Latin American countries are moving to the top of everyone’s travel list—and for good reason. The ancient civilizations, historic architecture, beaches and rainforests are enough to convince even the homebodies in us to travel beyond the border. Before you embark on a tour of Latin America, here are some cultural differences you should keep in mind.
Keep your showers short
Hot water—or water in general—may not be available from time to time. Outages aren’t as common in the majority of hotels, but you may find low water pressure in even the most high-end accommodations. To avoid the hot water cutting out on you, keep showers short. A small pack wet wipes is great in a pinch if the water is not on your getting ready schedule.
Bring a backup light
Like water, electricity may turn on and off throughout the day or every few days. Most hotels have generators to keep you from total darkness, but it never hurts to pack a small travel flashlight or book light. The flashlight on your iPhone will also keep you from bumping into furniture in the event of a total power outage.
Soak up the heat
Air conditioning is not as common in Central and South America as it is in North America. As in Europe, hotels in Central and South America usually have air conditioners, but they are often turned off during the day and aren’t very strong. Instead of holing up in your hotel room, take a note from the locals and find ways to cool off outdoors, like venturing to the local beach or a pool—ask your Tour Director for tips!
Stick to bottled water
Drinking the local tap water can be a bad idea for visitors—not because it is dirty or contaminated, but because it may contain microbes your digestive system is not used to. To stay healthy, pop into local grocery stores to snag cheap bottles of water to carry with you or store in your room. Stick to fruit or vegetables that are peeled or cooked. Ask your Tour Director for restaurant recommendations, as some restaurants will use filtered water for washing and preparing food.
Embrace the terrain
The center of most towns will have paved streets, but the roads in more rural areas will be a bit rock and uneven. If you’re sensitive to a bumpy ride, bring along a small travel pillow or a thick sweater you can sit on during transfers.
Learn the language
The official language in most Central and South American countries is Spanish, or Portuguese in Brazil. Knowing a bit of the local language will help you with everything from getting around the city to interacting with people you meet. Before you go, download a language app on your phone (like Duolingo) or practice your skills during your commute with a language-learning CD in the car. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can pack a small dictionary to help you with key phrases once you’re on the road—check with your local library before you buy one!