In terms of long-term backpacking, I have been to Europe twice, Ghana, South East Asia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and — my personal favorite — South America. After three months making my way from Brazil, through Argentina, Patagonia, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and ending in the Galapagos, I realized South America provides a full and convenient backpacker experience. Here’s why:
While not everywhere in South America is cheap, overall it makes for a very affordable trip. This is especially true when you’re traveling through countries like Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador where overnight buses can be $12, a 3-course meal might be $0.75 and a budget hotel or hostel can be less than $5.
During my three months going through South America, I did not encounter a single place that didn’t include breakfast, Wi-Fi and hot water in the price. While I was expecting the hostel scene to be a lot dumpier than what I’d seen in Europe and Australia, it was quite the opposite with warm and friendly hostels at affordable prices offering many amenities.
Cheap & Delicious Street Food
That 5 Euro kebab will seem expensive once you go to South America. While Brazil sells cheap tapiocas, cassava crepes filled with ham, beef, cheese, chocolate, banana, condensed milk and other fillings, Peru serves up tasty chocla con queso, local corn topped with fresh cheese. In Argentina juicy burgers topped with fried onions and thick choripan sausages with the works make for a delicious and affordable lunch, while Bolivia’s street corners serve up Lomo Montado, fried steak with fried eggs, rice and fried banana. No matter where you go in South America, you’ll enjoy filling street meals without breaking the bank.
While I’d heard endless stories — from people who’d never been to South America — about dangerous locals, I experienced quite the opposite. Of course, there are dangerous areas of the continent you’ll want to steer clear of; however, on my route I encountered many locals who were helpful, friendly and interested in knowing more about why I was there. On the bus rides I also met numerous locals happy to help me practice my Spanish, which I was very thankful for.
Backpackers love exploring the open road, and South America offers many opportunities to do this in a scenic way through hiking. Trekking the Andes, the unworldly national parks of Patagonia and Amazon Jungle are just some of the ways to experience the one-of-a-kind landscape the continent has to offer. Some of my personal favorite places for hiking were Ilha Grande in Brazil, El Chalten in Argentina, Ushuaia in Argentina, Torres del Paine in Chile, Moon Valley outside La Paz in Bolivia, Juarez in Peru and Vilcabamba in Ecuador.
As stated above, one of the best things about backpacking South America is its overall affordability. One main reasons this continent is so affordable is its offering of long- journey buses, which end up being much cheaper than a flight or high-speed train. While Brazil and Argentina tend to be a little pricier, you’ll still save money compared to other continents. And, in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador you’ll find some unbelievable deals. For example, I took an overnight bus from Puno, Peru to Cuzco for $12.
Culture Shock — But Not Too Much
Going to non-Western destinations is always worthwhile as it gives you some culture shock and takes you out of your comfort zone. This forces you to grow as a person and have new adventures and experiences you’ll remember forever. That being said, if you stay on the backpacker circuit you’ll never feel too out of place that it’s not enjoyable.
An Immersive Experience
Backpacking through South America is completely immersive. The rich culture of these Latin American countries makes it easy to have an experience at ground level, from the man grilling up intestines on the corner to the locals dressed in indigenous clothing to the buses filled with women and their goods going to market.