Practical tips and tricks for your journey in South America

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tips and advice from our trip in South America - Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Patagonia, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia
Sleeping peacefully in Ciudad del Este near Encarnación, Paraguay…

Brazil

  1. The public transport buses have two ropes along both sides, all the way to the back. They are used to signal for the bus to stop. They are convenient because no matter where you are they are always within reach. Don’t expect the bus to stop only because there is a bus stop. You have to request it.
  2. The toilet at the beach (except for the ocean for taking a leak) can be found on the lower level of the lifeguard cabin. The fee is about 2 reals. At Copacabana beach, there are separate toilets next to the bars. They also cost 2 reals.
  3. The favelas shouldn’t be visited alone. When a carioca hears that you have such plans they exclaim “Are you nuts?”. Draw your conclusions.
  4. The cash machines which worked with Bulgarian credit and debit cards were:
  • CityBank accepts Visa Electron, Maestro and Master Card with an additional fee of 17 reals
  • Banco24horas accepts Maestro and Master Card with the additional fee of 17 reals
  • Caixa didn’t accept any of our Visa Electron or Maestro cards
  • All those machines allow you to draw a maximum amount of 350 reals
  • Banco Brasilenho turned out to be the best alternative for drawing money. It accepts all kinds of cards and you can draw amounts up to your limit. Pity, we found it on our last day there.
  1. Use credit cards! They are an available option for payment in many small towns and big cities. Visa and Master Card are accepted and without a fee. Including the juice stalls.
  2. Be aware at all times if you are paying with a debit or credit card because you’ll be asked in 100% of the cases.
  3. In the subway, if your destination is far from the metro station, you can get a combined ticket for subway and bus. The price of the bus ticket doesn’t change from 3,50 reals, but you have to pay both tickets at the same time.
  4. On the beaches in Rio and on Sambódromo the prices of the drinks are similar to those in the nearby stores. That was the opposite of our expectations. The only exception we noticed was the distant Lopes Mendes Beach in Ilha Grande.
  5. The por kilo restaurants offer varied food at variable prices. If you stumble upon a good restaurant you can have a full meal for 20 reals even in expensive neighborhoods in Rio. Another advantage of the kilo restaurant is that it can satisfy different tastes and diets.
  6. Get yourself a padlock to lock your valuables in lockers.
  7. If you know a bit of Spanish, you’ll get by much better than in English in Brazil. Even Portuguese can be useless at times, as two Portuguese complained. They weren’t understood anywhere. Even at the shops, people told them that they don’t have what they were looking for in hopes to get rid of them.
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Paraguay

  1. The system for stopping the bus is the same as in Brazil.
  2. Cash machines:
  • Banco Regional didn’t accept any of our cards
  • Banco Continental accepted Visa Electron and it even presented the option of drawing American dollars, which were very useful in Argentina
  1. We’ve had no problem with the credit cards in the places, where there is a sign that cards are accepted.
  2. Spend all your guaraní in Paraguay, they won’t do you much good in any other country.
  3. The buses between cities or villages have flexible prices, which get lowered as your knowledge of Spanish increases.
  4. The bus stations are hard to get to and use. Ask as many people as possible to get closer to the truth.

Argentina

  1. If you have American dollars you get the royal treatment in Argentina. It was like that until the beginning of 2015.
  2. The secret to happiness is a lot of cash.
  3. The prices change almost every day. Whatever you have read as prices, multiply it by 3 and you’d be closer to the truth.
  4. If you need to draw money, Banco National de Argentina didn’t let us, but the cash machines of Banco Patagonia worked like a charm.
  5. The cama buses serve food and soft drinks. Bring water yourselves.
  6. Medical attention in public hospitals is free for foreigners.

Patagonia

  1. Bring warm clothes for the summer. It is windy and cold, despite the sun. A windbreaker is a good idea.
  2. Hiking shoes are a must if you plan on experiencing the glaciers or the other varied terrain here. If you don’t have a pair, you can rent one along with all kinds of equipment, but it isn’t cheap.
  3. There are attempts of the blue market, but keep an eye on the prices. The exchange rate is not too good, the best we saw was 11,50 for a dollar.
  4. In El Calafate cards are accepted everywhere – from the supermarket to the souvenir store and on all kinds of trips, but you miss the chance to take advantage of the blue market.
  5. Cash machines can be found in El Calafate, but there are long waiting lines.
  6. During the summer in Patagonia booking in advance is a must. All kind of excursions, especially a canoeing trip around the icebergs or trekking on the glaciers must be booked a week before. However, there is always a way to find somewhere to stay even without a reservation. It won’t be comfortable or cheap. Yards can be found anywhere and you can pitch your tent there for 50 pesos per person.
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Uruguay

  1. The exchange rate at Banco Republica is up to 300 pesos for a dollar.
  2. Credit cards can assure a discount for foreigners according to different laws.
  3. Buquebus blue market rate: 12.52. Unexpectedly, on the overcrowded ferry to Buenos Aires flourished normal and legal-looking black market. Miracles happen! We even got receipts stating the exchange rate as official.
  4. Our Bulgarian phones cannot connect to any cellular network.

 

Chile

  1. Cash machines: Banco de Chile, BBVA gave us a peso or two successfully. However, Bci and Santander did not.
  2. The cama buses don’t serve food! Apparently, Argentina had spoiled us. For 18 hours of traveling, we got only a waffle. Bring food and water.
  3. In the capital Santiago the magnetic cards Bip are a good investment if you combine traveling by bus and by subway because the second of both tickets is almost free.

 

Bolivia

  1. Cash machines – Bisa supports Visa Electron, some of the machines allow drawing dollars, but Мutual la Primera supports only Maestro and it is only for bolivianos.
  2. A toilet without a fee is hard to find.
  3. Expect to be asked for money for every little thing, like a glass of water or a smile.
  4. Don’t expect to be treated well or smiles, even from those working in tourist services.
  5. You’ll need cash for the little towns. For example, in Rurrenabaque there were many cash machines but in Uyuni there was no cell phone coverage or Internet all day long.

Peru

  1. We still haven’t managed to draw money with a debit card issued in Bulgaria from a Peruvian cash machine. Our banks still can’t explain why.
  2. Regular buses are not advisable means of transportation especially when you are not in the mood for fast adventures on dangerous roads. The tourist buses are more expensive but more secure and sometimes they even make stops at interesting places along the way.
  3. We were satisfied with the service of Cruz del Sur bus company. Оrmeno has a big network outside of Peru, but it might not be the smoothest ride of your life.

Disclaimer: According to official information, since January 1, 2016, “blue dollar” and “blue market” do not exist in Argentina anymore. If someone visited the country ever after, we’d appreciate some on-site updates.

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This article needs expanding and improving. We accept help and tips to add. The self-organized, pleasant and safe trip is not a myth!

And here is one amazing South America bucket list to feed your imagination and travel itinerary. We found a very nice comparison between different major cities in South America – check it out to find your favorite!

 

 

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10 Responses

  1. John
    | Reply

    Great Tips! I have always wanted to visit South America, especially Peru!

  2. Maria
    | Reply

    These are some great and hands-on travel tips for South America! Especially the issue of accessing foreign bank accounts is something that can put a lot of turmoil in your travel plans, but with your tips, it is a bit easier to prepare!

    • Bistra Yakimova
      | Reply

      Yes, some of the tips came from tough battles. Whether we like it or not, cash is still a king so we hope we gave detailed tips how to get some in South America. And let’s hope the article will really help someone prepare better! 🙂

  3. WorldGlimpses
    | Reply

    These are some useful tips one should know about when travelling abroad, not only to South America. Well, I hope you had great time. South America is one great journey to have! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Bistra Yakimova
      | Reply

      Thank you! We wanted to put them as precisely as possible as sometimes common sense doesn’t work as expected there. But you are right we can draw some conclusions for any travels abroad. 🙂

  4. shobha42016
    | Reply

    really handy tips! I did not have the courage to take a bus in Brasil which is the only South American country I’ve visited. I agree though that cash is king – especially in a place like Argentina which has a currency crises. I briefly went to Argentina for the Iguazu falls but nothing else.

    • Bistra Yakimova
      | Reply

      I hope next time you are in South America you will take the chance to get on a bus. It is an experience itself! And people are so nice! The falls are amazing, aren’t they? Which side did you like more – the Argentinian, or the Brazilian? Tough question, I know 🙂

  5. Corinne
    | Reply

    It’s always great reading lessons learned from others. I like that you broke it out by country. That’s really helpful!

    • Bistra Yakimova
      | Reply

      Thank you! Yes, differences could be huge even between neighboring countries so we wanted to write particular advice for the particular country. And it’s also interesting to see how they will change as years go by. 🙂

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