20 things you need to know before traveling to South America

Updated: 3 days ago

After spending 6 months traveling around South America, I wish there were things I knew before going.


So here is a list of 20 things to take into consideration when planning your trip to South America.


I have broken them down into sections:

- Money

- Transportation

- Safety

- Weather

- Other


If you prefer to watch this in a video format, please scroll to the bottom of the article.

MONEY

  1. Always have some cash with you! You might not end up seeing an ATM for a while and have no option to pay with a card.

  2. Each country has its own currency. So make sure you are aware of the exchange rates and currency needed.

  3. Do not be tricked with data. Especially in the airports, they sell SIM cards and data bundles for ridiculous prices. Always buy in the city, never at the airport. The best company for foreigners regarding data and SIM cards was Claro, which you can find in several countries.

  4. If something seems overpriced? It probably is! South America is a fairly cheap continent and you shouldn't be in a situation where you wonder if the price is appropriate. You probably just falling into a tourist trap!

  5. Touristic packages always buy on the spot in the office. Online offering tends to be very expensive.

TRANSPORTATION

  1. Night buses are the best way to travel the whole of South America cheap and fairly convenient...if you can fall asleep on a bus! I can recommend 'Cruz del Sur' which is a reliable and good bus company offering routes in several countries. All available bus options I usually check via Bookaway.

  2. Do check internal flights as there can be great deals. Colombia was the best for it!

  3. Do not use motorcycle taxis! Although sometimes it is not a scam, there is a very high death rate in accidents done by motorcycle taxis.

  4. Better use Uber than a local taxi. They tend to charge more and actually, can turn out to be a scam. When using Uber, you have all driver's data so as suggested by locals is a safer option. Locals use Uber rather than local taxis.

  5. Ecuador specific: There you have to be very careful with your belongings on the bus! Hold your bag in your lap even if it is an 11-hour bus ride. Thieves, there have a specific scheme for how they hide on the bus and steal the bags under the seats. Sounds unbelievable but they do that! A thief was caught on one of the buses we used!

SAFETY

  1. South America is not as dangerous as the news says it is. Yes, bad things happen but most probably they won't affect you. You do need to stay alert at all times as protests happen. These can be frequent and when they do arise things can get ugly.

  2. Do watch out for pickpockets. They are everywhere and you ALWAYS have to watch your belongings. Always keep all valuables with you and not in another bag. Also, leave everything in the hotel, and do not carry anything that isn't a necessity. In very crowded places wear your bag in front of you!

WEATHER

  1. Biggest myth: South America is hot. Wrong! The longest mountain range in the world, the Andes, is in South America and a lot of amazing places you will visit will be high up in the mountains where it is cold all year long.

  2. There is a rainy and dry season, but it does rain during the dry season too, so do not forget your raincoat!

  3. The sun is extra strong so make sure you have sunscreen. sunglasses and ideally also a hat!

OTHER

  1. Altitude sickness is a real thing! I fainted on my 2nd day and had a severe headache after climbing a volcano unprepared. So give yourself a few days to adjust.

  2. Wifi is fairly good in most of the countries, apart from Bolivia! Bolivia has horrible wifi, even the best hotels had no wifi!

  3. Coffee is not great! Turns out Colombia and other countries export the 1st tier coffee to Europe and they drink 2nd tier coffee called 'Tinto'.

  4. Within the tourism industry, people tend to speak English but anywhere else you might struggle to communicate so basic Spanish would be ideal. (Also, Portuguese if you planning to visit Brazil)


And I just want to add that Brazil is a completely different world from the rest of South America. You will mostly feel it because of the language and the fact that you can buy anything anywhere with a card! So I have a whole separate blog article on Everything you need to know before traveling to Brazil!



All the above I have also summarized in a video version: