415-549-8049 REQUEST A QUOTE
Journal HomeOur PurposeThe EssentialsDig DeeperThe Great Inca Trail

6 tips for a smooth trip to South America

The team at SA Expeditions has racked up decades of South American travel experiences. Follow these simple pointers to ensure your trip is everything you hoped it would be.

You probably already know that Latin America is blessed with evocative cultures, fascinating archeology, and breathtaking landscapes. What you might not realize is that – provided you pack a pinch of common sense in your luggage – traveling there is a breeze, especially if you’ve got SA Expeditions on your side. Follow these straightforward steps to ensure you remember your trip for the right reasons.

Documents and admin

As is always the case, you’ll need to have six months validity on your passport to travel to South America. Visa requirements vary depending on your nationality and the countries you plan to visit. As of May 2021, US and Canadian citizens do not need to pre-arrange visas for any of the countries SA Expeditions regularly travels to, and Bolivia is currently the only country that charges a visa entry fee (upon arrival).

You wouldn't want to miss the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. (Photo: Peter Conlan)

24-hour support line

SA Expeditions operates a 24-hour support line for all our travelers. You can call us 24/7 on our US line: 1.415.513.5734. This number also receives text messages, and it is listed at the bottom of each page of your travel program and in our email signatures, but we’d advise saving it to your phone. On that note, we’d also advise enabling roaming on your phone – it’s getting cheaper every year and it’s super helpful.

In case you’re not set up for international calls, you’ll be sent a local number each time you arrive in a new country. Either way, please discuss your calling capabilities with your Destination Expert before you leave so we know how best to reach you during your travels.

Sunset behind the moai statues of Easter Island in Chile. (Photo: Thomas Griggs)

Travel insurance

We cannot overstress the importance of a good travel insurance policy. You’re making a significant investment in exploration and you have options to safeguard it. You just never know when a death in the family, a delayed flight, or any other uncontrollable situation may get in the way of your trip – either before you leave home or once you’re already in South America.

There are many great travel insurance companies out there, and most now offer optional coverage for Covid-19 related illness. We suggest reviewing the varied plan offerings with the insurance companies directly. Bear in mind that you typically need to purchase travel insurance within two weeks of making your trip deposit for pre-existing conditions to be covered.

Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the modern world and South America's top tourist destination. (Photo: Tom Cleary) 

Health precautions

Health is, understandably, at the forefront of every traveler's mind at the moment. For the most up-to-date entry requirements for the countries you'll be visiting on your custom itinerary, please speak with your Destination Expert. For an overview of which countries require testing, and which countries allow no-test entry for vaccinated travel, our Countries Open for North American Travelers post provides a comprehensive summary. It's also always a good idea to familiarize yourself with our Safety & Flexibility pledge - our enhanced security guidelines are designed with our travelers' well-being in mind.

When it comes to the law, each country has its own non-Covid-related immunization requirements, so please check with the appropriate consulate or embassy for up-to-date info. Some airlines ask you to show a Yellow Fever immunization card if you’re traveling to multiple countries within South America (for example from Brazil to Ecuador or Colombia, from Peru to Costa Rica, or from Peru to Guyana) – please confirm with your airline prior to departure to determine if this rule applies to you.

We’d strongly advise drinking only bottled water during your stay in South America (or bringing a refillable canteen / CamelBak – most hotels and many restaurants provide filtered water). Bug repellant is another must – unless you’ll be staying at high altitude, where very few nasties seem to be able to survive!

Markets are the perfect place to get fresh fruits and meet the locals. (Photo: Lesly Derksen)

On that note, if you’re traveling to altitude, please take it easy both the day before you arrive at altitude and immediately after you arrive. Drink plenty of fluids, eat light, and limit alcohol consumption. If you have had altitude issues in the past, or if you suffer from any underlying health concerns such as high blood pressure, consult with your doctor or travel clinic about whether taking Acetazolamide or Diamox is recommended. If you plan on trekking at high altitude, be realistic about your fitness levels – in some cases it might be a wise idea to opt for a lower-altitude trek.

Please let your guides know if you have any special dietary requirements and/or any kind of physical condition or ongoing medical attention we should be aware of. Please note that advanced medical services/facilities may not always be easily reached during some parts of your trip.

Sunbathing at Ipanema beach is one of the highlights of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo: Joao Pedro Vergara)

Safety tips

All SA Expeditions itineraries are designed with your safety top of mind, and our guides live by the same mantra. To safeguard against petty theft and ensure a smooth and worry-free trip, we suggest taking the same precautions you would in any large city. Don’t leave your items unattended or venture into deserted areas (especially after dark), limit flashy clothing and jewelry, and keep personal items (i.e. purses, cameras, phones) zipped shut and either strapped around you or in your front pocket.

Key travel items such as passports, tickets and surplus cash, should be left in your hotel safe while on day tours (use a money belt the rest of the time). Either way, it’s a good idea to carry photocopies of your passport and bring two forms of photo ID (and to back all this stuff up on the cloud). Also be sure to back up all your photos and videos – you can always buy a new camera, but memories cannot be replaced.

Our itineraries include almost all of your transfers, but you may occasionally need to take a taxi. Reputable taxi companies and ride-hailing apps vary from country to country, but a good rule of thumb is to always call ahead for a taxi as opposed to hailing one on the street. If you’re going out for dinner, get your hotel to call a taxi on the way out and ask your restaurant to arrange your return taxi.

Dusting off the crampons on Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina. (Photo: Margo Brodowicz)

Practical stuff

Aside from Ecuador, which has a pretty similar electricity setup to the USA (and Brazil which has both 110V and 220V outlets!), all the countries we regularly travel to operate on 220V. Anything that uses a charger, such as phones, laptops, and cameras, can generally withstand the higher voltage, but appliances which plug directly into the wall (a hairdryer for example) are much more volatile. When it comes to sockets you’ll generally be able to get away with US plug fittings, especially in high-end hotels where 110V and 220V outlets are both often found together in bathrooms – apart from in Brazil and Argentina, which tend to use European outlets. That said, a universal travel adapter is never a bad investment.

Please do not pack any valuable items in your checked bags. We’d also recommend using a small padlock on checked baggage. If you’re on a hiking trip, we suggest you carry or wear your boots on the flights to make sure you have them in case your baggage is delayed. Please always remember to carry a good supply of your prescribed medications in your hand luggage.

If you’re a seasoned traveler you probably knew most of this stuff already. But as they say in Peru, it’s always a good idea to ponerse las pilas! (Have your wits about you, or, literally "put the batteries in.")


From the mythical heights of Machu Picchu to the living biology lab that is the Galapagos Islands; the sassy beaches of Rio to the evocative boulevards of Buenos Aires, South America is chock-a-block with big-ticket destinations. But what many people don’t realize is that it’s also an exceptionally fun, rewarding, and uplifting spot to travel in. Contact one of our South America Destination Experts to make it happen.


Facebook FOLLOW Instagram FOLLOW