Be clear with what you expect of your trip and concentrate mainly on its main objective. Determine the amount of money you have or can invest and the time available to complete the journey in South America –if it’s 10 days, 1 month, 6 months or more than 1 year. Choose your preferred route that offers the best attractions. This decision must be well planned, researched and analyzed in detail before starting your journey. Determine responsibilities associated to your goals for you and all your companions. From then on "bon voyage." Your adventure through South America has begun!
Spanish is the official language of most countries in South America (except Brazil, which language is Portuguese, Guyana- English, Surinam-Dutch, and French Guiana-French). If you are an independent traveler it’s advisable to have a reasonable knowledge of these languages, as it may be required to ask and understand the answers without major problems. Native languages are also spoken in various regions, such as the Quechua in Peru and Bolivia, the Aymara altiplano in Chile, Bolivia and Peru and Guarani in Paraguay. A Spanish course and / or Portuguese one is recommended, and always have a dictionary in your hand. Regardless of anything, with a little effort you can easily communicate, finding, in most cases, incredible hospitality.
Most of the expenses, of course, will be with your vehicle (tolls, fuel, reviews, maintenance and craft, when eventually you have to make a crossing point to an onward point), remembering that the vehicle can be a car, bike , motorcycle or any other means of transportation. Camping is the best way to discover wonderful places and at the same time, cheaper. Consider spending on passports, insurance, transportation, maps, books, guides, movies, cameras and equipment for cars and personal items. Sacrificing some kind of luxury to which you are accustomed is normal. Use a little creativity you could spend less and have that comfort you need, wherever and however you need it. Make personal safety your top priority of your trip.
The issue of health today in South America is much better than before, but in many trips it’s vital to take vaccines against diseases like typhoid, cholera, tetanus and hepatitis. A detailed list depends on the area you are visiting; therefore, obtain updated data at health centers for travelers, or with your doctor. The tetanus vaccine is valid for ten years; there is no need to take it as often. The vaccine against yellow fever (also valid for ten years) is usually applied for free at airports – inform yourself. Malaria is the most dangerous tropical disease, especially in much of the Amazon region. Although there is no vaccine against malaria, it can be combated with drugs that can have strong side effects, especially in pregnant women and people under any effect of medication. Whenever possible, use anti-mosquito screens in places where you want to sleep. Before leaving for your trip, consult your dentist and ask for tips on how to prepare a “kit”; for any basic problems with the mouth and or teeth. For ailments and minor incidents, please have insect repellent, stomach medicine, lotion to relieve stinging, antiseptic ointment, gauze and adhesive tape. A first aid course is recommended. Age is not a restriction to who wants to travel around South America. Just make sure that your health is in order, getting a brief check-up.
For more information about risks of crime enter the website of the embassy of the country of your destination. If you are traveling to remote areas, inform yourself about the risks from other travelers and local guides. Always notify someone at home, your travel agency or the owner of a reliable hotel in the nearest town where you are. The most common type of crime against travelers is robbery on the streets; a risk can be reduced with a few precautions. Make photocopies of your passport, airline tickets and important documents, and just walk with them. Leave the original copies at the hotel and other copies at home. If you are victim of a crime, report it immediately to the police. It can be difficult to recover what was stolen, but you need a copy of the police report for insurance reimbursement. If you leave without money and your passport, notify the embassy of your country where you are. The addresses can be found on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
If you hire a car abroad, check the terms of employment insurance carefully. Some countries have the covers for acronyms that are not always clear in its translations. To avoid problems, the ideal thing to do is to check the specific conditions of each country in South America before leaving your country of origin. If you plan to travel by car or bike for the Mercosur countries (Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina), check with your insurer and check the possibility of hiring a perimeter extending coverage to those countries. Being protected is undoubtedly the best option. For more information contact the Automobile Club of your country.
Citizens of Mercosur (Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina) would not normally need visas to travel to the countries of South America for up to 90 days. As the requirements for crossing boundaries changes periodically, check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country or the embassy that you will visit. Some tourist visas can be obtained "online" and others through travel agents or brokers, but some countries require that you go to the consulate in person. Inform yourself.
Credit cards and international debit cards (the most accepted are Visa and MasterCard) are ideal for paying hotel bills, restaurants, car rentals and to get cash at local ATMs. For those who want to travel with their own vehicle, get ready for toll costs, fuel and maintenance. Bring cash (preferably U.S. dollars) and change only the amount needed. Travelers’ Checks are also a good option.
Tip: Check the value of currency at www.oanda.com.
Depending on the country you intend on visiting, your luggage should contain both winter and summer clothing. In some regions of south America, for example, in the Atacama desert (Chile), during the day it is very likely that you will wear a hat, shorts, a tee shirt, but at night it will be necessary to use coats and blankets because the temperature reaches 0°C even in the summer.
If you book your own flights what will remain for you to do is learn how to get around the country of your destination. Usually the domestic flights are expensive, but the airpass system can provide cheaper flights, offering good discounts to those who take a certain number of flights. The Mercosur Airpass covers Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile.
There are four main GSM frequencies (Global system for mobile) in the world. Some countries use the CDMA technology (Code Division Multiple Access) - Inform yourself about it with your mobile network provider. To use your mobile on trips through South America, your mobile network operator will have to enable it to “roaming”. Before traveling abroad check the fees to use your phone out of the country; each mobile network provider has a chart that provides you the price which can sum out to be very expensive. Another possibility is to use a satellite phone with a tracker (SPOT). Besides serving as mean of communication, it will certainly be an excellent security tool, mainly if it will be used in remote areas.
Definitely the best guide is the "South American Handbook," edited by Ben Box and published by Prentice Hall. Also, you can be used as reference guides “Lonely Planet on a Shoestring ", "Inside Guide South America” or "Pé na Estrada - Guia de Viagem ao Redor da América do Sul. Organize the books and maps that will be needed for the trip before leaving your home. Finding them on the road is not so easy and sometimes the quality is not reliable.
E-mailing is the easiest way to keep in touch during your trip in the South American countries. E-mail address providers like Hotmail and Yahoo are easier to access in places with unstable internet connections. For those with laptops that have a Wi-Fi connection, many hotels and other places offer wireless Internet, but pay attention to the amounts charged.
Let your camera always ready. Picturesque places and people are synonymous in South America but be aware: In many parts of South America people do not like being photographed. It is not due to the primitive fear of cameras, but the resentment of making them feel used. So, ask politely and show some photos that were previously taken of others, to get a friendlier reaction. There is no obstacle to come with cameras to the South American countries, but it is advisable to register all electronic equipment before leaving your country of origin.
Tip: Read the book "National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography” By Scott S. Stuckey. It is certainly worth reading for photographers of all skill levels.
Plan to develop some physical activity whenever possible. Walking, swimming, playing and exercising is an excellent alternative for the body´s muscles to relax after a few hours sitting in a car, plane, bicycle or motorcycle. In many places you can easily find gyms, as well as good places for hiking, diving, swimming, and surfing.
For the police the drug is one of the main arguments for an inspection in your vehicle. In reality, the bus passengers are more concerned than vehicles of independent travelers. Anyway, if you are a user, use extreme caution. Possession of a single marijuana cigarette can cause severe penalties.
Bringing animals on a long trip can be crucial. First because to be immunized against diseases and will be inspected in almost all agricultural seasons and second because many countries or vessels do not allow pets. Another problem is in relation to climate. A day can be very cold and in another so hot that it is impossible to let the animal inside the vehicle. Be a conscious traveler and think twice before bringing your pet, no matter how good is your company and protection.
Firearms are illegal, except with the permission of the competent authorities of each country. You hardly need to use one during the trip. What's best to leave the local police to resolve any problem. More appropriate to take a firearm is to get a good communication device (see Telephony) and be attentive to everything and everyone. Have faith, this will help you at all times.
If invited by someone to stay at his house, repay the favor, leading him to dinner, presenting him with a bottle of wine or even depending on the case, offering a bag of rice, flour or beans.
This is the basic point for anyone wishing to go on a trip. When you are in other countries, consider yourself always as a guest and as such, your attitudes should be polite, discreet and intelligent. If you do not like something, do not fight. Do not destroy nature, and not throw garbage in the streets, in the woods and on the beaches. Do not do anything to harm the environment or local culture. If all this is too difficult, try to think about it, and if you still cannot, you’d better not leave your house. A good manner in South America is to always say "hola!" Or "buenos dias."
Tip: Learn about the local culture of the countries in the section Travel and Culture at the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC website (travel.national-geographic.com/places). You can also learn more about what you should or should not do in several countries with expert Dean Foster (deanfosterassociates.com).