South America, a vast continent with so much to see and offer. I loved my first experience here and cannot wait to come back and see the rest of the countries. During my visit in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador I saw and experienced so many wonderful things such as:
The World's highest navigable lake- Lake Titicaca
The World's highest inhabited island-Amantani Island
The World's largest desert salt flat- Salar de Uyuni
The largest/deepest canyon in South America- Colca Canyon
The longest continuous mountain chain in the world- The Andes
The driest desert in the world- Atacama (although mostly in northern Chile, it does extend to southern Peru)
The largest capital in South America- Lima
The largest rainforest in the world- The Amazon
One of the wonders of the world- Machu Picchu
Biked the deadliest road in the world- Yungas Road (The Death Road)
The World's largest urban gondola- La Paz, Bolivia
South Americas largest flea market- El Alto (La Paz, Bolivia)
Highest South American capital- Quito
World's second highest active volcano- Volcan Cotopaxi
South Americas Largest Outdoor Artisan Market- Otavalo
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- The Historic City of Sucre
- Qhapaq Ñan Andean Road System
- Historic city of Cuenca
- City of Quito
- City of Cusco
- Machu Picchu
- Huascaran National Park
- Chan Chan
- Nasca Lines
That was only three countries and there's ten more countries in the continent I have yet to visit. For anyone interested in visiting any South American country here is what you need to know and a list of items to bring and not bring, will vary by country however.
1. Do not flush toilet paper down the toilet anywhere, you will have to throw it in trashcans.
2. Do not buy toilet paper, save money (as little as it may be) by taking napkins at restaurants or taking from hostels. Stock up. I never bought toilet paper in five months of travel.
3. Get used to locals staring at you, well if you are white.
4. If you are a female traveler with short hair, and/or traveling with a female friend who also has short hair then prepare yourself for being called a lesbian or a man by locals and foreign travelers.
5. You will most likely hear loud firework like sounds any time of the day in many countries.
6. Travel light, you will most likely acquire some clothes or trinkets along the way.
7. Do not take photos of locals without asking first.
8. Do not book hostels or tours online in advance, you will be able to find something upon arrival and at better prices.
9. You do not need a round trip ticket. Upon research we thought we needed proof of departure to enter particular countries so we bought a round trip. It is not necessary, there are many loopholes around such as a fake or real itinerary showing you visiting other countries.
10. Be careful with medications before travel. They are costly so purchase only what you believe is necessary.
11. Bring your own toiletries, yes it is weight and space but toiletries are actually more expensive in South American countries.
12. Ladies, have mace with you at all times. I never used mine but I felt better knowing I had something to defend myself, you never know.
13. Locals, particularly women, are very good at cutting in line in front of anyone (especially tourists). There is little consideration.
14. Lots of homeless beggars, more so in Bolivia and certain parts of Peru though.
15. There is trash everywhere and most people are good at littering. Drivers or locals will simply toss out empty plastic bottles or wrappers out the window of moving vehicles.
16. Restaurant service is lousy and tipping is not necessary. You will have to get your own menu and ask for the check nearly every time.
17. Sunday's are the worst day of the week ever! Most things are closed unless it is a super touristy city. Most restaurants are closed, so finding food can be exceedingly difficult.
18. There is an infinite amount of people/vendors trying to sell you whatever. On buses, simply walking down the street, basically anywhere. You will being saying "no gracias" a lot.
19. Dogs are everywhere. Stray dogs are a big problem, not as bad in Ecuador, but most countries you will feel heartbroken by the amount you see.
20. Drivers are insane. You will fear for your life at some point whether you are in a bus or simply crossing a street. The red/green light system really has no effect.
21. No matter what time of the day it is there always seems to be uniformed schoolchildren walking about.
22. Hot showers are not a positive assurance, even with hostels that claim to have them. Soap is even more rare to see in public bathrooms. Carry hand sanitizer around with you.
23. Narrow sidewalks are very common. Not in every city but it is difficult to walk even next to someone without being on the road or close to it.
24. Plastic bags, they love plastic bags there. Even if you bring your own or say you don't need one you will get looked at like you are crazy. They are everywhere and used for so many different purposes.
25. Expect to spend about $1,000 USD a month, depending on the type of traveler you are. Also allocate for costs before your arrival that you initially might not have anticipated such as bank fees or getting robbed.
26. Coke products are everywhere. Far more prominent than in the States. Also more so in big cities but there are way too many fast food joints, in particular, KFC.
List of items to bring:
- a good, durable backpack no more than 65 liters
- music and earphones (incredibly essential for bus rides & hostels)
-eye mask or something similar for same reason listed above
- good hiking/walking boots or shoes
- toiletries & medications
- quick dry clothes (sorry but jeans are ridiculous to carry and bring)
- laminated copy of passport
- a good water filter (save money & plastic)
- a book for trade (or a way to entertain yourself)
- 1-2 pairs of socks, no more is necessary
- small sewing kit
- a small travel lock for hostel lockers and your bag
- a small food container or tuber ware of sorts for left over food
- quick dry towel
- USB memory stick
- a few ziplock bags for things here & there
- copies of your documents, insurance coverage & credit cards
- soap for cleaning undies or other small clothing items in hostels such as the brand SeatoSummit Wilderness Wash.
- if you are traveling with someone then a deck of cards is good to have
Items you do NOT need to bring:
- camping equipment (I made the mistake of bringing way too much camping equipment like a stove, cook set, tent, sleeping pad & more but never used any of it) if you want to camp at all then rent equipment there since it'll be cheap and not a hassle to carry around just for that one day of camping
- cotton clothes (they will stink, stay damp longer and fall apart more than quick dry)
- a journal (do an online journal/blog instead)
- guidebooks (read them before and get info to get you started but you will come across some in hostels and best advice is from travelers you will meet)
- hair appliances (if you straighten or blow dry your hair then save it for back home, no need to lug those around or show off for anyone)
- I will add more if I think of anything else
The most frequently said thing of the trip: "I don't get it."
During our five months there were countless times Michelle and I were at a loss of words or confused beyond explanation by daily occurrences. We also were merely forced to say "no gracias" constantly due to street vendors being everywhere trying to sell one thing to the next. But we always said anytime went wrong or became difficult was just another adventure, "always an adventure in South America" we'd say.
We could have seen another country or two in our time but it is such a large continent. I knew I didn't want to rush each country and skip places within each country. I can say I was successful in all three countries and I cannot wait until I go back and finish the rest of the continent.
I will always remember my time there, the places I saw, the things I did and the people I met. There were some hards times but that's life and every minute was worth the experience I had there. I am now home and thankful to be healthy and safe but life there in South America will be missed. I thank everyone for supporting me and following along my adventures. This is my last blog post until my next international adventure. Thank you!