When it comes to long distance travel, there is a vast difference between traveling in South America and traveling in Europe or the United States. Trains are not an option for getting around South America. Likewise, there are not scores of cheap plane tickets and discount airlines to choose from either.
For budget travelers, both local and foreign, that leaves buses for long distance, affordable travel.
Traveling by bus can get very tedious given the enormous size of the continent. There are certain routes, however, that for about the same price as an upgraded bus ticket, you can hop on a two-hour flight and avoid 24 hours of sitting on a bus. Other times paying just a little more for a flight is a worthwhile exchange for taking a bigger hop down the road and making life a lot easier on yourself.
Lima – Cusco (Machu Picchu), Peru
Cusco, Peru – the largest city near Machu Picchu – is obviously a very popular destination. For a little more than the cost of a plush bus seat, you can skip the 24-hour bus ride from Lima and arrive in Cusco for $95 one-way on Peruvian Airlines.
If you see an advertised airline special, make sure that you read the fine print. Some promotions have restrictions by nationality. This is to make air travel affordable for locals. This is especially true in countries like Peru where there is a large difference in economy for the locals as opposed to foreign travelers.
Some strategic planning can help you avoid entry fees (i.e. reciprocal fees) for foreign travelers.
If you are flying from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina and are a U.S. Citizen, you will be charged an entry fee or ‘reciprocal fee’ of $131 for flying into the international airport in Buenos Aires (EZE – Ezeiza).
However, if you fly from El Calafate, Argentina into Buenos Aires, Argentina (AEP – Aeroparque Jorge Newbery), you will not be charged the entry fee since that flight is NOT an international flight (since it takes place in one country). The same is true for flying on an international flight into Santiago, Chile.
If your flight happens to stop over in Buenos Aires or Santiago and continues on to another airport, you should be given a special pass noting your continued travel and avoid paying the entry fee for that country.
A note on entry fees / reciprocal fees – U.S. Citizens for example, this is just the same fee that the United States government charges citizens of Chile and Argentina to enter the U.S. – therefore it is just being reciprocated to U.S. Citizens.
To put things into perspective, from the top of Venezuela to the bottom of Chile is approximately 4,600 miles (7,400 kilimeters). The width of the United State is about 3,000 miles. Imagine traveling across the United States and half way back… by bus.
There is so much to see in South America. Be sure to check into options for the occasional flight to help you keep your sanity and maximize your travels.
Do you have any travel advise for others traveling to South America? Share your experiences below!