A Gap Year in South America

Advice for travelling in South America

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Why go backpacking in South America?

Do you like your journeys hot, hot, hot and packed with jaw-dropping scenery, exultant nightlife, a rich blend of cultures, delicious dining, spectacular beaches, and exotic wildlife? You don’t? We don’t believe you! South America is the continent you need in your life.
Relatively few countries make up South America, but there’s still a frankly ludicrous amount of places to visit. The most popular destination is Brazil, from the party city of Rio de Janeiro overseen by the iconic Christ the Redeemer, to bustling Brasilia and the superlative Sao Paulo, down south to the rugged landscapes of the Amazon basin.

From there you can travel to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and more, tailoring your gap year adventure to suit you. If you’re after wonders of the world, there’s Machu Picchu in Peru, a 15th-century Inca fortress at the top of a mountain. If you want to lie on the beach by day and party by night head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where there’s no place for inhibitions.

If you want somewhere relatively untouched by tourists there’s Guyana to the north. If you want a ridiculous range of postcard scenery you might never leave Argentina, with its mountains and glaciers and forests. If you want to fill your backpacking quest with wildlife you can visit megadiverse Venezuela.

We could go on, but you probably get the idea. South America should be part of any gap year itinerary, and we’re here to help you make that happen.

Tours in South America

South America tours

South America is an incredible continent with a mind-boggling array of natural and cultural wonders. With so much to do, it can be a little daunting figuring out how to see all the best bits, knowing you’re not missing anything important.

With that in mind, a great option for travelling in South America is to do so on a guided tour. You’ll share the experience with like-minded people, have an expert leading the way, and you’ll be able to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Best experiences in South America right now

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Panoramic Peru

from £1335

11 days

Experience everything Peru has to offer, from ancient Inca ruins to delicious Pisco Sours. For an intro to Peru, this...

Colombian Adventure Cartagena to Lima

from £1895

39 days

Experience the flavours, curiosities and contradictions of these three fascinating South American countries.

Southern Trans Oceanic Quito to Rio via Buenos Aires

from £2475

69 days

Explore the Amazon Jungle, Hike the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, view the stunning Iguazu Falls and spend time...

Kingdoms & Carnivals

from £3545

84 - 105 days

An adventure for anyone yearning for an awesome road trip around South America’s most famous sites and undiscovered corners, from...

Inca Trail Trek

from £580

4 days

Embark on a unique trek to discover for yourself the amazing Machu Picchu ruins of the Inca empire, a mystical...

Andes and Amazon Quito to La Paz

from £1750

37 days

Experience the Amazon rainforest at first-hand in a jungle lodge, follow the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, stay overnight with...

South America Coast to Coast via Patagonia

from £1895

51 days

Join our expedition truck through some of South America's most spectacular National Parks, the vast wilderness of Patagonia, Iguazu Falls...

Working in South America

South America jobs

A common source of paid work in South America is teaching English. This is a great way to bolster your budget and add some fantastic experience to your CV. For most teaching jobs you’ll need a TEFL qualification, which is usually gained before you jet out. You’re also generally expected to hold a degree.

There are some schools that will waive these requirements, but these are often low-paying, disorganised, or dishonest, and you risk not having a good experience.

There are other working options such as farming or sports coaching, but these will be harder to come across as there isn’t a shortage of workers in South America.

Working holidays in South America

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Psychology Internships in Peru

from £585

28 - 168 days

Based in the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, affordable internships in Cusco offer something for everyone!

Journalism & Media in Colombia

from £2472

42 - 180 days

Take the chance to develop your professional skills and explore the vibrant culture of Colombia.

Intern in Business in Chile

from £4800

40 - 182 days

Chile is one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies, and the perfect country to gain international experience in. Make global...

Intern in Journalism in Chile

from £4800

40 - 180 days

Get ahead in the competitive world of journalism and media by pursuing an internship in Chile. Launch your career while...

Midwifery Internships in Peru

from £585

28 - 168 days

Based in the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, affordable internships in Cusco offer something for everyone!

Intern in Entrepreneurship in Chile

from £4800

40 - 180 days

Learn from successful entrepreneurs in one of the most important cities in Latin America. Launch your career while discovering Chile.

Medical Internship in Buenos Aires

from £459

7 days

A medical project open to individuals with varied experience, giving interns the opportunity to learn whilst offering quality and essential...

NGO Support Internships in Peru

from £690

35 - 168 days

Based in the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, affordable internships in Cusco offer something for everyone!

PR & Marketing in South America

from £2700

180 days

Launch your career in one of Latin America’s leading cities. Learn from experienced PR & Marketing professionals while exploring the...

Youth Development & Education Internships in Peru

from £395

14 - 168 days

Based in the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, affordable internships in Cusco offer something for everyone!

Volunteering in South America

Volunteer placements

If you’re looking to volunteer on your gap year, South America is an ideal destination, the Amazon Rainforest and Caribbean coastline playing host to some of the world’s leading conservation programs.

A great deal of volunteer work in South America involves wildlife and conservation, and there’s a huge variety on offer. You can protect habitats in the Amazon, help baby turtles find their way to the ocean in Guyana, work with endangered species in wildlife reserves, and a whole lot more. There are few better places on the planet to visit if you want to volunteer with animals.

There are other options too, often involving teaching and working with children or the disabled.

As with any volunteering project anywhere in the world you should think carefully about your natural interests, strengths, and weaknesses before committing to anything. These placements are usually a lot of hard work – part of what can make them such a great experience.

Volunteer opportunities in South America

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Volunteer in Medical in Peru

from £270

7 - 168 days

Volunteer on the Medical volunteer project in Peru. Located in Cusco.

Volunteer and Explore Peru

from £2525

42 - 70 days

Program includes contributing to the lives of several different indigenous communities, white water rafting, trekking to Machu Picchu and exploring...

Children’s Day Care in Peru

from £675

14 days

Work alongside the local nursery teachers and run exciting activities with children in the beautiful city of Arequipa.

Community Education in Peru

from £625

14 - 84 days

Join a community initiative providing educational support to children from low income families in the beautiful mountainous town of Huaraz.

Teach & Learn Spanish in Chile

from £3315

84 days

Make the most of your chance to travel and head to the far reaches of South America. Get immersed in...

Jungle Conservation in Peru

from £203

7 - 168 days

Based in the middle of the Amazon rain forest volunteers on the Peru, Cusco program assist local biologists with research,...

Monkey Rescue & Rehabilitation

from £1200

7 - 30 days

Rescue, rehabilitate and eventually release the monkeys back into the wild, so that they are self-sufficient. You'll assist in helping...

Conservation Work on the Galapagos

from £970

7 - 21 days

Help to preserve one of the most unique and fascinating islands in the world. This is a great programme for...

Wildlife Volunteering in Ecuador

from £895

14 - 84 days

Make a difference by volunteering to help over 200 rescued animals at an inspiring centre located on the edge of...

Volunteer with Monkeys in Ecuador

from £809

14 - 84 days

Help out at a primate rescue centre located on the edge of the Amazon rainforest!

Budget accommodation in South America

Accommodation

You should rarely have trouble finding accommodation in South America on your gap year, though the quality and cost can vary significantly depending on where you are on the continent.

More developed nations like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, are likely to be the most expensive, although still generally cheaper than you would pay in Europe. In less developed countries like Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, you can get by on a much tighter budget. In smaller countries like Guyana and Suriname it can sometimes prove a bit trickier to secure accommodation.

Finding & booking

It’s usually a good idea to pre-book accommodation in South America whenever possible. If you’re following established tourist trails this is generally less necessary, but be aware that at certain times of the year hostels on these routes can be very busy. In big cities like Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires this is less likely to be an issue.

Types of accommodation

The kinds of accommodation you find in South America will largely depend on where you travel. More developed countries like Brazil and Argentina will have a wide range, from luxury hotels down to pokey hostels, so you’ll almost always find something to suit your budget. You can also arrange homestays and find guest houses in more popular tourist areas.

Countries like Bolivia and Peru are less developed but so popular with travellers that there’s plenty of hostels to choose from, though generally fewer nicer hotels. Still, wherever you stay here, it’s likely to be nice and cheap.

Small countries like Guyana and Suriname can be more troublesome, especially if you’re visiting more rural areas. There are hotels and hostels, but not in the abundance you’ll find elsewhere. We recommend planning ahead if you’re visiting these countries.

Visit the coast in countries like Chile and Colombia and you’ll often find you can rent a beach hut right on the sand. They’ll be more expensive than regular accommodation, but worth it for such a perfect slice of paradise.

Getting to South America

Travelling to South America

The best way to travel to South America from overseas is to fly. The amount of international flights into the continent has greatly increased in recent years, and most backpackers arrive in Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires and go from there.

Some countries in South America like Paraguay and Suriname can still be difficult to reach, often requiring you to fly somewhere close by and travel overland.

It’s surprisingly difficult to get into South America overland, as the only way to do so is from Central America. There are no roads or railways that connect Panama to Colombia, though it is possible to ship your car over by ferry if you’re feeling particularly determined.

It’s possible to take a ferry or cruise liner from the lower Caribbean into South America, although this is rarely a cheap option. The same can be said for coming down from North or Central America – these trips are usually pleasure cruises rather than pure transport.

Getting around South America?

Transport in South America

Transport in South America is fairly extensive and easy to use, whether your backpacking tour is taking you far afield or if you’re only travelling locally. There’s good tourist infrastructure in place, so it’s usually easy to reach even the most remote areas (though you might pay more for the privilege).

By plane

If you’re sticking to a strict itinerary it’s often a good idea to use domestic or other short distance flights between destinations, as overland travel in South America can be time consuming. However flights between countries in South America can be expensive compared to domestic flights. This means it’s sometimes cheaper to fly to the border city of one country, cross the border on the ground, and then take another flight to your final destination.

Make sure to check out visa requirements before travelling.

It’s usually easy to get reasonably cheap flights between major cities within a country. Exercise caution when it comes to using really low-cost regional airlines, as some of these have less than stellar safety records.

By train and bus

Railways in South America are not as extensive as elsewhere in the world. In fact there are no cross-country train services at all on the continent.

The more developed countries like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil have reasonable domestic networks that generally connect regional capitals, and these can be a good option if you’re travelling on a budget. Other countries like Bolivia only have trains on very specific routes, some of which are scenic routes designed just for travellers.

If you’re looking to travel overland in South America, using buses is definitely your best option. There are numerous bus companies that will take you all over the continent, and usually for a very reasonable price. Of course these journeys can take a long time, so for longer distances you should consider flying.

By car

The quality of roads in South America varies enormously. In more developed countries there are good road networks, whereas in countries like Bolivia and Guyana you’ll often find roads in disrepair, or get stuck with unpaved tracks. We generally don’t recommend driving in South America if you can help it.

Taxi drivers in South American will often try and overcharge you. To avoid this it can be worth asking around to get an idea of what you should be paying for a given journey. Unfortunately there aren’t really regulations about meters like you often find elsewhere. Agreeing a price before travelling is often a wise move.

As for safety, in bigger cities taxis can actually be a safer option late at night than taking the bus or walking. If you’re unsure about the safety of taxis in your area, visit the local tourist office.

What visas do I need for South America?

What visas do I need for South America?

There is pleasingly little to say about visa requirements in South America, as the majority of travellers simply won’t need one if you’re just visiting.

Brazil and Peru are a little stricter than others, but if you’re coming from anywhere in the EU or North America, you won’t have a problem. If you hail from elsewhere in the world you should check ahead of time if you’ll need to acquire a visa.

Citizens of Australia, Canada, and the USA will have to pay a fee of around USD100 to enter Argentina. This can be paid upon arrival.

Simple, eh?

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