For years and years, the South American continent has been attracting all stripes of travelers – from adventurous backpackers to luxury holidaymakers.
Is there any surprise, really?
This enticing landmass, which spans just short of 7 million square miles, boasts immensely rich cultural tradition, as well as some of the most breathtaking natural sights on Earth.
Culturally, South America is an ever-exciting mish-mash of different influences. It is home to over 130 languages, and as many indigenous tribes that have inhabited these lands long before the European colonizers arrived.
When it comes to nature, this stunning continent offers everything from lush Amazonian forests to Andean cliffs to Patagonian glaciers. It is also home to several wildlife species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
And before you decide to embark on a South American adventure of your own, it’s important to prepare thoroughly – so your trip is only filled with the kind of surprises that will enhance your journey, rather than impede it.
Research the Weather Beforehand
The South American continent is vast and diverse – it encompasses three climate belts and a plethora of more localized microclimates.
Because of this, it’s important to inform yourself about the weather conditions of the regions your are looking to visit prior to your trip, lest you end up over or (under!) packing.
Because the climate in South America is so varied, it’s difficult to talk about it in generalities.
In order to minimize on any weather-related surprises while on your travels, you might want to consider the cities and regions you’ll be visiting, but also the purpose of your trip.
If you are looking to do a lot of sightseeing in South American metropolises, perhaps it’s best to do so outside of the scorching peak season (January and February), as summers in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires see temperatures rise up to 40 degrees during these months.
Of course, if beaches and tropical resorts are what you’ve had in mind for your South American holidays, then summer is absolutely the best choice for you.
On the other hand, if you want to engage yourself in winter sports, then you want to set off to South America between the months of June and September – the peak season for Chilean and Argentinean winter resorts.
Another thing to keep in mind are the altitudes. If you plan on traveling to La Paz, the Bolivian capital, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re affected by altitude sickness symptoms.
Same goes for Machu Picchu – visitors who plan on trekking the iconic city of the Inca are advised to spend a day or two in Cusco to acclimatize and avoid altitude sickness.
Know Your Currencies
The South American continent comprises 12 countries that use 14 different currencies.
Of course, if you’re only visiting one country, you shouldn’t have too many issues exchanging your money in your home country or at your destination.
However, if you plan to do a multi-country trip, things can get a little trickier.
Some South American currencies can be changed abroad, so it might be worth inquiring if you can do so at your home country. This might save you the initial hassle of looking for exchange offices at airports and bus stations (and potentially getting fleeced in the process).
However, some currencies are a little more difficult to get a hold of, for example the Paraguayan Guaraní, the Bolivian boliviano or the Peruvian sol. If you happen to be visiting these countries, it might be worth researching beforehand to check which places offer decent exchange rates.
Likewise, make sure to always carry American dollars or Euros; with these currencies, you’re less likely to run into obstacles during exchange.
Travelling through South America, it’s always good to carry at least some amount of cash on you; however, if this makes you feel paranoid, inquire at your local bank whether you can use your card abroad. Moreover, try to find out what are the ATM fees and policies in the country that you are visiting.
Learn How to Communicate
South America is the continent of many cultures and nationalities; however, in most of the countries, people will speak one of its two major languages: Portuguese and Spanish.
This prevalence of these to languages makes things easier for travelers who plan on visiting several countries.
Of course, learning a new language from scratch just because you’re going on a holiday should by no means be a necessity. Still, it will make your life a lot easier if you are able to communicate your basic wants and needs.
Not only will knowing a few basic words and phrases in Spanish and Portuguese be incredibly helpful if you’re looking for directions or trying to read to bus timetable, it will also enhance your interaction with other people.
Wherever you find yourself in South America, you can rest assured locals will be delighted to hear a tourist make an effort to communicate with them in their native language.
Plus, there’s no better way to immerse yourself in a foreign culture than to form a meaningful connection to its people.
Who knows, maybe your speaking Spanish or Portuguese might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
Go Out in Nature
South America is famous for its bustling metropolises.
Between Rio’s colorful parades, Buenos Aires’ tango-dancing streets and Cartagena’s breath-taking architecture, it’s hard to pass up the appeal of the continent’s ever-inviting cities.
And yet, much of South America’s beauty lies in its natural landscape, which features sceneries unlike anywhere else in the world.
Even if you’re not a naturally outdoorsy person, it would be a shame to travel all the way to South America without experiencing some of its superb scenery.
If you’re still not convinced, rest assured the South American natural canvas has something for everyone.
For example, if you are a fan of more tropical settings, then you’ll be delighted to know that South America is the home to some of the most heavenly beaches in the world.
A few amazing places to start your South American seaside adventure would be the famed Ipanema in Brazil, Colombia’s San Anders Island or the Easter Island in Chile.
Alternatively, if you’d like to dive right into the mystical wonders of the Amazonian rainforests, there are several points from which you can do so – including Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.
You can also completely shut off from the world a go on a nighttime astronomy-themed holidays in the middle of the Atacama desert.
Finally, if you want to get away from scorching temperatures and explore South America mountainous regions, then there’s a host of mesmerizing high-altitude destinations awaiting you along the iconic Andes.
Take Out a Travel Insurance
Taking out a travel insurance is never a bad idea – and if your trip to South America is looking like it’s going to be an extensive one, then you definitely should look into this option.
Why is this the case? You planned everything to a T!
While this may be true, you never know the kind of unexpected situations you might get into.
For example, if you end up with an injury or illness, you might be slapped with a hundred or even a thousand-dollar bill for medical expenses.
And why not avoid all the unnecessary expenditures if you can?
Besides, health isn’t the only reason why you should look into taking out a travel insurance.
Certain policies will also cover material loss, which is good news for any travelers who carry lots computer and camera gear.
So, if you go through the misfortune of having your valuables lost or stolen, at least you’ll have the funds to replace them.
All in all, most holidays go without a hitch, and chances are that will be the case with your South American travels. Still, if the option is there, might as well leave all your worries at the door.
Dive into the Food
In South America, you will have an opportunity to explore one of the most diverse and palate-enticing culinary palettes in the world.
From multi-course meals in fine dining establishments to delicious bites from rough-around-the-edges food stands, there is something to please the taste buds of every kind of gastro enthusiasts in South America.
This is why you shouldn’t hesitate to indulge in the ultimate epicurean adventure during your holidays across this continent.
For example, carnivores will be thrilled to hear that Argentine cuisine offers just about any kind of meat, prepared in their traditional assado (barbeque) style.
For something a little more casual, you should look over to Brazil – whose diverse cultural landscape is clearly reflected in its colorful cuisine. One of Brazil’s most illustrative fast bites are the coxinhas, a type of croquette that’s filled with chopped or shredded chicken.
And the most experimental foodies can head over to Peru, where they can taste Cuy – or grilled guinea pig – the nation’s most famous dish.
Visitors who have a sweet tooth will be pleased to hear South American cuisines boast some of the yummiest treats out there. The most ubiquitous one has to be dulce de leche, a delicious caramel-like treat which is made by cooking milk and sugar.
Go on a Free Walking Tour
If you plan on checking out one of South America’s bustling metropolises and don’t feel like traipsing the streets of an unknown city on your own, then it might be a good idea to join a free walking tour.
There are many reasons why walking tours are a great way to get to know a new place.
First of all, they won’t cost a thing – walking tours are usually organized by local enthusiasts who are eager to share the magic of their hometown with visitors from abroad. So not only will you get to have an interesting, immersive experience, you might also save a couple of bucks along the way.
Moreover, since free walking tours are done in groups, you might get to meet other curious tourists and befriend them. This is especially useful for solo travelers who might be looking to make some friends along the way.
Finally, you’ll get to absorb the city through the eyes of a local. No amount of guidebooks and internet research can quite illustrate the allure of a place as a living, breathing person who gets to live in that city every day. It is very likely they will help you discover all the nooks and crannies of South American towns that only natives know about.
Time Your Visit Around Festivals
South Americans are known around the world for their boisterous, vibrant festivals.
These joyous events, which celebrate everything from ancient gods to annual harvests, is when the locals go all out with their best traditional costumes, dances and, of course, the ever-exciting food!
Since festivals are an amazing way to soak up local culture, it would be a shame to visit this continent without attending at least one.
Not only will you make memories for life, you will also get to experience the South American joie de vivre first hand.
One of the most famous South American events is the Rio Carnival, which takes place in the second-most populous Brazilian city every year before lent, usually in February or March. This is when the entire metropolis lights up with floats, samba dancers and colorful costumes. Attracting over 2 million participants each year, the Rio Carnival definitely an event not to be missed!
And if you’re visiting South America during the winter, then you have the option of visiting Inti Raymi, the most significant pre-Columbian festival in Latin America. This celebration is held in the Peruvian city of Cusco and it pays respect to the most important Incan deity, the Inti. The so-called “Sun Festival” involves various parades, traditional customs, yummy food and a day-long fiesta.
And there you have it, all the essential information that might help you make the first steps toward the South American journey of a lifetime. Happy travels!