Traveling to South America for the first time: experts advice
Are you planning to travel to South America? That’s an excellent idea, but it could also be quite overwhelming if it is your first time looking for information. South America is a captivating continent and has so much to offer: diverse cultures, outstanding landscapes, mouth-watering cuisine. Friendly people will welcome you at every corner, happy to share their cultures and traditions with you, and that may become the highlight of your trip. Deciding on where to go in South America is not easy, we know, so to make your choices a little bit easier, we prepared this travel guide to South America to help you plan your trip.
The best time to travel to South America is whenever you can, but if you can decide on when to come, let’s check seasons:
-September to December: spring
-December to March: summer
-March to June: autumn
-June to September: winter
These seasons are provided so you can have an overview of the continent, but then it will vary from country to country, as some may have a rainy or dry season, and of course it depends on where you go, as winter in the mountains is not the same as in the coast. Please, check our country guides for that information, we have a lot of useful tips to help you.
1- Check visa regulations and requirements
Even though these regulations change all the time, some countries may require some type of visa. So it is better to check this item with their local consulate in your country. This will save you problems later and will give you peace of mind!
2- Plan your itinerary
You have to take into account that South America is one of the largest continents in the world, so when you think about the best time to visit South America, the concept might change from one country to another.
If you plan to go to Antarctica, then spring/summer time is the right moment. If you enjoy carnival festivities, Brazil will welcome you during February/March. Argentina offers amazing landscapes and ski resorts for you to ski during winter. The shoulder season is less crowded in many destinations, so that implies a good opportunity to get better rates and more options.
3- Learn about local currencies
This is a quite common question. Each country in South America has its own currency and in many cases, it is called “peso”, but that doesn’t mean it is the same one. There are several countries calling their currency that way: Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, just to mention some of them. Can you use Chilean pesos in Argentina or Colombian pesos in Uruguay? The answer is “no”.
Even though they have the same denomination, all of them are different “pesos”, so it is common that they are accepted only in the country where they are the legal currency. Sometimes, people get confused because most countries use the same sign ($), as many currencies named “dollar” do.
Take into account that, in some cases, the exchange rate might be different and fluctuate in a matter of days.
4- Try to learn some phrases in the local language
If this will be your first time in South America, let’s consider that you will not find so many different languages as you usually do, for example, in Europe. Most South American countries have Spanish as their official language and Brazil, Portuguese. In some cases, countries also include different indigenous languages as official ones.
It will be very useful to learn some polite phrases in the local languages, such as greetings, please/thank you, questions about prices, directions, just to mention some of them.
You will be amazed by your ability to communicate with the locals and, of course, they will appreciate it!
To help you with this, we have prepared the article “Useful Spanish phrases for travelers: what you need to know before your trip to South America”
5- Pack wisely
If you are visiting several destinations, it is possible to go through different climates and weather conditions in just a few days. So, our travel advice to South America is to pack wisely, including comfortable clothes, your must-have items and clothes you can wear in layers and take them off depending on weather and temperatures. Don’t forget to prefer quick-drying fabrics.
6- Things to do in South America
Regarding places to visit, it is important to consider if it is a family plan, if you are a solo traveler or any other options. Then, if you are a first timer, this will help you:
The uttermost part of the Earth. Some of the most famous places include:
Buenos Aires. Capital city, center of financial activities. You will be amazed by its architecture, its cultural life, parks and wonderful neighborhoods.
Iguazú falls. One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. No videos or pictures will be able to express the unique landscapes and feelings that you are going to experience.
Salta-Jujuy. Northwest of Argentina. High mountains, tropical jungles, arid regions. The Northwest region offers the perfect match of different landscapes.
Patagonia. Land of contrasts and beauty. Glaciers, unique forests, southern right whales, the city “of the end of the world”. Patagonia will be ready to welcome you with its treasures.
Mendoza. Land of excellent Malbec wine, and where nature has been absolutely blessed.
From the desert to the jungle, ancient wealth galore. Kind people, proud of their land, will be happy to share their experiences with you.
Machu Picchu. An Inca citadel, dating back to the 15th century. One of the most important archeological sites in the world.
Cusco. This city was the capital of the Inca Empire for a long time. It was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Lima. Capital city. It is the largest city in Perú and home to one of the oldest universities in the world. It was the capital of the Viceroyalty of Perú.
The off-the-beaten-path South American destination. Friendly local people will transform your stay into an unforgettable experience.
Colonia del Sacramento. Listed as World Heritage city by UNESCO, Colonia del Sacramento is worth being walked inch by inch. Historic sites, museums but also many restaurants, the port, will make you wish to forget about your watch.
Punta del Este. This is the most important seaside city in Uruguay. Excellent resorts, first-class hotels and lovely sand beaches are ready for you to enjoy.
Montevideo. This capital city has important legacies from African and European cultures, among others. You will have the chance to admire the amazing architecture and taste the local cuisine at the Port Market.
The longest and thinnest country in the world. Let’s share some of the places to visit:
San Pedro de Atacama and the salt flats. This area offers breathtaking landscapes. It is one of the driest regions in the world. Some places have not seen rain for years.
Easter island. If you have the chance to visit Easter Island in your trip to Chile, please do not miss the opportunity, as this will be a one-of-a-lifetime experience!
The fjords. The southern coast of Chile offers a wonderful and unique nature. Navigating these channels is a passport to relaxation and enjoyment.
Torres del Paine. The highlight of Chilean Patagonia. The most iconic site is its horn-shaped peaks called “Cuernos del Paine”. Great destination for adventure travelers.
A land of overwhelming beauty, joy and colors.
São Paulo. Brazil’s vibrant financial center.
Foz do Iguaçu. The main base for visiting Iguazu Falls, which can also be visited from Argentina.
Rio de Janeiro. This is the most popular destination in Brazil, a huge seaside city, famed for its Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mount Corcovado. Its Carnival festival is considered the world’s largest one.
Exotic and surreal landscapes in one of the most diverse countries of the world.
La Paz. Be prepared for the altitude, as this is the highest administrative capital in the world, resting on the Andes’ Altiplano plateau at more than 3,500m above sea level.
Uyuni. World’s largest salt flats, you will feel like floating in the sky.
Splendid little country that has been blessed with biodiversity.
Quito. Ecuador’s capital, known for its well-preserved colonial center.
Galapagos Island. A volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean that is considered one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing.
A privileged country for being bathed by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Bogota. Colombia’s exciting capital.
Coffee region. Also known as the Coffee Triangle, this is an area in rural Colombia that is famous for growing and producing the majority of Colombian coffee.
Cartagena de Indias. It is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, famous for its walled Old Town, with squares, cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings. This is also a popular beach destination.
Islas del Rosario. Coral reef, idyllic beaches, Caribbean Sea… do we need to mention anything else?
These are just some of the suggested options to decide how to spend your first time in South America. Still finding it difficult to make up your mind about things to do in South America? Don’t worry, we can help you with that!
You can book a free 30-minute call to talk to one of our travel experts who will help you with all the questions you may have.
Please do not hesitate to contact us, we are just a message away, ready to help you and hoping to see you soon around here to say: “Welcome to South America. Enjoy your stay”.