What’s It Like To Travel Solo In South America?

While I advocate for traveling solo whenever I can, I have to admit, I was a bit nervous going into South America. It was my first ever solo backpacking trip and I decided to kick it off in the country of cocaine and cartels: Colombia. While decades of improvement and progress have passed since the era of Pablo Escobar, it still was a questionable country to choose as my first ever solo trip.

Having gone on several solo trips since then, I can say that solo traveling through South America is still my favorite trip I have ever taken. Central America was amazing but when I compare it to South America, it just paled in comparison. The breathtaking treks and prevalent indigenous cultures in South America made for an awesome adventure. South East Asia was a lot of fun, but the backpacker trail has worn heavy on the countries. Hardly anything felt genuine there, with only a few less-visited stops even resembling the countries in their natural form.

If you’re hesitating to go to South America for whatever reason, I promise you that every second you hesitate is a second you are missing out on an incredible adventure. Whatever your concerns are, I’m sure I can convince you otherwise.

Safety

While each country in South America varies in how safe it is, I never had any problems, nor knew anyone who did. A lot of urban legends might spread throughout backpacker communities about a friend of a friend who got kidnapped by the cartel, but most of them are definitely exaggerated versions of what was likely a negligent tourist getting lost. I spent a whole day wandering around Colombia’s most notorious barrio by myself and it ended up being one of the best days of traveling I have ever had.

medellin colombia comuna 13

The people of South America are incredibly friendly. Like everywhere else in the world, there will be a few bad apples that might ruin the reputation of the entire country. Every city in the world has its sketchy neighborhoods and petty criminals. If you use common sense and don’t stray too far from well-trafficked and well-lit areas, then you will be fine.

Another safety concern might be transportation. The roads in South America are not always the safest. Going on a 12-hour bus ride through the countryside to get from city to city is usually safe, but dirt roads winding through steep cliffs are not always the most reliable. During rainy seasons, mudslides and floods can severely stall bus rides or worse.

I took many night buses in South America and had no issues, but the overly-studious traveler might have read about bandits attacking them and robbing them. These are definitely isolated incidents, but I did have a friend traveling solo who fell asleep with a bunch of his valuables just laid out. Did he lose them because he was in South America or did he lose them because he was careless? You decide. Keep your possessions close. I always kept my bag with all my valuables right under my legs.

The Tourist Trail

South East Asia has the Banana Pancakes Trail. South America has the Gringo Trail. Get it, like Inca Trail? Ha. Although solo travelers’ opinions on tourists vary, there’s no denying that you feel a little more comfortable when there are at least a couple of others around. Of all my trips, South America felt like the place with the ideal amount of fellow travelers. Aside from Cusco and Machu Picchu, understandably, there were hardly any places that felt like it was overwhelmed by tourists.

Uyuni Salt Flats

No matter where I went, though, there were always fellow backpackers to befriend. One thing I realized while I was in South America was that it was generally the third or fourth major trip travelers take in their lifetimes. Only after completing the rites of passage of a Euro-Trip and South East Asia will most people start considering South America. This is especially true if you’re European or Australian since it’s a bit harder to get to than Asia or Europe.

So what relevance does that have? The travelers you meet in South America are slightly older and more mature. I don’t mean everyone’s going to be in their 50s, but by now, most travelers have gotten over their partying phase and have drastically matured. There are some crazy parties in South America, but thankfully, you won’t find thousands of drunk tourists lining up on a beach covered in body paint and drinking buckets.

There are fewer tourists, but a Gringo Trail definitely exists. Compared to South East Asia’s trail, I found South America to be more of a “choose your path” trail. There are established go-to destinations, but no specific path to really follow, whereas in South East Asia, it felt like everyone was always going the same way.

Budgeting

Traveling solo can get expensive depending on your style of travel. While South America is much cheaper than Europe, Australia, and the U.S., it is slightly more expensive than most places I went to in South East Asia and Central America.

Accommodation

I love staying in hostels for a number of reasons, but saving money is definitely one of them. Your money will go a long way in South America when you can find a place to sleep for $5-10 a night. Hostel culture in South America is pretty well established, which is great for solo travelers. Every city that you go to will probably have that one hostel that everyone stays at.

While hotels will be pricier if you’re traveling solo, it isn’t too hard to find something within your price range. I was usually able to find some for $30 or cheaper to recover after a long trek or just to have some time to unwind.

Food

Food in South America is amazing and it is cheap. Peru had some of the best food I’ve ever had. I could get three-course meals for as cheap as $1.50 in local markets. This was true for Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia. I spent most of my time in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil in large cities where it was a bit more expensive. Thankfully, when you’re traveling solo, no one can tell you when or where to eat. Making friends is great and all, but I still resent them for that time I had to spend $16 on a small pizza in Cartagena.

Food poisoning hit me hard in Bolivia. Like, really hard. For three weeks, my stomach was in shambles. I ended up spending a lot of time at Subway and Burger King while I was in La Paz. Interestingly enough, I frequented local markets in Peru for almost all of my meals and didn’t encounter any problems. Avoiding food poisoning in South America is honestly a crapshoot. Who knows what can happen.

Unlike the United States, water isn’t usually free in South American restaurants. If you order water, they’ll give you bottled water. You can ask for tap water (agua de llave) and it will be free. I’ll admit, I did this a lot more often than I should have, but I was also born in a third-world country so maybe my stomach has some built-up conditioning to it. On the other hand, some of my friends wouldn’t even brush their teeth with tap water. It’s up to you how much you want to risk drinking the tap water, but bottled water is so cheap that I recommend not risking it.

Transportation

As a solo traveler, buses should be your preferred method of transportation. You can get cheap flights in some countries, like Colombia, but more often than not, a night bus will beat it at comfort and price. Depending on how long the ride is, a night bus can cost upwards of $30, but my friend compared it to being on a first-class flight. Depending on the country, you even get meals to go with your comfy seats and Wi-Fi.

If you’re traveling solo, renting a car or getting chauffeured from place to place will definitely become pricier. If money ain’t a thang to you, then go for it. I’m not sure if this is true for South America, but I know in Central America, police are often encouraged to target tourists. Driving in South America will not be the same as driving in Europe or the U.S. I’m sure traffic laws exist, but I’m not sure if the locals do.

Within cities, taxis are good enough to get around. I remember being pleasantly surprised at how cheap taxis were. I was in traffic for almost an hour and ended up only paying about $7 in Colombia. Taxis are usually safe, but being a tourist and being solo can always put a target on your head for taxis who like to overcharge.

Miscellaneous Advice

Like I said, traveling solo through South America was the best adventure I have ever had. Common sense will be your best friend when traveling solo, not just in South America, but across the world. If you avoid any situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, then you should be fine. Most sketchy situations can be avoided if you stay on your toes.

Overthinking can be a major problem when planning a trip. I was definitely guilty of this before landing in Colombia. Once I found out how relaxed and easygoing it is to travel solo through South America, I had a much more enjoyable time. Once I got to Peru, I felt like an expert at traveling solo. That allowed the rest of my trip to focus on enjoying myself rather than worrying about silly things. Get the logistics of planning your trip out of the way early and just enjoy yourself.

If you’re looking for advice on specific countries in South America, check out the following below! Thanks for reading, and make sure to catch me on Instagram!

Colombia Survival Guide

Quick Guide For Backpackers Going To Peru

My Ten Favorite Cities in South America

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22 thoughts on “What’s It Like To Travel Solo In South America?

    1. Most popular tourist places are very safe and the locals I’ve met in every country were all so friendly! It’d be a great adventure

  1. My dad lived in Peru for a couple of months and i could not visit him. However Peru and Mexico are so on my travel list. Do you think language could be an issue in these countries?

    1. It always helps to speak some Spanish but it definitely isn’t necessary! The main hubs in Peru and Mexico won’t be a problem with the language barrier.

  2. Trvelling through South America is little bit scary for everyone, but after reading your post, I am thinking abut givibg it a try. Thanks for the detailed post. Hope to be on this side of the planet soon.

  3. I am currently planning a trip to Sth America for my husband and I, we would like to spend some months driving there and safety has been one of our concerns, your post has allayed some of that anxiety. Thanks for sharing will check out your other posts too

    1. I’ve had friends drive their van down from Utah all the way to Peru, so I think it’s pretty safe! It definitely helps to speak Spanish in case you get stopped by cops or have trouble at the borders

  4. This is a very interesting post, as you are right that there’s an undercurrent of fear about personal safety associated with females travelling solo in South America and yet, when it comes down to it, I’ve never heard of any friends (or friends of friends) encountering any problems, whereas I have heard many terrifying tales to countries across Asia. Not that they stop me going, but it’s strange how South America has that unfair reputation. So glad to read that you had a great experience!

  5. Good post – I traveled solo from Cartagena to Patagonia a few years ago – no backpacking – and it was an amazing experience. Now at the point in my life where it’s hard deciding to travel to new places or return to those you’ve already visited and really liked!

  6. Great to find some positive experiences on here! Most of the time there is so much warning.
    Encouraging, especially since you are a solo traveler as well. I will go in 6 month and a bit nervous since I have to learn Spanish now as well 😀

  7. Awesome. After visiting Peru I would love to spend more time in South America. There’s so much to see and do. I can’t deny I felt nervous in some parts of Lima but it’s the same anywhere you go. I’ve read some horror stories about Ecuador and Chile but it shouldn’t deter anyone from going!

    1. I heard some parts of Lima were pretty dangerous but definitely true about a lot of different cities all over the world. Agreed that it shouldn’t deter anyone from going!

  8. I think the media definitely exaggerated about safety in South America. But like you, I have heard many people saying that they love South America so much and it’s not as bad as it seems. Glad to hear you had a blast in Colombia – it is one of the top countries I want to visit!

  9. Traveling solo is such a powerful thing, but what I find hard is leaving my husband! I want to share all the memories with him!!

    1. Yup! Exactly how I felt. The only people I knew that had any serious problems in Central or South America weren’t the brightest bulbs to begin with haha

  10. Travelling alone is an amazing adventure. I tried some times and i really liked, but know i am married with a mum so i do not do that anymore!

  11. Food poisoning doesn’t have to last weeks. I always carry Ciprofloxacin for food poisoning. My mom was a doctor and she used to say it’s like an atom bomb in your stomach. Wipes out everything. You’ll recover in a day or two after taking it. Of course, be sure to accompany it with probiotics (like yoghurt) to replenish your good bacteria.

    1. I wish I knew this haha but I also tend to be very stubborn about sicknesses and just assume I’ll always feel better eventually. This is so useful to know though

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