South America is a vast place which means you can do it two ways, book flights or get around by bus/coach like we did. Coach and bus is definitely cheaper but longer. You could be paying anything between $20-$40 for journeys which could last 12-18 hours. We booked coaches from Rio-Iguazu, Iguazu-Salta, Salta-San Pedro de Atacama, everywhere in Bolivia and Peru. We used the salt flat tour to get to Bolivia which starts from San Pedro and crosses into Bolivia and takes you to the town over the border after the trip. There you can plan and book your way to all the places you want to visit in Bolivia. After Bolivia we booked our bus to Cusco to do the Inca Trail which afterwards we got a coach to Lima for our flight out of South America. Essentially this information may be vague but we done all our travel on buses in South America and we couldn’t find a cheaper alternative. Rio has a metro system which is good to use for getting about in the city and the same goes for Lima.
We didn’t book any visas before we went and acquired them on arrival at no cost by air or bus/coach.
Accommodation – I would highly recommend a few hostels and guesthouses I stayed at throughout my time in South America.
La Paz, Bolivia– In truth there is two major hostels to choose from and I stayed in one but spent a lot of time in the other due to some friends staying there. If you are looking for spacious rooms, good food, good wifi and a booming atmosphere at the bar with drinking games included then I would recommend both the Wildrover and Loki hostels. Both hostels get full quite quickly so would recommend to book early to avoid disappointment. Loki hostel which I stayed at has a great bar at the top with a great view of La Paz. I also found this hostel easier to find and closer to central La Paz than the Wildrover.
Potosi, Bolivia– A great hostel in the heart of Potosi I stayed at is Hostal La Casona and its really cheap at £14 a night for a dorm! Me and two friends shared a triple and it was even cheaper. There is a large outdoor area for you to drink your beers and meet fellow travellers. The hostel staff are great and will advise you on tours to do and who to book with. With Potosi you will have to get used to the altitude as well as the constant hill walking you will be doing.
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile– Our hostel of choice was Hostal Viento Norte which had woman working there who could barely speak English but were very funny and happy to see you try and speak Spanish. The rooms were cosey and spacious and we booked a four bed dorm but had it to ourselves the 4 nights we were there. Opposite is my favourite restaurant in the town which serves all kinds of food and great cakes. This hostel also done a laundry which was handy and had a kitchen for you to cook some food if desired. It is situated in the heart of the town and is minutes from anywhere.
Death Road, La Paz, Bolivia.
You have all seen the Top Gear episode on Death Road right? Trust me it is worth a visit if you love your adrenaline rush and biking. Nowadays it is more of a tourist road as locals now use the new road built by the government, but occasionally you will see some locals. We booked our trip through Altitude Adventures and they provide you with transport there and back, a bike to ride, protective clothing, photos, a free t-shirt and a massive buffet at the end. It is a great day out but exhausting as not only are you biking at altitude but you are decreasing altitude at a big rate. You can book this tour through your hostel and it will set you back around £80 but well worth it.
Salt Flats, Salar de Uyuni, Chile/Bolivia.
This is one of the highlights of South America and has to be done. Depending on what season you are in South America you will experience two things. Salt flats in the dry season will enable you take whacky photos using clever camera techniques and you can see dry salt land for miles. Salt flats in the wet season will mean you will see the mirror image which I plan to do next time. We booked our tour in San Pedro as a way of doing the tour and getting to Bolivia. This 2 night 3 day tour includes seeing Flamingos, sunset/sunrise at high altitude, plenty of Llamas, clear lakes and awesome scenery all around. You even get to stay in a salt hotel, very very cold. Pack your warm clothes for this trip! You cross the border in to Bolivia in your jeeps which have 6 people in become and they become your little group for the tour, I made some great travel buddies on this trip. The border crossing is interesting, it is essentially a little shack in the middle of nowhere with a queue of backpackers. Our guide did not speak English but we had enough Spanish in the jeep to understand. After the salt flats you get to see a historic old railway and steam train which has been deserted. To finish you enter the town and you either stay a night or get a move on with moving to your next destination.
Inca Trail, Peru.
My highlight of South America thus far was the Inca Trail which we booked through SAS travel who were recommended by a fellow traveller. This tour was exceptional in every aspect. You start by meeting your group the night before with a glass of vino and a introduction to your two guides. They will explain what to expect and how hard it will be. Next morning is an early start and you make your way to the trail, once there you queue to get your passport stamped with entry in the area and start your hike. First day is relatively easy with a few inclines but at a steady pace. Day two is very difficult but extremely good fun and this is where you will bond as a group. It is about a 6 hour hike uphill to Dead Woman’s Pass then another two hours downhill. Day three is like day one with a bit more downhill action and when you get to the camp you stay the night for Machu Picchu on day four. There will be a blog about this trip so will put more in that of the whole experience but highly recommended! The whole tour price includes transport before and after, food, drink, entry in to Machu Picchu and staying at campsites. Make sure you have some money to tip the porters.
Christ of Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
We stayed in Brazil mainly for the world cup so didn’t get to see the ‘real’ Brazil but we did do some other stuff that wasn’t football. The Christ of Redeemer is another highlight of mine and the panoramic views are insane. We actually got the ticket and train to the statue through a journalist for free so I couldn’t tell you how much it will cost. When you get to the platform you can not help but stare and gaze at this iconic image.
Iguazu Falls, Brazilian side.
Iguazu is essentially a border town between Brazil and Argentina but unlike most borders it has a wonder of nature stuck in the middle of it. We stayed at Curitiba Backpackers Hostel and booked the transport from there. There was a group of us booked in to a mini bus and stayed at the falls around 3-4 hours. You can really see nature’s brute force at its best and catch some cool photos. The sheer volume of water is incredible and you have to do this trip.
At this point in travelling my money was on a Commonwealth Bank travel card and I withdrew from every country I went to and used local currency. Depending what part of Argentina you go to they will love to receive US Dollars, this is due to their dire state of their own currency. Brazil you will need to use Brazilian Real which can be accessed easily at an ATM. Be careful in San Pedro de Atacama as there is only 3 ATMs and all of them wasn’t working at the same time so take Pesos from Santiago or US Dollars. Peru use Sol as their main choice of money but big trips like the Inca Trail or big hotels/hostels would prefer US Dollars. Bolivia was constantly using US Dollars and maybe a bit of Boliviano for local restaurants or markets. Essentially take US Dollars with you as you are going to need them.
South America in my opinion is quite wild and easy going with laws. I met quite a few travellers who said they were Irish instead of British when entering southern parts of Argentina. We only went to Salta in the north and it was absolutely fine. You will need to learn some basic Spanish as parts of the continent wont speak English. Border crossings were fine and travelling on transport was safe. Overall I wouldn’t have any qualms with travelling solo in South America.
Food and Drink
Brazil – Throughout Brazil you can get really good meat based meals where you pay by the kilo and its essentially all you can eat based on how much weight you eat. Restaurants will bring round meat on a large rotating spit and carve it off for you. The choices are endless and accompanying all this meat is a big salad bar which will include hot potato based sides. Another favourite dish of mine in Rio was the File de Frango which is chicken with rice, chips, salad and kidney type beans. A great snack on the go is an empanada which can be found on the street and cost 20p. Can only be described as a sweet curry past type sauce with vegetables or meat.
Argentina – Argentina is known for its juicy delicious steaks and you wont be disappointed. A large steak meal will cost around £7.50 and this includes your steak meal and a large glass of wine.
Bolivia – My tip for Bolivia is the sumptuous soup they make which is one their national dishes, we had lots of it on our Inca Trail trip with the Ketchuan chefs cooking up a storm. The best soup I ever eaten thus far has been in Potosi, it was a vegetable soup and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Copacabana Beach, Rio – Grab yourself a caipirinha from the little alcohol shacks along the beach and sip it on the beach. This Brazilian cocktail is a great way to get the party started and its quite strong. They are sold in every bar and restaurant but we enjoyed it most on the beaches of Rio.
Café 4060, Potosi, Bolivia – At 4060 metres high this maybe one of the highest cafes you will drink and eat at. It serves local and international food with a good selection of coffee and tea. The atmosphere is great and this is a safe place to eat food with its location quite central. They also sell beer/spirits and are open to quite late but this isn’t really a bar for partying, more of a social meet.