Choosing the right guide book for your trip is important. Some are aimed at backpackers, some for families or trekkers, and there are many to choose from. I’m what you might consider a ‘mid-range backpacker’, in other words I want to skimp on the everyday costs but don’t mind splashing out on once in a lifetime activities. For me Lonely Planet and Moon handbooks are always good choices, but for South America I had to dig a bit deeper to find the right guidebooks. I’ve flipped through almost every guidebook available for the countries I plan to visit (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru), and these are the books that stand above the rest.
Top 3 guidebook brands for South America:
As always the maps are superior and the books tend to be re-published every 2 years. Lots of info regarding bus travel, cheap accommodation and cultural activities but a hint of the usual LP attitude.
Lots of accommodation and restaurant recommendations. Packs a lot into each guide, but sometimes frustrating to use. Good multi-country options available including an Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia guide and an Inca Heartland guide.
Good background and cultural info as always. A good pre-planning read, but often several years between each publishing and recommendations sometimes out of date.
Multi-Country Guides for South America:
There are also a few South America “catch-all” guides which cover the entire continent. These are great for people wanting only one guide or for areas which may not have its own guidebook (ex Paraguay). I have used both of these books in my pre-planning (Footprint 2008 and Lonely Planet 2004 and 2007 editions) but opted for the individual country guides because they offered more in depth information.
Lonely Planet – South America on a Shoestring
This guide is aimed at bare-budget (aka shoestring) travelers who wants a briefing of each country in South America. There isn’t a lot covered, especially for smaller towns off the “gringo trail”, but a decent book none the less. I used this book a lot for pre-planning and found it easier to find information in than the Footprint guide, but not as many options listed for accommodations and restaurants.
There are some maps, but not as many as individual guides. I noticed there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the two publishing’s I looked at, just a couple price updates. If you are interested in this book its possible to get away with an older edition if you aren’t relying on the prices or specific recommendations.
Footrpint – South America 2009
It took a while to get used to the pricing format, but this book packs a lot into a small package. It seems to be aimed at budget travellers, but also has info for bigger budgets too. Overall I’d say this is the best South America guide due to the amazing amount of recommendations and the almost yearly updates. If I had decided to bring a continent-wide guide, then this would have been the one.
Its worth noting that although this is a fairly compact book with incredibly thin pages, it has a hardcover which is something I haven’t seen in a guidebook before. Not sure if that’s a plus or a minus for the book, but a consideration anyway.
After all the dozens of guidebooks I picked through, I finally picked a Lonely Planet guide for each country of visit (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru ). Footprint was a close second for Peru and Bolivia, but wasn’t as readily available from the bookstore. Moon has a fairly recent Peru book, but they are pretty new in the business, so I didn’t want to take any chances.