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Need Help Planning My South America Trip

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Please advise me on my trip to South America - I have never done this before (21 years old).

Any advice related for anything to the trip is appreciated.

I am still in the beginning phases of planning out my trip to South America this Summer. I am going to be graduating mid-May. I want to leave late May or early June of 2010, and stay there for 3-5 weeks.

Cost is a factor, but I do not want it to be a deciding factor.

I have a job waiting for me starting July 19th, so I won't mind spending 3-5 grand, because I probably won't have a chance like this for a long while.


I haven't even begun to plan out the logistics - i.e. costs, flight, transportation, living accomodations, visas, other documentation (?), immunizations, exchange rates, weather, what places I should avoid due to crime, what I will need to bring to the trip, etc. (I am probably missing a lot). I am going to be using Lonely Planet's and Frommer's travel guides to help me with some of this stuff, along with internet resources.

For flight, I am thinking of doing it through oneWorld (http://www.oneworld.com/ow/air-travel-options/single-continent-fares/visit-south-america). Is this a good idea?


Here is what I REALLY WANT to see:


(2) Peru - Machu Picchu
(3) Bolivia - Lake TitiCaca ( on the border of Peru/Bolivia), Río Madidi watershed (Parque Nacional Madidi) also (Noel Kempff Mercado National Park)
(1) Brazil - Amazon River/Rainforest/Pantanal/Iguazu Falls/Brazilian Beaches/Rio de Janeiro
(1) Argentina - Iguazu Falls (I hear both sides of the falls are amazing to see.

Here is what I wouldn't mind seeing, but will probably skip due to cost/time reasons:

(4) Costa Rica - rainforests/other activities (ziplining, river rafting, white water rafting, etc.) (this is nice but the rainforest isn't so great compared to the Amazon, right?)
(5) Galapagos Islands (very expensive)
(6) Kaieteur Falls, Guyana - (this place looks beautiful, but again, expense and time).
(7) San Pedro de Atacam in Chile (I don't know how exciting this will be)


What do you think of that list? Is it realistic to do 1, 2, and 3? Should I get rid of (3)? Is it possible to include (4)?

Like I said, I haven't planned much of the logistics yet. I have no idea how long I will stay at a particular location, let me know if you have any estimates.

Here is the specific journey, in my mind so far.

I am thinking that I will land in Peru, somehow find a safe place to stay that is not far from Machu Picchu, and then use a guided tour to visit Machu Picchu. I want to avoid guided tours due to expense, but I am told that it is a good idea to do this for Machu Picchu. After that, go to the border of Bolivia to see Lake TitiCaca/Parque Nacional Madidi. Then somehow travel east to see Parque Nacional Noel Kempff. After that, I will be pretty much on the border of Brazil. Then I will somehow go South to see the Pantanal and the Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense. After that, I will continue to go further south (a lot). Until I reach Iguazu Falls (Parque Nacional Iguazu). Then, if time permits, I will head northeast to Rio de Janeiro and spend some time there and find a nearby airport to come back to Chicago.


In the above trip, I did not include the Amazon Rainforest/River because I have NO IDEA yet where in Brazil I should go to see this. I do not want to go to Manaus because I understand that this is a beaten path, and I want to go somewhere less traveled, but not overly expensive. I am thinking I visit the Amazon rainforest/river before I head south for the Pantanal, but that will depend on where I want to see it. As for the Brazilian beaches, I am clueless on that as well so far. Please let me know where I should go.

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    I have only been to Peru and Bolivia but here are my thoughts:

    (1) Altitude - Yes, you need time to adjust, but to avoid adjusting time, try to only adjust once (do not go high-low-high-low)

    (2) The 3rd week in June has a huge festival in Cusco. I have never been there during Inti Raymi; but it may be a reason to go to Cusco that week, or completely avoid Cusco. :)

    (3) It takes time to go into the interior of the rainforest and see wildlife (at least in Peru). If the rainforest is your priority, maybe research the highlights of each area and the recommended time to visit.

    (4) In general, most people that have traveled to S. America deter from their plans because of the fantastic people and experiences they have while traveling. They get 'hooked' into where they are at, and often stay longer than intended. I say pick 2-3 places (maybe ones that you can travel around to different sights) and just enjoy.

    (5)Guided tours can be expensive. But they also allow you to share moments with others, and they do all the planning for you, making it a real vacation. I usually do a combo when I go to Peru. I get an apartment to rent and maybe do a 3-4 day hike with a group.

    (5) Also, check out South American Explorers. They have good info and club offices in different cities.

    (6) One World flights will save time and monies (if you play around with the flights). I just booked 5 flights within S. America for under $300, so it can be a great bargain.

    Good Luck! Have fun!

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    Kenny-

    Are you going solo or with a friend? It's cheaper for two or more. There are also places I'd go with a companion that I wouldn't go solo. You can go to the Peruvian amazon and the Peru side of Lake Titicaca to save time/money. Skip Costa Rica this trip- it's not in the area at all. I'd do the west coast first - start in Lima, Amazon, lake Titicaca, Cusco/sacred Valley/machu Picchu in whatever order works best in one swing - maybe 2+ weeks by air and train travel. Then fly from Lima across to Sao Paolo Brazil and do Iguassu/pantanal/Rio all by air for another couple of weeks. The order you are trying to do things won't work due to transportation restraints. You need to look at where airlines fly and the airport hubs (Lima and Sao Paolo are the major hubs) I can't help on costs - I'd never be able to do it for $5000. But I'm old and need my luxuries. It sounds like a great trip. Have fun planning!!

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    SmileyKern:

    You wrote:

    (6) One World flights will save time and monies (if you play
    around with the flights). I just booked 5 flights within S. America for under $300, so it can be a great bargain.

    I'm trying to figure out how you managed to book your flights so inexpensively. I just went on the OneWorld site and the cheapest flight in SA was $119 per leg. I'm traveling arounf for 6 weeks between Argentina and Brazil. Any suggestions you can offer for cheaper flights would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks

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    Kenny,

    Why do you think you'll need a guided tour for Machu Picchu? You can get enough information about the site from reading the descriptions in travel guides like Lonely Planey. You can also buy books (or go to the library) on just Machu Picchu and read it before going to Peru.

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    If you can fly LAN into South America, they have their own S. A. airpass which gives you a bigger discount than the One World Pass.

    At the moment LAN is having a huge airfare sale on, but you must return by June 30. Lima is a good point of entry. You would need to fly between Lima and Cusco to visit MP, which has been expensive, but there is now some competition for LAN, or you may find a good discount with their airpass.

    Lodging and food are not expensive in Peru

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    We did much of this itinerary in 2 trips (omitting the Bolivia part, which would have been too much). It's easy to combine Rio with Iguazu Falls, or do Cuzco/Machu Picchu and the Amazon at Iquitos. Combining them, probably by going through La Paz, might be possible but way too much for one trip, even for the amount of time alloted.

    I do agree that Manaus isn't worth it, Iquitos is better, though the Amazon at Manaus is pretty spectacular. Rio can be done in a few days, and if you catch a morning flight, you can do the falls from the Brazil side in a day (this even gives you time to take a cab to Paraguay, for shopping or gambling). Not sure that moving to the other side (Argentina) adds anything to the view. You can probably work the Pantanal into this itinerary pretty easily.

    I agree that you'll need time to acclimate to the altitudes, and don't forget that some flights are just not possible without spending, say, a full day in Lima. Watch out for itineraries that take you back and forth between sea level and 11,000 feet - 21 years old is older than you think!

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    I'm really sorry to everyone for not posting earlier.

    I bookmarked all the forums that I am asking for help, I guess this one got lost in the shuffle!

    Susan - thanks for the report links, I'm still in the process of reading atravelynn's Pantanal report, it is very informative!

    Smiley and qwov - thank you for the tips!

    Axel - you are right, I will not use a tour agency for Machu Picchu, only for the Manu rainforest and the Pantanal. Is it necessary for Lake Titicaca and Iguazu Falls? And if it isn't, would you still recommend having one?

    SDGlenn - Why is Iquitos so much better than Manu? I think Iquitos is too out of the way, so I will have to settle to see the Amazon at the Manu Reserve.

    Christabir - I am amazed, I wish I had seen this post a month ago. I have been slowly researching and forming my itinerary this past month, and it formed into exactly what you have suggested (read below)

    Thank you for all your responses, I have updated my trip - here it is:

    Here is my preliminary itinerary:

    Chicago > Lima > Cuzco > Peruvian Amazon (Manu Rainforest) > Cuzco > Machu Picchu> Cuzco > Lake Titicaca (will I have time?) > Pantanal > Iguazu Falls > Rio de Janeiro

    I do not know if I can go straight to Iguazu after the Pantanal, or if I have to go to Rio first, I have't gotten that far in my research yet.

    I understand this is hard to do in 5 weeks, but I'll try.

    What parts of this itinerary would you recommend I research tour agencies for? I have already done extensive research on a tour agency for Manu, and I believe I have found a good deal. I believe DosManos has the best deal, where it is 770$ for 8D/7N. Anyone heard anything good or bad about this agency?

    Now I am the process of transitioning over to researching the Pantanal and tour agencies for the area. Right now, I am thinking to go to the Northern part of the Pantanal, since I'm reading that there is more wildlife there. Based on my itinerary and the limited time I have, how long do you think I should devote to the Pantanal. I am thinking at least 12 days.

    Lastly, my parents (especially my dad) do not really want me to go to South America. They have this silly notion that it is too dangerous and I will get kidnapped or die. I'm going to go anyway, but to put their minds at ease, do you guys have any ideas of things I can tell them to make them understand that it's safe? Brazil has a pretty high crime rate, but from my limited research, Peru is pretty safe. And obviously there's areas that tourists should avoid, and the tour guides will let me know where not go, I'm sure. If you guys can help me think of specific things to tell them, that would be great. Please spare me the "it's your life, do whatever you want" thing. I doubt anything I say will convince them ... cultural difference I guess.
    There is a 50% possibility that at least one of my friends may accompany me on at least some of this trip. Hopefully I can meet some people along the way so they don't think I am going alone.

    Thanks a lot for everyone's help so far!

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    Do you know which parts of Lake Titicaca you want to visit and how long you plan on being in Puno? If you just want to visit the Uros Islands then it's easy enough to head down to the port yourself and buy a ticket on the boat that the locals take to visit the islands. I do think the Uros islands that you visit on the local boat versus the one that's arranged through an agency might not be quite as nice though. As least that was my experience. I went the first time through an agency and then went back again on my own since I had some time to kill before my afternoon flight.

    Regardless if you go with an angency or do-it-yourself to the floating islands, the agendas for both appear to be the same: Boat drop group off at first island where everyone then sit around in a half circle while someone explain how the islands are built, what the people eat for food, etc. You're then given some time to wander around (you can't really go anywhere far, lol) and the locals beckon you to buy some souveniers. You can also pay extra to have a ride on one of the reed boats. The group is then brought to another island with opportunity to buy more trinkets.

    If you want to visit land islands like Isla Taquile after the Uros and maybe arrange for an overnight stay then it's probably easier to arranged it via an agency if your Spanish isn't so good.

    I felt pretty safe in Peru, but I also used common senses like not walking and hanging out alone at night in deserted streets/unlit alleys, etc.

    Note: Do not leave legs and arms exposed while touring Machu Picchu (or at least unprotected with insects repellant). Those black flies/mosquitos will eat you alive.

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    I will be using DosManos for Lake Titicaca as well (only 75$ for 3 days)


    I have a bunch of general travel questions - they might be stupid, but I have never done this before:

    1. cell phone - how is this going to work? Am I supposed to buy a temp phone when I arrive in Peru? Or will my cell phone work there? How will I call my parents back home?

    2. Camera space - I have a 12 MP digital camera that has an SD card (haven't check how much space the SD card holds), I'm sure I'll run out of space... so which alternative do you think would be smarter:

    a. After the SD card is full, find a computer at a hostel (hopefully they have SD card readers or I will need to bring a USB sd card reader), and then upload the pictures on a private server on the internet and then clear the space on the SD card.

    b. Buy like 5 SD cards

    c. ??


    3. Visas

    I'm reading that an advance visa is not required for American citizens to enter Peru. But when I arrive there, I should check with the embassy or consulate of Peru.

    So from what I understand, I can simply apply for a visa after I arrive in Peru, but on the other hand, a visa is required for entry into Brazil. Regarding Peru, wouldn't it be easier just to do it in advance while I am still in the United States? So I don't have to waste time going to the embassy? Or is that not even possible? I'm trying to figure out where I can do this ... I'm at http://www.peruvianembassy.us/en.html ... but not seeing anything - if anyone can link me that would be great.

    Also, according to travel.state.gov, I should register with the nearest U.S. Embassy if I am traveling in Peru - and I can do this through https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ .. I made an account there but when I try to add a trip to Peru, it wants my local address and phone for Peru .. I do not know this yet - am I not supposed to to do this until I arrive at Peru?

    As for the Brazilian Visa, I am working on that right now, and I should have one before I leave.

    So I will only need a visa for Peru and Brazil, right? Will I need a visa for Bolivia if I am visiting Lake Titicaca? Will I need a visa for Argentina if I am visiting the Iguazu Falls (both sides)? I am assuming I will, maybe not for Bolivia - but I just want to make sure.

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    For the camera backup question, I recommend that you (1) bring multiple SD cards *AND* (2) upload each card content to the internet as soon as you gain access to a computer. You should always think about backing up your pictures as soon as possible since something could happen to your card, ie. it get stolen, you forget them somewhere, it breaks.... On those days thay you can't access the computer then you have the extra SD cards handy. I would go ahead and pack the USB csd card reader with you. It doesn't take up much space, right? Better to be prepared than not.

    About contacting your parents back home, you can certainly write them frequent update emails. Internet places aren't hard to find in the major cities. I don't know about using cell phone, but when I had to make an emergency call to my bank while I was in Cusco, I went to one of the internet places there where they have phones that allowed me to call home and paid them by the minutes. You could also buy phone cards that you can use on the public phones also.

    I didn't need a Visa when I was in Peru last October. If you do need a Visa for other countries you plan to travel to, I would go ahead and try to get them at home, so that'll be one less thing you'll have to worry about on your travel.

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    The visa process for Peru isn't really even difficult. When you are on the plane they will hand out the visa and customs forms to fill out. Then you just give them to the immigration officer at the airport. He'll give you a slip of paper about the size of a credit card to keep with your passport. You need to have it with you when you leave the country.

    As for the camera. I would take 2 or 3 4 gb cards for the camera. Just when you want to upload there won't be a place available. :) Actually I was in Peru for 17 days and took about 3 GB of pictures.

    What I would advise you is to take several sets of rechargable batteries and an a voltage converted for recharging them. Peru is on 220V and anything directly plugged in usually gets fried. Some tourist places will have the US standard voltage, but you can't count on it. Also Peru uses both circular and retangular outlets. You may find you have the storage space and not enough juice! And you don't want to spend your money and time trying to find replacement batteries (if they are available in the jungle).

    For your cell phone. You will probably be able to use it there. Check with your celluar company. Some times the phone has to be "unlocked" for overseas calling. Also the rates tend to be relatively high.

    I don't think there are many magic words that will make parents feel better about their kids traveling on their own. I've been doing it for decades and I still get eyerolls. :) It might make them feel a little better if you had a set itnerary with contact information. I know having a flexible schedule is great, but if this is going to be an issue (which will last long beyond this trip) then it might be worth it to preschedule all accomadations and give them the associated addresses, phone numbers, and if they exist Trip Advisor reviews.

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    Diane and Axel - Thank you for the posts, I have addressed the camera issue below, let me know what you think! I will look into the cell phone tips, thank you.

    ***UPDATE***:

    I have sort of figured out how I will get from place to stay and where I will stay:

    After landing in Lima, I will stay at the Loki Hostel most likely - I am still looking into transportation for how to get to the Hostel. Also, I am still deciding on whether or not to fly to Cuzco or do train/bus.

    In Cuzco, I will probably stay at the Loki Hostel as well. For Machu Picchu, I haven't looked into specifically where I will be staying and what train I will be taking. For Lake Titicaca, Dos Manos will provide the transportaiton (75$ for a 3 day tour). I am still unsure of how to get to the Pantanal from Puno, but I am starting to look into that as well. I may even have to go from Juliaca > Lima > Sao Paulo and then bus it to Cuiaba or something. Hopefully this will be easier once I have finally decided on a Pantanal tour agency, so I know exactly where I need to be. (I am still leaning toward the Northern Pantanal). As for the rest of the trip, I haven't looked into it much but I don't think it should be too difficult. Hopefully everything starts coming together soon, because my schoolwork is not going to get any easier!

    I'm still working on comparing Pantanal agencies - I will post again once I have made some sort of tangible progress.

    Here's a few random questions:

    Should I bring my laptop to South America? I assumed that I wouldn't because in case I get robbed or something. I was thinking that I just bring a couple SD cards, and not even bother uploading pictures on to the internet, but rather just bring a couple 8 GB flash drives and upload them on to there, and them empty out the SD cards. How does that sound? So all I will really need to bring is an SD card reader, flash drives, SD cards, and my camera of course.

    I'm not sure if I will need batteries, my camera has a battery charger where I can just plug it in to an outlet. Will this not work in SA?

    I'm currently communicating via e-mail with the Brazilian consulate in Chicago in order to obtain a Visa. I cannot apply yet because I am still waiting for my passport in the mail (I had to renew it, it may still be a couple weeks at least). However, one of their other requirements is that they want a print out of the round trip ticket or the flight itinerary or something. However, I do not know which airport or airline I am taking yet, because I am going to go there after Peru... I do not even know the exact dates, and probably won't know the exact dates until well into June when I am on my way to Lake Titicaca. So how am I supposed to provide this information? I asked them and their response was "We do ask that you provide flight itinerary/plans of entry and exit from Brazil."

    I replied back reiterating the fact that I will not have that available and explained my situation, and they have yet to reply. I wonder how strict this? Can I not give them estimates? \It's pretty ridiculous.


    **Medical/Hygiene Help**

    I need some medical help - I'm not expecting anyone to give me some professional medical advice, but just opinion based on personal experience, or links to some information.

    Anyways, so I needed a Yellow Fever vaccination in order to get into Brazil. Before I could do this, I was told that I need to make an appointment for a travel consultation in order to get my Yellow Card (sort of like a passport for medical history I believe). The consultation was with a registered nurse, and it was free through my school. It lasted almost 3 hours! I thought it would be a waste of time but it was pretty informative. However, it is always nice to have a second opinion, so please let me know if you have any thoughts on what she is recommending below.

    The nurse recommended a lot of different things based on where I am going:

    -Yellow Fever Shot ($90) (done)
    -Swine Flu Shot ($0) (done)
    -Typhoid Shot (49$)
    -Seasonal Flu Shot (20$)
    -Hepatitis A Shot ($3) (this is recommended even if I am not traveling, so I will definitely get this done)
    -TB test to see if I need a shot
    -Tetanus vaccination (I don't think she mentioned this, and I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I'm reading that I should have this before going into Manu)

    -Cipro - I think this is some sort of anti-diarrhea antibiotic drug that I should take if I happen to get really sick and have diarrhea and vomitting. She also recommended bringing some Pepto or Imodium.

    -Malaria Medication - She is recommending I take malarial medication. She was unsure about the Malarial risk in the Pantanal, but she said that there is risk in Iguazu, but I'm not sure she knew what was she talking about as she did not seem very confident with regards to malaria. She is using some program/website called Travel Medicine Advisor to make her recommendations. She recommended taking Malarome or Lariam for malaria medication.
    This is the main thing that I am unsure about, can anyone help me out with this?

    Based on Google searches, I'm reading that there is about a .1% risk for malaria and Leishmaniasis in Manu, and there is almost no risk in the Pantanal or Iguazu either. Obviously these aren't medical documents where I'm getting this information from, but rather from tourists who have had personal experiences with this, and also from tour agencies.
    Tourists are saying that the malaria tablets will just make you feel sick and ruin the trip, and there is no point. I should just stick to DEET mosquito repellant (30-50%?), as that will simultaneously protect me from Dengue Fever as well.

    As for rabies, as long as I am sleeping with mosquito nets I should be fine, I don't think there is really a need to look into pre-exposure vaccinations for this, right?
    I'm assuming the mosquito nets will be provided?

    -She also recommended that I make sure that my medical insurance company is covering me when traveling abroad - to make sure that their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expences such as medical evacuation. This is what most travelers do, right? I'm going to call my health insurer soon.

    -She also recommended drinking only bottled or boiled water. Will I have to buy a case load of bottled water over there? Where will I get this? She gave me a sheet with all of these tips, they even go as far to say as use bottled water to brush my teeth. Also, never drink unpasteurized milk - that makes sense.
    She also said to bring some electrolyte powder patches (i.e. Gatorade) to put in your water because your body will need electrolytes even more in that part of the world.. I forget what her justification was exactly, something about the proper minerals not being in their food I believe.

    Please post if you have any input on any of this! Thanks!

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    I would leave the laptop behind. It makes you a target. Internet cafes (at least in Peru) are inexpensive and numerous.

    If you have the proper adapter, a battery charger will work pretty much anywhere, in Peru you may not even need the adapter. However it may or may not make a full charge and if you take lots of pictures I would have a backup battery or set (I like having a camera that takes AA batteries).

    You would want to look into travel insurance for evacuation coverage if your provider doesn't cover it.

    Your nurse provided some good tips on hygiene. Another tip, get some travel hand sanitizer and use it before you eat anything. I often wonder if the people who get stomach bugs get it from their hands or from the food...

    You can buy bottled water on virtually every street corner or tienda (store)..and I do recommend following those tips on stomach upsets, as well as she should have mentioned not to eat raw fruits and veg that haven't been peeled, no salad greens..just think you don't want to eat anything that last touched water before it touched you. The Cipro and all the other stuff is a good idea, I think you'll have more chance of tourist tummy than all the other illnesses.

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    For transportation in Lima it is very easy to get a taxi at the airport. There are also car services. Which ever you choose make sure you have directions to the Hostel from the airport. Lima isn't an easy city to drive in.

    Personally, I think it is worth the $200 or so to fly from Lima to Cusco. It is an all day/night train or bus ride.

    I agree, skip the lap top, but do plan on an adapter for your camera. Peru's standard voltage is 220V. Consult your camera information to make sure you can plug in at that level. You don't want to fry you camera. And for the space they take up a few batteries are worth the peace of mind. Who wants to be at MP and not be able to take a picture!

    It sounds like you'll have to do some hard planning around your entry and exit from Brazil. If you are going to fly you are probably going to have to do that any way. There are only a few flights in and out of the Lake Titicaca area each day. Personally, I'd adjust the attitude that it is ridiculous. It is their country, they get to do what they want.

    Tentus is usually a booster shot for most Americans. You should have one every 10 years. You might check your records, some colleges require them for registration.

    For traveler's revenge - I'd take either cipro, or pepto and/or imodium. You can take a couple packet of the instant gatorade, but you'll only need them if you get REALLY ill. As I recall I saw gatorade on sale at most of the larger grocery stores.

    I'd skip the malaria medication. By the time you'd get sick you'd most likey be back in the US.

    You'll need the DEET for MP as well as the jungle. It doesn't protect, just vastly decreases the chance you'll be bit.

    You sound like you are doing most of the trip the budget way so I'd ask about the nets. You are going to developing nations.

    I'll second the note about bottle water. At least in Peru is it is easily available in the major cities.

    You can eat very well in Peru. There are peelible fruits easily available and it is up to you if you want to try the salads. I did and I survived quite nicely. I would plan on taking some granola or power bars with you. They were good when I was traveling and a store or restaurant wasn't available.

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    Are you planning to stay in Lima for a day or more before flying off to your next destination? For Lima > Cusco you can certainly fly into Lima at night, stay at the airport and then catch an early AM flight the next morning to Cusco. In that situation it wouldn't even be worth it at all to spend a night in a Lima's hostel unless you want to do some Lima's sightseeings.

    You can ask the Lima's hostel to arrange for a taxi pick-up at the airport. The cab driver might ask you to pay for his parking fee. I was actually surprised when this was asked of me last year. Try also to have exact change or close to it for the cab fare, because the cab driver probably won't carry too much change on him and the whatever changes he gives back to you might only be a few pennies, literally. This happened to me.

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    Just want to add that if you have the hostel/hotel arrange for your cab pickup then make sure to verify with the hostel if you are to pay the cab fee to the hostel or directly to the cab driver.

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    Be aware also that altitude sickness do affect some travellers at high altitude cities like Cusco, Puno, etc. You just have to give your body time to acclimitize. Coccoa leaves tea is supposed to help. You can also buy Soroche (high-altitude sickness) pills at the pharmacies, which are easy to find in Peru cities.

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    You need to get travel medical/evac insurance. US policies don't cover us out of the country. Any GSM international phone should work in the cities. Call your carrier to make sure, but just know it's expensive.

    12 days in Pantanal sounds awesome.

    You'd better firm up your plans soon! It's almost time to leave! (you're really going alone?). You need an airline ticket to get a Brazil visa.

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    A few thoughts;
    LAPTOP great to have and really useful/convenient especially as wifi is readily available. You can use it to skype back home, email, blog etc. but all of that you can do from a webcafe. A lap top is really the best option for downloading photos but you could easily do this by taking a card reader and downloading to a USB stick or even an iPod (you can buy a special connector that does not need a computer to transfer the data. On balance I would not bother with a laptop as it does become a real pain to carry around and making sure it is safe in your room when you are out and about can also be problematic.


    MALARIA Strongly disagree withone of the previous posters re not taking appropriate prophylactics. I have had malaria and believe me it was not a pleasant experience! Just because others have not taken mediation and not contracted it just means that they didn't get bitten by a malaria carrying mozzie. Take the meds, use 50% deet religiously and cover up at night. There is no treat ment for dengue fever so you may wish to spray deet during teh day as well in dengue areas.

    STOMACH PROBLEMS - Check out the appropriate recommended antbiotic for the region (ciproflaxin or whatever) and either take a course with you (or buy on arrival which will propbaly be cheaper) that way, if you are hit by a bug you can start straight away. Immodium/loperamide tablets are handy to have if only to get you through a bus trip etc. until the antiboitics kick in.

    RABIES - vaccines is only required if you are a long way from a hospital and will then only increase the time you have to get treatment after being bitten it does not prevent the disease. I had the vaccine when living in Africa for a while but only because we were 12 hours from the nearst hospital. If you do get bitten by an animal get to a hospital straight away.

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    Mlgb – thank you for the tips – yes the nurse said to bring sanitizer as well – I just forgot about it!
    Diane – from what I am told by people, it should only cost about 120$ to fly from Lima to Cusco, I think via Taca. And yes, I will not bring a laptop. What does traveler’s revenge mean? Diarrhea?
    Axel – yes I am planning on staying in Lima for a couple days, maybe more if I like it – it will all depend on what my date is set for Manu. Yes, I am arranging Loki to pick me up from the airport (I talk about these issues below in my update).
    Christa – I addressed the insurance and visa issues below – I know it’s almost time to leave – I feel like I’m running out of time!
    Crellston – thanks for the advice!
    Thank you everyone for all the help so far.

    **UPDATE**
    Medical:
    I’m going to meet with the registered nurse again at my school
    Malaria: still haven’t decided which type of medication to take for this
    Assuming that I do not have them already, I am going to go ahead and take the following shots:
    Tetanus, Typhoid, Seasonal Flu, Polio, and Hepatitis A
    I will also be taking chewable Pepto Bismol tablets and Imodium for diarrhea. I am bringing Cipro as well but I am unsure exactly when I am supposed to use it.
    Cell Phone:
    I think I'm going to go with the unlocked phone - it seems the simplest option rather than dealing with Skype, because who knows when I'll have access to the internet.
    So I have already unlocked my phone - now it is just a matter of putting the foreign sim card into it.

    I have a few questions about this:

    I have been researching companies online because there are companies that offer to give you the foreign sim card for the country even before you leave, this way you have the sim card already and you do not have to worry about buying it over there. However, all these companies charge about $2.50-$3.00 a minute. My question is, I know that when I land in Lima, I can buy a foreign sim card at the airport, but what will there rates be? Will they be significantly cheaper? If so, I will wait on buying the sim card. Also, are there any other hidden fees? If I buy my SIM card at the airport in Lima, how will they charge me? Will they ask me for my credit card information? Or will I just pay as I go?

    Camera:

    I think I will just buy SD cards and not take a laptop.

    From what I understand, here is the differences between USA, Peru, and Brazil:

    United States - 120 Volts, K Shape Outlet, 60 frequency
    Peru - 110 Volts.. 220 secondary Volts, K Shape Outlet, 50/60 frequency
    Brazil - 110 Volts.. 220 secondary Volts, B and K Shape Outlet, 60 frequency

    This site is helping me out in determining whether or not I need a adaptor and/or converter:
    http://www.magellans.com/store/util/ElecWiz?Args=

    Besides my cell phone charger, camera charger, and maybe an electric razor, I don't think I will need to bring any other things that would require an outlet.

    Flight from Chicago to Lima:

    I'm currently comparing different airlines, the best deal I have found is 344$ with Continental Airlines at despegar.com (the weird part is that Continental at other websites is almost 200$ more). The 2nd best deal I have found so far is 450$ LAN airlines based on statravel.com (I think it is a student discount), along with Continental via Studentuniverse(450$).

    Transportation from Lima Airport to Loki Hostel in Lima:

    I will just get Loki Hostel to send a taxi for me, I believe it is 15$

    Transportation from Lima to Cuzco:

    For bus, I am trying to use http://www.cruzdelsur.com.pe/inicio_2.php - the website is in english, but as soon as I put my arrival and departure date and hit submit, the results are in spanish and I cannot find a button anywhere to convert it to English. I believe it's about 50-60$ though.

    If I decide to fly, Taca and Star Peru do not charge much over a 100$

    Transportation from Cuzco to MP:

    I don't think I have much choice besides using a train for this, I have been referred several times to perurails.com - but I cannot seem to find a price or make a reservation. Every date that I put, it comes back with the result that there is no availability. Am I doing something wrong? Or is it really all sold out? I emailed them and this is what they said:

    "At the moment we are not processing reservations or modifications yet because we are modifying train tickets and reservations that already where made you can check our available spaces in our web page www.perurail.com ones everything is done contact our Callcenter for more information calling to this phone number 0051-84-581414."

    From what I gather, they are saying I cannot make a reservation right now. But it still doesn't explain why every result yields no availability, and why I cannot see the rates.

    Travel Health Insurance:

    I called my health insurer and they said I will have the exact health benefits that I have in the US, overseas - and they will only pay 80% of the cost, and I pay the remaining 20%, up to 1500$. Also, this does not cover all the things that a travel insurer would - it only covers medical expense and evacuation.

    So I don't think that is good enough so I will just go with one of the following:

    Statravel - 165$
    Travelassistnetwork - 180$
    TravelGuard - 119$
    WorldNomads - 127$
    It would seem like TravelGuard is the best deal, but I haven't compared the policies. I think it will take a while to compare the policies.There are a few others as well that I need to find the prices for.
    Other:
    How and when do I convert my dollars to soles? If I need more money – where would be the best place to go? I think I was told by someone never to wire money in SA for some reason.
    Food & Drink in SA:
    I think I have a firm grasp on this now - just stick to water bottles. How will I know if the dairy is pasteurized? If the fruits/vegetables have not been washed in local water? I'm assuming when I am staying at the hostels, I will have to buy food at their cafe, and then also eat out at restaurants, along with any meals the tour agency provides while I am at Manu/LakeTiticaca/Pantanal. So I guess I will just have to continually ask these questions every time I am served? Also, one thing that I don't think I mentioned is that I am vegetarian (lacto-ovo). This will probably make it more difficult! Hopefully not too much.

    ISIC CARD: I'm going to obtain this from the study abroad office at my university. They require 22$ and a passport photo - it seems like I can get some nice discounts, so it couldn't hurt.
    Also, apparently the ISIC card comes with travel insurance – I was unaware of this. It seems like it covers all the typical things that a travel insurance agency would. The ISIC card is only 22$, compared to other travel insurance companies, it is very cheap. Also there is an option for ISIC Premium card, which is 75$, and the amount of coverage shoots up to at least double (i.e. emergency evacuation coverage goes from 300k to 1million, accidental medical expense goes from 25k to 100k). I think 50$ more for that much more coverage would be a smart thing to do. It looks like the ISIC Premium is a better deal than the travel insurance companies, because it covers more money in most categories.

    Pantanal: I'm still in communication with several pantanal agencies
    Thanks for your help!

  • Report Abuse

    I want your insurance. Most cover nothing.

    Travelguard is AIG - just FYI. The student card sounds great!

    Malarone has few side effects, but I don't know if it is used in S America (used in Africa).

    You will not be able to avoid all local water - do your best and take the Pepto every day. Tell the "hotels" in the Pantanal in advance about your dietary needs and they will do their best. This works for anyplace where you have no options for other food sources besides your "hotel".

    Hopefully the MP Cuzco train will be up and running soon. I don't know how well they are recovering since the floods.

    You seem to be well on your way. Aren't you supposed to be studying? :)

  • Report Abuse

    For Cash. In larger cities ATMs are plentiful and will happily give you local curency. In Peru there are money changers. Most frequently you'll find them outside the banks wearing green vests. They have to offer you the regular exchange rate.

    I don't think you'll have much problem with the lacto part of your diet, but you'll be missing some very unique meats. (Alpaca comes to mind) You should still eat well.

  • Report Abuse

    Christa - thanks I will go with the ISIC insurance - there is actually an offer for ISIC Premium which covers even more and is 75$, I'll just go with that. I was only going to take the pepto when I exhibit diarrhea symptoms - you are suggesting just taking one everyday regardless? Psh, I'm done studying - I already secured a job!

    Diane - Are you saying I can swipe my American debit card in these ATMs and it will dispense soles? For these money changers, will I have to worry about getting ripped off from these people - or is it just one flat constant rate that all of them offer?

    Thanks for your posts!

  • Report Abuse

    PANTANAL UPDATE:

    This portion of the trip seems very expensive – especially if I want to stay over a week.

    Agency:

    BrazilNatureTours: $1167 4D/3N north - transpantaneira

    PantanalNatureTour: 1200$ 6D/5N - terrain : north – transpantaneira road (via car) + boat trip in porto jofre

    JaguarEcologicalReserve – 250$ per day north – transpantaneira road (via truck) + boat trip in porto jofre

    PantanalExpeditions – 350$ per day terrain: not sure yet

    PantanalTrackers: 3100$ 8D/7N terrain : north – transpantaneira

    FocusTours: 4000+ (too expensive) 5D/4N

    Caiman: 4500+ 4D/3N (too expensive)

    Dehouche: 5500+ (too expensive)

    From this list – in my opinion, the obvious choice would by the second one, PantanalNatureTours – it seems that it is the most bang for the buck. I may very well do that unless someone has a better suggestion?

    There is one alternative – I have been in communication with Douglas Trent, who I believe is the owner of Focus Tours – I told him that I cannot afford his tours but he offered me an alternative.

    He says that if I can commit to staying for at least 2.5 weeks – he can arrange a volunteer position at one of the lodges (http://www.pousadacantoarancua.com.br/) this ranch is only a few KM from the road (I think he means the Transpanteneira road) – during this volunteering – I would give English classes and also help with anything else, including taking care of tourists. I wouldn’t clean since they have maids already, but I would help “clear trails, maybe paint some rooms, who knows. You could put up English signs in the rooms about meal times, etc.”

    So I don’t think it would be too bad. He would charge me 75$ for the costs he incurs in time and phone calls to set it up, which makes sense.

    This sounds like a great experience - and if I had more time in my schedule, I would not hesitate to do it. I asked him if I’ll be able to see wildlife while I am volunteering and he said that I’ll be able to explore the large ranch and see its wildlife, but unless I have a car it will be hard to get out and explore other areas – there are jaguars in the vicinity but I would need to be fairly luck to spot one. I would need to get out and look for them. He said that he could also reserve several hotels for me and a rental car and I could spend my time traveling the Transpantaniera looking for wildlife. The hotels would cost about $150 including the meals – and he would charge me $250 for setting all this up. This seems like a good deal compared to the other tour agencies, but I’m going to ask for an itinerary if there is any.

    So basically he is proposing “either you do a volunteer stint, spending very little money, OR, don't, and instead spend your money on a rental car and stay in a few different lodges.”

    My dilemma is this: do I commit 2.5 weeks in doing the volunteering and pay very little – do some work, gain some experience interacting with the ranch and teaching them English. However, I would probably not see any jaguars, nor many other wildlife, which is one of the main reasons I am coming in the first place. Plus, I think 2.5 weeks is too long, it’s basically half my trip. I think if he agrees to bring it down to 2 weeks I can consider it more seriously. Right now, I think I would rather do the 150$ a day that he has offered or the $1200 PantanalNature tour – what do you guys think I should do?

  • Report Abuse

    From your last paragraph, it sounds like if you take the volunteer position then you will have regrets not being able to explore the wildlifes, which is your main goal for going to Pantanal. If this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for you then you should try to do everything that you really wanted to do, providing of course you can cover the cost. Just keep in mind that you might not end up seeing any actual jaguars, but if you will still be happy seeing other wildlifes and a chance to explore the jungles then you should do it. Good luck.

  • Report Abuse

    I hear good things about Brazil NT and John is quick to respond. (I planned a family trip and it didn't happen). If you could tag along with another single, couple or group your costs would go down a lot. I don't know if they could work with you on that, but it's worth a try. Transporting a single from the airport or bus station is expensive and is driving up your cost.

    That volunteering sounds like a great opportunity. I'd be torn, too. I'm surprised he can't arrange for you to go on some of the guest excursions. Most people don't get to see jaguars, they are very rare and very wary of people. But 2.5 weeks is half of your trip. What would you miss?

    In all countries ATM's spit out the local currency. If you look into it, find out which debit cards don't charge absurd fees. I use a credit union and there are no fees for international use. Capital One is the only credit card I am aware of that doesn't charge "foreign transaction fees". They add up quick!

  • Report Abuse

    If you look on the back of your ATM card (not american express that is a credit card - although it will give you a cash advance but at an interest rate) you'll see several logos. Those are the networks your ATM card will work at. At this point I think that almost all of the banks are on an international network.

    I used Nova Soctia's ATM while I was in Peru. they didn't have any withdrawl fees and their max daily withdrawl was 500 soles. (about 133 USD) Since I had prepaid my lodging and the airfare it lasted me several days (except for my sourveiner shopping day).

    As for the money changers - if they aren't wearing a green vest and standing outside a bank - they aren't legal. Their rates are set by the banks and governement. You might find a penny or two difference, but not enough to have much value.

    For the time, I'd just use the ATM. It really is just that easy.

  • Report Abuse

    Hi everyone,

    Call me lazy but this thread is so long so I didn't read through them all.

    I and 2 friends backpacked through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia for 2.5 months last summer. A lot of people have talked about Peru so I will touch on Bolivia as I and most people you meet who have been there will tell you they knew nothing about it when they went but it quickly becomes one of hte most fascinating and exciting countries you will ever visit.

    La Paz- I would say takea couple days to hang in La Paz. Such a chaotic but itneresting city and cheap. You can go to bolivian wrestling matches, visit an area just outside which theyc allt eh valley of the moon cause it looks like it. You can do a day trip excursion with a bike company down the Yungas Road aka the World's Most Dangerous Road.

    If you want amazong you can head north either by 30 min plane or 18 hour bus and take a pampas or jungle tour. We did a 2 night pampas tour and saw all kinds of caiman, monkeys, birds etc. Everything except big game.

    The Salaar de Uyuni is truly mindblowing. You can do a 4 day/3 night jeep tour, only for about 70-80 bucks total and that includes driver, food and accomodation. The salt flats are mind blowing and the scenery is unbelievable, at some points ont eh road going up to 5000m elevation so make sure you have a sweater!

    You can hit up Potosi and the silver minds where the working conditions are appalling and you can see live explosive demonstrations and can give some gifts to the workers to ease their conditions. There is even a store where you can buy them fuses for dynamite as a gift.

    Sucre is a beautiful colonial type city with gran white architecture and very pretty.

    Tupiza is where Butch Cassidy and Sundance are said to have taken their last stand. Nice little cowboy town that really oes feel like the wild west. My suggestion would be to get the jeep tour in Uyuni and get dropped off in Tupiza.

    We didn't go east much intot eh interior of Bolovia, but I hear that is where the jungle is deepest and you can even jump on a river boat for a few days and get really deep into the amazon.

    Hope this helps and have a blast. It will be a lifetime experience.

  • Report Abuse

    Kenny536,

    Sorry, I'm late to the party ... I'm travelling to both the north and south Pantanal in July. I looked at a number of options and finally booked 9 days with Pantanal Trackers in the North and am really looking forward to that.

    You might like to try contacting one or two of the lodges here http://www.pantanal-pocone.net/en/pantanal/lodges/pousada_piuval.php and enquire about a lodge-based safari with pick-up in Cuiaba or Pocone. I've heard good things about Pousada Piuval, Pouada Araras is a more up-market option and you might consider in travelling further south to maybe the Jaguar Eco-lodge (as you mention) if you have time to extend the Pantanal experience.

  • Report Abuse

    Kenny536,

    the new Pantanal wildlife guide arrived yesterday and it has some details of lodge rates in the Northern Pantanal.

    Pousada Piuval offers full board including wildlife watching activities for $180 US pps per day.

    Pousada Alegre offer the same deal for $65 US pps and Pousada Pixiam for $50 US pps.

    None of the lodges mention how to get there, however they may be able to offer some suggestions if contacted.

    Happy planning,


    Pol

  • Report Abuse

    Axel - you're right, I am not going to do the volunteering.

    Christa and Diane, thanks a lot for the tips - and I will look into these foreign transaction fees, thanks for the heads up!

    Traveling addict - I don't think I will be going to Bolivia, if I do I think I will only be passing by.

    Treepol - I am about to finalize my Pantanal trip - where are you getting those rates from? Can you give me a link? I do not see those rates in the link you showed me.

    Thanks everyone!

    [B]Update on my trip:[/B]

    I am leaving May 17th and arriving at Lima, Peru. I am leaving July 12th from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and coming home. The tickets were bought a month ago. I’m going to start packing soon. Please let me know if you think something is unnecessary, and more importantly, if I am omitting anything. Also please let me know if I’m not allowed to bring these things on the plane, cause I have no idea. Keep in mind I haven’t bought some of these things yet, although I must do that soon. Thanks!

    [B]In no particular order, here is what I have decided to pack so far:
    [/B]
    • Mp3 player, charger, 2 sets of headphones
    • Lots of 50+% DEET of insect repellant.
    • Some sort of travelers backpack
    • SD Card Reader + SD cards + 8 GB flash drive
    • Camera/charger
    • Electrolyte powder
    • Mosquito Net
    • A few sets of clothes (how many sets should I bring? Will I be cold?)
    • Binoculars
    • Spanish – English dictionary + Portuguese – English Dictionary
    • Travel pouch, two wallets
    • Padlock
    • 2 pairs of shoes, one for dry land and one for water
    • Hand sanitizer/wet wipes
    • Alcohol rub, malarial medication, cipro, pepto-bismol, Imodium, Tylenol
    • Travel pillow, towel, razor
    • Flash light, batteries, adapters and converters for electronics
    • Sun hat, sunscreen, umbrella

    That’s all I can think of right now. Is all of this necessary? I don’t know how I would fit all this into one backpack. Should I have a second bag and just leave it at the hostel?

    [B]Here is my schedule for the actual trip:[/B]

    May 17th – May 21st – Lima
    May 22nd – June 7th – Cusco (Machu Picchu, Manu, Lake Titicaca, Paragliding)
    June 8th – July 12th – Brazil (Pantanal in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro, and possibly Iguazu Falls)

    [B]Things I have done:[/B]

    • Shots / malaria medication (doxycycline).
    • ISIC card/travel insurance.
    • Brazilian Visa
    • Hostel reservations for the hostel in Lima.

    [B]Things I still have to do:[/B]

    • Register with the embassies in both countries.
    • Make copies of my passport.
    • Carefully read the lonely planet guidebook.
    • Finalize the date for the Pantanal.
    • Figure out how to get from Peru to Brazil
    • Learn more Spanish and Portuguese (haha I am so screwed)
    • Buy foreign SIM card for phone (will do this in airport at Lima/Brazil)

    I think the main thing I need help with right now is how to get from Peru to Campo Grande. I’m hearing that direct flights from Lima to Campo Grande can cost $1000. I do not want to pay that much. I’m hearing cheaper alternatives if I go through Bolivia (i.e. Cusco > Santa Cruz and then bus it to Campo Grande). Can anyone help me out with more information on this? Also, if I do this, will I have to obtain a Bolivian visa?

    Thanks for the help everyone – this trip will be a memorable experience!

  • Report Abuse

    I'm so glad you're going!!

    Take at least a fleece jacket - if you're not cold, they make a great pillow. Buy a bag there if you need to - don't bring anything you cna't get there.

    It should be cheaper to fly Lima to GRU or Rio and then to Pantanal. Are there any buses?

    Get a translator app or book if you can.

    Don't register with the embassies, log onto the US State Dept site and register there. That way they know you're there and if anything bad happens, like gov't problems, floods or earthquakes, they know to look for you. Leave contact info with them as well.

  • Report Abuse

    Don't forget toilet paper! :)

    Email yourself a copy of your passport, phone numbers for your bank and credit card company and any emergency phone numbers you can think of.

    Bring freezer type plastic zip lock bags to store your camera and other electronic equipments in, especially when you get into the humid jungle. It wouldn't be bad to also have some of those moisture absorbing cilica gel packs to throw in the bag with your camera.

    If you have a hand-free flashlight then that would be better than a hand-held one.

    Try packing everything at least a week before you're scheduled to leave to determine if you'll need a second bag or if you can leave some stuffs home.

  • Report Abuse

    Kenny356,

    these rates are quoted a new Brsadt guide Bradt guide to Pantanal Wildlife by James Lowen that was published in March 2010. Although it was probably researched last year, the published rates would hopefully represent a reasonable ball park figure.

    Have a great trip,


    Pol

  • Report Abuse

    I would bring a rain poncho or at least a black garbage bag that you could use as a poncho. Being wet in the jungle is miserable (you don't dry out). I'm a big fan of traveling with granola bars and almonds. A small bottle of laundry soap for washing your clothes.

    If you are concerned about how much room it will take, lay it all out on your bed (or floor). See what is there. In most places along the way you'll be able to get the basic tolietries, even if they are different from hom.

  • Report Abuse

    Hey Ken!
    Congratulations on your pending graduation/job! And even more congrats on your plan to tour Latin America. I too am planning nearly the same trip and am excited to read all the posts/suggestions you are recieving.

    I plan to be gone for 6 mos. from Nov. 2013 to April 2014. I'd love to be on your "list" of people you send and photos/blog back to as a way of getting more up-to-date info and perhaps feeing back to you any tips I learn about. Would you be willing to do that?
    My address: MAlter1011@aol.com

    You are SOOOO right to do this trip NOW. I've waited more than 40 YEARS to do this trip!
    Hasta luego!
    Marcia

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