The 5 Things I wish I had known before traveling to South America

Written by Aileen from
We have been traveling through South America for the past three months. We started in Buenos Aires Argentina and cotinued north through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and finally Columbia. This continent is so huge, beautiful and diverse that you would need a year at least to see even half of what it has to offer. So we put our list together of must sees and then let the rest fall into place.

Life in South America is very different to New Zealand, where I am from.The  culture shock hit me really bad in the first month of traveling here. I wished so badly that I had done more research and read more blogs from other people’s personal experience’s to know what to expect and what would be the norm here. So here is a list of things I wish I knew before setting out.

1 – People will stare at you.

Seriously, I wish I knew how much this would happen. People double, triple and even quadruple look at you. It’s very obvious. It made me very uncomfortable in my first week of Argentina. But I soon got used to it. I realised that they have not seen many people with blonde hair walking about in their streets. I think that if I had known this prior to arriving I wouldn’t have been so suprised by it.

2 – They don’t flush their toilet paper.

This was a huge shock for me. I had never come across anything like it before. There is always a bin next to the toilet and you just pop your paper in there. This is simply because their sewage systems can not handle the flushing of paper along with waste. Some countries like Argentina will have a bidet next to the toilet where you can wash up with water as an alternative to toilet paper. This is something I didn’t try, but hey the option is there if you are feeling adventurous. I would also recommend to carry toilet paper with you at all times, as most toilets and buses don’t have any.

3 – The plastic rubbish is everywhere.

Another huge shock when coming from clean, green New Zealand. Traveling by bus you will definitely notice the sheer amount of plastic bags, bottles and general rubbish strewin accross the landscape. This was utterly heartbreaking for me. Seeing such beautiful country side and then all the plastic everywhere just ruins it. I think they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the amount of rubbish and the stray dogs just rip the bags apart and it spreads with the wind. The worst part about this is that the plastic rubbish ends up in the rivers and is then taken out to sea during heavy rain. So do your part, have a reusable drink bottle, boil your water where you can or use purifacation tablets.

4 – Hardly anyone speaks English

We have been extremely lucky and have come across people that spoke some English when we really needed it. But seriously take that Spanish class that you are second guessing because like me you may assume most people will speak some English. You will use it daily! Stick to your Duolingo app and learn as much of the language that you can. This will help you so much. I can only just get through the day with basic necessities like please, thank you etc. I have not been able to hold conversations with locals and that is quite sad sometimes.

5 – Buy your bus tickets from the station, not online.

We only learnt this tip in Bolivia, from another well traveled couple. The tickets are actually so much cheaper. If your worried about the bus being full or you need to travel on a specific day, head down to the bus terminal the day before and grab your tickets. You do become more comfortable just going down and hour or two before the bus is due to leave. We love the website we just enter a location and a destination and the site will usually give us many options. Also check out my post about how to cope on buses with a long travel time at


I know that these 5 tips may seem a little negative or down on South America, but it has been an absolute pleasure to travel about here. There are so many natural and beautiful things to experience. So I have included a list of 5 places that I absolutely adored on our journey and that I think you can’t miss out on. Of course this continent is huge and there are plenty of things to see for whatever you are in to, but these are my top 5.

1 – Machu Picchu

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2 – Iguazu Falls

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3 – Bolivia Salt Flats – Uyuni

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4 – Isla de Plata ( Poor mans Galàpagos Islands)

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5 – La Paz

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These are just a few of the many magical experiences that we have had throughout South America. All of the places above have blog posts written with many more photos and details on  If you would like to read more about my experiences, pop over.


Author Aileen Cook





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