12 Essential Tips For Travelling South America
South America is an astonishing place where knowing some key travel tips for visiting here can really go a long. With incredible diversity throughout the continent, there’s no shortage of amazing sites to explore. It’s hard to believe that on just one continent you can delve deep into the Amazon rainforest, scale Patagonia’s stunning snowy peaks and witness the fascinating wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Despite our previous travelling experiences, planning to travel South America proved more challenging than expected. With less information widely available, especially for more remote areas, we spent countless hours researching in an attempt to find the best spots to visit. We spent 7 months backpacking South America as a couple, travelling through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, which gave us a good insight into what you need to be aware of before you visit – including what you need to know before travelling South America by bus . Here’s 11 tips for travelling South America that we wish we’d been given before we touched down in Colombia:
Table of Contents
One of our top travel tips for visiting South America is to get travel insurance. It may seem expensive, but if something goes wrong you can end up with massive debt if you’re not insured. We always insure ourselves before any trip – even if it’s just for a few days.
During our time in Buenos Aires , Natalia became relatively unwell and we had to spend 2 days in the hospital. We had to cover costs of almost £1,500. Thankfully we had travel insurance so we were able to claim the money back. If this hadn’t been the case, we would have had to decide between paying huge money for treatment that we couldn’t afford or risking Natalia’s health.
Medical bills aren’t the only reason to get insurance. Theft is an issue for travellers everywhere and certain insurance packages will cover stolen belongings in your policy. Tourists are seen as an easy target due to having high value items, so be sure to exercise caution throughout your trip and don’t showcase valuables unnecessarily. We met a number of people who fell victim to theft in South America so having yourself covered in this scenario can definitely pay off.
While things won’t go wrong on every trip, insurance is a small price to pay for peace of mind. World Nomads offer different packages depending on how comprehensive you want your insurance to be. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads in a matter of seconds – that way you’ll know everything is taken care of if worst comes to worst!
Regardless of whether you have insurance, there are some precautions you can take to minimise the impact of theft. We recommend avoiding carrying large sums of money around and instead leaving it in a secure place in your accommodation. You should also have at least 2 debit/credit/travel cards, and only take 1 out with you. That way if one is stolen, you have a backup and aren’t stuck somewhere with no money.
It’s also important to have a backup of your pictures in case your camera/laptop is stolen. We always back up our pictures on pCloud – a cloud storage website. That way even if everything we own is stolen, we’ll still have all the pictures we’ve uploaded there and can access them anywhere in the world! For just a few dollars a month you can have 500 GB of storage which should more than cover pictures from all your trips. There are even lifetime plans available, offering either 500 GB or 2 TB of cloud storage for a one off payment! Click here to check out the cloud storage plans available with pCloud.
One of the best things to know before travelling to South America is the local language, as it can make a huge difference to your trip. The majority of countries in the continent are Spanish-speaking, and even learning the basics can prove invaluable. Even if you’re not fluent, you’ll still be able to have meaningful interactions with locals – who are often very eager to learn about your travels. With some luck they may even let you in on a few of the local secrets. Locals know their homes better than any guidebook ever can, so they’ll have the best recommendations for where to go, what restaurants to visit and more!
A great way to learn some Spanish for your trip is with the free app Duolingo. It’s an easy and fun way to learn a new language straight from your phone, and if you know some Spanish it will give you the opportunity to interact with more locals on your trip. Even if you don’t plan to travel long term in South America, it’s still worth learning the language anyway!
Once a week, a number of South American cities close off main roads to cars – leaving pedestrians and cyclists to roam freely. Originating in Bogota, Colombia, cyclovia has a lively, party atmosphere, which creates a celebratory feel about it. With an abundance of live music performances and dancing in the streets, it’s certainly a spirited way to start your Sunday. In Colombia, it’s even common to stumble across guinea pig races – where bets are placed by passers by guessing which hut the animals will run into. While the quirks may vary between cities, the principle remains the same.
Despite being a straightforward idea, the simplicity of it adds to the charm. Can you imagine London closing off Oxford Street once a week? It just wouldn’t happen, yet for some cities it’s the norm. It’s well worth making sure your route for travelling South America coincides with cyclovia in at least one city!
The most notable spots in South America where cyclovia occurs are:
Bolivia – Cochabamba.
Brazil – Rio de Janeiro as well as other major cities.
Colombia – Bogota, Cali and Medellin.
Ecuador – Quito.
Peru – Lima.
Surprisingly, Facebook is home to some of the best tips for travelling South America. There are a number of groups on the site, run by the travelling community, offering consistently reliable information about travel in South America. From these groups you can find information that is nowhere else online – proving what an invaluable resource Facebook can be. You can save hours of research simply by asking a question in one of these groups. As some groups have over 30,000 members, more often than not someone is able to help.
There’s also the added advantage of the information being WAY more up to date than guidebooks. Planning our trip to Machu Picchu, we became aware of strikes affecting tourists getting to the site. Fortunately we were able to get up to date information from these groups – which in turn helped us to successfully plan our visit. Without these groups, we would have had no idea strikes were even taking place, but luckily we planned our trip accordingly.
These groups are also a great way to meet other travellers in South America if you’re travelling alone. Travellers often post to see if anyone in the same location wants to meet up for a drink or join in with a tour, which makes it perfect if you’re looking for some people to tag along with.
The most useful groups we used were:
It is definitely worth having a look for country specific groups as well as they really do provide a wealth of information and some great tips for travelling South America.
Travel guides will never tell you all you need to know. In particular, travel guides covering South America as a whole will lack depth. This means lesser known, yet equally amazing places will be missed out entirely. To ensure you fill your trip with incredible experiences, do your research in advance of arriving to each place. It’s truly amazing what you can find.
If we had simply followed our guidebook, we never would have visited the breath-taking Rainbow Mountain in Peru. In 7 months of travelling South America, this stands out as one of our highlights – yet a guidebook with over 1,100 pages didn’t even mention it!
While some guides will have good tips for travelling South America, other sources of information are far more valuable. We recommend asking other travellers for recommendations, searching Pinterest, reading South America travel blog posts or joining Facebook groups. All will have information of value to you and give you some great ideas of what to do on your trip!
Another great option is to check out our Peru itinerary and Colombia itinerary , as these posts give our best advice of the places to visit and things to do when in these South American countries.
One of the best tips for travelling in South America, or anywhere for that matter, is to never book the first tour you see. Itineraries and cost can vary significantly between operators so it’s best to look around. Equally, avoid booking tours through your hotel or hostel unless you’ve already compared prices elsewhere. While some have good intentions and offer competitive rates, others will lie and say they offer the best rate, when in reality you can find substantially cheaper prices elsewhere.
There are normally plenty of tour agencies around offering a variety of South America tours for backpackers, and due to the nature of their business they normally speak at least a little bit of English. Be sure to negotiate a price – especially if you’re in a group. Most companies will be willing to give some form of discount for booking with them, so you don’t have to simply accept the advertised price.
Go out of season
If you want to avoid crowds or save money, visiting countries out of peak season can be a great option. That way you avoid the sinking feeling of arriving to attractions only to find yourself crammed amongst hundreds of other tourists. With some luck you’ll also be able to negotiate yourself a better deal for something extraordinary like a Galapagos tour, or one of the many treks to Machu Picchu. You’ll also have the added bonus of a wider choice of accommodation, and generally cheaper prices.
Peak season may vary depending on the specific area of the country you’re visiting – so do your research in advance. It’s also worth checking that the weather will not influence your trip if you’re visiting out of season.
For some attractions – like Machu Picchu – we wouldn’t recommend going completely out of season. We visited in December, and for the majority of the day our view of the ruins was obstructed by mist. For something that’s likely a once in a lifetime experience, don’t leave anything to chance if you don’t have to.
If you’re travelling for an extended period of time, withdrawing money from an ATM is inevitable. Even with the best travel cards (we recommend Revolut ) you’re still likely to incur ATM fees as most South American banks have withdrawal fees. To minimise the impact of these fees, do your research in advance regarding which bank’s ATMs allow you to withdraw the greatest amount of money. Also research the fees charged by the ATM. That way you can be sure you’re not overpaying each time you withdraw. You should also make sure to withdraw the maximum possible each time – unless you’re 100% sure you won’t need that much. Even if you end up with leftover currency you can usually exchange it at land borders for a decent rate. When doing this check the exchange rate between currencies earlier in the day, to ensure you don’t get ripped off.
A travel tip we wish we knew before travelling to South America is about planning! Contrary to what you might see you do not need to plan everything in advance of visiting this beautiful continent. However, you should take some time to get a rough idea of a route as getting between places can take a very long time. For some places such as a Galapagos adventure do need advance planning as there are limited flights that go there amongst other things to consider.
For budget travellers booking in advance is a bit more necessary in order to get the best value accommodation as that does get snapped up quickly. Click here to find great deals for any budget with Booking.com!
We do want to emphasise that the beauty of not planning is spending time in places you like for longer, or visiting a place another traveller has recommended which has led us to the best adventures.
A great piece of travel advice for South America is to always research visas before entering a country. Depending on which passport you hold you may have to pay more for a visa. For example, US citizens have to pay $160 USD for a tourist visa in Bolivia whereas British citizens can get a free 30 day visa. It’s well worth checking out visa costs before finalising your travel routes through South America.
You should also be aware that certain countries charge extra accommodation taxes depending on the length of your stay in the country. In Peru and Chile accommodations may charge around 20% extra on the cost of your stay if you have been in the country longer than 59 days. In Argentina you may be asked to pay 21% tax unless you pay via bank transfer, or a foreign debit/credit card. You may also be able to avoid these charges in some countries by paying in US dollars – as was the case for us in Chile.
If you’re ever unsure what taxes you are expected to pay, you should double check with your accommodation. Sometimes this will be listed in the fine print of websites. It’s also worth noting that not all accommodations do seem to follow through with charging these taxes. That being said, it’s best to expect to pay them as otherwise it will come as a nasty surprise!
If you’re a Wi-Fi addict, prepare for serious withdrawal symptoms! While it is possible to find a decent connection, more often than not that won’t be the case. Unfortunately, there seems to be no logic to finding a reliable connection either. Our main advice would be to read recent reviews of accommodation, as people will often say if the Wi-Fi works well. Sadly, not even this method works every time. On a number of occasions we arrived to Internet that barely worked – despite a number of reviews saying it was the best they’d had throughout their travels in South America.
Another common issue to expect is the Wi-Fi is often limited to a small portion of the accommodation. Frustratingly, the signal never seems to cover all the rooms. Instead, you’ll most likely have to use common areas when you want a connection – which is a great excuse to be social!
Fortunately, the continent more than makes up for the unreliable Wi-Fi situation and shouldn’t be a real concern. You’ll always be able to find somewhere to send a message home if need be.
Menu Del Dia
In some countries you’ll find that restaurants offer a special menu of the day option. This generally means a 3-course meal for a reasonably cheap price – depending on the standard of restaurant you’re dining at. More often than not you’ll have a few choices, but if nothing takes your fancy there’s always plenty of restaurants offering Menu del dia, so just try your luck elsewhere.
We found the best value to be in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, but unfortunately not all countries are as cheap. Meals in Argentina, Brazil and Chile were significantly more expensive, and so eating out regularly will drain your budget. For better value, we recommend cooking meals yourself and eating out less regularly in these countries. Alternatively, in Brazil some restaurants offered meals for 2 at considerably better value than individual meals. If you’re travelling South America on a budget, then this is one of the easiest ways to save cash and a great travel tip!
Please note that some links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase we make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This money is used to support this website and cover the costs of keeping it online and free to access!
Like these tips for travelling South America? Pin them!
How To Travel Within South America
South America is a fascinating continent to discover as a solo. I spent 21 months in South America and fell in love with the continent. If you are unsure how to travel South America or which country to travel to, this article covers an introduction to each country, budget, safety and how to travel around. Discover the best way to travel South America, the best time to visit South America (depending on which countries you choose to visit) and recommended South America tours. Just read the relevant section or the whole article for your South America trip.
N.b. By booking through this page for your South America travel, you are helping to improve the lives of vulnerable girls about the globe. Thanks for helping.
Any trips to South America will greet you with a melting pot of cultures and dance, from samba in Brazil to the Argentine tango, this continent has a soul with a Spanish flavour. It has everything from the world’s driest desert to tropical rainforests, snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, and colonial towns, and is one of the most bio-diverse continents with high-altitude cities. It is also home to coffee plantations, ancient civilisations such as the Incas, and the Amazon River.
It is a continent that is popular with backpackers keen to experience South America travel. But it isn’t for the first-time solo as you do need some basic Spanish to get by (in the Spanish speaking countries). However, many solo women travel within South America without any problems. Society is mainly a macho society so expect attention from males whether it’s just shouting “Linda” from afar (which means beautiful) or asking you to dance. If you travel to rural areas they may not be used to seeing a woman alone so expect even more attention.
In the more developed cities such as San Jose, Medellin or Rio de Janeiro you can dress however you like. With local women showing off their curves there’s no need to dress conservatively in these cities. Crime is the biggest issue here so be careful of your belongings, and if you go off the beaten path buddy up with other travellers or take a tour.
How to Travel Within South America
When you travel to South America, if you choose to travel to the least developed countries of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, it can be a culture shock, especially in Bolivia. Firstly due to its poverty, and second because of its altitude. Although crime is increasing against foreigners Bolivia is still one of the safest places in South America. Being the cheapest means that it’s popular with other travellers so there are plenty of people to buddy up with.
Avoid taking any jungle tours alone and watch for petty thieves at marketplaces and bus stations. Be careful at night during border crossings and in the city of Oruro. Steer clear of El Alto if you can as it has a reputation for pickpockets and robberies.
Unlike Central America, South America has vast distances and flying from country to country is not the cheapest method to get around. Although LAN Airlines operate within many countries in South America, the routes are not generally direct. Costs of flying internationally can be expensive compared to flying internally within countries. A good tip here is to cross the borders by bus then fly within the countries to maximise your time and budget.
Although bus travel is the cheapest method of travelling around the continent you need to be cautious of your belongings on some of the border routes. Crossing from Colombia to Ecuador is safer during the day. If you have to travel overnight make sure that your route is safe. Night buses in Peru are safe and so is the route from Ecuador to Peru. If you do travel by bus, expect some routes to have curvy roads if you’re going through a mountain pass.
Hiring a car isn’t really advised as the traffic can be chaotic and you don’t want to be driving anywhere alone which is off the beaten track. There’s also the chance of being stopped by corrupt police so use other methods of transport if you can. If you have time, taking a river cruise through the Amazon is a unique way of getting from country to country. If you travel from Colombia to Brazil, for example, you’ll need to allow a few days to get there.
Some islands are too far to travel by sea so if you want to visit San Andres, Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands or the Falkland Islands you have to fly instead.
The town of Zipaquirá near Bogota, home of the Salt Cathedral
Safest South American Countries for Solos
Safest Countries – Chile, Argentina
Most dangerous – Venezuela, British Guyana
Solo travel rating (out of 5 stars for ease of travelling around and safety)
Argentina – 4 stars
Brazil – 3 stars
British Guyana – 2 stars
Chile – 4 stars
Colombia – 3 stars
Easter Island – 4 stars
Ecuador – 3 stars
Falkland Islands – 4 stars
French Guiana – 2 stars
Galapagos Islands – 4 stars
Paraguay – 4 stars
Peru – 4 stars
Suriname – 3 stars
Venezuela – 1 star
This article also covers the safest countries in South America and gives the overall safety score and natural disaster index for each country.
Medellin in Colombia
Best Country To Visit in South America
With South America being a diverse continent you may want to plan your trip depending on what interests you. Below is a summary of what each country is known for to help you to decide which country to visit:
Argentina – Tango, steaks, wine, ancient caves, trekking, whale watching, Iguazu Falls, stunning scenery.
Bolivia – The highest national capital in the world, salt flats, traditions, salt hotels, volcanoes, coloured lakes, flamingos.
Brazil – Iguazu Falls, the World’s largest inland wetlands, carnivals, Amazon, wildlife, beaches, one of the most beautiful bays in the world.
Chile – Easter Island, star gazing, vineyards, glaciers, hiking, beaches, desert.
Colombia – The Andes, coffee plantations, Amazon, Caribbean coastline, dancing.
Ecuador – Wildlife, Galapagos, jungle, chocolate, co ee, modern cities, water sports.
Falkland Islands – British, landscape, sea life.
French Guiana – Space station, Devil’s Island, leatherback turtles
British Guyana – Sugarcane plantations, rainforests, mining, wooden cathedral, waterfall
The Galapagos Islands – cruising islands and unique wildlife.
Paraguay – Rural villages, jaguars, waterfalls, zip-lining, UNESCO villages.
Peru – Mountain scenery, Incas, Aztecs, Machu Picchu, trekking, national parks, jungle, festivals, Lake Titicaca.
Suriname – Eco-tourism, tropical forest, nature reserves.
Uruguay – Beaches, cattle ranches, mountains, countryside
Venezuela – Angel Falls, Caribbean islands.
There is more to Argentina than the leg-flicking tango and the Falkland Islands. The Argentines enjoy good wine and fantastic steaks and are passionate about their culture.
The south of Argentina has stunning lakes and fjords within the Patagonia region, making this an ideal place to explore if you are a nature solo.
On the whole, Argentina is a great destination for solo females. Buenos Aires and other cities and towns are safe and there is a good travellers network in the country. Locals are friendly especially the younger generation who are open to mixing with travellers. The only thing to be aware of is the stray dogs that hang around some of the bus stations. Just be cautious when approaching them.
Argentina isn’t that cheap to travel so be prepared that travelling here will eat into your budget. Airlines such as Aerolineas and LADE fly domestically within the country but buses are generally less expensive (although they still are costly).
There are bus companies for long-distance travel and some with fully reclinable seats. If you can’t afford a seat that goes all the way back (a coma), then take a semi-cama instead which is still comfortable. Buy your ticket before if you plan to travel in the high season, or opt for a South Pass which allows unlimited travel for several days and starts from $80 per trip.
There are tourist trains such as the Tren a las Nubes which runs from Salta through Santa Rosa de Tastil and San Antonio de Los Cobres (and more) back to Salta. Or you can take La Trochita which is a steam train known as the Old Patagonian Express. The ride takes 3.5 hours from El Bolsón to Esquel.
In towns, it’s easier to opt for shared taxis which operate on fixed routes and leave when the taxi is full.
If you prefer boat rides there are boats on the Patagonia side that take you into Los Glaciares National Park and Nahuel Huapi National Park. The distances in Argentina can be very long so plan your trip with rest days if you are travelling overland.
Best time to go to Argentina – October to June.
- See fjords in Patagonia
- Get inspired at Iguazu Falls on the Argentine side
- Sample Argentina’s wines in a winery
- Dance the tango in Argentina
The Bolivian Altiplano (photo @ Leonora Enking)
Bolivia may be poor but it is rich in scenery. La Paz is the highest capital in the world and is home to the witches market, a spooky place with potions and skulls. Death Road is an attraction for bikers who come to experience the thrill of one of the world’s most dangerous roads.
The highlight of Bolivia is the Uyuni Salt Flats. These blinding white surfaces are the world’s largest salt flats and can be reached on a day trip from the small town of Uyuni through one of the many tour agencies.
The best way to see the salt flats and the bubbling geysers and red lakes of the Bolivian Altiplano is with a 4×4 tour that takes you overland. This is also a good way to travel overland from Bolivia to Chile through the Atacama Desert. Bolivia does have a poor road system so a 4×4 jeep tour is an ideal way to travel around.
The buses here are cheap and give you the true local experience but expect to see some poverty at bus stations and also on the buses. Most routes don’t have bathroom stops so expect to travel for a few hours without being able to get off. There are direct buses from Copacabana to La Paz for example. There is a Bolivia bus-train that will take you from Sucre to Potosi. It’s a converted bus that runs along the railway which is quicker (the actual bus will take 4 hours) and cheaper.
There are trains here but they are generally slower than buses. Flying can be quite costly so consider taking a tour if you don’t fancy a rough bus ride.
Best time to go to Bolivia – April to October.
- Get spooked at the witches market
- See the salt flats (Salar de Uyuni)
- Potosi mines
With a country the size of Brazil, it’s wise to plan a route if you are limited on time. Brazil is huge!
Most people visit Rio de Janeiro which is home to two of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Christ the Redeemer, and the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro. Travellers also flock here for the famous Copacabana Beach and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Foz do Iguaçu is another population destination as the gateway Iguazu Falls, one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the world (shared with the border of Argentina). Then there’s Salvador with an Afro-Brazilian culture and the financial centre of Sao Paulo.
Escape the cities and relax at Ilha Grande, one of Brazil’s most beautiful islands or head north into the Amazon Rainforest to learn more about this mighty river and see the wildlife which lives there.
You do need to be careful in this country as it has a high crime rate so don’t walk around with any valuables on show and be careful at ATMs.
If you step outside of the main tourist destinations and cities, you may not encounter many other travellers. Take caution if you go off the beaten track, especially if you want to go deep into the jungle. Look for larger groups or team up with fellow travellers if you want to explore lesser-trodden routes.
Brazilians are really friendly but knowing some Portuguese phrases will help here as they don’t speak much Spanish or English.
Brazil offers air passes to make the most of flying around the country and you can buy tickets within the airport or shopping malls with Tam, a local airline. Trains offer a more scenic route than some of the bus journeys which can be up to 36 hours in some places but you can get different classes on buses. If you’re on a budget take an economy bus which are actually quite comfortable or there are deluxe buses for those who prefer more comfort.
Best time to go to Brazil – March to June.
- Rio Carnival in March 2019
- The stunning Iguazu Falls
- Christ de Redeemer
- Rio de Janeiro Harbour
Chile is a beautiful country with welcoming locals. Known for its vineyards, endless stretches of northern beaches, and the Atacama Desert – the driest desert in the world, this South American country is both safe and extremely scenic.
Santiago is a sprawling capital so choose which area you want to stay in. Bellavista is a funky area with many cafes and bars making it easy to meet others. Valparaiso is nearby and just a 1.5-hour bus ride from the capital. This port city is known for its colourful clifftop houses. Then there is Iquique for the beach, dunes and waves, and Chile’s very own lake district which stretches from Puerto Montt to Temuco.
The Chilean fjords are in Patagonia and you can take sailing trips through this region of fjords and glaciers. Torres del Paine is on the Southern tip. This is one of the most gorgeous places to visit in the country. You can trek, or take a van or catamaran tour through the national park to see breathtaking glaciers and green lakes.
Distances can be far here but the country does have great overnight buses and the routes are scenic and comfortable. The buses aren’t that cheap though and can take hours especially if you are travelling south.
For internal flights look at different airports with Sky Airlines. Sometimes it can be cheaper to fly from an alternative airport and take a bus to that destination. Locals hitchhike here, but like anywhere use your own discretion and follow your gut instinct if you decide to join them. Getting to Patagonia, however, is a different story. There is no direct road from Chile so taking a flight or a boat is the only option. Although once you’re there, you can sail around the fjords.
Best time to go to Chile – September to April.
- Atacama Desert
- Explore Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.
- Take the 6-hour flight to Easter Island, the world’s most isolated inhabited island known for its giant moai statues and named after the day it was discovered.
Colombia once declared too dangerous to travel to, is now a magical realism for tourists with Caribbean beaches, coffee plantations and the Amazon.
Bogota is the capital and although some areas can be a bit sketchy La Candelaria is a safe, vibrant area with bars and restaurants. Visit the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, or the Tatacoa Desert a six-hour ride away from Bogota. The coffee region is the perfect place if you are in search of some nature. Take a Finca tour in Salento, or hike through the Valle del Cocora to see giant wax palms and hummingbirds.
Medellin is an amazing city with stunning views from the Metrocable. Explore the lakes of Guatape on a day trip then head to Cali, home of Colombia’s salsa dancing. The Caribbean coast is a must-see. Spend time in Cartagena admiring the colourful old town then hike through Tayrona National Park or experience the Lost City Trek if you have four extra days to hike. Colombia also has the Amazon with Leticia as its gateway to the river.
Although Colombia gets a bad rap in the press, the majority of areas are fine for a solo female. Safety has improved over the last decade but if you walk around with valuables on show, you are more likely to be robbed. Avoid certain areas, especially the more remote areas and ask locals for advice on which places to avoid.
There are cases of buses being held up so avoid night buses on particular routes such as Bogota to Quito. Instead travel during the day across the border. Only carry as much money as you need and don’t keep all your credit cards on you. There is guerrilla activity within parts of the Amazon so avoid exploring by yourself.
Collectivos (minibuses) operate within Colombia. The cities of Bogota and Medellin have a great transport system with metro and bus services. If you take a taxi use a taxi app and avoid hailing one in the street in Bogota. It’s fine to get one on the road in Medellin. Buses will take you across the country although you can find internal flights for a similar price (without the additional cost of your luggage). Most of Colombia is mountainous so be prepared for some windy journeys.
Best time to go to Colombia – December to February.
- Relax on San Andres Island.
- Take the Metrocable in Medellin for amazing views of the city
- Stay overnight in the stunning Tayrona National Park
Ecuador may be small but that doesn’t stop it from being diverse. From the colonial town of Quito to white water rafting in Tena, there is much to see.
Hike the Quilotoa Lagoon , go mountain biking at Cotopaxi Volcano, or get really adventurous at Banos where you can zip line to your hearts’ content, whitewater raft down the river or just relax in one of the hot springs. There are so many waterfalls here that the whole ambience is relaxing enough. You can pay a visit to one of Ecuador’s indigenous tribes from Banos.
Ecuador is relatively safe but just avoid certain areas of Quito at night. Be careful at bus stations and on buses and keep your belongings close to you.
Allow plenty of time to get from place to place in Ecuador. The buses are cheap (approximately $1 an hour) but you can find yourself on a bus for hours or having to backtrack because of the bus routes. Because of the mountainous regions, roads here can also be curvy. Expect some high altitude too. It’s easy to cross the border to Peru. Night buses operate from Loja with Loja Internacional, leaving at 11 pm and arriving at Piura where you can take another bus to Mancora on the Peruvian coast.
To reach Ecuador’s Amazon, there are buses from Quito to Tena that take approximately 6 hours. Flying is easier as it only takes 30 minutes. There are daily flights from Quito and Lago Agrio (they don’t operate on Sundays). It’s better to get a tour into the Amazon rather than travelling solo here.
Getting to the Galapagos Islands is best done by flying. You can take a flight from Guayaquil instead of Quito which will save you some cash as well as flying into Santa Cruz and flying out of San Cristobal and travelling overland between. You can get between the islands via speedboat and take a tour around them.
Best time to go to Ecuador – June to September
- Hiking the Quilotoa Lagoon
- The swing at the end of the world
- Standing on the equator line
- Watch wildlife on the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are welcoming to travellers and have a laid-back vibe. The Galapagos are world-famous and although there are 61 islands, there are only 13 main islands with Isabela being the largest.
The islands are known for their rich ecosystems and an abundance of wildlife including sea lions, giant tortoises, flamingos, and albatross. Not to mention colonies of birds including the blue-footed boobies. The majority of Isabela (the main island) is only accessible with a tour guide which means you need to buy a tour at approx $130. This is on top of the national park fee you pay when you enter the islands.
You can find free walking trails where you can see pelicans, sea lions, marine iguanas, and giant tortoises without a guide. You can hire bikes to get around the main island. To island-hop independently, boats cost approx $35 and take 2.5 hours from San Cristobal for Santa Cruz at 7 am or 3 pm. They return from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal at 7 am or 2 pm. Santa Cruz seems to be the main hub for the boats for all the islands.
Galapagos Conservancy has a detailed guide to each of the islands so you can decide which one to stay on.
The Galapagos Islands are known for cruises and there are several tour companies. G Adventures offers a Galapagos Land & Sea adventure that explores the north and central islands aboard a vessel called Estrella Del Mar. Prices start from €1735 for 7 days from Quito.
- Taking a cruise around the Galapagos Islands
- See the giant tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora.
- See the Blue-footed boobies (a bird with blue-coloured feet)
A Gentoo penguin on Carcass Island, The Falklands (photo @ Anita Ritenour)
The Falkland Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Argentina. There has been continuous conflict over the ownership of the islands with the most well known being the Falklands War in 1982. The islands remain under British control.
The islands aren’t known as a prime destination so the infrastructure isn’t really there but there are taxi companies on the main two islands and a ferry which departs from New Haven to Port Howard.
The Falkland Islands are hilly and known for being windy so they are not the destination to head to for sunbathing. However, if you are interested in wildlife, birds and penguins, and are missing fish ’n’ chips then head to the Falklands.
Flights operate here once a week from Chile but the cheapest flights tend to be from the United Kingdom.
Best time to go to Falkland Islands – October to March
- The colony of King penguins
La Comte River, French Guiana (photo @ amanderson2)
French Guiana is an unusual place. This small piece of land in the northeast of South America is part of France.
You can travel by boat from Suriname across the Maroni River border to Saint Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana. This border town has a colourful fruit and vegetable market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It is also home to Camp de la Transportation, a former prison camp with displays of the lives of the 70,000 convicts.
Kourou is home to the Guiana Space Center but tours are in French. Cayenne is the capital with Creole-style houses and a food market on a Friday night. There isn’t that much here except a nice waterfront and an old fort. The territory does have three nature reserves, a botanic garden and Devil’s Island so it is ideal for those who love nature. Be prepared not to meet many other solos here though.
The tourism infrastructure isn’t really in place making it difficult to get around. There are small boats that operate along the waterways. To travel overland there are minibuses but they aren’t that frequent so you need to plan your journey wisely.
Best time to go to French Guiana – August to December
- Camp de la Transportation
- Relax on Devil’s Island
Guyana sits in the northeast of South America bordering Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil. The majority of the country is covered in rivers and rainforest with howler monkeys and tropical birds taking refuge in its vegetation.
Georgetown is the capital and there isn’t much to do here except walk along the seawall and see St George’s Cathedral – one of the world’s biggest wooden cathedrals. Outside of the city, you’ll find the spectacular Kaieteur Falls and the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway.
Minibuses travel around the country but it’s not advisable to travel at night. Ferries operate across the main rivers.
If you do travel here from Suriname fly instead of crossing illegally on the water border.
It isn’t usually on a South American bucket list and unless you go with an organised tour I wouldn’t recommend going here independently. There is crime in the capital so there is safety in group travel.
Best time to go to Guyana – January to April
Paraguay is sandwiched between Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. It has had its share of wars on the continent plus a civil war in 1947 and a long dictatorship which only recently ended in the late 20th century. The country is more for the intrepid solo as you may not encounter many other solos.
Although it is bordered by other countries, the Paraguay River runs from the North to the South and divides the country into two regions. Asunción is Paraguay’s capital. It is home to half a million people and was founded in 1537. The capital has a stunning pink palace, a colourful neighbourhood called Loma San Jerónimo and a promenade with a small sandy beach. Just be careful here at night.
Get outside of the capital and the Eco Reserva Mbatoví is the place for some adventure. As well as being home to armadillos it’s also the destination for zip lining and abseiling. Or you can just walk across the hanging bridges instead. Ybycuí is another national park with howler monkeys and colourful birds. Stay on a ranch, go horse riding in the mountains or visit the ruins of Jesuit colonies.
You can travel by bus from Asuncion to Cuidad del Este on the border of Brazil. From here it’s a short bus or taxi ride to Foz du Iguazu where you can see the Iguazu Falls . Buses are the easiest way to get around and there are small minibuses too. There are internal flights down to Cuidad del Este if you prefer not to take the overnight bus there. International buses also operate from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
Best time to go to Paraguay – June to August.
- See the flamingos at Central Chaco Lagoons
Peru is one of the most travelled to destinations in South America with many people coming here for Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city. There is so much to see here from Lake Titicaca which Peru shares with Bolivia to the Nazca Lines – large ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert.
Lima is Peru’s capital. In the heart of Old Lima, you can find the cathedral, museums and the Archbishop’s Palace. The best place to stay here to meet others is the coastal district of Miraflores with a cool promenade.
There is so much history in Peru. Visit the Sacred Valley, the red walls of Pisca, and Ollantaytambo – a well-preserved fortress that looks over the river valley.
Cuzco is the city of churches but you can also do adventure sports here too. Then there are the floating islands where you can visit the indigenous Uros tribe on Lake Titicaca. The coast of Peru is known for surfing so spend some time in Mancora or Huanchaco if you want to experience the beach and waves.
Peru can appear not as friendly as other South American countries. Begging is increasing within the tourist destinations, and as a solo, you may encounter stares from the locals. As in any other city be careful with your belongings in Lima and don’t walk about at night (Cuzco is much safer). The north of Peru does not have that many tourists and parts of the country are out of bounds, so check Foreign Office advice or use a tour company if you are unsure of where to travel.
If you are travelling solo in Peru, not all indigenous villagers will welcome you; some remote Andean villages, which live in complete isolation are not keen on visitors so stick to the tourist route when travelling alone or hire a Quechua speaking guide for the more remote areas.
You can experience altitude sickness here so be careful if you’re exploring places alone if you’re feeling unwell.
Surprisingly Peru has a great bus network. The night buses here are the easiest way to get around as the distances can be long. On night buses an evening meal, blanket and pillow are usually included (even if you just choose a ‘semi-cama seat). PeruRail operate the trains which depart from Aguas Calientes to Cuzco.
You can also fly internally if you have limited time to see everything. Be careful if you fly from Lima to Cusco as you could experience altitude sickness when you arrive. Allow a couple of days longer here to acclimate to the height.
Best time to go to Peru – April to May
- Machu Picchu
- The ruins at Ollantaytambo
- The Uros people on Lake Titicaca
- Take a flight over the Nazca Lines
Surprisingly Suriname is a great eco-destination. More than 90% of the land is covered by rainforest. The Amazon River runs through this former Dutch colony.
Paramaribo is an interesting capital with old wooden colonial buildings but there isn’t much tourism in the city centre except a big tourist sign saying ‘I love Suriname.’ You will find a mix of religious buildings here from Hindu temples, to mosques, synagogues and churches, and interesting colonial buildings along the riverbank to stroll past.
You can also spot turtles and dolphins in its waters and take a tour to get up close and personal to the sea life. Venture away from the capital and explore nature along the Amazon River. Stay in a jungle lodge along the riverbank for just long enough to get your nature fix before heading back to the city.
Suriname is one of the worse places in South America for attention. Expect to hear men of all ages making the “pssst” sound as you walk past. This isn’t just aimed at foreigners as the local girls receive it too. Just be prepared for it before you arrive.
Suriname can be expensive due to a lack of tourists but there are mini-buses here and two local airlines.
Best time to go to Suriname – August to November.
- Stay in an eco-retreat along the Amazon River.
- Colonial buildings in Paramaribo.
Uruguay is one of the smallest countries in South America. It has a similar culture to Argentina with a similar-sounding Spanish accent. The people are laid back and are proud of their country.
Montevideo is the country’s quirky capital. It’s worth doing a walking tour here to learn more about the legends of this capital. The Palacio Salvo is their most impressive building, designed with a lighthouse on top. Check out the Uruguayan walk of fame too.
Colonia del Sacramento is a gorgeous little place with cobbled streets and a UNESCO historic quarter. It doesn’t take long to look around but is worth taking the 3.5-hour bus ride here from the capital. There are also boats directly here from Buenos Aires if you are travelling from Argentina.
Salto is the second-largest city with nice walks along the river or head to Termas del Dayman to relax in some hot springs. Punta del Este is Uruguay’s swanky beach resort where you can sunbathe during the summer months. There is also something for the wildlife solo as the beach of Cabo Polonia has a large sea lion colony, which you can reach by 4×4.
You can reach Uruguay from Buenos Aires on a ferry for approximately $60 and once you’re there, they have an extensive bus network. Avoid hiring a car which can be expensive and travel any long distances by bus. There’s a train that will take you to Santa Lucia but it only leaves once a day and other trains only carry cargo
Best time to go to Uruguay – December to March.
- Cobbled streets of Colonia del Sacramento
Travelling to neighbouring Venezuela is a country off the beaten path. Travelling around Venezuela is currently unsafe with most travellers sticking to Isla de Margarita. Outside of here, there’s virtually no travellers. If you do get a chance to visit Venezuela when it becomes less dangerous, flying is exceptionally cheap and beats the air conditioning that you get on the buses.
Best time to go to Venezuela – December to April.
Patagonia in Argentina
The Language Spoken in South America
Spanish = Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela. The easiest country to understand Spanish in is Colombia, the hardest is Chile. Argentina and Uruguay have their own accent and pronounce ‘ll’ as ‘sh’ instead of ‘y’
Dutch = Suriname
English = Guyana
French = French Guiana
Portuguese = Brazil
South America Tours
South America can be a bit intimidating to travel through if you don’t know any Spanish. The continent is so vast that booking a tour of South America ensures that not only will you feel supported during your stay but your whole South American trip is taken care of for you and all you have to do is just turn up! It makes it so much easier. The tours can differ according to activities and depending on who you have in your group, so check the daily itineraries to see which one is the perfect fit for you. Below are our recommended solo female-friendly South America tour companies.
G Adventures South America
G Adventures is a responsible tour company that mainly caters for budget travellers. Their tours include active and classic tours, National Geographic Journeys, and tours in South America for 18s to 35s. They have tours for every type of solo and most have a maximum of 15 people.
G Adventures South America tours range from a 5 day Bolivia Express seeing salt flats and desert landscapes, a 17 day Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro tour, to an epic 51 day Rio to Lima adventure exploring Machu Picchu, markets and so much more.
Once you book your trip you pay extra for any excursions you want to do when you’re there. If you are planning on seeing more than one country. I have personally been on a G Adventure South America tour and recommend them as a solo female friendly company. For my G Adventures South America review and other South America tours reviews read here.
G Adventures Machu Picchu & Inca Empire – 15 Days
If seeing Machu Picchu is on your travel wish list, this 15-day tour takes you through Peru to see the best of the Incas. Beginning in Bolivia, you start in La Paz and end in Lima and embrace the cultures of both countries in-between. Over two weeks you’ll experience the bustling market of La Paz, across the altiplano to Puno to stay in a homestay on Lake Titicaca before hopping on a bus to Cusco to prepare some traditional Peruvian cuisine.
The main highlights on this tour have to be the Inca Empire; the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo and of course, the Inca trail where you’ll be hiking through Andean scenery, and Incan ruins. You also visit a G Adventures-supported women’s weaving co-op and pottery making community. You’ll be staying in hotels, homestays and camping and travelling in many different ways including buses, ferries and hiking. All breakfasts are included as well as some additional lunches and dinners.
G Adventures Patagonia – 14 Days
Discover Patagonia and Buenos Aires on this 2-week tour experiencing the best of this South American region. Learn how to tango in Argentina’s capital before exploring San Carlos de Bariloche on a bike tour. Then take one of the most scenic ferry cruises in the world in the Chilean Lake District before catching a flight to Torres del Paine National Park for stunning nature, waterfalls, glaciers, and turquoise lakes.
You’ll learn all about the glaciers with the help of a local guide and on a boat tour that takes you to the front of the glacier. The tour ends by seeing penguins as well as Seal Island, and Bird Island, before flying back to Buenos Aires. Accommodation in hotels with daily breakfasts included.
G Adventures Galapagos Islands & Inca Discovery – 14 Days
This two-week tour is perfect for those who are short on time. You get to experience the Andes highlands and Ecuador plus cruise around the Galapagos Islands and snorkel amongst the sea lions at Black Turtle Cove. Starting in Quito you begin the tour on Santa Cruz after a flight to the Galapagos to see the giant tortoises that the island is known for. There is so much wildlife here from iguanas, to flamingos and numerous bird species that it is the perfect trip for the wildlife Girl about the Globe.
After the Galapagos Islands, you travel around Peru, cooking Peruvian dishes, seeing the Sacred Valley, and Ollantaytambo before hiking the famous Inca Trail through the Andes Mountains to the majestic Machu Picchu. Accommodation is on a boat for 4 nights, camping and hotels. All breakfasts and many lunches and dinners are included.
Intrepid Travel is similar to G Adventures with an average of 12 people on each tour. They tend to use hotels instead of hostels and have a more comfortable style of accommodation hence the trips can appear a bit more costly than G Adventures. Their trips are carbon offset and range from an 8 day Inca Trail Express from Lima to an epic 24 day Galapagos & Peru Adventure travelling through Peru, Quito and the Galapagos Islands, with other trips in-between.
With both tour companies, you share a room with someone of the same gender or you can pay extra for your own room.
Intrepid Inca Trail Express – 8 Days
Retrace the steps of the Incas with this week-long trip to Peru. Hike ancient pathways along the Inca trail and see the best Inca sites that this country has to offer. The trip starts in Lima and finishes in Cusco. You get to explore South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city, Cusco, sample some Peruvian ceviche and see the old colonial influences in the city before heading to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo.
There is the option to trek either the Inca Trail or Quarry Trail but you’ll need a good level of fitness for this adventure. Choose Route 1 and you’ll be staying in basic camping facilities, opt for a mix of camping and hotels on Route 2, or stay in hotels for the whole 8 days on Route 3.
Intrepid Patagonia Wilderness – 15 Days
If you are looking for a two-week tour, hiking through amazing scenery then this Patagonia Wilderness is ideal. From Buenos Aires to the remote wilderness of Patagonia, you can witness the giant Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, see the wondrous peaks and camp amongst them, and trek past glaciers and waterfalls spotting birdlife on the way.
The journey begins and ends in the Argentinean capital of Buenos Aires where you can sample tango, and the famous Argentina steaks. Accommodation is mainly in hotels with 3 nights camping under the stars. Daily breakfasts are included.
Sacred Land of the Incas – 15 Days
This 15-day trip encompasses the sacred land of the Incas with a trip to the Amazon jungle. From ruins to rainforest, it is a great way to experience South America’s different terrains. Spend time in the Peruvian Amazon, cruising into the jungle on a motorised canoe before staying overnight in an eco-lodge and sleeping in the jungle. Learn about the medicinal uses of the Amazonian plants whilst spotting wildlife both during the day and on a night walk. After the jungle, you get to travel to the famous Inca spots such as Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Valley, Cusco, Puno where you take part in a Lake Titicaca homestay, Puno and La Paz, where you’ll end your two-week adventure in the Bolivian capital, the highest capital city in the world. You’ll be camping, staying in a jungle lodge and a hotel and have each breakfast included along with half the meals.
Get Your Guide helps you to find top-rated activities and day tours in worldwide destinations including South America. Choose from a Cusco: full-day tour to Rainbow Mountain in Peru, a Christ the Redeemer train ticket in Brazil, or a full-day Torres del Paine tour in Patagonia. There are so many to choose from and it’s really simple to use. Just check the reviews, price and availability then book online.
The harbour of Rio de Janeiro
Budget for South America
These budgets are based on a daily spend including accommodation (staying in a dormitory room in a hostel), food, water, transport (using local transport only), and leisure. You will need to add cost if you prefer to stay in a private room. Prices are quoted in Pound Sterling (GBP) and converted to U.S. $ (the conversion rate can differ slightly).
Budget – From £20 to £100+
The cheapest countries are Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. The most expensive are The Falkland Islands, Uruguay, and Guyana.
Argentina – £45 / $60 USD
Bolivia – £20 / $26
Brazil – £40 / $51
Chile – £35 / $45
Colombia – £25 / $34
Ecuador – £23 / $30
Falkland Islands – £100+ / $135+ (it’s easier to take a tour over several days)
French Guiana – £60 / $80
Guyana – £45 / $60
Galapagos Islands – £60 / $80 (not including cruises)
Paraguay – £30 / $40
Peru – £25 / $34
Suriname – £50 / $67
Uruguay – £65 / $87
Venezuela – £25 / $34
Itineraries for South America
Argentina & Uruguay – Buenos Aries, Montevideo, Colonia del Sacramento
Colombia – Bogota, fly to Medellin, fly to Cartagena, Santa Marta.
Patagonia – El Calafate, Glacier National Park, El Chalten, Rio Blanco Base Camp, El Chalten, El Calafate.
Ecuador & Galapagos – Quito, San Cristobal Island, South Plaza Island, North Seymour Island, Chinese Hat, Las Bachas, Santa Cruz Island, Floreana Island, Espanola Island, Cerro Brujo, Kicker Rock, San Cristobal, Quito.
Brazil & Argentina – Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Paraty, Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro.
Peru – Lima, fly to Cusco, Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu.
Argentina to Brazil – Buenos Aires, Colonia, Montevideo, Iguazu Falls, Paraty, Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro.
Peru to Ecuador – Lima, Paracas, Nazca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Puno, Lake Titicaca, La Paz.
Amazon & Ecuador – Quito, Tena, Banos, Alausi, Guayaquil, Guayas River, Puerto Lopez, Machalilla National Park, Quito, San Clemente, Otavalo, Quito.
Colombia – Bogota, Villa de Leyva, Armenia, Calarca, Cocora Valley, Salento, Medellin, fly to Cartagena, Santa Marta, Minca, Taganga, Tayrona National Park, Lost City trek, Santa Marta.
Peru to Brazil – Lima, Paracas, Nazca, Arequipa, Chivay, Colca Canyon, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Puno, Lake Ti caca, La Paz, Uyuni, Salt Flats, Potosi, Sucre, Santa Cruz, Puerto Suarez, Corumba, Pantanal, Bonito, Iguazu Falls, fly to San Paulo, Paraty, Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro.
Cartagena to Quito – Cartagena, Santa Marta, Lost City trek, Taganga, Minca, Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta, Cali, Pereira, Manizales, Medellin, Bogota, fly to Quito, Cotopaxi, Otavalo, Quito.
* My first trip to South America was with G Adventures on their Southern Divide tour. Over 3 weeks we travelled from Peru to Bolivia and overland to Chile. The tour was amazing and I definitely recommend them if you are feeling nervous about travelling to this part of the world alone.