South America Travel Guide: Tips, Tricks, Itineraries & the Best Things to Do
Travelling South America is an immersive experience. Expect to socialise with friendly locals long into the night, wander through ancient ruins and eat exotic and delicious cuisine (except for guinea pig - we've tried that so you don't have to)!
This South America travel guide will get you drinking Malbec in remote Argentine wineries, dancing tango like a local in the streets of La Boca where the dance originated and catching piranhas then swimming in the Amazon river.
South America Travel Tips & Overview
This travel blog is full of travel tips for South America. We cover everything from the must-see destinations to the best things to do. We don't skip the nitty gritty either: how to get around and where to stay.
Here's some fast facts to get you started.
Plugs and voltage vary across South America. Most use a European rounded two prong plug (Type C).
In an interesting twist, Argentina uses a 3 prong plug like in Australia (Type I).
The easiest solution is to purchase a universal travel adapter for South America like this.
South America is a long flight from home for most visitors. I guarantee when you're at the top of a 100 m tall sand dune and ready to slide down, knowing you have insurance is a good peace of mind.
Essential vaccinations for South America include Diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio vaccine.
In some countries such as Bolivia it is an entry requirement to show proof that you have received a yellow fever vaccination.
Find more information about South America travel vaccinations.
South America straddles north and south hemisphere so it's not surprising climate varies wildly.
It can be sunny and 30 degrees Celsius in the north in Cartagena, Colombia while it's below freezing at the bottom in Ushuaia, Argentina.
Not to mention altitude changes - the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, is the highest capital in the world at over 3,640 metres (11,942 feet) above sea level.
The upside is that it's always the perfect time to visit somewhere in South America.
Check out our country guides for more detail about the best time to travel in each country.
During our extensive travels from Colombia to Brazil and back again we never felt unsafe.
We walked favelas, ventured deep into the Amazon jungle, crossed "dangerous" borders into Colombia and drank beers in the notorious La Boca district in Buenos Aires.
We witnessed first-hand peak paranoia about the perils of Rio de Janeiro which prevented people from leaving the comfort of their accommodation for fear of being mugged at knife point.
At no stage did we feel unsafe or in danger. Don't do silly things like getting blind drunk and wander Copacabana beach at night time and you'll be perfectly safe.
Predominantly Spanish with the exception of Brazil where the native language is Portuguese.
Not speaking Spanish is not a barrier to travelling in South America but you will find learning some phrases is helpful for building relationships with locals.
"Dos mas cervesa por favor" is a great place to start. It is also a great place to take Spanish lessons and there are many quality places around the continent to learn.
Get a head start with our guide to Simple Spanish Phrases which got us through months in South America
There's a tonne of stuff you need to remember when planning a trip to South America.
Way more than we can mention here. So make sure you check out our essential South America Packing List post for all the essentials to keep you safe from the Zika virus.
The easiest way to get around is to travel by bus in South America. Train travel is limited and expensive.
The bus networks on the other hand are world leading and luxury bus options are more akin to first-class airline seats.
We travelled from Rio de Janeiro to Cartagena mainly by bus and recommend this to save time and money.
We show you how to do the same.
If you are used to cheap flights around Asia or Europe, be prepared for a rude shock.
With the exception of Colombia, flights in South America are expensive on most routes.
Flights in the south around Argentina and Brazil are particularly expensive.
We took a couple of flights around South America and lived to tell the tale (don't miss our blog posts).
Sometimes it pays to think outside the box when you're travelling.
When we crunched the numbers on flying from Santiago to Buenos Aires vs catching a 10 day cruise via Cape Horn, Ushuaia (known as "the end of world") and the Falkland Islands, we were shocked.
The cruise was a wayyy better deal.
South America Travel Map
As you can see on our South America travel map it is a vast area to travel. Most people follow a route from north to south.
Don't miss our great itineraries below.
Medellin travel guide - the most infamous city in Colombia is a must on any itinerary
Salento, Colombia - this tiny town in Colombia is a blast. Literally - you can play a game with exploding gun powder and drinking. In a cowboy saloon of course!
Salar de Uyuni - the famous mirror-like salt flats in Bolovia are the perfect place to practice perspective shots (bring dinosaur toy props)!
Mendoza Wineries - drink famous Malbec wines in Argentina at the vineyards
These are just a sample of the best place to travel in South America.
Make a spot for them on your itinerary and check out our country profiles for more interesting destinations to visit.
Top Things to do in South America
Visit the Amazon jungle
Visit a favella and more things to do in Rio de Janeiro
This is just scratching the surface of all the fun things to do in South America.
Check out our country pages for more details including city guides to places like Medellin and many more.
South America Travel Routes
The most popular route is the "gringo route" which basically runs from Rio de Janeiro to Cartagena (or the other way around) something like this:
Lima to Quito, Ecuador, via the Swing at the End of the World
Ipiales / Cali to Salento
Simple! This can easily form the basis of a route for 3 - 4 months around South America.
Books for further reading
Don't ask us to chose what the best south america travel book is because we sourced all of our information from travel blogs like this one or - more often than not - by doing it the hard way ourselves.
Here's some interesting fiction books about South America travel (and one regular South America travel book):