We all have a different dream of South America. And South America can satisfy us all. Some of us need to feel small in its immense nature during multi-day hiking adventures. Others want to feel life pulsating in its cities, its street art, its sensual dances and wild carnivals. Some will want to get lost in the discovery of strange marks on ancient stones. A few are looking forward to a cocktail at the beach, facing the warm sun and the turquoise of the Caribbean. Whatever your dream, this is your guide. We’re answering here all the questions you may have, to help you plan your perfect budget backpacking in South America, or generally budget travelling.

Chances are that this post contains affiliate links. We’re not selling anything ourselves – we just help out products we find great. If you click one of them and decide to purchase, it’ll be at no extra cost to you; and we’ll get a trifle that’ll help us bring you more awesome travel guides.

Note: our South America travel advice doesn’t include the 3 Guianas (Guyana, Suriname & French Guiana) which are a complete mystery to us.


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Is South America safe?  |  Backpacking tips  |  Backpacking South America budget
South American itineraries  |  Packing list  |  Countries overview


A few travel tips about budget backpacking in South America

South America is a whole world

The very 1st thing we want you to know is how absurd this South America travel guide is. South America is a whole world, a continent of more than 428,819,652 people living in 13 countries; meaning there are as many differences from one country to another as between, say, The Blair Witch Project and The Little Mermaid.

And because they’re all equally fascinating, you’ll want to travel more than 2 weeks in South America.

Don’t expect to find the same situation everywhere in South America. We want you to keep this in mind while you’re going through this post. If we had to make generalisations (under the torture) here’s what we could say:

  • the most expensive and developed countries are in the southern half. That’s Chile, Uruguay, Argentina (although currently under ongoing economical crisis) and Brazil. There you’ll find decent roads and infrastructure the most, and a lifestyle that is the most similar to the so-called “Western world”.
  • Brazil, though, is much livelier, more colourful, probably more ‘exotic’. Its population is also more mixed between Indigenous, Whites and Blacks. It’s similar to Colombia and Venezuela – but wealthier and more expensive.
  • the Andean countries (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and to a lesser extent Colombia) have a more Indigenous and traditional society, living a lot on self-sufficient farming and informal market. Expect to pay for everything there more than anywhere else. The level of life is lower, except in Ecuador, which is surprisingly more developed.
View of Baños from the hills, the town is nestled among mountains
View on Baños, Ecuador: South America outdoors paradise

Few people speak English

That’s right. It might be a tad easier in the most developed countries (remember? Chile, Uruguay and Argentina) and downright difficult in the rest of the continent. Of course, your hostel staff will be able to help you; but that might not even be the case in Bolivia or Paraguay, or in the less touristy areas.

The best thing is really to pick up some Spanish (and Portuguese, if you travel to Brazil) before travelling to South America; or even along the way, like many long-tern travellers manage to do. Even the basics will procure peace of mind; you’ll be sure that you get understood, understand where you’re going, and aren’t abused with prices.

There aren’t many vegetarian or vegan options

South America is definitely a meat-eating continent. For most people there, a meal without meat isn’t a meal. If you feel nauseous at the mere sight of meat, you want to avoid adventuring to markets or going anywhere near street food carts.

Don’t worry though, you’ll find veggie and vegan restaurants in all the big cities throughout the continent. In many places, Asian all-you-can-eats do the trick perfectly, especially in Argentina; and for a cheap price.

The least veggie-friendly countries are Bolivia, Venezuela and Paraguay.

The countries that are the most veggie-friendly are Argentina and Uruguay (which have a similar cuisine by the way). Peru’s Sacred Valley, in particular Cusco, are also surprisingly vegan-friendly due to the crowds of hippies passing through; don’t miss the falafel in “San Blas” market!

Of course, nothing stops you from cooking yourself. The fresh fruits and vegetables grown in most of those countries are so appetising!

The Andean cuisine is heavy on the meat, to say the least. Yet, it’s easy to eat vegetarian at markets’ comedores: you just need to ask. Let me tell you though, it won’t be light; the meat is usually replaced with fried egg or plantains.

Markets are the Mecca

If you’ve been around Green Mochila long enough, you know that we are real market fanatics. It’s cheap, it’s colourful, it’s authentic, the produce are usually local and the meals follow regional recipes. Bring your own bag and it’s also plastic-free. What’s there not to like about it?

We cook a lot on our travels, and we usually get our veggies from the market. We look around and ask for prices to compare. When we’re set on a seller, we get as much as possible from them, so they give us a good price; maybe they even give us something extra, what they call the “yapa” in several countries.

We also eat lunch at markets, there’s always a “comedor“, some place where the ladies cook. There are also freshly squeezed fruit juices and snacks all day.

Markets are also a great place to have a little chat – provided you know a bit of Spanish/Portuguese. How many things did we learn just sitting down on a market bench!

fruits and veggies market in Urubamba, Peru
The colourful market of Urubamba, Peru

Is backpacking in South America safe?

People often ask us if it’s safe to travel in South America; or they do like our mums and just take for granted that we’ll be kidnapped and they’ll soon receive our ears for ransom.

There have been, and there are still, stories of violence across Latin America. But in most parts, you’re just as safe as in your hometown. It’s also just as safe backpacking South America solo as in a couple or a group. Like everywhere really, you should be aware of where you go, of the situation around you at all times.

Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded places. Don’t walk around with your valuables showing. What we always do when we arrive in a new town, is ask at our accommodation if there are neighbourhoods we should avoid. Even the way they answer gives us an idea of the local safety.

There are a few places on the continent where you should pay extra attention. Not places you should avoid, just where bad stuff is a bit more likely to happen. There again, ask locals and they’ll give you tips.

Places in South America where you should be extra careful:

  • All Colombia, even in smaller towns
  • Large Brazilian cities: Rio de Janeiro and Salvador in particular
  • Some capitals: Lima in Peru, Quito in Ecuador
  • Venezuela is a no-go right now, with its current situation and everyday violence

It’s more likely that that you end up paying double price for things, especially if you don’t speak the language. In Bolivia and Peru in particular, sellers think gringos are rich and don’t mind spending extra. We advise that you spend your 1st day in each country checking how much things cost, to get an idea.

Before budget backpacking in South America: travel tips and facts

Anna hitching a ride in Vilcabamba, Ecuador
Hitchhiking as a means of transportation for budget travellers.

Transportation

Distances are big on the continent, and you will often have to endure 8 to 10-hour bus rides to reach your next destination.

It’s actually ideal; we always chose a night bus to save one night in an accommodation, arrived early morning in a new place, freshly rested and full of wanderlust. Well, theoretically. That depends much on the state of the road and the eagerness of the driver.

Unless you’re travelling to remote locations like the Galápagos, Easter Islands or Iquitos, nothing justifies taking a plane. If your next destination lies more than 15 hours away, there’s something wrong with your route. Think it over. Maybe you need to add a stop in-between? Maybe you’ll discover an unknown place you’ll fall in love with?

Read our guide to bus transportation in South America

Independent travel vs South America tours

Some agencies offer South America backpacking tours, that include a visit to some of the most famous locations on the continent. For a flat rate, they rush you from one site to the next, crossing towns and borders like nothing happened. We heard of tours that range from 1 to 4 weeks.

As you may guess, we wouldn’t recommend that much. Of course it’s comfortable. But you’ll just see sights without understanding what they mean in a local context. An independent travel allows you more time and attention to places, people, meanings.

Tour companies want you to think that some places are impossible to visit without them. Most of the time, that’s not true. There’s almost always a bus to get there, people on-site to help you out, a single ticket to buy. And all this much cheaper on the spot.

Our best tip: Even if you’re not an independent traveller at heart, don’t get ripped off online. By booking in your home country, you get prices that can be 3 times the average price on-site. Trust the local companies.

Couchsurfing

It is in general fairly easy to use Couchsurfing anywhere on the South American continent. From our experience, the only exception is Bolivia, where the community is very small.

As a rule of thumb, send your requests about 7-10 days before your arrival – a bit more for touristy places. People from South and Central America are spontaneous folks, so a request that’s earlier than that will probably get a ‘no’, as they don’t want to compromise so long in advance.

Latin Americans are very friendly and always ready to help you. They will treat you as a close friend right from the start, often in a very expressive manner (except in the Andes, where people are colder). They will also welcome you in a space that we would consider too small; or in a situation where we would generally abstain. With this, we mean that you should be ready to sleep eg. on a simple mattress in the living room.

Anna sleeping in a Colombian hammock
Shhh! Anna is sleeping at our host’s place in Medellín, Colombia.

Cost of backpacking in South America

The best way to help you budget your backpacking in South America is to give you a breakdown of our own costs, in 2019.

Bear in mind that we’re hardcore budget travellers. We use Couchsurfing most of the time, otherwise we look for the cheapest accommodation; travel by bus and hitchhike from time to time; speak both Spanish and Portuguese and can barter the prices; walk around cities and look for free events. Having said that, we don’t skip any major attraction.

Backpacking South America budget (per person per month):

  • Brazil: 630 € / 700 USD
  • Argentina: 215 € / 240 USD
  • Bolivia: 400 € / 450 USD
  • Chile: 315 € / 350 USD
  • Colombia: 240 € / 270 USD
  • Peru: 220 € / 250 USD
  • Uruguay: 270 € / 300 USD

Our best tips on how to travel in South America on a budget:

  1. buy ingredients from the markets, cook food and bring it in your lunch box to eat during the day
  2. try to haggle and negotiate, from food to bus tickets to hostel nights; for this, you’ll need to speak some of the language
  3. instead of restaurants, eat local food at market canteens and street food
  4. use Couchsurfing, or camp with your tent
  5. exchange your hostel nights against a volunteer job or a workshop in your speciality
  6. hitchhike whenever possible, including to tourist attractions that are only reachable by car; there will be other tourists going there and willing to help you out
  7. many museum have free entrance once a week; check their website beforehand
  8. look for free events on the internet; there are more than you think!
  9. walk instead of taking the public transportation; it’s also the best way to discover a city

And even some tips on how to make money on your South American trip, if you’re not a digital nomad:

  • if you know how to dance, juggle or make music, do that on the street; there’s a heavy Argentinian competition though
  • sell homemade food on the squares (cake, fruit salad, vegetarian sandwich)
  • learn how to make bracelets and sell them; you can even exchange them for food at the market (true story, our Spanish friend Isa did that regularly while backpacking through South America)
Man selling jewelry at Otavalo market Ecuador
Our friend Alex selling his creations on the Otavalo market

Got more tips for fellow backpackers in South America on how to save or make money? Share them in the comments!


South America backpacking routes

How long do I need to backpack South America?

South America is big – have we said that before? We mean that there’s no need to rush and have one large South America itinerary, to see all the main spots in a short period of time. With the cheap flight deals we find nowadays, you’ll have occasions to come back several times. Honestly, a ‘South America itinerary 2 weeks‘ is an aberration.

For a 1-2 month South America backpacking trip, consider sticking to one country or region. Eg. Patagonia in Argentina/Chile; the Southeast of Brazil; the Andean countries Bolivia and Peru. Staying in a region will offer continuity in the local culture, allowing you a better understanding thereof. You’ll also remain in the same climate, which can make the packing dilemma considerably easier. And that’s not a detail.

For these reasons, and to reduce your impact on the environment, consider a slow way of travel, one that doesn’t involve flights. Think that you’re on a faraway continent, a new world to you. Who can tell what’s unrolling under the wings of your plane? Who says it’s not worthy of your attention?

We think that 3 months in South America is already a good time. We’ve brainstormed and came up with a few options for backpacking routes in South America, depending on the time you have and on your interests. We’ve chosen them on geographical and cultural criteria.

sunset on the mountains in argentina lake district
Sunset on the Andes in Argentina’s Patagonia

3-4 month South America backpacking itinerary

  • Argentina & Chile:

This route will bring to you all the wonders of the most diverse countries on the continent. Stretching from frozen glaciers down sky-high mountains to sandy deserts with geysers and quirky rock formations. From the flat pampas to moody islands and further to perfect surf spots. Also to buzzing metropolises, cosy towns and fascinating villages.

Start your backpacking trip either in Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile. After spending a few days there, make a loop according to the season; the south reaches freezing temperatures in winter, and the north can be unbearably hot in summer. So calculate well the best time to travel to South America. See the Countries Overview underneath for the places to see on the way.

  • Andean countries: Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

This backpacking route will bring you through the most traditional region in South America. Colonial towns and Indigenous villages, but also unique landscapes and a myriad ancient ruins and sacred places. It’s a perfect trip if you’re into history or want to spend time in remote nature; jungle forest, tall waterfalls or wind-swept beaches.

It’s a land of high plateaus, so it’ll be cold all year round, especially in Winter (June to early September); the rainy season can be heavy and block roads in January-March. Mind the altitude: it’s important that you take the 1st couple of days to acclimatise.

You can either start your travels in Quito, Ecuador and go down, or in La Paz, Bolivia and move north. Note that Bolivia is the least developed country among them and Ecuador the most developed, with all comfort and services. See the Countries Overview underneath for the places to see on the way.

Empty beach and blue sky in Florianopolis, Brazil
An island of beaches: Florianopolis, Brazil
  • the Brazilian coast

With 7,491 km (4,654 miles) of coastline, you’d have a lot to see on a trip down (or up) Brazil. You’d be riding through large modern cities, smaller towns and fishermen’s villages; the jungle in the north and the flat grasslands of the south. Always keeping an eye on the immensity of the Atlantic ocean.

Start in Belém in the north or in Porto Alegre in the South; or the other way round, from the region with the most European roots to the one with major Black ancestry.

  • Caribbean countries: Venezuela, Colombia and their islands

To feel the warm sun on your skin and meet people who talk easily on the street, head over to the Caribbean. That’s among the most joyful, loud and colourful parts of the continent. This route goes through Colombia, Venezuela and their islands; with extra time and money, maybe you can visit some of the island nations above: Aruba, Curacao, Trinidad & Tobago.

Because the southeastern part belongs to the Amazon rainforest, the best is probably to start in Bogotá or Medellín, Colombia. From there, you should 1st go south to see Cali, Popayán, the Coffee Axis and the Tatacoa desert. Then make your way to the coast and follow along at your own rhythm. 

On your way, colonial towns, peaceful beaches, fishermen’s villages, stunning national parks and the tallest waterfall in the world.

Warning: as of December 2019, travelling to Venezuela is strongly inadvisable.

6-month backpacking South America routes

View from comuna 13, medellin, colombia
The red-brick charm of Medellín, Colombia
  • Andean countries extended: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia

To what’s been said in the 3-4 South America travel route already, we’re adding Colombia. The south of the country is high up in the Andes, and is culturally attached to the “Andean countries”.

You’ll need to pack heavy for this route, as it’ll bring you through cold high plateaus –that should be avoided during the rainy season in January-March– and under the hot temperatures of the Caribbean.

Mind the altitude in the Andes: it’s important that you take the 1st couple of days to acclimatise. For this reason, it might be better to start your trip in Colombia and head southward to the highest altitudes. See the Countries Overview underneath for the places to see on the way.

  • Brazil, editor’s cut

Besides its immense coastline that we’ve discussed in the 3-4 month itineraries, Brazil has a world to offer. Indigenous communities deep inside the rain forest, living side by side with an amazing wildlife. Colonial towns built around the mining industry. Modern cities that are gems for foodies and street art lovers.

We don’t think you can visit Brazil entirely, even in 6 months. The distances are so big, the forest is so thick; the people are so friendly that you will want to stay longer everywhere.

  • the Southern half: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay

Probably my favourite South America travel itinerary. Let’s add to the 3-4 month Chile/Argentina itinerary two more countries, shall we? Please meet Uruguay and Paraguay. If the former is a very modern and progressive small country, the latter is rather rural and stuffed with forest.

Uruguay is therefore a comfortable, albeit slightly expensive travel destination. Paraguay on the other hand is rather poor; but it offers some precious natural areas, colonial towns and the famous Jesuit ruins lost in the forest. See the Countries Overview underneath for the exact places to see in both.

You could start this backpacking trip through that half of South America in Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile again. You’ll just do a wider loop, there again minding the seasons and the climates.

For more inspiration, check the map of our own 10-month South America backpacking route

magellan penguins near pinihuil, on chiloe islands, chile
A part of the Chilean wildlife: Magellan penguins on Chiloe

Where to start budget backpacking South America?

This probably depends mainly on where you’ll find a cheap flight to. If you follow our advice and concentrate on one region, you can easily make a loop and leave from where you started.

Long-time travellers should get any best-amazing-discounted-promo flight to Anywhereville, then work up their route from there; if you don’t know where you’ll be at the end of your trip, you can always buy a return ticket one month in advance.

We started our trip in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil, simply because it was the cheapest we found. Actually, the 5 or so cheapest destinations from Europe were in Brazil – go figure. From there, we built our backpacking itinerary in South America with a few weeks in advance. We kept hearing about new places along the way, so our route kept changing. It’s important to be flexible.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself:

  • which countries do I definitely want to visit?

If you want nothing else but Argentina and Colombia, that’s going to be tricky, geographically. But if you’re open-minded, we promise that you can be fascinated by every place.

  • are there festivals/celebrations I want to see?

Celebrations in South America are often beautiful, so full of life, music and colours. Plan well in advance if you’re interested in any of them. If you aren’t, then stay away. Towns are full and it becomes really hard to find accommodation; things also get suddenly expensive.

  • which weather am I ready to cope with?

Remember that all the South of the continent gets freezing cold in winter (June-August); the North can be intolerably hot at the same time, when it’s summer there; and the rainy season in the Andes can be downright miserable, between January and March.

How do you travel between countries in South America?

As we said before, if you restrict yourself to one region, or if you have unlimited time, there’s no need to take a plane. Taking the bus to go from one place to another will become a routine; one that is usually cheap and doesn’t need booking much in advance.

Crossing a border by bus is not more complicated than that, but it takes time. Add 30 min to 2 hours of red tape to the normal journey. Better even: ask the person you get your bus ticket from, they will know.

Anna sitting on a rock in front of red lake
It can be very cold on the Andean plateaus.

What to pack for a backpacking trip in South America

What you need to pack boils down again to what regions you’ll be visiting. We hope this guide has already given you a precise idea of the climate you can expect there. We’re giving you a list of what is either indispensable or goddamn handy to have on your travels in South America.

Now don’t be scared by the quantity, we’re just trying to be comprehensive!

Our tried and tested backpacking South America packing list:

  • Clothes:

    • hiking clothes (technical t-shirt, trousers, boots, fleece)
    • thick jacket for Patagonia or the Andes
    • rain jacket
    • flip flops/sandals, for the beach or indoors
    • swimming suit
    • a hat or something to protect your head; sunglasses
    • big scarf that can be used also to sit down on

Don’t bring a lot of stuff if you go to Bolivia, Ecuador or Peru because there are beautiful clothes there to buy for cheap. So leave space in your bag.

  • Things:

    • your usual responsible traveller kit (foldaway bag, reuse cup, water bottle, water filter, lunch box, cutlery)
    • sunscreen
    • camera
    • useful phrases and words in Spanish and Portuguese
    • a tent if you want to camp
    • a sleeping bag even if you don’t camp but want to Couchsurf
  • Apps:

    • maps.me: very detailed maps that can be downloaded, perfect for nature hikes
    • wikiloc: precise hiking trails with descriptions, maps and tips, works offline with a small fee
    • VidaLingua: a great language app to get you starting on the lingo
  • Entertainment, especially good for long-term travels:

    • 1 book: you can swap it indefinitely in every hostel or cafe that offers book-swapping
    • a pen drive to either load photos or swap films
    • playing cards, it’s always a great way to make friends (and extra money?)

A brief overview of South American countries

If your idea of South America comes from 100 Years of Solitude and Jurassic Park, you’re in for a surprise! As a vast continent subject to many influences and to different levels of development, there’s not one but several realities.

Here’s a brief description of each country; a note on what kind of travellers they can attract; and some of the best places to visit in South America.

fishermen boats with the sea in the background
Fishermen’s boats at Tolú, Colombia

Colombia:

  • What to expect:

A colourful country where the north is hot Caribbean beaches, the east is dense rain forest and the south is the cold climate of the high plateaus. Distances are big and roads are in badly need of repair. People are very welcoming but deserted streets and paths can be dangerous.

  • Perfect for:

1 or 2 months.

Hiking and horse riding in the jungle or in low mountains; hot days at the beach; church-hopping in pretty colonial towns and interesting museums; scuba diving; greasy street food.

  • On the beaten path:

    1. Tayrona National Park
    2. Medellín, the friendly city
    3. Guatapé, a very colourful village
  • Off the beaten path:

    1. the Lost City trek through the jungle
    2. Tatacoa desert, hot rock formations
    3. Caño Cristales, the “Rainbow River”
  • Don’t forget:

Don’t give papaya“, meaning don’t flash your belongings at will. Colombia can be risky, so keep your wits about you at all times.


Read our complete guide to backpacking Colombia


Green hilly landscape at Tigua Ecuador
Green hilly landscape at Tigua Ecuador

Ecuador:

  • What to expect:

A developed country with good roads and infrastructure. A landscape divided in 3 stripes: warm coast, cold Andes, humid rain forest. The Indigenous traditions are mixed with a modern-ish lifestyle. Mind the high altitudes and medium temperatures all year round.

  • Perfect for:

3 to 4 weeks.

Hiking in very different landscapes; unique flora and fauna; nights out in party places; comfortable stays close to nature and traditions; outdoor activities.

  • On the beaten path:

    1. Quilotoa Loop around a volcano lake
    2. Galapagos Islands and those crazy blue footed boobies
    3. Baños, an adrenaline-filled mountain town
  • Off the beaten path:

    1. Cuenca, lively colonial town
    2. Vilcabamba, the hippies’ haven
    3. Cajas National Park
  • Don’t forget:

Your US dollars. That’s Ecuador’s official currency since 2000. But beware: all US coins can be used in Ecuador, but the money coined in Ecuador is of no worth in the USA.


Read our complete guide to backpacking Ecuador


Gocta waterfall in Peru
Gocta waterfall in the north of Peru

Peru:

  • What to expect:

A stark contrast between mass-tourism spots and the underdeveloped rest of the country. Therefore bad off-the-beaten-path infrastructure but not lacking. Strong Indigenous traditions and an active market life. Mind the long travel distances, and the high altitudes with cold temperatures in the Andes and humidity in the Amazon.

  • Perfect for:

1 month or more.

Old ruins and pre-Hispanic civilisations; hiking to very remote nature places; impressive natural landmarks; greasy street food.

To always double-check prices. Tourism is big in Peru and sellers, bus drivers and tour operators often want to take advantage of tourists.


Read our complete guide to backpacking Peru


Sucre bolivia view from church roof
Sucre, the white colonial town of Bolivia

Bolivia:

  • What to expect:

A very poor and cheap country where infrastructure is lacking. There’s a very tangible traditional Indigenous lifestyle and an active market life. The roads are really bad and can make many places secluded or cut-off in the rainy season. Keep in mind the high altitudes with very cold temperatures.

  • Perfect for:

2 to 4 weeks.

Adventure backpack trip in authentic destinations; budget travel; unique landscapes; street food.

  • On the beaten path:

    1. Uyuni Salt Flats
    2. La Paz
    3. Titicaca Lake and its sacred islands
  • Off the beaten path:

    1. Sucre, white colonial town
    2. the wilderness of Noel Kempff National Park
    3. Sajama National Park
  • Don’t forget:

Your toilet paper. Services are lacking in the country, and paper in public loos is part of it. Also, always have some coins with you, as sellers won’t have the change.


Read our complete guide to backpacking Bolivia


A lonesome path in moon valley, chile
Finding our way in the Valle de la Luna, Atacama, Chile

Chile:

  • What to expect:

A very developed and expensive country where prices are similar to Europe and North America. Most towns are multicultural, with many expats and high-end locales. A constant informal street market, everywhere. An overly stretched country with very long distances.

  • Perfect for:

1 or 2 months.

Unique landscapes; comfortable towns with all services; nightlife and culture with interesting museums; road trips and slow travel and outdoor activitiesstreet food.

  • On the beaten path:

    1. Atacama Desert
    2. Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia
    3. Valparaíso, colourful university town
  • Off the beaten path:

    1. Chiloé, a rainy archipelago
    2. cosy Puerto Varas and Volcano Osorno
    3. Humberstone, an abandoned mining village

Read our complete guide to backpacking Chile


Road in the Lake District Argentina
Hitchhikers’ paradise: the Lake District of Argentina

Argentina:

  • What to expect:

A very European population with high living standards and a vibrant city life. It’s a developed country with very good infrastructure. The people are very friendly and incredibly helpful. Mind the ongoing economical crises that make cheap and changeable prices. A large country with very different climates and long travel distances. It gets very cold when you travel south. If we had to choose the best country in South America, that would be Argentina.

  • Perfect for:

1 month or more.

Comfortable holidays or “staycations”; nightlife and culture with interesting museums; outdoor activities; budget travel and hitchhiking; road trips; very diverse and equally stunning landscapes; foodies and vegetarian travellers.

Argentinian Spanish is rather special; even if you’ve learnt Spanish, you might feel somewhat stranded at first.


Read our complete guide to backpacking Argentina


The skyline of Paraguay's capital, Asunción, on the river
The capital Asunción on River Paraguay (photo: Pixabay)

Paraguay:

  • What to expect:

A poor and very rural country where the Gaucho traditions are still very strong. Expect cowboys working in ranches and drinking cold mate (“tereré“) all day, that sort of things. Asunción is among the oldest capitals on the continent and still retains, at least in part, some colonial charm.

  • Perfect for:

2 or 3 weeks.

Off the beaten path travels; rural stays; remote nature and wildlife encounters; budget travel; slow travel; cheap shopping.

  • On the beaten path:

    1. Jesuit ruins
    2. Ybycuí National Park
    3. Asunción, the capital
  • Off the beaten path:

    1. Gran Chaco, dense forest and plains
    2. Encarnación, a pretty town
    3. Outdoor fun at Eco Reserva Mbatoví

Our complete guide to backpacking Paraguay is coming soon!


Rio Plata waterfront promenade in Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo waterfront with the Rio de la Plata

Uruguay:

  • What to expect:

A very European population with high living standards and vibrant city life in Montevideo, the capital. A developed country with very good infrastructure. The people are very friendly and helpful. You’ll enjoy the progressive politics and mentalities.

  • Perfect for:

2 or 3 weeks.

Comfortable holidays or “staycations”; slow travel; rural stays; urban culture; vegetarian travellers; LGBT travellers.

  • On the beaten path:

    1. Montevideo, the capital
    2. Punta del Diablo and Santa Teresa National Park
    3. Colonia del Sacramento, small colonial town
  • Off the beaten path:

    1. Cabo Polonio, secluded hippy spot
    2. Tacuarembó, the gaucho land
    3. San Gregorio de Polanco
  • Don’t forget:

Uruguayan traditions are very similar to those of Argentina; but you don’t want to mess around telling them that tango was born in Buenos Aires!


Our complete guide to backpacking Uruguay is coming soon!


Closeup of a boat on the beach in Florianopolis Brazil
One of many fishing villages on the coast of Brazil

Brazil:

  • What to expect:

A huuuge, diverse and colourful country with the rain forest, innumerable beaches but no real mountain range. Always lots of life on the street and friendly, welcoming people. The population is very mixed, but with a latent racism and sexism. It’s a rich, economically developed country, with good infrastructure and prices are medium. Mind the very long travel distances.

  • Perfect for:

2 months, or focus your trip on one region.

Very remote nature experiences; road trips; church-hopping in colonial towns; hot days at the beach; nightlife and culture with interesting museums; comfortable towns with all services; outdoor activities.

The language of Brazil is Portuguese, not Spanish; it’s a Portuguese that’s very different from the one spoken in Portugal.


Read our complete guide to backpacking Brazil


Colourful neighbourhood of Caracas, Venezuela
Colourful neighbourhood of Caracas, Venezuela (photo: Pixabay)

Venezuela:

  • What to expect:

A poor country with a few major towns and many natural treasures, among the tallest waterfall in the world. Among the best hikes in South America. A lively culture with lots of street food and talkative people. Caribbean beaches and islands. A large but risky rain forest area that’s home to the guerrillas.

  • Perfect for:

Off the beaten track travels; budget travels; hiking and horse riding in wonderful nature; hot days at the beach; boat touring, water sports and outdoor activities; street food.

  • On the beaten path:

    1. Salto del Angel waterfalls
    2. Los Roques Archipelago
    3. Medanos de Coro desert
  • Off the beaten path:

    1. Mochima National Park
    2. Mount Roraima
    3. Caracas, the capital metropolis
  • Don’t forget:

It’s really not safe to travel to Venezuela right now; you should avoid it when you backpack in South America.


Our complete guide to backpacking Venezuela is coming… as soon as the situation settles down!


Bags full of legumes
We love shopping at markets!

Eco backpacking travels in South America

Please remember that such a beautiful trip is a one-time opportunity to be a responsible traveller – and make your contribution to responsible tourism on the continent.

It’s important to be respectful of the people you meet, even if their culture is different from yours; even when they stare at you because you look different. Many people will be happy to have their photo taken, but please ask them first.

Bartering prices can be fun, but don’t haggle forcefully. Each object has its fair price; and that takes into account both what you can afford and what the seller needs to make a living.

When you travel South America, take the time to understand the reality of a place. It doesn’t mean you should live 6 months in a region; a few hours may be enough. Just don’t rush it. Ask questions. Listen. You’re here to learn and grow.

Please, pretty please, avoid attractions that are ethically wrong. Because an attraction is advertised, even if it’s a popular thrill, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

The plague that is plastic

Now, we really want to focus on this. It’s not much more difficult to avoid plastic on your travels than it is at home. What you need is preparation and consistency. You just need to be ready with your own foldaway bags, your own reusable cup for takeaway drinks, your own cutlery for the food.

We recommend this full lightweight (and beautiful) responsible travellers’ kit from (RE)collective, an eco conscious startup from Austria. It includes all the items that we have on our eco travels: cutlery set, a bottle (that is a thermos actually!), cup, shopping bag. Use GREEN as a coupon code at the checkout for an exclusive 5% discount for Green Mochila readers!

And If you don’t have a travel bottle yet, you should really get one. One that isn’t in plastic because, once again, plastic is not good for you.

Please check again our eco travels tips for responsible tourism

Are you planning a budget backpacking trip through South America? Do you have any questions we’re not answering here? Feel free to tell us in the comments!


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Who am I?

Anthony fell in love with the world, and more particularly with South America. He wants to offer inspirational guides to the curious backpacker, travel stories to the online generation, and incentives for a more responsible and greener way-of-travel for everyone.

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20 Comments

  1. What a wonderful and informative post. I would love to visit South America, but I probably won’t have months of time to travel around. You gave me a brief idea of what to expect where and now I will have even more problems deciding where should I go first. Haha. Thanks for sharing all that.

  2. So far I just have been to Colombia in South America but ready to explre more. Even I am not exactly backpacker while traveling with backpack mostly, I find your information useful and inspiring. If talking about Colombia, the roads I traveled were in good condition except of being quite narrow in mountains. Also I felt safe in all places I visited. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I would love to visit more of South America. I’ve only been to Ecuador briefly and hope to see not only more of that beautiful country, but also others as well. Even though I probably won’t be backpacking, you are giving me some great tips with this post. And I couldn’t agree more with the advice to learn some Spanish. While some people did speak English in both Quito and Galapagos islands, majority I encountered didn’t. My Spanish, even though basic, did come in handy.

  4. Great guide! I went to Colombia for three months this year and had the best time. I am traveling to Argentina in a couple weeks time and your post made me super excited for my upcoming trip.

  5. This is not only detailed, but also a super-organized post! As I continue to learn more about South America, I am struck by how much you must have grown during your time there. Thank you for sharing so much information, and for your great writing.

  6. Wow what a post. This is epic, you put so much effort into it. I admit I learned so much from it. And want to go to Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia more than ever. Great guide Anthony.

    1. Thanks a lot, John. Now thinking of renaming the post “Epic Backpacking across South America”. Those Andean countries are a great choice – you would love Lake Titicaca.

  7. Excellent post – one of the best I have read. It is clear, well structured and insightful. I love the concise overview with the links to more detail and all the practical advice you give. If I am honest my days of hitching and couch surfing are done, but the information here is easily transferable to other kinds of travelling. Thank you.

    1. True Jane, not everything here is about backpacking South America solo. We want to help whoever is travelling in South America. Thank you so much for your kind words!

  8. Yes, I find all the answers in your blog about backpacking about south america. This article helps me a lot. If I said honestly this article made my day. Thanks for everything.

  9. I am planning to go for an extended tour of South America with my family. That’s why I am trying to get some information so I can make a proper plan. I read your blog and note all the important points because it’s helping me when I go to South America. Thanks for sharing with us all the answers as a tourist looking for before travel.

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