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5 things to know before backpacking in South America

Published September 23rd, 2013

For many of us, the idea of backpacking in South America sounds like a dream holiday. A chance to truly get out of your comfort zone, experience another way of life and fall in love with the world’s natural beauty all over again. A dream holiday it indeed may be, but with such an expansive size and differing cultures, it’s a holiday that requires a bit of research as well.

 

Rest assured, South America is a constant backpacker’s paradise. Bolivia and Peru in particular are revered for its backpacker scene. Along the road there will be plenty of time to talk to other travellers and pick up insider tips on where to go and things to do. Before you go though, there are some things you should know first:

 

 

If you’ve got the time - keep a loose itinerary

With such fantastic bus transportation, quality hostels, plenty of other intrepid travellers and so much to see, South America is the perfect place to choose your own adventure. If you’ve got time to spare, it’s best to keep your itinerary loose in order to make the most of every minute and avoid biting off more than you can chew (a common mistake made by backpackers). You just never know which tiny town you’ll fall in love with and want to stay a few days longer in (hint: probably all of them). Having said that, it’s still a good idea to have some idea of where you want to go, you’re first few nights accommodation booked and a list of must-dos to work through.

 

If you don’t - join a tour

If time is of the essence and you’ve only got a few weeks to spare in South America, then book a tour. Skipping all of those lost moments and lost-in-translation confusion, tours of South America are the best way to see as much of the continent as possible in a short amount of time. It’s more than just sightseeing too. You can trek the magnificent Inca Trail on a tour, uncover the amazing Machu Picchu and learn about local food and cooking techniques.

 

Don't forget your swimsuit when visiting El Salvador

No matter what the weather - always pack layers

Big in size and big differences, when it comes to the weather in South America, it’s diverse to say the least. As such, you should pack for diverse weather as well. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean it won’t be freezing at night in Cusco or even chilly on your air-conditioned bus (#firstworldproblems). Likewise summer heat can be found in South America even in the midst of winter. For example did you know the Argentinean town of Rivadavia experiences warm weather all year round with temperatures commonly reaching around 30 degrees Celsius? Like we said – pack layers.

 

Dig in to a delicious empanada in Argentina

 

If you’re on a budget - eat on the street

Hell even if you’re not on a budget, the street food of South America is the stuff of tasty cuisine dreams at even dreamier highlights. Much like Asia, you can pretty much live on street food in South America, with meals varying greatly between different countries and even cities. Some specialties not to miss out on include ceviche in Peru, empanadas in Argentina, cuy in Ecuador, pastels in Brazil and tamales in Ecuador.

 

The view at the end of the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu

If you do just one thing - go hiking

As adventure travel’s final frontier, you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone just a little in South America. Adrenalin junkies will be in their element with extreme thrills and spills all around. If you’re not one to jump off a bridge or swim with sharks though, there’s always hiking. Enjoy it at your own pace or even with a guide, going for a hike in South America is one of the best ways to take in the continent visually. Some hikes to consider include the legendary Inca Trail in Peru, the stunningly beautiful trails in Patagonia which spans across Chile and Argentina, and the various trails and national parks in Bolivia.

 

Lauren Burvill

Australian born but London based, I'm a sucker for big cities and small tropical islands. When travelling, I like eating like a local, dressing like a local, but staying in 5 star style. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @laurenburvill.