Mount Zwegabin (or in Burmese: ဇွဲကပင်တောင်) makes for a beautiful and short day-hike near the Southeast Burmese city Hpa An.
Hampi Photos: Stories in Stones.
I visited Hampi twice, once in 2014, and then again in 2019. Though I have been to Hampi two times and have spent about ten-eleven days in the area, I am still nothing less than dazed by not just the ruins and temples of Hampi, but by the green Hampi villages, the crispy dosas that have a different flavor in that part of Karnataka, the variety of animal life that is running around Hampi fearlessly, but now more so in national parks such as Daroji, and how it all just dovetail so perfectly together.
My Bangalore to Hampi road journey was no less than an adventure. In the linked guide you can read all about that Bangalore-Hampi road trip studded with aesthetic windmills. This 7,000 words guide is also almost a Wiki for exploring Hampi monuments, its surrounding villages, experiencing its local life and food, and understanding Hampi’s history.
As I have already written about the logistics of traveling and the history of Hampi in the aforementioned travel guide, allow me to jump right into Hampi pictures. I clicked most of these photos with my Nikon DSLR and Google Pixel. Other photos (mostly old Hampi photos) have been taken from around the internet to contrast between the past and new Hampi. I have also added some ancient photos just to give more context to a temple or a carving or a view in case I didn’t have enough relevant pictures.
I hope you enjoy these Hampi images for I had a lot of fun putting this Hampi photography essay together. Machu Picchu could be one of the world’s wonder, Bali is on everyone’s bucket list, Himachal Spiti’s Valley is a craze amongst travelers, but Hampi stands right there in the line.
From Bangalore to BR Hills – Venturing Into the Hearts of Karnataka Jungles.
Biligiri Rangana Betta hills or popularly known as BR hills lie about 180 km south of Bengaluru.
Just a 4–5 hours drive away from Bangalore, it is no surprise that the hills make for a perfect weekend getaway. Having been stuck in the city for two months straight for personal reasons, I was in desperate-need-of-greenery-and-fresh-air and quickly finalized upon Biligiri Hills as my weekend destination. The trip was with my husband so it had to be short to accommodate his full-time job. But even a 2–3 days road trip soaked us in so much nature that we savored it through the next few months of the dry pandemic era in which even stepping out of our tiny abode for groceries felt like a luxury.
I hadn’t expected to see much wildlife in BR hills, as my ventures into the hearts of the Karnataka jungles (such as the Dandeli Sanctuary) before hadn’t borne me much fruit, or, to say, I never saw the big cats or even the tail of an errant elephant. But little did I know that my desire to see Karnataka wildlife would finally come to color in the Biligiri Rangana Hills, officially known as the BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary which was formed in 1974.
At an altitude of 3500 feet above sea level, BR hills stand where the Western Ghats meets the Eastern Ghats, and make for an ecological hotspot. In addition to the location exoticism, the BRT wildlife sanctuary is quite large, 540 km² in the area to be precise, and is also an official tiger reserve.
Not only did we see two sloth bears, at different times, sprinting across in front of our jeep, but we also spotted a leopard hidden behind the thickets, wild bisons appearing all macho, mama and baby chital(spotted deers), an Indian grey mongoose tottering around, a tortoise couple resting on a log in a pond, vultures and owls perched on high and dry tree branches, lone sambhar deers, barking deers melting us with their innocent eyes, Malabar squirrels nibbling through nuts perpetually, colorful birds of various kinds, langurs, wild monkeys, and wild boar. Phew.
Chile is a long country sandwiched between the Pacific ocean and the Andes mountains. I have written twelve other articles on Chile that go from covering the Chile culture to fun things to do in Chile to a comprehensive Chile travel guide — so this one is going to be a point to point informative Chile tips guide.
This travel tips for Chile list is a quick handbook to acquaint travelers visiting Chile with the country’s most important travel information.
Let’s get started.
Practical Chile travel tips to prepare yourself for a Chile trip.
Fast Facts. General tips for traveling to chile.
- Chile’s international code is +56. Landline works.
- Wifi works well in most of Chile. But if you are in a truly wild place, let us say the center of Patagonia or the top of the Volcano Villarrica, don’t expect the wifi.
- You do not need to carry your passport when you walk out. Like in all the other countries.
- Chileans drive on the right side of the road.
- You would need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Chile.
- Chile is divided into sixteen main administrative regions.
- The two major networks of Chile are Entel and Movistar. Purchase a SIM card at any grocery or departmental store, at any kiosk, at bus stands, and at the airports.
- You should definitely bring a pair of jeans to Chile.
- You can drink tap water in Chile.
- If you are still wary of tap water, try LifeStraw, a water bottle with an inbuilt filter, that I have been using for more than a year now.
Chilean People and Culture. (I talk about the Chilean cultural conventions in this piece.)
- Chileans love tiny gestures: a smile, a hug, a small gift from your country.
- Chileans greet by kissing each other on both cheeks. Men to men: a handshake or a hug, men to women or women to women: kiss and kiss.
- Minga is a joined activity. Like shifting a whole house.
- Chileans love cats and dogs. You would find many fury street dogs. They don’t cause any problems mostly.
- Chile has tonnes of documentation. Be ready for a long-form for everything.
- The indigenous people in Chile were mostly animists. Now, most of the Chileans are Catholics. Being respectful to their religion would take you a long way (a general tip for any culture).
- Most of the Chileans are very helpful. You will have to only ask.
- Chile loves music and football. If you immerse yourself, you would be soon invited to personal events.
- Christmas is big in Chile.
- So is the Chilean independence day or the Fiestas Patrias that is a week-long celebration from the 11/12 of September to the 18th of September.
- Most Chileans love bread. You can buy many kinds of fresh bread from street bakeries.
- If one country could be the ambassador of avocado(palta in Spanish), it is Chile. Try it there.
- Oh, Chile makes amazing wines. Another affordable product.
- Chile is a meat-eating culture. Beef, pork, chicken, seafood — everything is welcome and loved.
- Countryside people and islanders might not appreciate you not eating meat. (Only relevant if you are staying with a Chilean family as part of some program, as I was.)
- Pisco sour is a must-try drink in Chile.
- Kunstmann is a local popular beer in Chile. It is a little more expensive than other beers.
- Chilean sushi is a must-try: loaded with avocados and cream cheese.
- Empanadas are stuffed savory pastries sold all over the country. Must-try.
- Sopaipilla is fried bread. A street favorite.
- Don’t expect many spices in the local food.
- Chileans don’t eat dinner but have once, an early supper.
- Mate is the local herbal tea that Chileans keep drinking through the piped pot. Try it.
- Look for the must-have foods and drinks in the food section of my Chile guide.
Transport in Chile.
- In the South of Chile, collectivos — shared taxis are abundant. They charge a fixed price as per the destination.
- Micros or small buses run in the South of Chile, too. You pay when you get out. Keep coins.
- Chile doesn’t have trains.
- Long-distance, interstate buses run smoothly in Chile with full-bed or half-bed options.
- Full-bed in bus=almost complete bend back, half-bed in bus=half bend back.
- Bused can be booked online or at the bus station. Pullman, Cruz del Sur are the two popular companies amongst many others.
- Chilean interstate buses have toilets but micros don’t.
- Uber is not legal in Chile but functions in Santiago.
- The most popular airline in Chile is LATAM. Book online but double-check the currency. Most of the websites use a dollar sign for Chilean peso. I lost a bit of money because of this once.
- Taxis charge about 300 pesos as a base price and then 1000 pesos per mile.
About Chilean Spanish. (Pay special attention to these travel tips Chile)
- Chilean people speak fast slang-studded Spanish.
- Download the offline Spanish file in Google Translate.
- Use the audio version of Google Translate.
- Read my list of important Spanish phrases to manage your way through Chile.
- Or print the list from here.
- Try learning Spanish with these 24 tips on how to learn a language on your own: the practical tips that helped me learn Spanish in a few weeks.
- Indians means the indigenous in Chile. If you are an Indian, say soy de la India(I am from India).
- Chileans suffix ito at the end of every person name’s or relation or thing to express love or call it more cutely. So Juan becomes Juanito, pescado(fish) becomes pescito, and linda(cute) becomes lindita.
- J is pronounced as H in Spanish. So Javier is haa-vier.
- Beer is Cerveza(sir-way-za) in Spanish.
- Refer to an elderly man as Señor and a woman as Señora (considered respectful). Señorita is used for a younger woman.
- Boyfriend is pololo and husband is noveo.
- To make any noun or verb feminine in Chile use “a” at the end of the word.
- Pololo becomes polola and novio becomes novia.
- Saludos or salu in short is cheers in Chilean Spanish.
- Not a lot of people — sometimes even the waiters and cab drivers and hosts don’t speak Spanish.
- One thousand Chilean pesos are known as mil or luca in casual language. Say to impress.
About Money and Cost of traveling in Chile.
- Chile is financially stabler than most of the other countries in South America. It would be costlier to travel in Chile as compared to Peru or Colombia or Ecuador or Bolivia.
- You generally tip 5–10 percent in Chile.
- ATMs are dependable. Banco Estado is a government bank and has a lower fee than other banks(for my card it was lower).
- Ten USD is 8000 Chilean peso approximately.
- An entire day’s food would cost about 15,000 Chilean pesos if you try to be economical.
- Prices of backpacker hostels depend on the location — Expect to pay between 5,000 Chilean pesos to 15,000, depending on the popularity of the city.
- All other kinds of accommodations would cost higher than 5,000 pesos and can go up as per the luxury and facilities. Browse places to stay in Chile here on Booking.
About Chilean visa and immigration.
- Chile gives a 90-days free visa or a Tourist card to citizens of most countries. India is not one of them. But if you are an Indian with a valid US or UK visa, you can get free entry, too. Check my Chile visa for Indians article for more details.
- Chile shares a border with Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia so you can enter via land into these neighboring nations.
Weather in Chile.
- Chile is in the Southern zone so the weather is opposite to the US or Europe or India. Summer is from October to January. The coldest months are June, July, and August.
- The South of Chile receives heavy rainfall for a large part of the year. Bring rain jackets, strong hiking shoes, and warm jackets.
- The best time to travel to Chile is different for each part of the country. But you can see most of the best places in Chile if you explore Chile in the summers.
- Patagonia is the coldest and most inaccessible part of Chile. So if you head there, make sure you have the right gear.
- Go to Patagonia in the summer months.
- Chile shares Patagonia with Argentina. You might be crossing borders, too, if you plan to cycle or hike.
- In Patagonia, you will not find ATMs in the interior part. Withdraw in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
- Carretera Austral or the Highway Carretera is the one you have to take if you wish to travel through Patagonia — it runs from Chaiten to the Cape Horn in the South.
- Even though W trek is one of the popular treks in the Torres del Paine park, the most popular park in the South, the park has many other treks for all kind of trekkers.
- Read the rest about Patagonia here.
Some extraordinary things about Chile. (Chile tips for adventurers)
- You can climb active volcanoes in Chile.
- Chile is one of the best places to stargaze. The Atacama desert is the best place to do it.
- Pablo Neruda is Chile’s most popular poet. You can visit any of his three houses.
- Chile doesn’t have the Amazonas but has other national parks open for tourists.
- Chile has amazing places to surf and hike and ski. So if you love any of these sports, bring your equipment or rent there and have fun.
- Chile’s legendary Chiloe island is one of the best places to visit in Chile.
- You can see pink flamingoes in the Atacama desert in Chile.
- You can see penguin colonies in Patagonia and from the Los Lagos region of Chile.
- You can see migrating humpback whales near the Chilean coast.
- Chile respects artists. You can get a tattoo there, buy paintings, or immerse in jewelry making.
- Read all the places to see and experiences to have in Chile.
Travel Logistics/Booking Resources.
- I have listed many great GetYourGuide tours in Chile here in my Activities in Chile guide, but you can browse some of the tours here, too.
- You don’t need to book everything beforehand in Chile.
- You can rent an Airbnb or an apartment or a room or a dorm or tents or camper van or wooden cabins or anything else that comes to your mind. Go adventurous in Chile.
- A lot of Chilean accommodations have gas geysers in the bathroom. So when the host explains you, pay attention.
- Browse for prices and availability for a hotel here.
- See my packing list for Chile that helped me thrive through six months of winter, summer, and rains in Chile.
Teach English in Chile.
- You can teach as a volunteer in Chile with the English Open Doors program.
- You will get food and accommodation with a Chilean family.
- You have to pay for the tickets. You get some allowance.
- Only native or near-native English speakers can apply for this program.
- Santiago isn’t safe. Avoid getting out of the airport at night. Don’t wander alone in deserted streets even during the day. Keep your belongings close to you in the Subway and on the bus. (One of my most important Santiago Chile travel tips).
- You can read about when I got mugged in Santiago to understand the possibilities.
- Santiago has a fully-functional Subway.
- If strangers approach you in Santiago about paint on your dress or some other issue, become extra vigilant. Don’t leave your bags on the floor.
- A fanny pack is a must in Santiago.
Safety in Chile.
- Chile suffers from frequent earthquakes because it lies at the triple junction of tectonic plates. If you feel a tremble, please don’t panic as it could be one of the frequent, low-intensity tremors. Ask the locals for help.
- After the 219 and 2020 protests, Chile is up for tourism but be careful when you visit. I know a lot of travelers who were in Chile during the protests and their travel opportunities were limited. My Chilean friends told me that they won’t settle until the current Chilean government gives up. Read here about the entire issue.
- Check for the current news about the protests when you travel to Chile.
- I suggest staying in homestays as much as you can so you have locals’ help.
- Apart from Santiago, Chile is mostly safe to travel.
- If you follow the general travel guidelines, you should be safe in Chile.
All right. As I promised, I kept these travel tips to Chile quite compact. I have linked many Chile guides above. But if you are lost, visit my South America page where all the travel articles for the continent are listed. And if you are planning a South America trip, read my comprehensive backpacking South America guide.
Do you have any other travel tips for Chile? Please share in the comments.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links to products I love. If you choose to click through and make a purchase, I will earn a little bit at no extra cost to you. Thank you.
My List of top things to do in Chile.
Table of Content.
- Best Things To Do in the North of Chile
- Best Things To Do in the Central Valley of Chile
- Best Things To Do in the Lake region, known as Los Lagos in Chile
- Best Things To Do in the South of Chile, known as Patagonia
- Some General Top Things To Do in Chile.
I spent six months in Chile that were spread across July 2016 to April 2017.
Here I am sipping coconut water and writing about the best things to do in Chile, but a few years ago, I didn’t know much about Chile. I just decided to travel to Chile and teach English there on an instinct.
After I had been to Chile, an artist in Pushkar told me that Chile is like a long river, flowing on the edge of the American continent. And Pablo Neruda describes Chile as a long, thin ship. Running from the Atacama desert in the North to almost into Antarctica in the West, every corner of Chile has been well-planned by nature to surprises its residents and travelers alike.
Though you might think that Chile is a long but small country, let me warn you that there are an unprecedented number of things to do and beautiful places in Chile. From watching the penguins ganging up on the glaciers to hiking in fjords, from participating in a community activity minga to eating mussels steamed underground, from exploring a cavernous moony landscape to stargazing at night — you can do something new in all the many places to visit in Chile.
If you are going to Chile for two to three weeks, you should have a rough or an exact Chile itinerary. Otherwise, you would get confused about choosing between the plethora of the fun things to do in Chile at the last minute. But if you are visiting Chile for longer, you can wing your trip a little bit.
When in Chile, leave all the worries behind. Por tienes que disfrutas – You have to make the best of it!
Let me get started now.
I have described the geography of Chile in detail in the Chile travel guide, and you can read it here. To summarize — Though Chile is divided into sixteen administrative regions, I have divided Chile into four main geographical regions for the narrational ease. These regions are The North, the Central Valley, The Lake region also known as Los Lagos, and the South that is known as Patagonia.
Best Things To Do in the North of Chile
The highlight of the North is the dry Atacama desert that is a perfect setting for any Hollywood or Hindi drama. Nature dons a surreal robe in the Atacama.
1. Start your journey with San Pedro de Atacama village
This tiny adobe town is the gateway to the Atacama desert. Frozen in time, San Pedro is the perfect place to slow down, explore a fairly laid-back Chilean lifestyle, visit adobe houses and adobe church, and see the surrounding desert.
San Pedro is a bit more expensive than the rest of Chile, so pay attention to your expenditure.
Accommodation: Stay at the eco-friendly La Casa EcoExplor that is 200 meters away from the bus stand and offers budget dorms, private rooms, and a kitchen.
How to go: Take a bus from Santiago to Arica and then another one to San Pedro. Or fly from Santiago to Arica and then continue by road.
2. Visit the Miscanti and Miñiques lagoon, Piedra Rojas, and Chaxa lake in the Atacama desert
Start your Atacama expedition with these lagoons and the red rocks(Piedra Rojas in Spanish) as they make a comfortable day trip. These out-of-the-world destinations are bound to overwhelm you.
The blue lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques are surrounded by amber grass and backdropped by copper mountains. The volcanic red rocks lead up to a flamingo-studded emerald lake circumscribed by smooth peaks. The Chaxa lake is the perfect reflection of the purplish volcanoes that rise like gigantic ice-cream cones in the dry desert. If you get dizzy because of the high altitude, flamingoes feeding in the lake could be misconstrued as strolling between the upturned volcanoes.
How to go: Either take this GetYourGuide tour or rent a car and drive. Download the offline Google maps and have a hard copy of the map in case your phone runs out of battery (which is often not the case now for we all carry power banks). Many travel companies in San Pedro also arrange regular tours to these destinations.
3. Walk in the Moon Valley (Valle de La Luna) in the Atacama
About 13 km from San Pedro, the Moon Valley of the Atacama gets its name from its moon-like surface. Various sand and stone formations have been formed in the valley by the continuous wind and water action.
The cavernous valley is fringed by volcanoes, and one can get a good view of a sunset over a volcano by sitting on the high rocky hills or the sand dunes. The best time to go is the sunset when the color of the sky changes from pink to purple to finally dark.
How to go: Either go for an all inclusive tour or drive yourself
4. Float in the Natural Salt Lake (the Laguna Sejar)
The natural salt lake Laguna Sejar lies in the Cordillera de el Sal (mountain range of salt). Floating in this lake is one of the most fun activities to do in the Atacama — you float effortlessly under a clear blue sky in the middle of this vast desert while gazing over the volcanoes and mountains in the distance.
Combine the trip with Ojos del Salar and Tebinquinche lake. If you are on a tour, you would be served pisco sour, a popular Chilean drink, at sunset over Tebinquinche.
How to go: Take this all-inclusive GetYourGuide tour or drive yourself.
5. Stargaze all you want under the clear Atacama sky – One of the best things to do in Chile
Due to less air pollution, dry air, and a lot of cloudless nights, Chile is a perfect place for astronomers. And due to less light pollution, Atacama is the best even in Chile.
Make sure you keep one extra night or more for stargazing in the desert. Many travel companies arrange stargazing activities. You can also camp on the roof of your hotel to get some sky action.
How to go: Take a stargazing tour or camp in the desert with a local’s help.
Tip: Some of my other favorite things to do in the Atacama were visiting the hot Geysers del Tatio and relaxing in natural hot pools. Here is the hot pool to and fro transfer I took. You can get a tour of the geysers or drive there early morning to see steam shooting out of the geysers and into the sky.
6. Take a Uyuni Salt Flats tour from San Pedro
Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats are one of the world’s most bizarre landscapes. This vast salt desert is close to the border of Chile.
Most people go for a 3-4 day salt flats tour that could either begin in San Pedro or the Uyuni town of Bolivia and end in either one of these. On the cross-country tour, you would see many natural reserves of Chile, geysers, blue lagoons, flamingo colonies, and the salt flats of Bolivia. If you take a salt desert tour, you can skip the geysers and the other lagoons I mentioned above for you would see similar landscapes on the tour.
Here is a GetYourGuide tour that starts from San Pedro and goes to Uyuni in Bolivia.
7. Gape at the Hand of the Desert – Mano del Desierto
This giant structure constructed by the artist Mario Irarrazabal who depicts humans’ helplessness and vulnerability in the hand is 70 km away from the Antofagasta city. If you are around, pay a visit.
**What not to miss in the North: My favorite places in the desert were the Chaxa lake and the Moon Valley. Oh, do try quinoa ice cream in San Pedro and the delicious Chilean wines in the village plaza.
The Atacama is poetry. Won’t you agree?
Best Things To Do in the Central Valley of Chile
The Central Valley of Chile might not be as surreal as the North but it has its beaches, velvety countryside, vineyards, artists, graffiti, and colorful residential hills to flaunt.
Central Valley is known for its big cities: Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Valdivia, and Concepcion. All of these are connected to each other by bus, flight, and road.
8. Keep a few days for Santiago
Although I might have been looted in Santiago once, I would recommend traveling in Santiago for a few days because trying to understand a country without seeing its capital is like drawing a map without the North.
Chile might be about its deserts, beaches, and glaciers, but it is also about its cosmopolitan capital where you feel unsafe as soon as you step out of the center, and even in the center sometimes. My (and about hundred other Santiago local friends’) best safety tips for Santiago are: find a hotel in a safe neighborhood, stay inside at night, hold your bags and mobiles closer especially in the metro, bus, and crowded or empty places, keep an eye on people around you, and carry limited cash.
Some of the best things to see in Santiago are: Plaza del Armas (the main square), Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral (the main church), Santa Lucia hill (remains of a 15-million-year-old volcano), National Astronomical Observatory of Chile at Cerro Calán (you might have to contact the observatory in advance), San Cristobal Hill (for good views), Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts(for us art lovers), Museum of Memory and Human Rights(to know more about the Pinochet rule), Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino(another museum), Palacio de La Moneda, and the Bahá’í Temple of South America.
How to commute: Use metro, bus, and Uber(still illegal but functional). Prebook a pickup from the airport to your hotel if you are arriving in Santiago for the first time. If you are going to stay in Santiago a bit longer, consider this introductory tour to Santiago with a local guide.
Where to stay in Santiago: I have handpicked the below accommodations from throughout Santiago as per safety, locality, reviews, experiences, prices, and services provided.
Guest House Mery, Barrio Brasil – Run by a Chilean family, in downtown Santiago, close to historical places and metro, amazing reviews, kind staff, beautiful rooms, and patio, and pick up and drop from the airport at reasonable prices. Best for solo or couple travelers.
Book the hotel here on Booking. This place gets sold out well in advance.
Amistar Apartments – In downtown Santiago near Santa Lucia hill, entire apartment for 3/4/5 people, clean accommodation, kind owners, great reviews, and pick up and drop service from the airport. Best for a group of friends or families. Browse the apartments here on Booking.
And now for the hostel lovers.
Hostal Rio Amazonas: In central Santiago near Baquedano Metro Station, boutique hotel, gorgeous interiors and paintings, comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, friendly staff, inhouse bar, and wifi. Best for couples, family, and solo travelers.
Click here to see the availability and book Hostal Rio Amazonas.
9. Soak poetry in Pablo Neruda’s houses – One of the best places to visit in Chile
Neruda is one of the most loved poets of Chile who is not only known for his love poems but for his odes to things like socks and vegetables. His three homes: La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, and the one in the Isla Negra are all open for public on all days of the week except Monday.
If you haven’t read Pablo’s poetry, let me first recite a few verses to raise your curiosity,
It pleased me to grow with the morning,
to bathe in the sun, in the great joy
of sun, salt, sea-light, and wave,
and in that unwinding of the foam
my heart began to move,
growing in that essential spasm,
and dying away as it seeped into the sand.
From October Fullness, The Essential Neruda
These words are only a drop in Pablo’s ocean of poetry. The Essential Neruda poetry book I have linked above is a collection of some of his best poems in both their English and Spanish versions. His poetry can only beckon good things, I promise.
La Chascona: Fernando Márquez de la Plata 0192, Barrio Bellavista, Providencia, Santiago, 56-2-2777-8741; fundacionneruda.org. Named after Pablo’s secret lover, this house is at the foot of Cerro San Cristóbal. Pablo bought this house for his secret lover and himself.
La Sebastiana: Ferrari 692, Valparaíso, 56-32-225-6606; fundacionneruda.org. Sits on a Valparaíso hill overlooking the city.
Isla Negra: Poeta Neruda s/n, Isla Negra, El Quisco, 56-35-2461284; fundacionneruda.org: This house is on the coastline about an hour away from Valparaíso. Pablo is buried here along with his third wife. On the way to the house, you can visit many vineyards and fine restaurants some of which still serve Pablo’s favorite food.
If you want to go with a tour, this one goes to the Isla Negra house, explores the beach, and then takes the tourists for wine tasking in Casablanca valley.
10. Lose yourself in the Central Market of Santiago (Mercado Central)
One of my dear friends introduced me to Mercado Central. Abundant seafood, typical Chilean preparations, fresh fruits and vegetables, pulses and porotos(read beans), everything can be found in this market. I do remember eating in the dingy backside of the market but it has a great food court where you can get fresh seafood preparations.
Mercado Central is one of the most interesting places in Chile to understand the Chilean culture. Don’t miss it.
How to go: Take this bike tour that also goes to the market amongst other things or visit on your own. The nearest metro station to the market is Puente Cal y Canto. You can also take a bus and get down near the market. Though illegally, Ubers, also work in Santiago.
Must-try dishes: Porotos(red beans), pasta del choclo(corn preparation), seafood, humitas(another corn preparation) along with some Cusquena beer or wine
11. Hike in Maipo Valley (Cajon del Maipo)
Cajon del Maipo is a canyon in the Santiago Metropolitan Region of Chile.
Many rivers including the el Maipo River, El Volcan River, Colorado River, and Yeso River merge in this valley. The turquoise rivers circumscribed by the tall Andes make the canyon a perfect hub for adventure.
Cajon del Maipo offers a potpourri of activities ranging from hiking in the canyon, skiing, river rafting, hiking a volcano and visiting hot springs, exploring the national park, and relaxing with beautiful views. The trails in the Maipo Valley are both tough and easy, so choose yours as per your fitness level and comfort. Mostly, travelers head to Cajon del Maipo for a day or a weekend, but you can even book one of the cabins there and stay for long.
Look for a place to stay here, and I have linked to the tours with the activities above.
12. Gaze over the Pacific from the Wulff Castle, Viña del Mar
About 120 km from Santiago, Viña del Mar is a coastal city that is close to another popular coastal destination called Valparaíso.
Located right opposite the Cerro Castillo (Castillo hill), the Wulff castle was built by the Wulff family, first as their home, and then the home was remodeled into a castle. The castle doesn’t have an entrance fee, has beautiful art exhibitions as now it is a government heritage center, and the view of the Pacific from the castle is stunning.
Viña del Mar: Browse through Viña’s accommodations here.
13. Ride the squeaky funicular elevators of Valparaíso
Only 120 km away from Santiago, Valparaíso (or lovingly known as Valpo amongst the locals) is a colorful city built over steep hills on the shores of the Pacific. Like other port cities, it is a bit random and unstructured, and thus colorful. Valparaíso is the only Chilean city where street art is legal so you can imagine why I call it colorful.
People reside on the hills of Valparaíso, and these elevators, or cable cars, were built to carry people up and down on the steep hills. Although once there were about 31 elevators, now only about 14 of these are functional.
How to go: The two most popular and easy to access funiculars are the Acensor Reina Victoria (connecting Avenida Cumming with Paseo Dimalow) and the Acensor El Peral (connecting Plaza Sotomayor with Paseo Yugoslavo.) Carry some cash or coins for the ticket price is about 100-200 pesos.
If you are short of time, take a tour from Santiago to Vina del Mar and Valparaíso that goes through the main sites of both the cities.
Tip: While in Valparaíso, you can check out the Botica Salcobrand medical shop on Plaza Aníbal Pinto where the pharmacy is ready to take you for a spin in the past.
Where to stay: Click here to see and book accommodations in Valparaíso.
14. Tour vineyards when in the Central Valley – One of the cool things in Chile
The Central region of Chile has the perfect temperature and most accommodative soil for grapes. Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, Santiago, and Casablanca, a white wine city between Santiago and Valparaiso, are stuffed with vineyards that encourage tourists to visit. And travelers go for Chilean wine is one of the best wines in the world.
How to go: Here are some brilliant winery tours you can take: Concha y Toro official winery tour (one of the most popular and the oldest in Latin America), Undurraga vineyard in Maipo, or visit the wineries of Casablanca from Santiago. You can also hire a car and drive around yourself.
15. Immerse in the graffitis of Valparaíso
Valparaiso started becoming an art center when Pablo Neruda, a resident of the city, invited his Mexican friends and painters to the city. Soon the city’s walls, steep staircases, cobbled streets, dainty shops, and open roofs all were covered in graffiti. In no time, locals joined the artists, too.
During the dictatorship in Chile, the wall art of Valparaiso was one of the most effective ways for revolutionaries to communicate and to encourage people to keep fighting for freedom. Now the city has legalized street art, and property owners argue over who would get the best artist to paint their garages and roofs.
Valparaiso is dense with these wall paintings, and you would find them in the most obscure places. Go up a narrow street or stroll in the back lanes or peek behind a dusty car, if you will, and you are bound to run into some heartening display of color.
The best places to see the local art are the hills of Carcel, Miraflores, Alegre, Pateon, Concepcíon, and Bellavista. You should also go to the open-air museum that holds the art of more than 70 artists who put their art together after the dictatorship.
Be careful while roaming in Valparaiso for the place is known for delinquents who love snatching off bags and phones. Walk in the city in daylight, be with a friend or group preferably, keep your belongings close to you, and don’t wander in a deserted street even in daylight.
Valparaiso is one of the most important places in Chile to understand the country’s artistic growth. So be cautious, but do visit.
How to go: The safest and most informative way to explore Valpo’s art would be to take a tour with the locals.
16. Celebrate the New Year eve in Valparaíso by watching firecrackers put on a colorful show over the Pacific – One of the most unique and best things to see in Chile
For about half an hour, the sky above the Pacific shore near Valparaiso dazzles with colors as hundreds of firecrackers are busted there at midnight. People gather over their rooftops, in balconies, and on the beaches to see the celebration with champagne spilling out of their glasses and empanadas spilling out of their tables.
Don’t miss this experience if you are in Chile around the new year.
How to go: Book a hotel in Valparaiso and get to the roof or your balcony in time. Don’t forget to bring some of that delicious Chilean wine.
**What’s not to miss in Central Valley: Wine, art, and poetry.
Valdivia is neither part of the Central Valley nor of the Los Lagos region of the South. So I am putting it here in between the two.
17. Visit the Mercado Fluvial in Valdivia
Valdivia is an old city set at the junction of the Calle-Calle and Cau-Cau rivers and is slightly above the lake region.
Valdivia’s vibrant local grocery market Mercado Fluvial sells a myriad of fish, mussels, prawns, street food, vegetables, fruits, handicraft, and wooden artifacts. The market is on the shores of the Valdivia River, and sea lions resting on the wooden planks behind the market behold the sight of the visitors rather than the trouts and the avocados. And while the shop keepers get distracted with customers, the seagulls fly off with a few anchovies now and then.
On a sunny afternoon, the market is a great place to eat, buy a handmade souvenir, or you can also start a boat tour through the interconnected network of canals and rivers from the market.
Where to stay in Valdivia?
Airesbuenos Hostel y Permacultura, Valdivia– I stayed at Airesbuenos (350 m away from the bus terminal) for about 2 nights. Great affordable place for solo or couple travelers. Wifi, breakfast, and a shared kitchen included. Find the availability of Airesbuenos on Booking here.
And if you don’t like this hostel, then feel free to browse through other options in Valdivia.
18. Cruise through the Valdivian rivers visiting old forts
As the fourth settlement founded by the Spanish, Valdivia has many forts and castles that are spread around the city.
Mercado Fluvial is the starting point of a boat ride through the network of waterways that go through the many Valdivian rivers. Along with a pleasant ride, you will also visit the historical places and forts on the way. Fort Niebla is one of those popular forts and flaunts its own beach(playa) and a local market (feria).
19. While in Valdivia, don’t miss the Kunstmann brewery
Chileans love their wine, but they are no less a fan of beer.
Kunstmann, one of the oldest and popular Chilean beer, has a big brewery in Valdivia. Understanding the brewing process while sipping honey or cinnamon Kunstmann could be a fun thing to do on a windy evening in Valdivia.
Best Things To Do in the Lake region, known as Los Lagos in Chile
The lake region marks the beginning of Patagonia, the South of Chile, and from here you enter the zone of some of the world’s most beautiful places.
Los Lagos is known for its deep blue lakes, azure rivers, active volcanoes, lush national parks, and scattered islands. Some of the main towns of the region are Puerto Varas, Osorno, Puerto Montt, and Pucon.
20. Chill in the Chiloé island or the Isla Grande – One of Chile’s best places to visit
I stayed in Castro, the capital of Chiloé, for five months and taught English to government school students as part of a volunteer program. So its only natural that I talk about this island far more fondly than the rest of the places to go in Chile.
Rolling countryside hills of the island houses colorful stilt homes(palafitos), wooden heritage churches, and apple fields. The windy beaches of the island aren’t very busy for the water is cold throughout the year. The only known attempt of someone swimming there was of a friend who was dissuaded after his first attempt as he almost froze while dipping in, shouted for help, and was driven home in his swimming trunks by a stranger.
Chiloé and the people of Chiloé, who are lovingly called Chilotes, are known for their signature seafood and folklore. The homes here are covered with bright multi-colored shinglings of various shapes and sizes.
Chiloé is a place to slow down in Chile — Wake up in a stilt house or in a wooden cabin, eat bread and cheese or algae soup for breakfast, stroll in the countryside, pluck a peach or two, walk by the beach, eat as much seafood as you like at a cocineria (food court where locals make almost home food), visit a World Heritage wooden church, and then go to another local restaurant for a hearty meal with wine.
Where to stay in Chiloé?
Let me recommend some places in and around Castro for you will start your island trip from there.
I highly recommend these private domes in Castro(on Airbnb) that are owned by a lovely Chilean couple and my best friends. Veronica and Marco are the warmest hosts who don’t let their guests leave without serving them amazing pisco sours and homemade seafood preparations. This could be one of the best places to stay in Chile for location, comfort, and hospitality. Do try. And if you do, tell Vero and Marco that you read my blog. You would definitely get a few extra piscos.
But if you are not on Airbnb or don’t like this place, here are some other good stay options.
Palafito WaIwen – Located by the Gamboa river and only about .6 miles from the Castro center, double rooms and dorms with heating, ocean and city views, wifi, kind staff, complimentary breakfast, shared kitchen, and a terrace overlooking the ocean. Best for couples and solo travelers.
Click here to book this stilt house.
Casa Chilota B&B – In downtown Castro, a typical Chilote home with wooden flooring, friendly and kind Chilean owners, and clean rooms with a complimentary breakfast spread. Best for families, couples and solo travelers.
Look at the pictures and see Casa Chilota on Booking.
Cabañas Lomas de Ten Ten– Located in Ten Ten, a small countryside area about 4-5 km away from Castro downtown, beautiful wooden cottage, kitchen included, and ocean view from the cabin. Ideal for families or a group of friends. Book these cabins on Booking here.
Apart from these, do look for cabins and wooden cottages out in the countryside. Chiloé has some beautiful and secluded scenic accommodations and you should get one for yourself. Find some here.
Here are some of the specific things to do in Chiloé.
21. Spend a day or two in Castro, the capital of Chiloé (One of the most famous places in Chile but for the right reasons)
Walk around the main plaza, admire the purple and yellow San Francisco Church there, eat at the seafood restaurants, buy fresh fish or eat ceviches in the Mercado Municipal near the harbor, look for some souvenirs in the market, drink wine at the cozy bars(43 was my favorite), and participate in a minga or get invited to a party and see the locals’ way of celebration.
Oh, stroll around the viewpoint Gamboa, walk along the harbor in the direction of ten-ten, and eat in one of the palafitos there while looking over the ocean.
22. Visit the Cocineria of Dalcahue (food court where locals make home food)
The quiet Dalcahue serves as a boarding point for the ferry of Achao(another island I would suggest you visit), but Dalcahue can be visited for just its cocineria.
The several restaurants of the food court run by eight local families sit in a small wooden house that overlooks the ocean and serves homemade preparations of Chilote’s best-known dishes.
Find seafood preparations here, casuellas(soups), algae and potato preparations, porotos granados(red beans), and the famous colorful Chilote potatoes.
Carry cash as cards wouldn’t be accepted.
Insider tip: Another great place to visit in Dalcahue is the artisan fair that happens twice every week where artisans from all over Chiloé come to Dalcahue to showcase and sell their products.
23. See the heritage wooden churches of Chiloé – One of the unique things about Chile
When the missionary Jesuits arrived in Chile in the 17th century, the building techniques of Spain were merged with the local Chilote wooden boat construction techniques. One thing led to another and nailless churches emerged.
Chiloé had 51 of these larch and cypress wood churches out of which only 15 remain now. But, less is more couldn’t be more true than in the case of these heritage churches as they stand timeless, some even earthquake safe, and keeping the people inside them warm (such is the wooden insulation) from the fierce cold in Chiloé.
Achao has the largest wooden church on the Chiloé archipelago, Curaco de Velez has the oldest, Tenaúm’s church is gorgeous, and Castro’s is colorful. And there are more.
24. Buy Chilote artisanal souvenirs and wooden artifacts
I wish I could share the picture of that handwritten wooden chai mug that I bought for my father from the Mercado Municipal in Castro, but he has the mug. But not just mugs, you can buy handpainted or handwritten wooden pocket mirrors, pen, hairpins, spatulas, cutting boards, and other paraphernalia, too.
As Chiloé is cold and wet for a large part of the year, locals knit and sell woolen sweaters, hats, socks, ponchos, and other cute warm clothing. Oh, there is copper handmade jewelry, too, of which I have a few pieces.
Walk around the artisanal markets in the many towns and villages of Chiloé for the sake of friends back home.
25. Eat typical Chilote food
I lived with a Chilean family for five months and that implies I mostly ate at home. I wish I had tried more restaurants, but the home food was great, and eating with a bunch of crazy Chileans, British, and Americans(volunteers who also taught English) won over outside food every time.
I was soon introduced to the greasy milcao — potato patty stuffed with pork and deep-fried(this was store-bought), colorful red, purple, and black potatoes that are local to the island, empanadas — pastries stuffed with potato or chicken or beef or seafood, and curanto — mussels and seashells steamed with potato and/or pork underground over coal. These are all unique to the island(except empanadas) so do try.
Chiloé is especially known for its seafood preparations such as casuella(soups)- they even have algae casuella, grilled fish, ceviche, etc. And oh, the portions increase in Chiloé without warning.
26. Go island-hopping on Chiloé archipelago
From Chiloé, take a ferry to the many nearby islands of the archipelago such as Lemuy, Caucahué, Quinchao, and explore the churches and the countryside of these places.
How to go: Getting to another island is as easy as taking a bus that directly goes to the island or walking to the ferry point and taking the ferry to the other island. Have coins or smaller notes to pay.
Where to stay: Either stay in the Castro area and make a day trip to other islands. Or look for some cool accommodation on the destination island. Booking is my friend for this task.
27. Kayak around the Chiloé archipelago
Kayaking in the rivers and in the inland water around the Chiloé archipelago could be a lot of fun on a bright day. Ask your hotel or homestay for more information.
28. Visit the regional museum (Museo regional) in Ancud, Chiloé
Though Ancud, the former capital of Chiloé, is now a mundane town with regular buildings and docks, Museo Regional de Ancud (Ancud’s Regional Museum) is a good place to know more about the Chilote culture and mythology.
29. Take a ferry to the Penguineria Islands near Ancud (Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil)
From Ancud, a ferry goes to a collection of islands that penguins have unabashedly colonized. The best time to see the friendly creatures is December.
How to go: My plan to visit these penguin colonies failed three times due to unexpected earthquakes, strikes, and so on. But finding that bus stand in Ancud from where a bus goes to the ferry point wasn’t easy. You would have to ask the locals or confirm at your hotel. You need to take a bus from Ancud to a ferry point and then you board a ferry or a small boat that takes you to the colonies. If you don’t want to arrange the trip by yourself, here is a GetYourGuide tour that first explores parts of Chiloé and then goes to the Caulin and Puñihuil Penguins Colony.
30. Go to the Dock of Souls, known as Muelle de Las Almas in Spanish.
Muelle de Las Almas is a popular wooden pier in the Chiloé National Park near the village of Cucao.
The popularity of the dock is attributed to the local legend where a boatman Tempilkahue used to carry souls over the river into eternal rest. These souls would wail for the boatman to take them but Tempilkahue didn’t carry them all. If they couldn’t pay him, the souls would linger on in the surrounding cliffs.
When the Chilean wood sculptor and art professor from Santiago designed a long wooden bridge, a pier, at the cliff, the place was named as the Muelle de la Almas.
Stories say that the wails of the dead can still be heard at the pier. This quirky pier is one of the best places to go in Chile for the gorgeous viewpoint and the adventurous hike to the bridge. Don’t let a few ghosts scare you off.
How to get there:
Rent a car to drive or get a local bus, known as micro(pronounced as mee-crow), to Cucao. After about a 1.5 hour drive, the bus will drop you outside a restaurant called Terrasa de Cucao, and then from there another bus drop at the beginning point of the hike, or you can say the parking lot, in about 30 minutes. The last bus to the hike leaves from the restaurant at 3 pm.
After the bus ride, hike for about 45 minutes to one hour through the undulating hills and pastures of the national park to get to the dock. Get there in the morning to get bright views over the ocean and to make the most of the day.
Remember that the last bus from the pickup point (to the restaurant) leaves at 5:30 pm. In case you miss this one, like we did because someone forgot her phone at the top of a hill, walk for an hour or hitchhike to get back to the restaurant for the next bus.
31. Visit the Pablo Fierro Museum in Puerto Varas, Chile
Pablo Fierro museum would be a great stop before Chiloé to understand how the Germans, who entered the island in 1850, influenced the Chilote culture.
How to go: The Museum is free to enter and is a short stroll along the waterfront from the Plaza de Armas of Puerto Varas on the 225 Road heading towards Ensenada.
32. Take a ferry to Hornophiren – One of the best places in Chile for nature lovers
Hornophiren is a beautiful town in the lake region. Most backpackers and travelers miss this beauty on their Chile trip for it is not on a typical travel route.
But as if it is out of a fairy tale, Horniphiren has misty volcanoes, deep blue lakes, huge national parks, hot thermal pools, solitary mountains, white rivers, open pastures studded with birds and horses, amongst other things that can lure any adventurer.
Hornopirén’s national park is easily accessible, and we biked up the Andes in the park and then came down flying, all safe. The rivers have good viewpoints, too. There are volcanoes to be hiked, but you would need good weather to climb.
Oh, don’t forget to try the yerba mate and cheese empanadas at the local artisanal joint near the square.
How to go: Get a bus or drive there but remember you would have to get up on ferries a few times.
Where to stay: Have a look at the wooden cabins of Hornopirén here.
33. Hike active Volcano Villarica, Pucon
Climbing up hiking Villarrica is the goal of many travelers when they travel to Pucon, the adventure hub of Los Lagos.
Originally known as Rucapillán or House of the Pillan — home of a powerful disastrous spirit, the volcano hasn’t erupted for many years now. For a hiker, climbing up Volcan Villarica would be one of the top 10 things to do in Chile. Plan your trip to have a few days in Pucon so that at least one of them has favorable weather for the hike.
My Villarica hiking experience can be read here.
How to go: Take a guided tour to go up the volcano as you can’t do this on your won. The hike would take your entire day.
Where to stay in Pucon? I stayed at the Chilli kiwi hostel which was comfortable and had ample double rooms and dorms. You can also book any of the adventure activities, hikes, or tours from Chilli Kiwi. Click here to find the availability in the hostel and to book it.
Insider Tip: In the winter, you can ski in the Centro de Ski Pucon (ski center of Pucon).
34. Chill at the Caburga lake beach in Pucon
Relaxing at the Caburgua lake beach after climbing the volcano would be a smart thing to do.
35. Kayak in the quiet Villarrica lake and find remote beaches
Borrow or rent Kayaks from the hotel and explore the lake. You are bound to find some empty beaches. Make sure you aren’t intruding in anyone’s private property and jump in.
36. Hitchhike to the deserted Salto del Claro waterfalls near Pucon.
This waterfall is mostly deserted, and you might want to start early from Pucon as it takes about 4-5 hours of walking to reach there.
The waterfall is about six kilometers out of Pucon, so you can either hike all way or bike or take a taxi and walk or hitchhike.
Make sure that you carry enough water, snacks, a towel, and keep your phones charged as there are no shops or restaurants near the waterfall. If you are lucky, you would be able to hitchhike back to the town.
**What not to miss in the Lake Region: People, food, beautiful landscapes, adventure activities, and the unique culture.
Best Things To Do in the South of Chile, known as Patagonia
In the South of Chile, Andes rise on the mainland to form Patagonia. This no man’s land is nothing but icy peaks with glaciers suspended atop, deep blue and turquoise rivers, labyrinthine fjords, gorgeous lakes, and natural caves. Patagonia is mostly uninhabited because of the crazy climatic conditions.
The Carretera Austral or the Southern highway runs along this nomad’s land from Chaiten till the Tierra del Fuego or the land of fire which culminates in Cape Horn, the last stop before Antarctic Peninsula — Patagonia leads our way into the end of the world.
37. Hike in Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most sought-after parts of Patagonia. Even though thousands of people trek in this park every year, such is the park’s wilderness, that most of them never run into each other.
Though Torres’s terrain is difficult, it has all levels of hiking trails: easy, moderate, and high difficulty level for enthusiasts and hikers to choose from. From 4-9 multi-day circuits to a day-long hike, one can find them all. One of the longer hikes known as the W trek is one of the most beautiful trails of the park and extends over 8-9 days. Sleeping in pre-booked camps and eating packed meals throughout the trek makes the hike challenging but thrilling. You can also book the W trek and get all the arrangements done.
Or take a full-day tour from the city of Puerto Natales to see the park’s main viewpoints and walk a little and then decide what would you like to do there.
How to go: Frequent flights are available from the major Chilean airports to the two main cities Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas of Patagonia.
Where to stay in Puerto Natales: Browse through hotels and check the prices here.
Where to stay in Punta Arenas: Find a comfortable accommodation in Punta Arenas here.
38. Take a boat trip to Glacier Grey
Part of the Torres del Paine National Park, Glacier Grey is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field –one of the largest ice stretches on the planet.
The boat takes up to a point near the glacier from where you can admire the 40-meter high river of ice.
39. Visit the Mylodon Cave located outside Torres del Paine National Park
The Milodon Caves are said to be formed at the end of the ice age from the erosion of a glacier. Excavations have found animal bones, old tools, and even hints of humans.
A boat ride to the cave definitely adds to the fun.
40. Sail through the Magellan Strait
Ferdinand Magellan discovered this strait when he sailed from Europe to America while making his way around South America through the rough Pacific waters.
How to go: Boat tours for the Magellan Strait leave from Puntas Arenas, one of the two major inhabited towns of Patagonia. Here is one tour that sails through the Strait of Magellan to go to the Magdalena and Marta Islands to observe Magellanic penguins, Patagonian sea lions, and other marine life.
Watching the penguins play around on a remote Southern island could be one of the most interesting things in Chile, or in the world. Go.
41. Go for white river rating in the Futaleufú river
42. Visit the Marble Caves
Cuevas de Marmol or the Marble caves are carved into the Patagonian Andes by 6000 years of wave washing up against the calcium carbonate. Marble caves are located in the General Carrera lake, which spans the border between Chile and Argentina.
The smooth, swirling blues that you see in photos on the cave are reflections of the lake’s azure water on the marble. To get the best colors, visit during September and February when the water is turquoise. Early mornings are the best for the perfect lighting.
How to go: Take a ferry from Puerto Río Tranquilo village. In spite of the remoteness, Marble caves is one of the most tourists places in Chile so you should not have a hard time making a trip to them.
43. Robinson Crusoe Island — Juan Fernández archipelago, Chile (400 miles west of South America in the South Pacific Ocean)
Named after the DeFoe novel Robinson Crusoe inspired by a sailor stranded on this same island for four years with a musket, gunpowder, a knife, a Bible, and carpenter’s tools, the island is an endemic hub of rare plants and extreme beauty.
The island is inhabited by only about 500-600 people most of whom make a simple living by selling lobsters.
Robinson Crusoe island houses beautiful coral reefs, white-sand beaches, blue lagoon, palm trees, traditional thatched huts, tropical fruits, and abundant seafood. Activities such as hiking, horseback riding, birdwatching, snorkeling, sport fishing, and scuba diving are available on the island.
How to go: During the prime season, small planes of up to ten passengers leave Los Cerrillos and Tobalaba airports in Santiago daily. After a two and a half hour flight, a boat ride from La Punta would take you to the island. Carry cash as there are no ATMs on the island.
Where to stay: I can’t seem to find any Robinson Crusoe hotels on Booking. I would update this post when I find more credible information.
**What not to miss in Patagonia: The feeling that you are almost at the end of the world.
Now some general fun things to do in Chile.
44. When in Chile, ski
Valle Nevado resort is one of the best ski resorts in Chile. Located on the foothills of the Andes Mountains, this is just one ski option but the country is full of ski resorts and icy slopes.
Or consider this tour that goes skiing in the Andes.
45. Fly off to the Easter island, known as Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua
While the Easter island is one of the most remote places in Chile, thousands of travelers and Chileans visit Easter island every year for its clear natural beauty.
When on the island, see more than the moai statues. The Ana Kai Tangata (Cannibal Cave) is also a visit. This half-day archaeology tour is a good option to understand the history of the island from locals.
How to go: You can fly to the Easter island from Santiago.
Where to stay: Check out these properties in Hanga Roa, the capital of the Isla de Pascua.
46. When in Chile, drink Pisco Sour
Specific to Chile and Peru, Pisco is a liquor made of grapes. Both countries fight on Pisco’s origin and make it with egg white, lime juice, and sugar syrup. Pisco is one delicious drink and goes well with Chilean food.
Don’t miss it.
47. Take a Chilean cooking class
Even though Chilean cuisine isn’t the most respected or loved around the world, its empanadas, casuellas, choclo con queso, and other seafood preparations are special. If you think you would want to make any of these back home, get into a cooking class and learn a few of these while sipping up some pisco.
Your best bet would be to take a course in a small city or island such as Chiloé for an authentic and personalized class.
This food tour in Santiago might interest you if you are a foodie.
48. Learn Spanish in Chile
Chileans speak superfast slang-studded Spanish so Chile isn’t the best place to learn Spanish. But if you start understanding Chilean Spanish, you can converse in any kind of Spanish. So give it a chance.
If I can do it, you can, too. And here are my best language guides to help you:
- Learning Spanish in Chile – My honest journey with Spanish from embarrassing blankness to cracking jokes
- Most Useful Spanish Phrases for Travelers – Print the guide and refer to it whenever you need help or go over the basic phrases to remember.
- Best Tips to Learn a Language on Your Own – Handpicked practices from my experience
49. Teach English in Chile
If you are looking for a paid volunteer program to teach English while traveling, the English Open Doors program in Chile is the answer.
I taught English to government-school students on Chiloé island for five months. The experience was challenging but well worth the efforts. The program provides food and accommodation and a basic stipend for the entire duration. Read all about the application process and the program here.
50. Last but not the least, hang out with the sweet Chileans
Chileans are the nicest people I have met who are ready to help out at any cost. Do accept when Chileans invite you to their homes, which they would. Oh, but do remember that Chileans are as punctual as Italian trains. I talk more about the Chilean people and Chile’s culture here.
Phew! Now go have fun.
Would you love to see Chile? Which of these top places to visit in Chile intrigued you the most? Tell me in the comments.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links to products I love. If you choose to click through and make a purchase, I will earn a little bit at no extra cost to you. Thank you.
An Unforgettable Trip to the Salt Flats of Bolivia
Uyuni salt flats is a mystifying place. You must have seen the regular mountains, rivers, glaciers, deserts, but before the Salar de Uyuni, I had never seen salt flats, at least not as gigantic as the one in Uyuni. The Uyuni Salar are the world’s largest salt flat, extending over 9,000 square km.
On top of the vastness, the Salar del Uyuni is special because it is high up near the Andes at a height of 3,600 meters above sea level.
When you stand upright in these bizarre salt flats of Bolivia, you see a salt desert billowing into the infinity and beyond. The copper mountains with the mix of an occasional snowy volcano try their best to fringe the horizon. Walking on the Salar could be the closest we can get to walking on the moon.
The island of Chiloé in South Chile will be marked in my memories forever. When I applied to the English Open Doors program in Chile, I didn’t realize that the program would give me some of the best times of my life.
Run by the government of Chile and the United Nations, English Open Doors invites international volunteers to teach English to government school students in Chile. As a near-native English speaker, I could apply for the volunteer program.
Until I landed in Santiago, I didn’t know that I would be placed in Chiloé. When the program coordinator told me that I had to teach students in Castro, the capital of Chiloé, I ran back to my room and Googled Castro.
Rainbow-like stilt houses lined up against an azure shore. Velvety-green hills filled my screen. Stout lambs grazed over those hillocks in groups. Steam smoked out of a chimney in a hut-shaped roof.
Wooden churches were flaunted in abundance. Legendary and mythical were the keywords on-screen.
Azure rivers, dense national parks, fresh seafood brought a grin to my face.
Top Things to do and Best Places to Visit in Peru
The five weeks that I backpacked in Peru flew by me. I didn’t have to go out of my way to look for the top things to do in Peru.
While one moment I was hiking down the Colca Canyon, another moment I was tasting the indigenous Peruvian food cooked in earthen pots in Arequipa. One day I was walking in the rain-sodden streets of Puno in my pink rain jacket, the next day I found myself playing with a cute little girl on one of the faraway islands of the Lake Titicaca.
If the sunny plaza del armas of Cusco was the hangout for the afternoon, the evenings were spent cooking quinoa in the hostel kitchen with French and Mexican friends. Machu Picchu was a two-day trip, but the Manu National park in the Amazon rainforest was a four-day journey.
Taking a bus to the Sacred Valley near Cusco was as much on the plan as finding my way to the isolated Temple of the Moon on the outskirts of Cusco. Eating huge meals in chifa restaurants was as tempting as gorging upon roadside cheese empanadas.
Rainbows dancing over countryside skies filled the days and trains whistling while they rushed past the scenic high Andes filled my memories. I remember the colorful potatoes I dug on the Amantani island but I also cannot forget the pink-purple-red-black chips I made in the Puno hostel with the rainbow of potatoes I bought from the local market.
There are so many places to visit in Peru that a first-timer to Peru can feel a bit overwhelmed with the choices. As I realized that the internet is filled with Peru must see places, I decided to make my guide a unique one.
So my What to see in Peru list is divided into two —
- A standard list of the best things to do in Peru that will give you an idea of the cities, towns, and islands to see and the activities you can do.
- A list of things to do and unique places in Peru that I personally found the most special — you wouldn’t want to miss these on your trip to Peru.
Let’s get it rolling my good friends.
Best things to do in Peru – List 1
1. Visit Cusco, Peru
Cusco is the fairytale land of Peru that is situated high above in the Andes mountains. At a height of 4000 meters, Cusco was once the headquarters of the Incas, the impressive rulers of South America before the Spanish, who left intriguing historical sites spread around the city.
You need about two weeks to see the major attractions of Cusco, go to Machu Picchu, visit the Sacred Valley near Cusco, and spend some time in Cusco markets. If you want to do a long hike to Machu Picchu, then see the next bullet (and then two weeks ain’t enough.)
What is my favorite part of the city? The vibrant streets, unplanned carnivals, the plaza del armas (or the main square), chaotic markets, small stalls selling chicha murada (a local purple drink made with corn), and the Andes surrounding the city that makes for a perfect afternoon walk.
The best tip to survive Cusco – As Cusco is at a high altitude, give yourself a few days to acclimatize before doing any strenuous physical activity.
For more detailed information on the things to do in Cusco and the logistics of traveling Cusco, refer to the linked guide.
2. See Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world (one of the most famous places in Peru but for good reasons)
I am sure you have heard about this wonder of the world settled in the south of Peru. Machu Picchu is the royal citadel that the Incas, the same people we were gossiping about before, built at a height of 2500 meters in the Andes range outside of Cusco.
While more than a million people visit Machu Picchu every year, you can get to this palace in many ways.
Either take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes(the town where you spent the night to visit Machu Picchu in the morning), walk from Ollantaytambo(ruins near Cusco), or hike the popular Inca, Salkantay or Lares trails with a tour or on your own to arrive at Machu Picchu.
I walked from Ollantaytambo and then hiked up from Aguas Calientes to reach Machu Picchu. You can read my guide to visiting Machu Picchu by yourself to plan a trip to this historical site. And if you are too worried about planning all by yourself, consider this full-day Machu Picchu tour that will take you from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back with all train, taxi, bus, and the site tickets included.
My favorite part about Machu Picchu? The journey to Machu Picchu itself. The citadel sitting gloriously in the Andes was majestic, especially when you visualize how it would be to live there in your royal attire. But the bus journey from Cusco, then the walk alongside the railway tracks, climbing the 3000 stairs to the top early morning, and throw a one-way train to the mix along with some new friends, it had to be special.
The best tip to survive Machu Picchu – Arrive at the ruins early(6 is the earliest) to make the most of your trip and to avoid crowds.
3. Get into the Amazon rainforest from Cusco or Iquitos (Go here if you aren’t sure where to go in Peru next)
If I repeat one more time that I had dreamt of going to the Amazon and even volunteering there since I was a little girl who watched way too much Discovery channel with her parents, you would kill me.
So let me say that if you are in Peru, or traveling anywhere in South America, go to the Amazon rainforest.
You don’t have to necessarily go until Iquitos to see the Amazon jungle. You can visit the Manu National Park, part of the Amazon Rainforest Peru, from Cusco. There are options of three to seven-eight day trips and this is the time to go all-in I think.
I have written all about the Manu National Park in Peru so start planning your trip now.
My favorite part about Manu National Park? The feeling of being inside a fifty-five million years old thick rainforest where tribes that have never seen civilization still live unseen and untouched.
The best tip to survive the Amazon jungle — Remember that you are in the jungle and the insects and bugs are not the intruders, we are.
4. Don’t skip Puno, a town on the shores of Lago Titicaca (One of the Peru must see)
If I had skipped Puno, as many travelers suggested, I would have missed the best part of my Peru trip.
Puno is a small town located in the South of Peru on the bank of the Lake Titicaca, the largest, highest, and deepest lake in South America. Lake Titicaca is shared between Bolivia and Peru. Legends say that the God Viracocha made the sun and the moon (and possibly the Incas) in the Lake Titicaca, and hence the lake is quite an important site for both Peruvians and Bolivians.
I spent about fourteen days in Puno and the islands on Lake Titicaca and loved every minute because the places were nothing like I had ever seen and the people were friendly.
Though I have written about all the amazing things to do in Puno and Lake Titicaca, I can add that this cultural town has delicious fried trout, forgiving countryside, empty beaches, and unlimited access to about 42 Titicaca islands each of which has its own unique culture, sights, and potatoes.
If you are fretting about planning a visit to the islands, try this two-day tour to the Uros, Amantani, and Taquile island. You stay with a Quechua island family that feeds you, clothes you, and dances with you. I loved the tour and hope that my skirt doesn’t come off the next time I go dancing with the family.
Puno is also the border town to Bolivia.
Thank me later, alligator.
My favorite part about Puno and Titicaca? Getting soaked in rain and then rushing back to the hostel to get some coca tea. Or maybe hiking in the countryside and chatting with the friendly locals. Oh maybe walking along the beach with nothing on my mind. I don’t know.
The best tip to survive Puno — Get a good place to stay if you want to slow down here. Cozy hostel was pretty great.
5. Wander in the white city Arequipa
Arequipa is a city in the South of Peru that is known as a white city as its houses and its buildings are made of sillar, a white volcanic stone.
While El Misti volcano looms above Arequipa, the center of the city is filled with neoclassical cathedrals, ancient nun monasteries, museums and mummies, colorful markets, and even one amazing Indian restaurant called India along with many great Peruvian ones. Either take a free city tour(no countryside visit) or get this GetYourGuide four-hour tour that takes you through the city and the countryside with a local guide.
You can spend a few days in the city but make sure you also plan a trip to the Colca Canyon nearby. And the mention of this canyon brings me to my next point.
My favorite part about Arequipa? Sitting on the first and second floor of the plaza and watching the people from there.
The best tip to survive Arequipa— Tonnes of tour agents will buzz on you like bees insisting you to book a Colca Canyon tour with them. Tell them you went there already.
6. Make sure you experience the Colca Canyon near Arequipa
Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon is located about 200 km from Arequipa and almost tops the list of the places to see in Peru. If you hike, there is no doubt that you should hike down the Canyon with a tour or on your own.
Whilst in the canyon, take time to talk to the villagers who farm and live on the slopes of the canyon. Oh, doing this hike on your own gives you ample time to do this.
Read my honest guide to the Colca Canyon hike to plan your journey. If you are not into hiking or just not in the mood, think about this guided tour with a local that will take you to wildlife and Condor viewpoints, to the El Misti volcano viewpoints, and drive you to the Colca Canyon.
My favorite part about the Colca Canyon? Watching the panoramic views and letting the surreality of the canyon take over.
The best tip to survive Colca Canyon Hike — Take the climb slowly and don’t let the guide push you into hurrying or feeling guilty.
7. Visit Lima — but don’t get too comfy there else you will miss something that you really want to see
Like every other capital, the beach town of Lima is a mix of hip bars and pubs, fine restaurants, skyscrapers, and baroque cathedrals and plazas (because it is a colonial city).
Seaside Barranco is the safest and the most beautiful place to stay. You can find a good hostel in the Barranco area here. Relax at the beach, play football, eat delicious ceviche, visit some cathedrals, and practice some Spanish with the locals while enjoying the nightlife.
Or go for a pre-arranged night live magic water show with dinner, take a full-day Lima culinary and cultural tour, eat through a four-hour tour where you taste 16 dishes at 8 restaurants while exploring Barranco with a local (or choose this vegan option), or immerse in a Shanty Town tour run by a local NGO that takes you through the real-life of Lima and helps you interact with the community.
I have covered how can you keep safe in Lima in the last section on staying safe in Peru.
My favorite part about Lima? I haven’t been to Lima but after reading so much about it and talking to my friends I think I would just love to lie on a beach and eat ceviche.
The best tip to survive Lima — Don’t overstay, a lot of my friends told me.
8. Get those surfboards on in Máncora
I am not into surfing but they say that Mancora, a border town next to Ecuador, is your best bet to surf in Peru. Mancora is 17 hours by bus from Lima so you better surf there if you go.
If you are in Mancora between July and October, you can see humpback whales breeding in the Pacific.
My favorite part about Máncora? That I never went there. Hey, I don’t surf. But I miss the whales.
The best tip to survive Máncora — Avoid the expensive beachside and stay in the quiet Playa del Amor.
9. Sandboard in Huacuacina and drink wine in Ica
Huacuacina is a little oasis in the desert in Southwest Peru that is also known as the Everest of the desert for some of the dunes are 300 m high. Ica is the closest town to Huacuacina.
If you want to try sandboarding, Huacachina has a good reputation amongst travelers. Also, buggy riding, in which you sit in a 12-seater buggy while a driver takes you around the desert at steep angles, has given some travelers quite a heart attack. When you get bored of sandboarding, go try some local wine in the wineries of Ica.
My favorite part about Huacuacina? I didn’t go there but I wish I did. Huacuacina had me at the Everest of deserts and I love (almost) freefalling on steep slopes.
The best tip to survive Huacuacina —Book an evening tour to avoid heat and to watch the sunset.
10. Take a flight over the mysterious Nazca lines (one of the most absurd places to see in Peru)
Nazca lines are geoglyphs that are shaped like animals, plants, and other designs and are located about 400 km in the South of Lima. Though there are many theories around their origin and time, no one knows for sure why and how the lines got drawn in the coastal plains. Experts say that the lines are at least 1000 years old.
If you fly above the Nazca desert, you can see these mysterious figures that some contest could be the work of the aliens.
Have a look at this 35-minutes Nazca lines flight (starting from Nazca city) with a local guide.
My favorite part about Nazca lines? That they are mysterious.
The best tip to survive — I think you can manage a half an hour flight without any tips but do read up a little bit about the history of lines so that you can make the best of your trip.
11. Choose Huaraz as your base and hike in the Peruvian mountains, the Cordillera Blanca (One of the top things to do in Peru for the hikers)
Peru is a heaven for hikers as the country is home to the Andes mountains, the second-highest mountain range in the world.
If you love hiking, make sure you keep some time to visit Huaraz in the North-West of Peru. Huaraz is about 3000 meters above sea level and its bordered by the snow-capped Cordillera Blanca in the east.
The Huascarán National Park which encompasses most of the Cordillera Blanca houses the 70 tall (4000 meters and above) peaks, even Peru’s tallest mountain, Huarascán, and about 200 lakes.
Make Huaraz your base and explore the mountains.
My favorite part about Huaraz or the Peruvian mountains? I love the mountains and the challenge they pose. Also, I haven’t visited Huaraz yet as I didn’t even know about it back on my Peru trip. So I have one amazing thing left to do for sure.
The best tip to survive — Get acclimatized first before hiking in the high mountains.
Now the most awaited list.
My list of the coolest and the most unique places to go in Peru – List 2
These are highlights from my Peru journey.
Here I have added only the best places to visit in Peru and things you shouldn’t miss. Things that aren’t highlighted about Peru, but you would regret if you missed them and heard about them from someone later.
- Overeating at chifa restaurants in Puno — Chifa is a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian and I think everyone deserves at least one chifa meal. I found most of the chifas in Puno.
- Getting soaked in rain and rushing back to the hostel to drink coca tea — Peruvian monsoons are from January to March. You can think about avoiding Peru in rain for hiking is tough in that season, but if you love monsoon, try to get in Peru for a few days of the monsoon at least.
- Watching trains go by — You don’t need to be on a train. Just keep an eye out for trains in the countryside of Peru.
- Drinking coca tea — Though South Americans drink coca tea as it is energizing and help with the altitude, you can make a few friends while sipping coca tea on an idyllic afternoon in the hostel.
- Find the farthest islands of Lago Titicaca and visiting them — While keeping my base as Puno, I visited Uros, Amantani, Taquile, and a few more islands on the lake. My travel friend and I would spot the most isolated tiny piece of land on the lake and asked our favorite travel agent to get us there. She always did. And then we stayed with the family for an extended time. If you are looking to slow down or for some solitude or a closer look at the Peruvian island life, I suggest you find yourself a reliable travel agent and get onto that boat to explore another island out of the 42 every few days. I have shared the link to the Titicaca guide above but here it is in case you don’t want to scroll up.
- Soaking in rain on a tiny boat with an Aymara family on the giant Titicaca huddled under a plastic sheet while having to pee — The wind was crazy, the waves were high, and the rain crashed harder every passing minute but that boat ride is still one of my most memorable days from Peru. You can’t recreate the same memory but I hope you find your own.
- Just sitting by the Titicaca shore on the islands
- Visiting the Sillustani ruins from Puno (one of the best places in Peru) — The journey to and fro from Puno was more exciting than the ruins but the ruins are out of this world as well.
- Visiting the Temple of the Moon near Cusco — Walk beyond the temple and find that tiny stream gurgling through the neon grass. Walk beyond and hike through those mountains where farmer families live away from all. Keep walking and you would soon find a way back to Cusco. I have written more about the temple in my Cusco guide.
- Cooking in the hostel with all the fresh vegetables, spices, quinoa, and potatoes —Make the many-colored potato chips with the colorful potatoes.
- Filling my water bottle with chicha murada bought from a roadside vendor who also sold amethyst stones(A must do in Peru )— Who needs water?
- Pubbing in Cusco with hostel friends — I don’t party a lot while traveling but sometimes places and people call for it. Cusco is a great place to hang out at night. But be safe.
- Watching the Cusco carnival — When in Peru, plan your city visits as per the festivals.
- Buying stones and silver — My jewelry trinkets are my souvenirs from around the world. Centro Artesenal Cusco is a great place to shop for some unique stones and abalones studded in silver. I still have mine.
- Obsessing over the Amazon — Don’t miss it.
- Staying put in a city longer than I had planned — While Peru has a lot to do, it is also that one country where you should slow down if you can.
I hope you enjoy both the lists but follow only your heart.
Safety Tips for Peru
- Avoid ATM threats – Never carry more cash than you need. Keep your cards and extra cash at the hotel after you have withdrawn. Think about getting a travel card in which you keep topping up from your main account so that your main account stays off-limits to the robbers.
- Wear a fanny pack for your important stuff.
- Book a safe transfer from Lima airport to the hotel here, especially if you are arriving at night. Not all taxis in Peru are legal and you can read more about it here. Only hire the four-door legal taxis.
- Carry your camera sling style or wear it on your neck.
- Keep your valuables with you on the bus. Make that bag a pillow but don’t leave it on the shelf above the seat.
- Don’t get distracted if someone (even an old lady) throws paints at you or make your clothes dirty on the road. These are just distractions to rob you off your bags.
- Don’t go alone in unknown streets after the sunset. Duh.
- Drink spiking is known in some pubs in the big cities so never leave your drink alone.
- Contact the Policia de Turismo (Tourism Police) if something happens with you. Here are some of the contacts of the government’s tourist protection committee.
- Carry LifeStraw (a water bottle with an inbuilt filter) with you as tap water in Peru is not clean to drink. I have been using this bottle for over a year now and I have avoided buying so many plastic bottles because of it. Saves plastic, saves money, and saves time and energy.
Are you still wondering what to see in Peru? Which of these places in Peru did you love the most? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments.
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What does this guide to Traveling South America contain?
- Is South America Latin America?
- What are the countries in South America?
- Is South America safe to travel?
- What about the natural calamities and political situations of South America?
- What is the best time to visit South America?
- What is the cost of backpacking South America? How can you do South America on a budget?
- Do you need a visa for South America?
- Do we need travel insurance for backpacking in South America?
- What are the best South American countries to visit?
- What are the best things to do in South America?
- What are the possible South American itineraries?
- What are the best places to travel in South America as per each country?
- Do we visit the Amazon rainforest in South America?
- Which are the best cities in South America for digital nomads?
- Do we need to know Spanish for South America?
- What are the best places to learn Spanish in South America?
- What should be an ideal backpacking South America packing list?
- What is the currency of South America? How do we carry money to South America?
- Can we get vegetarian food in South America?
- Do we need any vaccinations for South America?
- Can we work in South America?
- Can we volunteer in South America?
- Can we teach English in South America?
- Are the people of South America friendly?
- What is the drinking culture in South America?
- What are the kinds of hotels in South America?
- Does Airbnb work in South America?
- Can we couch surf in South America?
- Can we cross land borders in South America?
- Is it safe to do hitchhiking in South America?
- Do we need to pre-book everything in South America?
- How do we plan a trip to South America?
- What are some of the best South America travel books?
- Are there any South American traveler forums we can join?
South America is a continent like none other. I traveled there for nine months, and it was nothing like I had imagined.
Even though I generally keep going on and on about why one should travel to South America, in this guide, I will mostly help you plan your South America trip.
But if you are looking to get inspired to travel South America, I have written down some of my best experiences in South America. Give the linked travelogue a read to inspire yourself to plan your trip quickly.
As this South America travel guide progresses, you would know why I give so much credit to this continent.
Now let us start.
Is South America Latin America?
To date, I had been making the mistake of calling South America Latin America. Now, when I have finally read about the difference between Latin America and South America on blogs and Quora, I would like to clarify the difference here.
South America refers to the part of the continent that lies south to Central America. South America constitutes the countries including and below Venezuela-Colombia.
But Latin America is used for all countries in America that speak a language derived from Latin. Countries speaking Spanish, French, Portuguese — So Mexico, Cuba, Colombia all lie within Latin America.
While Latin America is a cultural term, South America is a geographical term.
To answer the question – South America is NOT Latin America.
What are the countries in South America?
The 14 countries and foreign-held islands of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Falkland Islands (United Kingdom), French Guinea (France), Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela together constitute South America.
Is South America safe to travel?
South America is notorious for crime, and the situation can be mostly attributed to the poor financial and political conditions in some parts of the continent. The entire continent is not unsafe and need not be avoided. Having said that, let me tell you that bad incidents happen everywhere, and we should be careful and avoid dangerous places.
Out of the 14 countries, I visited Bolivia, Chile, and Peru during my nine-month solo travel in South America. In that entire time, I have only one bad incident when delinquents snatched my mobile while I was traveling in a bus in Santiago.
Except for Santiago, a city full of robbers and petty thieves, and Valparaiso, I felt safe in all the destinations in all three countries. No one ever harassed me or tried to loot me. (Do consider this pickup from the Santiago airport to your hotel if you are traveling to the city for the first time.)
Now amongst the rest of the South American travel destinations, Brazil and Venezuela are unstable and unsafe, mostly because these two have been in a political turmoil.
Fellow travelers who had been to Brazil mentioned scary incidents such as getting robbed at gunpoint on a beach in Brazil. Even people who traveled recently don’t vouch for Brazil. Venezuela is in a political crisis and unsafe for travel.
Some of the safest countries in South America are Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Argentina.
People had told me that the safest country in South America is Chile, and I felt so, too. Safety is coupled with financial security, and Chile is economically stronger than a lot of other countries. The south of Chile was so safe that we never even thought much before taking a walk or going to a nearby shop(mostly in the Chiloé island), alone, at night.
Except for the recent protests in Chile, the country is mostly peaceful. My Chilean friends told me that they want a peaceful protest but a lot of nuisance creators in Chile disrupt the rallies and make them chaotic. Some acquaintances who were traveling in Chile recently told me that they were safe and had no issues due to the protest.
I am going to write a separate article on travel safety in Chile, but until then, if you plan a Chile trip(you can use my extensive Chile travel guide), please look at the current news and ask your embassy for more advice.
Many forums also talk about the dangers of backpacking in Peru and Bolivia, but when I was there, I didn’t see or hear about any major crime against travelers. My friend’s camera was stolen from her in Lima on the new year’s eve, but well, anything can happen in the crowd of the New year’s eve. But petty crimes and mugging can happen in the big cities of Peru and Bolivia, and one should be careful.
Colombia is also notorious for kidnappings or other crime but these incidents are not scattered throughout the country. You should avoid the places that have reportings of any such incidents.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has incidents of mugging. There are known cases when thieves tried to steal from passengers on the buses in Ecuador. Always keep your belongings with you and not on the shelves above the seat.
Some scams you should be aware of if you visit South America —
Taxis and ATM scams — Bolivian cities are known to be prone to ATM threats. It means that a taxi driver will drive you to an atm and threaten you to withdraw cash and give him. I took taxis in La Paz, Santa Cruz, and other cities, but I met only the nicest taxi drivers who took the extra step to drop me in the right place.
Even Ecuador has some reports of fake taxis that rob travelers.
How to avoid it? Never bring your debit or credit card except when you want to withdraw cash. Once you have taken out money, go back to your hotel and keep the card and extra cash. Only carry what you need. Try to take Ubers in big cities or ask your hotel to call you a cab.
Dirty Clothes scam — Another scam prevalent in almost all of South America is that someone would come over and tell you that your clothes are dirty or you have paint over them. While you look, someone will disappear with your bags.
How to avoid it? Keep your belongings on you all the time.
Luggage robbery on buses — Some travelers also complained about their luggage being stolen on the bus, which is a common occurrence in Asian countries, too.
How to avoid getting robbed? Make sure you keep your important items on you, and while sleeping keep them under your head or close to you rather than putting them on shelves above the seat. Your bigger bag can go in the luggage compartment.
Avoid roaming around in Santiago alone in dark or even during the day in empty streets. If you are taking the Santiago metro, hold onto your purse.
Carry your backpack in the front. In big cities like Quito, Medellin, Santiago, Lima, pickpocketers do try to take advantage of travelers, and you should always keep an eye on your surroundings.
South America isn’t any different from many other countries and continents in terms of safety. Please don’t let anyone tell you that South America is a bad place and that it’s entirely unsafe.
Use your judgment, ask your hotel for their safety advice, read about the local scams, and follow the common safety norms you follow in any new country while traveling around South America, too.
What about the natural calamities and political situations of South America?
Natural calamities of South America include volcano eruptions(I even climbed the active volcano Villarrica in Chile), earthquakes, tsunamis, amongst many others. Chile is in a high-earthquake zone, and due to the earthquakes, the country is also prone to tsunamis and volcano eruptions. Many other countries suffer from similar natural tragedies.
While I was traveling through South America, Chile was hit by a strong earthquake amongst many other little ones. To tell you the long story in short, the ocean routes were blocked, and the transport stopped where it was. If it wasn’t for the earthquake, I would have been on a boat in the ocean watching penguins hopping around (only one of the many amazing things to do in Chile).
South America has many emergency-evacuation processes, and roadsigns in the continent confirm that.
While I cannot confirm that nothing will happen while you are in South America, my advice would be to stay alert, travel with insurance, follow the local advice, and you should be fine.
Political calamities of South America, however, are much serious. They sometimes involve a presidential candidate jumping over the fence to participate in an election to people marching out on the streets protesting the government-levied charges and you might even hear of a president changing the constitution to contest in an election because he cannot let go.
I can go on and on about Morales and Maduro but let us say that protests are common in South America. People protest about salaries, human rights, a long-forgotten war with a neighbor country, presidential rule, corruption, et cetera.
While I am not asking you to ignore the political situations of these countries, I can assure you that the few processions I saw were peaceful.
But it doesn’t take much time for things to get complicated, and when they do, you should leave.
Before traveling to South America, or any country, you should check the news and ask your embassy about the safety of your travel destination.
What is the best time to travel to South America?
South America is in the Southern hemisphere, unlike the US, Europe, and India. This implies that the climatic conditions of South America are the opposite of these other countries.
South America enjoys all four seasons.
Here are the timings of the typical seasons of South America —
Summer — October, November, December, January
Autumn — February, March, April
Winter — May, June, July, August
Spring — September, October
The countries receive heavy rainfall from January to March. The south of Chile receives rainfall throughout the year, but especially heavy downpours in August, September, and October.
As South America is a giant continent and has varied geographical conditions, the best time to go to South America isn’t the same throughout the continent. While San Pedro and the Atacama desert might be scorching, Patagonia would be having its high season, and the high Andes wouldn’t warm up for no one — that is the story of South America.
If you are backpacking to South America for a longer period, I suggest that you plan your travel route from the colder parts of the continent to the warmer areas if you start at the end of summer. But if you arrive in South America in peak winter, first visit the hotter areas before you think about heading down South.
Here are some of the appropriate travel times for the best destinations in South America:
Atacama desert — I explored the gorgeous Atacama desert in February beginning. The day was scorching, and the nights were cold in the Atacama in that month. A better time to visit the desert would be either March and April or October and November.
Patagonia — Summers is the best time to visit this nomadic land.
Bolivian and Peruvian Mountains and high altitude places — The high-altitude places of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and other countries are never hot. When I was traveling in Bolivia and Peru in March and April, even on sunny days the weather could get rainy anytime with gusts of strong winds making it colder than expected. Not to mention the altitude of the place that never let the mountains warm up. But the weather was still nice at that time, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there in winter.
Spending the summer in the mountains would be ideal.
Overall, the months of October to March/April are the best to explore South America.
What should be your South America travel budget?
South America isn’t that expensive as it might look.
The cost of traveling South America would depend on your travel style, but you can estimate your monthly South America travel budget to be 1000 USD, almost 30 dollars a day.
Chile, Brazil, and Argentina are the most expensive countries in South America. The rest of the South American countries are cheaper than these three (I cannot say about the travel costs of the Falkland Islands (United Kingdom), French Guinea (France), and Guyana.)
I don’t know how much I spent on my South America backpacking trip exactly, but here are the breakdowns of some of the major costs.
Bed: 10,000 to 20,000 Chilean Pesos – $10-20 (I took a mix of private rooms and dorms.)
Food(3 meals): 10,000 Chilean pesos – $10 (Eating at local stalls, small food joints)
Total: $20-30 for food and accommodation. Plus you will add for activities such as the tours in the Atacama, hiking volcanoes, traveling by bus or flights, et cetera.
Total backpacking budget: $40-60 [Destinations such as Pucon, San Pedro, Easter Island, Patagonia would be costlier than the rest.
Bed: 30 to 80 Bolivianos – $5-15 (for a treehouse or an average bed in a dorm)
Food(3 meals): $3 and above (the regular Bolivian meals start from 4-5 Bolivianos or <1 USD)
Total: $10 for decent food and bed.
Total backpacking budget: $20-40 [Adding up for activities such as the Uyuni salt flats tour, the Amazon, or biking the death road and traveling by buses or flights.]
Bed: 35 Peruvian soles – $10 (You can even get a good private room at this price.)
Food(3 meals): $2 and above (You can get a set menu — a fixed course and a soup in $1-2. Those meals are delicious, and I was never dissatisfied. A regular meal in a restaurant will cost a little higher but should be under USD 10.)
Total: $15 for bed and food.
Total backpacking budget: $30-50 [Including the long bus journeys, and taking into account many activities such as visiting the Manu National Park in the Amazon rainforest or hiking the Colca Canyon that are done with tour companies.]
Brazil: $50 per day – While I do not have a cost breakdown for Brazil, the travel friends that I asked and the forums that I read, all say that $50 is a good budget for a day. You can’t go lower but can easily go higher so watch out what you spend.
Argentina: $35 per day. The food and accommodation are cheap in Argentina but the tours and transport is comparatively more expensive.
Colombia: $30-50 per day. Colombia isn’t that expensive and you can easily keep in your budgets here.
Ecuador: $20-40 per day. Not counting the Galapagos island.
Overall, a daily budget of $30-40 can be estimated for South America after averaging out the daily budgets of all its countries. This cost will increase if you visit more expensive countries or stay in them longer (such as Brazil), visit Easter or Galapagos island, take private rooms, eat at restaurants, and take expensive hiking tours.
Do you need a visa for traveling around South America?
You cannot get one visa to South America like you get one Schengen visa to Europe.
Every South American country has its entry-exit requirements.
If you are an Indian, you need visas to some countries while the rest allows a visa on arrival or free entry if you have a valid US, UK, Australian, or Schengen visa. My visa guide for Indians lists all the South America visa requirements country-wise.
If you have a Canada, British, US, or Australian passport, you would have free access to most of the countries of South America. You should check the individual country’s page or your embassy’s website.
I get a lot of emails and questions regarding South-American visas. You can read those discussions on my individual visa pages(linked above).
Do we need travel insurance for South America?
Yes. You need a travel insurance to travel anywhere else your travel cost would increase exponentially if you fall sick or some unforeseen thing happens.
Best travel insurance for South America for Western travelers is World Nomads that all my friends from around the world can’t speak enough about.
For Indians, I find the prices of WorldNomads a bit high(currency conversion). You can get travel insurance to South America on InsurancePundit, a website that lets you compare the various insurances and then purchase. I have used Insurance Pundit a few times now, and I am happy with the experience.
What are the best countries to visit in South America?
I was in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia and loved the three countries. I also wanted to go to Colombia but couldn’t visit due to visa issues.
Now as I said, Venezuela is under a political crisis. So excluding that, I think all the countries in South America are great to visit.
Argentina is known for its hip culture, cosmopolitan towns, delicious wine, adventure travel such as hiking in Patagonia, amongst other things. Buenos Aires is considered to be one of the most popular cities in South America due to its fun culture and open-minded Argentinian people.
Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Suriname are great places to visit. Many of my travel friends were there and they loved these countries for each of its own reasons.
I haven’t heard much about Falkland Islands (United Kingdom), French Guinea (France), and Guyana because not many people go there. If you go, would you please come back and tell me how did you like them?
What are the top things to do in South America?
Even though I have written about my best moments in South America in detail in the linked travelogue, let me give you a glimpse of what you can expect on your South America travel.
You can hike glaciers, icy volcanoes, deep canyons, high Andes, and national parks.
Go for safaris and boat rides in the Amazon, the oldest tropical rainforest of the world.
Explore centuries-old Inca ruins.
Live with indigenous families on remote islands in giant lakes such as Lago Titicaca.
Dance like crazy in carnivals that liven up the streets of many South American countries throughout the year.
Visit penguin colonies and see them play around in the Pacific while on a regular day on a ferry or from a remote island.
Go to Galapagos island to explore some of the unique animal life that stands testament to Darwin’s evolution theory.
Wander in vast deserts searching for salt flats and dense starry nights.
Shower under some of the highest waterfalls in the world.
Go on wildlife safaris to spot panthers by the riverside in one of the most panther-dense zones of the world alongside NatGeo and Discovery team.
Photograph red lakes that are home to thousands of pink flamingoes.
Ride some of the most deadly roads on bikes.
Watch football and go crazy with the locals.
Enjoy vibrant city life that promotes an open culture and welcome all.
Write poetry about Peru.
Oh, let us not forget that Chile and Argentina are one of the best wine producers.
And, the people of South America are the most fun people I have ever met. They eat and drink and dance and merry like old times.
So while planning your perfect South America backpacking route, keep an open mind for even I cannot list all the experiences that you can have there in one place.
In the next sections, I will tell about the possible South America itineraries in detail.
What are some of the best South America backpacking routes?
To understand the possible South America travel routes, let us have a look at the connected countries of South America:
(Starting from the top) Venezuela — Colombia — Ecuador — Peru — Bolivia — Chile — Argentina — Uruguay — Paraguay — Brazil — French Guinea — Suriname — Guyana (going Anti-clockwise)
The best backpacking routes in South America would be the ones in which you travel from one country to another while never having to jump countries for that is how you save the most money. If you love overlanding, like me, you would also want to travel from one country to its bordering nation by land.
But if you don’t want to travel with the restriction of seeing the bordering nations one after another, you can always take a flight out. For this South America itinerary, let us assume you are traveling bordering countries.
Let us look at my South America itinerary first —
Chile – Santiago >> Castro, Chiloé (Taught English for four months) >> In between the volunteer program traveled to many parts of Chile such as Puerto Varas, Puerto Montt, Valdivia, Osorno, Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Cauquenes, Hornophiren, Santiago, many other islands near Chiloé >> Pucon >> Atacama >> Arica >> (Crossed the border into Peru) >>
Peru – Arequipa >> Colca Canyon >> Arequipa >> Puno >> Islands of Puno >> Cusco >> Manu National Park, Amazon, Peru >> Cusco >> Machu Picchu >> Cusco >> Ruins around Cusco >> (Crossed the border into Bolivia)
Bolivia – Copacabana >> Isla Del Sol >> Copacabana >> Lago Titicaca and Isla del Sol >> La Paz >> Santa Cruz >> Samaipata >> Santa Cruz >> Sucre >> Uyuni >> Salar de Uyuni Tour Santa Cruz >> (Tried crossing the border into Chile but couldn’t as my visa had expired so went back to Bolivia to get Chile visa) Uyuni >> La Paz >> Uyuni >> Arica >> Santiago >> Castro >> Santiago (Flight out to India).
I did this above itinerary in about nine months; I was slow as for the first four months I was in Chile on the island of Chiloé to teach English as part of the program English Open Doors. I spent about 6-7 months in Chile and divided the rest of the months in Bolivia and Peru equally, so about a month in each country.
A month was enough to travel at a slow pace in both Peru and Bolivia, and I could still see a lot.
Feel free to pick my above itinerary as these are some of the best South America destinations.
Depending on the time you have, you can take any South American itinerary going through any of the connected circuits from this bigger loop:
(Starting from the top) Colombia — Ecuador — Peru — Bolivia — Chile — Argentina — Uruguay — Paraguay — Brazil — French Guinea — Suriname — Guyana (going Anti-clockwise)
Let us look at some possible South America travel route.
If you have 2 weeks in South America — In two weeks in South America, you can only travel to one country. Pick up any of the above-mentioned countries.
If you have 3 weeks in South America — For 3 weeks you can visit a maximum of two countries. So either a combination of Colombia and Ecuador or Peru and Bolivia or Bolivia and Chile and so on.
If you have four weeks in South America — you can visit two to three border countries. But even managing three countries within a month would be a bit rushed.
Remember that distances between two destinations in South America are large.
A possible and comfortable South America itinerary 1 month — Three countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay are doable for the last two countries are small.
If you want to spend 2 months in South America — You can travel to three to four countries. Let us say you decide to visit Ecuador — Peru — Bolivia — Chile in the two months, you can spend ten days in Ecuador, twenty days in Peru, ten days in Bolivia, and the rest of the twenty days in Chile.
But even after spending about three weeks each in Peru and Chile, you won’t be able to see all the best places there. So another option for your 2 months South America itinerary could be that you visit only Peru and Chile for a month each. In a month in each of these fantastic countries, you can see a lot at a not-so-quick pace.
Seeing one place properly is better than flipping through multiple places.
If you have 3 months in South America — I think now you get the idea.
The number of countries you can see in the time you have in South America depends on the pace of travel and what you want to see and do.
Though I cannot make much comment on how much time you should spend in each country, I can tell you the ideal time you might need in each South American nation as per my opinion.
The ideal time to explore each of the above countries —
Venezuela — A no-go right now.
Colombia — A month would be ideal. People who go to Colombia never want to leave but a month is a good time to see the major places at a medium pace.
Ecuador — Twenty days would be a good amount of time to spend in Ecuador.
Peru — A month seems ideal in Peru. Peru is large and has so much to do and see. But you can do some of the top things in 20 days. Again, if you want to avoid the top things and just want to go and wander in the Andes, then an infinite amount of time won’t be enough, but even ten days would do.
Bolivia — The ideal time to understand Bolivia and see some of the most amazing things there would be about 20 days. Some people never want to visit Bolivia or they see the Uyuni Salt flats and get out. I loved Bolivia and spent about a month there. If you are planning on only seeing the salt flats then a few days is enough.
Chile — A month would be ideal for Chile. Chile is a long country that has a lot of places to see and amazing things to do. But if you are short of time, start with two weeks.
Argentina — Twenty days would be ideal for this big country. You can easily spend a month or two there.
Uruguay and Paraguay — Ten days would be an ideal time to spend in each of these countries. Few travelers go to these two but that doesn’t mean Uruguay and Paraguay don’t have good places.
Brazil — Twenty days would be a good time to start with Brazil. Brazil is a huge country and also not all of it is secure to travel.
French Guinea/Suriname/Guyana/Falkland Islands — Though I can’t tell you the exact time, I think 1-2 weeks would be ideal, to begin with.
Having said all of the above, starting from 14 days to spending anything up to a year or longer is a good time for South America.
What about the working people who do not have more than two weeks to spend at a stretch in South America? Please don’t lose hope after reading my extremely self-centered South America travel itinerary.
Go for two weeks. But don’t plan to hop to more than one country then. Visit a new country on your next South America vacation. And so on.
What are the best places in South America as per each country?
Though I have not visited all the countries, I would let you in on some of my favorite places to see in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile —
I will add more to this list when I visit the other countries later.
Do we visit the Amazon rainforest on our South America travel route?
Of course. You can read about my visit to the Amazon rainforest in Peru to see how exploring the Amazon is like a once in a lifetime opportunity for anyone.
I went to the Manu national park from Cusco, but you can also visit the Iquitos part of the forest which is further inside and takes longer to reach. Of course, the longer the journey is the bigger the adventure is.
You can also visit the Amazon from Brazil, Bolivia, or Colombia. Guyana, Suriname, French Guyana, and Ecuador also have the Amazon jungle, but the area under the forest is pretty small there.
Tours to the Amazon range from a four-day to even month-long adventures. Choose one that suits your budget and preferences. Here is a popular tour of 2-3-4 days in the Anaconda lodge of Brazil that I have my mind on for the next time.
Which are the best places in South America for digital nomads?
Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, Santiago, Castro (Chile), Medellin, and Buenos Aires are some of the best cities to live in South America for digital nomads.
Internet, housing, culture, food, activities to do, a thriving digital nomad community are some of the things that I have considered while choosing these cities out of entire South America.
Amongst all the big cities, I have listed Castro, the little town on the island of Chiloé, as a great option for a digital nomad for I know that it is a gorgeous place with a strong sense of community. If you have been wanting to get away from big city life, slow down for some time in Castro and work in a stilt house with the view of an azure ocean and sheep grazing on the neon grassland nearby. Castro is quite affordable, too.
Arequipa and Puno are also not that big cities but you can still do and see a lot there. They are tier-two cities with a lot of nature and a strong cultural background.
All the other cities I have mentioned are popular amongst digital nomads and for all the good reasons.
Do we need to know Spanish for traveling South America?
Even though a lot of travelers plan to learn Spanish in South America, they never say more than a hola and they still manage.
I learned Spanish while living and teaching in Chile and further polished my Spanish skills while traveling in South America.
Spanish is handy almost everywhere in South America not because most of the people do not speak English there (like even tourist guides and hotel managers and working people in Santiago) but because speaking a few words of Spanish would make you local’s favorite in no time. Even a broken phrase of Spanish would go a long way when it comes to hitchhiking or boarding a bus or ordering a Cerveza.
This is probably one of my best South America travel tips— take the effort of learning Spanish in South America. Even though you can manage without learning Spanish, your travel experience would change entirely even if you can speak a little bit of Spanish.
Spanish is a fun language and has many words similar to English. So if you put in some time daily to learn Spanish and try speaking it with the locals, you would manage your way pretty soon.
But remember that all the countries speak a little bit different from each other. If you learn Spanish in Argentina, you will be surprised by the accent of Chileans or Colombians. But the locals will understand. I learned Spanish in Chile, one of the worst countries to learn for the strange slangs and the accent of Chileans, as they told me, and I could understand any Spanish after that.
What are the best places to learn Spanish while traveling through South America?
The best way to learn Spanish is while traveling and speaking to the locals. You can also stay in one place and learn from native Spanish teachers.
Sucre — Sucre has many Spanish schools and also individual tutors who teach Spanish to foreigners in private or group classes.
Cities like Cusco, Buenos Aires are perfect for learning Spanish as you can easily spend a lot of time exploring these cities while getting a grasp on the language.
What should be an ideal backpacking South America packing list?
Your ideal packing list for South America should have these below items.
What is the currency of South America? How do we carry money on our South America Trip?
The currency of South America is different in each country.
You should carry your credit and debit cards, and maybe some cash (USD or Euros or other strong Western currency) at the beginning of your trip. Though all ATMs on airports dispense cash in the local currency, sometimes having a bit of money on you can be helpful.
You would have to exchange the dollars into the local currency, and the best place to exchange money would be the local exchange shops in any (big) city center and not the banks (banks’ exchange rate is the worst).
I carried a travel card with about $1000 top-up and another $5oo in cash. This money ran me quite sometime before I had to start using my debit card. The cash helped for I didn’t have to pay any transaction charge on that money but the travel card still charged me a conversion rate that was similar to the bank charges.
Banco Estado had the least international card withdrawal fee in Chile. Do try government banks in all South American countries for they would be the cheapest for international withdrawal.
As I mentioned in my travel planning guide, make sure you inform your banks that you are going on an international trip before you leave. My bank blocked my debit card when they detected a transaction in Chile. I had to make an international call to inform them that I was trying to use the card.
You can also request your bank to give you a debit or credit card that has low charges per transaction.
Indian banks do a bad job at international travel, and I don’t even know a single bank that gives any leverage to a frequent traveler. If you are a fellow Indian traveler, please let me know if a particular bank has been sweet (less vicious?) to you because you travel. I would appreciate that.
Also never carry your entire cash and card with you while moving around cities. Keep them back in the hostel as ATM threats are known in some parts of the continent.
Or hide everything away in a slim fanny pack.
Can we travel South America as a vegetarian or vegan?
South American food is mostly non-vegetarian.
Traditional food in South America is barbecues (asados), grilled meat and steaks (beef, pork, chicken), fried fish, rice, bread, cheese, seafood, fried empanadas (stuffed pastries) of various types, et cetera.
Meals are made up of two-three courses and start with a serving of soup.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will have a hard time finding a course that is entirely vegetarian. When I was traveling South America alone, I didn’t eat beef. So while I would get the main course that was beef-free, I had to be careful with the soup as most restaurants and homes made soups with minced beef. Even if I had asked for a no-beef meal, the restaurant would serve me the beefy soup, and only upon asking again, the server understood that I couldn’t have the soup.
You will have to be careful while eating even if you were clear with your server about your dietary requirements.
Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia are countries that eat a lot of steak and meat, mostly beef. Peru had a variety of options, a lot of which were even vegetarian.
Only the cities or towns that receive a lot of tourists would have some vegetarian or vegan cafes. In small towns or villages or on islands, you might have a hard time finding vegetarian food.
You can always order fried rice with no meat in it and that is what a lot of tourists did. You can also buy your groceries and cook in the guesthouse’s kitchen.
My best food in South America was Casuellas (Chilean soup), sea algae cooked in various styles on Chilean islands, Peruvian preparations of many kinds, empanadas, and fried trucha (trout) fish. Oh, after a while I also started loving the Chilean bread when grilled with cheese and tomatoes and other things.
Do try the traditional South American food but be cautious and ask a few times until you are convinced about the ingredients.
My Spanish travel phrases guide has many phrases that will help you understand the ingredients and help you order as a vegetarian.
What are the recommended vaccinations for South America travel?
I would suggest you talk to a doctor or look at your embassy’s website to find out what travel vaccinations for South America would be the best for you.
Medical advice is always best taken from the medical experts.
Can we work on our South America backpacking trip?
You cannot work in South America on your tourist visa. But a lot of travelers sell their art, beads, jewelry, et cetera unofficially.
Can we volunteer in South America for free?
You can do volunteer work in South America, and some of the programs are free and even offer lodging and food. I do not know about all the programs, but I was part of the English Open Doors program in Chile and loved it.
I have written about the program in detail on my teaching English in Chile guide. To give you a short summary, I will say that all native or near-native English speakers can apply for this program. The program is four-months-long, and you have to pay nothing.
You buy your flights, your visa fee to Chile is waived, you get food and free accommodation with a Chilean family, and some allowance.
Read the other .
Can we teach English while backpacking through South America?
As I have written above, you can be a volunteer and teach as part of the program, but that is only in Chile.
You can also teach online and offline in Santiago, Cusco, Lima, and other big cities but remember that you would have to compromise a bit on the salary. As per my month-long research in Santiago when I tried to find an online or offline English teaching job, I concurred that the jobs there don’t pay so well. Also, most of the jobs were about traveling to different parts of Santiago to teach the students in their own settings. In other cities, the traveling might have worked, but I didn’t find Santiago safe and didn’t want to commute daily to its unknown and obscure parts.
There are jobs wherein you go to a center and teach English online but they didn’t pay that well. If you want to take up any job meanwhile you look for something better, these English teaching jobs are okay to start with. But I am not sure how good they are in the long term.
What would be the best way to find such jobs? Print out a list of the English teaching centers and go to them personally with your resume. Have a conversation with the receptionist or someone who hires the staff and leave your cv. Most of the centers get back in a while over the phone or you might have to go again to remind them.
I also tried looking for teaching work in schools but I couldn’t teach in schools without a teacher’s degree. Fair enough. You can work as a contractor or freelancer and conduct workshops in schools, but as this is South America do not expect fast response and be prepared to wait it out.
Are the locals friendly to South America backpackers?
I have written a lot about how South Americans are the nicest people in all my Chile, Bolivia, and Peru country guides. I have even written poems on some of the kind souls I met in South America, and I have given an ode to some of them in separate articles.
South American people love to help others. They smile and laugh often and don’t make a fuss about most of the things. They are particular about what they like though. Also, they notice how you act and the things you care about and would be quick to tease you on your traits.
I met both kinds of people in South America — some who were friendly and helpful while others who were jealous or detested me for all the attention I got from others.
If there were people who translated every Spanish word for me, then a few people would never care if I could understand a word of what they or the group was saying and didn’t help me at all.
Others made fun of some Indian things they had seen on television — the dowry system in India, caste system, Indian population, rat temples et cetera.
The understanding of India is skewed outside as most of the people only know India as per what has been shown to them in the news. Even a lot of travelers who come to India, visit popular places and never get an idea of how India truly is.
I guess I met a lot of such people who behaved as if India was all about filth and child labor, and I had caused all the problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they even said hurtful things. Even one or two of my friends didn’t know how to strike a conversation with me on these matters and instead made condescending and judgmental statements.
All I could do in such situations was put across the right information and tell them how India has evolved. After a while, I stopped explaining and let people believe what they wanted to believe or told them off when I was hurt.
If you are from Europe or the US or Australia, you would be called Gringo. A term that originated long ago and has many theories behind it (some of which can be associated with locals shouting out to the foreign police or army as “Green Go.”) But apart from the occasional, good-hearted reference as a Gringo, you wouldn’t find any racial discrimination.
You would meet all kinds of people in South America, like you do everywhere, but remember that the majority of the people are super nice there. South Americans are open-minded and believe in having fun in life irrespective of what situations fall upon them. Read the story of my Chilean host mother to see how South Americans can brave their problems.
Have a great time and discover more about the people with your experiences rather than a third-person’s opinion(like mine).
What is the drinking culture in South America?
The drinking culture in South America is fun and inclusive. From small countryside pubs to large bars in metropolitans to overloaded cellars in homes, you can find them all.
South Americans love to drink and party. Their families get together and celebrate even the slightest of the occasion with a drink. And they love to invite travelers for they believe in more the merrier.
The people of South America aren’t a big fan of hard liquor and love their beer and wine. Or if I may say, cerveza y vino tinto o blanco. You can have a beer in most parts of South America. Wine is preferable in Chile and Argentina, two of the best wine producers in the world.
Pisco Sour is another must-try drink over which Peru and Chile both have an ongoing copyright fight. If you want to start a debate with a Chilean or a Peruvian just tell them how they got the Pisco sour from their neighbor and I am sure you would see some firecrackers exploding into the sky.
Have fun there. But do remember that there are a lot of drunkards and alcoholics, too, so stay safe. If you are on a South America solo travel trip, make sure you watch your drink when you are drinking outside amongst strangers. Mixing up the drinks of travelers to render them unconscious is an old trick that you don’t want to fall for.
What are the kinds of hotels in South America?
You can stay in hostels, hotels, guesthouses, villas, cottages, tents, camper vans, apartments, resorts, treehouses, and there are still other options that I can’t recall. I mostly use Booking to book all my accommodations. Give it a try here.
Does Airbnb work in South America?
I used Airbnb once in Santiago but Airbnb works even in small cities in South America (popular ones).
But due to the multiple scams that run on Airbnb, I prefer Booking.com over Airbnb.
Can we couch surf in South America?
Yes. I didn’t couch surf in South America but I did stay with a lot of friends who offered me there place when I visited their city.
Couch surfing is becoming common in South America, and it could be a good way to get to know locals and reduce your travel costs.
How to travel South America? Can we do overlanding(cross land borders) in South America?
I crossed the land borders in South America three times.
From Chile to Peru — You make your way to Arica and from there to Tacna in Peru. You can get shared taxis from Tacna that will take you to Arequipa, the closest tourist-favorite town from Tacna.
From Peru to Bolivia — I crossed the border into Bolivia via the Puno — Copacabana route. Make sure the driver doesn’t leave you at the border and takes you to the town of Copacabana.
From Bolivia to Chile — After a few failed attempts (the details of which you will soon find in a tragedy travel essay that is still finding its space on the internet), I crossed the border from Uyuni into Arica.
I have heard sad but hilarious stories of travelers being befooled by the bus companies who promised them a ticket to the destination but instead left them at the border from where my friends had to trudge their way to civilization without the local money and even water sometimes.
The trick to a
comfortable (let’s not get crazy here) safe is to find a bus company that is reliable. Online reviews and travel forums discussing the best travel buses across borders might help.
Apart from a random drop in the middle of nowhere, crossing borders in South America is not much different from anywhere else.
Also, always make sure to get to the border in time so that you can cross it even if there are lunch breaks or the queues get too long.
Essential visa guides, only for Indians
Is it safe to do hitchhiking while traveling South America alone or if we are two people?
I didn’t hitchhike for the first few months as my Spanish was limited. Later I hitchhiked in Chile in a truck once but I was with a Chilean friend. Hitchhiking is not that unknown to South Americans and you can take your chance with it in safe parts of the continent.
I would suggest that you wait for a couple of weeks to get your first hitchhike for after a few weeks you would understand and communicate at least basic Spanish.
If you are not in a safe part of South America, don’t hitchhike.
Do we need to book all the hotels and tours before backpacking to South America?
You do not need to pre-book it all in spite of what a lot of travel websites or South America backpackers suggest. Even in the prime travel season of February, March, and April, I could get rooms in the hostels and hotels at the last minute, except in Cusco.
Hostels in Cusco got fully booked when I tried getting them on the last day. Book at least a day or two in advance if you are in a popular guesthouse in a popular city. That is all.
I got the tickets to Machu Picchu and to a one-way train to Machu Picchu just a few days before I wanted to visit. I got all Atacama tours, Colca Canyon hike, Uyuni tour, et cetera impromptu.
But the Inca and Salkantay hike to Machu Picchu would be better booked at least a couple of weeks in advance. You should also check the status of these hikes as they get closed down pretty frequently due to landslides and other natural causes.
What all should we do for planning a trip to South America?
This travel guide to South America must have answered a lot of your questions on South America trip planning.
Apart from setting your finances right, packing the important bank cards and other things you would need in the continent, making an itinerary or winging it, getting your tickets and visas right, planning your accommodation, and getting your vaccinations, you should also check for the current situation of the country you plan to land in.
If you want to participate in a volunteer program or want to do a Workaway, then plan it ahead.
Do look for the prevalent scams in an area or a city but don’t get overwhelmed. A lot of information on the internet about South America seems to have been written on gunpoint.
What books can we read to prepare ourselves to explore South America?
I have not read all these below books but I am on them.
The House of the Spirits a Novel — A unique perspective on 20th-century Chilean culture and politics, written by Isabell Allende.
Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge — An account of an expedition into Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana by John Gimlette.
The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Che Guevara — This book is the travel notes of Che Guevara when he went on a life-changing motorbike journey from Argentina across the continent. It is a good book to understand the pre-revolution South American culture and politics.
Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail by Thomas McFadden and Rusty Young — Set in the San Pedro jail of Bolivia, Rusty Young, a backpacker, and Thomas McFadden, a drug lord, weave the story of South America’s drug culture together.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams — For travelers who want to go a bit deeper into the history of the Incas and their fort, Machu Picchu.
At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay by John Gimlette — For travel tales of Paraguay.
The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda, Mark Eisner (Editor), John Felstiner (Translator) — And this might be my most favorite book out of these all. Pablo Neruda is the most acclaimed poet from Chile, and if you read his few lines, you would know why. This is a collection of his poems in Spanish that are well translated in English by the credited translator.
Pablo Escobar, El Patrón del Mal (Something to see and not read) — Though people suggest Narcos as the best show ever made on Pablo Escobar, I loved Pablo Escobar, El Patrón del Mal show on Netflix and watched it in Spanish. It’s a good show to understand Colombian history and also to learn and practice Spanish. Here is a recent article about Pablo Escobar that shows how he is remembered now.
Must I say that you have to keep reading my South America travel blogs and tell me what would you like to read more?
Are there any South America backpacker forums we can join?
I am preparing a South America FAQ page that is a collection of various queries I have received on South America travel in the past few years. I would soon publish that FAQ page hoping that it would serve as an online forum for all kinds of South America travel questions. Coming soon.
Meanwhile, you can drop comments on my South America articles to ask any questions you might have.
Would you go back to South America?
I am planning to visit South America, again, for a long time period. I would start with Colombia and then make my way to other parts of the continent.
I am not sure when, but that is a small logistics to figure out.
Follow Up Essential Reads
- A My Super-detailed Travel Guide to Chile
- My comprehensive travel guide to Bolivia
- My essential guide to backpacking Peru
Would you love to visit South America after reading my detailed travel guide? Tell me in the comments.
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Blissful four days in the Manu National Park, Amazon Rainforest Peru
I visited the Manu National Park, part of the Amazon Peru, exactly three years ago.
You would wonder why I didn’t write about my Amazon trip earlier. Why pen down my Amazon story now after three years?
I didn’t write this article before as I didn’t have great pictures of the Amazon jungle for I was clicking with my phone camera back then.
But as I have been getting a lot of questions from readers who have planned their South America trip using my articles, I finally decided to write a piece that gives all the information on the Amazon en Peru.
Amazon, the world’s most biodiverse tropical rainforest, covers nine South American countries — Brazil (60% of the Amazon), Peru (13%), Colombia (10%), and the rest within Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
As a little girl, I had seen the Amazon forest on the television. My parents and I used to watch the National Geographic and Discovery channel every evening for hours.
Though during dinner we would switch to some other channel for my mother couldn’t tolerate the gory images of lions and jackals devouring their dead deers, papa would put on Discovery channel as soon as my mother took her last bite.
The dense jungles of Karnataka, the dry ochre land of Rajasthan forests, sultry Africa, and the most mysterious of them all — the Amazon — spellbound us for hours.
Riding the Yangon Circular train – One of my best day trips from Yangon, Myanmar
When you search for things to do in Yangon, riding the Yangon circular train comes as one of the top activities. Pictures of travelers surrounded by sleepy Burmese people carrying overloaded bamboo baskets in the Yangon train would fill the internet feed.
Those Yangon train pictures promised to offer an insider’s look into the local life of the city. So after exploring Yangon for a day, I decided to get my piece of the train.
The little girl inside me who grew up in India riding trains suddenly sprang to life. Before heading out of my hotel, I packed a small bag with my wallet, camera, water bottle, and strode towards the Yangon Central Railway station.
Finding the train station wasn’t the easiest task. When I arrived at the Google map location for Yangon Central station, I couldn’t find the place.
A few locals gestured me to climb the bridge at the location. When I did, I could only see the railway tracks from up the bridge, but I couldn’t locate any ticket booth or platform.
This guide to the Myanmar visa for Indians lists all the possible Myanmar tourist visa options for Indian citizens — Myanmar visa on arrival for Indians, Myanmar e visa for Indians, and the regular Myanmar travel visa from the Myanmar embassy in Delhi.
I had booked a flight to Guwahati and, then from there, I was to enter into Burma by land (always my preferable travel option) via the Moreh (Manipur)/Tamu (Myanmar) border.
But my Northeast India and overlanding into Burma plan was disheveled by the protests in Guwahati. Land travel was impossible under the given conditions, and I canceled my flight ticket and a stay in the Maujuli island, the disappearing land of the east.
As I booked a flight to Yangon, I decided to apply for a Myanmar online visa (evisa) to be assured instead of depending on a visa on arrival as the trip already seemed to be jinxed. Also, I didn’t want to wait in queue for long at the Yangon international airport.