20 Useful Tips for Travel in South America

What you can expect from this article…

  • 1 My South America Travel Tips to Help You Have an Amazing Trip!
  • 2 South America Travel Tips to Make Backpacking South America a Breeze…
    • 2.1 South America Travel Tip #1
    • 2.2 South America Travel Tip #2
    • 2.3 South America Travel Tip #3
    • 2.4 South America Travel Tip #4
    • 2.5 South America Travel Tip #5
    • 2.6 South America Travel Tip #6
    • 2.7 South America Travel Tip #7
    • 2.8 South America Travel Tip #8
    • 2.9 South America Travel Tip #9
    • 2.10 South America Travel Tip #10
    • 2.11 South America Travel Tip #11
    • 2.12 South America Travel Tip #12
    • 2.13 South America Travel Tip #13
    • 2.14 South America Travel Tip #14
    • 2.15 South America Travel Tip #15
    • 2.16 South America Travel Tip #16
    • 2.17 South America Travel Tip #17
    • 2.18 South America Travel Tip #18
    • 2.19 South America Travel Tip #19
    • 2.20 South America Travel Tip #20
    • 2.21 More Useful Resources and Links for Planning for Backpacking in South America 
    • 2.22 Further Reading About Backpacking in South America

My South America Travel Tips to Help You Have an Amazing Trip!

No matter how experienced you are at travelling, there will always be surprises, things you wish you knew before you left, perhaps when you were budgeting or packing.

My experience backpacking in South America has been no different. Reading other travel blogs with South America travel tips helped without a doubt and I had a fairly good grasp of what to expect but I have still learnt so much and I’d love to share that knowledge and South America travel tips with you so you can be as prepared as possible before you travel to South America.

So here are 20 South America travel tips that are super helpful to know before you set off on your backpacking South America adventure!

No time to read this now? No worries, pin it for later…

** Pssst, this article may contain affiliate links. If you have no idea what this means, click here and everything will be explained!**

South America Travel Tips to Make Backpacking South America a Breeze…

South America Travel Tip #1

The temperature is incredibly variable in South America, especially in the highlands! One moment you may feel sweltering sitting in the direct sun, a few hours later you will be hunting for your thermals. Please do not underestimate how cold it can get and pack plenty layers.

South America Travel Tip #2

Not all hotels have heating even though it can reach sub-zero temperatures in the highlands. Again I recommend layers when you are travelling in South America – I have been known to sleep with my hat and gloves on!

South America Travel Tip #3

Similarly, weather conditions can change VERY quickly! Always carry a raincoat even if there is a beautiful clear blue sky – don’t get caught out!

South America Travel Tip #4

Hot showers are a luxury in South America – take advantage every time you have an opportunity as you never know where the next one will be! Keep a supply of baby wipes, good deodorant and dry shampoo just in case!

South America Travel Tip #5

South America is more expensive than you’d imagine. Save hard so you can enjoy your trip without worrying about money.

Whilst cheaper than western countries – it’s a lot more expensive than places in S E Asia! For example, a main meal is about £8-10 in most restaurants in Peru though you can eat cheaper if you look about.

Beer is the cheapest alcoholic drink costing approximately £2. Most expensive so far is Chile – you can easily spend $25 dollars on a meal out. A bottle of wine in a restaurant is between 25-40 dollars!

South America Travel Tip #6

There is a BIG tipping culture in some countries in South America so try to factor this into your budget. You will be asked for money for photographs and need to tip bus drivers etc. This can really add up so try to factor it into your budget.

For the Lares trek and Inca trail, I believe the average tip is around 30-40 soles a day which works out as about £10 per day so £40 for the Inca trail.

South America Travel Tip #7

Not much English is spoken so the better your grasp on Spanish the better your experience backpacking in South America will be.

I personally find the Duolingo app a very useful tool for learning Spanish and I practice everywhere I go, even if I’m spoken to in English, I will try to answer in Spanish.

Remember though in Patagonia the language is Welsh, Brazil it’s Portuguese and there are also lots of local languages and dialects you will come across at times.

If you don’t know any Spanish at all, I’d recommend joining an organised tour e.g Gadventures or Dragoman to make life a lot easier. Or alternatively, take some Spanish lessons when you first arrive!

South America Travel Tip #8

Altitude is a real b*tch! Even the super fit will suffer in the highlands – in fact, fitness has very little to do with how badly you suffer. 

Even the competitive athletes I have spent some time with in Peru noticed some shortness of breath and fatigue climbing hills and stairs.

No one is immune so prepare for it, ascend slowly, consider using altitude medication such as Diamox which is readily available at travel clinics, before you go.

South America Travel Tip #9

For everyone altitude sickness is different and is intermittent. I got sudden moments of shortness of breath even at rest and periodically get bad pins and needles in my feet. Others had dizziness, nausea or headaches.

I was expecting it to be a more consistent thing which gradually improves over time so the intermittent nature of my symptoms felt odd and unexpected.

Also, even a few hundred metres can make a huge difference so be prepared with headache tablets etc when you go out!

Read more  The Real Girls Guide to Training for Altitude.

South America Travel Tip #10

If you do suffer badly with altitude sickness, either descend a little or consider taking local remedies to help. Chewing cocoa leaves is popular in Peru. Whilst associated with illegal cocaine, cocoa leaves are actually not illegal and are widely used.

I personally do not like their taste (a bit like green tea) so I avoid the leaves and the teas but instead, have the toffees (which actually taste like coconut) and sometimes the peppermint flavoured cocoa gum.

Read More  How to Avoid Altitude Sickness.

South America Travel Tip #11

Even when it is overcast and cold, the sun is super powerful! Especially at higher altitudes and near to the equator. Wear factor 50 suncream. There are a lot of tomato faces walking around in Peru (mine included on one occasion after an hours stroll at 8 AM!)

Wearing lots of high factor sunscreen is my top travel tip for south America!

South America Travel Tip #12

It would be hard to be a vegan or vegetarian in South America as in restaurants they eat LOT of meat. Meat (or fish) and carbs! Most meals will come with potatoes AND rice!

I met one traveller who was vegetarian at home but had given himself a free pass to eat meat whilst away as it was just too hard to stick to it here.

That’s not to say you have to compromise your principles and eat meat but I’d recommend if you are vegetarian, that you do your research on Trip Advisor to find restaurants that are more suitable and be prepared!

South America Travel Tip #13

I really recommend doing a homestay if you get a chance! I did a homestay in a little village on the edge of Lake Titicaca.

It felt a little strange at first trying to communicate where my Spanish was poor and the families English almost non-existent but after a while, it was easier to communicate than you’d imagine – with lots of miming, showing photos on our phones of our families etc. It’ll give you the best insight into the lifestyles and cultures in the villages.

Read More Why you need to visit Lake Titicaca.

South America Travel Tip #14

 If you’re taking altitude medication, it acts as a diuretic making you pee more than normal. Even if you’re not on medication, the sun and the altitude will make you feel thirsty and you’ll drink a lot more than usual!

Be prepared for long journeys and get used to peeing behind bushes as service stations are few and far between!

South America Travel Tip #15

Speaking of toilets, toilets here are much better than other places I’ve travelled for example South East Asia where there is just a hole in the ground!

But do remember to put your toilet roll in the bin not in the toilet as the plumbing is not great. You will, however, forget on occasion, (especially when you first arrive) and then panic that you will block the toilet and how embarrassing would that be?! This is normal but do TRY to remember!

South America Travel Tip #16

Most hotels and hostels can arrange to do your laundry but I suggest always double checking the price first! Someone I know got stung for $200 for a few kg’s clothes in a Hilton hotel in Ecuador! In most places, it shouldn’t cost you more than $5.

South America Travel Tip #17

Uber is available in lots of places in South America and is often cheaper than regular taxis where you may be charged the ‘gringo price!’

Top Travel Tip Get a discount off your first trip when you sign up to Uber here and use this code: 6nc08

South America Travel Tip #18

Tuk-tuks are the cheapest way to get about – for a short journey < 5 minutes it may only cost you about 25 pence! You can also get tricycles – seats with a cyclist on the back but these are a bit more pricey and they cycle like lunatics cutting up traffic! Great fun though…

South America Travel Tip #19

It pays to be organised and sort out transfers to and from the airport as airport taxis cost a fortune! I paid $25 in Quito! But a return transfer was $10.

In Lima, you can catch the Peru express which is about £11 for an open return which lasts 6 months. They personally take you to the bus and point out your hotel on a map. I then got a taxi for a few dollars from the stop off nearest to my hotel.

South America Travel Tip #20

The travel police are really friendly. I’d heard so many bad things about the police in Ecuador (about corruption and not taking tourists seriously.)

But I had a pleasant chat with one police officer and when he couldn’t answer my questions about a demonstration that was going on, he kindly offered to walk me to the nearest tourist information point.

Others I spoke to had similar experiences and I definitely felt safe and looked after! So definitely don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation with them!

More Useful Resources and Links for Planning for Backpacking in South America 

  • G Adventure Tours in South America (my personal favourite tour company.)
  • Intrepid Tours in South America 
  • Dragoman overland tour. (cheaper option for tours as long as you don’t mind camping.)
  • Other South America Tours
  • Bamba Experience – a hop on hop off trip. A cheaper option for the budget conscious.
  • Skyscanner – a great tool for booking your flights to and from and within South America.
  • Day Tours in South America and other day tours
  • Accommodation via Booking.com or Airbnb

Further Reading About Backpacking in South America

  • South America Itinerary
  • South America packing list
  • G Adventures Peru review
  • G Adventures Galapagos review
  • Iguazu Falls Guide
  • The Lares Trek, Peru.
  • Staying at an Argentinian ranch
  • Visiting The Galapagos on a budget
  • Things to do in San Pedro De Atacama
  • Day trips from Bonito, The Eco capital of Brazil

Do you have any tips you can share? Or questions you’d like answering? If so, please feel free to comment below! As always I really appreciate any social shares or if you can share these pins below! Thanks a million! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *