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Loaded with ancient ruins, stretches of white sandy beaches, tropical forests and picturesque trails; South America is a playground for backpackers.
For first-time backpackers, it can be a daunting task deciding from where in this vast continent to begin your next exciting adventure, however one thing’s for sure – there’s no shortage of options. From historic landmarks to scenic trails, you are sure to fill up your itinerary quick smart!
With a little bit of planning and some good advice, you’ll be able to hit the bull’s eye and discover regions packed with exciting sites for fun adventures, while keeping an eye on that all-important thing – your budget. Finding the cheapest flights from Australia can help you pack more into your visit, and similarly, you’re bound to find plenty of hostels and hotels in your journey to punctuate your trip if you’re aiming to keep your spend down.
Here are our top-tips of things to do if you’re thinking of backpacking through South America:
Inca Trail, Peru
Perhaps the most obvious ‘must-do’ activity in South America is the Inca Trail, this is the attraction most backpackers flock to. You’ll find a number of route options according to the degree of difficulty and of course, how much time you have.
Picking one, however – the 5-day trail – sees you hiking along the Inca Trail leading to the magnificent Machu Picchu in Peru. The trail is 26 miles of spectacular beautiful mountain scenery, subtropical jungle, lush cloud-forest and a mélange of ruins, tunnels and Inca paving stones, that lead to the mystic Lost City of the Incas.
Along the trek, you’ll cross the Vilcanota River up to the village of Wayllabamba where you’ll likely spend the night by campsite; equipped with showers, toilets and a small restaurant. The highest pass of the trail is 4,200 meters, and once you reach it, you’ll no doubt be celebrating having completed it!
From there, the descent to Pacamayo is steep although not difficult so long as you are sure-footed. It will take you around an hour to climb up the ruins of Runkaracay, before finally arriving at Sayacmarca – via a remarkably designed stone staircase. Your group will likely take a short break along the way to take in the beautiful portrait of cloud-forest filled with hanging mosses, colourful orchids, tree ferns and flowers. Grab your camera here folks – you won’t be disappointed.
Before starting the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu, you can stay at the Trekkers Hostel and enjoy a well-deserved beer! The hostel has dormitory beds, or if you’re really counting your pennies – you can sleep on the floor for only a dollar.
Not long before reaching Machu Picchu, you’ll find yourself passing the ruins of Winay Wayna. The ruins are impressive and again, a good excuse to whip out your camera for some snaps. The ruins with their agricultural terraces and 10 stoned baths – that were likely used for ritual cleansing in the day – are awe inspring to say the least.
The final trail contours around a mountainside with a vertical flight of 50 steps leading to Machu Picchu. Trust us when we say that nothing can prepare you for this magnificent site. In what will be a “rub your eyes moment”, the Lost City of the Incas showcases a peek into ancient history with the Temple of the Sun, Nusta Palace, Sacred Plaza, Chamber of the Ornaments, Intihuatana Pyramid, House of the Hight Priest and much more.
If you’re looking for the backpack adventure of a lifetime, the Inca Trail should be one of your first picks, and you can find more information about it from Peru Tourism’s site here.
Hiking to the summit of Cotopaxi at Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Nation Park is a dreamlike adventure in and of itself. Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world boasting with picturesque scenery of green plains, sparkling lakes and wild horses.
It’ll take you around three days to reach the highest refuge cabin at the base of the mountain, at which the altitude is around 4,000 meters, allowing your body to acclimatise easily. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be treated to moonlit nights with the beauty of the volcano in the shadows.
Hitting the snow line, you’ll soon be prompted to strap on some warmer gear. From here, reaching the summit at 5,800 will take some work, but once you arrive on top, it makes for an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment. The breathtaking view of the surrounding valley is simply breathtaking.
Torres Del Paine, Chile
Backpacking through the Torres Del Paine is a mesmerizing experience, and one to definitely include on your ‘to-do’ list. This adventure is certain to challenge your wildest dreams.
Nestled in the south of Chile, it can be reached from the nearby cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. Along the route, you’ll find marked paths and modest refugios for basic services and shelter. Every day of the hike provides vistas of the spectacular granite Towers of Paine, with delightful sightings of pink flamingos, nandus, condors and herds of guanacos.
Jaw-dropping views of the Towers of Paine topping 8,000 feet follows you along the W circuit, leading to Glacier Grey and Lago Grey. Gazing at the turquoise-coloured icebergs sprawled across the lake, it’ll have you entranced in a moment of silence, as you marvel at this wonder of nature.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Another notable journey not to be missed, is a hike to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia – the world’s largest salt flat lake stretching over 4,000 miles. This place is so surreal that you’ll think you’re on another planet.
Hiking through the salts, you’ll be led to the desert, featuring amazing rock formations, colourful red and green lakes, bursting geysers, hot spring baths and Fish Island. The tranquility is soul reaching, and the scenery unceasingly spectacular. The Salar de Uyuni is one of Bolivia’s treasures that will get even the most discerning backpacker excited.
Don’t think about it…just do it!
Backpacking through South America will undoubtedly leave you with unforgettable memories of majestic cities, captivating landscapes, and…, new friends. What’s more, there’s plenty of ways to cut down costs when you’re over there. Do yourself a favour: take the plunge!
Backpacking has become increasingly popular among every kind of travel enthusiast around the world. With so many of our vacation budgets getting tighter every year, backpacking offers a travel experience that is not only unique, but also affordable. Although it has been a long time favorite of youth and students around Europe, backpacking has expanded its borders and is now one of the most popular travel options. Whether you’re planning an unforgettable gap year, or taking a budget friendly approach to your summer vacation, there are a few backpacking accessories you shouldn’t be without. When it comes to backpacking, cutting down on bulk is essential, it’s also very likely you’ll be without some luxuries during your trip, but your journey can be made more comfortable with these few key things.
1) Expandable clothes line and travel sized detergent: washers and dryers will likely not be very accessible for most of your trip. These two compact accessories, however, can really make a difference. When it comes to detergent, you can easily find individual portions of laundry soap in travel sized packages, and a sink stopper to make use of any basin. Expandable clothes lines are also essential for drying; these highly elastic ropes can be stretched between any two points to create an accessible space for air drying your clothes anywhere, at any time.
2) Converter and adapters: traveling abroad will often mean unfamiliar outlets and voltage. If you have any electronics with you, you’ll need to be sure to bring along a converter and adapter for your destination country. These kits can often include all of the major plugs in the world, all on one device, which will help save space in your pack.
3) Refillable toiletry containers: toiletries and liquids can mean a lot of extra weight and bulk for you to carry around. Instead of bringing full sized products, buy a set of small, refillable travel bottles and containers to bring your shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer and more. This is especially useful if you plan on getting on a flight; with only your carry on, you’ll need to be sure your liquids fit within airport security guidelines.
4) Travel wallet or money belt: backpacking often means you’ll be carrying all of your belongings with you on a daily basis, which can become a safety issue when it comes to money and important documents. To be sure you don’t become a victim of theft, purchase a travel wallet or money belt specifically designed for travelers. These are often worn under your shirt and around your neck or torso, or under your pants and around your ankle. They can fit your passport, money, and any other personal items you want to keep safe. Many backpackers experience pickpocketing when traveling abroad, especially on public transportation and busy city centers; this accessory can help you avoid that.
Holly Miller works at Coupon Croc, the best resource for Thomson discount codes to save big on your next backpacking travel adventure.
Let’s face it, taking a gap year to explore the world and ‘find yourself’ has become a bit of a cliché nowadays. The ever-popular round-the-world-ticket has spawned a generation of backpackers who have found themselves following exactly the same route as everybody else, complete with supposedly ‘unique’ travel stories and replica photo albums. The question is, how can you beat the backpacker trail and make your trip stand out from everybody else’s? Here are some tips on how to take the road less travelled while still staying safe:
It can be tempting to take the safe option and travel with friends, but travelling solo, whilst challenging, will give you a gap year experience like no other. Not only can you do what you want when you want, but your confidence will sky-rocket. If stepping out on your own is just a little too daunting, compromise and join an organised tour – you’ll meet people from all walks of life whilst still maintaining ultimate independence.
Volunteer or Find Paid Work
By volunteering, you can fully absorb yourself into the culture of a particular country, engage with local communities, and gain that rewarding feeling of ‘giving something back’. Finding paid work is another good way to embrace a foreign country’s way of life, as well, of course, as helping to fund your trip.
Prepare to Take Some Risks (But Be Safe)
Travelling (especially alone), can be scary at times, but if you’re not prepared to take some risks, you won’t reap the rewards. It goes without saying that safety is paramount, but it’s the travellers that take the odd risk that come back with the most enriching stories (and memories).
Get Off the Beaten Track
Whether this entails hiring a vehicle and exploring the road less travelled, or simply steering away from the tourist hotspots, your experience will be far more enhanced if the world and his wife haven’t been there too. Make sure you do your research first though, just in case you do end up getting a little lost.
Meet the Locals
Don’t be shy — engage with the locals. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier – there are always novel ways of communicating. Many places offer home stay facilities, where you can board and dine with local families to really experience their traditional way of life.
Eat the Local Grub
You can’t expect to fully embrace a country’s culture without sampling some of the local cuisine. Whether it’s some of the world’s finest Parisian gastronomy or street food in Thailand – give it a try, you may surprise yourself.
Make life easier for yourself and pack light. If you’re prepared to end up in remote, less than comfortable locations, you’ll appreciate a light load on your back.
Have a Contingency Fund
Just in case! Who knows what could happen on your travels – you could fall ill, have your money stolen, or even completely run out of funds! It’s always worth having a secret stash in case you find yourself in a pickle.
Do Your Research
Sounds obvious, but we can’t stress this enough. If you’re prepared to take risks and go it alone, you need to do your research first. Swot up on travel guides, advice books and websites, and advise friends and family of your plans by keeping in touch on a regular basis.
Whether you are taking some time out to see the world before starting university or embarking on your career, backpacking is a great way to see new cultures whilst developing skills that employers often see as valuable.
When planning a backpacking trip, most travellers think first about where they want to travel. But arranging decent backpacker travel insurance cover is also essential. Imagine what can happen while you’re away. Hopefully it’ll be an adventure of a life time, but you’ll be visiting strange places where you may not even speak the language.
If you have the right backpacker travel insurance cover, you’ll be confident in knowing that should you have an accident or fall ill abroad you’ll be able to get the necessary medical treatment you need. Very few countries have a free healthcare service as we do with the NHS in Britain. You could find yourself facing a huge medical bill amounting to hundreds or even thousands of pounds if you fall ill abroad without the right travel insurance for backpackers. You should look for a backpacker travel insurance policy that offers cover of at least £1m for medical and emergency expenses.
When it comes to travel insurance for backpackers, it’s well worth planning ahead. Rather than just thinking about the exciting places you plan on visiting, consider the activities you will participating in, especially if you’re the adventurous type. Remember, some activities may be unplanned. Many backpackers find themselves taking part in a spontaneous bungee jump! So make sure that you have got the right backpacker travel insurance to cover the type of activity you may end up doing.
Backpacking allows you an almost unlimited level of flexibility with your travel itinerary and keeps your costs down much more than booking into expensive hotels. Buy a good guide book and research your destination(s) thoroughly before you travel. Planning your backpacking route and pre-booking accommodation and transport will save you time and money.
Know what you want to get out of your backpacking adventure and where you want to visit. There are many hostels and guesthouses along the backpacker routes which are a basic, but usually cheap and comfortable accommodation popular with travellers. They’re also a great place to meet other backpackers to exchange travelling stories with!
Remember, a visa may be required for some countries which can take up to a few weeks to get hold of. So make sure you give yourself enough time to sort out the paperwork.
You should also make sure all your regular jabs (such as tetanus) are up to date and check with your GP if you need any additional vaccinations or medication.
If you’re backpacking around the world, you won’t want your backpack to be too heavy. Remember you can always pick up a bargain along the way. The beauty of backpacking is that by travelling light you can simply throw your backpack on and go!
Don’t take anything too valuable or sentimental like jewellery and expensive gagets. Lost luggage and theft is all too common and you wouldn’t want to lose anything that you can’t easily replace.
Carry your money in a secure form such as a Travel Money Card e.g. Post Office Travel Money Card and do not take too much in cash. Note: most travel insurances have a low cash limit, typically £100. Tell your bank you’re going overseas and ask if you will incur charges if you use overseas cash machines.
The Importance of Having Travel Insurance For Backpacking
Some backpacker travel insurance allows you to choose cover for longer durations, typically up to a maximum of 18 months. It is important that you remember to check that the backpacker travel insurance policy offers you the level of cover that you need for your trip before you buy it.