Without trying to discourage people from visiting South America or imposing unwritten rules, travelers often make the same mistakes and it can really hinder their holidays. If you are planning a trip keep these five things in mind.
Do Not Try to Visit Too Many Places
Many people underestimate the size of South America and want to fit 3-4 countries into a 10-14 day vacation. It is easy to do this in Europe where countries are small and close to each other.
In South America, it is possible but it means taking a lot of flights and rushing around. Just look at a map of the world and you will see the size of South America relative to Europe.
In fact, Brazil and Argentina alone are some of the biggest countries in the world. Take it slow and stick to one or two countries and you will have a better time.
Do Not Overpack
If it is your first time traveling to a region it can be intimidating, will they have good shampoo and conditioner at the hotel? Is it possible to get medication? What if it rains during the dry season?
Most people then pack for all possibilities and then are surprised to see many of the household brands they see in North America are also sold in South America and that it is possible to buy an umbrella, extra sweater or socks at a much better price. If you are carrying a backpack you do not need all the extra weight in your bag, go light and if you are missing something it is quite likely you will be able to pick it up.
Be Prepared for a Different Sense of Time
If you have traveled through the Caribbean or other destinations, you have heard of "island time." This exists to some extent in different areas of South America as not everyone believes in rushing around and often does not consider it an insult to be a bit late.
Be flexible with your plans and add some extra time to appointments so you are not stressed out if people do not arrive on time. The nice thing is that if you are late, most people will not notice.
Do Not Ask Where to Buy Drugs or Buy Any in South America
Unfortunately, there are some travelers who come to South America looking for drugs on their holidays. It is a very sensitive topic in countries like Colombia, which have a sordid history and it was once the source of many problems for the country.
Just like Canada or the United States, it is possible to buy drugs in South America but it is illegal. In Ecuador alone, the minimum jail time is seven years. You will also risk offending people or getting involved with people who could put you in danger. It is best to stay away from it and enjoy the true value of the region.
Keep an Eye on Your Valuables
It is unfortunate but having items stolen is a possibility in South America, especially in larger cities like Rio de Janeiro, Quito and Buenos Aires. If you are carrying a purse it is best to keep the strap across your torso, never put it on the ground or on the back of your chair. Some people make their living from stealing from tourists and have become experts on how to steal quickly.
Kind locals will often tell you not to take your camera out if you are in a place where theft is common but it is best to just keep an eye out. Most importantly if you have an iPhone or any other smartphone, do not use it in the street. A thief can make a lot of money selling an iPhone, in fact in Buenos Aires it is common for people to have two phones, one cheap version they use in the street and another they use behind closed doors.
Bonus Tip: Do Not Be Afraid, Just Smile and Have Fun
South Americans are very gracious hosts. If you do not speak Spanish do not worry, everyone understands a smile and many are happy to help through hand gestures. It is important to be safe but it is more important to relax and have fun during your holiday.