South America was a land of polar opposites for me. As I traveled the continent, my own experience mirrored the geography: low lows and high highs.
From altitude sickness in Cusco to empty beach days in Colombia; from the dusty, dirty streets of northern Peru to the immaculate vine-lined roads of Medellin; from luxury Amazon jungle lodges to $12 hotels on the Ecuador-Colombia border… I found South America complex, gritty, ever-changing, and never fully-understood.
I made my share of mistakes in South America. And I’m a better traveler – and person – for them.
Providencia – my favorite place in South America
“You must not judge people by their country. In South America, it is wise to judge people by their altitude.”
So You’re Considering Traveling in South America?
If you want to visit South America, then my first and most essential piece of advice is to learn a bit of Spanish. I took a two-week Spanish school in Lima, Peru and it helped immensely. A DIY combination of Duolingo and perusing the legendary Madgrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish book also can’t hurt.
A bit of common language can take you far. Imagine conversations with taxi drivers in Lima, Peru, coffee bean-farmers along the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, and fishermen on tiny Colombian islands. The list goes on.
Beyond that? Approach the region with minimal expectations, and keep an open itinerary if you can. If there’s one thing I learned in South America, it’s not to hold myself to a plan that, in action, isn’t bringing me joy. It’s not possible to do everything and see everywhere, especially on a continent this vast, so try to follow where your soul leads you… you may discover something incredible.