Chile it was all about the funky Aji Verde Hostel – their terrace has the best views over La Serena – or the amazing vibes of Planeta Lindo in Valparaiso, where drinks on the roof are the start of many crazy nights!
In Peru I loved The Point, Lima. It’s the perfect balance between party and laid back, which means it’s great for meeting people. Why not read more about the best hostels in Peru?
My Ecuador highlights included the laid-back surfer’s hostel Esperanto, located right on the beach in Montanita, as well as The Secret Garden Quito which has rooftop hammocks overlooking the city.
In Bolivia, don’t miss Wild Rover Hostel in La Paz, which houses the highest Irish pub in the world at 3600m above sea level! In Sucre I loved the fun themed nights at KulturBerlin and the warm, community vibes of The Beehive.
The Hoscar winning O De Casa in Sao Paulo is the perfect hostel to start your adventures in Brazil. Lemon Spirit Hostel is the place to get the party started in Rio while Che Lagarto Paraty provides cosy privates and comfy dorms, as well as a pool to escape the sweltering heat!
Trains are rare in South America unless you’re travelling within a city, on Ecuador’s Devil’s Nose train, or you want to visit Machu Picchu but don’t fancy the walk. Inca Rail and Peru Rail trains have panoramic windows allowing you to take in views of the Urubamba River as you snake through Peru’s Sacred Valley. Both company’s trains arrive into Aguas Calientes, a charming town packed full of souvenir shops, bars and restaurants packed to the rafters with stinking hikers fresh off the Inca Trail. From here, it’s a 20-minute bus ride to Machu Picchu.
backpacking south america – Fernando Tapia
Keep documentation presented to you at the border safe and ready to show upon departure. Also, renew your passport before leaving home if you’re coming close to its expiry date. That way, you’ll be free to extend your trip if you fall madly in love with your jungle guide and decide to move to the Amazon.
Make sure you’re up to speed with all your travel vaccines, as some countries will ask to see a vaccination card on arrival, depending where you’re coming from. For example, you won’t get in to Colombia from Brazil unless you can show proof of a yellow fever vaccination.
Machu Picchu however is open 365 days a year. During July and August, the site can welcome up to 5,000 visitors every day, so the best time to visit Machu Picchu is when those tourists have gone home. Peak season on the Inca Trail is May to September. This is one activity in South America that you must book in advance, especially if visiting during high season. $500 is the standard price.
There is a high risk of Zika virus in Peru. Currently there is no vaccination against the Zika virus, however the illness itself is mild and only tends to cause concern when pregnant women are at risk. Women who will be pregnant at the time of travel to Peru should seek advice from their GP well in advance.
Altitude is probably the biggest challenge you’ll face while traveling in Peru, so before your trip be sure to stock up on altitude sickness medication. If you get motion sickness, you’ll also want to bring along meds for every bus ride and taxi journey that you take.
Today, the mix of cultures is both fascinating and at times a little confusing. Peru is a Latin country, so it’s primarily Spanish speaking and 90% Catholic. It’s post-colonial, so you’ll see a mixture of European buildings with the Chinese and African influences that came later. But before Peru was colonised by Spain, it was a powerful hub of the Inca civilization. It’s home to a rich indigenous heritage, much of which is still intact.
Chocotejas, or tejas, are delicious chocolatey treats. They are made only near Ica and Huacachina, so you’ll see them sold everywhere in that region. They consist of delicious manjar blanco – a version of dulce de leche, similar to caramel – pecans, and chocolate. We’ve also seen versions with raisins, pisco soaked raisins, fig, lime, and more. They’re so incredibly good; do not miss out if you travel to Ica or Huacachina!
Chinese food is common in Peru. It’s called ‘chifa’ and isn’t exactly what we’re used to as Americans; rather a unique blend of Peruvian and Chinese cuisines. If you’re craving some fried rice and stir-fry, it hits the spot. One of the most famous dishes that perfectly captures that Peru/Asian food fusion is ‘lomo saltado’, a beef stir fry with a rich, flavorful sauce. Peruvians eat it for all 3 meals, and we were tempted to as well.
There are two entry points to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru: Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. Iquitos is the largest city in the Amazon, and only accessible by plane or boat, while Puerto Maldonado is accessible by road. However, Iquitos has more to offer travelers than Puerto Maldonado, which is typically used only as a jumping-off point to explore the Amazon. From Iquitos, you also have the option to take Amazon river cruises in addition to staying in lodges within the forest. So, although Iquitos is less accessible, it’s a better destination for backpackers looking to explore the Amazon.
One of the most exciting day trips in Peru is exploring the massive dunes surrounding Huacachina, a tiny desert oasis and one of the most beautiful places in Peru. The dune buggy ride is half the fun, but the sandboarding is EPIC. Not for the faint-hearted! Huacachina is also located close to Ica, home of pisco and chocotejas.
Huaraz attracts outdoor enthusiasts who want to conquer its incredible treks, such as the multi-day Santa Cruz trek or the Huayhuash Circuit, an epic 11-day hiking adventure. If you opt for these hikes, you’ll want to pack plenty of hiking gear and do some research to find a reputable Peru backpacking tour operator.
But if you’re not quite up for high-altitude multi-day trekking, try the Laguna 69 hike instead. It’s a guided day hike to a stunning glacial lake, sitting at 15,000 feet of elevation and surrounded by glaciers and gushing, icy waterfalls. It’s an incredible site to behold and accessible for most hikers – just be sure to spend a couple of days acclimatizing to the altitude in Huaraz before attempting the hike!
Peru’s history and culture is legendary, and you can’t help but feel the power of the ancient Incas when exploring their well-preserved ruins. Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the most beautiful and famous of Peru’s ancient sites, but it’s by no means the only one worth exploring! Take a look at Chan Chan near Huanchaco, Pisac near Cusco, or the ruins of Ollantaytambo, which were the last Inca stronghold against the Spanish Conquistadors. Or hike to Choquequirao, which looks similar to Machu Picchu but without the crowds (or entrance fee).
Peru is renowned for some of the most stunning hikes in the world. Of course, the Inca Trail is the most famous, but there are many great routes through the Sacred Valley, such as the Salkantay Trek or the Lares Trek. We recommend booking Alpaca Expeditions as your guide for either. Other popular multi-day adventures include the Colca Canyon trek near Arequipa and the Santa Cruz trek up north in Huaraz. Not quite up for a multi-day hike? Rainbow Mountain and Laguna 69 are two of the most popular day hikes in Peru! Note that you’ll need a guide to complete any of these hikes – independent hiking in Peru is not recommended.
you’re under a time constraint, you’ll need to fly from Lima to Cusco, which costs around $100 each way. Taking an overnight bus will save you a bit of cash (maybe around $30) but after doing it twice we don’t know if the saving is worth the 20 long, nauseous hours! If you do opt for the bus, break up your trip with a few stops on the way, like Arequipa, Nazca, or Ica.
Although a free 6 month visa seems like a blessing to nomads, be warned: if you declare you’ll be staying for the maximum time period ‘just in case’ when you actually only have a 2 month stay planned, you’ll be subjecting yourself to paying a higher tax rate. All foreigners staying more than 59 days in Peru are subject to an 18% tax, which will be added to your bill at most hotels and hostels. If you’re staying for less than 59 days and therefore not subject to the tax, you’ll need to present your Andean migration card and passport as proof of how many days your visa has been approved for. Be sure to keep an eye on your bill if you’re on a tight budget to avoid being
It’s worth noting that Chile experiences more than its fair share of earthquakes. In fact, the country experiences an earthquake almost every day, but thankfully most of them are so small they barely register. However, there have also been some seriously big ones, so be prepared – stay in places that are well constructed, and if an earthquake should occur, shelter under furniture or in a doorway. Chile also has a number of active volcanoes, although they are closely monitored so are unlikely to erupt without fair warning. If you plan on spending time on Chile’s best beaches, be aware that rip currents can be a problem. Most beaches will have signs clearly stating whether swimming is safe. If you see the word, ‘peligroso’ – you know it’s dangerous. As a general rule, if other swimmers aren’t
Definitely pay a visit to Viña del Mar – a coastal city just down the road from Valparaiso. Viña is known for its beautiful gardens and golden beaches. The most-loved garden is Parque Quinta Vergara, and Reñaca Beach is the premier spot for surfing and tanning. If you’re craving a fancy evening out, this spot has you covered, you’ll just need to scrub up from your usual backpacker garb and prepare to spend a little more cash. Ovo, a banging nightclub in the casino, is a guaranteed raucous night out.
Chile people are very welcoming, so don’t be surprised if you get a big hug or sloppy kiss on the cheek when you’re first introduced. Chileans also like to get up in your personal space. Don’t be alarmed if people stand closer to you than normal, this is just the Chilean way. If invited into someone’s home, it’s polite to greet the head of the household or the oldest person first. Religion plays a key role in social and political life, given most of the population are Roman Catholic. Abortion is still illegal and divorce was only made legal in the country in 2004! While homosexuality is legal and people are becoming more forward-thinking, same sex couples might still attract a few looks in smaller towns and cities. When it comes to etiquette, remember to never click your fingers or beckon someone over with your index finger, as both are considered the height of rudeness
You’ve made it all this way, so you might as well hop across to Tierra del Fuego – an archipelago located off the southernmost tip of South America, across the Strait of Magellan, which is divided between Chile and Argentina. The archipelago is made up of a series of islands; Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn and the Diego Ramírez Islands. Check out Ushuaia, which although located in Argentina, shouldn’t be missed. Visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, go skiing at Cerro Castor Ski Resort, take a ride on the train at the end of the world and get your photo taken at the iconic sign, which states you have reached the end of the Pan-American Highway.
The time has come for Torres del Paine – Chile’s number one attraction, and arguably the most beautiful place on Earth. Remember to factor park entrance fees into your budget, and make sure you have cash. Unsurprisingly – there aren’t too many cash machines in this neck of the woods! In high season, the entrance fee is around £32, and in low season you’re looking at £13. The W Trek is the most famous of all the hikes within the park. You can either join a tour or hike the trail in your own time. Obviously, a tour will be far more expensive – but you have the added bonus of someone putting up and taking your tent down for you and cooking your dinner! Typically, the W Trek is a four or five day adventure through all of the park’s iconic landmarks, including Grey Lake, Los Cuernos