South America Travel Guide

South America is a fascinating continent to visit, here you can see remarkable ancient cultures, enjoy the atmosphere of the worlds best carnivals or relax on tropical beaches. Our South America travel guide features hundreds of packages, backpacking ideas and activities in destinations throughout the continent. Travelling in South America will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life, get inspired to visit today!


 
 

Things to Do in South America

Find activities, experiences, travel packages, backpacking ideas, eco & adventure travel in South America.

Destinations

 

 

South America Travelling

South America Destination Guide

Get information, tips, itineraries and inspiration for visiting South America.

  • Number of Countries in South America - 12
  • Largest City in South America - São Paulo (11,500,000 approx)
  • Continent Area - 18,000,000 km2 (approx)
  • Population - 400,000,000 (approx)

 

 

South America Budget Travel

Top Reasons to Travel to South America

  • Experience new cultures and destinations
  • There are so many different experiences available
  • Incredible world famous tourist sights like Machu Picchu waiting to be explored
  • South America is a relatively cheap compared to other travel destinations
  • Mix with friendly locals and practise your language skills
  • Make new friends with other travellers from all over the world

 

 

South America Travel Guide

Top Places to Visit in South America

There are so many highlights of South America, here are some of our top recommendations:

  • Exploring the spectacular city of Rio de Janerio
  • Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru - possibly the best travel experience you can do in the world
  • Visiting the spectacular Galapagos Islands and getting close to exotic wildlife
  • Heading South to Patagonia for breathtaking scenery
  • Going to the Foz do Iguaçu on the Argentina and Brazil border where you can see spectacular waterfalls which are now one of the New Severn Natural World Wonders
  • Exploring the Pantanal in Brazil which is one of the most diverse wetland watersystem in the world
  • Seeing the worlds biggest salt flat Salar de Uyuni located in Bolivia where the earth and skyline seem to merge into one
  • Venture off the beaten track to the Canaima National Park in Venezuela, you will get to witness up close the worlds tallest waterfall - Angel Falls
  • For old architecture Cartagena in Colombia is a recommended place to visit, expect a city full of colour and beautiful buildings
  • Exploring Sao Paulo, a megacity, one of the largest in the world

 

 

Backpacking South America

Backpacking in South America

Travelling around South America is becoming easier and easier due to its increase in popularity for backpack toting travellers wanting a slice of Latin America. Affectionately coined the ‘gringo trail,’ backpackers have an easy go-to route through each country, following the most popular sites and cities.

From the fabulously flamboyant Rio de Janeiro, the urban hipster central of Medellin, the (literally) breath-taking La Paz, the vino central of Mendoza to tango town Buenos Aires, South America is jam packed with really cool places to go and things to do. Although the Gringo Trail is well-trodden, I encourage you to seek out other less visited places to really make your experience worthwhile. Machu Picchu is an obvious when in Peru; it would be foolish to miss out this Incan city in the clouds. However, a visit to lesser known Ciudad Perdida in Colombia will, I promise, be on another level. Hidden well within the depths of the jungle, Ciudad Perdida really is the Lost City, as the name translates. It’s a hard, hard slog to get there but it’s an experience like no other and you won’t regret it!

Being a continent as enormous as South America is, it comes with oodles of diversity. We’re talking different languages, cultures, cuisines, traditions… and let’s not forget the indigenous tribal people still living in remote far flung corners of the steaming Amazon rainforest. Cultural sensitivity is key when travelling from one country to the next. And with borders so lax as they are here, it is easy to slip between one and the next. (I actually hopped back and forth across the Brazil/Colombia border four times without seeing a trace of border control!) One example of this is please don’t try and speak Spanish to Brazilians. It’s Portuguese or nothing!

One piece of advice when considering backpacking around South America is give yourself time. It is HUGE and the last thing you want to do is tear yourself away from your new favourite spot because the bus is calling to the next stop on the way. Oh, and there’s another tip, don’t book things too far in advance. Thanks to a general laid-back feeling across the continent it is easy to find somewhere to stay. South America is full of hostels, some of which are super cool, so don’t worry that you won’t have a bed to sleep in after one too many Caipirinhas!

Speaking of buses, be prepared to reacquaint yourself with public transport if you’re thinking of going to South America. Covering some of the distances are a feat in themselves – from the Amazonian gateway city of Manaus in the north of Brazil to the concrete jungle of Sao Paolo in the south, you’re thinking of 2000+ miles! Air travel is entirely possible but working on a backpacker budget, buses will be your go to. They can be a little hair-raising at times but being crammed into an old bus with locals, children, chicken, sheep and some really naff curtains is a ‘can’t help but smile’ moment. So, don’t sit back in your seat in defeat. It is Well. Worth. It.

Paying for all these experiences is another thing. An idea of the different currencies will also serve you well when border hopping. Knowing the exchange rate from pounds to Bolivia’s Boliviano, Brazilian Real and the difference between Chilean Peso (£1 = $846.6200) and Argentinian Peso (£1 = $20.2638) might seem confusing when you just want to live the dream, but it will save your hard-earned cash in the long run. Download an app like XE Currency Converter and let that do the maths so you’re clued up with your cash.

Also take a minute to consider the vaccinations you may need in order to enter certain countries. Whilst most don’t require it, it is recommended all travellers have a yellow fever vaccination for countries such as Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia. Malaria is prevalent within Amazonian areas so well worth investing in tablets just be sure to check the side-affects - doxycycline can make your skin feel prickly under the sun and leave you with some serious trippy dreams! Travel Pharm offer tablets at competitive prices).

Now, there’s no denying some countries in South America has had a colourful past when it comes to drugs, cartels and gangs. In the last decade Colombia has blossomed as a benefit of increased tourism and is rapidly becoming one of the most desirable destinations (it recently made Lonely Planet’s list of top countries to travel in 2017). Gone are the days of innocent civilians being caught up in the feud between the drug cartels that made Pablo Escobar famous however Colombia is still a producer of coca leaves, the key ingredient of cocaine. With this in mind it is highly recommended to bear in mind personal safety after dark and in certain areas wherever you might be. But as potentially experienced travellers that you are that common-sense thinking should be second to none as you venture around the world!

Backpacking to South America has never been easier before with the ever-increasing popularity driving hostel numbers and implementing better infrastructure. If you’re anything like me, booking a trip South America will evoke emotions ranging from excited to apprehensive but trust me, you will only be left with delightful, fond memories.  

 

 

South America Backpacking

South America Budget Travel Tips

  • Flights: The importance of finding discount flights to destinations is of paramount importance where if you get to save money you will get to do as much as possible within a tight budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of flight operators around the globe offering low-cost alternatives to the expensive flights advertised by major airlines allowing you get to destinations in the continent for a low cost. Flights to South America can vary in price and we recommend booking well in advance to get the best deal. 
  • Accommodation: You can find cheap hotels, hostels and guest houses throughout the continent. 
  • Transport: There is an established air, rail and bus transport system connecting the whole of South America, thousands of travellers visit this continent annually. To get the best value travel by bus and make sure you haggle at bus stations for the cheapest tickets, there are usually lots of companies competing and all will be willing to do business with you and offer you a discount to book with them. Also be wary of people approaching you at bus stations, this might sound pretty obvious but be wary if someone is close to your belongings or asks you to carry something. Some bus journeys are really long to be prepared, you might want to buy a blanket, pillow, food and drink. You might also want to wear a comfy pair of trousers instead of jeans, also carry valuables on you like your passport as you might need regular access on border crossing for example. 
  • Suggested Daily Budget: If you are going travelling in South America then finance is always going to be a prime consideration. Your budget is likely to have a big influence on what you do and where you visit and what you do. You will need to research all destinations as some countries you can budget for around £10 (US$25) per day whilst in other places like Brazil might a lot higher around £25 per day (US$40). Food and accommodation will be the biggest cost. Before arrival ensure you have sufficient funds for your trip. Brazil is very expensive whilst other countries offer better value for money. For an average month you will need to budget for around £500 (US$800) but this depends on where you go and what you want to do.
  • Extra Tips: Check that your credit and ATM cards are working and don’t forget to notify your bank about your upcoming adventure. Additionally obtain as much information as possible regarding bank charges and make sure an emergency fund is available for any unforeseen circumstances.

 

 

Health & Safety

There are lots of horror stories which make you be put off by travelling in this continent but don't let these hold you back. Every country in the world has risks and South America doesn't have any specific risks to put you off. Always research countries to get informed about local customs and traditions, we hghly recommend trying to meet other people by chatting in hostels for example. Its safer, easier and usually more fun to travel in a group. Here are some other recommendations:

  • Vaccinations & Medication: Check any vaccinations or medication you might need prior to departing, you could visit your local healthcare centre to have a chat to the travel nurse. If you need to take specific medication try to get a note from your doctor explaining what the medication and condition is. We recommend taking a first aid kit, tissues and wet wipes with you, not all public facilities have toilet paper and also you might need plasters or other healthcare things in emergencies. You should always carry condoms with you, you might meet another traveller or local people who takes your fancy and its best to be safe to avoid any contracting any illness or disease. You might also want to pack hand sanitizer, bug spray and water purification tablets.
  • Tips to Prevent Robery: There are all the normal safety warnings for example don't drink too much and wander around by yourself, its best to always be safe and travel with someone especially in new foreign surroundings. Try not to flash valuables like a phone, laptop, tablet in public, be discreet, sometimes in countries your laptop might be worth more than local people earn in over a month and so it is an easy target. Some places in South America have people living really below the poverty line and sometimes this can be quite shocking to see, you should also be more aware of your surroundings and be aware of any warnings about crime. Some cities like Rio de Janeiro have favelas and dangerous areas which should be avoided.
  • Public Transport: You should always keep an eye on your belongings when travelling on public tansport, theft if a problem especially on public transport, as a tourist you are an easy target. You could also store other things in the main cargo section of the bus and make sure you have a good lock or cover for your bag / suitcase. When you arrive at a destination always try to get an official taxi, most places have a professional taxi rank and sometimes when people approach you for a lift you will usually get charged more or you might be put at risk.
  • General Tips:  We recommend arriving in new destinations in the morning or afternoon, sometimes it can be difficult and dangerous arriving in a new place late at night or in the dark. When sightseeing or wandering around you should always be more aware after dark too. Always use common sense, if you feel unconformable in a situation try to get out, and always try to let people know where you are going. You will find most local people will be extremely friendly but always be wary of people approaching you. If something seems to good to be true it usually is.
  • Tips for Female Travelers: South America is an amazing continent to travel in and it is very rare to hear or violence or similar things against female travellers but always chat to locals and travellers for advice. Avoid drinking alcohol, or just not drinking too much as sometimes this is the cause of a lot of problems. Be dubious of people offering you drinks too, even other travellers. Try to dress conservatively, walking around in a bikini for example is going to attract unwanted attention. If you don't feel safe in a dorm room ask to change, try to get a female only or mixed room.

 

 

Our South America travel guide was contributed to by Lana Elway.

 

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