A friend from universuty contacted me recently to ask me a few questions about my trip so far, to help her with her planning. As usual, I found myself rambling away in my reply, furiously bashing away at the keyboard to give her as much information as I could.
I figured that this information could be useful to anyone planning a visit to this amazing continent. It is by no means a complete list, but the information below might offer answers to a few basic questions that backpackers have.
How should I go about booking my flights?
See if you can spend some time shopping them around – there is no hurry to book if you plan to leave the following year. Try going to a travel agent that can respond to you on a personal level and see if you can arrange to fly into one country and out of another, this elimates that annoying feeling of paying more to back-track at the conclusion of your trip. Also try to book a ticket with a flexible return date – your plans are guaranteed to change while you are here. In my experience, companies such as Flight Centre are very, very overrated.
What tours should I book?
A lot of people I have spoken to who are doing their first big trip have often started their trip with one of these tours and then made their own way to wherever they want to go next. There are a couple of reasons where I can see the benefit of this:
1. For your first week or two you can settle into the culture without too much worry about where you’re going, and there are other people around to share the experience with.
2. The tours through companies like G Adventures are really, really, really expensive in comparison to how far you can make your money stretch here. For example, my budget in Bolivia has lowered to around 20 dollars a day including food, accomodation and some extra fun stuff too – you just have to be savvy about it. I expect to be in Peru for a month and spend 800 dollars (not including the Inca Trail which is always at least 500 dollars). The tour you could be looking at for just over a week could be as much as twice that price! Hopefully that helps put things in perspective.
3. If you book tours before you leave, you can make things really inflexible for yourself when you are here. Trust me, you will find places where you want to stay and relax a while. Using a good travel agent, you can always leave your credit card details with them and get them to organise tours for you if you change your mind.
What are my transport options in South America?
Buses are the cheapest way to get around, although they are very expensive in Argentina and slightly expensive in Brazil too. Generally, they are safe, although the buses in Bolivia (complete with cockroaches!) haven’t been the nicest so far – definitely the cheapest!
If you are coming to travel around South America for a reasonable amount of time (and have a normal $30-$40 daily budget) buses should be your main form of transport. Flights are often pricey and really only worth it if you want to go way out of your way to see something, for example you might fly from Buenos Aires to Patagonia for a week to save the 30 hour + plus ride. I have the luxury of a lot of time, but generally I just planned my circuit around what I wanted to see and do.
How do I work out a budget?
The hardest one to answer because it really depends on the person. Chile, Brasil, Venezuela and Argentina are the expensive countries at $30-40 a day including some fun stuff. Argentina and Venezuela both have a thriving black market for the US dollar which can halve your costs there.
Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia are all totally accessible for up to $30 a day, especially Bolivia! Work out roughly what you expect to spend, and then double it. That is usually a solid way to budget for overseas travel.
I spent a lot of time poring over maps, reading guide books and websites and gazing at tour brochures. In reality though, a lot of your trip will unfold after you arrive. In addition to the advice above, the best advice I can give is to carefully plan your first four weeks or so and then just have a fair idea of the direction in which you want to travel. This is even easier with an open ended flight out, as I mentioned above.
Let me know if you have any more questions by using the comment space below. Otherwise, see more links underneath this post to other quick tips articles I have written.
Take care and happy planning!