Tips for Traveling to South America
Heading to Latin America? South and Central America contain 20 different countries and cover an enormous amount of land; here we’ve put together some general travel tips that should help you out no matter where you’re going.
- Bring probiotics. Many people get an upset stomach, or traveler’s tummy, when they visit Latin America. Sometimes this is from encountering different bacteria than at home (hence why travelers can get sick from drinking the same tap water that Latin Americans drink without a problem), but often we get sick just because our organism isn’t used to the food or spices of another country. Probiotics will work wonders for calming your stomach. We completely recommend this, especially if you’re traveling with children.
- Pack layers. Sure, when you think of South and Central America, you no doubt think of sunny days, hot beaches and jungles. But this continent is full of mountains where it can be chilly and rainy; if you don’t bring warm clothes, you’ll be greatly limiting the things you can do. An overshirt, a warm sweater and a jacket will give you enough layering combinations to get you through almost any South American weather conditions.
- Carry toilet paper in your purse. In some small restaurants or supermarkets, toilet paper isn’t provided in the bathrooms. In some other places, like bus terminals, you have to pay for it. So it’s good to plan ahead and carry a little bit of your own toilet paper in case you need to use the restroom. Also, remember that many public places charge a small fee to use the restroom, so make sure you have some change on you.
- If you’ll be traveling a lot, consider buying a SIM card and data plan. Our smartphones put the world at our fingertips, and this comes in handy when you’re traveling—and we don’t mean for Facebook (though Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp let you keep in touch with friends and family with text messages). But even more importantly, your phone can be your guidebook, your map, your bus schedule, and your dictionary, all wrapped into one—if you have internet on it. If you have a global-ready phone, you can buy a SIM card for less than $5, and an inexpensive prepaid data plan for your phone. Everywhere, even the most remote towns, have places where you can reload your data plan. When you’re traveling a lot, you’ll find some reason every day to be grateful for your cell phone plan.
- Look many times before crossing the street. Latin America is a land of crazy drivers, where street signs and lanes are taken as mere suggestion. On top of that, there isn’t the American idea that pedestrians always have the right of way. So, before stepping into the street, look both ways a million times. And if you see a car or moto approaching at full speed while you’re crossing the road, DON’T assume that they’re going to stop to let you pass—what you have to do is run.
- Don’t accept the first price you’re given. In Latin America, the sellers at open markets, on the streets, or even in small stores can negotiate the prices of their products and services; so can taxi drivers hailed from the road (you can’t negotiate in big stores or with taxi drivers you’ve called ahead for). Related tip: always negotiate the price of a cab before you get in it.
Most people think that travelers can afford to pay more money, so they charge them slightly higher prices. Don’t be afraid to negotiate; likewise, don’t be a jerk. In countries where poverty is high and the middle class is tiny, an extra dollar will go a lot farther for the person selling hats on the beach than it will for you.
- Be vigilant with your personal possessions. Speaking of poverty, not everybody will be nice enough to try to get your money by selling you things. There are always some people who try to rob tourists. The best thing that you can do is bring only a small camera and carry the money you’ll need for the day in your pocket; purses and wallets can attract thieves. A money belt can also work. And, if you need to carry a purse (where else will you put your toilet paper?), tote bags are very hard to steal from.
- Learn about the kissing custom. Latinos kiss to say hello and goodbye. But when, with whom, and how, exactly? Find out in our blog post about the kiss on the cheek greeting, and save yourself some awkward moments.
- Ask the locals what areas are dangerous to visit. They can tell you which neighborhoods to avoid, where not to go after dark, and so on. In fact, they can tell you just about anything you need to know, which brings us to our final tip…
- Learn some Spanish. This may seem like obvious advice, but we add it because you’d be surprised how many people go to Spanish-speaking countries without knowing a word of Spanish past “hola” and “gracias.” That will be fine if you’re just staying at a resort, but if you plan on doing any real traveling—especially outside of major citities, or in countries with less tourism—having basic communication skills will do absolute wonders for your experience.
Latin America is a breathtaking place, full of more amazing things to see and do than you’d ever have time for. And it is a place filled with beautiful people, the vast majority of whom are warm and generous, and thrilled to talk to you or help you however they can. If you can travel to South or Central America, it will be a trip to treasure for the rest of your life. And if you keep our tips in mind, it’ll probably also be a trip with a lot fewer stories of misadventures. Now, go get that plane ticket, and enjoy yourself!
See our useful Spanish phrases for travel.