Advice needed about tours etc


Oct 23, 2009
Just wondering if anyone has any advice about what is the best way to organise a trip around SA while already here.

Most of the things seems to be aimed at people not here(obviously) and then a lot of the travel agents seem unbelievably expensive or just unique to Argentina. And centred around 100 peso and up hotels.

Would it be advisable to just book flights etc and then just try to find a tour when I get there (say Mendoza or Patagonia).

My Spanish is at a level that I would be comfortable doing this if it isn’t a stupid risk that I wouldn’t find anything from there.

The basic plan is to fly somewhere and then bus around probably- Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, brazil and then back to BA.

Any advice is welcome but keep in mind that I have very little money and will looking for shared hostel rooms and eating once a day, that kind of style travelling. I want to spend the money on trekking tours/rafting/horse riding etc All the great things this continent has to offer!

How much time do you have? I have some friends here at the moment who are very restricted for time being governed by the school Christmas holidays in the UK and they have planned everything in advance - flights, hotels, tours - the lot. They know they paid more for the benefits of securing everything in advance but it was the only way they could have fitted a worthwhile selection of things into the time available.

On the other hand, when I did the "big tour" of South America a couple of years ago I had more-or-less unlimited time available and did it really on the cheap with buses, cheap hotels and hostels and eating in the markets and backstreet cafes. To be successful at that you've really got to be prepared to go with the flow, make plans and change plans on the fly as you see how things are working out, put up with things like being stuck in a town you never really wanted to visit, just to wait for a bus somewhere else in two days time, etc, etc, etc.

It's worth mentioning that I never found anywhere that I couldn't get a room. Even if a village doesn't have a cheap hotel, there's always someone, a family maybe, who are willing to put you up for the night for a small charge.

I think it's also worth asking how much experience you have of this continent too? How streetwise you are in South America or in other cultures vastly different from your own? If you are still fairly new on the learning curve then maybe you would benefit from making a base in a city like Bs As and finding your feet by making small trips to Uruguay, Patagonia, Chile, Paraguay (perhaps in that order) before venturing out into places that are perhaps vastly different in character from what you have experienced in the past..

I hope that helps. Do ask more specific questions if you want to.
I’ve been living in Bs As for over 3 months now and the plan was to travel like that but really it would just cost too much to take individual trips all the time.

My main question is, and it was not at all clear from my first post (I do like to ramble), is;

Is it possible just to show up in say Mendoza and find some where to go rafting of trekking? Or in Patagonia to not have a glacier trek booked?

Has anyone done this? With good experiences or bad?
I'm a fan of the half-planned trip. If I'm going to be flying I book airfare in advance, and if there is a specific tour that I know is popular I will book that in advance as well. I also try to have a place reserved where I can stay at least for the first night if my plans aren't firm; if I know exactly where I'm going to be each day, I book all my lodging in advance. I do this less for the security and more for the convenience; having some things planned, even a few days in advance, saves a lot of time in the long run.

Transportation: It's always easier to fly, and sometimes it's not that much more expensive than a long-distance bus if you book far enough in advance. However, the buses in general in South America are comfortable and reliable, moreso in Chile and Argentina than Peru and Bolivia but I had fine experiences there too. Long distance buses will be semi-cama or cama and will feed you several times. Buses in Argentina will even liquor you up.

Try to book your bus passage a few days or at least a day in advance since those can fill up. You get to choose your seat when you book so if you wait too long you might find yourself in the last row in a seat that doesn't recline next to the bathroom.

Finally, do walk around the bus terminal and compare prices, schedules, etc. Always ask if it is direct or if it makes stops (or you can just ask about total duration - that will answer the same question if one is 15 hours and another is 22).

Lodging: Stay in hostels! They are fun, a good place to meet people, and if you find them on or a similar site and choose based on ratings you know you're going to a place that others have enjoyed. Hostels are the biggest money saver, plus 95% of them feed you breakfast so you can eat twice a day (some even have a fruit bowl - grab an orange for later).

Dorm rooms are great but bring ear plugs (I prefer wax), a lock for your locker, and something that can work as a towel but doesn't take up as much room as a towel (a sarong/2 yards of cotton from a fabric store).

Once there, ask them to book you a hostel in the next place you plan on visiting. Or, use the free computers they all have and book it yourself. Having a place to stay in advance saves a LOT of wandering around time (with your heavy backpack) and helps you ease into a new location with less stress. And, if for whatever reason you don't make it on time or don't want to stay, most of the time they will advance or change your reservation, and even if not, you're only out the 10% you paid online which most of the time for a dorm is about $2.

Tours: For the most part you can absolutely show up in a town and book a tour for the very next day. In high season on the more popular or restricted ones you might have to wait a day or two for an opening, but as a solo traveler there is ALWAYS room for one more!

Most hostels can book tours for you or at least tell you where to go. Other than the Inka trail (which it sounds like you probably don't have the $ for since it's pricey, plus it's not really THAT amazing, taking the train is fine in my opinion) and the Big Ice Glacier trek in El Calafate which only has one tour operator so it fills up in advance (40 people max per day), I can't think of a single thing I've done in Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, or Argentina that required advanced booking. I have not been to Paraguay or Brasil.

I hope this helps! If you want to talk more you can PM me. I'd be happy to share recommendations on what I've done that I've liked/haven't liked in the countries I've visited. I have also blogged about all of it if you feel like digging through the archives: