Cross x Country in South America

Q.

Hi Shalome

Am planning a solo trip that I would like to start at Buenos Aires, visit Salta (or Jujuy) to the Atacama Desert (Chile) and end in Uyuni (Bolivia) for about 12 days with an English speaking guide and a 4*4x drive.

My budget would be mid-priced, not at the lower end of the spectrum and not the luxury end either. Like I would prefer a 4×4 SUV drive instead of a large bus full of people. I enjoy my photography so a tour operator that is patient at these sites would be good.

The circuit I have shared is a popular circuit for tourists into South America. The challenge is that I know of only one couple that has visited these places and they have warned me to be triply sure of the reputation of the tour company I go with. So far, I have been unable to find a reputed travel operator that can run this tour across borders. The country tourism / SA websites only have intra country operators, and I have been warned to research the tour operator thoroughly before choosing one.

Can you please guide me on how to find the best tour operators covering this region.

Thanks !

Aparna

.

Hi Aparna

I can imagine that you found it difficult to find local trusted travel operators, especially ones that offer inter-country tours. There seem to be multiple threads on TripAdvisor with controversial self-promotional posts from local travel operators and tour aggregators trying to pass off as genuine reviews.

A milonga in Buenos Aires

One of the first steps to finding reliable tour operators in any country is by checking the website of international, regional or national travel associations. A travel association that covers these countries is the Latin American Travel Association (LATA). By looking through their member list you can look for reliable tour companies and also check if a company you are interested in is one of the listed members.

The LATA website lists Tour Operators that are international tour companies and Local Operators that are South American. You can also choose a company from a list of the LATA awardees.

Some India-based tour operators that could also organise the tour for you are:

Windmill Holidays (I have used this agency for personal and work travel, though not in South America).

Holidays at Leisure (planned a group trip for a relative of mine in Peru)

A friend of mine who backpacked through Bolivia used La Torre Tours, a local Bolivian agency for activities within Bolivia and was happy with their services. When I checked with them regarding organising this multi-country trip for you they said they could do it. However, I could not find them listed on the LATA website, so they could be an unregistered tour company.

The best way to experience this terrain

Regarding which company or which type of company you should go with (India-based / local operator / international tour company) I think you will need to find figure out where you stand on the cost vs. safety scale. Usually people travelling with tour companies are wary about their money: whether they will get a good value for it and whether their money will be safe after they have paid up, however, in your case as a single woman traveller you also have the additional concern of safety.

A local, unregistered tour company would be at the bottom of the safety scale in terms of recovering any money should something go wrong and your personal safety, though, of course, costs would be lowest.

An international travel agency with good South American knowledge like the ones mentioned on the LATA website would, I believe, be the most trustworthy when it came to your money as well as in terms of your personal safety. The costs, of course, would be a lot more.

However, not even the most expensive, internationally-awarded company can be fully responsible for your personal safety.

I’m actually really glad to hear that even though you’re travelling alone you want to do it with an organised tour company. I think given that you have only a few days and it is your first time travelling there I think that’s wise. As an Indian woman your gut instincts for safety will be sharply honed but I did find these articles about women travelling alone in South America useful:

This is a really awesome interview with a girl who travelled alone in South America for seven months!! Incredible. (I believe this website is going to shut down so read this soon.)

Licancabur Volcano, Atacama Desert, Chile

Even though the tips here are a little generic, you may find some of them useful. The website also has an article for solo women travel in other parts of the world:
The Culture Trip
Hostel Bookers

I hope this information helps, let me know if you need anything more.

Do let me know which agency you choose and how your trip goes!

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Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair, Pablo Neruda

Happy travels!

Shalome

All photos: www.123rf.com