Traveling In South America: A Quick Guide

Posted on October 21, 2009 by

Almost four months have passed since we started traversing the roads of South America, starting from Buenos Aires, Argentina all the way to Quito, Ecuador. In that short period of time, we went whitewater rafting, came face-to-face with modern day dinosaurs, raced up Macchu Picchu and almost froze to death in the Uyuni Salt Flats. The adventures we’d had exceeded our imaginations. South America is one hell of a continent with diverse landscapes and untouched humanity.

Here’s a quick look back at the past few months. For those who are finding their way around, here’s our approximate route and trip details.

SouthAmerica Route

Travelling by Land

In South America,the cheapest and easiest way to get around is by land transport, be it crossing the border or traversing a mountain. Flights are outrageously expensive in Latin America. Argentinean regional buses put European transport to shame – imagine airplane-style business class seats  but moving on wheels! To save transportation costs in Argentina, we purchased the South Pass ($160 for 14days of unlimited national bus rides). There are options to extend it to neighboring countries as well.

An Argentinean bus

Bus travel in Bolivia is a whole different world, roads are unpaved and buses are definitely of a lower standard. Still, it’s an interesting way to see the country. Expect to pay $1 for a 3-hour ride. Tickets need not be booked in advance. In Peru, buses are cheap and good, check out Cruz del Sur, a bus company that covers major routes. Getting transportation to Macchu Picchu can be tricky, check my post for details.

The only time we flew in South America was from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. The short 1hr flight cost us $117.90 each way on TAME. Other than that, buses in Ecuador are also comfortable and cheap, especially the buses that go from Guayaquil along Ruta del Sol to Montañitas.

Budget

In our three months through South America, we spent approximately $6,000 each. That’s not to forget we are still heading to Central America after this. We’ve kept our expenditure to a minimum, staying in basic hostels, eating at local eatery and avoiding tourist traps. The main things we spent on were adventure tours into isolated places that were unreachable on our own (Uyuni salt flats, Macchu Picchu and Amazon Rainforest). You could easily cut your budget down by couchsurfing, which I personally enjoy a lot but as a couple, we chose to stay in hostels.

Crossing Frontiers

Most crossings are relatively quick and easy and don’t require any fee. You can always exchange currency right after the customs, and rates are fairly good. The only crossing we got stuck at was Argentina-Bolivia frontier at La Quica, where hordes of people cross the border on a daily basis. Other than that, the Bolivia-Peru crossing at Copacabana was easy enough on a bus we booked from La Paz. From Peru to Ecuador, we took a CIFA night bus that took us straight from Mancora to Guayaquil, fast and easy.

Crossing the frontier

Highlights

I personally will never forget coming face-to-face with the uninhibiting animals of the Galapagos Islands, how sea lions were always part of the picture-perfect backdrop. The colorful Uros tribes of Lake Titicaca in Peru came in a close second, as we visited their floating homes and soaked in the open skies and extensive lake. Another highlight would be getting all wet under the massive Iguazu Falls – almost like an Indiana Jones adventure. Not to forget, trekking through the dense Amazon Rainforest – priceless.

Observing the sealion and marine iguanas

What We’ve Missed

From the map, you can see that we really haven’t covered much of South America, and we’d missed out entire countries like Chile, Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia. We definitely hope to make it there in the near future, hoping to dedicate a month to each of these countries.

What’s Next?

We’re moving on to Central America next, first heading to Guatemala from Ecuador to attend a travel writing course organized by V!VA Travel Guide. Then we’ll be making our way around Guatemala before heading to Belize and finally Mexico. You’ll be hearing from us soon!

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

32 Responses to “Traveling In South America: A Quick Guide”

  1. Dave and Deb October 21, 2009 11:43 pm
    #

    I can't wait to see more of South America, Only been to Peru so far. But it will have to wait for at least a year. I am going to keep this map as reference though. You have seen so much! Thanks for the great info!

  2. heidi October 26, 2009 4:50 am
    #

    Great route and trip details; I always wanted to travel to South America and maybe next year I will.

  3. ann November 18, 2009 1:41 pm
    #

    great post about south america, i've never been, but am planning to visit sometime in the near future

  4. lyn November 19, 2009 6:22 pm
    #

    i would love to go to argentina sometimes, also couching surfing is a great way to cut your budget, but its better done alone not as a couple:)

    • Nellie May 19, 2010 2:31 pm
      #

      hey I totally agree – Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals and get a different insight into your destination. I really enjoyed couchsurfing alone as well, not with my partner – it just feels different when you couchsurf as a couple, so true. Thnx for the input!

  5. Thapelo January 14, 2010 2:27 pm
    #

    I am going to South America in July for 3 months this quick guide could not have come at better time. Thanks

    • Nellie May 19, 2010 2:32 pm
      #

      Glad it was of use! Thanks and good luck with your trip!

  6. Adam May 19, 2010 2:35 pm
    #

    Great rundown of your time in South America. It's an awesome continent that has so much to offer. We spent 6 months there and easily could have spent a year. We went from S. America to SE Asia, and we were in for a rude awakening when it came to overland travel. S. America, particularly Argentina, just spoils you. Those buses are the best. Well done.

    • admin May 20, 2010 4:07 pm
      #

      haha so true! Argentinean buses really spoil you crazy. Thanks for the kind words, I hope to be back in South America soon as well, this time to explore Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and Chile.

  7. Nuno June 2, 2012 5:50 am
    #

    HI

    Great site as I am glue to your words while planning my own trip. I just have a question about your budget, did you had the trip toSouth America in the $6000 or it was what you spend there?

    Thanks for all your info

  8. Vamamama February 4, 2013 7:21 am
    #

    Do you recommend a South Pass then or is it better to buy separate tickets? I will be travelling from Argentina through chile and bolivia to peru over 40 days;

  9. Herb June 2, 2013 7:11 am
    #

    Thanks for helpful guide. I've huge passion to travel South America and hopefully this guide will help me out nicely to travel finely.

  10. Liesbeth January 20, 2014 4:53 am
    #

    Hello, I have a quick question. I would like to travel in South America, kind of the route you did, from Buenos Aires to Quito (or the other way around). Do you think it's better to buy two separate tickets, one to Buenos Aires and one from Quito to home (or to Quito and leaving in Buenos Aires). Or just buy a 'retour' ticket to Buenos Aires and when arriving in Quito take a plain to Buenos Aires to go home from there?

    • Nellie January 25, 2014 8:55 pm
      #

      We bought a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires and then when we finished our trip, we flew from Cancun back to Spain (it was much cheaper to fly from a touristy place like Cancun then Guatemala City). Anyhow, I think it might be better to leave your return ticket opened in case you change your plans. How long will you be traveling for? This trip was definitely one of the best trips of our lives – we can\’t wait to go back to South America!

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