When I started spreading the news that I would be travelling through South America for 3 months, I was faced with concern, worry and questions about how “dangerous” the continent was. These concerns were somewhat warranted on the basis that South America doesn’t have the greatest reputation, I would be taking the trip as a solo female, this was my first “long-term” trip and I speak zero Spanish… but I had done plenty of research and knew that none of these things would be too much of an issue.
That being said, some things did go wrong. My trip was 2 years ago and now, some of these events now form the fondest memories of my trip. It’s funny how things going wrong rallies people together and can often turn into a funny occasion.
So, if you’re planning a trip to South America, hopefully this post reassures you that if you take the right precautions and are travel savvy, your trip should be issue-free (or at least, any minor issues will end up being fond memories)!
RELATED – Read my entire 3 month itinerary through South America here!
I’ll start by saying that this is potentially my only story that is truly dangerous – thankfully, the man in question was absolutely fine (bar some cuts and bruises) and learnt his lesson from the ordeal.
If you aren’t familiar with “Death Road”, it’s a narrow path along a cliff edge just outside of La Paz in Bolivia. The road got it’s less-than-pleasant name as it is not wide enough for two cars to pass each other, which led to many accidents and deaths along the years. Thankfully, there is a new safer road nearby which cars now mostly use, meaning the old road has turned into a haven for adventurous travellers!
The rules set by my tour guide were clear – do not ride to close to each other and be sure to stop at the designated rest points so that we can re-group and check everyone’s safety. Simple.
Unfortunately, one chap got a little bit too cocky and decided to set-up his drone to follow his movement. While I’m sure this would have led to some epic shots, he made the mistake of looking up to check on the drone and losing his balance and falling over the cliff-edge. Luckily, a bush caught both him and the drone and our guide had to cycle back up the mountain (quite a challenge in itself) to help our second guide and support vehicle rescue him.
It was quite a scary ordeal for the rest of the group waiting at a rest point not knowing his fate and having to continue part of the journey without a support vehicle. Thankfully, he was fine and came away with one hell of a story!
Moral of the story: always follow your guide’s instructions and you will be absolutely fine.
RELATED: You can read my entire Death Road cycling story here!
Okay, maybe this one was a little bit dangerous too. After enjoying a few days exploring Bolivia’s incredible landscapes with a great tour group, we finally reached the Uyuni Salt Flats, the pinnacle of the tour.
We were travelling during the rainy season meaning we were hoping to see the salt flats in their reflective glory. Spirts were high as we were driving deeper into the salt flats… that was until we hit a bump in the road and suddenly the back of our car was sinking into a ditch of water.
I was sat in the very back of the jeep (looking after the food, obviously) and was therefore trapped in the car with no way of climbing out. The three members of the group in the middle of the car climbed out of the window, into the ditch and managed to push the car out.
Thankfully, the ditch wasn’t deep enough for it to be too dangerous. It brought the team together and we all had a story to tell afterwards! It certainly didn’t put a damper on our experience!
RELATED: You can read my entire Uyuni Salt Flat experience here!
Colca Canyon, located just outside of Arequipa in Peru, is truly beautiful. The canyon is home to Andean condors which soar out of the canyon at sunrise, showing off their incredible 2m wingspan.
I booked a two day excursion hiking to an oasis at the bottom of the canyon and back out again. On day two, we woke up at silly o’clock in the morning to ensure we could hike out of the canyon mostly before sunrise, before it got too hot.
Unfortuately, due to a previous ankle injury, I ended up twisting my ankle halfway though the hike back out of the canyon. I tried to carry on but kept injuring my ankle further. There were a second group of travellers who would be travelling on donkey later on in the morning. The hiking tour guide sent a radio message to the donkey tour guide to make sure he brought a spare donkey for me.
The rest of the hiking group carried on without me while I sat on a rock at 4am in the middle of nowhere waiting for my “donkey ambulance”. While I was in a fair amount of pain, watching the sunrise with no sound other than nature was beautiful – this is one of my fondest and most peaceful memories of my trip!
After the donkey trek to the top of the canyon was over and I had reconvened with my group, we had to continue for a 20 minute fairly-flat walk to the van. Somehow on this 20 minute walk, I managed to injure myself AGAIN. We had to climb over a large rock; instead of climbing gracefully over the rock, I smashed my knee into the rock, creating a lovely little bruise.
Carrying on the theme of me stupidly injuring myself, while on a hike to a waterfall in Cotopaxi. We were climbing over wet, slippery rocks and as I began to jump across the stream, I lost my footing and smashed my backside on a very hard rock.
The bruise on my backside was HUGE.
I often snapped quick pictures on my phone of my injuries (especially this one as I couldn’t see it clearly in a mirror – ha); however, the memory card on my phone corrupted and I lost photos on my phone taken in the later half of my trip – so you’ll just have to believe me about the size of some of this bruise! In any case, I probably shouldn’t upload a picture of my backside to this family friendly site…
If there’s one thing that you can’t avoid when backpacking in South America, it’s long bus rides. 10 hour bus rides become “normal” when you’re on the road in this part of the world. Now imagine a 10 hour bus ride with a ridiculously bruised backside.
RELATED: Read all about staying at the incredible Cotopaxi Secret Garden here!
The Inca Trail had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. My 4 day trek was truly incredible and, thankfully, I didn’t injure myself along the way (which is a miracle given my above track record).
However, mid-way through the trek, my left hand swelled to double it’s size suddenly. I had no idea why, I assume that a bug had bitten me or I had brushed up against a nettle. I showed my hand to the guides and asked what I should do, they calmly told me that I had nothing to worry about, but I should let them know if it became worse.
There were two medics in my group who were travelling with an entire pharmacy’s worth of basic medical supplies. They rubbed soothing cream onto the swelling and kept an eye on me over the course of the next few days. Thankfully the swelling disappeared and didn’t cause me any harm.
Once we had completed the trek and were having our final team meal in Aguas Calientes, the guides let on that they were actually VERY concerned about my rapidly swelling hand. They had never seen anything like it and were concerned that they would have to somehow navigate me through the trek (note: there is no escape route from the Inca Trail) if I became sick.
Of course, my luck with bug bites wasn’t only prevalent on the Inca Trail, I was bitten by every bug at every opportunity possible!
First up, during a horse-riding trip in Mendoza, an Argentinian mother and her two daughters (who were roughly my age) were the only other people on my tour. I had made small talk with the girls but my Spanish isn’t great and neither was their English. I could feel that my face was being bitten by bugs (despite me wearing tonnes of insect repellent). One of the girls turned to face me and promptly shrieked “monster” and tried to ask if I was okay/if I needed help. I took a photo of my face and could then see that the mosquito bites had swollen across my face (although I think the girl’s assessment of “monster” was a bit harsh, in the above pic, you should be able to see three on my forehead and two on my cheek) – they had disappeared by the end of the day, thankfully.
Secondly, our Death Road tour ended at a wildlife reserve. As we crossed the bridge to get into the reserve, I felt a few spots on my arms suddenly burning – little did I know that this was my first encounter with sand flies. The bites were HUGE and much itchier than anything I had ever encountered (and I have had some pretty horrific mosquito bites in my time)! The bites ended up leaving small scars on my arms, so I need to come up with a cooler story as to how I got these scars!
And finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to the Amazon rainforest without a few mosquito bites! I had been warned that I would be bitten (and malaria tablets are required in certain areas of the rainforest), so I was well prepared. It was during this trip that I decided I have the tastiest blood for mosquitos – while I was absolutely covered in bites, everyone else in my tour group was relatively unscathed (as was the case on the Inca Trail) – I’m clearly just taking one for the team!
This is an issue that lots of travellers will have experienced. I went through a stage during the middle of my trip which felt like every mode of transport I used would break down!
While sat on a random roadside waiting for a car to be fixed, one of my travel friends looked at me and said “I just feel like this is your fault. This always happens to you” – and he wasn’t wrong!
The worst example was my attempt at seeing the geysers of El Tato (in the Atacama Desert, Chile). The tour started at 4:30am in order for the group to reach the geysers at sunrise (when they are most active). The day didn’t start well as the guide was 2 hours late to pick me up – after trying to keep my eyes open from 4:30am to 6:30am at the hostel, I hopped in the car and quickly fell asleep. The drive to El Tato is fairly long and the next thing I knew, I was waking up to the feeling of the car rolling backwards down a hill… It was another 2 hour wait to be rescued by another van – it’s safe to say that I never made it to the geysers!
RELATED: Read about some of my more successful adventures in the Atacama Desert here!
Myself and a new found travel-friend were relaxing in a hostel in Cuenca while planning how to get to our next destination (Baños de Agua Santa).
A brochure at the hostel suggested that the bus ride to Baños would take 11 hours (which roughly matches Google Map’s route) We therefore boarded an overnight bus which was due to arrive in Baños at 7am. The plan was to sleep on the bus and arrive nice and early to enjoy the day (rather than waste an entire day on a bus).
We came to a sudden stop at around 4am with the driver shouting “BANOS” at the top of his voice. My travel buddy mumbled that we weren’t at our destination yet, it was far too early, he was clearly informing us that this was a chance to use the bathroom (“Banos” also translates to “bathroom”). I checked the offline maps on my phone and confirmed that we were indeed in Baños. Quite frankly, I have no idea what that driver did to make us arrive 3 hours early and I’d like to keep it that way.
The hostel we had booked was a fairly long walk from the bus station and we could see that that the road wasn’t lit, so decided not to risk the walk. We saw a hostel directly outside the bus station with a big sign saying “24 HOUR RECEPTION” – this was a bit of an overstatement. There was a guy in reception, but he was sound asleep. After a lot of banging on the door, he let us in and allowed us to try and get some sleep on the sofas in reception.
During my first week in South America, I suddenly woke up with an extrelemy swollen eyelid – I still don’t know what caused it, I’ve never experienced it before!
I walked to the pharmacy closest to my hostel and asked for a recommendation, they gave me some eye cream which set me back £50 -this was not an expense I had accounted for in my first week!
Thankfully, the cream did the job and the swelling had disappeared within a few days. I later met a girl in Peru who was suffering from a similar swelling and gave her the £75 magic cream (it was quite a big tube), so I’m glad it didn’t all go to waste!
At the same time, I managed to blister the enter bottom of my foot. This one was entirely my fault as I wore stupid flimsy sandals while walking for miles around Santiago in the scorching heat! I must have looked a real treat, with a swollen eye and a limp!
As it was on the bottom of my foot, the blister popped naturally fairly quickly, leaving a large open wound. I was constantly cleaning it, trying to avoid any form of infection. I hobbled back to the pharmacy to see what they could do… they said that anti-bacterial cream had to be prescribed by a doctor and instead encouraged me to purchase another cream (which was thankfully much cheaper than the eye cream). When I got back to my hostel, a Spanish speaker translated the packaging which clearly said “do not use on blisters or open wounds” – fantastic!
Along with a swollen eyelid and absolutely huge blisters, I managed to misplace a few fairly important items during my first few weeks of travelling. Thankfully, I was having the absolute time of my life, so these 3 hinderances in my first week didn’t spoil my adventure at all!
In week 1, a fellow traveller stole my microfibre towel in the middle of the night (to his defence, we had exactly the same towel and mine was hung over the bunk bed to dry over night… in his sleepy state while packing for his early bus, he must have picked mine up by mistake).
A microfibre towel is a travelling MUST. While they aren’t half as comfortable to use as a luxury, fluffy towel, they’re so compact and fast-drying, that you’d be stupid not to purchase one! I tried to find a replacement in Chile and had no luck; I ended up ordering one online, costing an arm and a leg compared to purchasing in the UK. Next time, I’m taking a spare!
A week later, I as enjoying my horse-riding trip in Mendoza and suddenly felt that my backpack was a lot lighter – my brilliant BRITA filter water bottle had unhooked itself from my backpack and flung across the grassy plains, never to be seen again!
RELATED: Be sure you pack all the right things (and don’t lose them), you can read my packing list for South America here!
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