While most students are heading out to Europe or Australia, why not head somewhere off the beaten path and find some epic adventures? South America is a great destination to consider! Want to explore in a big city? Head to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil or Buenos Aires in Argentina. Craving adventure? Hike Machu Picchu in Peru, book a Patagonia tour or explore the Andes.

Need more convincing? Check out this list from a guest student blogger, Emily. She’s currently a junior in college and has been to South America 8+ times—and she loves it!

1. Amazing budget destinations

south america

If you’re a student like I am and just don’t have the money for eating out everyday, spending hundreds a month on public transport or going out with friends, then fear not. Once you’ve made your way to your country of choice in South America, you will no longer have to be pinching pennies. Depending on where you end up, and certainly outside of the big cities, activities and food are a fraction of what they may cost back home. Pack light and save money!  In my experience, I was able to eat both lunch and dinner out every day for a week and maybe spend $7 for a whole week of lunches! Not to mention that the food is always A+ cuisine.

2. Allll the street food

street food south america

Speaking of food: it’s. all. amazing. If nothing else here is convincing, I urge you with all my might that the street food alone would be a worthwhile reason to make the trip down south. You have to try the papas rellenas, milanesa, alfajores, and, my all-time favorite: empanadas. Every morning vendors claim their street corner to prepare and sell street foods, from sweet to savory. They’ll return to the same place day after day, so after just a few outings you’ll figure out which stands are your favorites. Once you’re coming back for more, the kind vendors will start to recognize you and may even strike up a conversation.

3. The warm, kind people and community

south america visit

That brings me to the next reason (and my personal favorite!). The warm and kind cultures spread across South America will make you feel right at home while you’re traveling! I never feel so immediately loved and accepted by strangers as when I visit my abuelos’ small town in Bolivia. It happens again and again in any nearby place I go to as well. The sense of community is so strong. Even though I could only communicate in broken Spanish, I made fast friends who taught me that connection goes beyond language. Warmth radiates from the smiles of people you pass on the street and in that environment you will rarely feel alone, even if you are traveling solo. Seeing the world, its people, and other cultures opens our eyes and brings us closer together.

4. Get lost in the Andes

machu picchu south america

Besides the people and the food, a huge draw to South America is the incredible terrain. The Andes mountains are spread across the western side of the continent through at least 6 countries. The famed Machu Picchu and its surrounding valley represent just a fragment of the incredible history and stunning views of the Andes! If you’re seeking adventure, there’s no doubt you’ll find it here while hiking and climbing under the hugest blue skies. Even though I’ve lived much of my life near Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, I was still blown away by the boundless and seemingly untouched landscapes in the Andes. 

5. Explore unique landscapes and cities

iguazu falls

More than mountains and forests, South America holds some amazing natural gems. The waterfalls of Iguazu lay on the border between Argentina and Brazil and make up the largest waterfall system in the world. I could literally stare at the stunning falls for hours on end! You may have to fight some tourists for the best photo spot, but the memories you’ll walk away with will be irreplaceable.

Another lesser known gem of the region is Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia. The largest salt flats in the world are an expansive white desert of salt. After a rain they turn into an amazing mirror that reflects the sky. The trip there will take a few days from any nearby city (La Paz or Potosi are two semi-close cities). But this just allows you to see more of the country’s incredible nature along the way! It’s honestly the experience of a lifetime.

6. Experience some local festivals!

carnival brazil

No South America must-do list would be complete without a shout-out to the biggest festival in the world: Carnaval! Celebrated every year in the spring all over South America (and the world), the tradition goes back centuries. All week in any city there will be parades and parties, dancing, music and more delicious food than you’ll be able to eat. Of course, the largest celebration of them all occurs in the famous city of Rio, on the coast of Brazil. Plan your trip in advance to see the spectacular, world-famous Samba parade. Expect endless nights of extravagant parties and dancing—the perfect way to round out your South American adventure!

Is South America on your bucket list? Start looking for your cheap tickets to South America now!