South America Backpacking Trip July 2015

Now that I’m back in South America my husband and I decided to explore some of the countries in the South. His first time in South America was Peru and Macchu Picchu. Now we were planning to go to Paraguay/Brazil/Uruguay/Argentina. We also wanted to reach Chile but we didn’t have enough time nor budget to do so this time.

Transportation:

The convenience of travelling around these southern countries is that they can be reached by bus. Some buses might be even more comfortable and cheaper than planes with softer and wider seats. It will take longer than taking a plane but usually bus terminals are located at the city center which makes it more accessible than airports. Also there is no need to be there 3 hours before and of course there are no long security controls. We usually get there 30 minutes before our departure time. Moreover, at the bus terminals there are usually places to storage your luggages which are safe, very convenient and usually require an ID. Bus lines in Brasil don’t serve food. The bus makes regular stops at rest areas where you can stretch your legs, go to the bathroom and buy food. But be aware that if you don’t go back in time the bus won’t wait for you. Most overnight bus rides will take around 15 hours and cost $60 but there are some that are up to 30 hours and will cost more than a $100.

Money:

I usually exchange at least $100 before leaving to a different country. And it’s better if it’s in small bills. Just enough for taxi/bus rides, food at the terminal and some bathrooms will charge $1 for entrance. Unlike what most people think, South America is not all the same and it is not cheap everywhere. Specially in the south; Brazil, Uruguay and Chile being the most expensive ones. Usually backpacker’s destinations are Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay being the cheapest ones. In some countries it is more difficult to exchange money than in others. Many have street money exchangers and it is not as dangerous nor illegal as some articles make it sound. But I prefer to exchange beforehand or withdraw directly from the ATM to the local currency. I have read that these are the best exchange rates you can find.

In Uruguay, when you pay with a foreign credit card, it will automatically discount 22% of the national tax.

In Brazil exchange houses at big malls don’t charge commission, you just need to show your passport.

In Paraguay- Asuncion you will easily find banks that display the current exchange rate in all currencies. In Ciudad del Este they display all prices in dollars but also accept reales or pesos. (But I heard they will give a really bad exchange rate when paying with pesos)

In Argentina its very difficult to exchange dollars due to their economical situation. And It is not recommendable to exchange money at the airport. There is a “blue market” and you can find a lot of people in the street yelling “cambio” literally in your face. (which means exchange) For Argentina I recommend exchanging beforehand rather than troubling yourself with finding the best rates when you are there.

Culture:

Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and some parts of Chile share the same Andean cultural trail. Similar wind instruments and melodies, colorful textiles, handcrafts and traditional food. While in the south; Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina you can find many similarities like being overly obsessed with barbecue. Called asado in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina and Churrasco in Brazil. Definitely not an easy destination for Vegetarians. I read in many articles that it is very difficult to find vegetarian food in these areas. Another thing that you will find is Mate (a kind of hot herb tea), Terere (cold version) and Mate cocido (boiled with milk). And not to forget Alfajor with dulce de leche. I found that Brazilians and Argentinians have a very sweet tooth. They have a wide range of sweet pastries and intense chocolate flavors like Brigadeiro in Brazil and Dulce de Leche in Argentina. Football is also a big part of South American culture. Specially in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. There is a very strong rivalry between these 3 countries when it comes to football. The rivalry originates from The Paraguayan War of 1864. One of the bloodiest territorial disputes in South American history .

Weather:

July is considered to be the peak of winter. But don’t be fooled. Temperature can differ from city to city so you might want to bring a least one set of summer clothes. In Asuncion it was sometimes cold during the mornings and nights and a couple of days it would rained heavily. However most days it was very sunny with temperatures reaching up to 24°c. Similarly in Brazil, on Saturday it was raining and chilly but on Sunday the temperature reached 29°c and people were walking shirtless at the park. Uruguay and Argentina were way colder than this. The morning we arrived to Montevideo it was around 7°c but then reached 20°c by noon. The lower you go, the colder it will get. If you go to Patagonia and Chile temperature will be a standard 12°c.

What to Bring:

I have read many blogs about what to bring when backpacking in South America. And even though I tend to travel very heavy, I realized that actually you don’t need to bring that much. Regarding clothes, we found many laundry places in the big cities that would have our clothes ready by the next morning so there is no need to pack that much. For electronics, medicine and beauty products there is a lot available, especially at the big malls in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires where you can find everything you need since they have many international brands. So don’t bother bringing those “just in case” things that we always feel the need to pack. Or the extra toiletries/electronics/medicine which you will more likely find cheaper here. Just bring the really essentials or specific things you need that you can only find in your country. Don’t go buying stuff before your trip that you can probably find cheaper there.

For the bus I recommend to bring warm comfy clothes or a small blanket since the AC runs very cold. If you are staying at a hostel bring your own towel and maybe a small hair dryer. Which comes in handy if you have moist clothes and there is no place to hang. If you are travelling on a tight budget remember that food at the super market is very cheap and they offer a wide range of products. Buying water and snacks at the bus stations will definitely cost a lot more. The standard socket in all these 4 countries is Type C 220V, same as most of Europe and Asia. But in Brazil you can also find Type N which is also compatible with Type C. Most people in South America won’t be able to speak English so it’s important to know some basic phrases. Remember that Brazil is the only country that doesn’t speak Spanish but Portuguese.

I’ll divide this trip into 5 different post. Enjoy!

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