Traveling South America as South Africans


People were generally surprised to hear we’re from South Africa because there aren’t many South Africans touring South America – yet. When they discovered we’re South African their attitude towards us became even more friendly. (Maybe I was imagining but it felt that way to me.)

Typical responses when people heard we’re from South Africa were:

“Really? Wow, Africa!”
“Wow, that’s far!”
“Ooh, Sud Afrika!”
“Is the crime really bad?”
“You’re the first South Africans I’ve met.”
“Do you live in Johannesburg or Cape Town?”
“Aah, I like that band, ‘Die Antwoord.'”
“Do you speak the same language as ‘Die Antwoord?'”
“What country in South Africa are you from?”
“But you’re white!?”
“Do you speak African?”
“I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand.”
(That was only one guy.)

After Madiba’s passing, when we said we’re from South Africa, people always said something about Nelson Mandela. It was BIG news worldwide!

Pros and cons of being a South African Backpacker in South America

Starting with the cons:

1. While all the other foreigners were raving about how cheap everything is, we were thinking how expensive it is! It’s probably also because the Rand’s value has taken a bit of a dip. Peru and Bolivia’s accommodation was not too bad but the price wasn’t anything to get excited about. Chile was particularly expensive. So we had to budget well, make wise food choices and search a bit longer for good value accommodation. We got much more “bang for our buck” in Thailand. The money was worth it though!

2. No hablas Español! We don’t have any Spanish exposure. (Even less Portuguese! At least they spoke a Spanish sentence in Dexter every now and again.) So even though most South Africans speak at least 2, if not more languages, it’s not Spanish. French people can understand Spanish quite well. Many American and European countries offer Spanish as a second language at school. But this wasn’t a huge drawback, it just meant we had to learn some basic Spanish real quick.

3. We didn’t appreciate the abundance of good meat and fruit as much as other tourist because we have good meat and fruit (if not better) back home. Except for the coconuts. I really appreciated every coconut I consumed. We are also spoilt in RSA with good, reasonably priced wine. Other tourist raved about the good, cheap wine – the wine is good but not as good as Western Cape’s wine and cheap is a relative term.

4. We didn’t know that toilet paper was not allowed in the toilet so ended up blocking 2 toilets… (I think most tourists are at first unaware of this.)

Now for the pros:

1. People found us interesting because they don’t meet many South Africans. So it was nice to be different.

2. Most other tourists think the South African english accent is cool! (But also liked teasing us about words like “as well” and “now now”.)

3. In general South Africans don’t get diarrhea from the food and water as easily as other tourists. (We have had more exposure to develop better immunity.) I also think South American food and hygiene has improved a lot in the last few years because most travelers we met didn’t have too many problems. But when my sister and I travelled to India last year, we had 20 people in our tour group. Five of us were South African and the others were mostly Australian, Canadian and British. On the final night we had a buffet which was included in the tour price… 100% of the South Africans showed up, ready to eat! While the only others to arrive were 1 of the 4 Australians and another lady from Trinadad. All our other fellow group members were suffering from gastrointestinal disturbances in their room. (South Africans also won’t easily miss an opportunity for a free buffet.)

4. South Africans don’t trust people easily, we are suspicious of everyone and don’t leave valuables unattended. So if a Safa (South African) does get mugged in South America it will be unfortunate but it probably won’t be because of negligence… I think we are pretty “street smart” in that regard…maybe even a bit paranoid.



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