Brand new traveller. How to start planning my adventure?

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Brand new traveller. How to start planning my adventure?

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1. Posted by jenifagee (Budding Member 3 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

I'm brand new to these forums and have never travelled solo before, but I'm looking to begin a Central and South American adventure in January. I just don't know where to begin!! I've started putting together a list of countries and cities/sites I'd like to visit, but am wondering if it's best to pre-plan as much as possible, or have rough dates in mind and work it out along the way. I am thinking around 3 months, but can be flexible as I will be leaving my job. Can I just turn up and book into hostels as I go? How do I know which buses to take for long journeys and again, can I just turn up and hop on? I have so many questions! Any help with my first steps would be greatly appreciated!

2. Posted by Borisborough (Moderator 1057 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

Hello Jennifer - welcome to the forum.

For three months I suggest you do either some of Central America or some of South America; mixing them means air travel because it's not straightforward traveling across the Darien Gap (although it can be done) and three months might be a bit of a rush if you want to do more than a handful of countries. Look at some of the blogs on here to see what other travelers have managed to do and from that you're likely to get some sort of route planned out.

The weather might come into play in January, February and March depending upon where you want to go (Machu Picchu might not be ideal then and the Inca trail is shut in February). Once you've read a bit and sorted out a rough route, try Googling "Bus from Uyuni to Sucre" or whatever and see what comes up. You can ask more specific questions on here and several people will come up with their own personal experiences.

Backpacking is pretty big business in South America so you're always going to run into fellow travelers and they are usually eager to help solo travelers. You'll always be able to find somewhere to stay but word-of-mouth might lead you to the better places and there are periods when booking ahead is advised (Christmas, New Year, Mardi Gras).

In South America, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia are pretty cheap - Chile and Brazil (and possibly Argentina but I haven't been there yet) are a little more expensive. Venezuela is probably best avoided for the moment and the three on the north-eastern coast (Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) are a little more difficult to get around.

Central America has problem areas too - Honduras, El Salvador and Belize (and some parts of Mexico) have their hot spots, violence-wise but most of it is pretty cheap too. I found it was harder to get around Central America compared to South America - there are fewer night buses (perhaps for safety reasons).

Enjoy your planning and, whatever you decide, enjoy your traveling.:):):)

Post 3 was removed by a moderator
4. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 1047 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

Suggest you consider weather in your planning. In some places, rainfall will be highest in the months you plan to visit. Others will be dry.

You might consider visiting Panama and Costa Rica; and Argentina, Chile and perhaps Brazil, depending on the amount of time you have. Patagonia should not be missed. It is easy to get around the region by bus.

Flying between countries in South American can be expensive. But there are strategies that can help lower the cost.

Argentina's peso has declined against the US$ and other currencies. In fact, the peso is near record lows to the greenback. So travel there could represent good value.

If you're determined to visit Machu Picchu, know that there are new rules for visitors that took effect July 1. Go online to check.

5. Posted by Teoni (Respected Member 557 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

If you are mixing countries climate is something to take into account. Summer may be good in Argentina and Chile but summer can be stifling in Panama or Nicaragua. Personally I would pick one region and just focus on that for travelling. I drove through Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica so I can't tell you much about public transport, though I have heard Guatemala is pretty well connected though buses turning up isn't always guaranteed (a friend had to wait two days before their bus arrived). From what I've heard bus tickets in Guatemala and Mexico can be purchased on the day. I haven't heard too much about public transport in Belize or Costa Rica.

I found it easy to manage my trip with little pre planning. I researched the places I was going to but I pretty much decided the night before what the itinerary would be and I would usually book accomodation the night before unless I was staying somewhere for more than one night or the place I was going to was a tourist hot spot and I wanted to get a good deal then I would book it a few more nights ahead. Chichicastenango I had to pre plan as there is little accomodation and I had to be there on a certain day which was a day everyone wanted to be there so if you want to attend festivals or events then you will probably need to pre plan. Same goes I believe for the Inca Trail. I've heard there is quota on visitors so if you don't organise your permit ahead of time (and I believe you need that prepared a few months ahead of time) there is no going on the trail.

[ Edit: Edited on 25-Sep-2017, at 07:02 by Teoni ]

6. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 1047 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

I agree with Teoni that it might be better to focus on one region. However, I would note that Argentina and Chile are in the southern hemisphere and Panama and Costa Rica are in the northern hemisphere. While January, February and March might be considered summer in Patagonia, it won't be summer in Panama, Costa Rica and the other parts of Central America, where temperatures are warm and tropical/sub-tropical year-round. There, it's not so much a question of spring, summer, fall and winter; but whether the season is dry or wet. January-March will be relatively dry in Panama and Costa Rica compared to other months of the year.
This is a useful Web site:

I've been to many places in the world and, for me, Patagonia is one of the most spectacular. It's absolutely amazing, particularly the area around El Chalten and El Calafate in Argentina. It's also relatively easy to travel in Argentina and Chile; and Panama and Costa Rica, making them ideal for the first-time solo traveler.

7. Posted by jenifagee (Budding Member 3 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

Thanks everyone - your comments have given me a good starting point. I'm going to make some time this weekend to do some research into weather and travel and come up with more of a plan. I'm sure I'll have more questions as I go along so I think browsing these forums will help me massively! I'm excited!

8. Posted by Forever_Roaming (Budding Member 19 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

Hi jennifer -

I spent 6 months in Central America (Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua and another 6 months in just the north part of South America (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia)

To put it into perspective I spent 3 months traveling through Mexico and still don't feel like I've scratched the surface. There is so much to do out there

To answer your questions my advice (I'm a long-term backpacker of traveling for 6 years continuously) is to have a rough route and idea of a few things you really want to do and see but keep it flexible. The worst thing you can do is cram too much in because you will always hear of things from word of mouth from other travelers and from locals you meet but if you have a stuffed itinery you're not going to have space to mannouver.

In terms of hostels and this is a huge advice I give to all new backpackers and travelers that check out my blog is book an initial hostel before you get out there for the first few nights. Then once you're there look around yourself because a lot of hostels in central and South America still don't use internet booking sites and also you will get a cheaper price. Granted there are a lot on sites like hostel world and but walk around the area you're going to be in and you'll find a cheaper and in most cases a better hostel.

Traveling is simple but a nightmare through Central and South America. What I mean is, there are plenty of options from local buses, shares mini vans to more luxurious over night buses (which are still very cheap and some serve you food which is included in the price) but the distances are long and really arduous as the terrain of central and South America might make a place look close on the map but getting to it can be difficult. I mainly did over night bus journeys but in some countries like Colombia it costs the same to take a budget plane as it would do as a bus. For example in Colombia Medellin to Bogota would have took me 9 hours on a bus, but flying was just over an hour and it cost around about the same price.

I don't want to sound like I'm spamming or advertising myself I have guides on the central and south American countries I've traveled too but they are not just of places I've seen and done, it's full of useful and relevant info and tips from Accommodation, transport, budgeting, routes around the countries, things to be wary of - things that backpackers like me and you actually need to know rather than just pretty pictures. I also have a page on how I've learnt to streamline my planning and researching a solo budget travel trip which would be very useful for a first time traveler who's looking to travel like I did.

The reason I started my budget travel website was to help people exactly like yourself, people who want to start backpacking but not sure where to start, because we were all there at one point. I don't travel just to write a blog...I'm a traveler that started a blog because I'm a budget backpacker and know how hard it is to find the relevant info :D :D

If you're interested in checking out the posts that will really come in handy for you let me know - I'm happy to help :D :D

9. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 1047 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

Keeping a travel budget is a good idea. I've done so for years. You know where your money is going.

No need to book everything in advance, just the first few nights of your trip. But have an idea of where you are going and always keep one or two or three steps ahead. So, if you're in Buenos Aires and planning to fly to El Calafate, be prepared to know where you'll spend the night when you land; and how you'll get there. And if you're traveling by bus to El Chalten, go to the bus station on arrival in El Calafate and find the bus schedules and fares; and book your accommodations if you haven't done so already. Some places, such as El Chalten, have limited accommodations and if you don't book early enough -- particularly during peak season -- you just might have to spend a night here and a night there.

It's good to have some idea of the major attractions in the places you plan to visit. For example, visiting the Perito Moreno glacier is a must in El Calafate. There also are trips to other glaciers in the area.

As mentioned earlier, flying between countries in South America can be expensive. But flights within certain countries, such as Brazil and Chile, can be reasonable. In Chile, Sky Airline is a low-cost carrier that has many promotional fares. Tickets can be purchased online.

Since your time is limited, and you're traveling alone, it's wise not to leave everything to the last minute. For example, you don't want to arrive late at night and have to find some place to stay. Wandering alone at night isn't recommended in many places.

It's good to have some idea of where you want to start your trip and where and when you want it to end. That way you can see if an open-jaw ticket makes financial and logistical sense.

These Web sites might be helpful in your planning:

Take your smartphone on the trip and load the Google Maps app, if you don't have it already. It can provide helpful information. For example, want to take the bus from El Calafate to El Chalten? Google Maps will tell you the trip takes about three hours from the El Calafate bus station. It also will identify one of the carriers and provide a link to its Web site. I recently used Google Maps to take local buses from the Vladivostok, Russia, airport to my hotel. It told me what bus lines to take; where to transfer, how much some of the fares would be in rubles; and estimated the time it would take to get there. It also identified the bus stops along the way.

For weather forecasts, I like and use: I have the app on my smartphone.

Since I'm often in high places (I'm headed next month to the Upper Mustang region of Nepal; and returned earlier this month from hiking volcanoes in Kamchatka) I use an altimeter app from ExaMobile. It could be useful if you plan to hike in Patagonia and Machu Picchu in Peru.

Hope this helps.

P.S. One more thing. Please consult this Web site for entry requirements and other information on the countries you plan to visit:

[ Edit: Edited on 25-Sep-2017, at 16:25 by berner256 ]

10. Posted by Piecar (Travel Guru 1129 posts) 51w Star this if you like it!

I you have three months you can do a lot of damage in all of Central America. You can bus the whole can even dabble in Northern Colombia, should you wish. This is your first time out. You're taste testing. I'd say you can see more than the others think. You could land in Cancun(don't set foot in the hell that is Spring Break Cancun, though. Take a bus south.) Head for the border to Belize. Take the Thunderbolt from Corozal to Ambergris Caye. Good way to start a trip. They speak English. The town is on a small Caye. Learn how to scuba dive there, or snorkel. Get yourself acclimatized. There's lots coming up. After how ever long you want to stay, head to BZE and get yourself to the bus station. Bus to the Cayo. See the Mayan Ruins there. Now, it's time to do real Latin America. Bus to Flores, find a hotel on the island. Find a bus to the gorgeous ruins of Tikal......That's a good start.

If you want to go to South America, I'd choose Colombia as a good start point. You could see lots of that and Ecuador too with three months. You don't need an altimeter. Jeepers.

Most of the places you are going to go in at least CA will have touts leading you to hostels and hotels. Buses are easy...and even easier now that you have wifi everywhere you go. Both hotels and buses YES you can just show up.

I personally don't over plan. I pick out some places I want to see as sort of a skeleton, but the meat is all bootsontheground. Talk to people. Be flexible. It's an adventure, not an itinerary. Good luck out there.

[ Edit: Edited on 25-Sep-2017, at 23:35 by Piecar ]