Buses in South America: How to travel safely
When it comes to South American bus safety how do you travel?
Most people who I have met on the road that decided to travel to South America were looking for the most authentic experience possible.
If that is you, consider exploring South America by bus. It’s inexpensive and though there are a few dangers, they are not at all difficult to avoid.
In this article, I will provide all the details you need to travel through South America by bus and give you some tips on what to look out for!
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Buses in South America
When it comes to traveling through South America, buses are the cheapest way to do it and they are also very popular with both locals and tourists.
That’s why with this page I want to provide as much information as possible and give you an insight into the world of long-distance bus travel!
In the sections below, I’ll answer some of the most pressing questions about buses in South America so you can know more about what to expect.
Are buses in South America safe?
The short answer is yes, buses in South America are relatively safe to use for travel. Especially coach buses because they are more comfortable and better equipped for long distance travel routes around the continent.
The truth is, that the quality of service and safety ultimately depends on your experience, but your bus travel will also vary from country to country.
Additionally, it will also depend on how much you’re willing to spend. Better buses are more expensive, but they also provide a lot more peace of mind.
Whatever kind of bus you choose, you always need to take sensible safety precautions. So, do your due diligence before, during and after travel!
How to see South America by bus?
Knowing how to see South America by bus to be able to decide which routes to take is one of the most common questions among backpackers who want to save money while having a more authentic experience.
You’ll be able to interact with locals, learn a little bit about their everyday lives, and enjoy the panoramic views when going through scenic routes.
Smart Travel Tip
When exploring South America by bus, one of the most important pieces of advice to follow is: do your research and book your tickets in advance.
Sites such as Busbud are great for purchasing tickets online but remember that you’ll pay more than you would going directly to the bus company.
Especially so if you plan on traveling during the holidays or other busy seasons. However, don’t let that put you off. Seeing South America by bus is truly a wonderful experience, so continue reading to learn more!
Are buses the cheapest way to travel South America?
Flying in and around South America is always an option, but international flights are usually expensive and domestic flights will make a huge dent in your budget. Especially if you plan to visit multiple places during your trip.
You could also do things like multi-day excursions, try renting a car or just rely on taxis, but that’s also more expensive than it needs to be.
By contrast, traveling through South America by bus is the cheapest option, and although it takes more time, its the most rewarding.
On average, you can expect to pay between $1 and $6 per hour for overnight buses. Additionally, they save you a hostel or hotel stay.
The price varies from country to country, so it’s important to do your research. There are other ways you can save money too, so take a read of my notes I wrote when traveling South America on a budget for other tips.
Transportation in South America
Though buses are the cheapest way to travel South America by bus, they are not always the best option in terms of convenience.
That’s why we believe the best way to get around South America is to combine different modes of transportation.
Though domestic flights can make a dent in your budget if you choose them as your sole means of transportation, they are very affordable.
So, combining them with bus travel is a good idea. Additionally, when you need to make a short trip at night, an official taxi is the safest option. Combining modes of travel will save you time and money!
Do South American buses have toilets?
You will find that most coach buses in South America are equipped with toilets, except in Ecuador. However, do keep in mind that finding an ultra-clean/odorless bus toilet in South America is not the norm.
They will be usable if you can’t hold off, but if you can, you should. You should also bring a roll of toilet paper and sit away from the bus toilet.
Buses South America: 10 Travel Tips
Using and booking buses in South America is not difficult, but you must prepare. Mentally (and in most cases physically), because if you don’t book the right ticket and get the cheaper bus without reclining seats, AKA semi-camas, then your poor spine may just make you regret that you didn’t.
Following the tips below will help you anticipate some of the pitfalls and ensure you have a great experience traveling through South America!
⤵️ Here are 10 travel tips to help you to stay safe:
- Research the best routes for your destination and the best bus companies.
- Always check the reviews. Also, try to get feedback from other travelers.
- Pre-book your tickets ahead of time to get the best seats (usually closer to the front of the bus)! If you’re in Peru for example check out sites such as Cruz del Sur and search for times and prices there.
- Be flexible. Bus times in South America aren’t always reliable, so keep that in mind.
- Pack the right clothes. South America is beautifully diverse, so pack clothes for all seasons. I always have my travel hoodie or a fleece on buses to stop myself from freezing due to the airconditioning.
- Never leave your things unattended. Keep your most important items in your backpack and always keep it on you.
- Get enough sleep during the trip. Not everyone can sleep on the road, but you must give it your best shot.
- Bring entertainment to keep yourself busy. See these books about Latin America that you can download onto your kindle or iPad.
- Don’t forget your snacks! Food stops will be made, but you’ll be craving something healthier.
- Avoid using the bus bathroom. If you can hold off until you reach your destination, do it!
Crossing Borders in South America
One thing to consider when exploring South America by bus is the border controls on both sides. At most of the country borders in South America, you’ll have to get off the bus and go through customs with your bags.
Sometimes the border authorities will even check your backpack or bag. I always have a sturdy padlock with me handy just in case my bags are left out of sight for any period of time while doing the immigration process.
However, you’ll find that in most cases it is such a breeze there is no real reason to worry. Waiting times can be tedious so I suggest you have some entertainment to or find a travel companion to keep you company.
Ensure you have the address of where you’ll be staying because they will want this information. Some countries will require proof of onward travel too, so check the requirements for each specific country before setting off.
Bus Routes in South America
Below are some popular South American bus routes that may interest you. Some of these routes are well known but you can chop and change them.
I tend to add extra stops when planning, but in some cases I’ve ended up in some unknown city with nothing going for it all for the sake of ‘a stop’ and regretted it. This is why I suggest having a real reason for stopping off.
Two of my favorite countries for bus travel in South America have been Argentina and Brazil, this is partly to do with the attention to detail while traveling and the smooth long roads during long-distance trips.
⤵️ Here are some popular bus South American bus routes:
- Route 1: Salvador de Bahia to Recife. This is one of the most beautiful coastal bus routes in South America.
- Route 2: Lima to Rio de Janeiro. This route takes 5 days, so it’s quite a long route, but it’s also the most inexpensive way to get from Lima to Rio de Janeiro.
- Route 3: Pucon to San Carlos de Bariloche. This route crosses the border between Chile and Patagonian Argentina, making it a lovely trip.
- Route 4: Ciudad Bolivar to Santa Elena de Uairén. This is an 11-hour trip with some of the most stunning landscapes you will ever see.
- Route 5: Lima to Cuzco. This is the most scenic and direct route from Lima to Cuzco, but it’s quite high and the roads are narrow.
- Route 6: Salta to Iruya. This route is not for everyone because though it starts in a beautiful city, it takes you to the mountains and the road gets narrower and steeper at the turn from Humahuaca to Iruya.
Travel Insurance For South America
No matter who you are, it is recommended that backpackers and all types of travelers use World Nomads Insurance for a fully comprehensive cover.
If you are due to travel soon, you can get a Get Your Free Quote by clicking the link or the image above and filling out your details – that way you’ll get instant travel insurance cover from the date of travel that you choose.
Buses in South America
In my experience on the continent, traveling South America by bus is a great option, because let’s be honest, hichiking is risky and so is cycling.
Not only will traveling by bus will allow you to be closer to locals, have a more authentic experience, and enjoy amazing views. It saves you money.
Buses in South America are inexpensive and relatively safe, so why not take advantage of this? You may even make a lifelong connection on the road.
If spending a day on a bus is not your jam, then, you just book a night bus, that way you can save money on a night’s accommodation as well.
If you are currently planning a trip and/or deciding where to go, why not see this guide to safe places in South America to get more inspiration?
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Is It Safe in South America?
Bonnie is a freelance writer born and raised in South America who has covered the continent for 11 years.
Pierre-Yves Babelon / Getty Images
South America—home of the famous Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Patagonia, and more—attracts roughly 37 million tourists per year. Naturally, due to the presence of rebel groups and its notoriously violent illegal drug trade, parts of the continent have been deemed unsafe for tourism. But even Colombia, widely avoided as a travel destination until the early aughts, has turned its reputation around in recent years. There are many places to visit in South America if you practice basic safety and stay away from certain areas and activities.
- The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory (“reconsider travel”) for all South American countries except Uruguay , which remains a Level 2 (“exercise increased caution”), and Argentina , Brazil , and Venezuela , all under a Level 4 (“do not travel”).
- Prior to 2020, all but one were under a Level 2 due to crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and/or civil unrest. Venezuela has been placed under a Level 4 due to “crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest, and detention of U.S. citizens,” the advisory says .
Is South America Dangerous?
While some parts of South America have been deemed dangerous by the U.S. Department of State, much of the continent is perfectly safe to visit. Travelers are advised to avoid the entire country of Venezuela due to ongoing political instability. Parts of Colombia—Arauca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cucuta)—are also under a Level 4 because of crime, terrorism, and kidnapping . In 2019, the U.S. Department of State warned of “K risks” in 35 countries following the kidnapping of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott in Uganda . Venezuela and Colombia were the only two South American countries on the list.
The safest places in the continent seem to be the stunning beaches of French Guiana, Uruguay, the volcano-laden nation of Chile, Suriname (South America’s smallest), Paraguay, and Argentina. Wherever you go, leave your valuables at home and travel with an abundance caution.
Is South America Safe for Solo Travelers?
South America is safe for solo travelers so long as they stick to low-risk areas and remain vigilant. Many of its cities and countries are popular tourist destinations with countless hostels frequented by the backpacker set. Solo travelers should stick to these areas—Bogota, Colombia; Jijoca de Jericoacoara, Brazil; Santiago de Chile, Chile; Mendoza, Argentina; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for instance—and only travel to more remote or dangerous areas with a licensed tour guide. As with any city, solo travelers should avoid going out alone at night and taking solo taxi rides. Kidnappings happen, so use the buddy system as often as possible.
Is South America Safe for Female Travelers?
Women travel to South America all the time—often in groups, sometimes alone—and many of them return home with only positive experiences. Women’s rights are not as progressive in South America as they are in the U.S. and there are frequent reports of domestic violence in many countries; however, this doesn’t generally put female travelers at risk. Because of South America’s very macho, chauvinistic culture, women may experience cat calling or other hassle from men. What they should really keep an eye out for, though, is pickpocketing and other non-violent crime. Female travelers are vulnerable, especially when alone, so they should keep their guards up and travel in groups when possible.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Homosexuality is legal in every South American country except Guyana, where it is punishable by life imprisonment (although that rule is rarely enforced). Same-sex marriage is illegal in seven countries: Bolivia, Chile, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Anti-discrimination laws are in place everywhere except Guyana, Paraguay, and parts of Argentina. Travelers should know the laws of the countries they intend to visit, and try to avoid public displays of affection even where it’s legal as violence towards LGBTQ+ individuals and couples still occurs.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Demographics vary by country—for instance, Argentina is 85 percent white whereas Suriname is primarily Black and East Indian . Bolivia is 55 percent Amerindian while 75 percent of Paraguay’s population identifies as mestizo . South America, as a whole, is a melting pot of races and ethnicities, and the vast majority of it is extremely hospitable and welcoming. That being said, racism is prevalent (as it is throughout the world), and exists in various forms. So long as BIPOC travelers stick to the tourist-centric places where locals are more exposed to diversity and are therefore more accepting, they shouldn’t encounter any trouble.
Safety Tips for Travelers
- Colombians have a saying, no dar papaya (don’t give papaya), which means “don’t be stupid,” or—in other words—don’t put yourself in a position to be taken advantage of. Travelers should walk with confidence, stay aware, and avoid looking like a target.
- Educate yourself on the current affairs of your destination and avoid demonstrations or any unrest while there.
- Keep in mind that pickpockets often work in pairs or groups. One or more will distract you while another does the stealing. or Portuguese in case of an emergency.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the locale and situation. Dress like the locals and conceal any valuable possessions (iPhones, cameras, jewelry, etc.).
- It’s always a good idea to register with your embassy or consulate before traveling abroad.
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
U.S. Department of State. “Uruguay Travel Advisory.” November 23, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Argentina Travel Advisory.” August 6, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Brazil Travel Advisory.” August 6, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Venezuela Travel Advisory.” October 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Colombia Travel Advisory.” October 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Introduction of K Risk Indicator.” April 9, 2019.