As they rightfully say, you are nothing without your health. No matter how amazing a trekking excursion, city hopping, or natural wonder tour you have planned, all of that could be ruined by a single stomach bug or lack of rest. So on your next trip south of the equator, whether it be an Argentina holiday, Brazil vacation, Peru trip, or otherwise, be sure to keep these top 5 health guidelines in mind in order to ensure yourself the best South American escape possible.
1. Be wary of the water
As a general rule in South America, be careful when drinking the local tap water. Usually, either the water has not been fully treated, or the pipes themselves are so old that it is the metallic residue that causes sickness. In any case, bottled water, which is very affordable, is your best bet. Still, that can become quite environmentally unfriendly, especially if you are traveling for a long period of time; consider bringing your own water purification tablets. For those with sensitive stomachs, eating out will require attention as well. Take precautions or avoid items such as ice cubes, and fresh produce such as salads that may have been washed with tap water. Depending on your body’s tendency, you may even wash your teeth with bottled water.
2. Eat the street food – but be smart about it
Street food continues to exist in the biggest and smallest of South American cities and towns simply because it is often cheap, convenient, and most of all, tasty. Consuming food from a street stand with a cluster of locals is also an incredibly great way to gain insight into the region’s people and gastronomy at the same time. To avoid food sickness as much as possible while experiencing the rich culture of street food, use good intuition and observation skills to check whether the vendor is relatively hygienic. At the very least, a water source is a good sign they have been cleaning their hands and utensils. Second, aim to eat at places with high turnover of food; this can be done by eating at places with lots of customers. A crowd not only means less time for raw ingredients to sit around, but also that it’s probably a popular place to eat for a reason!
3. Know that restaurants are not guaranteed
Many of the tips regarding street food apply to restaurants as well. However, just because a place has 4 walls and a door around it, and maybe even a white tablecloth and crisp glasses, does not necessarily mean it is a reliable eatery. Some signs of a sanitary establishment are fresh (not greasy) tabletops, a lack of pests such as flies, and clean uniforms on the staff. If the restaurant pays attention to these details, then there is a higher chance they keep their kitchen in line as well. Again, choose places that particularly have a local crowd and maybe you’ll discover a new town secret!
4. Prepare yourself for altitude sickness
The Andean mountain range is the longest in the world, which means you’ll likely reach plenty of high points during your South America vacation. The spectacular series of mountains run through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, giving way to stunning destinations for trekking, mountain biking, touring, and more. But whether you plan to visit Machu Picchu, hike the Patagonia region in Chile and Argentina, or just plan to admire the rugged peaks from afar, first brace yourself against potential altitude sickness. It can strike the young and the old, the fit and the unfit. Give yourself at least 1 or 2 days to acclimate when arriving to a new, high altitude location, and in that time, refrain from alcoholic beverages, strenuous exercise and activity, drink coca tea if it’s available, and get plenty of rest and hydration for your body
5. Get your vaccines ahead of time
Vaccines are especially important if you hope to visit exotic destinations such as the Amazon Rainforest. Yellow fever, malaria, and typhoid are the most common illnesses of the area. However, not only is it important to get your shots before you arrive, you should get them at least a few weeks before arriving at your destination because it takes some time for the drugs to take effect in your body. As well, some vaccines may be a bit more expensive back home, so consider getting them upon arrival in South America if you have the time to spare.
Have a nice and safe trip!