Solo female travelling around South America

Dec 24th, 2014, 05:03 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 1
Solo female travelling around South America

Hi All,
this is my first time posting here so would appreciate your patience if I ask questions that have been asked before or just ramble on a bit! =)

I am planning on doing a round the world next year, which I am really looking forward! It will be the first backpacking trip that I will be going on and whilst I am crazily excited I am a bit uncertain about some aspect which I would love advice and help on.

Part of my trip will be 6 weeks in South America, currently I am planning to fly into Lima, Peru and then to fly out of Rio de Janerio in Brazil. My main questions are?

1.Has any one had any experience travelling around South America? What are the best methods? I have heard a lot of people suggesting buses, would I be best purchasing tickets before I go to South America? or can I book whilst there and how would I go about this?

2.Is 6 weeks a realistic time frame to go from Lima to Rio? and has any one any suggestions or routes and activities whilst there?

3. Any tips for a single female traveller? I am going to north America to travel first to gain some experience and have travelled and live abroad previously but it is still scary especially with the language barrier =S

4. Has anyone had any experience with language classes whilst aboard?

5. Lastly would it be better to book a hop on hop off tour/ bus or just buy tickets etc as I go?

Sorry again for the long post and thanks for those who read to the end!!! =)

Any advice and information greatly welcomed even if not related to the questions above
fire123 is offline  
Dec 25th, 2014, 06:18 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 25,154
Good luck with the trip!

Have you spent any time with guidebooks yet? They are still the best way to plan a trip. Take a look for Lonely Planet and Footprints. And Rough Guide, although I think they are only doing ebooks now.

There are very few trains in SA, so unless you are doing a long leg, for which you may want to fly, definitely buses. In general you can just show up at the bus station a couple of days ahead of time to buy a ticket. A few routes in high season you might want to buy earlier. Have no idea what hop-on buses you are talking about.

I don't know that six weeks is enough depending on what you want to see. If you click on my name you will find my TR for a longer trip from Rio to Santiago, I could easily have spent another two to three weeks just in Peru.

Guide books will tell you in general what areas are unsafe. The places you stay can give you more specific information. Personally, I do not consider the US any safer than SA. Where are you going and how are you getting around there? Suggest you post on the US board as well. You would be much better off "practicing" in Europe.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 25th, 2014, 07:27 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
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Hi fire123!
Since you seem to be backpacking, and specifically round the world, I would suggest posting on a forum where more people fall into that category and have done that, such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum. Posters here are quite knowlegable, but fewer have done that type of trip.

"1.Has any one had any experience travelling around South America? What are the best methods? I have heard a lot of people suggesting buses, would I be best purchasing tickets before I go to South America? or can I book whilst there and how would I go about this?"
Buses can be booked once you arrive. Flights tend to get more expensive the closer to departure. Brazil has no trains. Over distances, and between countries, flights often make sense.

"2.Is 6 weeks a realistic time frame to go from Lima to Rio? and has any one any suggestions or routes and activities whilst there?"
Fly direct from Lima to Rio, with the limited time you have. Or use flights to any destinations you are considering between them. Time. Time. Time.
You could spend most of the 6 weeks just in Brazil. It would be easier to advise if we knew what you wanted to see. For a mere 6 weeks, you have to make some big decisions on what to cut.

3. Any tips for a single female traveller? I am going to north America to travel first to gain some experience and have travelled and live abroad previously but it is still scary especially with the language barrier

"4. Has anyone had any experience with language classes whilst aboard?"
I can recommend a good Portuguese teacher. Not many people speak other than that in Brazil. Spanish classes might depend on where you want to spend your time; a week out of your trip spent on classes isn't going to get you very far. Start now at home with Spanish classes.

"5. Lastly would it be better to book a hop on hop off tour/ bus or just buy tickets etc as I go?"
No, it's easy enough to get around on your own, booking buses, and much cheaper.
SambaChula is offline  
Dec 25th, 2014, 08:01 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 18,064
While I haven't traveled to Brazil, I've been to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile.

First, you can relax! You will meet many other young single travelers especially if you stay in hostels that target that category. It's likely you will naturally hook up with some of those from time to time, going on a similar itinerary.

You should be careful with your belongings, especially when traveling, at bus stations and airports. Also that may mean not staying in the very cheapest lodgings if you can afford to go up a notch. Have a look at hostel ratings on sights such as and try to stay at the highest rated. I have heard more tales of theft from hostel lodgings as from pickpocketing. When you don't have internet access, it's handy to have a paper guide. I like Footprint, used ones can be had on ebay for a few $$. The country-specific ones are best.

Buses within Peru will be okay if you stick to the better companies, such as Cruz del Sur, Ormeno, Tepsa etc. Try not to travel at night if that is an option. Although I wouldn't use them to book, has their schedules on line. Also there are several specialized tourist buses that travel between Arequipa and Puno, and between Puno and Cusco. They are a good way to combine touring and transfers at a reasonable cost.

I wouldn't use the hop on buses for long distance travel. You can buy online in-country or at bus stations or travel agencies (often hotels will do that for you). For example Cruz del Sur can deliver tickets to hotels in Lima. A day or two ahead is best.

Fodorite crellston has done some language study, and should be along to post soon! I think most recently there was a discussion of language teachers in Ollantaytambo (a great little town near Machu Picchu)that cindyjo used, recommended by crellston.

Link here
mlgb is offline  
Dec 25th, 2014, 10:14 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 18,064
I was just shopping REI for holiday specials and noticed that they have the Pacsafe backpack net on sale at half off. I met someone using this and it seemed like a neat thing to discourage sticky fingers inside hostels.
mlgb is offline  
Dec 25th, 2014, 03:46 PM
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welcome to Fodors SA forum fire123

Geeting around South America is fairly straightforward. Buses are generally good, cheap and run to time in most countries. The downside is theat distances are vast and journeys can be very long. Many longer journeys can be scheduled overnight to save on accomodation cost. Flight can be expensive in SA. We have spent around a year on the continent and we have only taken one flight.

6 weeks is not a lot of time to explore such a vast region so you we need to plan what you want to see really well. Do take into account the weather and altitude as these can have a big influence. Open jaw tickets work really well for SA our first trip we flew into Santiago and out of Buenos Airies, the second, Quito and Lima. Only you can decide if it is "enough" time but for me, the answer would be no. With six weeks I would limit myself to 2/3 countries, probably Peru and Bolivia with maybe a small part of Argentina. I would try to spend a min of 3-4 nights in most places other wise you will be spending too high a proportion of your time on the road.

Learning at last basic Spanish is essential to get the best out of your trip. The more of the basics you cover before you go the better as you not want to use up too much of your six week stuck in a classroom. We spent a month in a school in Wuito where lessons are really cheap but standards are variable.we also spent a similar amount of time in Cusco and Ollantaytambo where there are some good schools. As you are travelling alone, I would seek out a school offering the "immersion "method where you can stay with a local family, spanish speaking to carry on practising. Much quicker than just switching to english at the end of the day. Shop around for schools and get to meet your teacher. Ask about qualification and training. Do they speak English? To progress in ten language you have to put the hours in and practice. Avoiding other english speakers may seem antisocial but will speed up teh learning process immensely.

Mlgb has given great advice above re travel safety. Most important thing to bring with you is commonsense. It is generally safe place to travel but in developing countries, tourist are often seen as rich pickings by some ( including other travellers!). Take good care of your stuff esp. your money and passport. Possession are replaceable but personal safety is paramount. The vast majority to people visit with no incidents at all.

Finally, her is a link to a couple of our blogs which detail our time in SA. The Around the world one is 7 years old now but the Back To SA one is from 2013.

There should be some info on the hostals we stayed at.
Have fun planning.
crellston is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2015, 08:52 PM
Join Date: May 2013
Posts: 637
For what it's worth, I've taken month long backpacking trips to Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and now twice to Argentina. All solo. Only once had a theft. PacSafe gear is an excellent investment. Stayed almost always in cheap hostels I found on Hostelbookers and Hostelworld with a few exceptions. I traveled on LAN, where flights really helped me get around. However I beat the costs by using my American Airline miles to get those flights at a fraction of the cost- and they can be very pricey.

Common sense rules for single women. Stay sober when going out alone, be uber aware of your circumstances, going out in groups is the golden rule, have a designated driver that you know and trust. Keep control of your drinks. I've never had a problem anywhere in the world- but being an old crank I hit the sack at 9 pm for early adventures. You just wanna come home with all those stories.

I carry a small collection of locks for the lockers in hostel rooms. I use those locks for anything that I can't fit into the lockers. Anything more valuable goes to the front desk for safekeeping. MLGB is absolutely right about finding buds and rides- as well as partygoers.

I trust Lonely Planet guides, but with one proviso. Once places (like hotels and hostels) have been identified in Lonely Planet they are magnets. Sometimes that means the price goes up or that they're heavily booked. There are lots of other places not in LP when you Google. But LP does a great job of hleping you with stuff to do and guides, especially for the backpacker, again with the same proviso. I'd peruse these posts for lots of good advice. I do plan my flights in advance to nab the best deals. And I agree with thursdaysd's comments about Peru- it's a superbly lovely country and once you're there it will be SO difficult to leave.

There's a thread implied in the above that six weeks just isn't enough to cover all the territory you've named. Argentina alone is the 8th biggest country in the world, and breathtaking in its variety and breadth. The same for Brazil, which is simply massive- and full of variety. It is common to take on far too much and end up feeling dissatisfied because you got appetizers rather than big, rich bites of a country and its culture that touched your soul. It might be a thought to consider more time in fewer countries, or all of it in one big one. The guides will help you plan based on what you love (cities vs rural) areas(shore vs mountains) and how you love to spend your time (museums vs hiking trails). As well as how to budget, no small thing for a long trip. Which makes it very important to know the inflation rate for the country you're visiting and the date that the guide was printed.

What I've found it's helpful to start any trip at least moderately prepared, which gives you the ability to be spontaneous. Take a third of the clothing you think you need and then twice the money. I'm not making this up. Almost every backpacker I meet is sending clothing home. It's a standing joke. Everything you cram in that pack you have to haul, carry, drag. You will find pieces that you can use in multiple ways. Take those rather than multiple pieces. Bring a lightweight packable sack for souvenirs. Weight is king.

Just some thoughts from lots of months solo on the road. Since I do backpack, and I am a solo female, I hope this was useful.
jhubbel is offline  
Jan 24th, 2015, 09:29 AM
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I love your phrasing: "appetizers rather than big, rich bites of a country and its culture that touched your soul."
SambaChula is offline  
Jan 24th, 2015, 11:46 AM
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Well, that's what you should expect from a great poster whose website is named!!! LOL!!!!
avrooster is offline  
Apr 4th, 2015, 11:25 PM
Join Date: Feb 2015
Posts: 45
I did a similar trip recently, and felt really safe the whole time. Check out my blog for ideas on itineraries (part of it I'm still translating from Spanish, but it will help you practice)
No need to book anything ahead of time... just go and enjoy!
carmenbona is offline  
Apr 6th, 2015, 05:54 AM
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I would just add a general caution to the advice above. If it is a holiday/vacation season/weekend where you plan to be, and you are planning in particular to be in a popular destination (i.e. anyplace in a guidebook , booking ahead might indeed be a good idea to guarantee a place to stay. At least in Brazil, beach villages, national parks, historic cities, etc. do fill up fast during holidays and Carnaval.
SambaChula is offline  
Apr 7th, 2015, 12:19 PM
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 2,435
I'll repeat the advice my female friend from Peru gave me: NEVER take anything to eat or drink from a stranger, and watch your food and drink lest someone put something into it.
This is true not just for Peru, but for everywhere in the world, as I read about a similar attempted drugging in Venice.

Also concur in not booking in advance. Be sure to look at calendars for events, however. E.g. Carnival time will be pretty expensive everywhere in Brazil if not elsewhere, and Winter Solstice will be very expensive in Cusco Peru.
dwdvagamundo is offline  
Apr 26th, 2015, 12:45 PM
Join Date: May 2013
Posts: 637
Back on with some thoughts about language just before I head to SEA (Nepal's earthquake is sending me to Thailand instead of Annapurna, such is world travel): when it comes to studying another language, my preference is to hire a coach. To wit: when I went to Thailand in 2011, I tracked down a student at the Colorado School of Mines through the local Buddhist Temple. He needed the money, I wanted to learn. Three times a week he sat at my dining room table and grilled me on the absolute travel basics: drop the price, hello, thanks, the Thai people are beautiful, where's the bathroom, I'm injured, where's the doctor, how much is this? one of those please, and on and on, as well as how to order my favorite foods and my favorite: mai sai prik which means NO CHILIS please.

By the time I landed in Phuket I was ready to take on the first taxi driver who demanded four times the normal price, I laid him out in his own language, his jaw dropped four feet and all the drivers fell down laughing. I gave him a reasonable fee, then politely introduced myself in perfect Thai, paid his country a lovely compliment, and thereafter he
treated me like royalty. Ever since I've tried to hire a kid or adult in my own town, pay them $20 or more an hour to drill me until I can get by with 20 or more phrases spoken perfectly, and it sets me up for success.

Consider how you best learn. I learn by watching someone speak, hearing, then emulating with immediate feedback. Tapes may work for you. Time drives our decisions as does coin. Whatever you do, learn the basics of being uber polite. And always know a compliment.

My thanks to SambaChula for the kind compliment. I think of the world as an enormous smorgasbord-if we rush through it we don't savor it adequately. As AVRooster well knows, I've touched only snippets of his country after spending two months there already. SA is enormous. The regions spread out like great carpets dotted with unique towns and cities, each with their own histories, cultures and music, food and landscapes, sculpted by weather and animals and geography. It's no wonder people wander into such places and get lost for years. Be prepared to fall in love over and over again, and plan to come back ravenous for more.
jhubbel is offline  
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