How to Travel Comfortably Around South America

South America is a beautiful place to travel, but traveling around South America is not like traveling in the USA or Europe. If you don't prepare properly, it can be stressful, uncomfortable and unpleasant. Good planning and preparation will make your holiday much more comfortable and relaxing.


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    Pack light. It sounds simple but it is really important if you will be carrying your luggage from one place to another. Expect to travel in buses, taxis, trains, and on foot, and through airports and hotels. It really makes a difference if your stuff is easy to carry. Don't take anything that isn't strictly necessary.
    • Shoes can be heavy and take up lots of room. Try to take only one or two pairs and remember that the streets will be dirty; it's good to take an older pair for around town and a light pair (flip-flops are good) for evenings.
    • If you can keep your luggage to one carry-on sized bag, you may be able to avoid having to check anything or leave any bags in a bag deposit. You will also have an easier time getting around.
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    Make sure your luggage is strong and easy to transport. Bear in mind that your bags will be tossed around a lot in airports, train stations, etc. It needs to be sturdy or you will find yourself buying new bags which, though cheap, won't last long. Though good bags are expensive, it's worth investing a little at the start to avoid lots of spending later and much inconvenience.
    • Whatever bags you take, make sure you can transport them easily yourself. If you are getting new bags, consider getting them with wheels so that they are easy to move from one place to another. Though surfaces may not be entirely smooth, it makes life easier.
    • On the other hand, consider getting bags small enough and keeping them light enough not to need wheels. Wheels add weight and bulk to a bag, and you may find yourself navigating tiled, uneven sidewalks, cobblestone streets, stairs and even unpaved surfaces. Consider using a rucksack (backpack) or lightweight shoulder bag instead of a suitcase.
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    Update your immunizations before you leave. A few countries require vaccinations for entry; many others recommend vaccinations.
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    Take insect repellent containing DEET and use it, especially if you will be traveling in any rural or jungle area. Some parts of South America, such as high in the Andes mountains, are free of mosquitoes and other insects that carry disease; many more areas are at risk for insect-borne diseases, including dengue, yellow fever, and malaria. It is best to avoid being exposed.
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    Take an electrical adapter or purchase one when you arrive. If you take electrical appliances (hair-dryers, camera charger, laptop), you will need an electrical adapter. Remember that the voltage and frequency (Hertz or Hz) may also be different from what you have at home. If it is, you may need an adapter that includes a transformer or converter, not just a plug that fits. Check the labels on the devices you will use to see if they can accept different electricity supplies. Cut out or cut down on electrical devices if you don't really need them, to reduce weight and minimize the damage in case your luggage gets lost.
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    Always carry toilet paper with you. In many toilets in South America, toilet paper is not provided. Taking a wad with you from your hotel ensures that you won't be left without. Also, it's easy to catch a cold at high altitude if you're not used to it. Using toilet paper is cheaper and easier than carrying around packets of tissues and it means you can top up every evening from your hotel.
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    Take plenty of layers. Weather in South America can vary, so it's easier if you take layers of clothes that you can put on and off. A light raincoat is good for wet weather; these days, it is easy to get macs that pack up nice and small. Long-sleeved t-shirts or light jumpers are better than thick sweaters but remember that it is unlikely you'll need more than one or two outer layers.
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    Wash underwear yourself. Hotel washing can be very expensive and difficult if you're only there for one night; it is far easier to wash knickers and socks while you shower, then hang them up to dry overnight. If wrung out thoroughly, they will be dry by morning so that you can have clean underwear every day without taking lots of pairs. If you have a bit more time, you can wash other clothing by hand, too, or you can use a laundromat (lavendería) or hotel laundry service.
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    Wear sun-cream at high altitude. If you're traveling in the Andes, even in the winter, it is easy to get sunburn. Though it may still feel cold, put sun-cream on your face to protect it.
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    Take some energy bars or snacks. These are handy if you get hungry while traveling. It may be difficult to get food if you're in a remote area or traveling by coach.
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    Use hotel safes. These usually have little or no extra charge and are much better than carrying valuables around town with you.
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    Use a money belt or similar and take precautions to avoid pickpockets. When you must carry your passport, credit card, or the like, use interior pockets or a money belt to keep them out of sight and out of reach.
    • Do not set bags down in restaurants, Internet cafes, or the like, and do not leave bags unattended or hang them over the back of a chair. These areas are frequent targets for pickpockets.
    • Don't wear expensive jewelry.
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    Take earplugs. Many hotel rooms face noisy streets.
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    Use Internet cafes. In many places, web cafes are abundant and inexpensive. You may be able to avoid carrying a laptop around, which in turn will eliminate the possibility of loss or theft.
    • In Argentina, look for the word locutorio to identify web cafes. These shops often have public telephones and they may have basic post office services, too.


  • Phone the companies that issue your credit cards and ATM card and let them know that you will be traveling. They can put a note on your account so that they don't call your home with a fraud warning while you are traveling. This is also a good time to inquire about current contact information in case your card is lost or stolen during your trip.
  • Take photocopies of your passport, identification, and credit cards, and keep them someplace separate from the originals. You will have all the information you need if you need to replace something or report it as stolen.
  • If you are doing the Inca Trail or riding, you will need heavy boots. To save space in your luggage, wear these on the plane or train. You may look a bit silly but it will make your baggage lighter (which is particularly good if there is a weight restriction) and will save valuable space.
  • As the risk of theft is so high, it is important to keep any used films safe in hotels or to get memory cards copied onto a CD/DVD. This can be done in any large town and is fairly cheap. It is especially worth doing if you will be away for a long time.


  • Be very careful when carrying expensive things. Try to keep them out of sight as often as possible to avoid them being stolen. If someone does threaten you with a knife or gun, though, give the demanded thing over straight away; your life is worth more.
  • While it is possible to travel safely in South America, it is not without risks. It is wise to read up on the areas where you will travel and the risks there before you go. The U.S. State Department maintains country profiles listing risks for travelers. A good guidebook should also have such information. You may also wish to locate your country's consulates and embassies in the country or countries where you will travel and register your travel with them if they offer such a service.

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Categories: South America