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Here at TID, we love travelling just as much as you do. TID’s Marketing Manager, Brona Hyndman, recently spent 4 months travelling around South America with her husband, Dave. Together, they travelled to Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
Jealous? So were we.
Here are their top tips for taking on South America.
South America is huge and the distances between places can be vast (especially in Brazil and Argentina). We took three months to see the highlights from Rio to Lima, with our final month spent in the Galapagos Islands and Colombia. Sure, you can go for a month but you won’t even scratch the surface. Take as much time to explore as you can – there’s so much to see and you’ve come so far, you might as well see as much as possible.
South America is a Spanish speaking region (apart from Brazil where they speak Portuguese). Knowing the basics like greetings, numbers and directions will be a great help and make a difference to your trip. You’ll also want to get to grips with popular foods so you can read menus and know what you’re eating for dinner! Apps like Tripwise, Google Translate and DuoLingo are really useful in mastering Espanol.
In our four months of travelling we moved over 30 times with our 13 kg backpacks. That’s a lot of packing! Pack for 10-14 days and do laundry. Leave the extra shoes at home and don’t bring anything that is unnecessary – you can always buy essentials along the way. Stay organised with packing cubes which can be found in outdoor stores and Ikea.
(Ladies – tampons are not so popular in South America and can be hard to find so bring your own supplies.)
Some things need to be booked ahead of time. If you want to do the classic Inca trail hike, book at least three to six months in advance as spaces are limited. When you’re on the road, book transfers out of a place when you arrive somewhere new. We had to stay a few extra days in some places as we couldn’t get a bus seat to our next destination. Some routes only operate on certain days so check out itineraries ahead of time.
Being flexible with your plans will allow you to stay longer in that awesome little beach town or escape the city sooner than planned. Accommodation availability is not an issue here – we often booked a day or two in advance with no issues. Talk to other travellers and be open to adding new places to your itinerary. We hadn’t planned on visiting Bariloche in Argentina – as a snow destination it didn’t seem relevant in summer but it turned out to be a highlight of our trip.
Two of our trip highlights were also two of the most expensive activities we did – the Inca trail and a trip to the Galapagos Islands. We met other travellers who left these off their list due to budget constraints but for us they were well worth it. We may never be back in South America so we wanted to make the most of it and have no regrets. Fund the big ticket items by saving money in other areas (like eating, drinking and accommodation). Trust me, they’re worth it.
Have options for accessing your money. We brought US dollars with us to exchange on the road as well as credit cards, debit cards and a Travel Money card. The fees for transactions on our debit and credit cards were high though so check with your bank before you leave.
Bus travel is a great way to get around South America as flights can be very expensive. The service and quality is much better than in Australia with different classes of tickets available, on board entertainment and food. Choose “cama” class if available (i.e. a fully reclining seat) and always sit downstairs where there is more room (but stay away from the bathroom). Bring your own snacks as the bus may not stop, even on long journeys, and food on board is not always enjoyable.
We were lucky and only got sick once on our trip after some dodgy pancakes in Arequipa, Peru. You can buy medication there but with the language barrier, it can be difficult to get what you want and reading the instructions can be tricky. Bring your own supply of diarrhoea tablets, rehydration supplements, altitude pills and headache tablets to ensure you have the basics covered. Seasickness pills are also useful if you are going on a Galapagos cruise as it can get choppy.
While we had no issues in our four months on the road, South America can be a dangerous place. However, it doesn’t have to be if you take precautions. Look out for staged distractions leading to pick pocketing, watch your back at ATMs and avoid looking like a tourist with gadgets and jewellery. Always take radio taxis and check your change as counterfeit bills are rife (especially in Argentina). And of course, get travel insurance before you go.