13 Jan Our South America trip begins! Visas, vaccines, insurance and packing list
Tomorrow we set off for Colombia! We’ve been talking about this South America trip for so many years that it’s taken on a surreal, dream-like quality for me. Now it’s a tangible thing. This time tomorrow we’ll be zooming across the sky to the other side of the world. Here’s a look at how we’ve prepared for this adventure, from buying a new camera to organising insurance, researching visas and compiling our packing list.
Flights to South America
It’s hard to find cheap flights to South America, so we monitored prices for a few months before booking (find out here how we find the best flight deals). In the end, it was cheaper to book two separate flights so we have a three-day layover in Miami, which is a great place to find cheap flights to Latin America from. Here’s how much ours cost:
£425 for a Norwegian Air flight from London Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale including one checked bag (which cost £50), the rest we’ll take on as hand luggage.
£185 for a Spirit Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena including two checked bags (which cost $21 each).
Total flight cost to South America for two people: £610
South America visa regulations
We haven’t decided exactly where to go in South America yet. Aside from arriving in Cartegena, we have a rough idea that we’ll start by making our way down through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. It looks like visas for South American countries are pretty generous, here’s what we’ve found out so far (note that the information is for British citizens travelling to South America):
Colombia visa – you get visa-free entry for up to 90 days free, which can be extended by 120 days but can’t exceed 180 days in any 12-month period.
Peru visa – visa-free entry for up to 183 days.
Bolivia visa – visa-free entry for 30 days, which you can extend in the country.
Ecuador visa – visa-free entry for up to 90 days in a year, but you may need to provide proof of onward travel.
Since we’re travelling via a two-day stay in Florida, we also had to apply for an ESTA online, which cost $15 per person and gives you up to 90 days in the USA at a time and is valid for two years.
Vaccinations for South America
Fortunately, we didn’t need to get any new vaccinations for South America as ours were up to date, here’s what we have:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow fever
Rabies vaccinations are recommended for some travellers, for instance if you’re planning to work with animals, but we opted not to get them. You can read about what travel vaccinations we have and information about rabies shots and malaria tablets in this post.
South America insurance travel costs
We never travel without insurance and have used a range of companies over the years. This time we’ve gone with a policy from Explorer Travel Insurance which gives us £5 million medical cover including repatriation costs, £750 baggage cover, £125 passport cover and £1m personal liability cover. Total cost: £190 for two people for 230 days, we’ll extend this if necessary.
This Explorer policy doesn’t offer good enough protection for all our electronics, so we also have PC World insurance for Amy’s Macbook Air, which costs £10 per month. In addition, we have Photoguard insurance for our new camera, Andrew’s Acer laptop and additional cover for the Mac which costs £83 per year.
Since we plan to trek in Peru, we’ll need to get additional insurance to cover hiking at high altitude. We’ll probably get a World Nomads policy for that, which we used for trekking to Everest Base Camp last year. That policy cost us £175 for two people for 15 days of trekking at high altitude.
We’re also hiring a car in Florida for a few days, so we’ve taken out a policy from Insurance4CarHire which will cover our excess if we ever need it and costs just £11 for four days. We’ve used this company for car hire in America as well as on our European road trip and it always works out much cheaper than the insurance car hire company’s offer.
When buying worldwide travel insurance for long trips, check the small print carefully (find out more about travel insurance for long-term travel in this post). For example, our Explorer policy requires us to be UK residents and registered with a doctors’ surgery here, while others state that you need to have been in the UK for at least six months before travelling. We use a price comparison site to find policies and then go direct to the insurer to see if the prices are lower.
Bank accounts for travel
Since publishing our initial post about the best debit cards for travel, Norwich and Peterborough closed their current accounts so we’ve switched to Starling. This new, UK, online-only bank doesn’t charge any fees for using your card abroad and it even gives us some interest. You can move money around easily using the iPhone app, which sends us notifications each time we spend money, stating the exchange rate for us. We’re not sponsored by Starling by the way, we just think it’s the best UK bank account for travellers like us.
We also still have our Halifax credit cards which are really useful for renting cars. Halifax don’t charge anything for using the cards abroad, except when you withdraw cash from ATMs. Read more about how the Halifax Clarity card works in this post. This year we’re also making a more concerted effort to track our travel costs again using the fantastic Trail Wallet app. This is something we’ve become a bit slack about over the last couple of years.
Packing list for our South America trip
We’re taking our original Osprey backpacks, which are still going strong after five years of travel. However, as our electronics collection has grown, we now also have two small Karrimor daypacks too. The smaller one will be packed away on our flights and the other will be used for carrying our laptops and other electronics.
Osprey Atmos 38L Backpack
Osprey Aura 35L Backpack
Karrimor U-Bahn 30L Daypack
Karrimor U-Bahn 20L Daypack
Compression sacks x 6
Three combination locks
We’re off to some pretty hot countries over the next few months so our clothes will need to be light and cool, which means they take up less space. However, we’ll probably have to pick up some warmer trekking gear in Peru, like we did in Kathmandu when packing for Everest Base Camp.
Underwear x 8
Socks x 6 (including 2 hiking)
T-shirts/vests x 10 (including one shirt)
Shorts x 4 (including one pair for running/swimming)
Cap/hat x 2
Sarong (can also be used as a towel)
Underwear x 10
Sports bra x 2
Socks x 3
T-shirts/vests x 10
Shorts x 3
Trousers x 3
We can let our feet breathe a bit more while we’re in South America, so we’re taking our flip flops and we’ll need some sturdy footwear since we’ll be hiking the Inca Trail in Peru too.
Andrew – 1 pair trainers and 1 pair flip flops
Amy – 1 pair hiking shoes and 1 pair flip flops
After five years and a scratched/burnt lens we thought it was about time we replaced our old Panasonic Lumix GF3 camera, so last week we bought a Sony α 5000, which cost us £300. Our laptops are essential for freelance work and blogging and when you add up all the chargers, we travel with quite a pile of electronics these days.
Camera – Sony α 5000, camera case, charger, mini tripod and four SDHC memory cards
Laptops – Apple Macbook Air and Acer Aspire F15 with chargers
Phones – iPhone 6 and iPhone 5 both unlocked, one with a 3 SIM card which allows us to use it as if we were in the UK in many different countries, including the USA, Colombia and Peru.
2 sets of earphones
11000mAh power bar
Skross PRO PLUS World adapter
HDMI cable (useful for plugging laptop into TVs)
1 Kindle charger
2 iPhone chargers
Te-rich power strip which we mainly use for surge protection
USB memory stick
Toiletries and medicines
Eight month supply of Amy’s contact lenses
Contact lens case and travel-size bottles of solution
Amy’s eye glasses
Toothbrushes and cases
Toothpaste and floss
Comb and hair bands
Soap, shower gel and dish
Shampoo and conditioner
Cold and flu medicine
Amy’s migraine medicine
Vitamin B12 tablets
Antibacterial hand wash
Insect repellent with Deet
Sun cream factor 50 and 30
Vaseline and SPF 30 lib balm
Documents and miscellaneous
Passports and photocopies
Printed flight bookings
Printed car hire booking
Medical vaccination and immunisation documents
Notebooks and pens
Mini sewing kit
Backpack rain covers
Cotton sleeping sacks x 2
Earl Grey tea bags
Nutritional yeast (great for cooking vegan dishes if we rent an apartment somewhere).
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So, did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. By the way, there are affiliate links in this post, so if you click through and buy a product from one of our links, we earn a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. This helps to cover the running costs of our site – thanks!
RhondaPosted at 17:43h, 14 January
I am SO DARN JEALOUS that you guys are UK citizens… cheap travel insurance and no visa fees! U.S. citizens have some big ones out there 🙁 Especially Bolivia. However, I’m so excited for you to start this next continent and can’t wait to read about all of your adventures.
AmyPosted at 15:05h, 15 January
I know, we are very lucky with medical cover/free vaccinations in the UK. I had no idea though that visas were so expensive for US citizens, we were surprised to find them so cheap for us as we’re used to paying a lot for all the South-East Asian visas. We’re excited to share our journey with you!
Kate GreenPosted at 23:47h, 14 January
Great list of items to take. What is the 3 sim card please? Wasn’t sure of that:) A good friend is currently living in Bolivia and raves about Sucre and Cochabamba. Looks nice (Sucre is quieter). Free visas there for UK but for US it’s $150!
AmyPosted at 15:16h, 15 January
HI Kate, thanks for your comment. The three SIM card is just a normal pay as you go SIM card but they have this ‘thing’ called Feel at Home where you can use it in certain countries as if you were in the UK – so for example in the USA we can use that SIM to make calls and send messages back to the UK as per whatever plan we’ve chosen and we can use the 3G or 4G internet that’s included in our plan. It’s been really handy as we can call US numbers on Whatsapp or Skype. Take a look here – http://www.three.co.uk – it may explain it a bit better 🙂 Thanks for the tip about Sucre and Cochabamba, we’ll research those places a bit more now 🙂
Steve BergerPosted at 04:47h, 15 January
Thanks for posting this. We go for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 months at a time each year and our packing is amazingly similar. I now take 3 pairs of pants and only one pair of shorts because the cargo pants have zippers to slip off the bottom leg parts. Worked great this year and is especially good in countries where men don’t wear shorts and can’t enter religious or governmental places with shorts on. I imagine you have altitude sickness meds from the Everest hike. Probably 2 of our last 3 1/2 months were at altitudes between 2300 and 5300 meters and it can take a toll. At least it did on my much older body.
What do you use to carry your money, credit cards, passport, etc. on a daily basis? Is a dry bag a small watertight plastic pouch for use in water (we take 2)? Do you carry a back-up camera besides your phones?
Please be mindful of safety in South American big cities. Your phones, electronics, cameras, etc. are always at risk – more so than any other parts of the world we’ve been to. Quito is the only place we’ve ever been that no one had a cell phone out on the streets (even in the tourist areas) and no one wore any jewelry of value. We were approached many times by people telling us in Spanish to always wear our day packs in the front and also put away our camera (and it’s a little Canon powershot). We also found fewer people spoke any English than other areas of the world – not even in many restaurants or hotels where we stayed. Obviously if you stay in hostels English won’t be a problem there. And numerous times people asked us why we didn’t know Spanish! I’m curious to read if you have similar experiences. As always, the smaller towns everywhere and places like Machu Picchu, Gallapagos, Easter Island … are very safe.
Have a great trip and keep posting.
AmyPosted at 15:23h, 15 January
Ah, good tips Steve! We’ll certainly be more vigilant in South America. I think we donated our remaining Diamox tablets to a charity in Kathmandu who help out the Sherpas – at least we gave a lot of our used gear to them and don’t know where the Diamox tablets are so that’s our best guess 🙂 Andrew speaks some Spanish so we should be able to get by language-wise. We have our Sony A5000 and only one phone is good enough for any pictures so we’ll just keep a really good eye on them! Our dry bag is about 25 litres and we take it just in case we travel on any boats, we can’t fit everythingin but our electronics should stand a better chance if they’re in there if we ever have a water-related problem!
StefanPosted at 08:02h, 14 June
Hey Amy thank you for sharing with us this experience, i can honestly say that i a bit jealous to see you traveling to these great places. I wish i had the strength to quit my job and pursue my passion :D.
AmyPosted at 19:36h, 25 June
Hi Stefan, thanks for your comment, I hope you get the chance to travel soon 🙂
Dirk TiuPosted at 14:38h, 05 December
I always bring a universal power converter with me on trips. Great tips! Thanks for sharing.
AmyPosted at 11:22h, 06 December