The Best South American Travel Guidebooks

By - 01 July, 2014

Getting the best travel guide book for any journey can be a bit of a nightmare, especially with so many to choose from. We’ve tried to make it that little bit easier by explaining all the different options for South America, what regions they cover and whether they are worth investing in. Our choices for the best guide books in South America are at the bottom of the page.


Long the guidebook for those harder-to-reach places Bradt keeps to the mythical sense of adventure more than any other guidebook, partly because the destinations that it covers mean the writers have to rough it a little, trying to find places to stay and things to see in destinations that are not so tourist-friendly. In some cases, such as Uruguay and Bahia, it’s just that they’ve never had the publicity they deserve. Bradt have also started branching out into travel writing with Up The Creek a new book written by John Harrison and telling of his exploits up the Amazon. The South American books they offer are:

Amazon Highlights (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil) (Buy UK | USA)
Argentina (UK | USA)
Chile Highlights (UK | USA)
Colombia (UK | USA)
Galápagos Wildlife
Pantanal Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide to Brazil’s Wet Grassland
Peru Highlights (UK | USA)
Peruvian Wildlife: A Vistor’s Guide to the High Andes
The Amazon
Trekking in Peru: 50 Best Walks and Hikes (UK | USA)
Up The Creek: An Amazon Adventure (UK | USA)
Uruguay (UK | USA)

Buy Bradt’s South America guide books at Amazon (UK | USA)

Bradt’s website


Fodor’s only really offer a few good choices for South America since they stopped updating many of their South America guidebooks frequently – with the exception of their Brazil books which were updated for 2014 – instead focusing on other parts of the world. Generally, their best are some of the more specific guides, with their Argentina, Peru and Fodor’s See It Brazil guidebooks all offering some different choices to the norm and which were all updated in 2013. Their dedicated South America guidebook hasn’t been updated since it’s 8th edition in 2008, so we would strongly recommend staying clear of that.

Here’s their current range:

Argentina: with Wild Country and Chilean Patagonia (Buy UK | USA)
Brazil (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires with side trips to Gaucho Country, Iguazu and Uruguay
Chile including Easter Island and Argentine Patagonia
Peru: With Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro & Sao Paulo (UK | USA)
Fodor’s See It Brazil – The Illustrated Practical Guide (UK | USA)
South America (UK | USA)

Buy Fodor’s South America guide books from Amazon (UK | USA)

Fodors website


Without doubt the best travel guide for South America with 28 books in the region, all recently updated, including probably the best overview of the continent in The South American Handbook, which is updated annually (making it far superior to the Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring). These guide books are packed with glossy photos but also plenty of details with recommendations of places to eat, drink and stay as well as good suggestions for things to do.

Their catalogue is split into two types of handbooks, the larger Handbooks which are full of detail and don’t leave many stones unturned, and the newer Focus guides which actually do fit easily in a pocket and offer good solid guides for smaller regions. Their current catalogue includes the following:

Argentina Handbook
Bahia & Salvador Focus
Bariloche & Argentine Lake District Focus (Buy UK | USA)
Bolivia Focus (UK | USA)
Bolivia Handbook
Brazil Handbook (UK | USA)
Brazil Dream Trip (UK | USA)
Brazilian Amazon Focus (UK | USA)
Brazilian Pantanal Focus (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires & The Pampas Focus
Cartagena & Caribbean Coast Focus (UK | USA)
Chile Handbook
Colombia Handbook
Cuzco & The Inca Heartland Focus
Ecuador & Galapagos Handbook
Guyana, Guyane & Suriname Focus
Northeast Argentina & Uruguay Focus (UK | USA)
Paraguay Focus
Patagonia Handbook
Patagonia Focus (UK | USA)
Peru Handbook
Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador Handbook (USA)
Recife & Northeast Brazil Focus (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro Focus (UK | USA)
Quito & Gálapagos Islands Focus
Salvador & Bahia (UK | USA)
São Paulo Focus (UK | USA)
The South American Handbook (UK | USA)
The South American Handbook 1924 Edition (UK | USA) (intriguingly Footprint have also released the 1924 edition of their classic handbook in celebration of their 90th anniversary – it’s a great opportunity to see what travel and guidebooks were like 90 years ago)
Uruguay Focus
Venezuela Focus

Buy Footprint Handbooks on Amazon (UK | USA)
Buy The Footprint South American Handbook 2014 (UK | USA)

Footprint’s website


Not a great guide book for South America this one. The South America handbook itself has nowhere near enough detail for any destination meaning that if you want to spend more than a night or two anywhere you will find this thing is pretty useless. Not enough budget information for backpackers, this guide is aimed at a traveller with a bit more money in their pocket. There has been an attempt to do something different with these books with a more functional display of information but ultimately due to the lack of good, quality information, as well as poor maps, they fall flat.

Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires Day by Day (Buy UK | USA)
Chile & Easter Island
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
Peru Day-by-Day (UK | USA)
Portable Rio de Janeiro
South America (UK | USA)

Buy Frommer’s South American guide books at Amazon (UK | USA)

Frommers website

Lonely Planet

They’ve lost a little of their buzz but Lonely Planet are still concise and informative even if they are no way near as up-to-date as you would like. This is especially the case with the South America On a Shoestring edition. Either way they are still the number one choice for many casual travellers.

Argentina (Buy UK | USA)
Brazil (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires city guide
Buenos Aires encounters guide
Central & South America Healthy travel guide
Chile & Easter Island (UK | USA)
Colombia (UK | USA)
Ecuador & Galapagos Islands (UK | USA)
Peru (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro (UK | USA)
South America on a Shoestring (UK | USA)

Buy Lonely Planet’s South American guidebooks at Amazon (UK | USA)

Lonely Planet’s website

Moon Travel Guides

The problem with any new guidebook is getting a share of the market. Although Moon Travel Guides have some really good ideas, and very competent authors, their guidebooks still aren’t that visible. This is a shame, as they have managed to produce some books which have more of an idea of where traveller’s will actually travel, largely due to their authors being intrepid explorers themselves who have spent large chunks of their lives in each destination.

Their Buenos Aires guide also includes sections of Uruguay, Patagonia includes Falkland Islands and Chile includes Easter Island. These are all extra destinations which go hand-to-hand, and so by buying one of these guide books you can in some instances save the need for buying two of another brand. Our one disclaimer regarding Moon though, would be that as generally these guidebooks are just written by one person they can be frustrating if you don’t have a similar idea of travelling to that person, even when they have made every effort to speak to all budgets and styles of trip. Their current selection is:

Buenos Aires
Chile (Buy UK | USA)
Chilean Lake District
Colombia (UK | USA)
Cusco & Machu Picchu
Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands (UK | USA)
Galápagos Islands (UK | USA)
Lake Titicaca
Living Abroad In Brazil (UK | USA)
Machu Picchu (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro
Salvador and Bahia
Sao Paulo
Tierra del Fuego and Chilean Patagonia
Volunteer Vacations in Latin America (UK | USA)

Buy Moon Handbooks at Amazon (UK | USA)

Moon Website

Rough Guides

They’ve earnt their reputation as backpacker’s choice thanks to their focus on budget selections. Their only criticism would be that they currently do not cover enough of South America, though this is beginning to change. Rough Guides also offer maps and phrase books in addition to their guidebooks. Here is their current selection:

Argentina (Buy UK | USA)
Bolivia (UK | USA)
Brazil (USA)
Buenos Aires
Chile (UK | USA)
Ecuador & The Galápagos Islands (UK | USA)
Peru (UK | USA)
Peru Map
Phrasebook: Latin American Spanish
Rough Guide to First Time Latin America
Rough Guide to South America on a Budget (UK | USA)

Buy Rough Guides South American guide books at Amazon (UK | USA)

Rough Guides website

Time Out

Buenos Aires has long been fortunate to have its own regularly updated Time Out guide book. Irreverent, entertaining and written by locals, these little books are essential when spending any length of time in BA. São Paulo has recently been added to the roster, and though currently not quite as comprehensive as other featured cities, this will soon change. The online guides to these cities are also especially good. Guide books to Rio de Janeiro and Patagonia are also available, and still good, those these are updated only every few years.

Argentina & Uruguay: Perfect Places to Stay, Eat & Explore (Buy UK | USA)
Buenos Aires (UK | USA)
Patagonia (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro (UK | USA)
São Paulo (UK | USA)

Buy Time Out guides to South America at Amazon (UK | USA)

Time Out’s website

Our Verdict

For the most popular countries as well as best South American handbook we would have to go for Footprint, followed closely by Rough Guides. Footprint’s South American Handbook is currently in its 90th Edition – it’s the only one to be updated each year without fail and is the best – and can be bought HERE (UK | USA). If you are planning on spending any time in the big cities then Time Out is really the best choice as their writers seem to have their fingers on the pulse more than anyone else. If you are heading off on a slightly different expedition then you should also check out Bradt as there aren’t too many guidebooks to Bahia, Guyana, Paraguay and Uruguay about.

This article was last updated on 1st July 2014

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