How we travelled through South America for 9 months with kids
Even though we’re born Brazilians, we’ve been living abroad for nearly 10 years. It was Japan, then New Zealand. Both countries are safe and economically stable (earthquakes and tsunamis and cyclones apart, of course). We didn’t know how it would be. We were, honestly, a bit scared.
But we booked everything anyway.
If things were too bad, we’d just get a ticket out and end the suffering.
Well, let me tell you one thing: we loved it.
We’ve been to Brazil (São Paulo, Salvador, Itanhaém), of course, Uruguay (Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento), Chile (Santiago and Viña del Mar/Valparaíso), Bolivia (La Paz and Salar de Uyuni), Peru (Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lima), and Colombia (Bogota and Medellín). Every single one of them was great. Sure, there were places we didn’t love as much as we loved others, but all of them were incredible. All of them had something special that’ll remain in our hearts forever.
I’ve written detailed posts on each of these places, so you can click on the place above and read it all!
We had the idea that South America was scary and dangerous. We thought we’d deal with drug dealers and robbers and locking everything all the time, carrying a dummy wallet just in case, having danger passwords (ones that were supposed to get everyone’s attention quickly and obedience, no questions at the moment), avoiding street food, not entering street cabs, with loads of homeless, and all this bull. We only hear horror stories.
We didn’t need any of it.
It was safe enough to let the kids run around by themselves while the grownups chatted on a bench, or to give the kids money to go get whatever they wanted at the stall, or to dump the second wallet as soon as it became too heavy to bear (psychologically heavy, that is); to walk around playing Pokémon Go and taking photos all the time; to walk at night and even stop at the playground for a bit; to take the dinkiest taxis on the street; to sleep heavily in an 8 hour overnight train.
I mean, there were times when we were scared. Like when the cab was driving like crazy taking us to the train station in Oruro, and when we were crossing the roadblock on foot with the kids, with cops and protesters arguing over something. Or when we saw the blood-spattered street in Valparaiso.
But you can ask my kids: they were more scared of the fake-but-super-real-looking zombies at Universal Studios Japan than any of these times.
This is one common question and we’re experts. We’ve used hospitals in most countries – they were all great. Some are cheaper (like in Bolivia) and some are more expensive, but if you have travel insurance, you should be fine. We always ask the insurance company for suggestions and they always indicate good hospitals, so we haven’t had any problem so far. Even in Bolivia, when I fell and hit the head, we asked for a home doctor to come around and it was great – and we found him on Google.
Don’t fear it. Language may or may not be a barrier. We’ve found that with the reception and nurses, Spanish worked better, but all the doctors spoke English perfectly. When they don’t understand you, they go and find someone who will.
We’ve been using World Nomads for the last year and they’ve been great so far! If you plan a trip, I highly recommend you get their insurance – they cover no matter where you’re from and where you’re going. Just go to our sidebar and find an estimate for you!
It varies immensely from city to city. Even within the same country sometimes it’s different. In some places, like Medellín, Santiago, or Montevideo, public transport is great and you really don’t need to use taxis or anything but in others, taxis are cheaper and more widely available like in Peru or Bogotá.
We’ve used everything, from local buses, guide buses, to travel buses; local trains, subways, and overnight trains; taxis, Uber, rental cars and tourism company drivers. We even used a collectivo, which is a van that stops everywhere to get more passengers until it’s completely full.
Besides a few scary moments, because traffic isn’t really nice, organized and peaceful everywhere, it was just fine. We could get to A to B all the time without major problems.
Know how to keep your stuff safe and go ahead! It depends on what method you’re using, but always keep the valuable stuff in hand.
(OK, but we did ride regular 5-seat cars in 7 or sometimes 8 people. Not the safest, but we figured it’d be fine in the slow-moving traffic)
Budget airlines are one faster way to travel from one city to the other, as in some places, those trips can take over 20 hours in a bus – and 50 minutes on a plane. It’s because roads aren’t in great shape, there are roadblocks and all that stuff. We used Viva Colombia, LC Peru, and Gol (in Brazil), They all worked, but some were more strict than others (looking at you, Viva Colombia). We didn’t have any problem, except for a few changes in the time of the flight (1 hour up or down) and either way was still fine for us, so we didn’t care. I think it’s a great way to save some time but it was a lot more expensive than the bus.
It depends a lot on the altitude. The higher in altitude, the colder. We weren’t really prepared for the cold, a stupid move, and we’ve been to quite a few chilly places. For location specific info, use the search box at the top right of the page but if you plan on visiting various locations, bring clothes that can be worn in layers. And bring socks, because cold feet is the worst.
We had really good food in Colombia and Peru. In Uruguay, it was location specific: some places were really good, but the ones that weren’t, were really bad. In Santiago everything, except for one place, was horrible. In Brazil, just because we knew who knows of stuff, we only had great food. Overall, food in South America is good, but it’s full of meat. In Bolivia and Colombia, we saw lots of vegetarian options, but in the other places not so much.
Bean soup, avocado, rice and a meat. Well, I love it.
The internet was pretty good everywhere. May not be Japan quality BUT it was just as good as New Zealand or Canada, seriously. We’ve had more problems in NZ and Canada than in South America.
Besides, a mobile SIM card with the internet is SO cheap everywhere, you can totally get one or two and use that internet. Even in the weirdest places, there was wi-fi. The only place we didn’t have access to any was in the Uyuni Salt Flats, but it was fixed by buying a local chip. I think the hotel modem was really old and weak and couldn’t handle the salt walls.
They loved some places, didn’t love others. They found that, after a while, it got a bit boring as everything is too alike. Except for Bolivia and Cusco, I guess it was everything very much alike. Big cities are like any other big cities in the world, whereas beach towns are beach towns. Museums got boring after a while, we don’t really do zoos (much), so they weren’t too excited after a few months. They did enjoy, though, the food and the time we spent together getting to know the places.
I can’t tell you what they learned about each place, but I can see that their South American Geography is great.
They also loved seeing llamas up-close and roaming free.
Our recommendations for traveling with kids through South America
- You NEED toilet paper and hand sanitizer. In Bolivia and Peru, it was rare to find a toilet with paper and/or soap. In other places, there was – most likely – toilet paper, but soap isn’t widely available in toilets for some reason.
- Stray dogs are everywhere and most of them are friendly. Stray cats are also present and in some places, they were super adorable.
- Check the altitude. I can’t stress this enough. More altitude = cold and altitude sickness, so check it!
- Be aware of your surroundings and belongings, but there really isn’t the need to be paranoid.
- The movies aren’t always subtitled, and the kids’ movies are even more unlikely to get subtitles. If you find one that is, go and watch it. Or watch in Spanish and enjoy the cultural trip.
- Go sightseeing, go visit museums, but you know what? Check one Gold Museum, one Natural Science, one Modern Art, one Human Rights, one History, one Technology. Not one of each in each country, but one of each in the whole trip because it does get annoying after a while. We used to spend HOURS inside each museum and now, if we spend one hour, it was a long visit. There are very fun museums in South America, like Catavento in São Paulo (Brazil), or Museo Antioquia (in Medellín), or the Gold Museum (in Lima or Bogotá, but we didn’t visit either, just heard they were good), or Explora (Medellín). They all offer something unique.
- You may not find your favorite brands of anything in some places, but the common supermarket ones are easily found everywhere. The bigger the supermarket, the higher the chances of finding it.
- Some stuff is a lot more expensive in South America due to taxes than in the US or Canada, so buy what you need before it or accept to pay a bit more for it.
- Food, on the other hand, is cheap. In Colombia, we rarely cooked because we just wanted to eat out every single day – and we could afford it!In some places, you may need to bargain – in handicraft markets and places alike, the more you fight for the price, the cheaper you’ll get. We tried to pay a price we found reasonable, because the moment they see you’re a tourist, they’ll try to rip you off.
- There are people asking for money on the streets, but it’s NOT more than in developed countries. In most touristic areas, there are very few, but overall, it wasn’t bad and I tried to have some coins with me to give away to everyone (maybe not the smartest, but we could spare that money).
- As the Colombians say, ‘don’t give papayas’. It means don’t show off, really, otherwise, you become a target. Dress simply, and try not to attract much attention. But you can use your phone and camera around.
- South America is an INCREDIBLE place to take your kids to. Sure, it’s not Disney World but it’s a different kind of fun. And it’s so diverse, I’m sure there is a place that will catch your family’s heart.
- If you’re a tattoo person, South America is heaven. It’s cheap, most places are safe, clean, and there are artists of every style.
- Yellow fever, malaria, dengue and many other mosquito born diseases are pretty common in South America. Although the main big cities are mostly safe, some aren’t. Check them out before you go – and know that you may need to prove you had the vaccines or you may not go to the next place or return to your home.
- Visas vary a lot between countries. Check around! We usually look at VisaHQ, but we double check on the official sites too.
- Take your car seat if you’re renting a car (though I don’t recommend you do so in Bolivia and Peru – drivers are CRAZY) or rent beforehand and ask for one because sometimes, they don’t have it.
I think that was it! If I missed something, shout out! Happy to help!
And make sure you follow us on Twitter – it’s mostly Angelo, so it’s a different view!
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