You’re planning to travel South-America. Where do you book buses? How do you find a place to stay? Are there any things that are different or worth noticing from other countries?
Below I’m sharing my experience and the websites that have served me best. I also included some travel hacks and tips to get a cheaper price. Enjoy!
For booking accommodation, I would recommend ‘booking.com’. They have most lodgings on there and if you book through them regularly, then you will start receiving discounts on some places or free included breakfast (which the website calls the genius discount).
Another good website for looking up hostels is hostelworld.com. I haven’t found it useful in South-America but everywhere else I’ve traveled to. One big advantage is that they give you detailed directions on how to get to their place which is never the case for booking.com
Let me give you a travel hack regarding booking.com. I often only reserve one night and if I decide to stay longer, I’ll negotiate with the host regarding the price. Often, booking directly in person is cheaper than through a website. In case a cheaper price than on booking is openly advertised in the hostel/hotel, you should definitely point that out and you might be able to cancel the booking on booking.com upon arriving at the lodging and then reserve/pay the property directly. This has happened to me several times.
In some countries, especially in Bolivia, I simply looked up some places online beforehand and then walked around in the areas that seemed to have lodgings accumulated. This is how you get the lowest price for a private room. Look for places that are called ‘hostal’ and simply ask for the rate and to see the room. The cheapest room often won’t have a window and sometimes a shared bathroom. You can though give it a try and negotiate with the owner. I once got 40% of a triple family room because the place wasn’t busy when I arrived in the late afternoon. Keep in mind that in South-America, small talk is very important before you ask for a discount. Always happily chat for a few minutes, answer the questions the owner might have and then eventually bring forward your request. You can also try and get a deal for a stay of more than one night at a reduced rate.
Haggling was difficult for me in the beginning but once I realized that everyone does it and it’s not offending if you keep it reasonable, I did really get into it. You don’t need perfect Spanish for that either – just asking for a ‘descuento’ can do wonders 🙂
Regarding booking flights, I have been using Skyscanner for a while. I usually end up going to the website offering the flight directly as those prices will be more updated and I simply feel more reassured booking through an airline directly than a third-party website. I have done that successfully as well, but I’d watch out for additional fees, such as baggage fees which are usually not included, especially for budget airlines and you then have to figure out how to add the luggage to your flight (if you do that at the ticketing counter when you check-in, it’ll become more expensive than when you do it beforehand).
One piece of advice. If you take an international flight, some countries might ask you for a proof that you’re going to leave the country within the period of the validity of the tourist visa they’re going to issue you. This is a ‘hit-and-miss’ but I’d always be prepared, either booking a cheap bus or a cheap/cancelable onward flight-ticket out of the country. Otherwise, you risk not even be let on the plane!
Another useful app is ‘hopper‘ which I mentioned in a previous post about my ‘favorite apps for traveling’. This app tracks flight prices and will give you advice on whether to purchase now or later. In case the latter is advised, you can set up an alert when it’s best to purchase the flight.
For buses, there are country-specific websites, but busbud works for South-America as a whole and gives a good idea about available bus companies and destinations. Keep in mind though that the website never shows all available buses and if you don’t find a connection between two cities, make sure to simply visit the terminal and ask. Often, the tickets you purchase directly at the terminal are cheaper than through the website. You can book them right beforehand, as unless it’s a public holiday or the weekend, the buses won’t be fully booked. Very popular backpacker routes with few bus companies should be booked beforehand, such as any bus on the Route 40 in Patagonia in Argentina (believe me you don’t want to get stuck in an expensive mountain resort town, having to wait for 3 days for the next bus).
Tip: Make sure to use the word ‘pasaje’ and not the word used in Spain ‘billete’! People will give you a look if you don’t 😉
Other websites I’ve used for booking bus tickets are redbus (Peru and Colombia), recorrido (Chile), plataforma10 (Argentina)
In Peru, I found it advisable to book on the company websites themselves as search engine websites don’t always display all the buses available (so you need to search yourself on the web for a bit as each company offers different routes). In Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay you should book your bus at the terminal itself. If you do manage to find a ticket that can be booked online (which is highly doubtful for most routes), it will definitely be more expensive. Prices in Argentina tended to be the same online as at the terminal.