Hooray, you’re traveling to South America! Here are some tips of what to do before you leave and what to expect during your trip to South America:
You’re going to see some of the most amazing landscape you’ve ever seen in your life.
Learn some Spanish. Not many people speak English in South America. You don’t need to learn the entire Spanish language, but knowing some simple phrases, numbers, and some foods will be helpful. And lucky for you, it’s an easy language to learn, so you’ll learn more while you’re there. If you have the time, it’s really beneficial to stay in one city for a month and take Spanish classes (the cheapest place to do this is Bolivia). I noticed that the people that did this were completely fluent in Spanish later on in their travels.
You’re in for some long bus rides. South America is a massive continent, so 15-27 hour bus rides are not uncommon. Flying is often a relatively inexpensive option if you don’t want to waste your life on a bus.
High altitude is a thing. South America has some cities and regions that are extremely high altitude in the Andes mountains and the altitude will effect you and you will feel like shit. There are medications available to help adjust to the altitude, but do your research because the side effects can often make you feel worse (I opted out of taking any).
Time your trip wisely. Because South America is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. A good chunk of South America is near the equator or the tropic of Capricorn, making it a tropical or subtropical climate all year round. But as you go further south, you’ll find cold winters from June to August and mild summers from December to February. It’s also preferable to avoid the rainy season in each country, particularly when traveling in the Andes.
Go to Bolivia. Bolivia has some of the most amazing natural beauty I’ve ever seen, making it a definite must-see in South America. See Why Bolivia Should Be On Your Bucket List.
Be adaptable because natural disasters are common. For example, my Amazon tour to Manu in Peru was cancelled due to a landslide, so I decided to go to Ecuador (where I hadn’t originally planned on going) instead. I was about to book a flight to Ecuador, when a volcano started erupting there. Plan C was to go to Iquitos, Peru instead (which I absolutely do not recommend and here’s why). I also experienced an earthquake in Chile, which has earthquakes of varying magnitude everyday.
Be aware that South America is not the safest place. Unfortunately, muggings and pickpocketing are common, but don’t let this deter you from traveling to South America. Just be aware of the dangers and be smart and careful.
My advice that applies for all Second and Third World countries:
Carry toilet paper on you because many public toilets don’t supply it. They usually don’t have soap either, so bring hand sanitizer.
Be careful with drugs, which are plentiful in South America, and proceed with caution to avoid getting thrown in a South American jail.
Don’t wear flashy clothes or any jewelry in order to avoid being a target.
Don’t look at the meat at the local markets. The markets are not sanitary places, so they’ll make you question your life as a carnivore or confirm your life as a vegetarian.
And, most importantly, have fun!