Now that we’re back home, there are a few things I wish I had known about South America beforehand so here’s a short list.
Always save your receipts, tickets or any other piece of paper you get. Many places requiere you to present them upon your exit.
Credit cards are accepted almost nowhere. When they are, they will tack on from 3 to 10% for the convenience.
Capital One has a no foreign transaction fee credit card for those few times you’ll be able to use it.
If you’re lucky enough to find a clean restroom, use it and force everyone in your party to do so too; you never know how long it’ll be until you find another.
Always carry toilet paper with you.
Duct tape can be used to repair a torn backpack, seal shut toiletries, fix sunglasses, etc.
If travelling with kids, ask for the kids fare everywhere, even buses and restrooms. Kids almost always pay half but no one will tell you this unless you ask.
In Guayaquil: Do NOT stay at the Rizzo Hotel. Local ecuatorians recommended Hotel Sander instead. Too late for us, hope not for you.
Have lunch at an almuerzo, from $1.50 to $2.50USD.
Isla de la Plata is definitely worth the $30USD even if you will be going to the Galapagos.
If you can afford to, get a boat tour to the Galapagos. You get to visit more islands that way.
Bring seasickness medication. Boat rides are choppy.
Montañita is worth a visit as is Pto. Lopez. Playa Frailes is a nice beach although the water is cold.
When riding on buses make sure you keep an eye on your belongings at all times, specially if someone tries to get off the bus before time.
In Quito, skip Fundacion Guayasamin but do visit La Capilla del Hombre.
Visit the Museo Solar in Mitad del Mundo.
Cuenca is pretty and small.
Do NOT cross the Ecuador-Peru border during nightime. The ecuatorian immigration office does not open until 5:00am. Get a bus ticket all the way to Piura in Cuenca, this will insure the bus doesn’t ditch you at the border, Pullman Sucre is one such company.
Although they will try to collect your bus ticket, try to hang on to it; it’s your only receipt, without it you can’t complain.
If you’re stuck in Piura for a couple of hours, “Don Parce Restaurant” on Calle Tacna has WiFi and decent food.
Ittsa is better than Cruz del Sur but they have less routes. 160 degree seats are worth the splurge if travelling by night.
In the jungle, mosquitoes will laugh at 40%DEET; 98%DEET will almost make it bearable.
Peru is expensive, food is better though.
Hostal Apu Wasi on Belen St. is new, clean and near the Plaza de Armas.
To visit Machu Picchu: In this order, buy your Peru Rail tickets directly from their office located in front of the Plaza de Armas on the side of the cathedral. Get them as soon as you get there because they sell out. Get the cheapest ones, views and service are the same; the left side of the train has better views than the right side. Afterwards, get your Machu Picchu entrance tickets at the Ministerio de Cultura located at Av. de la Cultura 238. From there, head to Consettur on Av. Pardo to buy your bus ticket from Aguascalientes to MP; get round trip: you will be tired.
Plan on spending a night in Aguascalientes so you can be at MP in the early morning, it takes many hours to properly visit and enjoy MP. Ask at your hostel in Cuzco for recommendations on hostels in Aguascalientes, they usually have connections and you might be able to make a reservation beforehand. From Cuzco, minivans (10 soles) leave from Pavitos Street every 20mins from 8am until 8pm bound for Ollantaytambo (where the train station is). On the way back, from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco, they wait until the last train comes back from Aguascalientes. You will save up to $100USD if you do it yourself instead of buying a tour.
Ollantaytambo is very pretty, stay the night at “Andean Moon Hostal” on Calle del Medios, great views from the terrace. Try alpaca steak at “Inti Killa” across from the Plaza. They’ve got decent spaguetti too. Visit the ruins of Pinkuylluna: great views and free.
In Aguascalientes, read the fine print at the bottom of the menu (or ask if you don’t see it), many restaurants tack on a mysterious (and illegal I am told by locals)18%fee.
If you want to hike the Wayna Picchu, make sure you’re standing in line for the bus by 3:30am at the latest. Get your ticket stamped at the entrance, that’s your permission to climb. Otherwise, you can begin your hike of the Machu Picchu anytime until 12pm. It’s very strenous, bring double the amount of water you think you’ll need.
Large backpacks aren’t allowed in MP but smaller ones are. You’re not allowed to bring in food but not everyone’s bag is searched. Food is not sold inside.
Use the restroom (1 sol) before going in to MP, there are no facilities inside.
We found the stops on the bus-tour from Cuzco to Puno to not be worth the price.
Don’t go. If you do, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The Bolivian immigration office operates from 8am to 7pm only.
Electricity runs on 220V, bring a converter or risk it with a cheap one from a street vendor.
Unless you’ve never seen ruins before, are a serious history scholar, or hold some odd metaphysical views on the power of rocks, there’s no point to the ‘Isla del Sol’ boat-tour. It takes 3 terrible hours just to get there, 3 more to get back. Enjoy the views of Lake Titicaca and the Andes from Copacabana instead.
In Copacabana: “Coffeeshop Copacabana” has really good spaghetti, lasagna, and steak.
The bus ride from Copa to La Paz is nicer during the day. You will need to get off at Tiquina and cross the lake on a passenger ferry (1.5B) before getting back on the bus on the other side. Ask a fellow traveler to alert the driver if you’re not on the bus when it takes off.
In La Paz: Don’t stay at Hotel Fuentes, centrally located but atrocious attendants. Hotel Berlina on Illampu St. is a real mess, don’t stay there either.
The car city-tour is not worth the price.
If using a “lavanderia”, weigh your clothes when dropping off AND picking up to insure you get everything back.
Unless you’ve never seen colonial cities before, Sucre is not worth the time although the weather is nicer than in La Paz.
Eat when the locals do, most places close right after lunchtime.
In Sucre, visit Casa de la Libertad with a guide or you won’t have a clue.
Flights are cheaper from Santa Cruz but only fly on certain days of the week. Same goes for buses. Plan your departure as soon as you know how long you want to stay or you’ll risk being stuck for several days.
In Santa Cruz: “Kiwi’s Restaurant” on Calle Bolivar has great brownies if you’re missing home. The New Zealander owner is very nice.
Again: don’t waste your time with Bolivia.
In Mexico City (not South America but part of our trip):
For 9 pesos, buy “Tiempo Libre”, a weekly magazine listing every event going on in the city.
Great seafood at Mercado de Coyoacan.
Hire a guide to walk you thru Teotihuacan, you’ll get more out of it.
Do not miss the National Museum of Anthropology.
Rainy season runs from June to September. During those months, rain is practically guaranteed in the afternoons, plan accordingly.
I’m sure I’m forgetting to include important tips but where would the fun be if you knew it all beforehand? 😉 Happy travels!