“Plan Tripping,” that’s what it should be called in my case. I’m terrible at it, in part because I very rarely travel, as explained in my last post. Since I’m always moving, I’ve gotten pretty good at planning that.
But now, for once, I’m thinking about doing some honest-to-goodness traveling. My original plan was to just move to Colombia and stay there for awhile (“awhile” usually means a year for me). But then I got to looking at a map of South America and thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat to go down and visit my friend in Uruguay?” That should be simple enough, since I’m gonna be in the neighborhood, right? Wellllll, not so fast. First of all, I’m gonna be on a tight budget, so I want to make the trip on the cheap. That pretty much rules out air travel, since flying between South American countries is quite expensive. So, I figured, no problem, I’ll just travel overland. I wouldn’t mind visiting a few countries along the way anyway.
Hold on there just a second, ye US passport holder! It turns out that a few South American countries charge a reciprocity fee for Americans.* That means Americans have to pay a fee to enter these countries because the US charges their citizens a fee when they come to visit the “land of the free.” “Reciprocity.” “Wonderful.” I understand why some countries adopt this kind of tit-for-tat policy, but it’s still a bummer if you’re trying to see South America on a shoestring. And that shoestring just got a whole lot more expensive when I discovered that I would have to pay $160 per country to cross Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. (The fees have increased since the article linked above was published.)
So it was back to the drawing board–or, more precisely, the Google map of South America, which I stared at for a good while. Finally, a brilliant workaround came to mind: Fine, I’ll just cut straight across Brazil from Colombia, then cross into Uruguay from there. Brazil does have a reciprocity fee (and a visa requirement to boot), but I would only have to pay a fee for one country instead of three. So I started looking for overland travel options from Colombia to Uruguay, via Brazil. And I kept looking, and looking…. There didn’t seem to be much available for some reason. Eventually I came across a Lonely Planet Thorn Tree thread that talked about needing to take a three-day boat trip down a river for the first leg of the journey! What the hell?! I could almost feel the sweat dripping from my brow and the (potentially malaria-infected) mosquitoes biting at my ankles. I started conjuring up visions of smugglers and scenes from Apocalypse Now. Breaking out of my daze, I fumbled around for my mouse and hurriedly clicked back over to the Google map. I had forgotten about one minor geographic detail: The Amazon friggin’ rainforest! Spanning over two million square miles (over five million square kilometers), it sits smack dab between me and my quest for a cheap route to Uruguay. Arrgh, mother nature can be a bitch sometimes!
Looks like South America isn’t going to yield up its treasures so easily….
Got any tips on how to travel around South America on the cheap? Or maybe some exciting stories of overland adventures across this vast, unforgiving continent? Drop them in the comments below and I’ll respond to them all!
Edit: Chile discontinued its reciprocity fee for Americans after the US added it to the visa waiver program in 2014. So another option to minimize costs would be to travel south through Peru and Chile, then cut across Argentina to arrive at Uruguay, thus paying only the reciprocity fee for Argentina.
* For the purposes of this blog, “American” means a citizen of the United States of America. I’m aware that citizens of many Latin American countries also identify as “Americans,” given that they too reside on the American continent. However, in English, we lack a widely-accepted alternative to the term “American.” (Note: When speaking or writing in Spanish, I always try to use the term estadounidense rather than Americano when referring to US citizens.)