Picking Countries to Visit
Many people head to South America to visit either one single country, or the entire region as part of a longer trip. Most travelers who are doing a gap year will head to South America as part of their journey. It's included in many around-the-world plane tickets, so it has a lot of appeal for those travelers who have taken advantage of those deals. There are a wide diversity of countries and regions in South America, and if you're only planning to visit one or two, then you have a decision to make. There are also a good number of different routes to take through the region, so do some research before you settle on your final itinerary. Perhaps the most important factor in choosing your route is decide which cities you plan to fly into and out of. Plane tickets can be expensive, so choose the right cities can really make or break your budget.
Argentina to Ecuador:
Buenos Aires has a large international airport that is well connected to the rest of the world. It makes a good entry point into the region. Once there, you can catch buses and travel easily to many different cities. It's very possible to head north through Bolivia and on into Peru before finishing your trip in Ecuador. This route will let you see a diversity of highlights in the region, but leaves plenty of places to return to on future trips.
Argentina, Chile & Peru:
Using the same starting point of Buenos Aires, you can also work your way south through Argentina, before crossing over into Chile and heading north. Chile is a long and narrow country, so the trip can take longer than you might have expected, but it's well worth it. Finally, you can head into Peru and visit the famed Machu Picchu before heading home.
Brazil & Argentina:
These are two of the most popular countries in South America. It's easy to fly into a large city like Rio de Janeiro and then travel around Brazil extensively before heading down to Argentina to explore. To truly experience each country you'll want a month in each place, but the transportation is generally good and the experience will be unforgettable.
Planning Your Perfect Trip
Depending on your travel style and destination choice, South America can be a very expensive, or quite affordable place to visit. Despite being a very popular destination with backpackers, you might be surprised to see your money disappearing quicker than you had expected. There are several great tricks that you can use though to keep your budget in check.
Transportation in South America, although quite good, can get expensive. Slow down your travel pace and your daily budget will drop dramatically. This will also allow you to see a city in much greater detail than you would have had you rushed through it quickly. Beach destinations also tend to be more expensive, as do the more popular countries like Brazil and Argentina. If possible, limit your time on the beaches and instead head inland. This will allow you to see a different side of the country's culture as well, so you may actually find the experience more enjoyable and diverse. Destinations that require tours, like the Galapagos Islands, are also very expensive, but do offer a unique and incredible experience, so shouldn't be passed up. If you keep your travel plans and destinations diverse, you can keep your budget in check and also see some incredible sights.
Hostels are widely available throughout South America, so you should be able to find affordable places to stay in most area. In cities, the prices may be substantially higher, particularly during certain times of the year or during the holidays. Consider couchsurfing, which can greatly reduce the price you pay for accommodation. It's also a great way to get to know the local culture.
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Eating out can be surprisingly expensive as well, particularly if you're choosing to dine at western style, touristy restaurants. Instead, head to the markets and enjoy some street food, which is usually a high quality and quite reliable throughout South America.
A Diversity of Options
South America has almost any type of activity you could desire during your holiday. Whether you're interested in shopping, hiking, culture, or adventure sports, it really has something for everybody. Think about what kind of trip you want before you begin planning your itinerary and then decide on your destinations from there. If you're a beach goer and surfer, then spending time on the Brazilian coast will likely appeal to you. If you're more interested in culture, then head to the famed Machu Picchu or more remote areas in Bolivia. For cities, you have plenty to choose from, most of which have excellent shopping and dining opportunities.
South America has many historic sites, the most famous being Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains. Elsewhere you South America, Cartagena, Colombia is an old walled city filled with Spanish colonial history. Cusco
, Peru is also an incredible city with a very rich cultural history. Most countries have at least a couple of excellent historic sites, whether they are ruins from an ancient Mayan community, or cities that have stood the test of time.
Countries like Brazil and Argentina are famous for their beach and party scenes. Rio de Janeiro
in Brazil is one of the most visited cities on the continent. It has world renowned beaches and is a popular destination for its yearly carnival celebration. A good distance outside of Buenos Aires
, Carilo Beach in Argentina is another accessible favorite with travelers.
South America has some vibrant and energetic cities with much to offer in the way of culture, history, and of course, great food. In Chile, Santiago
is a booming and prosperous city worth some time. Enjoy its diverse neighborhoods and great views. Sao Paulo, Brazil is often overlooked for Rio, but if you're in the area, definitely don't skip out on this bustling city. It really gives you a feel for the real Brazil. If you're looking for an interesting mix of high rises and colonial buildings head to Bogota, Colombia. This city is different from many of the other places throughout the area, and is a great way to see many different parts of the Colombian culture.
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Picking Your Perfect Country
Costs in South America can vary dramatically by country. Some of the more popular, and more developed countries may rival prices in the United States or Europe. In particular, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile top off the list of most expensive places to visit in South America. The cities in these countries can be particularly expensive so come prepared to spend a good amount, or get creative with ways to cut costs.
The more affordable countries in the area are also some of the more interesting. These include Bolivia and Colombia which are often overlooked, but are two of the continent's most fascinating places to visit. Beach destinations in popular areas often have a heavy party scene and are going to be more expensive, particularly during periods like Carnival. If you're going to be traveling during these festivals you'll need to make reservations well in advance and cancellation policies are usually quite strict. There is also a minimum stay at many places that can be as long as a week, so inquire before you make your reservation.
Some places, like Easter Island, are quite challenging to get to, making them an expensive side trip to add to your travels. A trip to Easter Island will require an expensive plane flight, and once you're on the island you may be surprised at the high price of food and amenities. Still, a trip to this remote area is well worth it. Similarly, the Galapagos Islands require tours and additional permits that can quickly ad up. A trip to the Galapagos Islands, while an absolutely amazing experience, will quickly eat through your budget so plan accordingly.
Transportation in South America can vary dramatically by country. Less populated countries, like Bolivia, can be more difficult to navigate. The buses may be of a lesser quality, and transportation in more rural areas is a little sparse. Still, for a cheap price you can usually get where you need to go fairly easily.
Brazil, a favorite among tourists, is easy to travel around, but can be more expensive. There are express buses that make the trip between most cities. The buses are usually a good quality, and while they may occasionally break down, this is generally a rare occurrence.
The unique geography in some countries can also pose some challenges and might require you to take some flights. If you're traveling through a mountainous region, or are heading from one tip of Chile to the other, it may be worth splurging on a flight. Plan ahead and you can avoid a lot of hassle and headache, as well as unexpected surprises once you arrive.