As you might know, Alberto and I met in Brazil while travelling around South America, so we thought we would shared our combined knowledge and experiences to give some general advice on how to go about tackling this incredible, if slightly disorganised continent. This blog will give you a quick guide to backpacking South America, including the best places visit and potential routes to help you with your own itinerary.
I had my first taste of Latino life living in Mexico City in 2014, after graduating university. I fell in love with the country, the culture and after teaching English for a year there, I spent two months travelling around South America, one month with a friend and another month alone. After working for a year in London to save money, I decided to go and teach in Colombia, where I was reunited with Alberto.
Alberto’s first taste of backpacking was a month in Peru and Bolivia, after which he was thirsting for more. After saving a year and quitting his job, he spent six months travelling South America (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil) with a few friends from home.
Below shows general routes for South America that we took and other possible routes. You should allow at the very least two weeks for each country – and even that can feel a little rushed. It’s definitely better to take your time, do not try to “do” South America in two weeks – South America deserves more love and attention.
Border crossings always take a while, everybody has to get off the bus and get passports stamped. It depends on the border, some can take not too long (less than an hour) and others have very strict security checks, airport style and take several hours (Bolivia-Chile border). Sometimes they will make you pay a “border tax”, enforced by corrupt officials – but it just depends on your luck.
While each country has their typical dishes, the South American diet is very heavy on meat and carbs, so manage your expectations, especially if you are a health freak. And if you are vegetarian, expect to eat a lot of fried eggs (your meat substitute). Having said that in main cities there is usually more international or western cuisines available. Luckily, you will have access to kitchens in most hostels and it is easy to find vegetables and pasta in local stores.
Time is elastic. It is better at all you have no concept of time. You will hear “ahorita” a lot – “ahora” means now, -ita is the diminutive. But it is used to mean “later” (i.e. Not now) – and could mean in 2 hours, tomorrow or never.
The Andean mountains that run down the middle of South America means that journeys are long and altitudes are high.
The key to travelling Latin America is patience and a smile! Latin America is a fantastic continent to travel, don’t stress yourself out with little details. This may be difficult, especially coming from a country where we live by the clock, but an essential lesson learned about the value of time and the importance of just going with the flow. If you start to stress, just have a beer and ask a local – the Latinos are so open and friendly, there will always be somebody willing to help!