Having a hard time deciding where in the world to take your gap year? Then answer this simple question: Do you want to taste a little bit of everything and experience all you can during this adventure? In that case, South America is the place for you!

This region has it all – beautifully diverse landscapes, exotic wildlife, ancient cultures, and all types of adventure opportunities. Whether you’re there for the hiking or trekking, to learn a new language, to immerse yourself in a rich culture, or to dance the night away, South America has you covered. So let’s get going!

South America has a wide variety of options for gap-year seekers. Whatever your interests may be, you’ll find something here to pique them. Want to learn how to communicate with native Spanish speakers? Experience life in a remote rainforest village? Give love and care to children in need? Learn the history of a fascinating culture? Or maybe just take on some epic travel adventures? All of these opportunities are up for grabs when you choose South America for your gap year destination.

Some of the most popular types of gap year programs are:

Language Learning/Cultural Immersion

Stay with a local host family and observe how they live. Eat what they eat, do what they do, and learn to interact with them in their language by helping them with daily tasks and chores. Learn how to cook some of the staple foods in their diet. The indigenous communities of the Peruvian Andes make for an ideal host location offering a blend of history, culture, tradition, and immersion.

Adventure Travel

South America is a land ripe with adventure, and has enough variety to meet any traveler’s needs. In Peru, you can explore the sacred ruins of Machu Picchu after hiking the world-famous Inca Trail.

Those into nature can marvel at some of the world’s biggest waterfalls; Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, Angel Falls in Venezuela, and Iquazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. You can trek through the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, or even dive in the world-renowned Galapagos Islands. You can learn to salsa in Argentina, or just party all night in Rio de Janeiro. Whatever you choose, it’s sure to be an adventure that won’t disappoint!

Environmental/Wildlife Conservation

Home to both the Amazon Rainforest and the Galapagos Islands, it’s no surprise that South America has astounding numbers of exotic wildlife, many of which need to be protected to ensure their continued survival.

This type of gap year program could involve planting trees, rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in the Amazon, helping conserve the ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, or developing education programs for nature conservation. Whatever you choose, you’ll be helping to preserve some of the most important ecosystems on our planet.

Volunteering with Children:

Many countries in South America are still developing, meaning that some families don’t have enough to provide for their children. A volunteer placement of this type could involve a number of opportunities such as teaching children English in Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, caring for young children in daycare facilities or orphanages in Quito, or working with street children in Lima.

Once you’ve nailed down the location and type of gap year you’d like to take on, the hardest part is done! Now it’s time to prepare for your upcoming adventure. This means doing things like saving money, getting necessary vaccinations, applying for visas, and arranging travel insurance.

Visas

Nationals of the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK will receive a Tourist Visa upon arrival that is valid for a range of 30-90 days in most South American countries. Visas can be renewed for a fee for those wishing to stay longer. In countries like Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina, citizens of certain countries need to pay an entry fee, which varies depending on the country. Check at your local embassy for more detailed information.

Cost of Living

If you are taking a gap year with a certified organization, costs such as transportation and accommodation are likely to be included in the total program fare. For independent travelers, though, the amount you’ll need to budget per month or per day varies depending on the country and city you’re in.

In general, the cost of living in this region is much cheaper in comparison to the USA or Europe. In many destinations in South America, you can live comfortably on 800 USD per month. See South America Living for the full list. Daily living costs in USD range from low in countries like Bolivia and Ecuador (22 USD/day), to midrange in places like Peru (27-31 USD/day), to high in countries like Argentina and Brazil (45-53 USD/day). For more information and to get the breakdown of prices, see The Price of Travel’s 2014 Backpacker Index.

If you start to run low on cash, searching for an English Teaching job is a good option, especially in countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador, where tourism continues to increase.

Health: General health tips include
  • drink only purified or bottled water
  • wash your hands frequently, especially before and after eating
  • take extra precautions in mosquito-ridden areas (dress appropriately, use a mosquito net, and wear insect repellent)

One of the most common minor illnesses a visitor to this region may experience is traveler’s diarrhea, due to dietary changes. Bring a supply of oral rehydration tablets with you just in case.

Vaccinations

Many vaccinations may be applicable to travelers of South America, depending on your immunization history. Some of the most common include Hepatitis A and B, Tuberculosis, Typhoid, and Tetanus. In some countries, vaccination against Yellow Fever is compulsory. Anti-malarial medications may also be necessary, especially when traveling to the Amazon Basin.

For the most accurate advice, it’s best to consult a doctor trained in travel health before departure.

Safety

South America tends to get a bit of a bad rap when it comes to safety, but following a few simple guidelines can greatly increase your chances of having a safe and enjoyable experience.

Our main safety tips:

  • Conceal valuables
  • Dress modestly and conservatively
  • Always remain alert and aware of your surroundings
  • Avoid traveling alone when possible
  • Avoid remote, poorly lit areas at night
  • Take taxis rather than walking around the streets at night
Contributed by Allison Burney

Gap Year Programs in South America

Want to take a gap year in South America? Check out these programs!
Displaying 1 - 15 of 121 programs
Maximo Nivel
Gap Year Program — Work, Study, & Travel in Latin America
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10 •2 reviews

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API Gap Year in Argentina
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9.06 •33 reviews

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Pacific Discovery
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Follow in the footprints of great explorers on this incredible 4-week...

Operation Groundswell
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9.73 •15 reviews

Peru isn’t the country you might expect it to be. Everyone has heard...

Pacific Discovery
South America Semester – Cultural Immersion, Service Learning, Adventure
Multiple Countries
10 •7 reviews

Who do you want to be in the world? Join us for an insightful...

Pacific Discovery
Pacific Discovery | Ecuador & Galapagos Summer Program
Multiple Countries
10 •4 reviews

Be prepared to fall in love with Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands on...

Seamester
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Multiple Countries
10 •11 reviews

Sail to Bonaire and wake to flocks of Venezuelan flamingos flying...

Amigos de las Americas
Amigos de las Americas - Ecuador: Chimborazo
Ecuador
9.36 •14 reviews

High in the Andes mountains, immerse yourself in the life of rural...

Carpe Diem Education
Carpe Diem Education | South America Semester: Spanish Immersion & Conservation
Multiple Countries
9.8 •10 reviews

Trek to the sprawling Incan ruins at Machu Picchu and try your hand at...

Seamester
Seamester: South Africa to Caribbean - 90 Days
Multiple Countries
10 •5 reviews

This voyage is a once in a lifetime opportunity to sail aboard S/Y...

ARCC Programs
ARCC Gap: South America - Peru, Ecuador & Patagonia
Multiple Countries
9.39 •23 reviews

Adventure and education collide during our three-month journey through...

Global Citizen Year
Global Citizen Year - Gap Year Program Ecuador
Ecuador
9.81 •21 reviews

Global Citizen Year is a non-profit social enterprise forging a new...

Amigos de las Americas
Amigos de las Americas - Uruguay Gap Year
Uruguay
10 •4 reviews

Accredited by the Gap Year Association, our Gap Program provides...

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