South America is a massive and incredibly diverse continent. Everywhere you go is full of life and oozing with culture. Before you go (or while you’re traveling) it’ll be handy to pick up the real basics of Spanish. If you do this, it’ll not only make life easier for you, but you’ll get much better value in bartering at the markets and you might even get to know some locals. There are a few countries where they don’t speak Spanish – but Portugese is close to Spanish, so even a little bit of Spanish will help you in Brazil too.
It would probably take years to properly travel all of South America, to really feel like you’ve covered it all. In my three months of traveling, I went to six countries (I haven’t written anything about my brief time in Uruguay because I don’t really rate it) In that three months, I covered Peru and Bolivia pretty thoroughly. I traveled the northern half of Argentina and only saw a small portion of Chile; meaning I missed out on Patagonia. Brazil is ridiculously huge, so despite spending about three weeks there, I don’t think I’ve even scraped the surface of what this amazing country has to offer.
Many people are cautious about traveling solo in South America, choosing to travel on a tour instead because it is seen to be ‘dangerous.’ You certainly need to be aware that there are unsafe places, but also be aware that South America is very well travelled and therefore fairly safe when you’re on the ‘Gringo Trail’ – that is, the places where most backpackers go. I assure you, it is easy enough and safe enough to travel South America as a solo female backpacker, so long as you have your wits about you. You’ll probably end up making plenty of friends, making you feel as if you’re never really alone anyway!
It’s easy enough to get around South America by bus, but there are sometimes huge distances which makes flying the more favourable option. However, there aren’t really any ‘budget airlines’ in this part of the world, so be prepared to fork out a fair amount of cash for the convenience of flying. If you’ve got the time, overnight buses are pretty decent.
Your budget will hugely depend on which countries you visit. Chile, Argentina and Brazil are the most expensive countries, other countries are all very cheap places to travel. See individual country guides to assist your budgeting.
The climate in South America is hugely varied, but I don’t think there is necessarily a ‘bad’ time of year to go. Just bare in mind that the Inca Trail is closed in February, as it’s the peak of the wet season. In Patagonia the winter (June – August) is very cold, which makes hiking a whole lot more difficult and camping a whole lot less appropriate – so perhaps go there in the warmer months. The Salt Flats in Bolivia are stunning at any time of year but in the wet season (December – February) the rain can create a reflective ground, which is all kinds of incredible. And if you can time your trip so that you are in Rio in late February, you’ll get to catch Carnivale!
Most famous for the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru is a popular spot for hiking and outdoor adventures. While there, you can also shop at the colourful markets, get up close and personal with llamas and alpacas, sand board in the desert and spot wild animals in the Amazon.read more
Bolivia is a wonderfully quirky country, where you can mountain bike down Death Rd, be amazed by the offerings of the witches’ markets and appreciate the vastness of the salt flats.read more
Argentina, famous for mouth-watering steaks and some of the world’s best wine, is also a great place to get outdoors, hiking through Patagonia. While there you can also get right underneath Iguazu Falls and explore the diverse neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires.read more
An incredibly huge country, you could spend months exploring the natural beauty of Brazil, including caves, waterfalls, fresh water lakes and of course beaches. Head to the Pantanal to fish for piranhas and experience the madness of Carnivale in Rio.read more
Chile’s diverse landscape makes it a great place to explore, from deserts to mountains to the stunning street art in the bigger cities.read more
Other countries which I am yet to visit include Colombia, Ecuador (and the Galapogas islands!), Venezuela, Paraguay, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. I haven’t included any information about Uruguay because I just didn’t love it.