- Cusco is the cheapest place to buy gifts and souvenirs
There’s lots of cheap places to buy souvenirs, but throughout my travels I was consistently told to buy my gifts in Cusco. The San Pedro Market in Cusco certainly delivered – I found alpaca sweaters for only 25 soles there.
- DO NOT START A BAR TAB AT THE HOSTEL BAR
It is SO convenient and SUCH a trap. Not spending any actual cash on drinks every night gives you a false sense of security, before you go to check out and find you’ve racked up hundreds of dollars for three nights in a hostel that charges $9 a night.
- Food in Rio is really unhealthy unless you’re willing to pay more
Salgados, salgados, salgados. That’s all you’ll find, in EVERY CAFE. The direct translation is “salty treat”, and it’s basically a fried or baked pastry, often containing ham or cheese. Delicious, but not nutritious. If you want to eat healthy for less, buy your own groceries.
- The best taste for value ceviche in Peru is from Paracas
The first time I ever had ceviche was in Lima. It was amazing, but very expensive. By the time we made our way to the beach town of Paracas, I was obsessed. Prices were mostly high, being a tourist town, but one little restaurant called Edith’s Cevicheria does an incredible price for ceviche and a main. I got a ceviche and a giant serving of arroz con mariscos (seafood rice) for 15 soles!
- Even in summer, the temperature can drop quite low in some places
So many people make the mistake of bringing only summery gear to South America. It’s warm at sea level, but so much of the continent is at altitude. Bringing summery gear is fine, but bring at least one warm jacket, one jumper and a pair of long pants. La Paz in Bolivia, at an altitude of 4000m, was jumper weather even in the middle of summer!
- Book a Bolivian salt flats tour when it’s forecast to rain
Normally you want to avoid rain, but salt flats are the exception. The ground and sky become one when there’s a sheet of water across the flats, an absolutely exquisite mirrored image. Without the rain, the three-day salt flat tours can get a bit boring.
- Eat the street food
Yeah yeah yeah, there’s the risk of food poisoning. Who cares. It’s delicious and it’s cheap – you’re backpacking and you’re here to test the boundaries! Some of the best things I ate in South America were from street vendors, I did it every day for two months and I was sick just once, but it was totally worth it!
- “Sin azucar” means without sugar. “Sin sal” means without salt.
Much of South American cuisine is on average, quite unhealthy. A great deal of sugar and salt are added to most things. If you’re ordering a fresh juice, make sure you ask for it “sin azucar”, otherwise they will add a few massive dollops of sugar to an already sweet juice.
- If you don’t know any Spanish, learning “Cuánto cuesta?” (how much) and the numbers from 1-100 goes a long way.
Knowing no Spanish at all sucked. It was rude and it was ignorant. Fortunately, after a few days of flailing about, I set aside an hour and learnt the numbers from 1-100. Asking how much something was and actually understanding the response was enough to get us through most transactions with locals.
- Plan to spend at least a few nights in Rio de Janeiro
Rio is a trap. I met people in my hostel who had planned to stay a week and had been there three months. Copacabana is a lovely, safe tourist suburb with a beach that is to die for, and the nightlife is absolutely vibrant. Passing through Rio just isn’t enough – plan to stay for a while.