South America FAQ's

Before you start thinking about planning your trip to South America, let us give you some tips.

Brazil, a predominantly Portuguese-speaking country within South America, makes up 49% of the entire continent. It is acutally larger than the United States, and is generally referred to as the area south of the Panama canal. The remaining 51% of this country is a mix of six predominantly Spanish-speaking countries [48%] and the three nations of the Guyanas [>3%]. The Amazon rainforest alone makes up nearly one-third of the entire continent, principally stretching across Brazil's northern inland, including parts of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
As 90% of South America is located south of the equator, the seasons of the year are reversed for travelers coming from the northern hemisphere. This aspect is particularly relevant when traveling to the southern cone of the continent which features Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

The tropical and subtropical portions throughout South America allow for travel throughout the year. However parts of Patagonia, a region within lower Chile and Argentina, is partially inaccessible during the deepest winter. Traveling during the “shoulder season” of late spring (October - early December) and early fall (April and May) generally provide the best times to travel to South America. This is due to the perfect balance of climatic conditions, amount of travelers and accessibility to sites. Additionally, it provides more moderate temperatures in the tropics and the possibility of spring flowers or fall colors in the far south.

Semana Santa, the holy week preceding Easter, is a very busy time being that much of South America is Catholic. Major holidays are also a very busy time, such as Christmas, New Year’s and Carnival. Therefore if you wish to escape the crowds, you should consider avoiding these holiday seasons, as many South Americans are traveling at this time as well.
No! You will not experience an Asia-like monsoon, where torrential rains occur for months. However, you should take note of the rainy and dry seasons. Expect intermittent, heavy downpours during the rainy season in all tropical areas. However, those rains are usually not 24-hour, multi-day events. It normally rains a lot during a short period of the day.

Generally, the rainy season is “summer” and the drier season is “winter”. For example, Carnival in Brazil happens during the rainy season in February, which is the summer in Rio. However, the event is rarely affected by the rains. Though south of Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, you can expect a pattern as you know it from home. Warm summers, cold & rainy winters. Just remember the Southern Hemispheres seasons happen at opposite times. December is summer with July being winter and June having the shortest days.

This is unlikely. First, since this is a global phenomenon, the prediction is very precise and chances of an El Niño happening are known many months ahead. Therefore, your travel consultant can plan around the event. Second, the worst effects are felt only on the Pacific side of South America, chiefly in specific areas of the Peruvian mountains. All other areas of South America tend to experience “El Niño” as a slight variation of temperature and rainfall.
If you stick to one region of this vast continent - which for many other reasons is recommendable - yes, it can be a quite affordable vacation. A prime example of a region to visit is Peru. The distances between the myriad of Peru’s interesting sites are short. And you would only need to fly domestically if going to the Peruvian Amazon, or traveling directly from Lima to Cuzco. The cost of living is also very low. Prices naturally rise as the level of comfort increases.

Bolivia and Paraguay are other countries that tend to be less expensive. Traveling through Brazil can also be quite affordable as the cost for domestic flights is low, including the 4-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon. Major cities of South America, such as Rio de Janeiro and Santiago de Chile, can be as expensive as most major world cities - depending of course on the current exchange rate.

Fantastic! It is especially encouraged to try what you don’t know, that is the best way to try South American cuisine. South America boasts some of the finest dining experiences worldwide where only local ingredients that are unique to the area are used. The world is discovering South American flavors, a trend which started with Peru’s appearance on the world’s culinary stage. The availability of recognizable “Western” food depends on the amount of former immigrants from a specific country. However, you’ll always find “meat and potato” dishes you are familiar with. Below are a few examples of different cuisine styles that are also prevalent in South America:
  • Local style of Chinese restaurants (known as Chifa) as well as Chinatowns are highly recommended in Peru.
  • Italian influences are heavily integrated within Argentina.
  • European and African influences are strongly represented within Brazil.
  • The biggest “Japantown,"” outside of Japan, can be sound in São Paulo.
  • Indian food is very difficult to find, as was no immigration from India in South America, apart from the Guyanas. Indian spices are also difficult to find. Vegetarian food nowadays is ubiquitous! Vegan options are becoming more and more common due to South Americans as a whole, are health-conscious eaters.
Just like any traveler from any region of the world risks when traveling to a new destination, your body may encounter a microbe which is unfamiliar and thus reacts to once. Therefore, there is always a chance. To counter this, it is recommended to get Loperamide / Imodium before you travel.

Food in South America actually as safe as it is at home. And like at home, even after you clean and rinse the ingredients before cooking, there are still some bacteria remaining. Therefore the main difference is that your stomach is familiar with the bacteria at home, and therefore does not react. In some countries, with their dissimilar climates, the bacteria present are just different, and can cause your stomach to have a problem.

In any case, be careful! In the tropics, it is highly recommended to avoid fresh salad, as well as “anything which cannot be peeled or cooked." In places such as the Amazon, locals do not eat salad. Larger restaurants often provide them because of the demands of tourists. Though, stay away! Choose instead, for example, sautéed Brazilian kale, known as “couve."It is made with a hint of garlic - another deterrent to the stomach bug!

Every country has its own currency within South America. However, the big exception is in Ecuador, where the U.S. dollar is the official currency. Some souvenir shops and the occasional restaurant, located in heavy tourist, areas may accept the dollar.

Your guide will gladly takes tips in US$ or Euros as well, so don’t be shy! However do not give your guide the currency of another South American country. Use only the country’s money, US$ or Euros. In general, credit cards are widely accepted, even for your drink on Copacabana beach! It is always best to use the local currency, which is available from most banks' ATM's, or paying by credit card. Please see further information on each country’s page.

Yes! South Americans are very friendly. Always helpful. If they do not speak English, they always find someone who does. It is recommended to try to learn a few basic words in Spanish and, for Brazil, Portuguese.  That always gets you big smiles. A few examples include Por favor translates from both languages to please. In Spanish, Gracias, or in Portuguese Obrigado (when said by a male) or Obrigada (when said by a female) translates into Thank you. And when you say it, always remember to look people in the eyes!
All those vaccinations that are recommended for home, such as Measles, Tetanus, Hepatitis A + B and so forth are considered essential by the world’s medical community. Additionally, in some tropical areas, the Yellow Fever vaccination plus a Malaria prophylaxis is recommended. The latter two, of course, are dependent on where you are traveling. Your travel consultant can give you an initial recommendation, but always consult your doctor. In all cases, it is the recommendations of the World Health Agency (WHO) who are the leaders in this matter.