What to Bring, Where to Go, Who to meet and How to Know – South America

Before starting out on my trip, the very obvious question was on my mind of ‘What do I bring?’.

I guess, firstly, you start with the backpack. I brought a 65litre Northface backpack with me. A few people had told me that there would be no need for a bag that size but I felt it was the right size while travelling and I don’t think I brought too many things that I didn’t need… I would recommend making sure you buy a good branded bag for the trip – You will be spending a good amount of time with it on your back so it will be worth the comfort and durability for a long trip. The other thing, is how much clothes to bring – People say to pack for a 7-10 day trip as you will be washing your clothes along the way, and I would agree. Without blabbering on too much here is a list of items I think everyone should consider bringing with them on a backpacking holiday:

  • 1 decent size and decent quality backpack
  • 1 smaller day to day backpack
  • 1 rain jacket (Make sure its a warm one if travelling to cold areas)
  • 1 windbreaker (No matter what you plan, it wont always be good weather!)
  • 1 microfiber towel (Absolutely essential – quick drying and takes up very little room!)
  • 1 pair of trainers (Travel comfy, you will be moving a lot!)
  • 1 pair of flipflops (Beach/shower/casual/going out – multi use, be stupid not to bring them)
  • 1 rain cover for your bag (If you are planning on doing a lot of trekking or outdoor travelling, it can save your clothes, otherwise, think of putting your clothes inside plastic bags inside your backpack)

I could go into details about clothes but i travelled from cold to warm to hot to col to very cold on my trip so I had a good mix of types of clothes. Just keep in mind the 7-10 day trip rule, and bring spare socks and underwear – It will feel a lot cleaner reusing a tshirt compared to reusing underwear!

I had a general idea of the places I wanted to see before I travelled but I didn’t plan it in too much detail because that long on the road you are bound to find out about places you hadn’t heard of. So, Where do you go?’.

Below is a list of places that are worth knowing but I didn’t know about them before I travelled – Some of them I visited, some of them I didn’t get the chance to but heard rave reviews about. All of them I would recommend.

  • Paraty, Brazil – Beautiful coastal town with beautiful beaches halfway between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janerio.

  • Guatapé, Columbia – Located about an hour away from Medillin, book yourself a day tour and see some breathtaking views.

  • The Lost City Trek, Columbia – This is one place I didn’t get to go to, but pretty much everyone I met who had done it said it was the best thing they did in Columbia, and Columbia is a pretty damn cool country so that’s saying something.
  • Tayrona National Park, Columbia – The is really nice national park just outside of Santa Marta and if you stay here a couple of days you will find yourself sleeping overnight in hammocks, or tents, if you don’t queue up early enough for hammocks!

  • Mancora, Peru – I only stopped here for a day passing through, but if you are looking for a party, the Loki Hostel is epic here for that. It has some really nice beaches too if you want the quieter vibe, the town itself didn’t strike me as impressive though.

  • Huarez, Peru – Trails and Trekking. I didn’t get to go here, I only heard about it a couple days before I was skipping by that general area of Peru, but a few people I met said it has the best treks in Peru and it is largely uncommercialised compared to the other treks like Inca etc. so it offers a very authentic experience. Check it out!
  • Arequipa, Peru – Ok, a lot of people who do any sort of research into Peru will know about this place but I didn’t, and I didn’t have time to go there, but the treks there are meant to be brilliant (Colca Canyon).
  • Rainbow Mountain, Peru – I had no clue about this place until I was shown a picture of it from a fellow traveler. As soon as I seen it, I added it to my bucket list. Its only a day trip from Cusco but the altitude is quite high so give yourself time to acclimatise in Cusco before giving it ago.

  • San Pedro, Chile – Really cool, relaxed town in northern Chile, surrounded by the Atacama desert there are endless trips, excursions, treks and sights to see. I really liked that town and could have chilled there for a lot longer if I had the time.

  • Mendoza, Argentina – I never got a chance to go here but the views of the Andes in the backdrop to the town are only bettered by the wine tours there from what I hear. I might be a bit out of the way but worth a look if you have the chance.
  • Patagonia, Argentina – Everyone (well, most people) know about Patagonia in general, but I didn’t know much about what to do in terms of picking the Chilean side or the Argentinian side. More Importantly, after choosing the Chilean side (simply because it worked with my travel movement-but I didn’t regret it!), I didn’t realise that the Argentinean side, more breathtaking views and glacier hiking, was only a 5 hour bus away. If you have the time check them both out. It’s not like you will ever be back again!

On your travels everyone wants to meet as many local people as possible and interact to get a feel of the local culture. But on top of that there are some quirky and cool things I would recommend along the way. So ‘who do you meet?’ to get these experiences.

  • People, Everywhere – Some places in the world if you travel and don’t speak the language you can come across  as a bit arrogant for not making an effort but everywhere I travelled in South America, the people were almost apologetic that they didn’t speak English. An unbelievable friendly people, as a whole, it must be said.
  • Montevideo, Uruguay – Check in to a random hostel and meet some random locals. Some locals that are not so rich, often stay in hostels while the are in Montevideo for some work. You will meet some very original and friendly people, and probably enjoy some maté tea with them.

  • Copacabana beach, Rio de Janerio, Brazil – Take a day and just go to the beach to eat and drink with friends. Make a bet with yourself even – Every time someone passes you selling drinks/food buy some. The locals buy it so you know its good, you wont be long getting into a good mood with some of the concoctions you buy!

  • Lapa square, Rio de Janerio, Brazil – Lapa does not have the best reputation for safety in Rio but on the weekend, just bring out what you need and head down to the square to mingle with locals and drink endless Caipirinhas at a fraction of the price  you will pay in any of the nearby bars.

  • Medellin, Columbia – The street food in Medellin, was top notch. Meet the people selling it, try it all, enjoy it, go back for more. maybe this is more of a food and drink section but the characters you meet selling these are worth it, it gives you a chance to practice your Spanish and you might even get a chance to to share some chicha!

  • Valparaiso, Chile – This is a really cool town outside of Santiago , a lot of Chileans go here for a break so if you get yourself a bottle of Pisco and go to the communal area in the hostel you wont be long mingling with some locals and having a laugh.

Pretty much everyone I’ve heard of that has travelled to South America for a backpacking trip has got robbed at some stage. I luckily didn’t have any issues on my travels but if you are wondering ‘How do you know?’ if you are safe or not try keeping these things in mind.

The list is small and pretty obvious but you would be surprised how often people don’t do the obvious thing.

  • Don’t carry a wallet (I just carried one credit card and some cash in my pocket) or at least use a hidden one underneath your top.
  • Bring only phone not phone and camera or the other way around when out and about exploring.
  • Travel with chest pack (backpack put on in reverse) in very busy central areas
  • Keep your hands in your pockets while walking. Nobody can pickpocket you if you have your hands on your things.
  • Buddy system. This should go without saying but always keep an eye on each other.
  • Only take out small/reasonable amounts from ATM’s. If you carry around a fortune on you, you are asking for trouble. Its not worth trying to avoid ATM charges by taking out large sums and risking losing it or worse.
  • Don’t go out at night with camera or other accessories. It’s just asking for trouble if you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Bonus money tip: you will be using a lot of different currencies but be aware that When going to currencies exchange places that they won’t accept bills if they are not perfect. I.e. Inked or slightly ripped. So if you are just about to leave a country and have some money like that left, don’t hold on to it until you get to an exchange, just use it up!

And Finally…. some ‘Appful ideas!

Four great apps I used on my travels, that didn’t know about before hand, were:

Maps.me – This is like an offline google maps. It’s simply brilliant and has the detail down as far as altitude and even all the hostel locations for where you might stay.

Tricount – If you are travelling with a friend, you can often get lost in who paid for what or who owes who what but this app does all the calculations for you, and tells you who owes who what after it all.

Google Translate – Ok, most people know about google translate in general, but not everyone knows that it is also an App. Further to this, even less people know that it works offline, once you download your selected language – And nobody knows that if you hold it over a spanish menu, in the camera mode of google translate, it will translate it in front of your eyes!

XE currency exchange – with different currencies in every country in South America; it’s easy to get lost in paying 1000’s for a chocolate bar in one country and 1 in the next. This app makes the conversion a hell of a lot easier.

Hopefully some of those tips and ideas help some people who are planning a trip to South America, and if not….well… I’ve had my fun, and that’s all that matters.

Until the next adventure. Adios Amigos.

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