Latin America



Overview




Latin America Hurricane MapHurricane Season

Typical formation areas for Tropical Cyclones by month of Hurricane Season. Typical tracks of tropical cyclones are also shown by white arrows. NOAA Hurricane Climatology.

Cost Comparison

In South America, the best bets for backpackers remain Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, although more rural areas of nearly any country besides Brazil or Chile can be a great value.

Paraguay is also quite cheap, but most travelers don’t find much reason to stick around.

In these areas, costs generally average $20-$40 a day as a backpacker. As always, the actual cost depends on whether you’re sharing a room with someone, how much comfort you require, and how much you are moving around.

The top-tier destinations in terms of cost are Chile, Easter Island, the Galapagos, French Guiana, Argentina, Brazil, Cartagena in Colombia, and coastal Uruguay in high season. Expect costs to average out to $40 to $80 a day per person in the cheapest areas ($60 to $90 for a couple) unless you’re really careful about budgeting or are living like a local. Add a bit more for Argentina and Colombia, a lot more for Brazil and Chile. In any country, big capital cities will cost more than outlying rural areas and popular beach resorts will command a premium in season. A jungle tour requires a premium no matter where you take it — and in a place like Guyana that’s the main reason to visit.

Accommodation

Budget accommodation is plentiful throughout South America, though the quality and selection will vary greatly from place to place.

In tourist magnets such as Cusco, Peru or in Baños, Ecuador there is a huge variety of lodging in all prices ranges.

In the small dusty towns off the beaten track, travelers take what they can get.

A private double room with a shared bath can be as little as $4 in some parts of Bolivia and Ecuador, but something of the same quality can be $25 in Lima, Santiago, or Buenos Aires — if you can find one that’s not full.

In the cheaper countries, spending another $5 or $10 a night is often enough to move up to a vastly superior room with maid service, a private bath, and a shared courtyard or garden in a restored colonial treasure.

Rooms at the middle level are often the best value. Memorable rooms in small hotels owned by locals are frequently $30 to $75 a night throughout South America.

Searching ‘hospedaje’ on Google Maps is a good way to search for budget accommodation online, however the best way is to look around the towns for family-run guest houses.

Food & Drink

The countries that have a long coastline naturally serve a lot of fish, while Argentina is also the undisputed king of beef.

In most towns, bakeries offer some substantial breakfast options and snack stands on sidewalks and in markets are good spots for filling up on the cheap.

For lunch you can usually find some variation of the “meal of the day” anywhere. You sit down at a simple restaurant or market stall, figure out what’s on offer, and get a hearty meal somewhere between $1 (rural Ecuador) and $8 (urban Chile). In general you’ll get a serving of meat or seafood, rice or potatoes, a small bowl of soup or other vegetables, and maybe a slice of bread or tortillas.

Transportation

Plane

Internal flight prices can be a steal or an onerous burden depending on local competition and the government’s attitude toward foreigners. In Argentina and Peru, for example, foreigners are forced to pay more on the state-owned airline and competition is slim.

Flight prices in Chile are on par with those in the U.S. As a result, travelers on a budget are forced to take very long overnight buses to get from place to place.

Rates are a bit better in Peru and Brazil, though still high enough to make a serious dent in your budget. Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia have reasonable budget flight prices.

Train

Train service is an endangered species, but the situation is improving in Ecuador: the government is pouring a lot of money into restoring the rail line between Guayaquil and Quito, opening in mid-2013.

Another great exception for travelers is Peru. There are several classes of service on scenic lines running between Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, Cusco, and Puno — on Lake Titicaca bordering Bolivia.

There are a few scattered train lines in Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Bus

Buses range from overnight coaches with bunks to old school buses turned into crowded “chicken buses.” The latter will stop for anyone or anything, but they cost next to nothing.

You definitely get what you pay for, so opt for a better class when it’s available and the budget will allow.

Taxi / Rental

Taxis are inexpensive except where lots of tourists on a short vacation congregate, like beach resort zones.

Otherwise you will seldom pay more than a few dollars for a ride across town.

You can often hire a car and driver for the day for the same or less than renting a car on your own, especially if you don’t need one who doubles as an English-speaking guide. To rent a car, expect to pay as much or more as you would for a car in Europe, Canada, or the U.S.


Driving Latin America?

I thought about Driving Latin America but decided not to this time.

I will use public transport instead.


CA-4 Region

When you, as a foreign national, first arrive in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras or Nicaragua, you are generally awarded a maximum of a 90-day tourist visa.  This visa allows you to pass through all four countries without the necessity of a separate visa for each.

But there’s a bit of a dark side to the CA-4 tourist visa, too:  the 90 days awarded are for ALL FOUR COUNTRIES, and your visa will NOT refresh when you cross between the CA-4 countries.  In other words, passing from (for example) Guatemala to El Salvador doesn’t affect your ORIGINAL visa stamp at all – the clock keeps ticking on the original 90 days.  This can be a negative thing, especially considering that, if you plan to see a bit of all four countries, you’ll very possibly need more than 90 days to do so!

Rumor has it:  upon entry to Honduras, travelers may be issued a fresh 90 day visa for the CA-4, but then again, maybe not (I’ve heard all kinds of things).  Additionally, El Salvador may not honor this fresh Honduran visa should you cross to the south!

Well, here’s a treat for you: it seems that Guatemala and Honduras really don’t care how long you stay as long as you are here on a current visa.

In Honduras, you can pop into the local immigration office and tell them you’d like to stay in their wonderful country longer and ask if they can help you out. One suspects that this is also be possible in Guatemala. There’s no harm in trying this in El Salvador and / or Nicaragua… In Honduras:

  • You can extend another month for relatively cheap, but then you’ll have to do a visa run to stay longer; OR
  • You may be able to pay L3000 (US$140) and later that day, or the next, you’ll be able to return to pick up your passport with a nice new 90-day stamp.

The fee for overstaying your CA-4 visa in Guatemala is Q10 (about $1.30 US) per day of overstay.  Nicaragua charges 50 cordobas per day (about $2.00 US).  Clearly stated official information on El Salvador and Honduras overstay fees has been a little harder to find.  I’ve read $114 US for any overstay in El Salvador.


It seems that the CA-4 Agreement simply means that you don’t have to complete paperwork or formalities when crossing borders, BUT it is possible to buy / get a new visa when crossing an internal CA-4 border… you just have to go through the paperwork and it will take a little longer.


The first stop in my Latin America journey will be Mexico.

Latin America Map