Thinking about backpacking through South America?
If so, you’re in the right place.
As you may already know, my name’s Dan and over the last few years, I have been looking for the cheapest way to travel around South America.
But not just that, I have taken on the role of a cultural traveller. I do this to be able to experience life in Latin America thus becoming part of the culture.
Quick Answer: Backpacking through South America
- What Inspired me to travel – Encountering new culture
- Backpacking South America – Pro Travel advice for Backpackers
- Sage Advice I received – A tip from a crazy coke head
- Latin America Travel Tips – 4 seeds of wisdom
- Backpacking South America Travel Advice – Practical Travel Tips
For me, everything starts with a question.
After my 2 best friends passed away, I began to question my purpose in life.
I read a book or two and realised I needed to start living dangerously to grow.
I’d ask myself questions like:
- Am I happy with my current situation?
- Am I living my truth?
- Who do I want to be?
It’s important to mention that before I learnt how to backpack South America, I’d set out to learn from my adventure and not to travel for the sake of it.
Firstly I’d like to assure you that in this guide you’ll learn something and how I found the best way to travel South America right from the beginning.
In 2012, I decided I was going to make a big change in my life.
Let’s dive into how this journey unfolded.
Backpacking South America Advice
After travelling to North America I became influenced by Latin culture and began to ask myself; how possible it would be to make a trip to South America.
What I needed was some good advice to me getting started backpacking and speaking the language.
Bear in mind, I couldn’t speak Spanish and I had no clue how to start.
I looked at backpacking blogs but back in 2013 there weren’t many good travel blogs online. That’s before I created my own travel blog from scratch.
Are you totally new to travel or, looking how to get started backpacking today? You could check out this article that I have written especially for you.
What Inspired me to Backpack South America
All I remember is been overly inspired by the neighbourhoods I visited in Los Angeles, especially Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, where I stayed.
I had my first taste of Mexican culture and loved it, although my idea to backpack Latin America at that point was a very ambitious one.
All I took was this book as inspiration, which I’m glad I picked up at a one dollar bookstore in Long Beach because it got me started with backpacking Central America. Which, has been a prequel to my South America trips.
From the outset, encountering a new culture seems complicated (language, food, customs, timezones). However, what I learned is that the patterns are usually reminiscent of our lives back home in some way.
Each culture has its own way of being. In school, I’d been taught that the way other countries do things is dangerous because their way is different.
What I learned before I left
I learned that I can still travel and run my basic routines and rituals.
The rest was adapting. Learning Spanish would be the hardest but at the same time, I’d be learning more about myself through this new environment.
Fascinated by this idea, which all stemmed from my short stay in East Los Angeles. I decided to start to plan a trip to South America.
I became infected by the language I heard in the streets. I wanted to go deeper so I began writing down words and phrases in Spanish.
I even started practicing the Spanish language . Only at a very basic level by trying to order food from local street vendors.
This new Latin Culture as it were, had inspired me with a new insight for living.
A few guidebooks later. I decided to go on, what I called back then, a trip of growth to fulfil my desire of taking a trip to South America.
I also bought a guide book about living abroad in Nicaragua in the same dollar store. I became obsessed with a place called Ometepe Island.
Not taking into consideration the size of the continent, or how much of an inexperienced backpacker I was; my ambitions plan was to travel through Nicaragua before I got to South America.
Advice I received from an experienced traveller
However, before all that. One evening while walking along Hollywood Boulevard, I met a young Australian guy.
He told me he was just about to embark on a mammoth of a trip backpacking around South America.
Next, he told me how it would last 18 months. I was blown away and envious at the same time.
I saw this as the perfect opportunity to ask him questions about backpacking through Latin America because he’d done it more than once already.
Thanks to him, before I even got chance to plan my South America backpacking route, he’d already sold me on why I should check out Central America first.
I literally began on the spot to vision an ambitious 3-month backpacking route all by myself, but, through Central America. Not South America.
For the life of me, I can’t remember his name. All I know is that he travelled from Australia to South America so he could dabble with Cocaine. He mentioned how it was exceedingly expensive in his home country.
Anyway, he advised that if I’d never been to Latin America before, it would be wise to start in Central America.
This is the insight I’m sharing with you here today before you start to plan your South America itinerary.
Backpacking Latin America Tips
Here I’m going to tell you the 4 reasons why. Or in other words, the 4 pieces of advice he gave me that changed the course of my life.
These are the 4 seeds of wisdom that I’m about to share with you took me back to California a year later.
I travelled to Mexico and backpacked right through Central America on a dedicated mission to learn Spanish.
1# Central America is Cheaper
After now backpacking across South America I can vouch for this. Been in Central America was much cheaper. But this comes with a price.
Sometimes you can feel you’re lacking on certain pleasantries that you may be used to at home.
If you are on a tight travel budget and you have a choice Central America will be your best friend.
Especially if you like the idea of travelling cheaply across the land because you could potentially see all 7 countries in a relatively short space of time.
I did find travel to Costa Rica to be relatively more expensive but still, it’s one of the most unique countries in Central America and worth every penny.
2# The Spanish is easier to pick up
If you’ve read my smart travel guide you see how I talk about Guatemala is one of the best countries in Latin America to start learning Spanish.
Why? Because apart from the backpacking experience you also have the benefit of practising in more rural areas where people are very open to conversation.
Not to mention it is one of the cheapest places to get full immersion with help of one of the many Spanish schools.
3# The routes are smaller
Perfect if you want to hit up more countries and feel like you’re seeing more in a shorter space of time. Getting around South America is not any more difficult it’s just longer and if you’re flying between countries it can get quite expensive if you’re on a budget.
I prefer slower travel but if you’re starting out like I was, Central America is perfect for border hopping and experiencing different countries.
4# Easy to meet people
One thing I loved about Central America was how easy it was to meet other people who were like me. New to Latin America.
It’s common to begin your South America backpacking trip from Central America and by starting from the top and working your way down.
If you’re doing solo travel then you can end up meeting a faithful travel buddy who you still with right until the tip of South America.
What do you think?
For me, these seeds of wisdom were reasons I postponed my trip to South America and started in Central America.
If you are thinking about backpacking through South America without visiting Central America first, then I invite you to at least consider it as part of your backpacking Latin America strategy.
One thing to remember is that the cost of living in South America is much higher. It’s still very affordable for most backpackers but more difficult to do on a budget simply because in South America you have many more options.
Also, tourism is much more developed in South America.
Now let’s talk about some of the amazing things I’ve learned whilst backpacking through South America.
Advice for backpacking South America
Travel is the fastest way to innovate your life. When I travel through South America my idea has always been to connect with families and to be living in different households.
The more I did this, I began to realise that everything I knew from home was kind of obsolete. I had to learn how to live in a new culture.
Upon arrival to my home country, I felt like a completely new person.
Remember to check out my backpacking routes South America if you need some inspiration on where to go on your travels.
Now, let’s look at some of these practical tips you can apply for when you travel around South America.
1# Learn the lingo
With South America travel you have the opportunity to practice languages. Whether is Spanish or Portuguese (the most widely spoken in Latin America).
I suggest you start learning before you go to get a head start. I never thought I’d become fluent in Spanish but after many years of perseverance, it’s paid off.
As I mention in my Smart Travel guide, learning to speak Spanish is a rewarding experience both personally culturally.
Having the local lingo will add another dimension to your trip.
You may be interested to know there are also some indigenous languages like Quechua in Bolivia or Guaraní in Paraguay.
2# Travel Light
With all the tips for backpacking South America on this blog, you’ll know I mention this all the time.
No matter what people say packing light is the way forward. It may take you many trips to get it right but when you do you’ll feel like an advanced traveller.
Travelling South America especially countries like Argentina and Chile can give you an experience of a lifetime if you follow the right guides.
In Peru, there are so many wonderful hikes and off the grid treks but if you’re not hiking it doesn’t make sense carrying unnecessary camping equipment.
For example, I carry a travel size shaving cream everywhere I go. But never the full-size version, only the necessities that can fit in my smallest bag.
3# Bring adequate clothing
You can never be too sure what you get invited to do. Maybe you go to Machu Picchu or the salt flats in Bolivia.
Whatever you decide in the end just have something suitable for all occasions.
If you plan to take buses in South America. Make sure you have a fleece or a warm throw-over. Otherwise, it’s likely you’ll get frozen by the air conditioning.
I have added some of the things I carry when backpacking south america to my checklist be sure to check it out.
4# Look after your health
One of my biggest questions after backpacking continuously for many years is how to get around South America whilst staying healthy.
One would think it’s easy with the abundance of fruits and vegetables that you can find on the continent. But let me tell you now, that’s not always the reality.
Most of the food that meets the eye is deep-fried, full of dough and high in saturated fats. Depending on what country you’re in it varies.
It’s what you eat every day that counts. If you’re a sucker for hot dogs and other cheap processed products you’ll be degrading your health at every bite.
The solution? Dig deeper and find the healthy options there is always at least one, no matter where you are in Latin America.
5# Connect with locals
So, now you’re learning how to backpack South America you’ll need to meet people, right? Especially local people.
If you read my post on how to connect with locals, you’ll understand how important this concept is.
If you really want to get a 4 dimensional view of a place. Connecting with local people is your free entry pass.
There are many ways you can this. When I first started to backpack Latin America I always had this in mind.
I’d not be as knowledgeable and an open as I am today without connecting with local people in Latin America.
6# Carry Cash and a Credit Card
One question I would ask is, how much money to backpack South America is going to be enough?
The truth is, is that there is no definitive answer. However, whilst asking how much do you need to travel South America have in mind that I found carrying a credit card helps you save money as you spend.
As long as you’re not getting charged on foreign transactions you’ll be literally saving money as you spent it. I tend to buy things like food and daily items in the supermarkets.
If I’m not using Uber then I use cash for things like taxis and the smaller transactions that require hard cash.
For example, 1 month in South America will require around $1000 minimum.
This is a good rule of thumb. If you’re in Bolivia or Colombia you’ll survive on much less as a backpacker but in countries like Uruguay and Argentina or the south of Brazil, expect to walk away with much less in your pocket.
It all depends on your travel style and the activities you want to engage in.
For backpacking Central and South America I recommend you get some reputable travel insurance to protect you and your belongings.
In my smart travel book, I share some of my top tips for saving money whilst backpacking through South America including info on the best air miles credit card to use for saving money and collecting points when purchasing flights.
7# Book your accommodation in Advance
I tell travellers this all the time, especially if travelling South America alone.
Whilst travelling around South America, the last thing you want to do is end up in some remote village to find out the hostel you wanted to stay at, is fully booked.
This has happened to me one and it will never happen again. Keep your options open.
I’m not sure which is the best hostel in South America but what I do know is that it’s easy to find a hostel in South America. I use booking.com or if I don’t like the look of the hostel I’ll check Airbnb to see what is on offer.
You can get a private room using Airbnb for the same price as you can for an 8-bed dorm room in a hostel.
8# Have Self Awareness
Do you have the ability to recognise oneself as an individual?
Whilst backpacking in South America you may need to separate yourself from toxic environments.
This may be necessary when you find that surrounding people are no longer inspire you.
Doing this at any given moment isn’t easy for most people even though it’s an ability we were all born to do.
Self-awareness is true ingenuity, something you must cultivate. I don’t remember being taught self-awareness at school. To be self-aware you must be conscious.
9# Have Willingness To Change
What will it take for you to want to make a change?
In the past, I’ve seen people change only when they had no other choice, usually when in ‘crash mode’ which is a term I use for when somebody has a mishap that has forced them to make a change.
Vision is crucial, to be able to see a change you must have a vision. As the old saying goes “if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything” so stand for change.
10# Have An End Goal or Purpose
What is your purpose for travelling? It’s dismaying how people go out into the world without an objective.
Remember, you won’t hit a target you can’t see. In other words, a trip of growth isn’t achieved without a end goal.
Before packing my backpack for the first time, I had a clear travel objective.
It’s crucial that you know your final destination and how you’re going to get there. Failure has been an integral part of my growth.
I see failures as mini motivators. If I’m not failing regularly I know I’m not challenging myself enough.
It’s wise to maintain a clear vision of what you want to achieve beforehand. As well as a strong belief that you can achieve that vision.
11# Have Support in form of a mentor
Do you have a mentor for travel?
Mentors will come in all shapes and sizes. When you’re ready for one, one will appear, it’s our job to recognise them. Before travelling South America alone.
I’d look out for people who are encouraging me to achieve an inspiring vision. Whether that be a push towards my own goals or a similar outcome.
Allow yourself to be flexible, an important thing for me is being true to myself.
I used to keep the soundboard of any new trip private and anonymous.
Based on past experience I found when discussing my personal growth I have to protect it like a new born baby.
12# Have A Challenge or Challenger
When were you last challenged by somebody?
Dissimilar people are always going to challenge us, make a virtue of this because you’ll always meet people along the way you don’t see eye-to-eye with.
My mission has been to leave a lasting legacy wherever I tread, I visioned doing this by empowering others to follow their own truth.
At times you have to challenge others in order to meet your own challenges.
With your end goal forever in mind, you’ll crave new challenges that can keep you propelling forward.
For more south america travel ideas you can check out this page which is an internal part of this South America travel blog.
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