The thought of being in a Latin American country by yourself can be a daunting idea. Not knowing the language, city, food, it can be rough. Here’s a look at my trips and some advice to do it on your own; safely and a lot cheaper then those all inclusive deals.

Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of traveling through Central and South America on leisure and photo shoots. Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru and Brazil have all been on the list. Not once did I have a guide or a resort to depend on. A backpack, camera and some street smarts got me through.

Research- This one is key! Before I ever head to any country or city, I want to know about it. Population, culture of the area, popular cuisine, a basic street layout. Since I’ve generally traveled alone, I want to have a basic idea of key landmarks, which way is north and a layout of streets. Doing some quick Google searches about your destination will bring up a host of results where you can find all the info you want.

Latin America 4
Local street musicians performing in Quepos, Costa Rica.

Luggage- Lets face it, do you really want to lug around a roller suitcase down back alleys or through less traveled areas? If you want to go light, a “non-flashy” hiking backpack will do the trick. A few changes of clothes, some personal items and a camera fit nicely. This also allows you to move through crowds and busy streets without drawing much attention to yourself. If I’m going for photography, I don’t care what I wear. One change of pants and a shirt or two, a change of socks and underwear, and that’s it. Yeah, you may wear them for a few days in a row, but the loss of all that weight make it worth it.

Language- Gracias o Obrigado? Know where you’re going. If you’re in Brazil, learn some basic Portuguese words, or Spanish for the others. I’m not saying you need to hold a full conversation, but coming from experience, attempting to speak with the locals in their native tongue goes a long way. Showing that you’re trying can seal a deal for a local to show you some sweet locations or hangouts where you’re bound to be the only gringo. Another trick I use is to write down some important phrases in a notepad. I can bring this out at anytime and simply point to a phrase if I need something specific or detailed.

Latin America 2
A blind man plays guitar on a rainy afternoon near Plaza de la Cultura, downtown San Jose.

Money- This is one of the most important ones! You’re in Latin America and everyone is trying to make money in some way. Know your money, know the words to describe the values of your money, look for marked prices before paying, listen and look to see what others are paying, and ask! I’ve been ripped off in Peru and Brazil and I knew it. Some common sense and asking in the native tongue what the price is, again, will go a long way. Don’t give 100 soles when it only costs 14 soles.

Clothing- High heels, skirts, flashy shirts — just don’t do it. If you’re a young woman backpacking alone, go plain jane. Neutral colors, hiking shoes and no purse will help you blend it and keep attention away. Guys… don’t wear flashy necklaces or name brand shirts. Go with solid t-shirts, plain jeans and don’t wear expensive Nike’s or Adidas’. Trust me, we were robbed at gun point in Brazil over a pair of Nike’s.

Latin America 3
Heather Porpiglia and Kathy Lomel get up close and personal with La Paz waterfall

Street Smarts- Do you go down the sketchy dark alleys in your city? Don’t do it abroad! Keep an eye out at all times. Scan around as you walk through markets or busy streets, if you see people eyeing you up, move to a safe open place where there is security or police. If you don’t feel safe doing it in your home town, don’t do it out of the country.

With that in mind, stay safe and travel often.

Sites: The following are websites I usually use before travel.

US State Department

National Geographic

Travel Independent

Latin America Travel Association

And as always a basic google search of your destination will always yeild results.



Leave a Reply