What to know before you go!

Here are some helpful tips before you book your trips. A week after our 5 ½ month stay in South America (Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina), we have put together a list of 12 things we encountered on our journeys which may be helpful/beneficial to know prior to boarding that plane! We’ve tried to rhyme the punchline to make it a bit more fun 🙂 we hope you enjoy it!

  1. Take a number to wait in line, or else others may start to whine. We encountered this at the pharmacy, supermarket deli, bank and civil service centre and seems to work well, but don’t push in the queue or expect people to wait their turn if you don’t need to take a number.
  2. Accountability it does not exist, and no I’m not being a pessimist. In the Spanish/Castellano language, there is no word for accountability and you can see this within the South American culture. Taking this into consideration, it is not unusual for tour companies to be 15-60 minutes late in picking you up! 
  3. Learn some of the language before you go, otherwise you’ll be just another gringo. This may seem obvious to learn some basics of a language before you visit another country, but in our travels we have found so many people with no care for learning any of the language whatsoever. I am in no way saying we are experts in Castellano, but we know enough to get by. We met a guy from the USA who, at a food truck, asked for and pointed at the sign for rellenos (which means sauces) and when the shop owners looked confused, asked for a hotdog in English, with me stepping in saying “Completo”. He probably would have gotten there eventually but it was painful to watch!
  4. Download offline google translate,we think it will become your best mate. We found the further south you go in South America, the less English spoken due to the isolation, so this app is a great idea to help get your point across/know what you’re asking for. It is also important to note that Argentinians are very difficult to understand due to the Italian influence. “LL”, which in Peru, Bolivia and Chile is pronounced “ya” is pronounced “Cha” in Argentina. Chileans also speak extremely fast and use a lot of slang, so it’s easy to get lost in a conversation. We were told, and found out ourselves, that the easiest place to learn Castellano is in Peru as they speak slowly, articulate well and don’t have too much slang.
  5. When driving and you find yourself in trouble, put your hazard lights on the double. Hazard lights mean you can stop/park/perform a U turn/check your phone or map/reverse down a one way street or anything else which is usually a hazard and you shouldn’t really be doing. Refer to our post “Buying a car in Chile” for a bit more on driving in Chile.
  6. Google maps; there may be gaps. When using Google maps or other navigation apps (like Maps.me), we have sometimes been given delayed directions or asked to perform illegal manoeuvres such as going down one way streets the wrong way and making u-turns on state highways with a median barrier in the way.
  7. Customer service may not be bien, but you’ll still have to tip a ten. Tipping is recommended at 10% of the total bill at restaurants/bars, but we found the service to be a bit lacking/unprofessional at times. Workers will be on their phones while not serving, or in my experience while in a beauty salon, the lady answered her phone halfway through a wax! 
  8. If you’re looking for a brew, there is only a few. If you’re a coffee connoisseur or even mildly enjoy it back home, you’ll find it hard to get decent coffee as most places offer Nescafé (instant coffee), and it’s a rare find to get ground coffee beans! We found this perplexing while in Peru, who grow their own coffee beans, but export all of them and opt to drink Nescafé or Coca tea.
  9. Wine in Chile is good for getting drunk, without your bank balance getting shrunk. Wine is a lot cheaper than on our side of the world, and a Chilean Carmenere or an Argentinian Malbec are must tries. You can expect to find a variety of good options for less than $4,000 CLP ($10 NZD).
  10. When in a national park, don’t be caught in the dark. Often there will be a certain time you need to start the walk by, so you’re not walking around late at night without proper equipment. National parks and reserves in Chile, will usually have an entrance fee of between $2,000-$5,000 CLP each. We’ve heard in Argentina, national park fees are less likely, although, we only went to Bariloche and had none.
  11. Dogs seem to be in charge, so you’ll see them at large. If you’re afraid of dogs, especially stray dogs, South America will be a complete nightmare! There are so many strays throughout the countries we visited, and most are docile or may bark at you but wouldn’t hurt you. They are well fed and people do take care of them, but in smaller towns, some have started to become a bit wild and walk around in packs and attack other dogs. Some like to chase bikes and cars, so you need to be wary. The strays range from mutts to German Shepherds, which can be a bit unnerving at times.
  12. Rubbish doesn’t always get to the bin, but please do not make a din! We found, especially in Peru, there is a serious trash problem with people throwing plastic bags out of the window of a moving bus, polluted lakes and lolly wrappers on the Machu Picchu trail! Recycling is not very common, with people having to drive out of their way to take their recycling to appropriate reciprocals. We would pick up rubbish around us, mainly on beaches, before leaving to make it slightly better for the next people-everyone needs to do their part!
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