South America Travel Guide


Vibrant, exciting and a whole lot of fun – that is South America! If you haven’t yet been, you need to, and if you have, I’m sure there’s still places left for you to explore. Either way, for first timers or seasoned backpackers, we’ve put together a little guide of the essential information you might need for your trip.

What are the main languages spoken in South America?

Portugeuse is the official language of Brazil. With Brazil being such a large country, it means that Portugese is the language spoken by the most amount of people in South America, however the majority of countries actually speak Spanish. English is also widely spoken in tourist areas and is also the official language of Guyana. French is the official language of French Guyana.

What currency is used in South America?

South America currently has 14 currencies in use, so it can be a little confusing. You can use US dollars in most places, but we usually advise to change into the local currency beforehand to get better rates:

Argentina – Argentine peso (ARS)

Brazil – Brazilian real (BRL)

Chile – Chilean peso (CLP)

Colombia – Colombian peso (COP)

Ecuador – US dollar (USD)

Guyana – Guyanese dollar (GYD)

Paraguay – Paraguayan Guarani (PYG)

Peru – Sol (PEN)

Suriname – Surinamese dollar (SRD)

Venezuela – Venezuelan bolivar (VEZ)

Uruguay – Uruguayan peso (UYU)

South America Time Zones

South America uses 5 standard time zones:

UTC – 5 (Part of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru)

UTC – 4:30 (Venezuela)

UTC – 4 (Bolivia, part of Brazil, Chile and Paraguay)

UTC – 3 (Argentina, part of Brazil and Uruguay)

UTC – 2 (Numerous islands east of Brazil)

Being such a large country, Brazil splits across 4 time zones, however most of the country follows UTC – 3.

What’s the deal with visas?

This information should be used as a guideline only. Each country has its own requirements and you are advised to seek the relevant information for the country you are visiting. If you hold a UK or European passport and are visiting as a tourist, you do not need a visa to visit any country in South America. However, you will need 6 months remaining on your passport and at least one blank page for each country you plan to visit.


It is always advisable to check in with your GP, but the CDC and WHO advise for the following routine vaccinations to be up to date before travelling to Central & South America:

It is always advisable to check in with your GP, but the CDC and WHO advise for the following routine vaccinations to be up to date before travelling to Central & South America:

TDaP – Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis vaccine


Polio Vaccine




Pneumonia (Recommended for over 65’s and immunocompromised individuals)


The CDC and WHO also recommend the following vaccinations when travelling to Central & South America:

Hepatitis A is recommended for travelling to all regions.

Hepatitis B is recommended for travelling to all regions.

Typhoid is recommended for specific itineraries, depending on locations. Consult your local GP for advice.

Cholera (Depending on your itinerary)

Yellow Fever .

Rabies is recommended for those coming into contact with animals.

Emergency calls

It is always good to have a few key numbers saved in your phone in case of emergencies:


911 General emergencies in Buenos Aires

101 Police

107 Medical emergency in Buenos Aires or 4923 1051 for other locations

100 Fire service: in Buenos Aires, or 4304 2222 for other locations


110 Police

118 Fire service

119 Medical emergency


190 Police

193 Fire service

192 or 193 Medical emergency


133 Police

132 Fire service

131 Medical emergency


112 Police

119 Fire service

125 Medical emergency

123 National emergency number:


101 Police

102 Fire service

131 Medical emergency

911 All emergency services: (except in Guayaquil)

112 All emergency services: 112 (in Guayaquil)


105 Police

116 Fire service

117 Medical emergency


112 Police

112 Fire service

112 Medical emergency


911 Police

911 Fire service

105 Medical emergency


171 Police

171 Fire service

171 Medical emergency

Tips on tipping!

Tipping is entirely discretionary in South America but there are a few unwritten rules on when and how much to tip when it is customary. South America is an extremely diverse region with each country having its own customs, so it is best to familiarise yourself with the ‘unwritten rules’ for each place.

Food and Drink

10% is the standard amount to tip in a restaurant if the service is good. However, it is acceptable to leave less or even nothing if the service didn’t meet your expectations. You can tip a few coins to bartenders (especially if they make you a delicious cocktail!) but always place the tip in their hands rather than on the counter. A 10% service charge is sometimes included on the bill depending where you are, so check before offering your tip.


All too often family holidays can be overshadowed by hordes of tourists, heaving beaches and large resorts. But for families that crave a little more adventure, a tailor-made tour offers the prospect of exciting, new experiences and a holiday memorable for the entire family. Our family holidays can be similar to group tours with accommodation, transport and activities, or they can be built from scratch with personalised itineraries, private transport and higher end accommodation – it’s entirely up to you. Relax in the knowing that your trip has been organised specifically to your needs. Whether that’s focusing on sight-seeing, beach-hopping, wildlife or culture, you can sit back and enjoy quality family time without worrying about the logistics of organising an epic adventure.


It is not common to tip taxis for individual journeys, however to make it easier, many people round up to a convenient amount. If you are hiring a taxi for a few days, it is often recommended to tip around 10% of the total amount for those days.


Hotel porters are usually tipped the equivalent of $1 USD per bag and housekeepers around $2 – $3 USD per day.

Is it safe to drink tap water in south america?

There is not one hard and fast rule for whether or not it is safe to drink the tap water in South America. Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are generally regarded as having safe drinking water, but if in doubt, ask locals or the hotel staff. All other countries in South America have not been classed as having safe drinking water.

The unwritten bargaining rules

In general, it is commonplace to haggle away to your heart’s content at any market in South America. However, it can be seen as aggressive and unacceptable in some countries so be sure to do specific research on that country. For example, in Chile they deem it as very impolite to haggle.

Markets will become a staple daily activity on your tour to South America. They are part of the way of life, the culture and the experience, so our advice to you is to get involved! This is where you’ll buy fresh fruit, food, souvenirs and products, so figuring out how to haggle is all part of the experience. Here’s a few tips:

Always greet the vendor with a friendly hello or another greeting in the local language – you will definitely earn points! It also bodes well to learn a few other key phrases and numbers.

If you are buying large amounts of one item in particular, ask for a discount or for a special price for the whole lot.

Never look too enthusiastic or the vendor will assume you have lots of money to splurge.

Once you’ve asked for the price, consider the amount of time the vendor has taken to give it to you. If it seems like an unusually long amount of time, chances are they are making the price up. So if it seems way above what you would be happy to pay, feel free to offer up to half the price they provided. If they drop their price even as little as 5%, you know it isn’t fixed, so feel free to keep adding on 10% to your offer as they reduce theirs until you both reach a happy medium.

Is South America safe for single women?

As you can expect with a large continent such as South America, the safety levels can vary from place to place. Nevertheless, South America is one of the most widely travelled places in the world, even for solo female travellers. So a rule of thumb (especially if you are a first timer) is to stick to the backpacker path and you’ll probably be fine. Do some research in the countries you’ll be visiting and you’ll find countless tips on when and where to take extra care. Here’s a few tips for staying safe in South America:

Keep your wits about you in busy tourist areas such as Bogota. Don’t flash your cash and keep your belongings close to you in either a money wallet or a safely secured bag.

Overnight buses are another place to watch your things. Bags often go missing overnight so it’s best to keep them with you and wear a money belt to hold your cash and passport.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. More often than not, locals are happy to offer guidance. If you are friendly, they will be friendly back. It’s always worth asking.

Avoid the ‘sketchy’ looking neighbourhoods, especially at night, and never alone. If you do want to explore the nightlife, stay in a hostel. This is where you’ll find most solo backpackers and chances are, they want to go out too. 

Don’t make yourself an easy target. If you’re lost, walk with confidence (even if it’s into the nearest shop to ask for directions). Don’t get too drunk – this makes you a very easy target for muggers. And lastly, try to blend in – don’t carry around expensive equipment in pure sight or roll out a giant map in the middle of the street.

Is wifi available?

In most areas, except for the really rural zones, you will be able to connect to free wifi in hostels, hotels, cafes and restaurants. However, if you are looking for internet cafes, they are much more rare than you would imagine!

Getting around

In general, the roads in South America leave much to be desired with many roads being in poor condition. However, tourism is booming in South America and as such, there is an extensive network of travel options available which aren’t usually too hard to navigate.


The train service, almost everywhere in South America, tends to be unreliable and not well serviced, so we tend to recommend using buses or planes instead.


There is a huge network of bus routes all across South America, connecting various countries to each other. If you have the luxury of time on your side, it can be one of the most cost effective and easiest ways to travel. However, believe us when we say the journeys are long! For crossing countries, you will usually hop on one bus to reach the border, then switch to another bus for the next leg of the journey.


Due to the large surface area of South America, it more often than not makes sense to fly. Domestic flights tend to be relatively cheap and it cuts out huge amounts of time compared with long-haul bus journeys. LAN is one of the most comprehensive flight services in South America, flying to most popular destinations. LAN have also created a Visit South America Airpass which services most countries at a discounted rate for up to 60 days.


If you are planning on sticking to one country, then a rental car could be an option. However, this is only recommended if you are a confident driver as the roads are often not in a very good condition. Car-rental companies tend to not allow their rentals to cross borders, so if you are planning on travelling around various countries in the region, it’s best to use another mode of transport.

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