to in Europe, or drank coca tea when in the mountains.

You can go eating out almost every day in cheap local eateries.

BUDGET

Except for several countries such as Chile, Argentina or Brazil, South America is a budget-friendly destination.

Of course, you can sleep in five-star hotels, travel with organized tours instead of independently and eat in expensive restaurants if you can afford it, and in this case you will spend as much as you would in Europe or anywhere else, but if you want to see a lot of places for less, South America is a good choice.

The two cheapest countries we've visited were Bolivia and Peru, where we normally could live for less than $50 per day.


TRAVELING INDEPENDENTLY VS WITH A TOUR

South America is a continent you can explore completely on own without guides and there is no need to be part of organized tours.

The only thing you need is a sense for adventure, a few organization skills, and an open mind. In almost a year, we never had a problem to get anywhere we wanted, but there are places you simply can't experience on own, for example, the Inca Trail.

Most of the time we traveled independently, but when the tour was not that expensive, and we knew it would have saved us a lot of time and haggling, we did not have a problem to sign up for one.

On the other hand, we know that many people can find traveling to strange countries stressful and intimidating on own, so for those, it is often better to travel with a guide, and enjoy the beauty of South America without the necessity to arrange anything.

In that case, you can search for multi-day South America organized tours here.

Sometimes it's easier to join an organized tour than visiting the place independently.

SCAMS

Sometimes in travel guides, you can read about the common scams happening in South America, and you might think they are so silly that no one could possibly do this anymore, but the opposite is the truth.

The most common scam is that someone spills mustard on you, helps you to clean it and robs you while doing it. Another popular one is that a fake policeman will ask you for your passport, and his accomplice will rob you as well (remember that no policeman in South America will ever ask you to show your documents on the street). It would be impossible to mention here every scam possible, so there is only one way how to avoid being a victim.

Always keep your distance, and although it might sound cruel, when anyone tries to help you and stands closer than it is comfortable for you, always hold your belongings tight and watch your surroundings.


HOW FIT YOU NEED TO BE

How fit you need to be for traveling in South America depends on many factors.

First, for how long are you planning to travel and second, what activities you like doing.

If you like sightseeing and arrive in South America only for a couple of weeks, you don't need to be somehow super fit, and you should be able to explore anything you have on your itinerary.

If you want to do some hikes and spend your time actively, we recommend you to do some physical activity at least two months before your departure, because you will enjoy your travels much more, especially when in the altitude.

You should be moderately fit for long term traveling around South America.

WATCH YOUR BELONGINGS

When traveling by bus or walking in the crowded center of a large city, it is always essential to watch your belongings.

As a traveler, you will always stand out and attract attention, and some people will always target travelers as there is always a chance you have cash or camera with you.

Here are three things you will find helpful to keep your belongings safe.


IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO BOOK EVERYTHING ONLINE

In South America, you cannot rely on the booking services via the internet that much as it is not every time possible.

Popular aggregators such as Booking.com, HotelsCombined or Rental Cars work here, but you cannot find here every hotel, as some lodgings, especially in more remote areas usually do not sign-up or you will be able to find here only more expensive accommodation. When traveling in South America during the high season, it is always better to make a reservation when it is possible to avoid disappointment.

It is not usual to book bus tickets online, and when they are available they are often terribly overpriced, so it is better to ask directly at the bus station, but there is always a risk that the ticket won't be available.

If you know you are going to travel in Patagonia in the summer for a short period of time, we would have probably bought the more expensive ticket and haven't risked that you don't get on a bus (which happened to us when we needed to get from El Calafate to Puerto Natales).

You can book most of the tours now online, but there are still places, where you have to visit the local travel agency by yourself.

PEOPLE ARE (MOSTLY) FRIENDLY

No matter how many stories about kidnapping and mugging tourists you had read or heard, you should know before your visit to South America that the most of the people living on the continent are friendly, and will be always willing to help you when something happens.

Although locals usually do not speak English, they often want to know where are you from and offer help if they see you are lost.


YOU WON’T SEE EVERYTHING

This is simple.

It is impossible to see everything in South America unless you have unlimited time and funds, and even with these, it would have been hard.

The continent has so much to offer when it comes to architecture, culture or nature, that you need to choose what to see, and it does not matter if you travel for short period of time or long-term.

When creating your perfect itinerary, always pick several attractions you know you must see without a doubt and plan the rest of your trip accordingly.

You can't see everything and need to plan your South America itinerary carefully.

EAT STREET FOOD

Don't be afraid to eat street food in South America.

Actually some of the best things we've ever tried were prepared and cooked on the street. Empanadas from a no-name stall somewhere along the road in Colombia was much better than an empanada in supposedly the best shop in Chile.

When we eat on the street, we always follow only two rules: we check if the place is not completely disgusting and it looks considerably clean and if there are some local people eating.


CROSS THE ROAD CAREFULLY

When crossing the road, never expect that a driver will give you a priority, even when you have a green light sign.

Always wait on the pavement, look around, and when there is no car nearby, only then start crossing the road. We cannot even count how many times we were almost hit by a car, although we were on the zebra crossing.

In South America pedestrians have no rights, period. What a shock it was when we arrived in Chile from Bolivia, and drivers followed the same rules as in Europe or the US! So even in South America, there are countries where you do not have to fear constantly when you want to get from one side of the road to another one.

Except for Chile, it is also Argentina and Brazil.

Be careful when you have to cross the road in South America.

SHOWER DOES NOT HAVE PRESSURE, HOT WATER IS NOT ALWAYS HOT

If you are traveling on a budget and plan on sleeping in cheaper types of accommodation, we have bad news.

There was often low pressure in a shower and this fact in combination with the water which was not hot as claimed often created quite an unpleasant situation, especially in places where the temperatures at night were low.

If hot water is something you cannot live without, always ask the receptionist. But we advise you to try it as soon as you check-in because what is hot for a locals doesn't have to be hot enough for you.

Sometimes hostel owners also simply forget to mention, that the heating doesn’t work today.


TAP WATER IS NOT DRINKABLE

Except for some places in Patagonia, tap water in South America is not drinkable.

For us, it was quite annoying to think all the time to buy water as we never do it back at home. Although you can test your belly, we would not do it. You can often see locals to drink tap water, but when you ask them if you can drink it, they always reply no.

The reason why they can drink tap water is they are used to it, and in several sad situations the reason is, they cannot afford to buy bottled water.

If you want to reduce your plastic footprint, here are some travel accessories you might find useful such as water filters and reusable water bottles.

Tap water is not drinkable in South America except for Patagonia.

YOU CANNOT FLUSH TOILET PAPER

The plumbing system in South America is very weak - pipes are narrow, the water pressure is often low, and it means one thing.

You can never flush toilet paper in the toilet, but you always have to throw the paper in a bin next to the toilet. It is not the most hygienical solution, but it is much better to do it than to clog the toilet.

In most of the cases, there is a sign in the bathroom you cannot flush the toilet, but even when it is not there, we would not be so sure.


BORDER CROSSING

Border crossing in South America was not complicated at all.

It is absolutely easy when you cross borders on a bus for example between Argentina and Chile, but we never had a single problem when doing it on own, for example when traveling between Colombia and Ecuador or between Peru and Bolivia.

All you need to have is a valid passport, and you cannot carry food across borders.

And the border crossing between Chile and Argentina on foot was one of the best adventures we’ve ever done.

You can often read online that you need to have proof of onward travels (flight or bus ticket out of the country) when crossing borders, but no one ever asked us for it - it might be different when traveling by plane from one destination to another though.

We did many border crossings in South America and never had any problems.

COCKROACHES

If you are anything like us and think that cockroach is one of the most disgusting animals in the world, you need to start living with the fact that you will see quite a lot of them in South America.

We will never forget the night before visiting Tatacoa Desert. We found the biggest cockroach we’ve ever seen in our hotel room in Neiva and hunted it for almost an hour.


YOU WILL BE DIRTY

There is not much you can do about it. Roads in South America are often dusty you will spend a lot of time on buses, bus terminals, and in your free time, you will be hiking in the mountains, sweating in the jungle or walking around the cities.

You can't expect that you will look like a magazine model every day.

The good news is that in almost every place we visited there was an option to do laundry.

You will find a laundry in every town or city.

ATM SCAMS

South America is unfortunately known for ATM scams.

If there is one country where you should be alert and extremely cautious, it is Brazil, where is a large number of ATM machines which were tempered with, and you should be careful while withdrawing money. When it is possible, always withdraw money inside a building, the best option is the official bank.

Even when you leave the country, check your bank account regularly as it is possible someone copied your card number and can start using it months later.


TAXI

If you don't want to be ripped off, and you need to take a taxi, always ask for the price in advance.

As we could see, taxi drivers in South America do not use meters but flat rates.

Generally, we don't like traveling by taxi, because we always have to haggle to get an acceptable rate, which is still much higher than a price for local people, which is something we dislike a lot, so when the station is up to 2 kilometers from our accommodation, we always walk as we don't want to support these unfair practices.

Traveling by taxi is not always safe. We even got a flyer in Ecuador warning against dangerous taxi drivers (who can kidnap tourists) with advice on how to recognize the official cab. It is always better to ask the receptionist in your hotel to call you a taxi or use Uber (usually available in larger cities) than hail a cab on the streets.

Taxi is a safe way how to get around cities in South America.

MUSIC

People in South America love music, and they like listening to it loud.

Not only we had a free loud concert almost every time we traveled on a bus, but we had a feeling that there are only two or three songs on their playlists.

‘Despacito’ or ‘Vamos a la Playa’ are still ringing in our ears even months later.


STRAYED DOGS

Strayed dogs are everywhere in South America, so if you are afraid of dogs which are not on a leash, you might not feel comfortable here.

Dogs are usually not dangerous in the cities as they are used to people, and they often flock around markets where it is possible for them to feed, but grab a stick or rocks (you can only pretend you are going to throw it which is in most of the cases enough) when walking outside the city, for example, if you are planning on doing a short trek near Tupiza in Bolivia, where dogs can be aggressive or when in San Pedro de Atacama where live almost as many dogs as people.

We experienced once that three dogs were chasing after us in Playa de Belen, and it really was not a great feeling.

Look out for strayed dogs when hiking.

GARBAGE IS EVERYWHERE

We were shocked by how huge problem is plastic (or any other) waste in South America.

We had visited South East Asia before, so we were not complete newbies in traveling in the less developed parts of the world, but still, we were aghast to see the garbage everywhere around. Sometimes it seemed that no one except for tourists uses garbage bin (which was sometimes a challenge to find), and this continent for sure has a long way to go when it comes to recycling and not throwing garbage freely on the ground.

The situation was always better near tourist attractions because clearly, visitors want to enjoy the pretty landscape and not look at mounds of trash, but once you travel a bit more off the beaten path you will see unbelievable things. We get that majority of people living in South America has probably more serious problems than caring about garbage (like to feed their families), but we cannot understand they do not mind living in it.

The situation is much better in more developed countries on the continent, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.


OUTLETS

Outlets in South America are often different than in Europe or the USA, so to charge your electronics, you need to bring multi-plug Travel Adapter.

You might need to buy an international travel adapter.

YOU WILL ALWAYS LOOK DIFFERENT

No matter how hard you try, you will always be ‘Gringo’ for people of South America.

The word gringo can be translated such as outsider or as a person who does not belong to the area (which is pretty obvious as we have much paler skin and lighter hair), and although some people like being called that way, we found it quite weird when we were walking on the streets and were shouted at gringo, gringo. But it is not only our look which reveals quickly that we don't belong to this continent. It is also clothes and equipment which often stands out.

There is nothing you can do about it, be natural, act your way, and always be polite when talking with locals.

Only this way we can show we are the same as them.


SOUTH AMERICA HAS EVERYTHING

South America is a captivating continent filled with beaches, mountains, glaciers, salt flats, deserts, volcanoes, colonial cities, archeological sites, Inca ruins, jungles or waterfalls.

As you can see, there is plenty to discover for every type of traveler - the one who wants to hear the history of every single ruin, and for outdoor adventurer as well. It is easy to fall head over heels with the region, and we can be only jealous now you are getting ready for your big trip.

To inspire you to visit South America even more, you can check out our post 10 Best Places You Must Visit in South America.

South America is one of the most diverse continents in the world.

IT IS EXHAUSTING BUT AMAZING

Although traveling in South America can be dusty, overwhelming and exhausting at times, believe us when we tell you it is worth it, and we would go back in a heartbeat.

The continent is so colorful and fascinating, that even when everything does not go according to the plan, once you will be back home in your comfort zone, you will still cherish those precious memories (good but even bad ones) about time spent in South America.

Muchas gracias for reading!


TRAVEL RESOURCES

Have we inspired you to travel to South America and visit all of the unique and must-see places on the continent?

Here you can find links to all the services you might find useful when planning your big trip.

When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.

When traveling and looking for accommodation, we usually search via Booking.com or HotelsCombined.

Some of the countries are best to be explored by a rental car.


TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE

We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.

Travel smarter and safer!


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