What to do before you leave for South America

By Serena Pedrioli
Illustrazione Sud America

Welcome to the wonderful world of travel in South America! This vast continent offers a variety of cultural experiences, breathtaking landscapes, and unique adventures just waiting to be discovered. Before you dive into this incredible adventure, it is important to have a few cautions to ensure a stress-free, unforgettable trip. Here's what to do before you leave for your trip to South America!


Table of Contents

1. Research and Planning

Choosing Destinations: South America is vast and diverse. Research the destinations that interest you most, whether you want to explore the rainforests of the Amazon, the spectacular Andes or paradise beaches.

Detailed Itinerary: Before you leave, be sure to plan a detailed itinerary, including places to visit, activities to do, and time to devote to each destination. If possible also arrange lodging and transportation reservations.

2. Documents and Insurance

Passport and Visas: Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned arrival date. Also check if you need visas for the countries you plan to visit so you can apply for them well in advance.

Travel Insurance: Inquire with your current insurance company and consider purchasing travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, cancellations and baggage loss. This is an essential investment if you want to travel with peace of mind and not find yourself incurring exorbitant costs later.

3. Vaccinations and Health

Medical Consultation: Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss recommended vaccinations and health precautions for the area you will be visiting. If you have special health conditions also consider getting a checkup before you leave. In destinations far from major metropolises, it is likely that medical services will not be the best, so it is best to leave without worry.

First Aid Kit: Pack a first aid kit with essential medicines, band-aids, insect repellent, and any medications you may need during your trip. This will save you time and worry in having to search for a pharmacy and find the right medicine.

4. Currencies and Payments

Currency Exchange: Change a small amount of money into local currency before you leave to cover immediate expenses. While traveling, use local ATMs to get the best exchange rate. Remember that credit cards are often not accepted in South America and merchants prefer cash payments, so try to have them with you at all times. Also, make a note somewhere of what the average exchange rate between your currency and the local currency is so you don’t get fooled in exchange bureaus, but especially when making purchases.

Credit Cards: Inform your bank of your travel plans to avoid having your cards blocked while using them abroad. Also ask what fee you will be charged when making ATM withdrawals or payments abroad so you won’t have any nasty surprises when you return.

5. Learning the Basic Language

Essential Phrases: In South America it happens very often that even in very touristy areas the locals do not know English, so learn some basic phrases such as “greetings,” “thank you,” and “where is…” This can make interacting with locals much more pleasant.

Translator Apps: Install an app like Google Translator that also works offline so you can use them when needed to communicate with locals, translate street signs or restaurant menus.

6. Planning activities

Excursions and Activities: Plan the activities you would like to do, such as jungle hikes, visits to historical sites, or local cooking classes. Don’t be caught unprepared! Some popular attractions may require advance reservations to be made even several months in advance.

Local Events: Find out if there are any local events or festivals during your stay. Attending cultural events can greatly enrich your travel experience.

7. Safety and Awareness

Safety Tips: South America in terms of safety is very different from Europe. Find out about the political situation in the country before you leave, as political protests, for example, could be dangerous. Know the safe areas and take precautions, such as avoiding dimly lit places at night and not showing valuables. Save the number of the local police in your phone and write down all important phone numbers on a piece of paper so that you are not isolated from your loved ones in case your phone is stolen.

Cultural Awareness: Learn the local traditions, culture, and norms of behavior of the country you are about to visit. Respect local customs to create a more authentic connection with the local people.

8. Make sure you have a backup

Digital Documents: Take photos or scan important documents such as passport, visa, insurance and travel itinerary. Save everything to a cloud or send it to your email for a digital backup copy.

Hard Copies: Carry a hard copy of important documents with you in case your digital devices run out or get lost.

By preparing carefully before departure, you will be ready to face the challenges of travel and fully immerse yourself in the unique beauty and culture of South America. Enjoy your trip!

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