Travel To South America: How To Start

You set your mind and you’re ready to travel to South America, a
magical place of immense beauty where myth and legend continue
to walk hand in hand. I’ve traveled 18 months in South America
and can give you some tips on how to prepare yourself for an
unforgettable adventure.

Common Sense

We all hear the unpleasant stories and South America has a fame
of being dangerous. I traveled thousands of miles traversing
cities, jungles, islands and mountains. I survived 6 weeks in a
street child care center in the favelas of Salvador da Bahía
(Brazil) and had the party of a lifetime during carnival.
Nothing, I repeat, nothing happened. Use your common sense.
Avoid badly lit streets at night and if your sixth sense is
giving you the “something is wrong” sign then take a taxi to
your destination.

Travel Guide Book

The first thing that you will need is a travel guide book. It
will be your best companion in your search for adventure. I can
highly recommend Lonely Planet´s South America on a Shoestring
to get you started. The book covers all you need to know to get
the most out of your trip and is ideal to plan your journey
ahead. I’ve used the guide extensively during my 18 month
adventure. They offer excellent separate travel guides of all
the countries (besides using the Lonely Planet Shoestring I’ve
used their separate travel guides of Peru and Brazil). Their
guides are the most popular among backpackers.

Other popular guides are The Rough Guide to South America and
the South American Handbook. Ideal, but not practical because
you want to travel light, would be to enjoy the adventure with a
Lonely Planet and either the Rough Guide or the Handbook.

Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese

The most rewarding thing for me was the fact that you can travel
in a huge continent like South America with only 2 languages.
Spanish and Portuguese. If you plan to travel just for a few
weeks you can invest in a Spanish and/or Brazilian Portuguese
Phrase Book. English is not widely spoken and even a basic
knowledge of Spanish and/or Portuguese makes the trip so much
more rewarding (they’re extremely willing to help you, so don’t
worry, be happy).

If on the other hand you’re planning to travel for a few months
I can highly recommend taking a language course. Ideal would be
in a school in South America (I took lessons in Quito, Ecuador,
and had a private teacher for $2.50/h).

Walking Shoes

South America’s nature is overwhelming. You’ll walk for many
hours day after day. It would be a shame to walk in the
footsteps of the Incas with blisters on your feet. My biggest
recommendation is to invest in high quality walking shoes with

Health Vaccinations

Yellow Fever (if you plan to go to the Amazon Basin), Typhoid
(consists of two injections taken 4 weeks apart),
Diphtheria-Tetanus, Polio, Cholera (only when necessary),

Medical Kit:

Depending on what you plan to do you can include the following:
Antiseptic cream, aspirin, lomotil for diarrhea, antibiotics,
throat lozenges, ear and eye drops, antacid tablets, motion
sickness medication, alcohol swabs, water purifier, lip salve,
foot and groin powder, thermometer (in a case), surgical tape,
assorted sticky plasters, gauze, bandages, butterfly closures,
scissors and last but not least, first-aid booklet

Note: malaria pills are required in the amazon basin, please be
aware that those pills are very b and you should check with your
doctor before departure

Traveling Gear


Obviously a high quality backpack is a must. Choose the type
that has different compartments that can be opened separately.
Very handy if you need something quickly. Travel as light as
possible. A heavy backpack is destined to undermine your
traveling pleasure.


Depends on where you go. If it’s the mountains and the jungle,
get some quality clothing from home. If it’s the beach, buy your
t-shirts there (cheap).

Camping and Climbing Gear: You can rent camping and climbing
material in South America but the quality may be questionable.
Always check the material. Bring your own gear if possible. I
traveled 18 months with my own tent and various camping utensils.


Pictures are something personal. Some people just want some snap
shots, others want to publish in the National Geographic. All my
pictures were taken with a cheap Nikon F50 camera. Have a look
at some amazing photographs at

I had two zoom lenses, a 35-80 mm. and a 70-210mm. I also
dragged a tripod and an excellent flash with me. I used FUJI
slides (100 ASA) but you definitely need 200 to 400 ASA if you
plan to go to the jungle. A polarize filter enhances the colours
tremendously on sunny days.


South America will embrace you with open arms. It’s nature,
people and history are overwhelming. With the right preparation
and set of mind you’re ready for an unforgettable adventure

Mark Van Overmeire

6 Responses to “Travel To South America: How To Start”

  1. sg4578 Says:

    I am planning to travel to South America in August. Does anyone want to plan this trip with me?
    So far I am planning alone but am a little nervous about traveling all over S. America by myself. I am a college educated, 22 year old, male, white New Yorker. I want to start in Bogota Colombia and travel south to Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina. So far I have thought I would fly into Bogota and out of Buenos Aires four or so weeks later.

    Does a trip like this interest any other American?

    Does anyone have any tips to make this adventure safer and more fun?

    I would rather have a travel companion to add to the safety of the trip, and also split costs like hotel rooms or car rentals.

    Has anyone done something like this and have knowledge to share? Even if you have specific information on one region in South America I would love to hear your input.

    Thanks everyone!

  2. al Says:

    Awesome dude!
    I would be so down for that except that I am in the middle of major projects for work…..I was supposed to go to Egypt for 2 weeks but had to kill those plans…

    I been to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brasil and Colombia in South America….

    Please be careful in my beautiful home country of Colombia…..I am glad you want to go there……and I am sure you won’t leave disappointed but it potentially can be dangerous depending where you decide to go …especially if u plan to travel out of the country by land or boat….

    I suggest you fly out of Colombia……If your plan is to go to Amazonian capital Leticia….then take a boat to Iquitos in Peru…..not sure how safe it is but it may be a better option…..I would look into that…..(getting to Leticia is by plane only).

    There will be parts of South America that are a bit shady….but one thing South Americans are is very friendly….

    There are very obvious tourist attractions….one of my favorites was on the boarder of Paraguay, Brasil and Argentina….Waterfalls (Foz de Iguacu) and the Itapu Dam(largest in the world).

    Ending your trip in Buenos Aires. is a good ending stop….you can check out Uruguay….(Colonia de Saramento or Montevideo) while you stay in BA.

    There is a lot one can do in South America…..

    Not sure about the order……Colombia… Peru…..Chile…to Argentina and end in Brasil….seems like the most logical order…..Unless you cross through Bolivia and Brasil….you can end your trip in Santiago, Chile..

    Look into local "packaged" tickets from TAM, LAN or even TACA airlines and their associates and figure out how much it would cost you to but a x number of 1 way tickets to these locations….(Like a Round the World Ticket)…but for just the immediate area……They would normal allow you to fly with airlines within the same Alliance (Like One World and Star Alliance)…..give that into consideration because South America is big….and 4 weeks seems like a short time to enjoy everything ……not rush…..Bad part about flying is the Airport Tax one needs to pay every time u fly internationally.

    Good Luck!
    References :

  3. Tix Says:

    Now, if you would’ve asked this question back a few years ago…
    I’m headed to Guatemala (Central America) in about 5 weeks myself… to move there.
    Hope you enjoy your trip, but I wouldn’t do it alone for any reason. What is prompting you to go? maybe that would shed some light on what type of information you need.
    References :

  4. mariresponde Says:

    I reccommend you to visit the Patagonia in Argentina. It has the most beautiful scenaries, friendly people, good food, lot of fun and more. If you want to find turistic information about the Patagonia and the south in Argentina see in You will find all you need to travel to the Patagonia.
    References :

  5. Ale Says:

    What a good idea! For the Argentina part, I recommend you check . It has loads of information! bye
    References :

  6. umoanev Says:

    No, sorry. This August I’m flying to New York!!! But dont be afraid to travel on your own, stick to known places, read your Lonely Planet guide and do some research before you come to South America. Someone said going to Patagonia, I agree it’s the most lovely place in the earth but not in August when its the middle of winter and you freeze like a popsicle.
    Check the tons of resolved questions in all of the countries you will visit, I am sure you will find a lot of answers to your own queries.
    References :

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