Traveling to South America: Where to Begin?

Traveling to South America: Where to Begin?

The decision has been made, and now you're ready to go on an epic journey to South America, a land where myth and legend abound. Traveling around South America for 18 months has given me some advice on how to make the most out of your time there.

Applied reason

South America has a reputation for being dangerous, and we've all heard the bad tales. Many cities, jungles, islands, and mountains were part of my journey. I made it through six weeks of street kid care in Salvador da Bahia's favelas (Brazil) and had the time of my life during carnival. Reiteration: There was nothing to report at all! Observe your surroundings and use your judgment. Avoid dark alleys at night, and if your intuition tells you anything is off, take a cab to your final destination instead of risking your own safety.

A book of travel tips

A trip guidebook is the first item you'll need. It will be a valuable ally in your quest for new experiences. A good place to start is Lonely Planet's South America On A Budget. If you want to make the most of your vacation, this book has you covered from start to finish. Throughout my 18-month journey, I relied heavily on the guidebook. The Lonely Planet Shoestring is a great resource, but I've also used their standalone guidebooks for Peru and Brazil. Among backpackers, they are the most sought-after tour guides.

The Rough Guide to South America and the South American Handbook are both well-liked resources. A Lonely Planet and rough guide or handbook would be ideal, but not feasible, since you want to travel light.

Portuguese and Spanish from Brazil

Traveling across a vast continent like South America with just a basic knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese was the most gratifying experience of my life. Spanish and Portuguese, if you're just going to be gone for a few weeks, a Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese phrase book would be a good investment. If you're traveling to a place where English isn't commonly spoken, learning a little bit of Spanish or Portuguese can make your vacation that much more enjoyable.

On the other hand, if you're considering a lengthy trip abroad, I strongly advise enrolling in a language course. If I could, I'd want to attend a school in South America (I had a private tutor for $2.50/hour in Quito, Ecuador).

Shoes for walking

Nature in South America is awe-inspiring. You'll be walking for long periods of time every day. The last thing you want to do is follow in the Incas' footsteps with sore feet. A pair of Gore-Tex-lined walking shoes is a must-have for every serious walker.

Vaccines for health

If you want to visit the Amazon Basin, Yellow Fever and Typhoid (which consists of two injections taken four weeks apart), D-Tet, Polio, Cholera (only when required), and Smallpox are all recommended vaccinations.

A first aid kit

Include the following, depending on what you want to do:

Lomotil for diarrhea, antibacterial cream and aspirin, antacids tablets, ear and eye drops, motion sickness medication, swabs, lip salve, and foot and groin powder are just some of the items in the first-aid kit. Also included are surgical tape, assorted sticky plasters, gauze and bandages; butterfly closures; scissors; and a first-aid booklet.

Please be advised that malaria medications are necessary in the Amazon basin, and you should consult with your doctor before traveling if you haven't already.

What to bring on your next trip?


A high-quality backpack is a definite necessity. Choose a model with distinct compartments that may be opened and closed independently of each other. When you need something right away, this comes in handy. Keep your belongings to a minimum. Having a hefty bag is a recipe for ruining your vacation.


There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Quality clothes from home are essential if you're going to spend time in the highlands or forest. If you're going there, buy your t-shirts at the beach (cheap).

Equipment for camping and climbing

In South America, you may rent camping and climbing gear, although the quality may be iffy. Always double-check what you're doing. If you can, bring your own equipment. I spent 18 months on the road with just my tent and a few other camping essentials with me.


Having a photo is a way to express yourself. A few snapshots will do, while others want to get their work published in National Geographic. The camera I used to shoot all of my photos was a subpar Nikon F50. The website has breathtaking photography.

I used a 35-80mm and a 70-210mm zoom lens kit. Additionally, I took along a tripod and a high-quality flash for my photography. I used Fuji 100 ASA slides, but you'll need at least 200 to 400 ASA if you're going into the bush. On bright, sunny days, a polarizing filter brings out the colors to their fullest.


You may expect a warm welcome from the people of South America. It's awe-inspiring in its natural beauty, people, and history. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for a life-changing experience.

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