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South American Holidays: To Go or Not To Go?

Written by The Leap on 07 / 05 / 2014

Gap Year Advice

South America may not be the first destination that comes to mind for your holidays. Requiring long-distance flights (at no small cost to your pocket or the environment!) and a hefty time difference resulting in jet lag which will wipe out your evenings for a couple of days if you’re not lucky. Then there’s the language barrier to overcome, with very little English spoken in most countries.

Frankly, even before you even set off, narrowing down your destination choice can be a daunting business. Latin America consists of 21 separate countries ranging wildly in climates - from the largest tropical rainforest in the world, to the driest place on earth (the Atacama desert in Bolivia), with huge distances in between.

With the average length of time Briton’s spend on holiday reducing and a government intending to shorten school holidays, is South America just too much, too far?

Frankly my dears, the answer is simple: some places are worth enduring jet lag, altitude sickness and a bit of hard work and determination to reach. And should you take a South American holiday you will understand exactly why.

What does South America have to offer?

A continent that spans remarkable diversity in geography, from Bolivia’s endless flat salt pans to Venezuela’s towering Tepuis, Ecuador’s avenue of the volcanoes to Costa Rica’s pristine beaches.

But it doesn’t end there! Across the continent’s cities you’ll encounter breathtaking colonial architecture built by Spanish conquistadors, mixed with vast indigenous markets selling crafts and artefacts that speak of an ancient culture still very much at the heart of South American identity.

A Spanner in the Works

The main issue which will inevitably arise during your planning of a trip is the sheer size and scale of the place. Even within one country, you can spend 12 hours on a bumpy bus travelling between tourist hot spots.

Iguazu Falls in Argentina is a prime example of this - tourists enjoying the sights and sounds of Argentina’s throbbing salsa dancing capital are faced with a minimum 20-hour journey by road or costly flight to reach the county’s most popular attraction. Having paid to travel more than halfway across the world, holiday makers often understandably want to take things easy.

So What’s the Best Way?

Ultimately there is only one logical solution. Extend the length of your vacation to maximise the value of your international air travel and soak up as much of what this remarkable continent has to offer!

Consider taking a month, or two, or three... or even a year travelling and you will find sights, sounds (and tastes) to keep you busy for a lifetime.

Clearly not everyone will have this luxury of time available, but should you be fortunate enough to have a sabbatical, find yourself between jobs, school or university, then jump at the chance! Once overseas your living costs will be a fraction of what you’d spend at home or travelling in Europe.

£15 per day is a realistic budget in most South American countries, and you’ll be able to taste the true flavour of South America’s diverse and fascinating cultures, spending time getting to know local people rather than simply passing through as a tourist on a tight time schedule.

Or Go One Better: Become an Eco Tourist

For those with at least six weeks to spend, give some serious thought to volunteering in South America or carrying our an internship whilst on holiday.

Far from working your fingers to the bone, you’ll find working on worthwhile projects a rewarding use of your time. From coaching sports in favelas, to reforestation on the Galapagos, there are plenty of programmes that may suit you.

Volunteering is rarely done alone - often you’ll be living and working alongside a team of like-minded people from a range of international backgrounds making for a great social experience.

The trips we run at The Leap will place you with a team of volunteers whom you can meet and communicate with before you leave home, guaranteeing the ultimate volunteering experience. From an altruistic perspective you also gain a valuable insight into the issues and barriers preventing the region's social and environmental development and will be able to make a genuine positive contribution towards the continent’s future sustainability.

Is South America for You?

Have you travelled across Latin America, or are you planning to? We’d love to hear about your favourite places, and hear any tips you may have. Or ask us what we think, we’d love to take your questions! Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments below.

Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning 'planet saving' programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

Reducing plastic in our oceans, protecting turtles and saving the rhino is just the tip of the melting iceberg.

All experiences include a mix of projects and adventures, travelling with a team and, of course, are risk assessed.

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