South America is a large and up and coming continent. Not as prosperous and affluent as North America or Europe, this place is starting to make a name for itself. As more and more college students, anthropologists, and advocates groups venture further into South America the industrialized world is beginning to see this place, really, for the first time. Much like China’s self isolation from the world, many countries in South America have not had to resources to make a name for themselves. Until now that is. With modern technology and the costs of various goods decreasing comparatively, it is becoming a lot easier to fly into some of the larger cities down here. There is so much to see and explore and never before have we had the ability to do so. While it would be much easier to fly to a resort along the coast and stay secluded and be catered to for a vacation there is no exploration involved in that. No rush of excitement as you try new cultural things and eat different foods. The whole point of backpacking is to see things first hand and experience local’s life from your own two eyes. The best way to really see South America is to grab a backpack, a map, and head out.
Places to go in South America
Though it may seem like a lot of fun to explore everywhere at first, it is important to remember that not all places are as safe as others. Some countries have different rules and policies and some not at all. Most people are very friendly and as with any place you have to keep in mind when to go where and how to be safe. It is really all common sense and street smarts, but can make a world of difference when traveling to a different place. The continent of South America is very large and you can’t just walk from tip to tip. Getting around can be tricky, but as long as you know where you want to go you will be able to find a way to get there. The top places you will want to see before leaving include Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, The Amazon Basin, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Patagonia, and Machu Picchu. If you get around to all these amazing places then you will feel like you have died and gone to heaven. Or maybe just been around the world a few times. The culture you will pick up down here is a slow paced, relaxed one. If you prefer the hectic speed of cities like NYC, London, and Paris then this might not be for you. However if you love the unknown, waking up each morning without a set plan, and going with the flow, then grab your sneaks and head down to South America. Below is a list of the fun things to do at each of these places to help with planning your backpacking trip.
What to see in South America
Once you fly into Buenos Aires you will understand what all the fuss is about. A fusion of bright colors hit you immediately after getting into the city. Palm tree lined streets make this charming place all the more exotic. Take a late lunch and grab some fruity drinks. Then spend the rest of the day exploring. You will be surprised to learn that there is a lot more to do here then in some of the larger cities. Not so much with the galleries and operas, this place has a whole host of great activities. In Recoleta go to Cementerio de la Recoleta. The oldest cemetery in Buenos Aires has long, winding paths through the tombstones. Lush greenery everywhere invites tourists to come and take a look. Eva Peron and Facundo Quiroga are buried here. Then in Palermo go to the Parque Tres de Febrero. Known locally as Los Bosques de Palermo, this 200-acre park has many paths, lakes, and places to sit and relax. Rio de Janeiro is awesome. If you decide to come to South America you better make this one of the stops on your list. Long stretches of sandy beaches with calming blue waters. a picturesque backdrop of mountains in the background, makes this paradise. And if you are here in time for carnival (which rivals Mardi Gras) then you are in for a sweet treat. This day is full of music, drinking, and celebration. Colors flying everywhere and people in crazy get-ups; can’t get much better than that. The Amazon Basin is a little switch of gears. If you plan to go here consider a tour guide. They know the best places to go and where to stay away from. Plus they are knowledgeable of the area. Stay in one of the lodges that follows the river when visiting. It basically goes hand in hand with the overall experience. Boat tours are the best for sight seeing and spending time here. Salar de Uyuni is one of the coolest sights in South America. Hands down the best place in Bolivia to go (probably the only place you really need to see) and you will be amazed by it all. The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s highest salt flat. It is almost 12,000 ft above sea level. And the whole thing is perfectly flat and few animals live here; foxes and flamingos among the few. The best way to see this is to take a drive across it. This is definitely not something you have ever experienced before. The best things to do while in Patagonia are to visit the marine wildlife such as seal lions and whales. Also do some sort of water sport such as diving. It is a totally different perspective to be swimming and seeing the marine life first hand. Then finally you will end up in Machu Picchu at some point on your backpacking trip. Machu Picchu is a necessary stop when in South America. First of all it was the home of the Incan people and the Incan trail. Also it is a World Heritage Site because of this. The scene is breathtaking, literally. A top a high mountain, overlooking lush green hills and mountains, you begin to wonder; is this for real? Go back to fifteenth century Incan civilization here and see some pretty cool stuff. The trail itself is a four day hike. With a tour guide and group you will set out on an incredible adventure, not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.
How to get there
There is always the good old hitch-hiking route. Although that is not really the safest or advisable way to get around. The first thing you will do is fly into one of the main cities in South America. From there you will have a better idea of how to get around. Plus cities have a lot more resources for how to get in and around places. If you choose to hook up with a tour group ahead of time this will be the easiest way to go about it. For a lot of college students this is the best way to see South America. Although for others this takes the fun out of backpacking and exploring. Sometimes you can join a bus tour group just from one stop to another. This saves the frustration of renting a car or trying to figure out bus schedules. Another cool way to get around South America is to come over with a group like AmeriCorp or another relief group. They spend part of their time working and the other touring. So you will be doing good for the community and still get to explore and have a good time. Argentina also offers a train service with schedules and routes all over. Since Argentina is the largest country it helps to get around to other destinations.
South America travel tips
- Bring a Spanish phrase book and dictionary.
- Have a travel size bug repellent on hand during your trip.
- Many cities require quarters for use of public restrooms.