I'm considering buying a one-way flight into in South America in late March, with the intention of leaving by late June whenever and wherever I am. I have a few questions ...
1. Where would be a good country to fly into? My favorite aspect of travelling is experiencing new cultures that are very different from home (England). I also presume it would make sense to start in a country which geographically nicely leads on to further countries down the line.
2. What's the backpacking culture like? I'm 31, and I'm rather past the constant wild party culture of Australia or Thailand. Are there plenty of fellow backpackers who are more into discovering the country rather than solely partying on a beach? Is there backpacker accommodation more suited for this (individual rooms rather than dorms)?
3. Price-wise, how does it compare to, say, South-east Asia?
Two single tickets are far, far more expensive than a return ticket.
Serious backpackers on a first trip to South America often head for Peru as it has so much to see there.
SA is not really a party destination, though I suppose if you want that, Rio is the place to be. It will however be nothing like a full Moon Party in Thailand.
Accommodation is fairly cheap in SA but distances are great so you can spend lots of money just travelling about.
We are just back from seven weeks in South America. Flew into Santiago and went through Bolivia and Peru to Ecuador and the Galapagos. Plenty to do ( Salt flats, Potosi mine, Sucre, La Paz, Rurrenabaque and the jungle, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, Arequipa, Cusco, the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines, Lina, Quito, Cotapaxi, Island hopping). SEAsia is probably cheaper because there are tourist charges for many of the areas in SA. The backpacking culture is thriving in SA and there is a wide variety of accommodation at various prices. The transport network is superb - cheap buses, luxury tourist coaches, aeroplanes. You'll always find fellow travellers if you need to but it's also easy to stay away from the party areas.
Of the areas we visited, Bolivia was my favourite country overall (the local people were more friendly and the scenery was more varied) and the Galapagos was the best area (but flights to there are not cheap, there is a USD110 national park fee to get in and food and accommodation is a little more than the mainland - but all worth it).
Whatever you decide, enjoy your three months.
A few years ago I spent 7 months in South America travelling around. I flew into Lima and worked my way down through Peru crossing into Bolivia, travelled down the length of Chile (Inc. a trip out to Easter Island), back up in a loop through Argentina and onto Brazil before flying out of Rio. It's a well trodden backpacker route, so you won't be solo unless you choose to be! Like Borisborough pointed out, there are great transport options, especially in the more developed countries, so I wouldn't bother wasting your money on any tour groups. You'll find it's much cheaper and more efficient to just make your own way around.
When I was there in 2006, Chile and Brazil were the most expensive countries to travel in. Argentina was so cheap it was great, but my brother has been living there recently and he tells me the cost of living has increased a lot since I was there. My budget at the time averaging out all countries for the entire trip was USD$20 a day. Obviously, you will spend much less in countries like Peru & Bolivia!
If you want hostels where you know you'll get a party vibe and meet other people from UK etc., the chains of hostels are the ones to go for. I don't usually like those places, so I found some great independent ones using hostelworld.com at the time. Lots of options too - dorms, single rooms, etc. so you can find whatever you want. Check out some homestay options too
You'll have an amazing time. Envy you! Would love to be going back. Have a great trip
Thanks to everyone for some fantastic answers. My initial thoughts are to go to Bolivia, Peru then Ecuador (probably in that order as its a straight line). Or maybe Peru, Bolivia then wherever.
Keep the info and opinions coming if you have any more ...