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Roving Wild Little adventures through this bea-U-tiful planet of ours :)

S America tips!!

CANADA | Saturday, 22 September 2007 | Views [739]

Alrighty, so I’ve been back in Canada for nearly two months now, and boy did that fly by! So did the trip, really; looking back, it feels like I barely even scratched the surfaces of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Never do my dreams focus on one thing, but I’ve found that at least half the time, now, they are focused on/set in South America! The memories from my little adventure swirl through my head at any opportunity and try as I might, I can’t stop missing it! I’ve decided that upon graduating from college in one and a half years (though that seems like decades away) I will be returning- this time beginning in Bolivia, as I really didn’t get to explore as much as I’d originally wanted due to protesting and my own laziness, then heading down to Northern and Central Argentina, and finally ending up in the Southern half of Brazil.

So in missing beautiful South America immensely and to preserve my own sanity sitting jobless in my parents’ house, I have decided to write a little tip sheet for anyone planning to visit :)

General Tips

*In all big cities there are plenty of internet cafes for around $1 USD per hour (0.50 in Bolivia)

*Don’t hit up the markets for souvenirs until the end of your trip. Seriously, carrying an extra bag or running out of space in your backpack gets really old really fast, and the pain in your back and shoulders on top of the inconvenience will make you regret the decision quickly!

*Phones for long-distance calls are available in basically any town you go through- Movistar or Porta is set up in even the smallest of villages I saw and visited. Keep in mind, however, that it will be more expensive (upwards of $1 a minute!) than in the larger or more touristy cities (where calls home can be as low as 7 cents a minute). Even better, get Skype! Less than a cent a minute, just find a computer with Skype installed (relatively easy in the cities) and a headset microphone and you’re laughing.

*No one brings their money belt everywhere with them. Most people I met didn’t use theirs, and after 3 days I stopped using mine, too. They’re uncomfortable and annoying, and most are pretty obvious under your clothes. Keep it on your body while traveling by bus or plane and when first arriving in a new town, but the rest of the time it should be perfectly safe in your backpack in your hostel (providing your backpack has a padlock on it and you place your money belt towards the bottom of the bag).


*Oh my God I can not stress this enough; PACK LIGHT! I don’t mean go on your trip with a tshirt and some jeans and that’s it, but honestly! Some of the things people pack blows my mind! Here’s what I packed for my trip, and I felt it was perfect- I had plenty of extra space and it weighed just enough:

2 tshirts (one I wore to bed and sometimes during the day, one I only wore during the day), 1 slightly nicer top or tank for the beaches and clubs, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of pj pants, 1 pair of hiking pants. A sarong. Hiking boots and sandals. 7 pairs of undies, 5 pairs of socks, bathing suit, 1 bra, 1 ankle-length skirt (so you’re not roasting, but not offensive).Guidebook, reading book, mp3 player, 2 zip-up sweaters (both of which I lost in my first week...you can get a nice knit sweater at the markets for around $10 USD though!). Travel sizes of Tylenol, sleeping pills, and anti-malaria pills. Hand sanitizer, travel toothbrush, toothpaste, 2 tiny bottles of shampoo (I didn’t find any tiny bottles down there, just regular-sized ones and sample packets), tweezers, nailclippers, deodorant and chapstick. Then condoms if you think you'll need them, or even if you don't think so because it's always better to be safe, guys!

Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? It’s really not once it’s all packed- my 60-Liter backpack was only a little more than half full when it was fully loaded up. Bring anything you feel will be necessary, but make sure it’s necessary! A toothbrush is a necessity, nail polish is not. Plus nail polish can explode all over your stuff. You can buy other things along the way if you need to.

*Try to get a cheap mp3 player (something that if it gets stolen you won’t cry too hard) that runs on double- or triple-A batteries. Batteries are cheap and easy to find, whereas a computer to charge it up isn’t always available. EDIT: On the flip side of that, I felt guilty for going through so many batteries while traveling and having nowhere to dispose of them properly, so from an environmental standpoint a chargeable player might be the better choice. I recently bought one that can be charged with a USB connector for which I bought a USB-electrical outlet converter for $15. Much better for the earth and maybe even more convenient than batteries!

*A general rule is: If you can’t bear to lose it, don’t bring it.

*Of course that last rule is pretty flexible, I feel. If you keep your camera/other valuable items with you on the bus or in a locked backpack at the hostel, you should be fine. Any time someone told me about something of theirs being stolen it was because they weren’t paying attention.

*Don’t bring a memory card with space for 1000000 photos on it. You’ll never bring it in to get put to a CD or upload them to the internet, and if your camera breaks or gets stolen then BAM! You lose all the photographic memories from your entire trip. Not fun at all. I try to either upload all my photos or get them put on a CD every 150-200 pictures or so just in case anything goes wrong.


*I highly recommend nightbuses. It saves on the cost of a hostel, and although you may get a crappy sleep, you’re usually out exploring the next day so you don’t even notice! If you have trouble sleeping on buses bring along a couple of sleeping pills and you’re set. Just keep your backpack strap around your ankle, your purse or money belt attached to you in a way that you would wake up if anyone touched it, and all personal items tucked out of view.

*Security on many South American buses is getting better with increased tourism, so if you find yourself being fingerprinted and photographed/videotaped before hopping on, just realize this means a way less chance of having anything stolen!

*Just so you know, in Peru many bus companies offer full-cama or semi-cama options. Full-cama are basically bigger seats that go back further with more leg room, but you get a fine sleep on semi as well. Bolivian buses are surprisingly better than I had expected (considering the country’s economy), and Ecuadorian ones probably the least comfortable compared to the other two.

*Don’t store your bag in the overhead compartment like the locals (and many tourists) do. If I had a dollar for every person telling me they got their stuff jacked from above them while dozing/daydreaming on a bus, I would have been able to afford another month of traveling!

*Watch them load your bag onto the bus. I ended up in Lima stranded without my stuff all day when they put mine on the wrong bus (this is one of the reasons you keep your passport, credit card, cash, and ID with you on the bus)

*If you’re traveling alone try not to arrive in a new city at a weird time, like anywhere from 12am-5am. It makes it really hard to find hostels, and can be dangerous depending on where you are. You wouldn’t want to get to LA at three in the morning if you didn’t know where the bad neighborhoods are, either. And when you get off the bus there are three things you want- food, toilet, bed- and those are much harder to find in the middle of the night.


*I ate plenty of salad and freshly-washed fruit, I brushed my teeth with the tap water, I swam in rivers in the Bolivian jungle. Not that I’m telling you to do these things, maybe I was just lucky, but I just want to warn you not to freak out if tap water touches your toothbrush by accident. I met so many people who were so meticulous and careful that it really affected their travels and the fun of the trip. Be cautious, not paranoid.

*That being said, don’t go out eating fly-covered meat and gulp cups of tap water and come back complaining that I made you sick, because I refuse to be liable for that. I’m just telling you my experiences! Okay, maybe I was really lucky, but the point was I wasn’t anal about everything and I still made it 3 months in South America without one bout of traveler’s diarrhea or any stomach/bowel problems at all.

*Beaches are infamous for (sometimes armed) robberies and sexual assaults at night. Don’t wander the beach alone any time after dark.

*USE CONDOMS EVERY TIME! How the hell much do you need to be told?! Seriously. Even at home, you should never ever consider sleeping with someone unless there’s a condom involved. Bring your own, don’t expect the other person to provide them, and wear (or make him wear) the damn thing. No glove, no love, baby.

*Whenever you’re going to the ATM to withdraw money, keep aware that someone could follow and rob you. Very small but very real risk. Have a limit on your credit/debit card as to how much you can take out at a time and be aware of your surroundings.

The Good Book

Many people choose not to bring a Guidebook with them on their trip, not wanting to end up at the same restaurants and hostels as every other backpacker in the world, and I was one of them. But one week into my trip I ended up purchasing one simply out of the need for maps (and hating to run to the internet café every time I was figuring trip details out), but found it EXTREMELY useful. Of course don’t live by the thing as if it’s your life raft- explore on your own and get off the beaten track if you can- but you know what? When you get off the nightbus alone (or not alone) at five in the morning in an unfamiliar city, you’re sleep-deprived, cranky, and completely clueless. You do not want to wander the city carrying a huge backpack for hours, trying to find a cheap hostel that’s open and has the specifications you want (like 24-hour hot water), so having a guidebook is a good idea, even if only for that purpose!


*Most cities and touristy spots (ie beach towns) have at least one vegetarian restaurant thanks to increased tourism

*In smaller towns and off the beaten track, you may find yourself limited to salads, french fries and maybe pizza if you’re lucky, so if you have any health issues associated with or oppositions to eating junk food for short periods of time, it’d definitely be a good idea to bring some granola bars and peanut butter if heading off to these places!

*The idea of vegetarianism seems to be different to many South Americans, so make sure you specify "No carne, pollo o pescado, por favor!" ("No meat, chicken or fish, please!")

Women travelling alone

*Sarongs are AMAZING! They can be a skirt, a beach bag/purse, a towel, a blanket in the hotter places, a head scarf, a curtain, a shirt, a dress

*Guys are more aggressive down there. Generally you’re not going to be treated poorly or be harassed too much, but the best choice is to ignore catcalls or stares and not encourage them with a reaction...or if it’s getting too aggressive for you to ignore (such as inappropriate touching), give a warning. After that feel free to make a commotion or a scene, draw attention from people on the street, and embarrass him. The local women will often scold him for bothering a tourist girl and there are often people who will come to your aid or shame the man. I know I shouldn’t tell people to do anything like that, but it’s happened to me and I’d rather risk embarrassing him than risk getting raped. "No me jodas, puto" is kind of equal to "Don’t mess with me, asshole," and if said loud enough can get rid of a guy pretty fast! Remember, don’t overreact but don’t let yourself get into danger with these guys either.

*Don’t wander the streets late at night by yourself. Ask someone from your hostel to come with you if you really need something.

*Don’t tell anyone you’re traveling alone. If someone asks you, answer "No, I have a friend waiting for me in...(insert next stop here)."

*Tampons suck to carry around, pads suck to carry around. The Diva Cup (divacup.com) is a lifesaver and once you get the hang of it (2 days?), does not leak at all, can be kept in for up to 10 hours (good for long bus rides or hikes), it’s comfortable, compact, and reusable for up to a year. I can’t recommend it enough! It looks or sounds kind of gross to use, but there’s no reason to be grossed out by your own body and frankly, the convenience and comfort is so worth it.


*Don’t litter. Anywhere. Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia all have really big litter problems as it is without tourists contributing. You’re a guest in another country, and I know you would never throw garbage on the floor at a new friend’s home.

*Try to learn at least basic phrases in Spanish if you don’t already speak the language. People really appreciate when you make an effort, even if you have a terrible accent and use the wrong grammar! (Something the younger locals love- "Chevere," pronounced "Cheh-beh-day," which is the Latin-American slang equivalent of the English "cool")

*Ladies, stay away from wearing short skirts (unless you’re at a bar with friends or other travelers) or really low tops. Not only will it draw a lot of upset looks from older locals, it will also draw a lot of unwanted attention from teenage and middle-age men. This is partially respect for the culture and partially comfort for yourself.

*When entering any religious building, never wear shorts or any skirt that doesn’t touch your ankles.

*Resort tourists have more problems with this than backpackers do, but I thought I should mention it; understand that you’re in a different country and a different culture. Things run differently, and sometimes appear not to run at all. Have patience, anticipate most buses to arrive 1-2 hours later than they tell you, relax, and enjoy the fact that you’re in a fabulous new place experiencing fabulous new things :)




So that’s about all I can think of for now. I know I placed a large emphasis on robberies and mentioned them a lot, but remember that if you are aware of your body and your possessions, you should be just fine. I did not lose, break, or have anything at all stolen in my travels. Now say it with me, kids, loud and clear:


Oh, and of course I wish you lots of amazing adventures and memories that stay with you and stalk you for the remainder of your life :) Peace, love, and happy travels!


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