15 things you should know before starting your South America travels

4 months, 6 countries and a WHOLE lot of confusion later… here we are in our last country of South America before we make our way into Central. It’s safe to say they do a lot of things very very very differently to us back in Europe. Whilst they may seem small to you, living it makes you confused on the regular.

Arriving at Bamboo Hostel, Rio de Janeiro after a full day of travelling was a shock to the system to say the least and ever since then we’ve been baffled on a daily basis about how and why things are done. The beauty of travelling is just how different we all live.

Here’s our 15 things I’ve learnt while travelling South America:

1.You can’t flush toilet paper. Let’s go straight in and begin with one we were most shocked about. Yep, you read it right. Zero, nada, nothing can go down the toilets except numbers 1s & no 2s. The plumbing systems and flushing power of toilets are so bad through most of South America that you aren’t allowed to flush toilet paper. That’s right; that means you have to place your shitty shit rags in the open bin next to the toilets. It smells and looks as bad as you can imagine.

2.Hot showers are rarely ever hot it’s cold outside, you’ve been out wandering the streets all day sightseeing and you just want a long hot steamy shower. Sorry love think again. Often the showers in South America are luke warm and that’s being generous. When you find a good one I guarantee you’ll want to spend a whole day soaking it up.

3.Distances are not like those in Europe.  A road trip in the UK comprises of any car journey over 2 hours, there’s starbursts, car games and hourly trips to service stations. It’s somewhat VERY different here in South America. Trains are practically nonexistent so all your movement will be done on buses or minibuses. Even then, distances are deceptive, what looks like a tiny distance on google maps is in reality 15 hours nonstop cramped in the back of a minibus.

4.Drivers are insane.  Simply put, drivers are LOCO. Multiple times Ben and I have held onto each other for dear life adamant the journey was going to be our last. Not only do drivers drive like a bat out of hell, there’s no specific lanes, no designated passing zones and no speed limits from what we could tell.  Oh! And to top it all off, the buses don’t have any seatbelts. 

5.Weather forecasts are never accurate. If you’re planning on coming away to South America to get the perfect tan and spend the whole time on the beach… think again. Weather forecasts in South America pretty much always call for rain.  That might mean it only rains for ten minute through the entire day.  For the first month I used to wake up and straight away look at the weather forecast so we could plan our activity for the day, after a few weeks I realised it was always wrong.

6.No one speaks English.  Okay well that’s an exaggeration, of course you may find the odd person who knows English but in general no one speaks a word so become best friends with DuoLingo, sign up to Rosetta Stone- whatever you need to do but basic Spanish is a must. Oh yeah and be prepared for a lot of words to be massively different in each country!

7.Always keep toilet paper on you (at ALL times).  Toilet paper is a shockingly rare in public bathrooms and even in some hostels, Airbnb’s and hotels. As such, we have got in the habit of stashing away and hoarding any extra toilet paper we can find. Trust us… you don’t want to get caught out when you’ve got a case of Peruvian belly (ask Ben).

8.Chickeny chicken the frango pollo. Now don’t get me wrong we are HUGE fans of chicken back in London. We often go through 2kg per month of the stuff but my oh my does South America love it more. Everything you’ll see to eat is chicken, they bloody love the stuff. I think we’re going to return 85% chicken, 15% beer.

9.You will shit every consistency known to man. Real talk. Both Ben and I have got poorly on this trip with our belly’s and no we’re not talking a ‘dodgy belly’ we’re talking 10 full days of non stop explosive shots, yep. I got poorly I’m Bolivia and Ben took his turn in Peru. You and the porcelain god will become well acquainted. We both lost about half a stone, every cloud and all that… I think.

10.Make sure your money is pristine (and real).  Many vendors in South America (especially Peru) won’t accept ripped or overly crinkled money.  Many times we were told we needed a different note to pay for the smaller 2mm tear. Very strange to us. So to make your lives easier don’t accept money with rips, because no one will accept it from you.

11.Milk comes in bags? What kind of bloody moron thought that was a good idea? Fancy a morning coffee babe? Oh wait the bag of leche has fallen over AGAIN in the fridge. Urgh. We’ll to go a cafe.

12.Internet is sooooo slow some of you may know that I own my own social media business so before coming out here I planned to really kick start my business and make it thrive. I had all the time in the world for 6 months right? Well technically yes but the terrible terrible internet is South America has made it extremely hard for me. Naturally I don’t want to be walking around the streets with my MacBook to find internet and generally hostel and hotel WiFi isn’t the strongest. I mean, you can make do but don’t expect super speedy connection because you just will not get it.

13.Street dogs I for one didn’t fancy paying a lot of money for the rabies jabs before coming out to South America so I promised myself I’d stay away from the stray dogs. Well… that hasn’t quite worked out, I’ve fallen in love with at least one stray dog per country. In our experience, strays are actually very nice and if you show one even the tiniest bit of attention, it’ll become your best friend. A lot of the strays actually have homes to go to in the evening, their owners are just relaxed about where they go as they always come back.

14.Plug socked are very loose let’s just say plug jenga is a regular occurrence out here. It’s a common 2person job to get your phone to charge. One person puts the loose plug in the wall, the other pushes the bed up against the plug to hold it in place. It’s just one of those things.

15.The paper slip you get with your passport stamp is important. We learnt this one the hard way, no one told us the piece of paper we got with our passport stamp when entering Bolivia that it was needed so we simply tossed this small piece of paper away. Fast forward 3 weeks on the Uyuni salt flats on leaving Bolivia I was confronted with a pissed off looking border control. Luckily I didn’t have to pay them off but apparently it’s not uncommon they may ask you to. So don’t loose it!

Now don’t get me wrong backpacking in South America can be bloody frustrating and this blog may sound negative but I just want to give an honest insight into life on the road of this huge, amazing, mesmerising continent.

South America you crazy beast, until next time 🌍

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mark Nightingale says:

    Hi Hann. Some interesting advice there. Can you tell us some of the highlights for you and Ben so far.?


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