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General Advice for travelling solo in South America

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean General Advice for travelling solo in South America

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1. Posted by Will1991 (Budding Member 18 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

So I'm making the bold move of quitting my very corporate job in London to travel for 6 months in South America by myself.

If anyone could give me any advice on the following it would be very much appreciated!

- Best places to travel to? I know this is a broad obvious question. I think around about 6 countries is realistic?
- Good organisations to use for teaching English?
- Good organisation/volunteer groups in general?
- Is June till December a good time to be travelling South America?



2. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5088 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

So far in South America I've seen Peru, Chile and Argentina, and loved them all. Bolivia and Ecuador are the next highest up on my list. Peru, Bolivia (and I suspect Ecuador outside of the Galapagos) are significantly cheaper than Chile and Argentina. I also found Peru a lot more exhausting to travel through - necessitating a lot slower pace of travel - with taxi noise and barking dogs in Lima and Arequipa driving me up the wall until I got somewhat used to them.

Patagonia (which is where I spent the vast majority of my time in Argentina and Chile) has absolutely superlative hiking, but a rather narrow window wrt time of the year that it's best to go there (December through March, basically). Machu Picchu and around (which, realistically, is the reason people go to Peru) has a rainy season from December through March, and a super busy high season of June through August, so is "best" seen (depending on your definition of "best") in April/May or September/October. Altitude is more important for determining itineraries in Peru and Bolivia (and other Andes-destinations) than pure distance. For example, it makes sense to go from Lima to Cuzco via Arequipa, as that allows you altitude acclimatization at a halfway height. (Read up on altitude sickness and how to effectively acclimatize).

Seeing something of 6 countries in 6 months is doable, but most countries can easily take up 2-3 months of your time without leaving you bored, so I'd plan on just 4 or 5 countries, leave at least a third of your schedule unplanned, and give yourself the time to linger if you discover any country or region really agrees with you.

3. Posted by Will1991 (Budding Member 18 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Thanks for replying, really helpful!

So I'd like to do all the 3 that you have been to also. I've made a rough itinerary (feel free to pick at it, suggest places to see, advice etc!):

Colombia (June/ July)
Brazil - Amazon (August)
Peru (September)
Bolivia (October)
Chile (November)
Argentina (December)
Brazil - Carnival/Olympics/Rio (Jan/Feb)

Obviously this is very rough but would like peoples opinions really....

I am also looking at volunteering or working throughout my trip (preferably teaching English), so that could change the whole plan of how long I'll be in each country.

For Chile I think I will aim at heading to Santiago, would you recommend anywhere else in Chile?

I agree that some countries can take longer than a month to really experience (I recently went to Thailand for 3 weeks and only really got to see the south). Perhaps I will stretch it further; 8 months maybe.

4. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 850 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Sander makes excellent points. I would eliminate Colombia from your itinerary and go first to Brazil to avoid the high prices and potential lack of affordable accommodations around the August 2016 Olympics. While the principal Olympics venue will be in Rio de Janeiro, you can expect other destinations in Brazil to jack up prices, too. You'll also encounter high prices around Carnival time, both in Rio and Salvador. Flights between countries in South America can be expensive for the distances flown. But they are affordable within Brazil on airlines such as GOL and TAM. Bus transportation is convenient. I've used buses in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil. You can use Travellerspoint to map your route, possibly beginning in Brazil and winding up in Argentina or Brazil. I've been to all the countries mentioned, including encore visits to Peru and Brazil in 2014. You'll find that traveling in South America isn't as inexpensive as traveling in Southeast Asia. One more thing. If planning to hike the Inca Trail, you'll need to book ahead as the permits are capacity controlled. Hope this helps.

5. Posted by Will1991 (Budding Member 18 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Thanks Berner, all good points. So now I'm looking for doing June - November (6 months). Why would you say eliminate Colombia? I've heard a lot of people recommend Bogota.

I understand your points about the carnival time, however I will be missing this time of the year so hopefully should be okay? I will also be missing the Olympics too.

So my updated itinerary is start in Colombia, then onto Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina then Brazil (spending a month in each country, obviously this can vary).

Looks like I will be spending a lot of time travelling on a bus then! I've heard from a lot of people also that this is the best way to travel.

I'm also thinking of doing a Spanish immersion course for a couple of weeks in Colombia when I first get the South America.

Or my other option is like you said start in Rio perhaps? then onto Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia?

Any suggestions, advice would be greatly appreciated!

[ Edit: Edited on 17-Jan-2015, at 08:32 by Will1991 ]

6. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 850 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

South America is a large continent. Colombia and Ecuador are sort of out of the way from where you originally wanted to go, namely Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. With only six months, I'd concentrate on those five countries, particularly if you're traveling by bus. Check the bus schedules online to give you an idea of long it takes to go from place to place. Depending on your itinerary, Uruguay and Paraguay might be on the way and worth a visit. For example, you can take a ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, Uruguay; and then continue by bus to southern Brazil. As mentioned before, flying BETWEEN countries can be expensive. But in-country flights, as such those in Brazil, can be relatively inexpensive. You can easily spend a month or more in each of the five countries. Tacking on Colombia and Ecuador will cost you time and money and leave you exhausted, in my opinion. You can always return on another trip to visit Colombia and Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands. Hope this helps.

7. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 850 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

One more thing. When crossing land borders, use the crossing that is more widely traveled (that is, used by more people). Remote border crossings aren't advised for safety reasons. I learned that lesson after being robbed at one remote crossing. Also, when traveling by bus, watch your belongings. Keep anything of great value (such as passport, money, camera and laptop) with you at all times. Remember, no passport, no travel. It's your most valuable possession while on the road.

8. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru 2577 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Just to really confuse the issue I'll throw Colombia back into the mix, haha.

It's my favourite country in South America right now. Its bio diversity is one of the best on the planet. The Spanish is fabulous, easy to understand and personal instruction is cheap. There's a very defined Gringo Trail that's easy for a first time visitor, but it's equally easy to leave and get into some areas where other travellers are few and far between. Bogota has world class food/entertainment/arts/etc. going on 24/7. Medellin is a gas too. Internal flights are inexpensive. And even though Colombia has become "cool" in the last decade there's still loads of destinations that are largely undiscovered, especially by the Lonely Planet dreadheaded trustafarian gang.

Sorry to confuse the issue even further...

Have fun.


9. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 850 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Go ahead and include Colombia and Ecuador to the itinerary, if you like. But you'll have to keep closer track of your time and your money as you go. You don't want to discover that you're short on both by the time you reach Argentina and Brazil, two fabulous destinations. Remember, if you're short on time, you can always fly. Besides Colombia, Ecuador also is good for learning Spanish. One final thought. Follow your heart; and if you're flexible, you can make adjustments without being disappointed. Good luck!

10. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru 2577 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Ditto berner regarding being flexible... it's one thing to have a route roughly laid out, but to commit to an itinerary for a long period makes no sense.

Sometimes a place will completely catch you by surprise and you'll end up staying for way longer than you imagined, and other places that you were looking forward to have zero vibe and you'll want to exit immediately.

Not knowing where I'll be next month is the best part of a long term trip to me...