A Guide to South America
The continent of South America is incredibly vast, and for the more adventurous traveler South America is a great place to explore, as its wealth of landscapes and different cultures will give you plenty to see.
It runs through the equator and down towards the icy glaciers of Patagonia, and contains some of the most spectacular sights in the world.
- The lost citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru
- The infamous Rio carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Visit the Angel Falls – the world’s highest waterfall
- Eat one of the so-called ‘best steaks in the world’ in Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Take a trip down the Amazon river in a slow boat
- Follow the world of Darwin in the Galápagos Islands
- Visit Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia and experience the world’s largest salt flats, incredible geysers and the ‘largest mirror on Earth’.
In South America, traveling by bus is often the most convenient and affordable option for travelers. Most countries have pretty extensive bus networks, and for a few dollars extra you can often find yourself on pretty luxurious buses.
Because most bus rides will be incredibly long, make sure to consider what time you’ll be arriving at your destination. If the bus station you’ll be getting dropped off at has a shady reputation (as many of them will), it might be a good idea to pre-arrange a pickup with the hostel you’re going to be staying at. Many of them offer this service, and it’s often just a matter of calling in advance and booking.
The alternative to taking long bus rides is to fly. Most short internal flights (like bus rides) will be prone to delays, but in certain countries they’re worth it as the cost of flying can be incredibly cheap on occasion.
In some South American countries you might have the option of traveling by boat (down a river) or by train. These can be fun, and make for a nice change of pace, but they’re often more of an attraction rather than an actual means of getting somewhere.
What to Expect
Latin people are famously open and talkative by nature, so it’s a good idea to learn some Spanish or Portuguese before you leave to experience the people and their culture properly.
You won’t see as many beggars in South America as you would in Asia or most other third/second world countries, but this doesn’t mean to say there isn’t plenty of poverty.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for example, it is common to walk down a street full of restaurants frequented by the wealthy, only to turn a corner and witness a family living out on the street.
For westerners, the Mañana (‘sometime in the future’) attitude adopted by many of the locals can be frustrating at the best of times, as you’ll often find that buses will leave late, and that ‘9am’ often means ‘sometime before midday’.
The level of crime in South America is comparable to most other places, and all most travelers will ever experience are pickpockets and bag snatchers.
You may have seen the images of children holding machine guns in the Favelas of Brazil (or if you’ve seen the movie ‘City of God’) and been put off the thought of traveling to such dangerous looking cities. Such areas, thankfully, are easily avoided, and providing you don’t go looking for trouble it will rarely find you.
Citizens from the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries (among others) do not need a visa to enter Argentina, and are allowed to stay there for up to 90 days as a tourist. This time limit can be extended for $35 USD, or you can simply hop across the border and back and get a new stamped in your passport.
Argentina’s currency is the Argentine Peso (ARS). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 4.35 Argentine Pesos
- £1 = 6.89 Argentine Pesos
U.S. citizens require a visa to enter Brazil. To apply, click here. Citizens of most other countries (particularly European ones) don’t require a visa and can stay for up to 90 days.
For a full list, check out this website.
Brazil’s currency is the Brazilian Real (BRL). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 1.71 Brazilian Real
- £1 = 2.70 Brazilian Real
Recommended Daily Budget
$35 per day
U.S. citizens must apply for a 5 years tourist visa to enter Bolivia, which will cost you $135. This 5 year visa ‘allows the bearer to enter the country three times in a year for a cumulative stay of not more than 90 days’ (travel.state.gov)
British citizens do not require a visa to enter Bolivia, and are allowed to stay for 30 days as a tourist. This can be extended for a further 60 days at no extra charge, providing you apply before the end of the 30 day period at the Department of Immigration.
Bolivia’s currency is the Bolivian Boliviano (BOB). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 6.90 Bolivian Boliviano
- £1 = 10.92 Bolivian Boliviano
British citizens can enter Chile for up to 90 days without a visa. U.S. Citizens must pay $140 upon entry for a 90 day tourist visa. This visa can be extended for a further 90 days at the Chilean Immigration Office.
Chile’s currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 484 Chilean Peso
- £1 = 766 Chilean Peso
British citizens can enter Peru for up to 183 days without a visa. U.S. Citizens can enter for 90 days without a visa, although you’ll usually need to provide evidence of return or onward travel as you enter the country). Extensions are not available.
Peru’s currency is Peruvian Sol (PEN). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 2.68 Peruvian Sol
- £1 = 4.24 Peruvian Sol
Recommended Daily Budget
$15 – 25 a day
British and U.S. citizens can enter Ecuador for up to 90 days without a visa. Extensions can be applied for at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ecuador’s currency is currently the U.S. Dollar (USD). Here’s how it related to Pound Sterling (GBP).
- £1 = 1.58 U.S. Dollars
British and citizens can enter Colombia for up to 90 days without a visa. U.S. citizens may enter Colombia for up to 60 days without a visa.
Colombia’s currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 1,780 Colombian Peso
- £1 = 2,800 Colombian Peso
For British and U.S. citizens, if you are arriving in Venezuela by air you can enter for up to 90 days on a tourist card issued on arrival. If you are arriving overland or by sea, you’ll need to obtain a visa in advance from your nearest Venezuelan Embassy or Consulate. For the U.S. site, click here. For the British version, click here.
Venezuela’s currency is the Venezuelan Bolivar (VEF). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 4.30 Venezuelan Bolivar
- £1 = 6.80 Venezuelan Bolivar
British citizens can enter Paraguay for up to 90 days without a visa. For U.S. citizens, getting into Paraguay can be a little tricky. You must apply for a visa in person or by secure messenger at the Paraguayan Embassy in Washington, DC, or at the nearest Paraguayan consulate, and you must pay a fee or around $50.
It is common for visitors to be turned around at the transit airport due to a lack of a visa, so the U.S. Embassy recommends getting a visa for the country which you will be transiting en route to Paraguay beforehand.
Paraguay’s currency is the Paraguayan Guarani (PYG). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 4,380 Paraguayan Guarani
- £1 = 6,900 Paraguayan Guarani
British and U.S. citizens can enter Paraguay for up to 90 days without a visa.
Uruguay’s currency is the Uruguayan Peso (UYU). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP).
- $1 = 19.35 Uruguayan Pesos
- £1 = 30.61 Uruguayan Pesos
Recommended Daily Budget
$25 per day
- A Guide to South-East Asia & the Far East
- A Quick Guide to Travel Visas
- How to Get a Working Holiday Visa for Australia
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