How to avoid minor problems
A few recommendations from us to avoid the obvious problems spoiling your trip...
In this section we have put together a few of our most important South American Travel Tips. With this vast continent playing host to a few of the world's largest countries as well as some of the world's most diverse economies, covering all of the highs and lows in one section will be a bit tricky but please take a look at a brief synopsis below for each of the countries that we currently offer.
On the whole, while there are a few areas of extreme poverty in almost all of the major cities in South America, the continent has taken leaps and bounds in the last decade or so and has been fortunate to benefit from the progress of infrastructural systems such as mobile phones and internet wifi. Most of the countries today boast wifi in hotels as standard as well as good road and transport systems.
With Spanish and Portuguese still being the predominant languages spoken we do still highly recommend learning a few basic phrases as, as is often commented by clients, outside of the main metropolises it is very difficult to make yourself understood without the simplest of comprehension. That being said, however, in true South American style, with plenty of gesturing and an open disposition you can usually have great fun in trying to get the point across!
For most that travel to any of the countries in the continent, time is often of the essence and so, due to the distances involved, internal flights are normally the order of the day. With up to 5 or 6 flights in an itinerary there is certainly the need for a bit of patience (and sometimes luck) but the networks are usually well run and offer reasonable value for money.
Please have a look at a little more country specific information on a range of topics below:
HEALTH AND SAFETY - This is, fortunately, a fairly short section...
The South America of today, as mentioned above, has taken leaps and bounds as far as its technological advancements are concerned. This can also be applied to both the transportation and medical facilities throughout the countries that we cover.
Please see a few of the main things to keep an eye out for below:
Major Cities - As with major cities throughout the world, it is always worth keeping vigilant in the main, tourist areas of any of the main cities such as Buenos Aires, Santiago, Rio, São Paolo, Lima or Bogotá. In these areas, pick pocketing can be a problem as well as confidence scams…but this is advice that we would give to those visiting the major cities of Europe or North America anyway and so, as long as you are careful, it is not something to overly worry about.
Wild Animals - There are very few animals that will do you real harm in South America. The first two are the largest cats of the continent, the puma and the jaguar. Roughly speaking these large cats are both very skittish and so are rarely seen but it is possible to reliably see them in both the Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, and the Brazilian Pantanal. The ranges of the species cover most of South America and so it is always worth being vigilant.
Other than the large cats, caiman (a South American type of crocodile) are prevalent in the Amazon jungle and the wetlands of Argentina and Brazil. They are not overly dangerous and only grow to around 4 foot so would not try and come to close to a human. There are also a few other species such as the Anaconda snake and, it has been reported, that “gangs” of wild pigs can turn nasty on occasion!
Self Driving - While most of South America is easily accessible with normal road vehicles, there are a few things to keep in mind for those planning on going under their own steam. The first is to note that, where there is a good road network in the main, often you will find that a major road will quickly turn into a graded road and then a gravel road. As the network is so large in most of the countries, it is always worth checking locally before you start out to see if there are any blockages or other occurrences that may make the way unpassable.
The standard of other road users in most of South America can also be a little changeable and so we also recommend to take your time when travelling so as to be able to leave everyone else get on with their route.
This being said, driving yourself through South America can be one of the most rewarding ways to get around and, as such, with a little common sense and vigilance, most drivers will get on absolutely fine.
Inoculations - Many countries in South America are still classified as developing and, as such, many of their major cities have areas that have attracted huge numbers of people looking for work. In and around these areas it is certainly worth paying extra attention to drinking water and eating food. Otherwise, in all of the countries that we offer, the attention to hygiene is paramount and, as such, there are no inoculations that are compulsory for travel.
On the whole, we would still certainly recommend using bottled water wherever possible but, as far as other health issues are concerned, there are not many that are truly dangerous.
** For further advice on what inoculations we recommend for Argentina please ask one of our consultants or your GP **
WHAT TO PACK - a few recommendations from our experience...
Please see a list of a few things that we would recommend including in your luggage. With such a wide variety of destinations, activities, temperatures and climates encompassed in South America, this section only really offers a few suggestions from our experience in travelling out there…the main piece of advise we would give is to think of “layers” rather than specific pieces of clothing so you can be as flexible as possible. Please see a few initial thoughts:
Windcheater/overcoat: A good make of windcheater/lightweight rain jacket is usually the first thing in our luggage. Ideal as an over layer when visiting the cooler climbs of southern Chile or the higher plateaus of the Andes, but equally useful if walking through the rainforest with just a t-shirt underneath, this is a very useful piece of clothing.
Cotton “t” and long sleeved t-shirts: As mentioned above, the ability to take off or put on layers is one of the best and most versatile ways to pack for South America. With most of the destinations being longditudinal, there is often a range of different climates and temperatures to contend with. With most of the internal airlines only allowing 15 kilogrammes of hold luggage, being able to use clothing throughout the trip becomes very helpful.
Camera equipment: This is an absolute must as the photography out in South America is outstanding. Mainly consisting of panoramas, we generally recommend that clients travel with a wide-angle lense if possible (such as a 10-20mm) and also a polarizing filter…you will see why!
Walking shoes: Always a good purchase, a sturdy pair of walking shoes is a good idea. If you are looking to do some serious trekking then walking boots will come in handy but, to be honest, we have never found the need for anything more than a good pair of walking trainers.
Gloves: Again, if you are heady for the chillier climes of the south then a thin pair of gloves are a good buy, again, if you are planning on heading up some of the mountains then a proper, thick pair.
Phrasebook: We are firm believers that, when you travel, you take out what you put into it. Most South Americans working in the travel industry these days have a good working knowledge of English, but it can be hugely rewarding and eye-opening to have a chat in Spanish with a local gaucho!
That is about it really. Most things can be purchased as you go so, if you forget your toothbrush it can easily be replaced.
TO AND FROM - a quick guide to the international flights...
With the cost of modern flight prices dropping by the day, there is an absolute glut of different routes and carriers to pick from in getting out to South America. Below we have outlined a few of the more popular routings to give you some sort of idea...
Argentina – the quickest and usually most cost efficient option from the UK is to fly from London Heathrow direct to Buenos Aires. The flying time is approximately 11 hours on British Airways. Another option is to route through Madrid using Iberia but it is normally slightly more expensive, strangely, and adds approximately 2 hours onto the journey time.
From Europe, similar options to the above normally apply with short feeder flights from most European cities through either London or Madrid coming out at a good price. These days there is also Air Europa which is an option worth considering.
From the US a lot depends on where you are coming from. Out of the east coast many will opt for American Airlines, Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. From the west coast then you will need to route through one of the main hub cities such as Atlanta, Dallas or Lima.
Chile – a little harder to get to from the UK and Europe and it is quite often a matter of deciding on which carrier suits you best and the cost for each as to who you end up travelling with. Generally speaking, you have one of two options, routing via the US with an American carrier out of London and then flying down from there (see US section below), or you can pick a European carrier and fly out via Europe. Many of the big name operators fly out such as BA (via Sao Paulo or direct to Buenos Aires), Iberia (direct from Madrid), Lufthansa and Air France. As of January 2016, British Airways will be offering direct flights from London Heathrow to Santiago four days a week.
As well as the European carriers it is also possible to fly out using a South American carrier such as TAM (routing via São Paolo) or Aerolineas Argentinas into Madrid.
For those travelling from the US, there are plenty of options to get down to Santiago. American Airlines is probably the most popular routing via Miami, but other carriers such as Continental and United are also possible on direct flights.
Brazil - from the UK the obvious and most popular choice is definitely to fly from London directly into São Paolo or Rio on a direct British Airways flight. If, however, you would prefer to head to the beach at the start or end then another good option would be to use TAP Portugal who fly a direct routing from Lisbon to both Salvador and Rio.
Out of the US, all of the main carriers that are mentioned above for Argentina also operate a good service down to Rio and São Paolo. There are even a few longhaul flights from the States that route through Manaus in the very heart of Brazil which makes a quick stop in the Amazon a very real option.
Antarctica - to access the Antarctic from the South America side (it is also possible to arrange a cruise from Australia and New Zealand) the international flights will need to be to either Argentina or Chile and then a flight internally down to Punta Arenas and Ushuaia.
Once in either starting point then the numerous cruise options that are offered come into play with long itineraries cruising down to the Antarctic Peninsula via the Falklands, South Georgia etc. Or you could opt for the much faster flight option out of Punta Arenas which takes only 2 hours to King George Island.
Peru - has become much more accessible from the UK since the start of March 2016 with British Airways starting up a direct flight from London to the capital of Lima. Currently the options for those from the UK or Europe include using Air France and KLM with both offering direct flights from Paris or Amsterdam respectively.
From the US, the same normal rules apply with a few of the east coast cities offering direct flights and the west coast locations requiring a routing through one of the main hubs.
Colombia - the final destination on the list has, as with Peru, become quite a bit more accessible from Europe and the UK in the recent past with Avianca, the main carrier of Colombia, now offering direct flights into the capital of Bogotá. Alternatives include the main European carriers or using a transatlantic flight and then connecting down on one of the American carriers.
From the US the same logic applies for flights into Bogotá. It is also worth bearing in mind that there also exists a direct flight linking Miami and Cartagena on the Colombian coastline.
******Please note that the routings and timings for airlines are changing rapidly at the moment due to the global situation and so the recommendations mentioned above are only as a guideline. All our consultants are trained with flights and routings and so will offer you the best options available to you and relevant to your potential itinerary.******
PASSPORTS AND VISAS - a brief guide to the basic requirements...
The visa and passport requirements for all the countries of South America do vary and change very regularly due to the often volatile relationship between the US and its American cousins! For this reason, we have outlined a few of the principal requirements below but we would request that you contact you’re the embassy that is closest to you for the country you are visiting to find out the requirements of the moment.
Broadly speaking, you do require a passport to travel into anywhere in South America and, currently, as a New Zealander or Western European, you will be issued with a 90-day tourist visa on arrival in all of the countries that we offer, free of charge.
For US, Australian and Canadian citizens the situation is not always quite as simple. Please see the current requirements for these passport holders for the countries that we offer:
Argentina - A valid passport is required for U.S., Australian and Canadian citizens to enter Argentina. You do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days for tourism or business. Argentine law requires that, prior to arrival in Argentina at any entry point, Australian and Canadian citizen tourist and business travelers pay a 160 USD reciprocity fee by credit card online at the Provincia Pagos website. For English instructions, check Online Payment brochure. Once paid, travelers must print out the receipt and present it to the Argentine immigration officer at the time of entry. The fee is valid for 10 years from the date of payment and for multiple entries. It is advisable to keep multiple copies of the receipt, as it must be presented every time you enter Argentina. The fee applies only to bearers of tourist passports.
**As of the 30th March 2016 the reciprocity requirements for US citizens has been annulled**
Chile - passport must be valid for the duration of the stay. U.S. citizens entering Chile must have a valid passport. U.S. citizens traveling to Chile for recreation, tourism, business, or academic conferences do not need to obtain a visa prior to their arrival in Chile. A Tourist Card will be issued for a stay of up to 90 days.
Brazil - Brazil requires U.S. citizens to carry a valid U.S. passport and visa when traveling to Brazil for any purpose. You must obtain your Brazilian visa in advance (and in person) from the Brazilian Embassy or consulate nearest to your place of residence in the United States. Visas cannot be obtained at the airport, and immigration authorities will refuse entry into Brazil to anyone not possessing a valid visa. The U.S. government cannot assist you if you arrive in Brazil without proper documentation.
U.S. citizens and other foreign travelers must fill out an immigration form on arrival that will be stamped and handed back by immigration officials at the airport. It is important to retain this form to hand back to immigration officials upon exit from the country. According to the Brazilian Embassy’s website, visitors who lose this form will have to get clearance from the Brazilian Federal Police to leave the country and may have to pay a fine.
Colombia - All U.S. citizens who do not also hold Colombian citizenship must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia. U.S. citizens traveling to Colombia do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist stay of 90 days or less. Travelers entering Colombia are sometimes asked to present evidence of return or onward travel, usually in the form of a plane ticket.
Peru - A valid passport is required to enter and depart Peru. Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel. Travelers entering Peru on a U.S. passport receive a card and an entry stamp from Peruvian Immigration upon arrival stating the length of approved stay (usually 90 days).
Antarctica - While there are no visa requirements for visiting Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty and the Environmental Protocol do establish certain obligations on the Treaty Parties with regard to expeditions to the Antarctic Treaty area (i.e., the area south of 60° South Latitude, including all ice shelves). Article VII(5)(a) of the Treaty obliges each Party to give advance notification of all expeditions to and within Antarctica, on the part of its ships or nationals, and all expeditions to Antarctica organized in or proceeding from its territory. U.S. tourists who have booked passage to Antarctica on a commercial cruise regulated by an Antarctic Treaty Party would be covered by the vessel operator’s and/or tour company’s advance notification.
For further information please follow the link: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html
MONEY - a run through of what to do in the country for currency...
Argentina - The Argentinean Peso has been pinned against the US dollar a number of times now in an attempt to curb the rates of inflation that Argentina has. As a daily currency it is, however, the only form that is accepted and so, other than in the large and high-end hotels, you will have trouble using either US dollars or Euros.
What we recommend is that you travel with US dollars and then change them on arrival in one of the major cities of Argentina, or you simply withdraw money from one of the many ATM machines (although this will be subject to your bank’s exchange rate and international transaction fees). Most credit (MasterCard, visa and Amex) and debit cards are accepted (Cirrus, Link, Plus)
Chile - The Chilean Peso is one of the more stable currencies in South America and, as such, it is used throughout the country extensively, to the point where the USD is no longer the main form of currency. Getting your currency changed is very easy in any of the main towns and cities throughout the country although, in the smaller locations, the occasional ATM machine is the only way to withdraw currency and so it is worth bringing a credit card.
Brazil - As with many of the currencies of South America, the Brazilian Real has loosely been pinned to the USD and, with Brazil shifting into and economic down turn of late, the currency has, subsequently been devalued by almost 75% in the last 4 years.
This being said, the Real is still, very much, the currency of choice throughout the country and so, as with Argentina and Chile, you will do well to travel with USD and then change them locally or use your bank cards to withdraw from the many ATMs across the country.
Antarctica - as an officially un-owned continent there is no official currency on Antarctica. In the main, all of the produce and activities offered by the many cruise companies that ply their trades down here will be based around the USD or the Argentine or Chilean Peso.
Peru - Since its introduction at the start of the 1990s the “Nuevo Sol” has remained one of South America’s most stable currencies, trading at between 2.5 and 3.5 against the USD.
As the main form of currency in Peru we would certainly recommend that you either pre-purchase some Soles in advance of travel or when you get to the country and in any of the major cities.
Of course, as is normal, the country has a good network of banks and ATMs around the main tourist areas and so, again, it is normally possible to gain funds while travelling through using credit or debit cards.
Colombia - the final currency on our list is the Colombian Peso which is the main form of currency throughout the country. As with many of South America’s currencies, the rise and fall and re-rise of the US Dollar has had large affects on the rate and stability of the Peso. Currently the Peso has fallen off against the dollar by around 50% since late 2014.
The same advise as above concerning how and where to gain access to the currency applies.
For up-to-date exchange rates please follow this link: www.xe.com
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO CAMPAIGN - backed by the FCO...
Having worked in travel for many years now, the one thing that we have always recommended to our clients is to do a little background research. It is amazing the doors a few words of the local language can open, or the God send that a headtorch can be when stumbling around in the dark! With this in mind, we have teamed up with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in their "know before you go" campaign, which addresses a few of the main issues that you need to think about when traveling abroad. Read more...