South America Travel Guide

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.

tips-for-visiting-south-america

The Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria is one of the coolest festivals in South America you’ve never heard of before

Travel Adapter 

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.

Insurance

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. 

Vaccinations

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

Pink Flamingo Bolivia

Tips: Don’t forget your vaccinations before visiting the beautiful lakes in Bolivia

Weather

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.

Safety

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. 

couple-rio-de-janeiro-stairs

Staying safe in Rio: Escadaria Selaron is a big tourist attraction but just nearby you can see lots of homeless people

Language

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

Packing

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. 

Getting around

The easiest way to get around is to travel by bus in South America. Train travel is limited and expensive.

Bus

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.

Flights

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).

medellin-to-cartagena-flight

Cruises

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.

Map-of-South-America-for-travel-guide

Top Destinations 

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.

Macaw-amazon

Seeing Macaws in the wild of the Amazon was one of the coolest things we saw during our South America trip

Top Things to do in South America

Visit the Amazon jungle

Pailon del Diablo Waterfall

Swing at the End of the World

Visit a favella and more things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Climb a giant rock for the best views in the world

Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria

Go sandboarding in an oasis

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.

swing-ecuador-things-to-do

Don’t miss the Swing at the End of the World in Ecuador (even cooler than the one pictured)

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:

Rio de Janeiro to Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires, Argentina

Mendoza to Santiago, Chile

Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

San Pedro de Atacama (Calama) to Uyuni, Bolivia

La Paz to Machu Picchu (Cusco), Peru via the awesome Copacabana & Isle del Sol

Cusco to Lima, Peru 

Lima to Quito, Ecuador, via the Swing at the End of the World

Quito to Ipiales, Colombia

Ipiales / Cali to Salento

Salento to Medellin

Medellin to Cartagena

Simple! This can easily form the basis of a route for 3 – 4 months around South America.

Machu Picchu is a bucket list destination

Machu Picchu is one the must see things in every South America itinerary

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):

 

More: South America Travel Blog Posts