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How to Plan a Trip to South America: Frequently Asked Questions

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Woman in traditional costume in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Your interest in a trip to South America can elicit questions and this list of those frequently asked can help you get started on creating your unforgettable trip.

South America is an immersion into nature’s wonder and vibrant cultures, bustling metropolises and hidden Andean villages. Whether visiting a single country or multiple destinations, you can find incredible cuisine, remarkable wines, and traditions connected to land and sea.

From stunning vineyards to glistening glaciers, untouched tropical islands to the winding waters of the Amazon River, South America, with its traditional heritage and contemporary culture, is always enticing.

  1. When is the best time to visit South America?
  2. How many days should I spend in South America?
  3. Should I go to one country or travel to several?
  4. What are the most popular destinations in South America?
  5. What should I do on my trip to South America?
  6. Does South America have good beaches?
  7. Is South America a good place for hiking?
  8. Where can I see wildlife in South America?
  9. How do I travel around South America?
  10. Is South America a good destination for families?
  11. Is South America suitable for senior travelers?
  12. Is South America suitable for couples or honeymooners?
  13. Is South America a good place for wine?
  14. What food should I try in South America?
  15. Is South America safe to visit?
  16. What language do they speak in South America?
  17. What vaccinations do I need to travel to South America?
  18. Which airports should I plan for?
  19. What currency does South America use?
  20. How can Zicasso help me plan my trip to South America?
  21. Where can I find recommended itineraries for my trip?

When is the best time to visit South America?

The best time to visit South America is from April to May or September to November. These months represent the fall and spring seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. The continent is vast, with an incredible number of microclimates and geographical regions that result in different weather patterns and changing temperatures throughout the year.

By visiting in fall or spring, you have the best opportunity to enjoy comfortable temperatures, whether you are traveling the Inca Trail in Peru, looking for the perfect beach in Colombia, or hoping for fewer crowds in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro.

The summer months of December to February are popular for visiting coastal destinations across South America, but can result in larger crowds, hot weather, and high humidity, while winter can be very cold across the southern and mountainous countries, especially in destinations like Patagonia. Autumn and spring are considered shoulder seasons across South America, making them more comfortable for any type of trip.

How many days should I spend in South America?

Fourteen days is the perfect amount of time for any trip to South America. While spending three weeks would give you more time to explore the great diversity of regional cultures and exceptional landscapes, two weeks gives you plenty of time to explore popular highlights, while indulging in hidden destinations that can take you off the beaten path.

Most travelers from the United States spend approximately 12 days in South America on a single-country trip. Depending on your destinations, 10 days is often a great amount of time to enjoy a deep dive into cultural history across two or three cities in a single country.

When visiting South America for the first time, narrowing down the exact experiences you wish to have can be difficult. A Zicasso travel specialist is here to help you find the right balance between your expectations and new discoveries based on your interests and preferred travel style.

Should I go to one country or travel to several?

Whether to visit a single country or multiple nations depends on many factors, including your time and the type of travel experience you desire. South America is a very large continent and countries are spread out.

Your immersion into a culture, local activities, and restaurants will coincide with your timeline, and while a visit to multiple neighboring countries is possible, one country in South America is a much more accommodating experience.

Working with a South America travel specialist can help you manage your time, experiences, and destinations to find those that matter most. You can also consider multi-country options with ideas in our Central & South American Tours, Argentina & Chile Tours, and Machu Picchu & Galapagos Tours.

What are the most popular destinations in South America?

From the Patagonian glaciers of Argentina and Chile to colorful Colombian villages in lush valleys, there are many breathtaking landscapes and cultural discoveries in South America. You can sail Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands to sun-kissed beaches or experience carnivals in Brazil as you explore one or more of the following best destinations to visit in South America:

Learn more: 6 Best Countries to Visit in South America

What should I do on my trip to South America?

Whether interested in Incan history across the Andes or a culinary tour of Argentina, the art of Colombia or the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, South America boasts exciting excursions and experiences. The following list highlights some of the top activities to plan for your trip:

  • Explore the Argentine and Chilean glaciers on trekking tours in Patagonia
  • Spend time with a traditional gaucho at an authentic estancia, a Latin American cattle ranch
  • Sail the seas of the Galapagos archipelago and spend time on the sun-kissed beaches
  • Relish the vibrant atmosphere of a traditional Brazilian carnival on the streets of Rio de Janeiro
  • Discover the wildlife inhabiting the flourishing Amazon Rainforest on guided tours
  • Visit colorful Colombian villages that have inspired iconic films like Encanto with the family
  • Trek the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu to see the phenomenal ancient ruins atop the towering mountains

Does South America have good beaches?

South American beaches offer something for everyone, be it snorkeling off castaway shores or relishing the vibrant atmosphere on those in coastal resort towns. You can discover unique marine creatures like blue-footed boobies in Ecuador or cruise off the Chilean coast during sunset, enjoying the sunshine on South America’s best beaches. Below, we highlight several iconic shorelines to consider:

  • Praia do Sancho, Brazil
  • Playa Roja, Peru
  • Ovahe, Chile
  • Concha, Colombia
  • Ayangue, Ecuador
  • Carilo, Argentina

Learn more: 15 Best Beaches in South America

Is South America a good place for hiking?

South America’s rolling hills, sweeping deserts, and lush rainforests offer some of the best hiking in Latin America. You can wander trails to waterfalls or walk across shrubbed plateaus, capturing cinematic photographs of the scenery, from the Atacama Desert to the Amazon Rainforest. Here are a few of the top hiking destinations in South America:

  • Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
  • Machu Picchu, Peru
  • Iguazu Falls, Argentina
  • Green Coast, Brazil
  • Cocora Valley, Colombia
  • Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador

Where can I see wildlife in South America?

The best destinations for nature and wildlife in South America are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. With a rich ecological history that embodies the spirit of evolution in real time, you can experience the world’s greatest rivers and tropical rainforests.

Whether looking for volcanic islands rumbling with the footsteps of blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises, eager to find toucans and spider monkeys in the Amazon, or interested in uncovering signs of jaguar and capybaras in the world’s largest wetlands, South America is a wonder of untamed wilderness that demonstrates the thrilling experiences you can have when immersed in the natural world.

How do I travel around South America?

The best way to see South America is with a combination of flights and private transfers.

The majority of countries on the continent are known for luxury night buses that travel long distances, but when working with a travel specialist, you can enjoy the comforts of transfers that consider your travel preferences and preferred style, in addition to your timeline.

Whether on a single-country trip or visiting two countries on the same tour, your Zicasso travel specialist will ensure your flights and private transfers are quick, easy, and comfortable for a stress-free South America tour.

Is South America a good destination for families?

Family culture is important across the countries that create the continent and your children will be warmly welcomed, whether in a large city or secluded village.

When working with a Zicasso travel specialist, you will always have a family-friendly experience and guides who understand how to balance exciting activities with educational and cultural experiences for children of all ages.

From wilderness walks in search of scarlet macaws to legends that explain the ruins of Machu Picchu, witnessing the thundering cascades of Iguazu Falls to learning about indigenous art with locals, there is plenty you can enjoy in South America with your children.

Learn more: 6 Tips for a South America Family Trip7 Family Trip Ideas for South America

Is South America suitable for senior travelers?

South America is a stunning destination for senior travelers. Each country has its own vibrant culture, with song, dance, and food expressing the unique heritage from Argentina to Ecuador. You can walk vibrant cities through antique neighborhoods and dance with tango performers to taste authentic South American traditions.

Seniors, those with mobility issues, or travelers with particular needs must consider that walking on cobblestone streets or winding through the high altitudes of the Andes for long periods may affect your trip.

An expert Zicasso travel specialist will minimize any challenges or stamina considerations you may have by ensuring a trip tailored to your desires and specific needs, further supported by local guides who can organize the flexibility of your tour according to your readiness each day.

Is South America suitable for couples or honeymooners?

South America is a continent of passion that culminates in an unforgettable ambiance of fierce romance and fiery spirit for couples or honeymooners to adore.

Whether eager to find a secluded white-sand beach on the Brazilian Fernando de Noronha archipelago or dance a seductive tango, find charm in the preserved architecture of a Spanish colonial town or indulge in a pristine panorama sweeping across Patagonia, your travel specialist will understand the right destinations for you.

Each new place will offer fresh experiences for couples who wish to combine exploration, passion, and activity. Coupled with the breathtaking romance of unique properties, exciting outdoor excursions, and the luxuries of private tours, you can carry with you the intimate and meaningful memories you create.

Is South America a good place for wine?

South America has an excellent wine culture, with Argentina and Chile standing out as some of the best wine destinations to visit in Latin America.

Zicasso travel specialists can organize private tastings or design exclusive experiences for food and wine enthusiasts across South America's famous and hidden regions. You can enjoy private cooking classes at a secluded estancia or sample internationally celebrated wines at a quiet vineyard. You can also learn more about how the local terroir informs the unique flavors of South America’s notable varietals, while discovering the wine history, production, and regional specialties from a local sommelier.

Countries across South America celebrate their unique traditions as a combination of cultures, demonstrated with established recipes that capture the spirit of heritage, family traditions, and the evolution of local and national flavors. From a multi-course meal that pairs wines with specific dishes to a private market tour with a local chef, a Zicasso travel specialist can guide you to the best experiences for you.

Learn more: Argentina Wine ToursChile Wine Tours

What food should I try in South America?

South American cuisine and culinary culture differ from country to country, yet all the food is colorful and full of flavor. You can enjoy bread spread with dulce de leche for breakfast in Argentina, savor Peruvian ceviche, or tuck into Brazilian black bean stew, feijoada. Below, we share some of the top dishes to try:

  • Argentine asado, barbecued meat
  • Dulce de leche, caramelized milk spread
  • Feijoada, Brazilian black bean stew
  • Bandeja paisa, a Colombian breakfast spread
  • Encebollado, Ecuadorian fish stew

Learn more: Peru Food ToursColombia Food Tours

Is South America safe to visit?

While often stigmatized, South America is very safe for travelers. When visiting large cities or popular tourist destinations, petty theft such as pickpocketing can occur, but as long as you remain attentive, your safety is never in question.

Using common sense, such as not visiting a Brazilian favela on your own, not wandering into the Andean plateau without a guide, and keeping your bags close to you at all times, will help ensure your safety and that of your valuables.

Learn more: Is it Safe to Travel to South America?

What language do they speak in South America?

The most widely spoken language in South America is Spanish. Most South American countries have high populations of people who speak Spanish, and Portuguese follows closely behind. Quechua is a common indigenous language spoken across the Peruvian Andes.

Regardless of where you go in South America, your travel guides will be able to help you communicate with locals. Furthermore, your guides and hotel staff will speak English, helping you easily navigate any communication barriers that would otherwise arise when exploring South America.

What vaccinations do I need to travel to South America?

Travelers do not require vaccines to travel to most of South America. That said, your doctor may recommend several, depending on where you plan to go during your trip. We recommend consulting your healthcare professional when planning your vacation.

Which airports should I plan for?

The best airport to fly in and out of when visiting South America depends on the country or countries you wish to visit. Whether flying over the pampas of Argentina, the Amazon in Peru, or the Andes of Ecuador, you can enjoy the remarkable scenery during your flight as you glide to one of the busiest airports in South America:

  • São Paulo Guarulhos Airport, São Paulo (GRU), Brazil
  • El Dorado International Airport, Bogota (BOG), Colombia
  • Lima Jorge Chavez Airport, Lima (LIM), Peru
  • Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport, Santiago (SCL), Chile
  • Pistarini International Airport, Buenos Aires (EZE), Argentina
  • Mariscal Sucre International Airport, Quito (UIO), Ecuador

What currency does South America use?

Below, we highlight the official currencies of the South American countries we service:

  • Argentina: Argentine peso
  • Chile: Chilean peso
  • Ecuador: US dollar
  • Brazil: Brazilian real
  • Colombia: Colombian peso
  • Peru: Peru sol

Most major cities in South American countries accept US dollars and electronic payments for American Express, Visa, and Mastercard users. However, we also recommend carrying cash in your chosen destination’s official currency. Your travel specialist will be available to provide further information when planning your trip.

How can Zicasso help me plan my trip to South America?

You can explore travel ideas from our collection of South America Tours & Vacations. When ready, submit a Trip Request to plan your vacation with a travel specialist. Partnering with the best South America travel agents, you can rest assured knowing that every aspect of your adventure will be considered to make your dreams a reality.

Your designated travel specialist will work with you to understand your travel goals, preferences, and expectations. They will then build an itinerary around your ideas and offer additional insight to inspire your experience in South America. Planning your vacation's finer details, you can enjoy your travels without worrying about logistical challenges.

Your travel specialist is also available for the duration of your trip. They can assist you in the rare case of an emergency or help you make on-the-go adjustments to your itinerary depending on your preferences.

Learn more: How to Plan Your Zicasso Trip in 4 Easy StepsHow to Plan Your Zicasso Trip Budget in 3 Easy Steps

Where can I find recommended itineraries for my trip?

Guanaco grazing in a meadow with wildflowers during the summer in Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

South America defies a single image, instead promising wild wonders in the jungle, pristine beaches, the volcanic islands of the Galapagos, Incan treasures, vast vineyards, and the untamed expanses of Patagonia.

Whether eager to engage with colonial history or secluded indigenous tradition, sample award-winning wines or discover the perfect vista, you can find inspiration for your trip with sample itineraries from our South America Tours & Vacations or ideas in our South America Travel Guide.

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