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If You Ever Go...to South America

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

Article by Jessica Fitch

Photography by Stock Images

South America has 12 beautiful countries and three main different terrains. Known for having great biodiversity, it's important to keep in mind that you can go to South America for so many different kinds of vacations. From tourism locations, to hiking trails, from snowy mountains to beaches — South America has just too much on the spectrum to narrow it to one guide for the fourth largest continent.

So here is a broad list of some of the things to keep in mind when you visit South America, and take lots of pictures for me, okay?

When to Visit

Because South America stretches from the equator so far south, there is no best time to visit the entire country, but here are a couple of popular opinions about different places:

  • October and November are often thought of as the best time due to the spring conditions (as we are reversed on the other side of the equator), where wild flowers are in full bloom and many newborn animals begin to visit.
  • In July and August, you're going to find that the Inca Trail and the Galapagos Island are more busy and popular (The Inca Trail closes in February for maintenance).
  • Peru is a year-round destination, but keep in mind that rainy season is from January to March. This means that your outdoor activities are going to be put on hold.
  • This applies to any travel destination: Look up the locations you are going to want to visit and be sure that things like maintenance, rainy season, bug season, etc. won't ruin your plans.

Language/Culture Barriers

You'll find that much of South America does not speak English. The primary language is Spanish (and Portuguese is spoken in Brazil). In all but the nicest hotels and the most tourist of locations, you'll find very few people who know even a few words of English, so be sure to brush up on your Spanish phrases before traveling.

  • Important to note: while there are ways around a language barrier, like icon shirts, Google Translate, and staying in only luxury spots or having a guide/translator, it is considered polite when visiting a foreign country to have a few phrases memorized and be able to converse on a minor level. Even a simple "gracias," can do a lot for your travels.
  • Being aware of cultural differences like the connotations of certain words or the importance of accepting a meal is important. Don't underestimate these things, and often a word that may have a mean or degrading connotation in one country, can mean something teasing and light in another.

Weather and Sun

On the equator, the sun is more harsh. Don't let her sneak up on you. Bring wide-brim hats, sunscreen, lip balm, etc. Also be ready for any change of weather. There is no such thing as too-prepared. If you plan on venturing away from your tourism locations to more diverse areas, bring layers, bring functional clothing, and do not underestimate the weather.

On Saving Money

There are lots of things you can do to save money while traveling:

  • Bargaining (common in South America)
  • Using local buses for travel (however, you should avoid hailing a cab for safety, and keep your belongings in your lap)
  • Avoid tourism markups
  • While local currency is typically preferred, most places will also accept US Dollars. Cash is king in South America, and while it can be frightening to hold more cash with you, pull some out at popular destinations so that you're ready to pay with cash on the best deals. (And tipping is a must!)
  • Eating out can sometimes be cheaper! Take a look around the local supermercado, but you can often find full dishes/meals for $3 or less.
  • You don't always need a tour guide to see destinations, but you might still want to consider it for some.

Safety

Scary travel stories are always going to be popular, but use your common sense when traveling. South America is generally regarded as a safe place to travel, but the most common complaint is scams or robbery. If you're unsure of an area or going somewhere you've never been, do your proper research or check with the local embassy on which areas to avoid.

Be aware of things like altitude sickness, food allergies, and vaccines before leaving for your trip.

If You Visit Just One Place Your Entire Trip, Make It Machu Picchu

This is a matter of opinion of course, but what better place to visit then one rich with ancient history, historic views, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World? You can use the Inca Trail for a four-day, 26-mile hike (trail guide required), or take the train up to Machu Picchu (which is anywhere from 2-4 hours long).

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