Nowhere evokes the romance of a long, meandering backpacking trip quite like South America. The thrill of discovery; the edge of exploring a frenetic city; the grind of a long climb through cloud forest and mountain passes to reach jaw-dropping ruins. South America is truly the full package.
And in an age when discount airlines race us from A to B, offering no context of who and what we’re zipping over, there is something to be said for taking the long, slow–even challenging–route. The route that shows you a country’s true face, warts and all. The route that introduces you to new friends, and thrusts you into the hubbub of real, authentic local life. The route that reveals a country to you piece-by-piece, a map that gradually unfolds as you wind your way over uneven roads, past midnight rest stops and into the bus terminal at dawn on the edge of a new town.
The humble bus is the backpacker’s best friend, and the long-distance bus journey is the stuff of backpacking legend. Forget the old cliché, here it’s true: it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. South America’s iconic sights are merely an excuse to hop aboard a bus and hightail it for hours and days across this vast, varied continent.
But where to begin? How to start? For the first-time visitor, South America can seem a daunting prospect. But fear not, you’re in great company. The roads of South America are well trodden by the backpacker trail. All you need is to pick a route, book your tickets and hit the road.
That’s why we created this guide. To offer an introduction to long-distance bus travel across the continent, to provide some advice on the most popular and timeless routes, and to help you start planning your trip.
This isn’t a complete destination guide–you’ll certainly need one of those as well. But it will get you thinking about the opportunities and possibilities that await.
The more cynical among us might assume that the age of discovery is long over. For the rest of us, there’s South America.
Welcome aboard, enjoy the ride!