Backpacking in South America

Some insights and experiences of backpacking in South America on my own as a mature woman.

Getting started.

I moved from Holland to Scotland many years ago and had a variety of jobs throughout my working life. The most recent was studying a Guiding course and I now work with German and French tour groups and individuals. As this work is quiet over the winter months I decided it was time to travel.

Having rented out my flat in Paris I decided to go backpacking in South America. I had a friend who would be in Quito so we could meet up there and my daughter decided she wanted to come to Lima for a few days. However, for much of the trip I was on my own.

I thought it might be useful, rather than a travelogue I would simply give you some insights  - which I would have found useful. My backpacking in South America took me from Ecuador through Peru, Patagonia, Chile and Argentina


We took a train ride to a nature park to the south of Quito.  If my innards had been milk they would have been butter by the time we got to the entry of the park 3 hours later.  The train itself was one carriage – a battered bus like container with the required curtain and pelmets – which progressed along the track accompanied by out riders on motor bikes who stopped the traffic on the main crossings.  

In addition  there was a military person on board who, of course, closed his curtain section and went to sleep, a driver’s side kick who looked out for stray dogs, chickens, cows, lamas, people and traffic on the smaller crossings.  The max speed must have been no more than 35km per hour.

Arica – Chile

While backpacking in South America to Arica we were lucky with the border crossing: it had been re-opened again after the Peruvian side had been closed due to 17 murderers escaping from a high security prison in Puno on Lake Titicaca.  Perhaps the continuous rain made them decide that they had to find another place to sit out their sentences. I have to agree with them as I found Puno very unattractive especially in the continuous rain.

The rain also was the reason why the Chileans closed their border.  Mines which had been placed in this sandy border region in the 70s but had become dislodged and were no longer were the army expected them to be.  Apart from standing in long queues while the custom officers manually searched the backpacks and suitcases – their machine had broken down – the crossing and the paperwork had been made easy by the driver of the collectivo.


My last report is some time ago before I and my computer took a wrong turning and stepped into the swimming pool rather than find the right way to our cabin. The ‘upmarket resort’ where we were to spend the last 4 days of the trip had been run down and the lights in the gardens leading to the various guest huts were no longer working.  I hadn't brought my headlamp and as I had only arrived late that afternoon the lay out of the various paths was still much of a secret.  Anyway to cut a long story short I walked into the swimming pool and ‘killed off’ my laptop.   Although I tried to dry it out in front of a fan it was impossible to repair.


The ferry as far as passengers is concerned very basic but she is loaded to the maximum with goods for the various small islands that have the sea as their only link with the outside world.  

I had booked a 4 bunk cabin with window and my two companions were a French lady, Marie Therese, and her Spanish friend, Carmen. When they got to the cabin they both had an attack of hysterics as they claimed they had booked a twin bunk cabin and they were not planning to share.  Marie Therese complained about her back and God know what else while Carmen kept on asking her for the confirmation which Marie T hadn’t printed off.  I escaped the pandemonium and let them sort it out with the steward who really couldn't care less and let them rave and rant.

While backpacking in South America I took a trip to Arequipa, in a bus full of heavily packed Peruvians which got us to drowned Arequipa.  

The streets were rivers and the hostel they booked me out to had a tiled corridor which is lethal due to the rain coming in from a open balcony. On the way here across the high moor we met snow, rain of course, fog and clouds.  It made this high moor very very depressing. Nothing was growing apart from some tufts of hard grass that looked not very appetizing for the alpacas I saw.  

After 3 hours the bus stopped and those who were desperate could pee at the side of the road which many did. I was assigned a largish room which was no longer mine 3 hours later when I came back from getting to know the town.

Puno Peru

Well today ended hilariously.  I was met at Puno station by the nephew of Juno, the owner of the hostel.  After a short taxi ride we were met by an enthusiastic dog and the nephew showed me the room and unbeknown to me put the key down on the bedside table.  So when I left I locked the door and asked for the key downstairs.  Nephew no.1 had left but nephew no.2 said he would look for they key while I went out to check out Puno, a hideous town and which gets its tourists due to Lake Titicaca.  

When I got back later there was no key. Nephew no.1. and I tried about 500 different keys none fitted.   When Juno returned around 8.30pm she also didn't have a spare, the last one being in Cusco at the moment.  A ladder was found and we tried to open the latch of the window which eventually was achieved by nephew no.2 who used his identity card. So after a beer and coffees I got into the room at around 10.30pm.

Cusco Peru

 I overheard a guide saying that all the Inca sites were built by ‘happy’ Incas as they paid their taxes by working for their king!  It was a great day, not too hot and I managed the 9 km plus another couple of churches in the evening.  

Tips for backpacking in South America.

The buses

While backpacking in South America I took buses everywhere - with only a few words of Spanish. The standard of the buses varied from basic to full bed which was very comfortable. A 30 hour trip was quite normal.

In Argentina a couple of Swiss told me about a great bus site which you should try out and it would save having to go to bus stations and find out different costs (  


Take as little as possible. I had 17 Kilos on my back, but everywhere you go there are people who do washing at night and bring it back early the next morning.

Patagonia was not as cold as I had expected so I had too many warm clothes.

Where to stay

I stayed in Hostales. These varied greatly in comfort.

While backpacking in South America I met lots of lovely young people who suggested where in should go. I never met anyone my age – I will not see 60 again! But I loved the adventure

Marianne – travelling again

If you found backpacking in South America interesting link to couchsurfing.

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