#1 6-23-2017 2:01 PM

tombom07
Tom
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Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

Hey fellow travbuddies!

After much to-ing and fro-ing, I've decided that I'm going to quit my job in a few months' time and head to South and Central America to do some more backpacking. I haven't been happy where I'm working for a while and it's a stop gap since my last adventure that's gone on too long to be honest. I thought I'd try to scratch the itch now while I'm still young (ish) and have nothing to tie me down to the UK.

I'm going to leave in September/October and am still open and flexible as to what my itinerary should/could look like. I tend to plan a few major things (a flight, visas, insurance), do a bit of research, and just wing the rest of it. Of course some things may need a bit more advance planning like Machu Pichu. It's likely I'll be travelling alone but I'm open to meeting travbuddies along the journey.

My attitude is quite open-minded when it comes to travelling but in particular I find that the natural world and just being out in nature appeal to my senses the most. I also love walking, a bit of hiking, scuba diving/snorkelling, food, history/architecture, people, and photography.

At the moment, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Chile are the countries that I absolutely have to visit (as well as the region of Patagonia) and would like to spend the most time in. Argentina and Brazil are highly likely to be on my itinerary, perhaps toward the end of my trip. I'd love to do some diving in Honduras or Belize too. It's likely I may also have to spend some time in other countries (Panama for example) as I travel through.

I was thinking of flying into San José (CR), heading North and then back down the Caribbean coast before making my way into SA and travelling down the Pacific Coast - sort of imagine a figure of 8. I'm thinking six months of travel (potentially more if I end up doing any work) and my style of travel will be for the budget-friendly backpacker, although I'm happy to splash out a bit more on some experiences.

I was also considering doing some voluntary work teaching English if that's possible? I have no experience in that area currently but I've looked into doing a CELTA in Santiago, Chile, and have decided not to commit to that until I've done at least a bit of teaching just to see if I can get a feel for it. It would be nice not to come back with a huge 'gap' on my CV. I don't think of travel that way but I know some employers may. My Spanish is pretty poor too so I'm open to doing a short course abroad.

So any advice or suggestions are most welcome. What regions/countries are must-sees? Itinerary suggestions? Any off the beaten track recommendations? Nice, budget-friendly places to stay? Best ways to get around? Words of warning for solo travellers in CA/SA? Any blogs on here I could check out?

Please, don't be shy. Hope I've provided enough info about myself. I'd love to hear about your experiences & hopefully have some help and encouragement in planning my trip.

Cheers!
Tom

 

#2 6-23-2017 3:40 PM

nolan
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

Tom - congratulations on your big decision! Not easy to do, but definitely a step in the right direction to great adventures.

I've only been to a couple of countries in South America but my first piece of advice would be to learn a handful of Spanish phrases (and Portuguese, since their vocabulary has many similarities).  DuoLingo is a great app for your smartphone which you can use to familiarize yourself with the basics of various languages that you choose. Of course, there are many more useful apps that you can easily download.

Itinerary wise, it depends if you want to start off in the cheaper countries (those nearer the equator), or plan your travels around the weather and climate. Some folks find the tropical heat a welcome respite from their home countries, others (like me) would prefer a particular season (like autumn) to travel, for various reasons.

I am not aware of any airline passes similar to what used to be called VUSA or like the AirAsia ASEAN pass, at least for South America. Maybe Star Alliance would have a circle trip pass specific to the Americas, that could be cheaper but most of the continent is traverse-able by land or local flights. If there are reliable low cost carriers, I would go for those but book them while in a South America, not before flying to the continent.

Six months is a lot of time to travel and discover, I intend to do a similar trip maybe within 3 years but for now I have other areas of the world I'm planning to visit ahead of South America.

Cheers

 

#3 6-23-2017 4:14 PM

shavy
Belinda
Belgium
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

I wish I could have six months off from work and will used it to travel South America smile

I really love South American countries, I've visited an amount places already. First thing you need is the app- I download the offline google translate, although I speak spanish, but due to not speaking everyday at home I slightly forgetting.

Argentina and Chilean spanish it sounds similar, but Chile has their own dialect- I only found out last year during my trip.

Brazil and Ecuador in big cities, English is widely spoken. The most difficult is when you travel to rural areas English is not spoken anymore

It does exist South American air passes, but we never use one as we're only travelling in a short time.

https://www.oneworld.com/flights/single … th-america
http://thriftynomads.com/list-all-budge … thamerica/

We have flown on domestic flight with budget airlines.....Ecuador has Tame airlines and Avianca

Colombia has Viva Colombia airline

For itinerary: if you have six months wait till you get there, just flown where the wind go.

Last edited by shavy (6-23-2017 4:37 PM)

 

#4 6-24-2017 1:37 AM

jacobi
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

I'm so envious. Well done.

 

#5 6-24-2017 3:19 AM

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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

Congrats Tom. I am just back from 4 months in central america and it was incredible. I hit every country on the way down from Mexico and ended in Panama.

I would say include Honduras, especially Utila, I did my padi there. Absolutely beautiful and it's really cheap around $25-$35 for a single tsnk dive. If you do go make sure you visit water cay, an uninhabitated tropical island where you an take a bbq and beers and enjoy the day.

Another spot I went diving is Little Corn island, Nicaragua. Equally as cheap as Utila. Incredible reefs but I found it a stronger current.

If you are going to Colombia consider doing the san blas sailing trip in Panama to Cartagena. It will set you back around $500 (I only did san blas returning to panama city) San blas is the epitome of paradise. You can't dive there but you can snorkel. It's one of favourite travel experiences to date. Back to basics on a proper Robinson crusoe island, living with a host family, eating locally caught fish every day. bbq's and beach volleyball and checking out the starfish.

Plenty of hikes available all over central america, Volcano hikes such as Acatenango in Guatemala, Ometepe island in Nicaragua has 2 volcanos.

In Costa Rica visit Monteverde, Cahuita and if you have time go to Corcovado. I didn't make it to Corcovado as it was low season. It's supposed to have the best jungle hiking in all of Costa Rica. I have to go back to do it. If you like to surf there is plenty of beach towns, I particularly loved Santa Teresa, near Mal Pais.

I would personally start at the top and work my way down or vice versa. I met a few people jumping all over the place, flights can be expensive. It looks like a small area (Central) but the drive from Antigua to Leon will take about 18hrs. if you are short of time I wouldn't back track.

If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line.

 

#6 6-26-2017 10:02 AM

NickelP
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

The rules for Machu Pichu access is changing July 1st. Entry is only for a half day and if you want a full day you'll have to buy a 2nd pass. Apparently right now Inca Trail hikers will have full day access and there was also a note about a guide being required. The company I'm trekking with said the rules are still being rejigged so you'll probably want to check them if you're not planning on trekking to it and just visiting it.

 

#7 6-27-2017 4:44 PM

matthew
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

So for me... I've done those countries over two trips or six months each.  I absolutely loved Central America, and really enjoyed South America, though I found it quite vast in comparison, and spending a lot more time on buses etc. 

I'd disagree with start in San Jose, as you should really head down or up, and not waste time by returning.
Also flights can get expensive between those countries.  You'd probably also miss out on the San Blas islands crossing from Panama to Columbia which would be a shame.  I'd suggest fly into Mexico instead.  It is cheap, and is actually an incredible country.  I found so much more to Mexico than expected.  I started in Mexico City, and crossed in Guatemala.  On return, I came back through Honduras and the other coast of Guatemala, and on into the Yutacan before flying home.

Your preference countries are really something, and I completely agree El Salvador and Belize are not so desireable in comparison.  There are some great things to do and see though, and in fact, El Salvador provided some of my favourite travel stories of all time. 

I doubt you'll spend six months in central america over all, so I'd pick on a highlight route into South America.  Keep it flexible timewise, and see how you get on.  Tikal, Semuk Champay, Antigua tends to be the main route through Guatemala though the are amazing places to see other than those.  You'll see it and work it all out when there.  Same with most countries.  It is relatively simple to stay on the beaten track in CA.  I'd recommend developing you Spanish, and get off the beaten track though.  I had 6 major travels, adn CA was my favourite over all. 

As for SA.  It's a lot easier.  It's used to travel now, so again, pick your highlight spots, and the route will be fairly done.  English is widely spoken, so isn't difficult unless want to be adventurous.  I really enjoyed testing mysely and going to places where travellers were very rare.  It really forced my Spanish to improve, and locals were incredible to me.  They tended to want to know about other countries as they hadn't been so far and wide. 

Lots of info there, but good luck.

 

#8 7-1-2017 1:00 PM

tombom07
Tom
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

Thanks for all of your advice and suggestions so far! Please keep it coming.

I will definitely be brushing up on my Spanish before I set off -or at the very least I'll get as much practice as I can when I touch down by enrolling in some type of course and just engaging with people.

It's likely now that I'll land in Mexico and head South from there so I'm not backtracking smile

Should I be concerned about safety in El Salvador/Honduras? Are they worth visiting?

Last edited by tombom07 (7-1-2017 1:00 PM)

 

#9 7-2-2017 12:05 AM

ulis
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

Haven't been there since a long time, in El Salvador/Honduras and also Guatemala City you must be carefull.
Spanish courses are very reasonable in Antigua Guatemala, about $ 200 per week with accomodation, the town is quite pleasant. Also in other places in Guatemala (sorry, this ist is only in German):
http://www.guatemala365.de/schools/index.php

 

#10 7-2-2017 12:08 AM

ulis
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

 

#11 7-2-2017 3:02 AM

shavy
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

tombom07 wrote:

Thanks for all of your advice and suggestions so far! Please keep it coming.

I will definitely be brushing up on my Spanish before I set off -or at the very least I'll get as much practice as I can when I touch down by enrolling in some type of course and just engaging with people.

It's likely now that I'll land in Mexico and head South from there so I'm not backtracking smile

Should I be concerned about safety in El Salvador/Honduras? Are they worth visiting?

Sounds a great place to start your journey, I had a great trip a couple of years ago. Mexico is becoming more and more popular with Central America lovers.  Mexico City are popular places to start you can make a nice trip through the Yucatan and easily go to beautiful mountain villages like San Cristobal de las Casas.

I haven't done El Salvador and Honduras, I really liked to visit this place but I have my doubts for safety reason. Let us know how your trip over there.

 

#12 7-4-2017 10:39 AM

leavinggringolandia
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

This is awesome! Good for you smile

I think the countries you have on the list are great, but I would definitely add Brazil and Argentina to the list of definites. Why? Brazil is amazing, not just for the country's beauty but for the people. Brazilians are some of the coolest, friendliest people you'll ever meet. The culture is distinct from the Spanish-speaking countries. I can't recommend it enough. Argentina is also amazing. Buenos Aires is very different from other large South American cities and Mendoza and other smaller cities have a lot to offer too!

In Chile I would recommend visiting Valparaíso, San Pedro de Atacama, Patagonia, and the Lakes Region. Santiago isn't worth spending more than a few days in, but if you're interested in the history you should check out the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Londres 38, and the cemetery, which all have memorials for the victims of the Pinochet regime.

In Nicaragua I would skip Managua (which is a little dangerous) and head to the other cities like Granada, Leon, and San Juan del Sur. I recommend San Juan if you're into surfing and/or partying.

I currently live in Colombia and I can tell you that it's a beautiful country with so much to see (if you come to Cali I can show you around!). Bogotá isn't very interesting, but you could maybe stay there for a day or two. Definitely go to Medellín, Guatapé, Santa Marta (Tayrona National Park), Cañon Cristales, and Amazonas. Cali is amazing to live in (according to me), but I'm not sure how interesting it would be as a visitor. The coffee region is also beautiful. In my opinion, Cartagena is overpriced and overly touristy. Santa Marta is a much better and much more beautiful option. Plus, it's closer to some really cool small towns on the coast like Taganga and Minca.

If you go to Brazil I recommend visiting São Paulo, Río, and Curitiba. In Argentina I recommend Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and La Plata.

I'm happy to help answer any questions!

My blog also has some articles about traveling in Latin America if you're interested smile It's called Leaving Gringolandia.

 

#13 7-5-2017 2:52 AM

fransglobal
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

I agree with a lot of what leaving gringolandia wrote. Though in relation to Colombia, I did like Cartagena. It is touristy but it is lovely. Villa de Lleiva near Bogota and Jardin near Medellin were two of my favourite places in Colombia, in the whole of Latin America in fact.

I've spent about 18 months in Latin America. Brazil is my favourite country by far. Peru the most interesting country so I would try to spend as much time as possible in those two. In Brazil, I would definitely include Salvador de Bahia.

There's just so much in region, it's impossible to give short answer to your question...

 

#14 8-24-2017 8:21 AM

vila
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

Tom, I've been to Peru, La Paz and Buenos Aires in 2012. A basic knowledge of Spanish really is necessary, I was surprised how even in touristy places the people don't speak English.
I loved Peru, and I loved the people, they are very friendly. Didn't spend much time in La Paz since I was sick with high altitude, and couldn't wait to get to lower grounds. Speaking of that, do take your time when climbing the altitudes. Buenos Aires I found nothing different than any other Spanish colonial city in the world - it felt like being back in Europe wink This was a 3 week trip with an organised travel agency group, that's why I plan to go back on my own. Travel agency trips are not my thing really.
One more thing, Euros are not very welcome in SA, they prefer US Dollars. I had to search for exchange offices that would take my Euros, even some hotels didn't want to exchange them. Same with credit cards, American Express seems to work everywhere, while Visa not so much.

I, too, am planing a South America trip this winter, but starting from the south and heading north.
I see, that in non of the forums here anyone has mentioned the Guayanas and Surinam. Anyone been there?

 

#15 8-28-2017 8:31 PM

islandflavour
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Re: Long-term travel in Central and South America - Advice & suggestions!

Definitely include Honduras in your plan, it's beautiful smile  If you're coming down from Guatemala, you could either go along the Rio Dulce, then boat from Livingston to Puerto Barrios and bus into Honduras from there, or from Antigua take a shuttle to Copan, Honduras.  If you're into diving or snorkeling, you'll want to check out the bay islands (lots of backpackers opt for Utila, but Roatan is really beautiful and can be budget friendly too, depending on your choices).  Other areas you might want to visit: Pico Bonito national park, and go rafting on the Rio Cangrejal, just outside of La Ceiba, and Lago Yajoa and the Pulhapanzak falls are beautiful too.
There's a shuttle that goes from La Ceiba (timed so that you can catch it if you take the morning ferry from either Roatan or Utila) all the way to Leon, Nicaragua in one day- a long ride, but then you don't have to overnight in one of the bigger cities.

 

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