Over the last few years, we’ve helped countless Australians plan their long-service leave travels to South America, this being a particularly rewarding continent to explore on longer trips. We like to believe we’ve collected a fair amount of experience on the subject and thought we’d share them with anyone contemplating a long(er) tour here, one that goes beyond the 2-3-week timeframe most first-time visitors plan. Longer trips in South America require not just a little more planning, naturally, but also some consideration: things like travel fatigue and budget planning become more pivotalt.
To this end, we’ve compiled some insider tips you may find useful. The way we see it, anything that’ll help you enjoy your once-in-a-lifetime extended journey in our favourite continent makes out job all the more worthwhile. We’ve recently blogged about the reasons South America beckons long-service-leave travellers and offered suggestions of where you could go with more time:
Long-service leave travels in South America – here’s all you need to know.
South America is HUGE – Be realistic and don’t squeeze in too much in your itinerary
As Australians, we like to think we know a thing or town about BIG lands yet so many still sail off with the notion they can bag all the main highlights in about a month. That’s just a little too short a time-frame to fit in what we call the BIG Five (Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, the Amazon, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands), the swiftest itinerary necessitating 5 weeks at the very least, 6 to do so comfortably and without feeling rushed. Distances can be considerable (blimey, Brazil alone is larger than Australia and that’s just one country out of a dozen!) and, given the time lost on connecting flights, one needs more time than one might imagine. Check out our blog on How To Tick Off the Big Five and you’ll gain a better understanding of the logistics of planning a multi-country itinerary.
Slow Travel is Best – For the most rewarding and relaxing journey, choose 2 destinations a week
Perhaps it’s because our guests on long-service leave tours of South America are no longer in their 20s and their hectic backpacking days are behind them, but those who choose faster-paced itineraries soon ask us to take it down a notch. Slow travel is truly blissful: it allows you plenty of time to soak up each destination and avoid that list-ticking trend that looks good on paper but is far too forgettable. If we could recommend anything, it would be to ensure you have a minimum of three nights in each hot-spot of your choice. Packing, unpacking and transferring faster than that will arguably leave you exhausted, especially when you’re planning anything beyond a 3-week tour. Spend more time in fewer places, if you’re time restricted, and you’ll greatly increase your enjoyment and connection to the people and the wondrous places you’ll see.
Include ‘rest day’s in your itinerary – Don’t forget to plan for time off
Because travelling can be tiring work, it’s wise to incorporate some downtime in your itinerary, especially if travelling to high-altitude destinations in the Andes. You’ll undoubtedly be more physically active on a long-service trip than at home and you’ll have to account for that by including days ‘off’ where you plan nothing at all. You can always add an activity or excursion the day before if you feel fine, but fight the urge to jam-pack your itinerary from the get-go. This will also gift your itinerary some spontaneity and freedom to say ‘yes!’ to an activity or place you come across once there.
Comfort matters – Indulge and relax in comfort (you’re going to need it!)
South America is brimming with gorgeous lodges and hotels and they don’t need to be 5* to offer sumptuous comforts, something our guests really appreciate given the active itineraries. You may be inclined to cut costs by choosing hotels with a lower level of comfort but when you’re spending days on end out and about, exploring, doing and sightseeing, you’ll want all those creature comforts at night when you retire. There are plenty of ways to save your precious travel funds when travelling to South America, but cutting back on comfort shouldn’t be one of them.
Which brings us to the next point.
Know where you can cut costs – By choosing South America, you already have a head-start!
One of the main reasons South America is such a popular choice for long-service leave travellers is that this is, hands down, the best value for money continent of all. Here, you can soak up the history and architecture normally found in Europe, have wildlife encounters that rival Africa’s and experience an exotic and unique culture that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Except here, you can have it all in just one trip. So yes, you’re already winning! Aside from that, it’s worth noting that you can bag some serious bargains if you –
- Book early-bird specials (flights, accommodation and tours are best priced up to 6 months in advance)
- Travel during the shoulder seasons (when this is will depend highly on your chosen destination but, generally speaking, the busiest and most expensive months for travelling to South America are December and January in the far south – Patagonia – and June-August in the central Andes – Peru, Bolivia. Plan your travels just before or after these tourist peaks and you’ll save a bundle.
- Research each destination separately to know where you can save funds – every South American hot-spot boasts its own ‘bargain hunting tips’, be it a lodge-based visit to the Galapagos, an Affordable Antarctica Cruise or visiting Machu Picchu in the rain season. There are also cheaper options for jaunts to the Amazon and other spectacular places, like Colombia and Uruguay, that tend to fly just below the tourist radar so are particularly rewarding to include on many levels, including value-for-money.)
Know which highlights you can ‘play with’ – Some spots are seasonal, others are not
Planning a longer trip through South America is a lot of fun, considering the options for pick n’ chose destinations. Once you have your main points of interest listed in order of preference, you need to know which ones are non-negotiable and which ones are great at any time of year. The latter are the ones you can ‘play with’. For example: Antarctica cruising season runs from October to March and this is also the best time to visit Patagonia. If this southern region is your top priority then you must book your travels between these months, noting that most of your other must-see (perhaps the Galapagos, Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon and Iguazu Falls) are fabulous to visit at any time of year. Interestingly enough, there are very few truly seasonal destinations in South America, most of the continent is great at any time, with your chosen month (or two) of travel simply dictating the kind of activities on offer.
Feel free to scour our South America Archives for in-depth guides to all major destinations (best time to go, top things to do etc) and, of course, contact us for more personalised advice on planning your once-in-a-lifetime tour of South America.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”