Category Archives: Guides & Hints for South America

Guides & hints for your travelling pleasure.

Travelling by Bus in South America – Different Countries

Introduction

This is an addition to the post: 6 Useful Tips for Travelling with a Bus in South America.

Buses in Perú

In Perú I mostly travelled with Cruz del Sur. It is more like travelling with an airplane than a bus ride from the organization and safety features. At least if you take the first two classes. I travelled with all three classes, between the first (Cruzero) and second class (Imperial) there is only a slight difference. The third class (Ideal) is also really good, but it depends where you travelled before and what you want. The first two classes do non-stop travel (with on-board breakfast/lunch/dinner), thus you don’t even have to think about your backpack on the whole ride.
I only travelled with Cruz del Sur in Perú, thus I don’t know anything about the other companies. I heard that Cruz del Sur is overrated, but this was from a female backpacker who travelled Bolivia on her own for a few weeks, thus she was well experienced and hardend than most other backpackers out there.
Note, when you travel with the first two classes of Cruz del Sur that the passengers are mostly higher middle-to-upper class Peruvians and tourists.

Buses in Chile and Argentina

Good quality, good service and secure. It is the common way to travel for most people in these countries and it is also quite cheap for them. In Argentina have a bit of tip ready for the person who takes out the backpack of the bus and checks your voucher. I think 0,25 to 0,50 Pesos were common, just take a look what the other people give him.

Buses in Bolivia

Bolivia is always a great adventure and so are the buses and the roads. The buses are not really comfortable, cleanliness is limited and I watched my stuff very closely. Especially, since the country is very poor and I am really rich compared to nearly everyone there. I always boarded the bus after I took a look, where my backpack was stored and that most other people boarded the bus. Also I couldn’t determine a difference between most bus companies in less touristic areas. Only in Salar de Uyuni there are one or two special agencies that provide high quality buses, I don’t know the names but it is quite easy to find them.
Another thing, the leaving times are quite strange. When I was in Tupiza (Southern Bolivia), I needed a ride from there to Sucre, well all companies were leaving at the same time to Sucre and they did it only once a day!? Thus, it is better to check beforehand. Don’t assume – like I did – that they each company leaves at another time.

Further Information

For further information about traveling with a bus or specific routes, I would recommend the following books. These are made by backpackers for backpackers and contain loads of information in a well organized manner. I can highly recommend them.

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7 Things every Backpacker should have in his Backpack

Backpack San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) These are the 7 things you should have with you on a backpacking trip:

Rain-wear for you and your backpack

In case it gets rainy or you have to put your backpack somewhere that you don’t consider “dry enough”.

Additional money in a hard currency

I always have some USD and EURos hidden somewhere in my backpack and/or clothes, which I don’t use for “daily payment”. This is for several reasons. First, it can be considered a hard currency, thus (nearly) everyone takes it. Second, in case of emergency you have something left in order to get out of harms way (fast transport, secure place, good doctor, etc.). Third, peace of mind, I never ever used it, so far.

Additional small backpack/rucksack/handbag

I use this for several things. When travelling on the bus, the backpack is stored in the “cargo bay”, thus I put my food, books, etc. in my small rucksack. While exploring a city, I use it to put in my camera, food and a map. Also it is great for shopping. There are many more situations, where you don’t want to run around with your big backpack or where it is inaccessible.

Some padlocks

For safety, security and peace of mind. One of the first thing I do in a hostel is: I get a locker, put all valuable stuff in it and lock it. I recommend having a small, medium and a big padlock. Since every hostel has different lockers. Also you can lock your backpack or other equipment too, if you like, I don’t. They are cheap, small and extremely practical.

First aid kit

A first aid kit while travelling can save your day. Its mostly to treat inconveniences and slight “injuries” fast and effective. Some patches, some stuff for your digestion and an anti-infective agent. Check my package list for safety and convenience for hints about other things you should put in.

Extra food and some water

Especially on long trips you should always have some extra food and water with you. The bus could break down, a road block could force a delay, etc. Also you can share it with fellow backpackers and/or natives.

Something to entertain you

This could be anything a live-journal, a book, a MacBook, a mp3player etc. While travelling you will wait for transport, being in transit or sometimes you just want to have a “break” from all the adventures and cultures. Then you want something familiar from “home” or just something that helps you to relax. I stick to books and mp3s. In case, it is something expensive: be aware that you can use it appropriately – I would not get out a MacBook in a Bolivian bus, cause it could be the value of all other passengers yearly salary summed up…
If you are looking for good book suggestions check out Books to Read while Traveling from The Art of Backpacking.

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Youth Hostels – Checklist: Requirements and Questions

Here is my simple checklist of the most important aspects of a youth hostel. There are requirements and questions to ask myself before choosing one.

Requirements for a youth hostel

  • Own (free) secure locker – for safety and peace of mind: credit card, camera, mp3 player, keys, money, etc.
  • Warm water
  • Staff – authentic, honest and experienced

Questions for deciding on a youth hostel

  • Location – How far is the city center? How far is the bus station?
  • Duration – How long will I stay there ideally?
  • Price – important or not? What I am willing to pay for x?
  • Mentality and offers – Do I want to relax or party? Do I want to do “canned” tours or explore on my own? With whom I wanna hang out?
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5 Things I learned while Backpacking

While travelling I learned a lot, some epiphanies came instantly others took a while til they settled. Anyway, sometimes your brain works faster than you think ;)
Here are 5 things that I learned while backpacking that are of general interest.

1) Appreciation of small things

While backpacking you can’t rely on many things, thus I quickly knew what I missed and what was of lesser importance or even completely irrelevant. Also it showed me what I am able to endure (in most cases it merely reminded me, since I had a rough time in bootcamp during national service). This makes common things like warm water, a decent bed or a warm meal even more enjoyable, since you learned that not everything is that common every-time and everywhere.

2) Key factors for well-being and peace of mind

Additionally, I found out all the small and big things that are really important for my well-being and/or peace of mind. Note that everybody is different: I know people that need a lot of space, but care less about privacy, whereas I prefer privacy over space. Such things can be very valuable later on, when you search for a new flat or thinking about moving in.

3) Experience is King – don’t believe every bullshit they tell you

I always thought that the South America is a dangerous place, well so is my neighbourhood or isn’t it? Of course it is sometimes and somewhere, also I may have been lucky – sometimes I was for sure. I have also been scared about going into Bolivia. Then one day before entering a met a girl from Germany and she had travelled through Bolivia for a few weeks on her own without any problems – I felt like a real pussy then. A few days before I met two girls from Ireland who told me that my beloved Arequipa was dangerous! I spent about four weeks in Arequipa the year before, going out, exploring the down on my own, walking in various areas and taking photos all over the different places. Of course there are dangerous places there, but there are also ones in Berlin, Vienna, London, New York, Hamburg, …
Sometimes it is better to ignore the bullshit people telling you, sometimes it is better to ignore the bullshit you tell yourself – challenge your assumptions and be careful while you do it.

4) Monitoring and managing “emotional energy”

One thing what was pretty tough for me and took me a while til I figured it out, was my ability to monitor and maintain my “emotional energy level”. I worked as a bar manager in a hostel for 3 weeks, since I don’t drink alcohol I could afford to join my customers into the downtown nearly every night. We had a great time, sharing the best stories, dancing, shouting and then suddenly your new best friends were gone to the next city. Yet, we just developed a quite deep connection. This costed me quite a bit of energy, I wasn’t used to that, thus after a few weeks I don’t wanted to meet new people, yet I didn’t know it consciously. Something was just not feeling right. Later on, I understood and now I know when it is time to go on my own. Lately, this was really practical after I visited two intense one-week seminars in one month and joined a small company with about 50 employees. I knew that I had to get a bit more privacy than usual to balance my “emotional energy level”.

5) Learning about my own country and people

While I was travelling through South America I learned to appreciate the fact that we have 4 different seasons in Austria. We have hot summers and freezing winters, we have a beautiful spring time and the rainy fall. In some countries these seasons are way less clear or don’t even exist. Also I learned factors that are important, when it comes to economics. A taxi in Austria is really expensive, whereas in Peru it is common for most people to use one. Well, since public transportation and private cars in Peru are very uncommon, taxis are common. Things that are totally counter-intuitive provided me with a new understanding of certain situations, when I got the big picture.

This helped in many areas from the debating club to marketing, cause I know that the situation in my country is based on other assumptions that may not exist somewhere else. Hence, I can question these common assumptions or take into account the factors that are prevalent somewhere else, but nobody thinks about at home.

What are your epiphanies and experiences, feel free to leave a comment or two ;)

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Exploring – Discovering the Nature of a Place

One of my favorite acitivities is “exploring”. Basically, I take a camera and a map, then I head down the road from the place I stay. I take a look, which direction looks promising and then I start walking, looking and ENJOYING. At every corner and crossroad I listen to my hunches if I wanna go somewhere else or might this be good occassion for a great picture? Time to explore that store? Find out what this building over there is? The freedom to choose. Just to it! (A word of caution beware of too dangerous places. I only had one more or less dangerous situation, but I got out of it without a sratch or giving away a penny.)

This approach is one of the most natural ways to create an immunity against the dangerous backpacker disease called Monumentitis ;)

Monumentitis (n.) the condition caused by repeated exposure to the cultural and historical artifacts of a place one is visiting; usually accompanied by sore feet, sweaty armpits, and a generally unpleasant attitude.

It is amazing what you can learn on such a trip about a district, city or even country. No guide, no pre-canned lines, no tourist areas, just real life, real people and real situations. I love to get hands on the “real thing”, for me culture is not about museums, famous monuments or historic places. It is about the behavior and customs of everyone around. How do you give tip in Peru? Is it “ok” to bring friends to party in Argentina without asking? Where are the rich parts of the town? Where do the taxi drivers wash their cars? etc. etc.

When I am tired or finished I take out the map and try to find my way home or just call a taxi. Also I recommend to ask some experienced people, which places are safe. Yet, I often landed in not so safe places anyway, but I am pretty cautious and high alert.

Stuff to bring:

  • map + address of your residence
  • camera (for me this is crucial cause I take a closer look, if I am on photo tour)
  • water and maybe some food

I also used this “technique” i my hometown. is also applyable to your own hometown! I tried it out, it’s great!

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