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South America Travel Tips & That Every Tourist Needs to Know
Whether you’re looking for mountains, waterfalls, beaches, wine tasting, adventure, or animals that you can’t see anywhere else, South America has it all. From the Galapagos Islands down to the tip of Chile, South America is overflowing with different things you can experience on your next vacation.
If South America travel is on your agenda for the near future, we’ve got some must-have tips and tricks for your trip. Keep reading to learn our best secrets for making the most out of your trip.
Learn as Much Spanish as Possible
Although Spanish isn’t the language of every country in South America (for example, the official language of Brazil is Portuguese), it is spoken in most countries. Learning some basic Spanish will go a long way in helping you acclimate and find your way around.
Unlike going to Mexico or the Caribbean, where Spanish may be the official language but most people speak English, you won’t find as many English speakers in South America. Learn before you go with free language apps or a class and take a translation dictionary with you (or download an app on your phone).
Make Sure You Have Necessary Visas
Not all South American countries require a visa, but some of them do. This is also dependent on which country holds your passport. If you are a U.S. resident, you do not need a visa to travel to Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, or Bolivia.
If you are there as a tourist, you can generally stay between 30 and 180 days (check on the individual requirements of each country to make sure you are following the rules). Recent changes now allow travelers from the U.S. to visit Brazil without a visa.
Be Smart with Your Time
You might think that country-hopping in South America is as easy as it is in Europe, but that’s not the case. While there are some small countries in South America, like Guyana, Uruguay, and Ecuador, others like Brazil and Argentina are quite large. You can’t just hop on a train and be in another country in just a few hours as easy as you can in European countries.
This is why you need to be smart with your time and plan out your trip ahead (while still allowing some flexibility for on-the-go changes). There are also areas of the country that take a long time to cross (like the Andes), so factor that in.
Don’t Skip the Small Countries
You might be tempted to breeze through those smaller countries that are less well-known, but you shouldn’t! Of course, there are some must-sees in the larger countries, like Iguazu Falls, the Argentinian pampas, and the Galapagos Islands, but what about the Desfile de las Llamadas, an all-night parade in Uruguay? Or the British colonial architecture in Georgetown, Guyana?
Do your research ahead of time and pick some of the lesser-known spots in these small, but mighty, countries.
Safety for travelers is important in any foreign country you visit. Make sure you know what to do and what not to do, understand a little bit about customs and the local culture, and use common sense when using public transportation, meeting people, and walking around.
Be aware of well-known scams, listen to locals if they advise against visiting certain places or areas of a city, and taking precautions to secure your valuables are smart things you can do to protect yourself.
Eat Like a Local
A lot of countries in South America will have chains like Starbucks. You might be tempted to go with your familiar Starbucks order, you’ll miss out on charming local cafes.
Each country has its own specialty as well, like beef in Argentina, churrasco in Brazil, ceviche in Peru, or empanadas in Chile. Be adventurous in trying new foods! Get recommendations from the locals and don’t be afraid of street food!
Although the size of South America means you do have to have some sort of travel plan, give yourself some flexibility.
You might decide to stay longer in a place that you love (or leave early if you unexpectedly don’t like a certain place), explore things off the beaten path, or take a detour to a city or country that wasn’t even on your radar before you arrived on the continent.
Follow the Festivals
If you really want to get creative with your trip, time it around some of the world-famous festivals in South America. In February and March, hit up Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. If you really want to pack February, you can also hit up the Festival de la Candelaria in Bolivia and Peru.
Head south for the Tango Festival in August in Argentina and stick around until November for Dia de los Muertos.
Know the Local Currency
Different countries have different currencies, so learning more about the currency each country accepts and the best exchange rates ahead of time is necessary. For large expenses, using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees is usually best. For cash to use while in each country, withdrawing money from an ATM is usually going to give you the best exchange rate.
Be sure to notify your credit card companies and bank ahead of time that you are traveling, so they don’t flag your cards for potentially fraudulent activity and render them unusable.
Get Travel Insurance
You might be tempted to skip travel insurance, as it’s just another added cost, but resist that temptation! Travel insurance can help you in the event of lost luggage, getting stranded somewhere due to an airline strike, and can even include medical coverage.
There’s a good chance that your medical insurance won’t cover you in a foreign country. Having travel insurance that includes medical coverage can save you a boatload of money if something happens while traveling and you do need to seek medical attention.
South America Travel: The Trip of a Lifetime
Your South America travel may be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so make the most of it! Use these tips to plan ahead and enjoy your time in each country, whichever they end up being! If you found this article useful, and you’re ready for more, check out some of our other posts!