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River through mountains in Chile.

South America Travel Guide

South America has become an increasingly popular location over recent years amongst backpackers, making decisions tough for travellers when deciding whether to see the rich culture and glistening beaches of South East Asia or the tropical and diverse nature of South America. It is home to the Andes Mountains, Patagonia, Machu Picchu and the Amazon Rainforest, a nature's paradise and an opportunity for some of the greatest adventures. The most common route that tourists take around South America starts in Colombia and ends in Argentina. As a whole, travelling in South America is cheap, depending on the activities you partake in and the countries you choose to visit. Venezuela is currently advised not to travel to. If you’re interested in finding out the average cost of food, accommodation and activities, check out our blog on South America’s cheapest countries

Why go traveling in South America?

South America has a vibrant and interesting history, big and beautiful cities filled with colonial architecture, some of the most stunning natural landscapes on earth, incredible wildlife, and so much more to offer the adventurous traveler. The city life all over the continent is also one of a kind!

When is the best time to travel South America?

The hottest months of the year in South America are December through February. December is one of the busiest travel seasons in South America and one to avoid if you’re wanting to travel on a budget because airfares and other costs can be higher than usual. Their winter season is from June through August. The best time to go traveling South America is from September to November if you're planning on spending a few months there because this is the season when the weather is most dry and the temperature is perfect. However, in most South American countries the weather is not very restrictive at any time of the year. If you’ve always wanted to see the Galapagos Islands, book a trip around this period as well. There’s minimal rainfall, and much of the islands’ wildlife is active. It’s best to plan your trip to Peru in the dry season, which is May through September. This time of year is peak season in Peru but guarantees sunny days that won’t interfere with your plans.


Capital: Bogotá

Currency: Colombian Peso

Language: Spanish

Top Destinations: Bogotá, Cartagena, San Gil, Medellin, Cali, Salento

Street in Bogota, Colombia.

One of the best places to begin your backpacking South America experience is Colombia. The nation has a wide range of wonderful attractions to choose from that will exceed all of your trip desires at a reasonable cost. To enter the country, we suggest taking a flight into El Dorado International Airport (BOG) in Bogotá, the lively capital, which serves connections to Europe and North America. The area is famous for mouthwatering cuisine, strong history, energetic nightlife and colourful art, similar to other major cities within the country, such as Medellín and Cali, which are some of the best places to visit in South America. In Medellin, you can experience an innovative modern city with a spring-like weather. Cali is also known as the capital of salsa, an activity which is a must when visiting. If you’re a thrill seeker, take a trip over to San Gil in the northeast, which is a perfect location for rafting, hiking and caving. Whilst in the north visit Cartagena, one of the most popular cities in Colombia amongst travellers, for its colonial buildings and breathtaking sandy beaches, great for surfing. No matter where you are in Colombia, you’ll be sure to find a dynamic party scene. Head to Salento if you’re looking to unwind with great hiking locations, and some of the best coffee around. The town of Zipaquirá near Bogota, home of the Salt Cathedral, is another must-visit destination for its unique underground salt mine cathedral. Santa Marta, the jump-off point for Minca – a charming mountain town – and Tayrona National Park, is also worth a visit.

Travelling to Colombia:

A few major US cities have direct flights to Colombia through airlines such as JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, Avianca and American Airlines. You can fly from a handful of European countries to Colombia with airlines including Air France, Air Europa, Avianca and Iberia. If you’re travelling from other Latin American countries, there are plenty of flight options through Avianca, LATAM and Wingo. There are no direct flights from Asia, Africa or Oceania to Colombia. You’ll need to book a connecting flight to get there. With Alternative Airlines’ multi-stop flights feature, connecting flights with other carriers are simple to book. 

Travelling within Colombia:

When travelling within Colombia, it has 15+ airlines that offer domestic flights, including Wingo, Avianca Express, LATAM Colombia, SATENA and Viva Colombia. It is a large country with many of the cities being a long car journey apart, making flying a popular option when getting around.


Capital: Quito

Currency: United States Dollar (USD)

Language: Spanish

Top Destinations: Quito, Andes, Mindo, Amazon Rainforest, Canoa, Galápagos Islands

Cotopaxi, Ecuador.

If you’re seeking adventure travel experiences or adore nature, you’ll be spoilt for choice when visiting Ecuador, the world’s most bio-diverse country. There really is a tonne to do, from exploring the Amazon jungle by canoeing the river system to climbing an Andean peak or making the most of the fantastic surfing opportunities. It can be an excellent location for those relaxing getaways too, as it has multiple stunning beaches that are worth discovering, Canoa being a tourist favourite. Quito International Airport (UIO) is the airport we recommend flying into, as it has connections to multiple other South American countries, North America and a small number of European countries. Once arriving in Quito, be sure to stay a couple nights to experience their bustling nightlife, rich culture and outstanding restaurants. The city is located near popular national parks, such as the Cotopaxi National Park; Ecuador’s 2nd highest peak. As Ecuador is full of natural-beauty and mind blowing scenery, national parks are found throughout the country, particularly among the Andes, Amazon and coastal region, so we recommend researching beforehand to decide which ones you most want to visit. Luckily, getting from one location to another will take no more than a few hours by car in most cases, due to Ecuador’s size. With more than 500 different species of birds calling the Mindo cloud forest home, it is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Also, it boasts some exceptional plant diversity and an array of butterflies, some of nature’s most beautiful. The volcanic island archipelago known as the Galápagos islands are amazing to visit for their unique plant diversity and animal species. Nonetheless, due to their high visitor demand, visiting these islands is one of the priciest things to do in Ecuador, though it is well worth the cost if it falls within your spending plan. 

Travelling to Ecuador:

Direct flights to Ecuador from international destinations are limited, so it is best to start your trip in one of the more easily accessible countries, such as Bogotá, Colombia, where you can fly directly with Avianca or other airlines. A small number of US cities have direct flights to Ecuador through airlines such as JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, Avianca and American Airlines. There are limited flights from Europe to Ecuador, which are offered by Air Europa, Iberia and KLM. Getting connecting flights will be required to reach Ecuador from Asia, Africa or Oceania, as there are no routes non-stop from these locations. 

Travelling within Ecuador:

When travelling within Ecuador, flights are moderately priced. It has 6 airlines operating domestic flights, which include Avianca Ecuador, LATAM Ecuador, TAME Airlines (Ecuador’s flag carrier), Equair, and Aeroregional Ecuador.


Capital: Lima

Currency: Sol

Language: Spanish

Top Destinations: Lima, Huacachina, Cusco, Arequipa, Machu Picchu

Machu Piccu, Peru.

Peru is a special, diverse and vibrant travel destination with complex landscapes, ancient cultural heritage and delectable, internationally renowned food. Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) is the largest airport within Peru, serving multiple domestic and international routes, connecting Peru to North America, Europe and other countries within South America. Lima, the coastal capital is around a 40 minute drive from the airport. The city is filled with museums, cathedrals and government buildings where you can learn more about the interesting Peruvian history, or if you’re interested in learning about the Peruvian cuisine, take a couple cooking classes. It is also a great place for watersports, with a paraglide along the coast being a tourist favourite. If studying history is your passion, Cusco, the Inca empire’s historic capital is the place for you, which is located in the southeastern part of Peru, roughly an hour and a half flight from Lima. This route is most commonly flown through Sky Airlines or LATAM Airlines to Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ). At Cusco, many of the original Inca structures may still be seen. The Qorikancha (Golden Temple), one of the most significant Inca Temples, is well worth a visit. Another one of their most magnificent structures is the Saqsaywaman Inca Ruins, an Inca fortress. The hiking spot Rainbow mountain is also located in Cusco, which is a hike filled with panoramic colours. From Cusco, visit Machu Picchu, one of the 7 wonders of the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. Machu Picchu is an absolute must see when visiting. Huacachina, in the southwest, is a village built around an oasis in the desert, which is only accessible through ground transport, and a great stop for a couple days, loved by backpackers for the surrounding sand dunes, ideal for sandboarding or taking a ride on a dune buggy. Continue south to Arequipa, a city with architectural excellence and home of the Cola Canyon, one of the world’s deepest canyons - an ideal trekking location. 

Travelling to Peru:

Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) the largest international airport in Peru and has connections to Europe through 4 airlines - Air Europa, Iberia, Air France and KLM. Airlines, such as Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, LATAM and Air Canada (seasonal), connect Peru to North America. There are no non-stop routes from Asia, Africa, or Oceania, so getting a connecting flight will be necessary to go to Peru from those regions. Peru’s connections to other South American countries are good, with airlines such as Aerolíneas Argentinas, Avianca, Boliviana de Aviación, JetSmart, LATAM, Sky Airlines and Wingo all serving routes. 

Travelling within Peru:

When flying domestically in Peru, you have the option of flying with LATAM Peru, Sky Airline, Star Peru, Viva Air Peru, Peruvian Airlines, Fly Peru, and Servicios Aereos De Los Andes.


Capital: La Paz

Currency: Bolivian Boliviano

Language: Spanish / Multiple indigenous languages. 

Top Destinations: La Paz, Uyuni, Sucre, Lake Titicaca, Valle De La Luna

Salar de Uyuni (The Bolivian Salt Flats).

Bolivia is arguably the cheapest country for nature lovers to travel in South America. La Paz, 1 of the 2 capitals, has a lot to offer and is close to fantastic trekking and sightseeing spots. Take a ride on one of the city’s cable car lines to witness some magnificent sights. Valle de la Luna (Valley of the moon) is not far from the city; a geological formation which holds a resemblance of the moon, a surreal viewing. There are several hiking opportunities in Bolivia, with Muela del Diablo (Devil’s Tooth) near La Paz being a popular choice, where you can get up close to an extinct volcano’s, volcanic neck. Sucre is the country's 2nd capital which is referred to as the white city, due to its many colonial whitewashed buildings, making it a postcard-perfect location. Bolivia’s largest international airport is Viru Viru International Airport (VVI) and is situated in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which is just over an hour long flight away from the capital, La Paz - El Alto International Airport (LPB), or a short 45 minute flight to Sucre - Alcantarí Airport (SRE). Salar de Uyuni (the Bolivian Uyuni salt flats) is a must-see attraction when visiting, as it is the biggest salt flat in the world, an incredible sight for nature lovers to witness, and is an unforgettable day trip. Uyuni airport (UYU) is the closest airport, which has flight connections to La Paz (LPB) operated by Boliviana de Aviación. If you’re hoping to explore the Amazon rainforest, but looking to do it on a budget, Bolivia will be your cheapest option. The world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca, is reachable from Bolivia or Peru. On a clear day, the contrast between the rich blue water and the Andean mountains is mesmerising.

Travelling to Bolivia:

Viru Viru International Airport (VVI), the largest international airport in Bolivia, has very limited connections to international destinations. As the connections are limited it will be easier to start your trip in a country nearby and use ground transport to enter Bolivia, or fly if a route is available. Air Europa and Boliviana de Aviación are the only two airlines connecting Bolivia directly to Europe. Boliviana de Aviación is the only airline which offers a route to North America, flying into Miami. Since there are no direct flights to Bolivia from Asia, Africa or Oceania, a connecting flight will be required. Bolivia’s connecting flights to other South American countries are with the airlines Aerolíneas Argentinas, LATAM and LATAM Airlines Perú, which have routes to Argentina, Chile and Peru.

Travelling within Bolivia:

Boliviana de Aviación or Amazonas Airlines, as well as other airlines offer multiple flights connecting cities in Bolivia. If you’d like more information regarding travelling domestically within Bolivia please read our guide here.


Capital: Santiago

Currency: Chilean Peso

Language: Spanish

Top Destinations: Santiago, Copiapó, Bahía Inglesa, Valparaíso, Torres del Paine

Herd of horses in Torres del Paine, Chile.

Chile is the world’s longest and thinnest country. From the driest deserts to chilly glaciers, volcanoes and hot springs, it offers some of the most diverse scenery. Due to the length of the country, flying is the preferred form of transportation amongst travellers. We have a page dedicated to giving you all the key information you need to know when travelling domestically within Chile. Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) is the largest airport in Chile, and located just outside the city centre of the capital Santiago, a perfect place to start your Chilean trip. The airport has connections to North America, Europe, Australia and many other South American countries. The Chilean capital of Santiago is alive with activity and offers a great opportunity to see the local way of life. Explore some of the neighbourhoods and see what the markets have to offer. Take in the striking street graffiti scattered around the city. The city includes museums and historical sites to visit throughout the day, alongside a variety of cafes and restaurants filled with tasty Chilean cuisine. Santiago also has a thriving nightlife scene, with the Bellavista neighbourhood being one of the best spots for dancing the night away. If you’re a wine enthusiast, Chile offers some of the greatest wine around. Northwest of Santiago, on the Chilean coast, is the port city of Valparaiso, which is a fascinating artistic city full of colourful architecture and graffiti. Also, there are several gorgeous beaches and harbours to visit. If you’re looking to relax, Bahía Inglesa and Copiapó have peaceful beaches with white sands and crystal-clear water, where you can even do some light water-sports if you desire. If adventure is what you seek, Chile has more than 40 national parks, so it’s best to research these beforehand and make sure you pick the ones that most appeal to you, so that you can plan your transport there in advance. For its towering mountains, bright icebergs, dazzling glaciers and grasslands that together house unique wildlife, the Torres del Paine National Park is a visitor favourite and one to add to your itineraries. Located in the Patagonia Andes region of Chile, further south than Santiago, it is most accessible by flying to Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport (PUQ), where Sky Airlines, JetSmart and LATAM Airlines offer flights to from multiple cities within Chile, mostly at a low-cost too, where from there it will be required to get public transportation or rent a car. 

Travelling to Chile:

Chile’s largest international airport, Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) has a few links to Europe through British Airways, Iberia, KLM and LEVEL. There are links to multiple North American cities through Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, LATAM and United Airlines. The only direct flight from Oceania to Chile is with Qantas from Sydney. If you’re flying from other areas within Oceania, or flying from Africa and Asia, you’ll need to get a connecting flight. Chile has a variety of connections to South American destinations through Aerolíneas Argentinas, LATAM, KLM, JetSmart and Avianca.

Travelling within Chile:

JetSmart, LATAM and Sky Airline offer the most domestic flights within Chile; you can read more about flying domestically in Chile here.


Capital: Buenos Aires

Currency: Argentine Peso

Language: Spanish

Top Destinations: Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Iguaza Falls, El Calafate, Patagonia

Argentinian side of the Iguaza falls.

Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world. It is a nation that embodies diversity; the terrain consisting of deserts, glaciers, mountain ranges and jungles offers something for practically every interest. It’s one of the slightly more expensive countries within South America, however the opportunities it offers are worth every penny. Due to the size of Argentina, flying domestically is a highly favoured method of transportation when moving from one location to another. We have created a guide to provide you with all the information you need for flights within Argentina. Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) is the country’s largest international airport, located in the capital region of Buenos Aires, providing flights to Latin America, North America, Europe and Africa. The world-renowned tango dance style originated in Buenos Aires, the country’s capital, which makes the area a hotspot for music and dance. The city’s museums, markets, relaxing parks, European-influenced architecture plus glitzy nightlife, are all other vital reasons to visit. Mendoza is a city region primarily known for its wine, and is around a 2 hour flight from Buenos Aires, when flying into El Plumerillo Airport (MDZ). Direct flights between Buenos Aires and Mendoza are offered by Aerolineas Argentinas. There are several adventure activities available here, such as rock climbing, water rafting and mountain biking, in addition to the wine tasting and vineyard exploration. If you’re looking to see towering mountains and numerous glacial lakes, El Calafate, a town situated near the southern Patagonia ice fields is the spot to stay, as you can easily visit the Los Glaciers National Park from here. Aerolineas Argentinas offers direct flights to El Calafate Airport (FTE) from Buenos Aires (EZE). Argentina’s most popular tourist destination is possibly Iguaza Falls, one of the greatest waterfall complexes on earth. You can stroll through tropical rainforests and even cross the raging Iguaza Falls in the national park on metal and wooden pathways, leaving behind a memory that’ll last a lifetime. The nearest airport to here is Cataratas del Iguazú International Airport (IGR), which you can fly directly to from most major cities within the country through JetSMART, Flybondi and Aerolineas Argentinas

Travelling to Argentina:

Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) serves the most routes internationally and domestically for Argentina. The airport has multiple routes to European destinations through Aerolineas Argentinas, Air Europa, Air France, British Airways, Iberia, ITA Airways, KLM, Level and Lufthansa. The airport also has a number of connections to North America through Aerolineas Argentinas, Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta, LATAM, and United Airlines. To other South American destinations you can fly through Aerolineas Argentinas, LATAM, Avianca, JetSMART, Flybondi and Boliviana de Aviación. Argentina has a limited amount of connections to Africa, Asia and Oceania, however does have flights to Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines, Doha with Qatar Airways and Dubai with Emirates

Travelling within Argentina:

We have a guide on domestic flights in Argentina; LATAM, Aerolineas Argentinas, Flybondi and JetSmart all offer domestic flights, making travelling within Argentina easy.

What are some tips for planning a trip to South America?

When planning your trip to South America, ensure you create the opportunity to fully lose yourself in the continent's rich culture and natural diversity. Plan visits to great locations like Machu Picchu, the Chilean Patagonia and the Amazon. Opt for luxury accommodations for relaxation or lively hostels for a budget-friendly, social experience. Be open to new experiences, by engaging with local culture and tasting the local cuisine. It is strongly recommended that you learn some basic Spanish and research around the vaccines and visas you'll need before arriving. Please ensure you prioritize safety, while enjoying outdoor adventures. 

When exploring South America, we strongly advise you to show respect for the diverse ecosystem and cultures you come across, as there are dense jungles, rivers, ancient towns and distant indigenous communities all around.

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