Tips for Travelling in South America

Tips For Travelling In South America

Here are some general tips for travelling in South America.

I'll be adding more tips as I think of them, so stay tuned. But if you have any questions you can email me at: heyhey at nixons dot net


Be aware! Take a few basic precautions are you should be relatively safe. You have a similar chance of being mugged in just about every major city in the world as you have in places like Lima, Cusco and La Paz. Just be sensible. You can't avoid looking like a tourist but you can avoid looking like a target. Avoid flashy displays of wealth (remember wealth is a relative concept).


Most places accept US dollars or local currency. Peruvians only accept US dollars in pristine condition and so should you. In Peru you should also only accept Soles in good nick as well. The same goes for US dollars in Bolivia too. However, Bolivians aren't as fussy about Bolivianos as Peruvians are about Soles. You can change money in the street with official street money changers. The rate is usually competitive, and we didn't suffer any major dramas.


Haggle, and then haggle some more. Not in supermarkets and the like, but most other places will haggle. It can be the most fun in street markets and such. In Cusco we even haggled for better deals in restaurants. When you step out onto the street you will have a menu thrust into your face. Within seconds you'll have a dozens of other menus being pushed on you. Then all you have to do is bargain for the best deal. Ask for freebies like Pisco Sour (most places offer a free Pisco Sour anyway) or garlic bread or something. Works best when you're part of a group; get group discounts etc.

Where possible avoid buying stuff like film and video tape at the tourist site. I almost ran out of video tape (Hi8) at Maccu Picchu. The shop at the Maccu Picchu had 8mm tape (not quite Hi8 quality but suitable in emergencies) for US$20 (AU$35). That was a bit rich for me so I waited till I got back to Aguas Calientes and bought the same tape from a street stall for 20 soles (AU$9). So either have plenty of film or be selective about where you buy it.


Fly! Especially in Peru. Flying is relatively cheap and safe. For example you can fly from Lima to Cusco in about an hour for around US$40. The bus is only a little cheaper, more dangerous, and takes many hours (almost a day to go the same distance).

Aero Continente and Lan Peru are two domestic Peruvian airlines. There are others but we flew Aero Continente and they were OK.

Taxis are cheap in Peru and Bolivia. Haggle the price before you set off. We hired a cab in La Paz to take us sight seeing and he waited for us for just a few bolivianos.

Airport Transfers - Santiago. Before we left Australia we were quoted something like $40 per person to book a transfer from Santiago airport to Santiago. It was suggested we get a cab for around $20. However we found a transfer counter in baggage claim area of the airport that booked transfers for around US$7 per person. We got our tickets and headed for the exit to catch a minibus into town. The waiting minibus was full, but within minutes they had organised a car instead. The return to the airport was even cheaper at US$6.

The Inca Trail and Altitude

Acclimatise to the altitude before hitting the trail. A couple of days in somewhere like Cusco should do it.

On arriving at altitude (above 3000 metres), take it easy. Don't rush around or do anything strenuous. Drink Coca tea. It's available everywhere. Most hotels serve it gratis. I'm not sure if it actually relieves altitude symptoms, but many people swear by it. Actually after about 6 or 7 cups you may get a little buzz, but not much.

On the trail take it easy. Whats the rush? The views are just way too spectacular to rush past it all and not to mention altitude sickness.

Drink twice as much water at altitude than you would at sea-level. You get dehydrated very quickly, and you can be at the point of fainting or passing out within a few hours.

If you wash your undies or socks they will not dry overnight - too cold. Hang them, or anything you wash for that matter, from your daypack. They will dry as you walk. You can even wear your undies on your head - put them on your hat! It really works - thanks to Dennis and Trevor for proving that one to me. I wish I had a photo. I do have it on video though, I'll just have do a video capture...

Food and Water and other healthy stuff

Drink bottled water! I realise that sounds obvious, but you can never be too careful.

Tap water is fine in Santiago and a few other big cities in Chile, elsewhere however only drink bottled water.

Care should also be taken with salads and other foods potentially washed in tap water. If in doubt ask.

Even if you take precautions there is no guarantee you won't get sick. We travelled with a group of 14 people and almost half got sick or had diahhrea at some stage. A couple were quite ill.

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore Dream Discover."
Mark Twain.

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