Tips for solo travel in South America
There’s nothing better for the soul than a solo trip, and South America is the destination of choice for many single adventurers. With dramatic landscapes, vibrant cities, exceptional food, and world-class culture there’s plenty to inspire and explore.
But the prospect of traveling alone can be daunting, no matter how experienced you are. Navigating your way around the vast continent can be tricky, but with a little extra planning and a few of these tips, you’ll get the very best out of your journey. Whether it’s your first time traveling alone or you’re a seasoned lone ranger, here’s some top tips for solo travel in South America.
Sociable solo dining
Share a table and some conversation with locals and like-minded tourists by attending a supper club. They’ll take a little research to track down, but with food by local cooks in unique and unusual locations, it’s so worth it. The name can differ depending on the destination: in Buenos Aires look for puertas cerradas – Casa Felix is a good place to start.
Food tours are a sociable and hands-on introduction to a new dining culture, all in the company of a local guide. In Bogotá, for example, the guides from A Chef's Tour take guests to thirteen tastings across eight restaurants, offering the chance to sample everything from lechona (roasted suckling pig) to the local liquor aguardiente.
Cooking classes allow an interactive taste of local cuisine with a group of fellow gourmands. Lima is world-renowned for its food scene, with creative young chefs leading a foodie renaissance (the exemplary sourdough from El Pan de la Chola is a case in point, paired with the best pizza and craft beer from its sister restaurant La Pizza de la Chola). For an introduction to more traditional fare try SkyKitchen, where you’ll learn how to cook a selection of classic Peruvian dishes, before feasting on your hard work on a terrace with breathtaking views over the city.
Make amigos with group activities
Book onto organized activities and you’ll make friends while exploring the local landscape. Join a group of gauchos on a horse trek in Patagonia, traversing the iconic mountains of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares before camping in a rural outpost with a traditional Argentine asado. Book direct with Nibepo Aike and saddle up.
Keep up your usual hobbies like yoga or running and make friends doing what you love. Some running groups in cities are free – check Facebook for local events.
Soak up the culture solo
The solo globe-trotter needn’t miss out on culture; look up local theaters, dancehouses and concert halls and treat yourself. From Buenos Aires’ decadent Teatro Colón, where some Fridays offer free tickets for dress rehearsals of major ballet productions, to the bohemian Teatro Pablo Tobón in Medellín, which regularly hosts free orchestra recitals.
When it’s time for some downtime, there’s nothing better than a solo trip to the movies. Cinemas are a big part of life in Colombia, and foreign language films are often shown in their original language and subtitled in Spanish. Cine Tonalá is Bogotá’s indie film champion, with a cozy screen, hip bar and Mexican restaurant spread over multiple floors of a lovingly restored 1930s mansion. Meanwhile, the Museo de Arte Moderno in Medellín is a contemporary architectural marvel, where visitors can catch cutting edge cinema after enjoying a well curated line-up of modern art.
Finding a safe place to lay your head down is always a priority, not least when you’re traveling alone. Hostels are the obvious choice – they’re cheap, friendly and it’s easy to meet people – but they’re not the only option. For a little more privacy, rent a room with a family on Airbnb (look for the ‘superhost’ badge for added peace of mind); that way you’ll get your own space, while benefiting from their local knowledge and expertise. Otherwise, book a homestay with a local family. They’re affordable, can include meals and many language schools will arrange them at an extra cost.
Learn the language
Getting to know the locals has to be high on the list of a solo traveler, and learning the language is key to meeting new people. Organize some lessons at the start of your trip; you’ll be more tuned to the local accent and have an immediate social circle in your classmates. Ailola runs schools across South America, including the UNESCO world-heritage listed Quito in Ecuador.
Getting around South America
South America is well connected by domestic flights, but sometimes tickets can be expensive. If you’re looking to save money and have the time to spare, book a bus. Service can be pretty basic in Andean countries, but they're surprisingly comfortable in places like Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Longer trips can be booked in advance online; ask for the highest tier – it’s called coche-cama, or leito in Brazil – and includes a fully reclining seat.
Many top sights (the otherworldly landscapes of Atacama Desert, for example) are easier to visit with your own wheels. To cover ground independently and safely as a solo traveler, try a hiring a car. Chile is particularly well served, with big-name rental companies operating throughout. Choose a reputable brand like europcar.com, who provide 24/7 roadside and a huge selection of pick-up and drop-off points. Depending on your nationality and the country you’re visiting, you may need an International Driving Permit in addition to your driving license.
Safety for solo travel
South America is a safe place to travel alone, but solo travelers in any destination should always be vigilant. Booking hostels in advance, writing down addresses and researching your route means you’ll walk purposefully and won’t have to get your phone out, making you less of a target for thieves.
Take some simple precautions just in case your stuff gets snatched – it’ll make a stressful situation easier to deal with. Make a photocopy of your passport, put some money aside in a separate account and keep the card somewhere safe. Also, find out where your nearest embassy will be; you never know when you might need them for help, especially if you’re on your own.