Home Travel How To Prepare For A Trip To South America

How To Prepare For A Trip To South America

by Jovica Radulovich

South America is a huge and diverse continent that you can spend a lifetime exploring and learning about. It’s also a great place to explore in a car since it has the infrastructure needed for such an endeavor and it provides you with freedom that tourist buses can’t.

In order to make a safe and comfortable trip across South America, you’re going to need to make some preparations. Most of these are about trying to predict what kind of issues you may encounter and prepare for them in advance.

English Is Not the Main Language

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English is not widely spoken and tourists that assume that it would be are usually considered to be rude. Spanish and Portuguese are the main languages spoken on the continent and you should try to learn a few phrases if you plan to stay for a while.

At first, you should focus on a few key phrases that you’ll be using the most. Knowing how to ask for directions or order food is the first thing you should learn in Spanish if you plan to take a trip across Southern America and want to go beyond the major tourist hubs.

Sunscreen is Your Best Friend

The climate in South America sometimes comes as a shock to some visitors. It’s rather hot and it gets more so if you spend a lot of your time in a car. That’s why it’s essential that you use the proper sunscreen at all times. It’s also a good idea to consult your doctor about which one to get before the trip.

It’s also useful to have plenty of water with you at all times. Water is a much better way to go in comparison to sugary drinks. It’s also important to figure out where it’s better to buy water and which areas have clean tap water.

Having the Proper Documents

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If you plan to drive across South America as a foreigner, you’ll need an international driving permit issued by the InternationalDriversAssociation. It’s only valid with a photo ID and a national driving permit on which it’s based.

Brazil is the only country that won’t accept this permit and you’ll need to get a local one or use the Intra-American Permit instead. All of the documents we mentioned need to be up to date and you should try to renew them before they expire.

Pack for The Changing Weather

The weather can change quite quickly and it can easily become rather hot in the desert as soon as the sun is out. This can be uncomfortable when you’re in a car and don’t have a place to shelter. That’s why you should pack appropriately and have a few layers to put on when the weather turns cold.

Layers and functional clothing are your best friend when it comes to packing. That way you won’t be over-packed and you’ll be able to quickly change once the cold wave passes.

Bargaining is Common

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Bargaining is a common practice in most South American countries. It’s even expected in most cases, so keep in mind that the price you’re offered may not be the final price at all and that you can bring it down if you’re good at it. Over time, you’ll probably get better.

This isn’t the case in all venues, however. You won’t be able to reduce the price at restaurants or bars. It’s better suited to visiting small shops and markets and there are plenty of those along the way. The key is not to go over the top with your offers.


Safety is an issue in some parts of the continent and some parts of specific countries in particular. This is because central authorities don’t have control over every part of the country and locals know which parts to avoid in order to stay safe.

There is also some crime directed at tourists in particular, such as mugging or pocket snatching but that’s something you can expect in any large tourist city. Exercise common sense and stay in areas that everyone else is visiting and you’ll do fine for the most part. Make sure you have proper insurance for your vehicle.

Be Mindful of the Altitude

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Some of the best sites you can visit in South America are at rather high altitudes. This is noticeable if you’re not used to spending time on such a high and there’s a list of common symptoms you should be aware of.

Eat light meals, drink plenty of water, and pace yourself when it comes to stressful physical activity. Make sure you don’t drink any alcohol while climbing. The longer you spend in South America the more you’ll get used to it. However, everyone feels the altitudes over 5000 meters.

Which Currencies to Use

It’s best to have both the US dollar and the local currency with you at all times. The touristy places usually accept the US dollar while other stores and shops won’t do so and you’ll need to use the local currency. It’s important to be mindful of the exchange rate and to make the exchange only in a bank you can trust.

It’s also a good idea to have some cash on hand as well. That way you can pay in shops that don’t accept cards and you can tip.

Take Out Travel Insurance

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Insurance is important when you’re taking a long trip and especially so in South America where there are areas that have a lot of crime. You should make sure your car is insured as well as the GPS if you have one. There’s also travel insurance that will cover the damage to your luggage and the devices you’re bringing along.

These are additional costs that you’re going to have to take on but it’s worth it because it will keep you covered in case something happens along the way and you can never know if it will. Shop around since the offers tend to differ.