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Need Help Planning My South America Trip

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1. Posted by Kenny536 (Budding Member 8 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

Please advise me on my trip to South America - I have never done this before (21 years old).

Any advice related for anything to the trip is appreciated.

I am still in the beginning phases of planning out my trip to South America this Summer. I am going to be graduating mid-May. I want to leave late May or early June of 2010, and stay there for 3-5 weeks.

Cost is a factor, but I do not want it to be a deciding factor.

I have a job waiting for me starting July 19th, so I won't mind spending 3-5 grand, because I probably won't have a chance like this for a long while.

I haven't even begun to plan out the logistics - i.e. costs, flight, transportation, living accomodations, visas, other documentation (?), immunizations, exchange rates, weather, what places I should avoid due to crime, what I will need to bring to the trip, etc. (I am probably missing a lot). I am going to be using Lonely Planet's and Frommer's travel guides to help me with some of this stuff, along with internet resources.

For flight, I am thinking of doing it through oneWorld ( Is this a good idea?

Here is what I REALLY WANT to see:

(2) Peru - Machu Picchu
(3) Bolivia - Lake TitiCaca ( on the border of Peru/Bolivia), Río Madidi watershed (Parque Nacional Madidi) also (Noel Kempff Mercado National Park)
(1) Brazil - Amazon River/Rainforest/Pantanal/Iguazu Falls/Brazilian Beaches/Rio de Janeiro
(1) Argentina - Iguazu Falls (I hear both sides of the falls are amazing to see.

Here is what I wouldn't mind seeing, but will probably skip due to cost/time reasons:

(4) Costa Rica - rainforests/other activities (ziplining, river rafting, white water rafting, etc.) (this is nice but the rainforest isn't so great compared to the Amazon, right?)
(5) Galapagos Islands (very expensive)
(6) Kaieteur Falls, Guyana - (this place looks beautiful, but again, expense and time).
(7) San Pedro de Atacam in Chile (I don't know how exciting this will be)

What do you think of that list? Is it realistic to do 1, 2, and 3? Should I get rid of (3)? Is it possible to include (4)?

Like I said, I haven't planned much of the logistics yet. I have no idea how long I will stay at a particular location, let me know if you have any estimates.

Here is the specific journey, in my mind so far.

I am thinking that I will land in Peru, somehow find a safe place to stay that is not far from Machu Picchu, and then use a guided tour to visit Machu Picchu. I want to avoid guided tours due to expense, but I am told that it is a good idea to do this for Machu Picchu. After that, go to the border of Bolivia to see Lake TitiCaca/Parque Nacional Madidi. Then somehow travel east to see Parque Nacional Noel Kempff. After that, I will be pretty much on the border of Brazil. Then I will somehow go South to see the Pantanal and the Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense. After that, I will continue to go further south (a lot). Until I reach Iguazu Falls (Parque Nacional Iguazu). Then, if time permits, I will head northeast to Rio de Janeiro and spend some time there and find a nearby airport to come back to Chicago.

In the above trip, I did not include the Amazon Rainforest/River because I have NO IDEA yet where in Brazil I should go to see this. I do not want to go to Manaus because I understand that this is a beaten path, and I want to go somewhere less traveled, but not overly expensive. I am thinking I visit the Amazon rainforest/river before I head south for the Pantanal, but that will depend on where I want to see it. As for the Brazilian beaches, I am clueless on that as well so far. Please let me know where I should go.

2. Posted by ger_power (Budding Member 31 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

hi, i spent 6 months in south america 2 years back so i hope my advice will be of some help. in terms of your time frame you should really try get the 5 weeks, the longer the time you can stay the better. within the 5 weeks it could be possible to get to machu picchu, lake titicac, noel kempf national park and the iquazu falls and finsih in rio. not sure you would have time to see the amazon.

you will prob end up flying to lima where you can get an internal flight or an overnight bus to cusco which is the starting point for machu picchu. if you want to do the inca trail(4 day trek finishing at sunrise overlooking machu picchu you will need to book well in advance as limited numbers are allowed on trail at any one time and the trek can be expensive. there are other tour companies which do a similar trek ending at machu picchu which cost less and can be arranged with much shorter notice. or you can do a day trip from cusco which involves a taxi, train and bus trips, i did this and it cost about $80.

From cusco you can travel by bus to peru/bo,ivia border to lake titicaca about an 8 hour trip, you have the option of staying in pune on the peru side ( the base to which explore the reed islands) or cocacabana on the bolivia( where you can get a boat to the inca isla del sol). from lake titicaca you can head to la paz and then bus it east across bolivia toward city of santa cruz( prob a good 18 hour trip). santa cruz is used as a base to explore the national parks in the area. Noel kempf park is about 600k from here and would require a flight to the town of Flor de Oro, howver there are many other more easily accessible parks in the area.

from santa cruz you the most direct route to get to the iquza falls is probably to get a bus into paragauy to the capital asuncian and then onto puerto iquazu which is the main town for viewing the falls. the vie3ws from the argentinian side are breathtaking..ive been there twice and spent about 4 days there. From puerto iquazu cross the border to foz iquazu on the brazilian side ( the views of the falls from brazil are more of a panoramic view). from foz you can head toward the pantanal and bus it onto rio.

in terms of cost bolivia is very cheap budget for about $25 a day, peru little more expensive bout $30 a day plus the expense of machu picchu, crossing through paraguay should be cheap enough, pueto iquaz will be dearer than the previous countries and brazil will be the most expensive. as you are on a tight schedule try take overnight buses where to save on possible to save on accomdation and days. to get into brazil you will also need to have got a yellow fever vaccination.

hope this helps

happy travels

3. Posted by Kenny536 (Budding Member 8 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

Thanks for the post ger_power, very useful info! - sorry for the delay.

Yes, I will do 5 weeks for sure.

Ok, so at least I have something decided. This part of the trip is finalized.. for now.

Chicago > Lima > Cuzco (all flights)

From Cuzco, (before or after Machu Picchu.. I do not want to do Inca Trail) I will meet up with a travel agency to do one of their tours through Manu. The question I am trying to answer right now, is which agency?

One concern with some of these tours is that the price is assumed based on two people traveling. I doubt that I will get a person to accompany me, so hopefully the prices don't shoot up too much. I will work on getting the pricing based on my situation, but what do you guys think about the tours in general? Which one would you guys recommend?

After Manu, I will be back in Cuzco, and I am still deciding on whether or not I will go to Lake Titicaca. I definitely wanted to do it at first, but after seeing some videos online, it seems like it's a great lake, and it's definitely going to be a great experience living with the natives.. but I don't know if it is for me. It's a good place to relax, but I don't really see anything besides the lake. Assuming I skip Lake Titicaca, I want to go to the Pantanal from Cusco, and then to Iguazu, and then end my trip in Rio. I will continue planning this, but I want to get the Peru part of my trip finalized first. You guys say that I don't need a guided tour for Machu Picchu, so there really isn't much planning to do there right?



4. Posted by Kenny536 (Budding Member 8 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

Here is an update for my trip:

- Manu
I have been in contact with 7-8 different agencies for Manu, and after seeing all their offers, I believe DosManos has the best deal, where it is 770$ for 8D/7N. Anyone heard anything good or bad about this agency?

There is a 50% possibility that at least one of my friends may accompany me on at least some of this trip.

So here are the questions I have now:

- Machu Picchu (No Inca Trail)

I will visit this place before or after Manu depending on the dates I am able to book for Manu. Just to be sure, I do not have to use a tour agency for this, right? Simply take the train and go there early in the morning before the tour groups get there?

- Lake Titicaca

I want to try and spend a few days here, but I don't know if I should use a tour agency for that. Maybe if I use the same tour agency they will give me some sort of package discount? But before I look into that, I want to know if it is even necessary to use a tour agency for this - can I just show up there on my own?

- The Pantanal

I want this to be at least 2 weeks of my trip, since this is the place where I can see a lot of wildlife. Can anyone recommend any tour agencies for this? From Lake Titicaca, I will have to find a way to somehow arrive here - I am thinking I will do this by plane since bus would take too long, anyone have any idea what airport I would use to depart Lake Titicaca and where I would land near the Pantanal? Or should I bus it?

- Iguazu Falls

Hopefully I still have time for this. Maybe from the Pantanal it would be a good idea to fly to Rio de Janeiro, since I want to go there anyway. And then from Rio, find a tour agency that'll take me to Iguazu. Or it might be easier to go from Pantanal to Iguazu to Rio and then go home from Rio after spending a few days there.

Thanks for your help!

5. Posted by Kenny536 (Budding Member 8 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

I have a bunch of general travel questions - they might be stupid, but I have never done this before:

1. cell phone - how is this going to work? Am I supposed to buy a temp phone when I arrive in Peru? Or will my cell phone work there? How will I call my parents back home?

2. Camera space - I have a 12 MP digital camera that has an SD card (haven't check how much space the SD card holds), I'm sure I'll run out of space... so which alternative do you think would be smarter:

a. After the SD card is full, find a computer at a hostel (hopefully they have SD card readers or I will need to bring a USB sd card reader), and then upload the pictures on a private server on the internet and then clear the space on the SD card.

b. Buy like 5 SD cards

c. ??

3. Visas

I'm reading that an advance visa is not required for American citizens to enter Peru. But when I arrive there, I should check with the embassy or consulate of Peru.

So from what I understand, I can simply apply for a visa after I arrive in Peru, but on the other hand, a visa is required for entry into Brazil. Regarding Peru, wouldn't it be easier just to do it in advance while I am still in the United States? So I don't have to waste time going to the embassy? Or is that not even possible? I'm trying to figure out where I can do this ... I'm at ... but not seeing anything - if anyone can link me that would be great.

Also, according to, I should register with the nearest U.S. Embassy if I am traveling in Peru - and I can do this through .. I made an account there but when I try to add a trip to Peru, it wants my local address and phone for Peru .. I do not know this yet - am I not supposed to to do this until I arrive at Peru?

As for the Brazilian Visa, I am working on that right now, and I should have one before I leave.

So I will only need a visa for Peru and Brazil, right? Will I need a visa for Bolivia if I am visiting Lake Titicaca? Will I need a visa for Argentina if I am visiting the Iguazu Falls (both sides)? I am assuming I will, maybe not for Bolivia - but I just want to make sure.


6. Posted by Kenny536 (Budding Member 8 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!
  • **UPDATE***:

I have sort of figured out how I will get from place to stay and where I will stay:

After landing in Lima, I will stay at the Loki Hostel most likely - I am still looking into transportation for how to get to the Hostel. Also, I am still deciding on whether or not to fly to Cuzco or do train/bus.

In Cuzco, I will probably stay at the Loki Hostel as well. For Machu Picchu, I haven't looked into specifically where I will be staying and what train I will be taking. For Lake Titicaca, Dos Manos will provide the transportaiton (75$ for a 3 day tour). I am still unsure of how to get to the Pantanal from Puno, but I am starting to look into that as well. I may even have to go from Juliaca > Lima > Sao Paulo and then bus it to Cuiaba or something. Hopefully this will be easier once I have finally decided on a Pantanal tour agency, so I know exactly where I need to be. (I am still leaning toward the Northern Pantanal). As for the rest of the trip, I haven't looked into it much but I don't think it should be too difficult. Hopefully everything starts coming together soon, because my schoolwork is not going to get any easier!

I'm still working on comparing Pantanal agencies - I will post again once I have made some sort of tangible progress.

Here's a few random questions:

Should I bring my laptop to South America? I assumed that I wouldn't because in case I get robbed or something. I was thinking that I just bring a couple SD cards, and not even bother uploading pictures on to the internet, but rather just bring a couple 8 GB flash drives and upload them on to there, and them empty out the SD cards. How does that sound? So all I will really need to bring is an SD card reader, flash drives, SD cards, and my camera of course.

I'm not sure if I will need batteries, my camera has a battery charger where I can just plug it in to an outlet. Will this not work in SA?

I'm currently communicating via e-mail with the Brazilian consulate in Chicago in order to obtain a Visa. I cannot apply yet because I am still waiting for my passport in the mail (I had to renew it, it may still be a couple weeks at least). However, one of their other requirements is that they want a print out of the round trip ticket or the flight itinerary or something. However, I do not know which airport or airline I am taking yet, because I am going to go there after Peru... I do not even know the exact dates, and probably won't know the exact dates until well into June when I am on my way to Lake Titicaca. So how am I supposed to provide this information? I asked them and their response was "We do ask that you provide flight itinerary/plans of entry and exit from Brazil."

I replied back reiterating the fact that I will not have that available and explained my situation, and they have yet to reply. I wonder how strict this? Can I not give them estimates? \It's pretty ridiculous.

  • *Medical/Hygiene Help**

I need some medical help - I'm not expecting anyone to give me some professional medical advice, but just opinion based on personal experience, or links to some information.

Anyways, so I needed a Yellow Fever vaccination in order to get into Brazil. Before I could do this, I was told that I need to make an appointment for a travel consultation in order to get my Yellow Card (sort of like a passport for medical history I believe). The consultation was with a registered nurse, and it was free through my school. It lasted almost 3 hours! I thought it would be a waste of time but it was pretty informative. However, it is always nice to have a second opinion, so please let me know if you have any thoughts on what she is recommending below.

The nurse recommended a lot of different things based on where I am going:

-Yellow Fever Shot ($90) (done)
-Swine Flu Shot ($0) (done)
-Typhoid Shot (49$)
-Seasonal Flu Shot (20$)
-Hepatitis A Shot ($3) (this is recommended even if I am not traveling, so I will definitely get this done)
-TB test to see if I need a shot
-Tetanus vaccination (I don't think she mentioned this, and I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I'm reading that I should have this before going into Manu)

-Cipro - I think this is some sort of anti-diarrhea antibiotic drug that I should take if I happen to get really sick and have diarrhea and vomitting. She also recommended bringing some Pepto or Imodium.

-Malaria Medication - She is recommending I take malarial medication. She was unsure about the Malarial risk in the Pantanal, but she said that there is risk in Iguazu, but I'm not sure she knew what was she talking about as she did not seem very confident with regards to malaria. She is using some program/website called Travel Medicine Advisor to make her recommendations. She recommended taking Malarome or Lariam for malaria medication.
This is the main thing that I am unsure about, can anyone help me out with this?

Based on Google searches, I'm reading that there is about a .1% risk for malaria and Leishmaniasis in Manu, and there is almost no risk in the Pantanal or Iguazu either. Obviously these aren't medical documents where I'm getting this information from, but rather from tourists who have had personal experiences with this, and also from tour agencies.
Tourists are saying that the malaria tablets will just make you feel sick and ruin the trip, and there is no point. I should just stick to DEET mosquito repellant (30-50%?), as that will simultaneously protect me from Dengue Fever as well.

As for rabies, as long as I am sleeping with mosquito nets I should be fine, I don't think there is really a need to look into pre-exposure vaccinations for this, right?
I'm assuming the mosquito nets will be provided?

-She also recommended that I make sure that my medical insurance company is covering me when traveling abroad - to make sure that their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expences such as medical evacuation. This is what most travelers do, right? I'm going to call my health insurer soon.

-She also recommended drinking only bottled or boiled water. Will I have to buy a case load of bottled water over there? Where will I get this? She gave me a sheet with all of these tips, they even go as far to say as use bottled water to brush my teeth. Also, never drink unpasteurized milk - that makes sense.
She also said to bring some electrolyte powder patches (i.e. Gatorade) to put in your water because your body will need electrolytes even more in that part of the world.. I forget what her justification was exactly, something about the proper minerals not being in their food I believe.

Please post if you have any input on any of this! Thanks!

7. Posted by Kenny536 (Budding Member 8 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!
  • *UPDATE**

They responded back saying that they want to present the itinerary that I have + a signed notarized letter describing my travel plans.
So that should be easy enough - I'll try to get that done after I figure out a date/agency for the Pantanal, and when my passport comes back( should be next week)

Cell Phone:

I think I'm going to go with the unlocked phone - it seems the simplest option rather than dealing with Skype, because who knows when I'll have access to the internet.
So I have already unlocked my phone - now it is just a matter of putting the foreign sim card into it.

I have a few questions about this:

I have been researching companies online because there are companies that offer to give you the foreign sim card for the country even before you leave, this way you have the sim card already and you do not have to worry about buying it over there. However, all these companies charge about $2.50-$3.00 a minute. My question is, I know that when I land in Lima, I can buy a foreign sim card at the airport, but what will there rates be? Will they be significantly cheaper? If so, I will wait on buying the sim card. Also, are there any other hidden fees? If I buy my SIM card at the airport in Lima, how will they charge me? Will they ask me for my credit card information? Or will I just pay as I go?


I think I will just buy SD cards and not take a laptop.

From what I understand, here is the differences between USA, Peru, and Brazil:

United States - 120 Volts, K Shape Outlet, 60 frequency
Peru - 110 Volts.. 220 secondary Volts, K Shape Outlet, 50/60 frequency
Brazil - 110 Volts.. 220 secondary Volts, B and K Shape Outlet, 60 frequency

This site is helping me out in determining whether or not I need a adaptor and/or converter:

Besides my cell phone charger, camera charger, and maybe an electric razor, I don't think I will need to bring any other things that would require an outlet.

Flight from Chicago to Lima:

I'm currently comparing different airlines, the best deal I have found is 344$ with Continental Airlines at (the weird part is that Continental at other websites is almost 200$ more). The 2nd best deal I have found so far is 450$ LAN airlines based on (I think it is a student discount), along with Continental via Studentuniverse(450$).

Transportation from Lima Airport to Loki Hostel in Lima:

I will just get Loki Hostel to send a taxi for me, I believe it is 15$

Transportation from Lima to Cuzco:

For bus, I am trying to use - the website is in english, but as soon as I put my arrival and departure date and hit submit, the results are in spanish and I cannot find a button anywhere to convert it to English. I believe it's about 50-60$ though.

If I decide to fly, Taca and Star Peru do not charge much over a 100$

Transportation from Cuzco to MP:

I don't think I have much choice besides using a train for this, I have been referred several times to - but I cannot seem to find a price or make a reservation. Every date that I put, it comes back with the result that there is no availability. Am I doing something wrong? Or is it really all sold out? I emailed them and this is what they said:

"At the moment we are not processing reservations or modifications yet because we are modifying train tickets and reservations that already where made you can check our available spaces in our web page ones everything is done contact our Callcenter for more information calling to this phone number 0051-84-581414."

From what I gather, they are saying I cannot make a reservation right now. But it still doesn't explain why every result yields no availability, and why I cannot see the rates.

Travel Health Insurance:

I called my health insurer and they said I will have the exact health benefits that I have in the US, overseas - and they will only pay 80% of the cost, and I pay the remaining 20%, up to 1500$. Also, this does not cover all the things that a travel insurer would - it only covers medical expense and evacuation.

So I don't think that is good enough so I will just go with one of the following:

Statravel - 165$
Travelassistnetwork - 180$
TravelGuard - 119$
WorldNomads - 127$
It would seem like TravelGuard is the best deal, but I haven't compared the policies. I think it will take a while to compare the policies.There are a few others as well that I need to find the prices for.


Food & Drink in SA:

I think I have a firm grasp on this now - just stick to water bottles. How will I know if the dairy is pasteurized? If the fruits/vegetables have not been washed in local water? I'm assuming when I am staying at the hostels, I will have to buy food at their cafe, and then also eat out at restaurants, along with any meals the tour agency provides while I am at Manu/LakeTiticaca/Pantanal. So I guess I will just have to continually ask these questions every time I am served? Also, one thing that I don't think I mentioned is that I am vegetarian (lacto-ovo). This will probably make it more difficult! Hopefully not too much.

ISIC CARD: I'm going to obtain this from the study abroad office at my university. They require 22$ and a passport photo - it seems like I can get some nice discounts, so it couldn't hurt.

Pantanal: I'm still in communication with several pantanal agencies
Thanks for your help!

8. Posted by Piecar (Travel Guru 980 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

I have to say: You have really made sure that you give all your info...I've railed against people who give too little...but you have gone a WHOLE other way.

Buying a lot of SD cards is okay if you're willing to spend the money..You can mail them home if you want...I have always, with digital, sent them to an online storage...It depends on how many pics you take...I am not a "million pics a day" guy but some love snapping every little thing.

9. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

As Piecar said "I have to say...." 80% of life is showing up..remember this is Latin America, "trains do not run on time", most of the time..learn to read some Spanish, at least, before you go, bring a good phrasebook if you can't speak any and NEVER ask a hustler in Bus station nor a taxi driver to take you to a "HOTEL", join the Hospex Groups, plently of members will host you and many will take you around on their free time. PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN DESTINATIONS. Always remember that. Be flexible, or the homies in USA say hang loose, chill out. My first trip abroad from USA, Canada, Mexico was Europe well over 35 years ago, threw my 'itinerary' away the second day. Things work out grand if you meet the right people enroute.

10. Posted by Kenny536 (Budding Member 8 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

Thank you for the advice guys - you are right I should enjoy the people there - but there are some things that I have to give a deposit for in advance (i.e. the Pantanal tour) - so I cannot just wing it completely. I know my trip won't go as planned and I will be flexible.


This portion of the trip seems very expensive – especially if I want to stay over a week.


BrazilNatureTours: $1167 4D/3N north - transpantaneira

PantanalNatureTour: 1200$ 6D/5N - terrain : north – transpantaneira road (via car) + boat trip in porto jofre

JaguarEcologicalReserve – 250$ per day north – transpantaneira road (via truck) + boat trip in porto jofre

PantanalExpeditions – 350$ per day terrain: not sure yet

PantanalTrackers: 3100$ 8D/7N terrain : north – transpantaneira

FocusTours: 4000+ (too expensive) 5D/4N

Caiman: 4500+ 4D/3N (too expensive)

Dehouche: 5500+ (too expensive)

From this list – in my opinion, the obvious choice would by the second one, PantanalNatureTours – it seems that it is the most bang for the buck. I may very well do that unless someone has a better suggestion?

There is one alternative – I have been in communication with Douglas Trent, who I believe is the owner of Focus Tours – I told him that I cannot afford his tours but he offered me an alternative.

He says that if I can commit to staying for at least 2.5 weeks – he can arrange a volunteer position at one of the lodges ( this ranch is only a few KM from the road (I think he means the Transpanteneira road) – during this volunteering – I would give English classes and also help with anything else, including taking care of tourists. I wouldn’t clean since they have maids already, but I would help “clear trails, maybe paint some rooms, who knows. You could put up English signs in the rooms about meal times, etc.”

So I don’t think it would be too bad. He would charge me 75$ for the costs he incurs in time and phone calls to set it up, which makes sense.

This sounds like a great experience - and if I had more time in my schedule, I would not hesitate to do it. I asked him if I’ll be able to see wildlife while I am volunteering and he said that I’ll be able to explore the large ranch and see its wildlife, but unless I have a car it will be hard to get out and explore other areas – there are jaguars in the vicinity but I would need to be fairly luck to spot one. I would need to get out and look for them. He said that he could also reserve several hotels for me and a rental car and I could spend my time traveling the Transpantaniera looking for wildlife. The hotels would cost about $150 including the meals – and he would charge me $250 for setting all this up. This seems like a good deal compared to the other tour agencies, but I’m going to ask for an itinerary if there is any.

So basically he is proposing “either you do a volunteer stint, spending very little money, OR, don't, and instead spend your money on a rental car and stay in a few different lodges.”

My dilemma is this: do I commit 2.5 weeks in doing the volunteering and pay very little – do some work, gain some experience interacting with the ranch and teaching them English. However, I would probably not see any jaguars, nor many other wildlife, which is one of the main reasons I am coming in the first place. Plus, I think 2.5 weeks is too long, it’s basically half my trip. I think if he agrees to bring it down to 2 weeks I can consider it more seriously. Right now, I think I would rather do the 150$ a day that he has offered or the $1200 PantanalNature tour – what do you guys think I should do?