Accessible Travel

In general, South America is not well set up for travelers with disabilities, but the more modernized Southern Cone countries are slightly more accommodating – notably Chile, Argentina and the bigger cities of Brazil. Unfortunately, cheap local lodgings probably won't be well equipped to deal with physically challenged travelers; air travel will be more feasible than local buses (although this isn't impossible); and well-developed tourist attractions will be more accessible than off-the-beaten-track destinations. Start your research here:

Access-able Travel Source (www.access-able.com) Offers little information specifically on South America, but provides some good general travel advice.

Emerging Horizons (www.emerginghorizons.com) Features well-written articles and regular columns full of handy advice.

Mobility International (www.miusa.org) This US-based outfit advises travelers with disabilities and runs educational-exchange programs – a good way to visit South America.

Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (www.disabilityrightsuk.org) Good resource for travelers from the UK.

Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org) Good, general travel information; based in the USA.

Bargaining

Machismo has also taken a blow, with the first female presidents in South America helping to break down barriers. Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Michelle Bachelet of Chile have all recently served as presidents of some of South America's largest economies. Speaking of historic elections, Evo Morales (now in his third term) also deserves special mention, becoming the first president of Bolivia to hail from an indigenous background. He follows on the heels of Alejandro Toledo, who became Peru's first indigenous president back in 2001.

On other fronts, there have been equally dramatic changes in recent years. Gay marriage has been legalized in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, and three other countries (Chile, Colombia and Ecuador) have a form of same-sex civil union. Gay marriage is also legal in French Guiana, which is considered part of France.

Dangers & Annoyances

There are potential dangers to traveling in South America, but with sensible precautions, you are unlikely to encounter serious problems. Your greatest threats will likely be reckless drivers, pollution, fiesta fireworks and low-hanging objects (watch your head!).

Confidence Tricks & Scams

Keep your wits about you if nefarious substances (mustard, bird droppings, human excrement) are thrown upon you followed by the appearance of someone who lends a helping hand, while others steal your belongings. Other scams to be aware of involve a quantity of cash being 'found' on the street, whereby the do-gooder tries to return it to you, elaborate hard-luck stories from supposed travelers and 'on-the-spot fines' by bogus police. Be especially wary if one or more 'plainclothes' cops demand to search your luggage or examine your documents, traveler's checks or cash. Insist that you will allow this only at an official police station or in the presence of a uniformed officer, and don't allow anyone to take you anywhere in a taxi or unmarked car. Thieves often work in pairs to distract you while lifting your wallet. Simply stay alert.

Drugs

And now a word from your mother: marijuana and cocaine are big business in parts of South America. They are available in many places but illegal everywhere. Indulging can either land you in jail or worse. Unless you're willing to take these risks, avoid illegal drugs.

Beware that drugs are sometimes used to set up travelers for blackmail and bribery. Avoid any conversation with someone proffering drugs. If you're in an area where drug trafficking is prevalent, ignore it entirely, with conviction.

In Bolivia and Peru, chewing coca leaves or drinking maté de coca (coca leaf-infused tea) may help alleviate some of effects of altitude. Keep in mind, though, that transporting coca leaves over international borders is illegal.

Natural Hazards

The Pacific Rim 'ring of fire' loops through eastern Asia, Alaska and all the way down through the Americas to Tierra del Fuego in a vast circle of earthquake and volcanic activity that includes the whole Pacific side of South America. Volcanoes usually give some notice before blowing and are therefore unlikely to pose any immediate threat to travelers. Earthquakes, however, are not uncommon, occur without warning and can be very serious. The last big one in the region was an 8.3-magnitude quake that hit the north coast of Chile in 2015, causing the evacuation of 1 million people. Amazingly, only 10 people died. Andean construction rarely meets seismic safety standards; adobe buildings are particularly vulnerable. If you're in an earthquake, take shelter in a doorway or dive under a table; don't go outside.

Police & Military

In some places you may encounter corrupt officials who are not beyond enforcing minor regulations in the hopes of extracting a bribe.

If you are stopped by 'plainclothes policemen,' never get into a vehicle with them. Don't give them any documents or show them any money, and don't take them to your hotel. If the police appear to be the real thing, insist on going to a police station on foot.

The military often maintains considerable influence, even under civilian governments. Avoid approaching military installations, which may display warnings such as 'No stopping or photographs – the sentry will shoot.' In the event of a coup or other emergency, state-of-siege regulations suspend civil rights. Always carry identification and be sure someone knows your whereabouts. Contact your embassy or consulate for advice.

Theft

Theft can be a problem, but remember that fellow travelers can also be accomplished crooks, so where there's a backpacker scene, there may also be thievery. Here are some common-sense suggestions to limit your liability:

  • A small padlock is useful for securing your pack zippers and hostel door, if necessary. Twist ties, paper clips or safety pins can be another effective deterrent when used to secure your pack zippers.
  • Even if you're just running down the hall, never leave your hotel door unlocked.
  • Always conceal your money belt and its contents, preferably beneath your clothing.
  • Keep your spending money separate from the big stuff (credit cards, tickets etc).
  • Be aware of the risk of bag slashing and the theft of your contents on buses. Keep close watch on your belongings – the bag isn't safe under your seat, above your head or between your legs (it's better on your lap). Be mindful in crowded markets or terminals where thefts are more likely to occur.
  • When exploring cities, consider ditching the daypack and carrying what you need in a plastic bag to deter potential thieves.

Trouble Spots

Some countries and areas are more dangerous than others. The more dangerous places warrant extra care, but don't feel you should avoid them altogether. Venezuela, especially Caracas and anywhere near the Colombian border, is particularly volatile. Colombia is much safer than it has been in years, but certain regions are still off-limits. The northern border region of Ecuador, specifically in the Oriente, can be dodgy due to guerrilla activity. Travelers have been assaulted at remote and even well-touristed archaeological sites, primarily in Peru; stay informed. La Paz (Bolivia), Caracas (Venezuela), Rio and São Paulo (Brazil) and Quito (Ecuador) are all notorious for assaults on tourists.

Kidnappings

Be careful when taking taxis. 'Express' kidnappings occur in some cities. These incidents involve whisking travelers to far-off neighborhoods and holding them there while their ATM accounts are emptied; sometimes assaults have also occurred. We've noted in individual country chapters the known places that pose this kind of risk to travelers. To be on the safe side, have your guesthouse call you a taxi rather than hailing one on the street, and use official taxis at airports rather than those outside the gates. And never ride in a vehicle that already has a passenger in it.

Druggings

Lonely Planet has received correspondence from travelers who were unwittingly drugged and robbed after accepting food from a stranger.

Be very careful in bars, there are occasional reports of folks being unwittingly drugged then raped or robbed. Always keep a close eye on your drink, and be cautious when meeting new friends.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.

  • Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
  • British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/browse/abroad)
  • Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
  • US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)

Tours

There are loads of great adrenaline activities on offer, from rafting to mountain biking, but do your research on an agency before joining a tour. Travelers have lost their lives owing to poorly maintained equipment and reckless, ill-prepared guides. It's never wise to choose an operator based on cost alone. In Bolivia, for instance, the mine tours in Potosí, bike trips outside La Paz and the 4x4 excursions around Salar de Uyuní have become so hugely popular that some agencies are willing to forgo safety. Talk to other travelers, check out equipment and meet with guides before committing to anything.

Discount Cards

A Hostelling International–American Youth Hostel (HI-USA) membership card can be useful in Brazil and Chile (and to a lesser extent in Argentina and Uruguay) where there are many hostels, and accommodations tend to be, or traditionally have been, costlier. Elsewhere on the continent, cheap hotels and pensiones typically cost less than affiliated hostels.

An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can provide discounted admission to archaeological sites and museums. It may also entitle you to reductions on bus, train and air tickets. In less developed countries, student discounts are rare, although high-ticket items such as the entrance to Machu Picchu (discounted 50% for ISIC holders under 26) may be reduced. In some countries, such as Argentina, almost any form of university identification will suffice where discounts are offered.

Electricity

Electricity is not standard across South America. Voltage ranges from 100 to 240V, with the most common plug types being flat-pronged American style and rounded European style. See individual country directories for details.

Embassies & Consulates

As a visitor in a South American country, it's important to realize what your own embassy – the embassy of the country of which you are a citizen – can and cannot do. Generally speaking, it won't be much help in emergencies where you're even remotely at fault. Remember that you are bound by the laws of the country you are in. Your embassy will not be sympathetic if you end up in jail after committing a crime locally, even if such actions are legal in your own country.

In genuine emergencies you may get some assistance, but only if other channels have been exhausted. For example, if you have all your money and documents stolen, it might assist in getting a new passport, but a loan for onward travel will be out of the question.

For embassy and consulate addresses and phone numbers, see each country's Directory section.

Emergency & Important Numbers

Visitors from the US and some other countries require visas (best arranged in advance) when visiting Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela. (For Argentina, a reciprocity fee must be paid in advance before arriving.) Make sure you have enough blank pages in your passport, and that it will be valid for six months beyond your proposed entry date to each country.

Entry & Exit Formalities

Customs Regulations

Customs vary slightly from country to country, but you can generally bring in personal belongings, camera gear, laptops, handheld devices and other travel-related gear. All countries prohibit the export (just as home countries prohibit the import) of archaeological items and goods made from rare or endangered animals. Avoid carrying plants, seeds, fruits and fresh meat products across borders.

Visas

There are few trains, although scenic lines operate in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.

Onward or Return Tickets

Some countries require you to have a ticket out of their country before they will admit you at the border, grant you a visa or let you board their national airline. The onward or return ticket requirement can be a major nuisance for travelers who want to fly into one country and travel overland through others. Officially, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Suriname and French Guiana demand onward tickets, but only sporadically enforce it. Still, if you arrive in one of the countries technically requiring an onward ticket or sufficient funds and a border guard is so inclined, he or she can enforce these rules (yet another reason to be courteous and neatly dressed at border crossings).

While proof of onward or return tickets is rarely asked for by South American border officials, airline officials, especially in the US, sometimes refuse boarding passengers with one-way tickets who cannot show proof of onward or return travel or proof of citizenship (or residency) in the destination country. One way around this is to purchase a cheap, fully refundable ticket out of the country and cash it in after your arrival. The downside is that the refund can take up to three months. Before purchasing the ticket, you should also ask specifically where you can get a refund, as some airlines will only refund tickets at the office of purchase or at their head office.

Any ticket out of South America plus sufficient funds are usually an adequate substitute for an onward ticket. Having a major credit card or two may help.

Sufficient Funds

Sufficient funds are often technically required but rarely asked for. Immigration officials may ask (verbally or on the application form) about your financial resources. If you lack 'sufficient funds' for your proposed visit, officials may limit the length of your stay, but once you are in the country, you can usually extend your visa by producing a credit card or two.

Etiquette

  • Greetings are important. In Spanish-speaking countries, greet people you encounter with buenos días (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon) or buenas noches (good evening). Use bom dia, boa tarde and boa noite in Brazil.
  • Always greet people when entering and exiting a shop.
  • When meeting people socially, give besos (kisses) on the cheek (both cheeks for Brazilians). Men shake hands.
  • Dress for the occasion; for example, only tourists and athletes wear shorts in Buenos Aires.
  • Ask before photographing people, particularly in indigenous communities – payment may be requested.

Insurance

A travel insurance policy covering theft, loss, accidents and illness is highly recommended. Many policies include a card with toll-free numbers for 24-hour assistance, and it's good practice to carry it with you. Note that some policies compensate travelers for misrouted or lost luggage. Baggage insurance is worth its price in peace of mind. Also check that the coverage includes worst-case scenarios: ambulances, evacuations or an emergency flight home. Some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities,' such as scuba diving, motorcycling or even trekking. If such activities are on your agenda, avoid this sort of policy.

There are a wide variety of policies available and your travel agent will be able to make recommendations. The policies handled by student-travel organizations usually offer good value. If a policy offers lower and higher medical-expense options, the low-expenses policy should be OK for South America – medical costs are not nearly as high here as elsewhere in the world.

If you have baggage insurance and need to make a claim, the insurance company may demand a receipt as proof that you bought the stuff in the first place. You must usually inform the insurance company by airmail and report the loss or theft to local police within 24 hours. Make a list of stolen items and their value. At the police station, you complete a denuncia (statement), a copy of which is given to you for your insurance claim.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, claim and extend online anytime – even if you're already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

Wi-fi access is widely available, with many hostels, cafes and guesthouses offering free wi-fi. In contrast, internet cafes aren't as prevalent as they once were. Rates generally hover around US$1 to US$2 per hour (upwards of US$6 per hour in Brazil, Argentina and Chile).

LGBT Travellers

Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are the most gay-friendly cities, though gay couples are openly out only in certain neighborhoods. Salvador (Brazil), Bogotá and to a lesser extent Santiago, also have lively gay scenes. Elsewhere on the continent, where public displays of affection by same-sex couples may get negative reactions, do as the locals do – be discreet to avoid problems.

Despite a growing number of publications and websites devoted to gay travel, few have specific advice on South America. One exception is Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com), an excellent guide to gay-friendly accommodations throughout South America.

Maps

International Travel Maps & Books (www.itmb.com) produces a range of excellent maps of Central and South America. For the whole continent, they have a reliable three-sheet map at a 1:4,000,000 scale and a commemorative edition of their classic 1:500,000 map. The maps are huge for road use, but they're helpful for pre-trip planning. More detailed ITMB maps are available for the Amazon Basin, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. All are available on the ITMB website.

Maps of the South American continent as a whole are widely available; check any well-stocked map or travel bookstore. South American Explorers (www.saexplorers.org) has maps, including topographical, regional and city maps.

Money

Handy for exploring remote areas and national parks. Car hire can be pricey and crossing borders is a hassle.

ATMs

ATMs are available in most cities and large towns, and are almost always the most convenient, reliable and economical way of getting cash. The rate of exchange is usually as good as any bank or legal money changer. Many ATMs are connected to the Cirrus or Plus network, but many countries prefer one over the other. If your ATM card gets swallowed by a machine, generally the only thing you can do is call your bank and cancel the card. Although such events are rare, it's well worth having an extra ATM card (to a different account), should something go wrong.

If possible, sign up with a bank that doesn't charge a fee for out-of-network ATM withdrawals. Also, find a bank that offers a low exchange rate fee (1% to 2%). Before hitting the road, call your bank, informing them of your travel plans – that way the bank won't put a hold on foreign withdrawals while you're on the road.

Many ATMs will accept a personal identification number (PIN) of only four digits; find out whether this applies to the specific countries you're traveling to before heading off.

Bargaining

Bargaining is accepted and expected when contracting long-term accommodations and when shopping for craft goods in markets. Haggling is a near sport in the Andean countries, with patience, humor and respect serving as the ground rules of the game. Bargaining is much less common in the Cono Sur (Southern Cone; a collective term for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and parts of Brazil and Paraguay). When you head into the bargaining trenches, remember that the point is to have fun while reaching a mutually satisfying end: the merchant should not try to fleece you, but you shouldn't try to get something for nothing either.

Black Market

Nowadays, official exchange rates are generally realistic in most South American countries, so the role of the black market is declining. Most people end up using the mercado negro (black market) when crossing isolated borders, where an official exchange facility might be hours away. Some travelers might still want to use street money changers if they need to exchange cash outside business hours, but with the convenience of ATM cards, this necessity is declining. The one notable exception to this is Venezuela, where ATM withdrawals and credit-card transactions cost about twice as much as exchanging cash on the black market.

Street money changers may or may not be legal (but are often tolerated), and the practice of changing money on the street is prone to scams – one such trick consists of money changers handing their client the agreed amount less a few pesos; when the client complains, they will take it back adding the few pesos while making a few larger notes disappear. Money changers may also distract their customers during the transaction alerting them to supposed alarms such as 'police' or any other 'danger,' or use fixed calculators which give an exchange rate favorable only to the money changer, or pass counterfeit, torn, smudged or tattered bills.

Cash

It's convenient to have a small wad of US dollars tucked away (in 20-dollar denominations and less; 100-dollar bills are difficult to exchange). US currency is by far the easiest to exchange throughout South America. Of course, unlike traveler's checks, nobody will give you a refund for lost or stolen cash. When you're about to cross from one country to another, it's handy to change some cash. Trying to exchange worn notes can be a hassle, so procure crisp bills before setting out.

In some countries, especially in rural areas, cambio (change) can be particularly hard to come by. Businesses even occasionally refuse to sell you something if they can't or don't want to change your note. So break down those larger bills whenever you have the opportunity, such as at busy restaurants, banks and larger businesses.

Credit Cards

The big-name credit cards are accepted at most large stores, travel agencies and better hotels and restaurants. Credit card purchases sometimes attract an extra recargo (surcharge) on the price (from 2% to 10%), but they are usually billed to your account at favorable exchange rates. Some banks issue cash advances on major credit cards. The most widely accepted card is Visa, followed by MasterCard (those with UK Access should insist on its affiliation with MasterCard). American Express and Diners Club are also accepted in some places.

Exchanging Money

Traveler's checks and foreign cash can be changed at casas de cambio (currency-exchange offices) or banks. Rates are usually similar, but casas de cambio are quicker, less bureaucratic and open longer hours.

It is preferable to bring money in US dollars, although banks and casas de cambio in capital cities will change euros, pounds sterling, Japanese yen and other major currencies. Changing these currencies in smaller towns and on the street is next to impossible.

Traveler's Checks

Traveler's checks are not nearly as convenient as ATM cards, and you may have difficulty cashing them – even at banks. High commissions (from 3% to upwards of 10%) also make them an unattractive option. If you do take traveler's checks, American Express is the most widely accepted brand, while Visa, Thomas Cook and Citibank are the next best options. To facilitate replacement in case of theft, keep a record of check numbers and the original bill of sale in a safe place. Even with proper records, replacement can be a tedious, time-intensive process.

Tipping

Meanwhile, it's not all ponies and rainbows in South America. Despite the economic boom, not all have benefited. Rural poverty remains a gripping problem in every country in South America, with many families still struggling with basic needs: adequate nutrition, health care and clean water. And one in seven still live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than US$2.50 per day.

When it comes to the environment, there's a mix of good and bad news. On the plus side, the frightening rates of rainforest deforestation have fallen in the last two decades. At the same time, oil production will soon begin in Ecuador's Parque Nacional Yasuní, a pristine area of the Amazon that happens to hold one of the country's largest reserves. The building of access roads and pipelines – not to mention the possibility of oil spills – could be devastating for Yasuní. In the Brazilian Amazon, construction is nearly officially complete on the massive Belo Monte Dam. At least 450 sq km of forest will be flooded, forcing the relocation of around 12,000 people. A 100km stretch of the mighty Xingu River will essentially dry up, including the part that runs alongside the Paquiçamba territory, home of the Juruna indigenous group. And experts say draining the river would threaten dozens of fish and other species, including many found nowhere else in the world.

In Peru, coca and cocaine production have not only serious social repercussions, but also affect Peru's environment through deforestation in remote growing areas and chemical contamination that's a by-product of production. The Amazon is also now bisected by the Interoceanic Highway, an overland trade route that links Peru to Brazil. Economics aside, there's great concern about the irrevocable impact this could have on the world's most biologically rich rain forest.

Fraud

Unfortunately, ATM-card cloning is a big worry in Brazil, and your account can be drained of thousands of dollars before you even realize it. While fool-proof prevention is nearly impossible, the Brazil section lists a few tips that can help minimize the risk.

Exchange Rates

  • ATMs Available in major towns and cities, and are generally the best way of getting cash. Stock up on funds before visiting remote areas.
  • Hostels and budget hotels Most accept cash only.
  • Bargaining Hone your bargaining skills before visiting markets.
  • Cash Keep an emergency stash of US dollars (the easiest currency to exchange).
  • Exchange Rates Be careful changing money at borders; read up on exchange rates and scams before you arrive.

Opening Hours

Generally, businesses are open from 8am or 9am to 8pm or 9pm Monday through Friday, with a two-hour lunch break around noon. Businesses are often open on Saturday, usually with shorter hours. Banks usually only change money Monday through Friday. On Sunday, nearly everything is closed. In the Andean countries, businesses tend to close earlier.

Photography

Photographing People

Ask for permission before photographing individuals, particularly indigenous people. Paying folks for their portrait is a personal decision; in most cases, the subject will tell you right off the going rate for a photo.

Restrictions

Some tourist sites charge an additional fee for tourists with cameras. Don't take photos of military installations, military personnel or security-sensitive places like police stations. Such activities may be illegal and could even endanger your life. In most churches, flash photography (and sometimes any photography) is not allowed.

Post

International postal rates can be quite expensive. Generally, important mail and parcels should be sent by registered or certified service; otherwise, they may go missing. Sending parcels can be awkward: often an aduana (customs) officer must inspect the contents before a postal clerk can accept them, so wait to seal your package until after it has been checked. Most post offices have a parcels window, usually signed encomiendas (parcels). The place for posting overseas parcels is sometimes different from the main post office.

UPS, FedEx, DHL and other private postal services are available in some countries, but are prohibitively expensive.

Telephone

Skype and other net-to-phone services are the best way to call abroad.

From traditional landlines, the most economical way of calling abroad is by phone cards. You can also try direct-dial lines, accessed via special numbers and billed to an account at home. There are different access numbers for each telephone company in each country – get a list from your phone company before you leave.

Mobile Phones

Cell-phone numbers in South America often have different area codes than fixed-line numbers, even if the cell-phone owner resides in the same city. Calling a cell phone number is always more expensive (sometimes exorbitantly so) than calling a fixed line.

If you carry your own cell phone, a GSM tri- or quad-band phone is your best bet. Another option is purchasing a prepaid SIM card (or cards) for the countries where you plan on traveling. You will need a compatible international GSM cell phone that is SIM-unlocked. Or you can simply purchase one when you arrive (a cheap phone costs about US$30).

If you plan to travel with an iPhone or other smartphone, you may want to purchase an international plan to minimize (what could be) enormous costs. Remember it's possible to call internationally for free or very cheaply using Skype or other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) systems.

Phone Cards

Aside from Skype, the cheapest way to make an international call is by using a phone card, the type you purchase at a kiosk or corner store. These allow you to call North America or Europe for as little as US5¢ per minute with a good card. The caveat is that you need a private phone line or a permissive telephone kiosk operator to use them.

Time

South America spans four time zones. Chile and parts of Brazil observe daylight savings time from October to February or March.

Toilets

There are two toilet rules for South America: always carry your own toilet paper and don't ever throw anything into the toilet bowl. Except in the most developed places, South American sewer systems can't handle toilet paper, so all paper products must be discarded in the wastebasket. Another general rule is to use public bathrooms whenever you can, as you never know when your next opportunity will be. Folks posted outside bathrooms proffering swaths of paper require payment.

Tourist Information

Every country in South America has government-run tourist offices, but their quality and breadth of coverage vary. Local tourist offices are mentioned wherever they exist.

Travel with Children

Volunteering

If you just want to donate your hard work, there are plenty of local organizations that will take you on, though you'll have better luck looking once you're in the country. A good place to start is at a Spanish language school (Quito, Cuenca or Cuzco are top choices); many schools link volunteers with organizations in need.

If you prefer to set something up before you go, keep in mind that most international volunteer organizations require a weekly or monthly fee (sometimes up to US$1500 for two weeks, not including airfare), which can feel a bit harsh. This is usually to cover the costs of housing you, paying the organization's staff, rent, website fees and all that stuff.

Here are a few places to start the search:

Amerispan (www.amerispan.com/volunteer_intern) Volunteer and internship programs in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

Cross Cultural Solutions (www.crossculturalsolutions.org) Volunteer programs with an emphasis on cultural and human interaction in Brazil and Peru.

Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) Extensive listings of volunteer and study-abroad opportunities.

Idealist.org (www.idealist.org) Action Without Borders' searchable database of thousands of volunteer positions throughout the world. Excellent resource.

Rainforest Concern (www.rainforestconcern.org) British nonprofit offering affordable volunteer positions in forest environments in several South American countries. Volunteers pay a weekly fee.

Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com) Useful portal for both paid and volunteer work.

UN Volunteers (www.unv.org) The lofty international organization offers volunteer opportunities for peace and development projects across the globe.

Volunteer Latin America (www.volunteerlatinamerica.com) Worth a peek for its interesting programs throughout Latin America.

Working Abroad (www.workingabroad.com) Online network of grassroots volunteer opportunities with trip reports from the field.

Women Travellers

At one time or another, solo women travelers will find themselves the object of curiosity – sometimes well intentioned, sometimes not. Avoidance is an easy, effective self-defense strategy. In the Andean region, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, modest dress and conduct are the norm, while in Brazil and the more liberal Southern Cone, standards are more relaxed, especially in beach areas.

Machista (macho) attitudes, stressing masculine pride and virility, are fairly widespread among South American men (although less so in indigenous communities). They are often expressed by boasting and in exaggerated attention toward women. Snappy put-down lines or other caustic comebacks to unwanted advances may make the man feel threatened, and he may respond aggressively. Most women find it easier to invent a husband and leave the guy with his pride intact, especially in front of others.

There have been isolated cases of South American men raping women travelers. Women trekking or taking tours in remote or isolated areas should be especially cautious. Some cases have involved guides assaulting tour group members, so it's worth double-checking the identity and reputation of any guide or tour operator. Also be aware that women (and men) have been drugged, in bars and elsewhere, using drinks, cigarettes or pills. Police may not be very helpful in rape cases – if a local woman is raped, her family usually seeks revenge rather than calling the police. Tourist police may be more sympathetic, but it's possibly better to see a doctor and contact your embassy before reporting a rape to police.

Tampons are generally difficult to find in smaller towns, so stock up in cities or bring a supply from home. Birth control pills are sometimes tricky to find outside metropolitan areas, so you're best off bringing your own supply from home. If you can't bring enough, carry the original package with you so a pharmacist can match a local pill to yours.

Work

Aside from teaching or tutoring English, opportunities for employment are few, low-paying and usually illegal. Even tutoring, despite good hourly rates, is rarely remunerative because it takes time to build up a clientele. The best opportunities for teaching English are in the larger cities, and, although you won't save much, it will allow you to stick around longer. Other work opportunities may exist for skilled guides or in restaurants and bars catering to travelers. Many people find work at foreign-owned lodges and inns.

There are several excellent online resources, including the following:

Association of American Schools in South America (www.aassa.com) Places accredited teachers in many academic subjects in schools throughout South America.

Dave's ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com) Loads of message boards, job boards, teaching ideas, information, links and more.

EnglishClub.com (www.englishclub.com) Great resource for ESL teachers and students.

TEFL Net (www.tefl.net) This is another rich online resource for teachers from the creators of EnglishClub.com.