From the Peruvian Inca trail to the Bolivian Salt Flats, backpacking in South America is not without it treats and surprises, making it one of the most popular backpacking destinations on the planet. Travellers often visit Latin America to see world famous wonders such as the legendary Amazon Rainforest, the wildlife on The Galapagos Islands and the infamous rock statues on Easter Island. With so many attractions and destinations there’s something to suit every explorer and more than once you are guaranteed to be awestruck by the sheer beauty and diversity of South America.
Consisting of 12 countries, South America has a rich history with past civilisations such as the Incas and Norte Chico dating back to thousands of years. There are many opportunities whilst backpacking in South America to learn about how these civilisations, lived, their rituals, beliefs and ideology.
The standard routine for any traveller when backpacking is to fill up their 75-litre (sometimes more!) backpack with what they believe they will find indispensable on their travels. More often than not, travellers find that they lose or simply discard many of their belongings, as they become more of a hindrance than they are worthwhile item. Planning what to pack and talking to fellow travellers before you leave for South America is a great way to try and avoid this!
The main problem however, particularly when backpacking through South America, is hauling your backpack through different environments such as overcrowded buses and trains. Or simply around cities attempting to find the hostel, which you were so sure, was meant to be just round the corner!
As theft and criminal activity is not uncommon in many parts of South America, it can be even more important to keep your backpack with you at all times. If your backpack fits neatly in an overhead compartment, under your seat or even between your legs whilst you’re travelling you will feel much more comfortable that your belongings are safe. After all, when backpacking in South America your bag is your life and the less obvious it is, the less exposed you will feel and the happier you will be. Not to mention the fact that you will be envied by other travellers for your ease and hassle free life whilst backpacking in South America.
Before embarking on your trip, try and plan a basic route around South America, taking into account the travel, accommodation, food and tourist costs along the way. By pre planning a basic route you’re more likely to see all the sights you have come for and not miss out on attractions due to money or visa issues. You’re also less likely to come across travel issues such as getting between countries or a steep hike in food or accommodation prices.
It’s crucial that you are realistic in your plans and don’t attempt to cram too much into your trip. You’ll only regret it and wish you had spent more time in your favourite places. Basic rules on budgeting will also come in handy when you’re trying to avoid spending too much money, which is always far too easy when travelling. By setting out a certain amount of spending money per day you’re more likely to stick to your budget and not overrun and have to cut your trip short.
Many travellers backpacking in South America choose to begin their journey in the more developed countries such as Argentina, Uruguay or Chile. The hostels here are well priced and are of a similar standard to those in western countries such as Australia and Central America, so it’s a great way to ease yourself into the ever changing world of Latin America.
The most common way to get around Latin America is by bus. Suitable for both short and long journeys, buses are relatively inexpensive and are the most popular choice of transportation for travellers backpacking in South America. Travelling by bus can also be a great way to see Latin America and meet new people. The road conditions in South America vary greatly from region to region and whilst within more developed countries there is a great network of highways, most of the roads are usually deemed as meticulously dangerous by westerners. In various regions of Latin America, you may find that landslides flood or block the roads; this is particularly common during the rainy season and can delay buses making journeys longer.
The quality of buses varies on all bus companies depending on your budget and which region of South America you’re travelling in. You’re likely to get a different experience in developed areas of South America as bus companies compete with each other for your custom. They offer different levels of luxury and if you’re willing to spend a little more you can indulge yourself and appreciate reclining seats, onboard movies and hot meals.
In the less developed areas such as Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, backpackers can expect to find something a little less conventional when backpacking in South America. Best described as an experience like no other, travellers are likely to find themselves boarding a bus bursting with locals, broken seats, no air conditioning and probable breakdowns. With any bus journey it’s vital that you plan ahead on any bus trip and board the bus equipped with food, music, reading materials, earplugs and something to use as a pillow. Whilst these journeys are not quite as comfortable, it adds to the experience and is certainly one you will never forget!