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Some things you might want to know in the way of backpacking, budget travel country advice, info and summaries for:. For Central America go here. From a traveller perspective, South America splits into roughly three regions. The more developed Southern countries of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile; with their European feel, political stability and relatively high standards not to mention great wine and meat. Here you have the main concentration of travellers, drawn not only by the world famous sights, but also the significantly lower cost of travel certainly in Bolivia.
And a more 'authentic' South American feeling with a great percentage of indigenous population highest in Bolivia and stereotypical scenery. South America on the whole lacks difficult border crossings and visa headaches although Americas will occasionally run into hefty charges.
Bus transport is easy to arrange and there is a very established trail of attractions often known as the ' Gringo Trail '. Tour mentality and the type of other travellers certainly at the budget end you meet can jade some, certainly in the case of Bolivia where you'll find the best value for money on the continent. You don't need to be fluent in Spanish or even know more than a good number of phases , but a basic level makes a HUGE difference in this region.
The same can be said for Portuguese in Brazil. To benefit you need USD cash. Do your research before travel. This is currently the case in Venezuela, but no longer in Argentina. What follows are only basic snap shot summaries. If you have decided these are some of the countries you want to visit and need more planning information, you are strongly recommended to complement what you find here with a planning guide. It is worth looking, if you have not already, at the example layout to see the guidelines each section of information is based on - or for other travel advice and site home head for www.
If you want to read fiction, you are in luck as some of the world's best writers were from South America. View Larger Map external link. The poorest and debatably the best from an independent budget traveller's perspective of South American nations. Bolivia is no secret, it's generally crammed full of backpackers who come for a cheaper stay than elsewhere in the region and the great diversity on offer. Diversity in - to name only a few examples - historic Potosi , amazing scenery of a beautiful altiplano plus the world's highest capital city, reasonable trekking opportunities and a hugely accessible cheapest in South America not as accessible as in Central America jungle.
This Tibet of the Americas is as popular as the Asian original. On the downside it's worth noting that the country's road system is not great, due in part to the topography and in part to lack of maintenance.
This can make some longer trips somewhat unpleasant; there is no established budget airline network, so to avoid such journeys and fly, can become quite pricey. Worth a month of your time and a few Spanish lessons, but don't expect to have anywhere to yourself, but the remotest jungle. Salt flats and altiplano , Inca Trails there are several , a mountain bike trip down the world's most dangerous road , Potosi and swimming with river dolphins in the Amazon. Lots of tourists and 'tour mentality' - see below -tours, tours, tours.
The country's road system, cost of internal flights and distances. Free visa on border or at the airport for most nationalities. Regulations seem to change frequently, but our understanding is currently citizens of Japan and most EU countries can stay 90 days without paying for a visa; citizens of Canada, Australia and New Zealand can stay 30 days without paying for a visa.
USA citizens now do require a visa, it's a bucks! Most other nationalities require a visa in advance - usually issued for a day stay. Typical Gringos and lots of them. Predominately young Europeans on long regional trips , many have high expectations of Bolivia and come to spend large amounts of time. As the cheapest country in the region many just hang-out, taking the odd tour. Also notably many Israelis often in large groups. Cheap, sometimes basic and cold spend money on better warmer accommodation if need be.
Some amazing value places, notably in Sucre. Visiting jungle areas during or just after the wet season is not pleasant.
Lying in the southern hemisphere; winter runs from May to October and summer from November to April. Basically it's generally wet in the summer and dry during the winter. The tourist season is something like late June to early September, which has a good climate and is Bolivia's major fiesta season. This does however make for a very crowded time with overseas visitors and lots of South Americans travelling.
As mentioned, highlands and the altiplano can become very cold in the winter and wet in the summer. However, the wet summer months northern hemisphere winter are not a serious barrier to travel and additionally there is far too much scaremongering regarding the winter's freezing lows.
Yes it can get very cold with the higher points of the altiplano dropping as low as C, and in most seasons below zero is not uncommon, but these are nightly temperatures when you will be tucked up in a sleeping bag rent no problem with loads of blankets available and not outside in a tent.
During the day, it is most likely you will be in a jeep as at such attitude any physical effort is very tiring. It won't be t-shirt weather, but a good fleece or two is enough. It's ridiculous to pack arctic clothing for only a few days stay and limited exposure to such a climate. If anything, good thermal underwear is most useful due to it's many applications. Conversely, on the tropical lowlands, summer is pretty miserable with mud, steamy heat, bugs and relentless downpours, making travel very difficult if you are anywhere off the beaten track.
Some violent crime, take care at night and during civil unrest stay well away from demonstrations - road blocks and unrest around Easter time common.
Watch petty thieves in markets and bus stations. On the whole, these are all minor issues and it is a fairly safe country on regional standards. In larger cities plenty of ATMs. For cash, US dollars are of course the foreign currency of choice throughout Bolivia, but currencies of neighbouring countries can be exchanged in border areas.
All casas de cambio change cash US dollars and some also change traveller's checks. If you can't find a cambio, try travel agencies, jewellery or appliance stores and pharmacies. Credit cards may be used in larger cities, but not elsewhere - best bet stick to using ATMs in major centres. Most roads okay with frequent buses, some roads especially lowland roads in wet season are awful.
Trains get very cold at night and are considered worse than buses - certainly slower. Worth flying to jungle areas and if feeling a little travel worn. As mentioned in the lowlights, making long trips can be somewhat unpleasant, roads in the cities are alright, and the stretch just south of La Paz is OK, but most other rural roads are terrible.
There is no established budget airline network, so to avoid such journeys and fly, can become quite pricey. Domestic carriers- are expensive compared to buses, but not as expensive as this seems to imply. Excellent value if you are prepared to live, eat and travel as locals do.
There are also plenty of other temptations give often party vibe which will increase costs for some. Bolivia is indisputably 'backpacker central' and an industry has sprung up to provide easy, cheap and comfortable tours tailored to young travellers. So much so that you could easily explore the jungle, silver miners, salt flats, 'death' road, etc. These tours make seeing Bolivia easy, cheap and fun if you get lucky with others in your group. However, after a while you might wonder if you really saw Bolivia at all.
Be aware of food poisoning. Take it very easy and be careful at high altitudes - it is common for a traveller to hit meters.
Anyone arriving from sea level will have a screaming headache for a day or two, and a few become very sick indeed. Some warm clothes and a hat, cool covering clothes and insect repellent for jungle.
Some periods of the year can be quite wet and a waterproof jacket can be useful during these times. For a full list of regional guides please click here. Be careful at night, not really a problem. Taking jungle tours alone, especially if female, is not advised. Local poisons for the body: Mate de Coca , a tea made from coca leaves as in the raw material for cocaine production is widely available, drunk and cherished throughout the country.
Equally, the leaves are chewed and have been for centuries by locals. Both are known to be helpful for altitude sickness. Despite the content, you would need to be a fairly professional chewer the locals build up large lumps of chewed leaves in their cheeks, hamster style or drink one hell of a lot of tea to have any real effect beyond that of strong coffee. The finished article, that is cocaine, is of course much more potent and as in Colombia [in hot spots] widely available.
Still highly illegal, the attitude is more tolerant and certainly in La Paz there exist 'Cocaine Bars' where you may go to sample the famous marching powder in its pure form. The location of these bars there are really only a very small number changes regularly. A taxi driver outside or a bar tender inside any of the large party hostels are your best bet to find one, as is asking around with English speaking locals during a visit in mid we were 'arranged' a visit by a guy handing out flyers for a bar on the street.
The names Eddie's Place and Route 36 most notorious are most often referenced. It is purely a Gringo no locals affair with the vibe ranging from laid back early on to that of a club later one. With lots of young often drunk backpackers this looks like an accident waiting to happen.
On the whole Brazil is a pretty western country - somewhere it's easy to travel and have a good time.
It's also home to some of the world's most beautiful scenery, particularly along its southern coast. Jungle regions may disappoint, as prices run high and any tour is likely to have you not 'seeing the wood for the trees', as the expression goes, as with all trips of this nature, the focus is very much on flora and not fauna. Trips to the Pantanal wet land areas are far more worthwhile, but it can be quite a touristic experience, costs are still comparatively high and there a more than a few stories running around of cheap tours turning into disasters.
What really sets Brazil apart is, generally speaking, unlike the rest of South America it is fairly void of travellers outside of three or four locations.
Brazilian Portuguese, which you need to think about more than just believing it's pretty much the same as Spanish, needs some mastering as English or Spanish is incredibly rarely spoken for a developed country and day to day living costs are much higher than the likes of Argentina and Peru or in fact anywhere else south of the USA Chile and a few Caribbean islands aside.
And that's really the deal - as great as Brazil can be, if you have any illusions of bargain travel akin with South East Asia or Bolivia and have to watch your pennies plus don't speak a word of Portuguese, it's going to be a lot less fun.
These can be - and are mainly - booked from abroad - although better rates can be found in Quito and Santa Cruz. It's worth noting that if you dive have PADI and enjoy it, that you will get the most from the trip.
The Sucre has long been replaced by USD. ATMs are widespread throughout the country. Credit cards can be used to pay for some items with a small commission. Just visited the Galapagos and Amazon in Ecuador and wanted to provide some info, I use your site a lot so it's time to contribute!
The Amazon — several lodges along the Rio Napo, most are pretty expensive but Sani Lodge has a tent option that is more budget friendly and run by the tribe directly. Great food, showers no electricity yet though , tents on platforms with roofs for the rain, and amazing hikes and canoe trips. Good group to support as they are fighting oil drilling on their land and the lodge helps them do it. The Galapagos — I decided not to do a liveaboard and instead used the inter island ferries to get around.
Plenty of good budget hotels on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz and restaurants with local and western food. You can arrange for day trips with the hotel or a taxi to see the tortoises, go to beaches, or hike volcanoes. More Caribbean than Latino yet without the beaches and much of the charm. Difficult and expensive access removes the Guiana's from any reasonable South African overland trip and connections to Paris for Cayenne , London via Port of Spain or NY, for Georgetown and Amsterdam for Paramaribo remain the most practical routes and the arrival methods for most.
Nevertheless travel between the three countries overland is pretty easy. All three countries save the languages spoken have a similar set up: Working East to West: The most developed and expensive is French Guyana and with the most European feel, akin to the French Caribbean colonies.
Paramaribo is a little more rundown, but the most attractive city filled with the most history. Finally Georgetown in Guyana has the most Caribbean and vibrant feel with a wonderful spoken English if you can call it that! Cayenne or Paramaribo to Georgetown onwards to Kaieteur — or reverse. It is possible to connect with Brazil, but few have the stomach for it. Apart from the coast road and the route connecting countries there are few places you will want to go with the exception of jungle excursions for which transport will be organised by a tour company.
In all three countries the main international airports are far from the capitals. A shared taxi is possible if you ask, but it is far and expensive in most cases plus annoying if you have an early flight. It is not ultra simple, but far from difficult to travel between French Guyana, Surname and Guyana or vice-versa. Small populations and very little traveller traffic means there is no well-organized services in the western sense of the world with companies meeting tourist needs.
On the other hand transport leaves every day and getting a place is never a problem apart from national holidays — all the hotels seem to be able to hook you up. The roads are reasonable quality and all trips involve a river crossing on the border that requires a change of transport.
Typically you are hours on the road in hour trips. Transport will arrive at the border early to allow you to wait and everyone to go through immigration to meet a ferry normally extra over your transport price.
You are normally given a ticket pictured to pick up your transport on the other side. It is all pretty easy and they are laid back folks in these parts. Thunderous Kaieteur Falls although more impressive in terms of water flow, we still rate the over all experience and landscape of Angle Falls across the border as better. Language and architecture of capital cities. The BIG waterfall you have probably never heard of , Kaieteur pronounced Kate-T-eye-R combines great height and huge water flow, in a spectacular single flow.
Located deep in the jungle, nearer Brazil than Georgetown, getting to Kaieteur typically means a flight from Georgetown which lands on a tiny air strip 10mins walk away from the falls. There are overland options but from Tumatumari a tiny jungle settlement you are on foot and need to be guided — very few arrive via this option.
There are several operators that run flights most days out of Georgetown the near-by Ogle airport and if you are visiting only Kaieteur you can make the trip in an afternoon. Longer most of the day trips are sometimes offered taking in a second stop at Orinduik Falls small series of falls you can swim in or Baganara Island resort without much to do.
Prices change with park fees and the prevailing fuel price, but it not a cheap trip. If you book directly with the flight operator like Air Services Limited, Roraima or few others you will get the best price, but without much change from USD. The flight is 45min in a small plane with a great view of the falls as you land. Booking a flight is a much harder challenge that it needs to be.
Your hotel might help, but Georgetown is hardly a hub of travel agents and most visitors will want to book before they arrive to avoid hanging around unnecessarily. The biggest challenge operators have is filling flights. When you book it is work asking if the departure is confirmed and if they already have enough paid passengers.
Few operators will confirm your place until you actually pay, which is tricky to do from abroad. The Falls themselves are both impressive and disappointing. They are impressive for the perspective of location, sheer volume of water and height the world's largest single drop waterfall by the volume of water flowing over it — we can all look up the stats on Wikipedia.
The iron rich brown water exploding white with oxygen as it plummets, seem in almost private viewings is something impressive to behold. Angel, when flowing Yosemite and random mountain falls in the Alps and New Zealand are still our favorites.
Euros are de facto in French Guyana you are in France after all and widely accepted easy to change — at best rates in Suriname. In Guyana US dollars rules, but most major currencies change with easy. ATMs are present in all, but are a little painful to find operating internationally apart from in Cayenne. Typically Dutch and French tourist. Few make it here.
The home of the Incas, Machu Picchu and the amazing sacred valley, Peru is the image of South America most people bring to mind and Machu Picchu is somewhere everyone will want to see, but, to coin a phrase, that's just the top of the pyramid - Peru is the Egypt of the Americas.
Therefore what's left, outside of Machu Picchu which the Spanish never found and Nasca can be a little dull unless you're an archaeologist. Peru is a huge country, which means two things, the first that distances can get you down especially crossing mountains, but secondly, if you have got time and knowledge of Spanish, there is loads to explore off the beaten track, jungle river trips and great treks. Time is a precious commodity, Cusco can take a week minimum and will try to keep you there for longer with it's great bars and restaurants.
Lima is not overly interesting and the country is generally poor value compared to Bolivia and Asia, and good cheap food, in any variety is hard to get. Cusco , in-depth history, Ica , Nasca , seeing condors, trekking around Huaraz and sand boarding in Huacachina. Northern Peru and getting off the beaten track.
Rip off culture, in common with the likes of Vietnam, Peruvians in the tourist industry more often than not see dollar signs in tourists and can be a little aggressive. Inca trail and it's raising cost - not taking anything away from the ruins at the end, Puno, distances and generally being overloaded with historical facts and ancient civilizations. The poor man's Galapagos Islands off Pisco are a little of a letdown unless you have never seen a seal or seagull before.
Fog covers the whole coast especially Lima for several months a year. Crime is on the rise - watch out for your things. Regulations have recently changed requiring you to trek with a guide tour therefore technically outlawing doing the trek yourself. Picking a company is tough as it seems when dealing with the cheapies you will hear just as many bad reports about them as some of the expensive trips - it's a lottery, but standards are on the whole good.
Think about the sort of people who will be on the trek with you and what you actually get for your money. The tour will take you by mini-bus to the km 82 marker where you arrive at about midday, you walk little interest to the real start - km 88 - and where the train stops, and then a bit further onto camp for the night.
The next day you walk up Dead Woman's Pass, which a lot of people make a fuss about, but if you are acclimatized and reasonably fit is not too bad and porters are available.
On the other side of the pass you camp again. Next day you go over another pass and it is only here the trail gets really interesting. You pass some great ruins and camp again, as far as you can go. That night there is a little party, but you'll be getting up very early the next morning in order to make it to the sun gate for sunrise. This is somewhat of a let-down, since you probably won't make it for actual sunrise. It's a walk in the dark and Machu Picchu is covered in shadow for the first few hours.
It's only when the shadow passes and the sun hits it, that it really impresses this is not the postcard view. Also you'll going to be tired from the early start and late night noise from previous night's party. Every day you camp about lunch time and the trail is only about 25 km and took me an easy two days. Basically tours are stretched out.
Water is always available take purifying tablets from streams and a guide is not needed. If you want to save money, ask the trekking company not to include the return train ticket and spend the night at Aguas Calientes and return on an early morning train departing Aguas Calientes at to Ollantaytambo and then take a connecting bus service back to Cusco. Some of the budget trekking companies include this cheaper ticket as standard in their 4 day package.
Several years back many did the trail without a tour as regulations were not that strict but have become so. Take the train to km 88 not bus to Make sure you have everything you need rentable in Cusco and can prove you are a responsible trekker. If you have any problems, sign up for a cheap tour to use their guide to pass the entry check point, then go solo from there arrangements can normally be made with low cost companies for just using there tour to get you passed the check point.
However these days 'good luck' doing anything unofficial. Some tour operators now display permit availability on calendars - see here or Google it. May, September and October are considered the off-season. The trail is usually closed once a year for the month of February for maintenance. Depending on the season or time of year, all or some of the following can be indispensable: Whatever way you do it, be warned after each day huge crowds descend and any effort to get to the site before is well worth it.
Alternatively, the area of Chachapoyas and the ruins of Kuelap are now becoming a really great place for mountain trekking and backpacking. However it's not the tour operators who are making more money - in the entrance fee was about 17USD now it's pushing USD.
Hostels are being pushed by the government to raise prices and meet new building codes: Prices are for four days and include entrance fees, tax and return on train. What is notable is the increased Inca Trail rates apply to everyone including Peruvians and other Latin Americans and their absence from the Inca Trail and Cusco is obvious compared to previous years.
The big price increases really boil down to tourist pressure on this over-subscribed trail, stricter regulations and better standards. For example, porters are now paid a minimum wage and carry less weight maximum of 25kg and groups are limited to max. Tour operators now have to take communal dining tents, kitchen tents and only professionally qualified guides are allowed to lead the groups.
Just visiting Machu Picchu with no Inca Trail: In the big scheme of things, not walking the Inca trail make another walk in the region for free with same or much better scenery and saving your money is no major deal. Still an expensive day out. Only 2, people can enter the site per day. From Cusco pick up a minibus to Ollantaytambo be aware you will be transferred in Urubamba , this costs only a few soles.
From there walk a good 35 km to Aguas Calientes along the railway track remember 35 km is a long way and you need to be fit and even then it's at least hours at a reasonably quick pace. However you will see some ruins on the way.
When you arrive in Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu , it is recommended that you book a train ticket straight away back to Ollantaytambo, since tickets go fast. Stay the night and have a soak, there are plenty of cheap places to stay. Next day walk up to Machu Picchu for free, hell of a hill, but only a km.
Stay the night and catch the train back early with your prior booked ticket. From Santa Maria, catch a shared taxi to Hydro Electrica. You can then walk the 8km to Agua Calientes along the train tracks in about two hours and then hike up the hill to Machu Picchu the next morning. Which is a much cheaper way of reaching Machu Picchu than via a tour. Better still head to Huaraz and the Cordillera. Some violent crime, be careful at night — don't walk with your pack on after dark or in the early hours of the morning.
Jungle, coast and highlands all have different best times to go, pretty much a year round scene. Serious coastal fog much of the year. Highland towns like Cusco get cold at night.
Peru's peak tourist season is from June to August, which is the dry season in the highlands, and the best time to go for hiking. Many of the major fiestas occur in the wettest months and continue undiminished in spite of heavy rain. Can withdraw dollars in some machines.
Costs are of course lower than in a developed country, but higher than those in many neighbouring countries. Lima and Cuzco are the most expensive destinations in Peru. You can rent all equipment for the Inca trail in Cusco. Take good walking shoes and a warm fleece, plus if you have on, your International Student card for the Inca trail. Buses, some roads Lima to Cusco a killer, distances just go on and on.
The Pan American highway is smooth and flat. Trains are slow, cold and over-priced. Internal flights good value and a necessity to get to many jungle areas. Good internet in major towns. Hotels with cable have Sony channel and others, with loads of treats. Restaurants and bars in Cusco show movies. Outside of Cusco, poor and expensive. Eating fixed menus is a way to keep the costs down.
Pisco Sours are the drink of choice see Chile summary Inca Cola is the soft drink of choice. Trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash is an amazing route that doesn't get as much press as many other routes Chiquian is a lovely place to start your trek. The best time to trek is the "summer" months of June-July, but trekking is definitely an option most of the year. From Huaraz, the closest point to really gear up is Chiquian is about km, and is a great place to set off from with basic accommodation.
You can literally just walk out of town towards the mountains. About days is enough to trek around the range. There are some beautiful hidden lakes and little farms dotting the valleys, a truly beautiful place. There are a few spots that tend to be crowded with tents, but for most nights and days you will see no other trekkers.
Some suggestions e-mailed in for highlights away from the general traveller focus of Southern Peru. Take a chicken bus up to Tarma Tambo and take the Inca trail up there!
Ask some local to walk you around usually the younger villagers are more than willing to show you around for a few soles and are able to tell you all about the discovered Inca ruins over there.
The scenery is magnificent and the people are great! Knowledge of some Spanish and showing some interest is key to success. Adjacent to Trujillo you can surf the Pacific in Huanchaco where a real surfing atmosphere and great waves welcome you and where you can stay at nice hostels at fairly low rates. Peru is more than just the southern, dryer part. One of my highlights of my 2 months in Peru was the city Chachapoyas and the surroundings in northern Peru.
Except for the nice little town Chachapoyas the real highlight is Kuelap fortress. An old huge fortress situated m above sea level on top of an hill built by the Chachapoyas people which eventually overtaken by the Incas. The Chachapoyas also left a bunch of old ruins and sites in the area such as sarcophagos carved out in the mountains. There is also plenty of nice treks in the area, for instance a day one to the world's highest waterfalls Gocta and some other higher falls but more far away Yumbilla.
The region enjoys a warm nice climate but can suffer heavy rains during rain period. Everybody goes to Macchu Picchu but there might be a better place; Choquequirao. The site is not fully excavated but seems to be larger than MP. The main reason why no one knows about it which is great! The site is reached by a rough two-day off the beaten path trek from Cusco and there's no train to take you back! For a full list of regional guides click here. Among loads of excellent guides and fiction is The White Rock see image it tells the story of the Incas, the discovery of them by the conquistadors and the author's journey to find a long lost site to rival Machu Picchu.
Archaeology, History, Adventure - and funny too. If you want an irreverent account of travels through Peru and Bolivia then Inca Kola by Matthew Parris is also an excellent good read. To see more details of this book and others please click here. And yet it is one of the least visited. Certainly Venezuela's relations with its international neighbours means a lack of affordable flights to regional countries.
The reasons that Venezuela doesn't pull the crowds that Peru, Ecuador or even Colombia do, are very simply, its international reputation and well-founded fears over crime. There is so much to do and see in Venezuela and tourism is on the whole well organised in tourist hubs like Merida.
It's not as cheap as other parts of South America and the dual exchange rate see below is a headache, but you can find many parts to yourselves without the tourist masses found in other parts of the continent or Caribbean. Do remember however the country is currently a political and economic mess. From we believe it is worth skipping Venezuela until things improve as crime has rocketing given the unbelievable economic hardship for most. See note at bottom of section. There are almost no tourists and people are really friendly.
It is also pretty cheap if you have dollars. Crime and current economic mess. Caracas and most big cities, crime and the jury is out on Margarita Island. Venezuela has a lot of problems. Transport including flights is unreliable. Breakdowns and delays common.
Medicines are scarce and for any standard of health care you want to be in Caracas. Locals will warned how the police are notoriously corrupt. At time of writing Venezuela was subject to artificial exchange rates. In lay terms this translates to the government setting at exchange rate which is official and any 'official' changing of money: With this exchange rate Venezuela is very expensive on par with Western Europe.
You need cash Euros or US dollars to take advantage of the black market - and doing so is a must. So the bottom line is: Although technically illegal, it is well-known that tourists will need to use the black market in order to afford to travel in Venezuela and thus all backpacker and privately run places to stay or tour agencies will change EUR or USD for you at black market rates and many will allow you to transfer funds to a European or US bank account in order to pay for long stay accommodation or tours.
The whole system sounds terribly complex, but don't worry - you can pay with dollars at the black market rate for anything from anyone who deals with tourist taxis from airport, guesthouses, tours, etc. There are plenty of places to change money at black-market rates - but the street is not the best and the airport is certainly not. There are plenty of money changing tricks don't change money at the airport, pay a taxi driver in dollars. Rates vary slightly between cities and a quick Google search will let you know the ball park figures you need to be looking for until you figure out the system.
In July you got about , to 1 USD, by the time you read this, it will be out of date - the situation is out of control. Angel Falls is about as iconic as you can get and in the right conditions is an unforgettable site. Here you will find the offices of various companies who will arrange Falls trips for you. There are plenty of offices at the bus station, two at the tiny airport and at popular backpacker guesthouses. Many speak English, offer very similar trips with similar prices and by following recommended operators in major guidebooks it is hard to go wrong - with weather conditions, mood of guide, cook and other travellers on your trip down to luck.
You can book in advance over the internet before you leave with many operators or simply turn up and arrange a departure for the next day s at probably a more favourable rate. Your trip will typically be 2 or 3 days. Two days is a little rushed and three days is a little too relaxed for those on a schedule. Most operators will adjust trips lengths to suit your needs most pushing 3 days. All trips start and end with a flight sometimes in a small plane into the jungle.
Here arriving around noon you can either spend the afternoon killing time lounging at accommodation near the airport and seeing a near-by spectacular waterfalls that you can walk behind and then spending the night in fixed accommodation rather than hammocks. The alternative and the 2 day trip is to get cracking on the boat ride up the river to the Falls in a small motorised launch. The 3 day trip might leave the following morning.
The journey will take about hours during which you will get wet, windy, cold if it rains , sun baked and a serious numb arse on the hard wooden seats. The river starts of wide and deep, but as it winds up through the jungle towards the falls get narrower with small rapids traversed in reverse you go upstream to get there. It is the volume of the water in the river that makes the trip seasonal. Too much water and the rapids are too fierce, too little and you run aground before you get there.
Any guidebook or website will tell you the 'typical' season - but the weather varies too much for hard and fast rules. Typically you can still get there in February, with Nov, Dec and January being good bets and popular times. Operators will take you until the last possible moment which means a boat trip might involve either having literary to get out and push the boat upstream in very shallow water for the last 30 mins or feel like you are on a grade V rafting trip.
Once you get to the Falls you camp in a basic camp about hours walk from the base of the falls. Basic camp consists of hammocks covered by mosquito net covered by a corrugated iron roof. Some camps have better toilets than others, but they are all generally similar; none are four star. Food is cooked on an open fire and after the sun goes down there is not much to do. When you first arrive you can walk up to the falls, nap or swim in the river or all three.
The falls are typically covered [with cloud] later in the day. Either way most groups will wake up before dawn and hike in the dark to the base of the falls as the sunrises for the clearest views.
There you can swim at the base at get the best views. Those on the three day trip take more time at this waterfall having already seen it on day one and kill time until there return flight the same time around one on the next day. Nevertheless if it rains during the night or during your whole boat ride, or the falls are totally covered in cloud it is not much fun considering the cost and time to get there.
Obviously, there are no refunds for bad weather, but it is worth the chance. If worried about the weather, the 3 days trip allows for more flexibility, but as highlighted above, is on the whole a waste of a day. Then to Merida not the simplest journey - no direct flying option. Those that can afford it head to the paradise of Los Roques. Many visitors only see Margarita Island less so independent travellers.
There is a good and reasonably priced network or internal flights, but if you book outside Venezuela using the internet, the booking will be subject to the official exchange rate and thus close to double the price of arriving, changing money and booking locally note you find all the airline desks at the airport domestic terminal meters from international.
Buses are largely good quality, but freezing - take clothing suitable for Sweden in December if using over night buses. For shorter distances, por puesto per seat buses or taxis, leave when full. Merida and high altitude areas will be cold in winter and AC buses are always freezing. Venezuela is a big country and tourists concentrate in certain areas.
Most tourists will be found in Isla de Margarita. After this 'off-shore tourist escape' you will find minimal to no other travellers. However in travellers' centres, such as Merida, there are plenty of lovely cheap places to stay geared to independent travellers. Plenty of internet places in major towns and attractions. Plus most hostels have Wi-Fi. Not the world's best place to be a vegetarian, however you can make do. Venezuela is a country with problems!
Take basic meds, as pharmacies have next to nothing. You will seriously struggle to get something like antibiotics for an ear infection. Worth booking stuff a couple of days in advance if possible. Quite frankly the country is a mess - this does not help the safety or security situation. Many thanks to Anna , whom helped update this section with a trip. She recommends as we do to know a bit of Spanish - a lot of people do not have English, so a few short phrases are a must!
Her must sees are: Mount Roraima is wonderful, it's a massive climb and the views across Guyana are breathtaking. Orinoco Delta incredible - untouched, lush, mangroves; staying at Orinoco Eco Camp but skipping the trip 'to see the villagers'.
Odd little German settlement village - Colonia Tovar. A Bavarian village in the middle of the Venezuelan mountains.
Not so long ago long-term travel in Argentina was prohibitively expensive for budget travellers, then everything changed with the devaluation of the once rigidly US dollar pegged Peso. Argentina became cheap to very cheap depending on the current need for USDs affecting the black market, or 'Blue' rate. Now with the worst of several economic crisis behind the country, Argentina when comparing standards of comfort when travelling and to neighbouring countries, particularly Brazil, is a bargain do note however that with high inflation prices are creeping up and anything imported comes at a price.
Coupled with this Argentina is an extremely likeable place. Buenos Aires is a fantastic, fairly laid-back city and big enough to escape the crowds that can blight some of the country's other attractions.
Countrywide, there's a good travellers' network and it's stunningly beautiful with huge variation - even the Spanish sounds gorgeous here! The main problem travellers face in Argentina - as with Brazil - is dealing with the huge distances.
Bus travel is comfortable and reasonably priced, but long and time consuming and not hugely interesting. With almost everything landing in Buenos Aires and enough including side-trips to entertain there many simply don't make it further or those with the cash invest in air tickets. After leaving the capital the clear destinations of choice: Free on arrival for most nationalities.
Reciprocal fees for Americans have existed in the past and may resurface. Distances - you'll get to like buses or have to fork out for flights which are not always a bargain. The jury is out on the bottom of the world - Ushuaia which is a 'Timbuktu of the Americas', someone where everyone seems to want to make a bee-line for.
American summer and some parts are better than others during the shoulder season. As with Chile, huge climate variations from the country's top to bottom. Any cold weather gear that's needed for a specific activity can be rented there for reasonable fees. Buying ' technical ' clothing and fabrics will be more expensive than Europe or North America.
Very reasonable, transportation is a major cost, especially paying for flights. In previous years there was a USD peg and at times a parallel exchange rate exists meaning that if you have USD cash you can change in the informal market and get a much better rate. Getting around by air: Aerolineas offers a domestic combo pack if you fly into Argentina with them, but this is now generally regarded as a pretty bad deal, since it would be as cheap or cheaper to book domestic flights individually.
LADE is a weird military carrier that apparently has rock-bottom rates, but flights are sporadic and can be unreliable. LAN Chile also might have some domestic flights in Argentina. For further afield such as for Asuncion, Brazil or Chile, Aerolineas.
The domestic airport in Buenos Aires is called Aeroparque Jorge Newberry or simply "aeroparque" , although Aerolineas Argentinas also flies some domestic routes out of Ezeiza, the international airport. For more information see: Argentina Cafe Travel Guide. Argentina is a big country and you can easily escape the crowds, but at major attractions it can get quite crowded.
Good section of hostels in BA and other major destinations, many offering excellent reasonably priced double rooms if dorms are not your thing. These hostels are excellent place for getting information, planning your trip and meeting people.
Elsewhere hotels and guesthouse are quite reasonable and plentiful. Argentines - especially the the younger generation - like their Chilean and Uruguayan neighbours are cool, friendly, arty and happy to help you out or share a beer.
Plenty of internet places and free Wi-Fi in major towns and attractions. Plus in most hostels have Wi-Fi. Considered a 'big' one in the travel world, almost every traveller will want to brag about stepping foot on the seventh continent. Don't expect much change out of USD5, and be prepared to double this depending on the quality, timing and routing you choose. There are several ways to get to The Ice as those based on research bases tend to refer to it and various access points.
In very short summary these are:. You will stay in a camp and forego the need to get on a ship. Views from the air are apparently amazing. This option comes at high cost - you can figure out how much yourself.
A long and expensive route, few taking this route. This is the route 99 percent of visitors take. It is the cheapest and geographically the nearest to Antarctica by virtue of the Peninsula that juts out towards Ushuaia where most operators are based. Puerto Williams is where most vessels depart.
For simplicity and experience sake this is route we will focus on here. Continues on Antarctica page … Paraguay A quick low down: Despite recent time spent in Paraguay, it's hard to put something down about a country such as Paraguay. To say it's void of any attraction is obvious wrong. In fact just being in a country void of the streams of tourist that flood the likes of Bolivia and Peru is a highlight, but there are no salt flats or Inca ruins here.
What Paraguay offers is a look at a sleepily steamy South America. Those with the time will surely find many a wonder, but time at the expense of visits to very similar and superior attractions in neighbouring countries national parks and Jesuit reductions. Located right on a swampy river and the Argentina border it makes the logistics of getting across the continent from the falls or Rio to Salta, Chile and ultimately Bolivia , much easier.
There's a lot of history and it's interesting to simply be there, but that's about your lot. It's not referred to as South America's empty quarter for nothing. If Paraguay seems too sleepy and dull to visit, grab or down load a copy of this great book by John Gimlette. It will bring to life some of the most bizarre true stories around. A quick low down: It's very hard not to like Uruguay. Like Argentina and Brazil it's civilised, it's also laid back and friendly - but unlike these neighbours and more like Paraguay as there's not that much going on.
The three most visited attractions and highlights are: Colonia , a charming colonial town and easier to reach from BA than Montevideo. Second comes the capital, Montevideo , seemingly a million miles away from BA in size and hassle.
A pleasant place where the top attraction could be argued to be a collection of port side restaurants Mercado del Puerto. These beaches are stunning, many in resort style, can be crowded and are, well just beaches. All of the above are well worth a look if not pushed for time or money. Punte del Este in Uruguay has an unearned reputation and is over priced - an alternative beach spot is Cabo Pollonio, literally off the grid only its lighthouse has electricity from the national grid, although many hostels and restaurants have generators.
In Cabo you can enjoy asados on a beach only accessible by a low-priced 15 minute off-road ride from the national park entrance, check out los lobos de merinos sea lions at La Loberia right at the end of the beach perhaps even see a penguin Also, the nearby beach town of Valizas is a three-hour walk along the beach, or two hours with a shortcut through the ever-shifting sand dunes.
Either way, be prepared to wade across a small river for 50 or 60 feet through calf to thigh deep water just as you finally reach Valizas. Thanks to Nate for the updates. Inland you'll find few travellers and a lot of flat cattle grazing land, real gaucho country and if you want to pay for it you can relax and horse ride on ranches.
Overall in Uruguay there is a good network of buses and budget places to stay, but few destinations, unless endless enjoying a beach, require too much of your time. For example it can be hard to fill a day in somewhere like Colonia and the others aren't far behind. It is worth noting that compared to neighbouring countries Uruguay can be expensive and particularly at Punte del Este which has a French Rivera St. Tropez feel well kind of and is home to much of the continent's wealth management.
South American Handbook - Ben Box. For a full list of planning guides, recommended guide books and reading material, please click here. For hostels if you prefer them in South America have a looks at www.
They are a network of independently owned hostels all over South America and in some cities they also have language schools, tours, and restaurants. It's pretty sweet and helped me find cool stuff to do and great places to stay and is way better organised than any other site I've found. Remember, this is only a take an overview if you will ; very few get the chance to see every inch of every country or have the time to get everyone's opinion you are welcome and encouraged to mail in yours.
Please, please if you have been anywhere recently send your comments to contribute and help keep all information fresh for future travellers. Or if you are about to head off remember this site when you return and put a few lines in an e-mail to let us know if things have changed. A 'go to' travel guide for travellers by travellers. Key independent travel routes Main Page content: TL;DR Is traveling alone okay? Some things you might want to know in the way of backpacking, budget travel country advice, info and summaries for: Plus shorter summaries for: Internet no problem, plenty of fast Wi-Fi, Food: Some good, cheap food Vegetarians: Not really a problem Hassle and annoyance factor: Post, cheapest in South America Food: Fine Hassle and annoyance factor: None really, apart from Pantanal tours Women alone: As with the rest of South America, single women should be very wary before taking a jungle or Pantanal tour with a male guide Local poisons for the body: Everyone in the country will know the USD exchange rate and places to change are plentiful, including decent sized supermarkets, Guide book: Generally nice, interesting and educated people Other travellers: Limited water sometimes none for showers in desert regions Average cost: Most hostels have Wi-Fi or a computer you can use for free Health: Altitude when entering the country by bus from Argentina or Bolivia Food: No problem Hassle and annoyance factor: Fine Local poisons for the body: Drugs , cigarettes and alcohol.
Most travellers come from Peru or Costa Rica Dangers: Pretty good cheap buses. Roads good, just windy Guide book: Fine, a little tourist jaded in places Other travellers: Lots of Americans and a few package tourists Tourist factor: Good value Hot water: Normally fine, apart from jungle areas Average cost: Quito more expensive Health: Many travellers do suffer from food poisoning and related stomach problems Media: So I opened, and there was she.
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