Tag Archives: Guides & Hints for South America

6 Useful Tips for Travelling with a Bus in South America

Introduction

Travelling by bus is the common way to travel in South America. I travelled only by bus and once by plane. Here are some general tips and hints. Yet, there is sometimes a huge difference between the buses in different countries depening on their development stage and/or tourism level. Thus, I added an additional post about the different countries, we know about: Travelling by Bus in South America – Different Countries

Know what you need on the ride and get it beforehand

Usually a bus ride takes about 5-15 hours, so it is good to know what you need beforehand. I always bring some food and water. Most trips include a breakfast, food and drinks, but this could be a cookie with a small cup of tea, which might not be enough. Check out the package list for convenience and safety, about what you should definitely bring.

The travelling outfit

Usually, when I board a bus I put my most practical and worst clothes on. First, practical means good and many pockets (deep, ideally with zippers or another way to close them) on my trousers and comfortable. I have a special trouser in greenish, with many pockets and I can detach the legs of with zippers to make it medium or very short. Second, worst clothes, well usually you are rich compared to the locals, thus I prefer to look more like a poor traveller than a rich one.

Should you keep your valuables with you or in the cargo bay – short checklist

First of all, in South America it is quite common that you need your passport / ID card even within the borders of one and the same country. Thus, when travelling with a bus I recommend to keep your passport always with you.

-Do you travel alone? Yes, 1 point for the cargo bay.
-Do you travel with another person or a group that you trust and keeps an eye on your stuff too? Yes, 2 points for keeping it with you in the bus.
-Is it a long ride? Yes, 1 point for the cargoy bay.
-Are you tired or do you fall fast asleep? Yes, 2 points for the cargo bay.

-Do you have the possibility to really secure your stuff in the bus, e.g., small backpack with lock and a chain to mount it to your place? Yes, 3 points for keeping it with you in the bus.
-Do you travel with a secure bus company with strong regulations special staff, vouchers, etc.? (Like the first class of the Cruz del Sur fleet in Peru? Yes, 5 points for the cargo bay.
-You like peace of mind, while sitting in the bus and tired of watching your stuff? Yes, 3 points for the cargo bay.

In my case, I nearly always put a vast amount of my valuables in the backpack that was stored in the cargo bay.

Know what you should take with you in the bus

Well, check what you need, then what you want and then what you could need.
My list is as follows:
-Something to drink
-Something to eat
-Hygenie stuff
-Something to entertain me (book(s), mp3player)
-My Camera

To get some ideas about what you should have with you, check out: The package list for convenience and safety and 7 Things every Backpacker should have in his Backpack.

Check and/or determine where they put your backpack

This is necessary if you are travelling with a bus that carries liquids or stuff that can run out. If they put your backpack below a bag of eggs and these eggs break, well bad luck. I heard from some travellers that insisted that their backpacks are put on the top of the bus to avoid such situations. Personally I think this is only necessary in a very few occassions. If you want to be on the safe side you can always put your rain gear around your backpack everytime it is stored in the bus.

Watch your stuff

Watch your stuff before it it stored in the bus.
Watch your stuff while you are in the bus.

Depending on the security level also watch it after it was stored in the bus AND everytime the bus stops. (I only did this in Bolivia). In Peru, Chile and Argentina I always got vouchers for my stuff and they bus stops and service was quite organized, thus after I gave them my backpack I was pretty sure that it is safe and it was always. In Argentina I once forgot my hat, while changing a bus and then they asked who forgot it. Wow, I was pretty amazed about that.
Yet, in Bolivia the service and security is quite different – also depening on the bus company – there I always watched my stuff, right before the moment we took off and at every stop we took a look at the cargo bay. Sometimes even leaving the bus.

Further information for your pocket

I would highly recommend you to get some books about traveling in South America for your trip that you can read while on the bus. I prefer the Lonely Planet, cause it’s structured to get the most important information fast. It is ideal to skim or read in the bus or whatever vehicle you are traveling.

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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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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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7 Hints for Exploring South America on a Tight Budget

In order to get most bang for your buck, you can use many different ways. Depending on your needs, personality and plans, you might extend your trip or ability to choose more interesting tours.

Here are my best tips:
1) Compare prices, some people will try to get more money from you, than it is worth. Thus, you should always try to bargain a bit. If possible try to get some comparing prices, this works best on big markets, since most of the products are the same. (See Bargaining for further information.) Ask natives or experienced travelers, where to save money or what is an appropriate price. Some people are just good in getting more for their money. Watch and learn.

2) Look out for good opportunities and team up, most of the time you can save money by grouping with other people. Taking a rented car alone is quite expensive with another person you pay the half price..

3) Save money regular – yet recurring – things like taxis and food. South America is full of good restaurants. It is more common to eat in a restaurant/cafe in South America, cause it is cheaper and sometimes having a kitchen of your own (a friend from Peru told me that.) Yet, these people don’t eat in tourist restaurants ;) Another way is to cook for yourself, since some hostels provide a kitchen for free. Ask for the dish of the day (“plato del dia”) in restaurants.

4) “Work” at a youth hostel. This depends on the country, in Peru it is quite easy to get a job at a youth hostel. Depending on the hostel, you can get accommodation for free, lowered prices on products and tours (no commission), free bed and some other stuff. In Arequipa I lived with 1-3 bucks a day.

5) Don’t do stupid things. Be careful, leave your valuables in a safe place, especially when going out. Thus, you lower the chance of losing money and getting things stolen from you. Even if you don’t plan to get drunk, it is always wise to keep a limited amount of valuables with you. I have seen people go out with their credit card, even though you can’t pay with it most of the times. Take a youth hostel with a locker and lock all your valuable stuff up.

6) Wait with buying souvenirs til the end of your trip. Very few things are unique in South America if it comes to products.

7) Have a plan (or at least an idea) on what you really want to do and where you want to go. Zig-Zagging over South America is pretty easy and can be awesome, but it might lay heavy on your budget. Taking a bus cross country is pretty cheap related to the traveling distance, yet it sums up pretty fast. Also you might regret spending money on “nice” tours, which are not that great.

I also recommend to take a look at the more general 6 Tips on How to Avoid Unexpected Spending On the Road from the Art of Backpacking Blog.

Enjoy your trip and please send me your best tips!

Further Information on about keeping your budget low

The following books all contain special information for several places, also including information about value and price. They are organized and written especially for backpacking. Thus, you can easily read them while you sit on the plane, bus, train, etc.

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