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South America Travel Blog

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Ultimate South America Travel Guide

In February 2022 I embarked on a 6 month journey throughout South America. I had the pleasure to visit 5 countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. Also a bit of Argentina but I will get to that shortly. I am excited to share with you all my tips and tricks starting from routes, itineraries, what to pack, to some of my best highlights I recommend adding to your travel plans! 

  • Iguazu Falls - Brazil & Argentina

  • Uyuni Salt Desert - Bolivia

  • Amazon Rainforest (In Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, or Brazil)

  • Salento - Colombia

  • Machu Picchu - Peru

  • Rainbow Mountains - Peru

  • Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

  • Death Road - Bolivia

  • Banos - Ecuador

  • Colca Canyon - Peru

What to pack for a South America Trip? 

Are you planning to backpack or travel with hand luggage? Then this will be a very hard task as you can experience winter and summer in one week. The climate and temperature can vary a lot depending if you are spending time by the beach or visiting major sights in the Andes. Do not worry, I traveled with only a 40l bag for 6 months so you can do that too! I got it all covered in my South America Packing List article. 

The most important things you need with you on a South America trip are: 

  • Raincoat

  • Sunscreen

  • Mosquito repellant

  • Long sleeve top and pants

  • Warm jacket

  • Swimsuit

  • Towel

  • International adapter

Also, if you are traveling with cameras, drones, etc., please invest in good quality hardcovers for all your equipment as trust me, even if you are careful with your stuff, people will throw your bags around like they are potato bags! 

Entry requirements for South America? 

Most countries have a policy that you do not need any special visa to enter and you can stay 90 days without any issues as a tourist if you are from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or Europe. After 90 days you will need to obtain a special permit.

Most importantly, you need to have proof that you will be leaving the country, so a ticket out! This seems obvious if you are going on a 2 week vacation but if you are planning to backpack for many months then upon each arrival to a new country make sure you have a ticket out of it. They are very strict with it and might not let you through until you buy a ticket out. We almost were not let on the plane to Colombia because we didn't have the ticket out, so you might not even get to the country without proof you are leaving. Also, please ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months and you have space for stamps as you will need to stamp your passport on each arrival in a new country. 

The only thing you need to prepare before entering most countries is a health declaration. I will cover that under each specific country section. 

Do I need the Yellow Fever vaccine to enter South American countries? 

It is not obligatory to enter but if you are planning to visit locations closer to the Amazon then it is highly recommended, as the virus is still endemic around areas closer to the rainforest. 

I want to share with you a good trick! The yellow fever vaccine can be quite expensive in your home country but you can get it for free in Colombia! Yes, all you need is your passport. You can get it in Bogota Airport, Medellin, or Cartagena. I got mine in Cartagena and I am still alive haha. I go in the exact directions and details on my Free Yellow Fever Vaccine in Colombia guide. 

I personally advise travelers to get a Typhoid Injection and make sure all Hepatitis Injections are up to date or completed due to the water and microbes your stomach might not be used to.

I will give you a very content summary but if you want to know more about each point, check out my 20 things to know before going to the South America guide. 

  • Always have some cash with you

  • Each country has its own currency

  • Do not buy data in the airport, it is overpriced there

  • If something seems overpriced? It probably is!

  • Touristic packages always buy on the spot in the office

  • Night buses are great in South America, save time and money

  • Check internal flights, there might be a good deals 

  • Do not use motorcycle taxis!

  • Better use Uber than a local taxi

  • South America is not as dangerous as the news says it is

  • Do watch out for pickpockets

  • Biggest myth: South America is hot. Wrong!

  • There is a rainy and dry season

  • The sun is extra strong

  • Altitude sickness is a real thing!

  • Wifi is fairly good in most countries, apart from Bolivia!

  • 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)

Major Things to Watch Out For in South America 

The 2 main things, you need to pay extra attention to are: pickpockets and protests. These 2 things can significantly affect your trip. 

I was very worried about the safety matters in South America before going but very early I realized that it is not as bad as everyone (who hasn't been there) says it is. Within the tourist areas, there are always police and they are fairly safe. Just have common sense, do not were expensive jewelry or watches, don't wander alone during the late hours, and make sure you are always within a group. Most robberies happen when you are alone. 

Said that pickpockets are everywhere! Be extra cautious about your belongings. Always keep everything behind a zipper. Don't carry your phone in the back pocket of your jeans, it will 'disappear'. Do not feel silly by wearing your bag in front of you, even locals do that! Also be careful when taking pictures, as thieves can also snap the camera out of your hands. Same for when you are looking for directions on your phone. Don't be distracted by random people on the streets. Just say no and move on. 

Another thing that can majorly impact your trip are protests. People in South America know how to protest and it will affect you! I personally had to book for last-minute flight tickets that weren't cheap from Guayaquil in Ecuador to Lima in Peru just because our bus got canceled and there was no way how to cross the border by land, the only way was flying! So keep your eyes and ears open about ongoing and new protests in areas you are planning to visit. Stopped bus routes, closed airports, and town shut-downs are normal, do not take it lightly. Also, protests can turn into crazy riots so you also need to make sure you are in a safe place. I didn't experience one but it did happen in Ecuador while I was in Peru so it does happen once in a while. 

Backpacking Route around South America 

I started in Colombia, in Bogota, and highly recommend checking the international flights there as some of the cheapest international flights are exactly to Bogota. After spending 6 weeks in Colombia I flew to Ecuador only because there was a very good flight option and saved me a lot of time but you can also take a bus to cross into Ecuador. Then from Ecuador again I took a flight, this time to Lima only because there were ongoing protests in Peru and my bus to Mancora got canceled. Then from Peru, I finally took a bus to Bolivia, and then from Bolivia, I flew to Brazil. 

I believe this is a great route as you can travel by bus everywhere which will allow you to save money but not time. My original plan was to take a bus everywhere but just out of convenience or safety I took a flight!


If you are planning to visit Chile and Argentina also, then after Bolivia you would make your way down to Argentina and leave Brazil for later or continue to Brazil and then via Uruguay make your way to Argentina and then Chile. 

Best surfing spots in South America 

If you are into surfing then South America has some great surfing spots:

  • Montanita & Olon (Ecuador) 

  • Nuqui (Colombia)

  • Puerto Malabrigo (Peru)

  • Mar del Plata (Argentina)

  • Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) - Especially Ipanema beach!

I personally really enjoyed Olon in Ecuador! 

Now, let's look closer at each country! 


When going to Colombia you have to include Bogota in your travel plans as it is the capital and will teach you a lot about the culture, politics, and major historical events. The same I would say about Medellin. The city has significantly shaped Colombia for years and I also think that it is a great place for you to visit and learn more about the dramatic drug scene of the country. Whilst in Medellin make sure to do a day or weekend trip to Guatape

My personal favorite place in Colombia is Salento. I highly recommend visiting this little town which is part of the big coffee triangle, where to taste and learn more about some of the best coffee in the world. Also, the Cocora Valley is something absolutely incredible! 

Then you can’t leave Colombia without visiting the Caribbean coast and the famous Cartagena, definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. If you are a nature lover then the East side will be your paradise - Tayrona Park, Minca, more secluded beaches alongside the coast.

If you are short on time here is a perfect Colombia 2 Week Travel Itinerary

Regarding entering Colombia, you definitely need to fill in the Check-Mig form 24 hours before you travel to Colombia. Without it, they will not let you in, they are quite strict with it! 


Ecuador is so much more than just the Galapagos islands! Quito, the capital is an amazing city with so much to see and do. The most fun place in South America you will find in Ecuador - Banos! Any adrenaline junkies paradise. You will find rafting, canyoning, and huge swings swinging over the city from the cliff! Additionally, the very beautiful and historically important city of Cuenca should be on your list. Although there are a lot of good surfing sports in South America, I have to highlight the coast of Ecuador as there are several good surfing spots for professionals and beginners and the water is warm all year round! 

The main thing to watch out for in Ecuador are the thieves on the buses. They hide at the back, cut your bag under the seat, take your important belongings out and get off the bus. This is because they can ask to be dropped off anywhere and you will never see them again! So in Ecuador always keep your bag on your lap! 


There is so much to see and do in Peru. Tourism is on spot there so it is very easy to travel throughout Peru. Also, the night bus system is excellent and safe which saved so much money and time when traveling long distances. 

Whilst Machu Picchu and Cusco are probably at the top of your list, I want to share with you some other amazing places I believe you should add to your travel plans. 

My personal favorite city was Arequipa, a perfect foodie hot spot! If you are into hardcore trekking then Colca Canyon is a must-do for you! The hardest hike I have ever undertaken but so worth it. The views are incredible and the hike properly tested me mentally and physically. 

For some fun, I definitely recommend visiting the Huacachina desert where you can go on a crazy buggy ride around the desert and try sandboarding! Also, nearby are the famous Nasca Lines.

Puno is a very special place by lake Titicaca where you can spend a night on the floating islands. 

And of course, you can’t leave Peru without visiting Lima, the capital! 

Although Cusco is mostly known as the exit point to Machu Picchu, the city itself is lovely and definitely worth exploring. Also the surrounding area! There are so many wonderful day trips to do from Cusco, starting from Rainbow Mountain to various Inca sites. 

If you are planning a visit to Machu Picchu I highly recommend checking out all the ways how to get to Machu Picchu to ensure you pick the way you want. I did the Salkantay trek to Machu Pichu and highly recommend it! 

Also, it is important when you travel to Peru as you do not want to be caught up in the rainy season and see nothing but a cloud when visiting Machu Picchu. More about the different climate zones in Peru and the best time to visit find in this article: Best Time to Visit Peru


Top 3 things you have to do in Bolivia are:

If you are working and traveling then definitely plan your workload smart while in Bolivia as the wifi situation is very bad. Even some hotels didn’t have wifi. Not all the cafes will have it and if they do the connection will be subpar at best - definitely no Zoom calls!


If I have to name my favorite city in South America it is certainly Rio de Janeiro! I just loved the vibe and there is so much to see and do, like: 

  • Take a cable car to Sugarloaf mountain

  • Check out Downtown

  • Try Caipirinhas

  • Climb colorful stairs 'Escadaria Selarón'

  • Relax on some of the amazing beaches in Rio

  • Hike up 'Two Brothers' mountain

  • Visit the Christ statue

  • Do a day trip to Ilha Grande! 

Another MUST-DO thing in Brazil is Iguazu Falls! This world miracle is a bit out of the way and for me personally took 16 hours to get to because the bus broke down...twice! But even after all the struggles, I must say it was worth it! One of the most incredible sights I have ever seen! This waterfall system is very unique because Brazil actually shares it with Argentina. You can also visit these waterfalls from the Argentina side. Which side is better I compare in my Iguazu Falls Guide

I feel like Brazil is a completely different world from the rest of South America. Firstly they speak Portuguese there and not Spanish and trust me language changes everything! 

  1. You can get around it but in many instances, you will need CPF

  2. Always use Uber and not a local taxi

  3. The homeless problem is catastrophic

  4. Brazil is not as dangerous as it was

  5. You have to try Açaí!

  6. Brazil is not a cheap country

  7. You can pay everywhere with a card

  • How would you travel across South America in three months?
    To travel across South America in three months I would start in Colombia, then go to Ecuador, then Peru, followed by Bolivia and from there you can make your way to Brazil or go down to Argentina and Chile.
  • What are some of the 'must do's' in South America?
    Some of the 'must do’s' in South America include a trip to Amazon, Salt Desert in Bolivia, and Iguazu Falls in Brazil. You also need to learn about Inca culture as it is a big part of South America’s heritage.
  • Is it safe to travel South America? Any precautions to take?
    It is safe to travel South America if you are always aware of your belongings. Do not walk alone in lonely streets, avoid wandering around at night and just have the common sense to avoid trouble.
  • What are some safe places to travel in South America?
    The safest place to travel in South America is Peru. Also all the small towns and villages in Ecuador and Colombia.
  • What is it like to visit Iguacu Falls in South America?
    Visiting Iguacu Falls in South America is a must do! It is the biggest waterfall system in the world and it was the most powerful thing I have ever seen. It is truly an incredible place.
  • Where should I go in South America and why?
    In South America, you should go to The Amazon as it is a very unique place around that area. You should visit the salt desert in Bolivia because it is the biggest salt desert in the world. And also, you should visit Iguazu Falls as it is the biggest waterfall system in the world.
  • Where are some great South American countries for a vacation?
    Some great South American countries for a vacation are Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Colombia because of the Caribbean coast, Ecuador because of the coast and Galapagos islands, and Peru because of the mountains and history of Incas around the Cusco area.
  • Where are some of the best places to hike in South America?
    The best places to hike in South America are in Peru. The best trekking is around Colca Canyon and any trail that leads to Machu Picchu.
  • What is the best South American cuisine to you?
    The best South American cuisine for me is from Peru. The food in Peru is absolutely incredible and has different variations for meat lovers and vegetarians.
  • What are the least safe places to travel in South America?
    The least safe places to travel in South America are the downtown areas in big cities of Brazil and favelas in any South American country.
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