Frequently Asked Questions
Where will I go on a South America cruise?
This depends on your itinerary. South America cruises generally visit ports in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru or Uruguay.
When is the best time to take a South America cruise?
The cruise season stretches from fall to spring. Visitors can avoid surging tourist crowds by traveling during the "shoulder seasons" in October or April. Temperatures are milder during these months and there's less competition for the top tourist attractions. Since it’s located in the southern hemisphere, South America’s seasons are opposite of those in the northern hemisphere. When it’s winter in the U.S., it’s summer in South America.
Will I need a passport or visa?
Passports are required for all international visitors.
Is English spoken?
English is not widespread but most resorts, shops and restaurants connected to the tourist trade will have some English-speaking staff.
What is the time difference?
Countries in South America range from one hour behind to one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
What is the local currency? Where can I exchange currency?
The local currency varies by country. For example, Brazil uses the Brazilian real and Argentina uses the Argentine peso. Currency exchange stations are available at most local hotels and airports, though many tourist destinations accept credit cards.
Is tipping a common practice?
Sometimes, service is included in restaurant bills. If not, a tip of 10% is customary on restaurant bills. Taxi drivers generally receive 10% and other service staff, such as maids and porters, generally receive $.50 to $3.
What should I wear?
Casual resort wear, including shorts and T-shirts, is the standard daytime attire for most cruises. Bring a variety of footwear, including low-heeled or rubber-soled shoes for walking on deck, sandals for beach excursions, sturdy walking shoes for guided tours and a pair of dressier shoes for formal dining. You can check your ship's dress codes for options suitable for nighttime, but most restaurants encourage slacks and nice dresses during evening meals.
Many churches and cathedrals in South America require some degree of modest attire for visitors. You may not be permitted to enter if wearing "too short" shorts, and women may be asked to cover bare shoulders (it's a good idea to tuck a lightweight scarf into your purse or tote).
What should I pack?
Many excursions in South America involve sightseeing with a minimal to moderate amount of walking, although some tours may include extensive walking or hiking. Think about the kinds of activities you will want to try and pack accordingly. Protective hats, good walking shoes and windbreakers are advisable no matter when you travel. Also, remember to pack all of your medications, prescription or otherwise, in a bag you can keep with you as needed.
Is the water safe to drink?
Most resorts and restaurants filter their tap water, though bottled water is available almost everywhere.
What sort of medical precautions do I need to take?
Shots may be necessary for visitors from North America. Check with your health care provider and discuss the shots required for the countries you'll be visiting.
What types of electrical outlets are used?
U.S. cruise companies use the standard 110-volt outlets. International guests will likely need converters and adapters; these same devices come in handy for U.S. citizens who plan to overnight in hotels at some point during their vacation, as much of South America uses the 220-volt outlet.
How do I make a telephone call from South America?
Resort hotels and public phone booths offer direct dialing for international calls. Calling cards also are available for sale in tourist-friendly markets. U.S.-based cell phones might not work everywhere.
Are hotel rooms outfitted with air conditioners?
Air conditioning may only be available in nicer hotels in some cities. If recycled air is important to you, make sure to consult your travel counselor before booking a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay.
What is the shopping like? What souvenirs should I buy?
South America offers a wide variety of shopping opportunities, from daily markets to pedestrian-friendly city shopping areas. In Buenos Aires, you can find shoes, bags and other items for appealing prices throughout the city, which is known for its leather goods. In Rio de Janeiro, try Barrashopping, a complex of more than 600 stores. Or, get a taste for Brazilian beach life and purchase souvenirs from vendors along the beach. In Santiago, Mall Panoramico is an authentic local choice, with a variety of reasonably priced goods being sold by over a hundred vendors. For Chilean handicrafts, clothing, jewelry and antiques, Los Dominicos is the place. In Sao Paulo, try the bargain market stalls of Rua 25 de Marco or the high end shops and boutiques of the Jardins area. Visit the markets in Montevideo, like Mercado del Puerto, Villa Biarritz Fair and Tristan Narvaja.
How do I get around?
Most major cities in South America have extensive public transportation systems that include travel by metro, bus or tram. Bicycle rentals may also be available, and many tourist areas of town are pedestrian-friendly. Shore excursions purchased through your cruise line highlight top attractions and include transportation and a guide.
Can I rent a car?
Rental rules vary by country, but most companies require renters to be at least 21-25 years old. However, the proliferation of public transportation makes car rentals largely unnecessary in most cities.
What can I do there?
With so many cultures and countries to experience in South America, the potential activities seem limitless. Go to a tango performance in Buenos Aires, and experience the passion that made the dance popular. See the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Witness the breath-taking beauty of Iguazu Falls or the Andes Mountains. Meet an array of wildlife in the Galapagos, like the Galapagos tortoise and Darwin’s Finches.
Do you have any photography tips for travelers to South America?
There's plenty of historic and natural beauty to capture, so be sure to bring plenty of gear. Users of "point-and-shoot" digital cameras should pack rechargeable batteries, a charger, electric adaptors and high-capacity memory cards (1 gigabyte is recommended). If you're bringing a digital video camera, don't forget the long-life batteries, charger, adaptors and converter. Make sure photography is permitted before shooting in museums, churches and cathedrals; in some cases, you'll just be asked to turn off your flash.