South America is the most beautiful, diverse, and energetic continent in the world. Made up of fourteen unique and culturally rich countries, South America has every kind of natural habitat; from the lush rainforests of the Amazon to the breathtaking miracle of the Uyuni Salt Flats. Millions of visitors flock to South America every year for adventure, romance, and stunning scenery and it would take many lifetimes to explore everything that this incredible continent has to offer. For most people, a trip to South America is bucket list stuff, but if you are lucky enough to get the chance to go, it is really important to plan ahead to make sure you can experience everything that you want. Whilst it is always good to leave some room for spontaneity, South America is so fast that unless you are planning a year-long trip you really don’t have too many days to waste. Here is our guide to how to make the most out of your trip to South America.

Consider Booking a Travel Package

With so much to see and do, one potentially time-saving solution which will allow you to maximize your South American experience is to book a travel package that incorporates all of the things that are at the top of your to-do list. Particularly in the biggest South American countries like Brazil, it is near impossible to get around all of the top sites and attractions on your own. These days you can even plan your unique itinerary in consultation with your tour provider and booking custom travel packages to Brazil will enable you to explain your priorities and build an itinerary that ensures you have a great trip. No two people are the same and so whilst one traveler will have dreamed their whole life of going to the Rio Carnival, another traveler will want to guarantee that they can visit the Maracana soccer stadium. Depending on the duration of your trip and how spaced out your top locations are, a great tour provider will be able to create an itinerary that will provide you with experiences that you will never forget. 

Plan Your Transportation in Advance

South America is absolutely massive, covering 17.84 million square kilometers, and getting around can be very difficult. If you are on limited time, you may think that you can just fly from place to place, but many of the top sights in South America are nowhere near an airport, or if they are, the flights are extremely limited. If you just plan to spend a month in one of the smaller countries like Ecuador then you can just use the national intercity buses which are cheap and frequent. Some of these bus routes are not for the faint-hearted as you will find yourself traversing hair-raising mountain passes. Be aware that in some of the less developed countries such as Bolivia, your bus trip can take significantly longer than advertised as landslides and poor road conditions can add many hours into your journey, and you may even find yourself huddled up in your blankets overnight whilst you wait for the road to be cleared.

Learn the Local Language 

The majority of South Americans speak Spanish due to the Spanish colonization of the continent, but Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese and so that is the language spoken in Brazil. There are over 400 other traditional languages spoken as well as Dutch and French in places, but for your traveling purposes, it is highly advisable to learn at least some conversational Spanish (or Portuguese if you are visiting Brazil) to make the most out of your trip. In the more touristy areas, most people will speak some level of English, but you will have a far better time and will be able to make much better connections with the local people if you can speak their language. 

These days, there are so many apps and online courses that enable you to learn any language at your own convenience. As mentioned above, you are likely to be spending a lot of time traveling on buses during your trip and this is a perfect opportunity for honing your language skills and practicing what you learn from the locals during your trip.

Get the Right Shots and Comprehensive Travel Insurance

There is nothing worse than having our trip ruined by a health issue and so it is so important that you take the right precautions before you leave on your South America trip. Whenever you travel anywhere, you should always get comprehensive travel insurance which will cover you for a range of emergencies from missed flights, lost luggage, and hospital visits. 

Some of the local hospitals in less developed places in South America can be rather lacking in medical supplies and Western standards of hygiene so it is always better to be careful not to get injured than to rely on local medical care. There are various diseases in South America for which you should get vaccinations before you go. Yellow fever, malaria, dengue, and rabies are all present in different parts of the continent, so make sure you get the right shots and medicine to protect yourself.

Keep Your Personal Belongings Safe

It is a common misconception that South America is dangerous to travel to and this is mainly due to the reputation of the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. The reality is that the vast, vast majority of people will never experience any serious crime, but it is still important to keep your personal belongings safe as there is a lot of poverty in South America, so pickpocketing and bag snatching does happen. Particularly when you are on bus trips, make sure that you always keep your eye on your belongings, and always keep your cards, cash, and passport on your person.

A trip to South America is a life-changing experience and anyone who gets the chance to visit this special continent should grab it with both hands. South America is so vast and richly diverse that to make sure you experience everything that you want, it is really important to plan ahead. Follow these tips and start planning the adventure of a lifetime.

Photo by Amanda Kerr on Unsplash




I've been writing since 2008 about a wide range of topics. I also love making furniture in my spare time, and birdwatching with my wife near our home in southern England.

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