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A Guide to Backpacking South America – Part 1

South America is an incredibly popular destination for backpackers because it's absolutely full of incredible landscapes, rich culture and awesome things to do and see. A fantastic alternative to Asia, there are 12 different countries in the region that you can explore and we'll be breaking them down in alphabetical order to ensure you know the best tips and highlights.

First up...


The first stop on our South America gap year route is Argentina. If you’re looking for stunning natural wonders, diverse terrain and beautiful landscapes, this is the destination for you. Not to mention the abundance of culture, character and passion which runs throughout its many must-see cities.

You’ll most likely arrive in the capital Buenos Aires as it’s the only city with an international airport, and it’s one of the world’s top urban experiences. From there you’ve got a huge destination choice to make based on what you most want to see. There’s the impressive Iguazu Falls in the north which has more of a subtropical climate, or you could venture south to the Glaciar Perito Moreno. Whatever you like we’ve confident the following South American travel tips might help you to decide where you want to go.


3 Things You Need to See:

  1. Glaciar Perito Moreno – found in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, this is the most stunning sight of the entire park. It’s absolutely huge and is constantly advancing. There’s nothing else quite like it.
  2. Iguazu Falls – If an awe-inspiring visceral experience is your thing then you must head north to experience this stunning cascade of hundreds of waterfalls at once. The largest waterfalls system in the world, you’ll gain and experience like nowhere else in the world.
  3. Bariloche – If incredibly beautiful landscapes are what you crave to see when you’re backpacking around the world, Bariloche will be the place Argentinians themselves would tell you not to miss. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, it’s definitely worth a visit.


3 Things You Need to Do:

  1. Wine tasting in Mendoza – Mendoza is the wine country in Argentina and if you don’t try a bit of wine tasting you are definitely missing out. We get that this might not be your typical backpacker activity, but it’s fun to try new things and the landscape will not disappoint!
  2. Bike around Buenos Aires – the absolute best way to see this bustling and cultural city is by cycling. There are many different tours available catering for different interests, and you’ll feel great at the end of it.
  3. Route of the Seven Lakes – You’ll need to get yourself a car for this, or book yourself on a tour as this has been hailed as the most beautiful drive in the world. Easily completed in one day, it’s a sight that is essential to your visit.


Other Things to Know:

When it comes to purchasing your travel insurance for South America, we’d recommend a Longstay policy. Argentina is covered by our Worldwide destination policies.


Full of natural beauty, culturally diverse and rough around the edges, Bolivia is well worth a visit if you’re travelling a South American gap year route. Not usually the destination of choice for many, but it’s definitely the most varied and beautiful. A gem that’s worth a visit if you fancy somewhere not many of your travelling companions have seen.

Chances are if you’re flying into this country, you’ll arrive in the capital La Paz at one of the world’s highest airports, which is a perfect starting point to begin checking off your South American travel checklist of things to see and do.

bolivia south america travel insurance

3 Things You Need to See:

  1. Salar de Uyuni – The Salt Flats found in southwestern Bolivia, this is by far the biggest highlight of your tour of the country and perhaps even in the world. This is an experience like no other and you can do a 3 day tour to ensure you see everything and take it all in.
  2. Laguna Verde – situated at the southernmost tip of Bolivia, you can include a visit to this stunning coloured lake on your tour of the salt flats. It sits at the base of a volcano and is simply a beautiful and incredible landscape that you won’t believe is real.
  3. Plaza Murillo – the central plaza in the capital La Paz and framed by some of the city’s most important political buildings, this area is a source of history and architecture, not to mention a buzzing cultural experience.


3 Things You Need to Do:

  1. Cycle the Death Road (North Yungus Road) – perfect for thrill seekers, this experience draws hundreds of tourists a year and is a dangerous yet exhilarating thing to say you’ve done. It begins at 15,400 feet and will take you on a tour of the rolling hills of the Amazon rainforest where you’ll come across terrifying sheer drops on the way. Don’t look down!
  2. Go deep into the Bolivian jungle – If you pay a visit to the small and relatively unknown town of Rurrenabaque, you’ll be able to start here on your jungle tour. This is a good tip to know of as it’s cheaper to do a jungle tour here than in Brazil or Peru.
  3. Urban Rush – a 50 metre decent down a building in La Paz which is 100% safe, adrenaline levels will be at an all-time high when you’re running down the side of this building watching the traffic get closer and closer!


Other Things to Know:

When it comes to purchasing your travel insurance, Bolivia is covered under our Worldwide destination policies, however it’s important to be aware of FCO travel advice for this country. This can be found here.


We’ve already written a comprehensive guide to visiting Brazil. Find it here!


Chile is nature as it should be. It’s got vast regions unmarred by humans and is simply stunning to see. Santiago is the capital city and you’ll most likely arrive here by plane, but travelling to and around Chile is easy so long as you take it a bit slower and enjoy the experience. There’s so much scenery to take it, you won’t want to miss a minute of it.


3 Things You Need to See:

  1. Easter Island – the monolithic heads that decorate the landscape of this island are what makes it famous and you simply must see it for yourself. It’s truly a mysterious and historical experience.
  2. Chiloe – another island which is a must see. Rumour has it that visiting Chiloe is like stepping into a magical world full of myths and legends, unique culture and folklore, and it’s been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
  3. San Rafael Glacier – found in the Northern Patagonian Ice Field in Southern Chile, this is the tidewater glacier nearest the equator and is an impressive site to behold.


3 Things You Need to Do:

  1. Magdalena Island Penguin Tour – take a tour to this national nature reserve dedicted to breeding penguins (and some sea lions too!) You’ve never seen so many penguins in one place in your life.
  2. Go to Anakena Beach – You can spend some time on this perfect tropical beach at the same time as paying a visit to the stone heads on Easter Island. Its full of palm trees and white sandy beaches, the perfect place to spend a free day chilling out and taking it all in. You can include a stop here as part of a tour, or just do it yourself.
  3. Take a tour to the Osorno Volcano – one of the most active volcanoes in the southern Chilean Andes, you’ll be able to visit more rural regions of Chile on your quest to see this impressive sight.


Other Things To Know:

If we are to offer you any further South America travel tips, we’d stress the importance of travel insurance. We’d recommend a Longstay policy with a Worldwide destination as this is perfect for those of you backpacking around South America for long periods of time, and we’d also recommend brushing up on the latest travel advice from the FCO just in case.

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