best-south-american-travel-guides

The Best South American Travel Guidebooks

By - 24 November, 2016

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.

Skip to the bottom of the page to find out our recommended guidebooks for the whole of South America and for each region.

Bradt

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 (for example, they even have a guide book for Suriname). 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 major downside with Bradt books is that they are not updated very often, meaning the majority of these guides were published in 2015 or earlier. The South American books they offer are:

Amazon Highlights (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil) (Buy UK | USA)
Argentina (UK | USA)
Bahia
Chile Highlights (UK | USA)
Chile: The Carretera Austral (UK | USA)
Colombia 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Galápagos Wildlife
Guyana
Montevideo
Pantanal Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide to Brazil’s Wet Grassland
Paraguay 2014 Edition (UK | USA)
Peru Highlights (UK | USA)
Peruvian Wildlife: A Vistor’s Guide to the High Andes
Suriname (UK | USA)
The Amazon
Trekking in Peru: 50 Best Walks and Hikes (UK | USA)
Up The Creek: An Amazon Adventure (UK | USA)
Uruguay (UK | USA)
Venezuela

DK Eyewitness

If you’re after something a little more visual then we recommend checking out DK Eyewitness’ travel guides which are full of colour maps, photos and illustrations. With an almost encyclopaedic tone (not surprising considering they’re from DK) these are good guides if you want neutral, safe choices rather than the more personal or hip recommendations from the likes of Moon or Lonely Planet.

DK Eyewitness have only made a handful of guides for South America though these have all been updated over the past couple of years, which means their content should be up-to-date. Here’s their current selection:

Argentina (UK | USA)
Brazil (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires (UK | USA)
Chile & Easter Island (UK | USA)
Peru (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro (UK | USA)

Fodor’s

Fodor updated their principal South American guidebooks in 2014 and 2015, which means their Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru books are relatively current, though their general South American guide book was last updated in 2008. Generally, their best books 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 between 2013 and 2015. They also have a new guide book for Belize which could be good for those heading to Central America.

Here’s their current range:

Argentina: with Wild Country and Chilean Patagonia 2015 Edition (Buy UK | USA)
Belize with a side trip to Guatemala 2017 Edition (UK | USA)
Brazil (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires with side trips to Gaucho Country, Iguazu and Uruguay
Chile including Easter Island and Argentine Patagonia 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Patagonia
Peru: With Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro & Sao Paulo (UK | USA)
Fodor’s See It Brazil – The Illustrated Practical Guide (UK | USA)
South America 2008 Edition (UK | USA)

Footprint

Without doubt the best travel guide for South America with over 30 books in the region, many of which are 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.

For a couple of years Footprint published smaller handbooks called Focus guides, though they appear to be phasing those out now, with their larger Handbooks being published for seemingly every region in South America, even breaking down the larger countries into specific areas, which are great for smaller trips. Their current catalogue includes the following:

Argentina Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Bariloche & Argentine Lake District Focus (Buy UK | USA)
Bolivia Focus (UK | USA)
Bolivia Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Brazil Handbook 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
Brazilian Amazon Focus (UK | USA)
Brazilian Pantanal Focus (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires & The Pampas Focus
Cartagena & Caribbean Colombia Handbook (UK | USA)
Chile Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Colombia Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Cuzco & The Inca Heartland Focus
Ecuador & Galapagos Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Guyana, Guyane & Suriname Focus
Northeast Argentina & Uruguay Focus (UK | USA)
Paraguay Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Patagonia Handbook 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
Peru Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Recife & Northeast Brazil Focus (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro & Minas Gerais (UK | USA)
Quito & Gálapagos Islands Focus
Salvador & Bahia Handbook 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
São Paulo Handbook 2016 Edition (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 Handbook 2015 Edition (USA)
Venezuela Focus
Western Brazil: Iguacu – Amazon – Pantanal Handbook 2016 Edition (UK | USA)

Buy The Footprint South American Handbook 2017 Edition (UK | USA)

Frommer’s

Not a great guide book for South America this one. The South America handbook itself is out-of-date (last released in 2010) and in fact the only South America book they’ve released recently is the Rio de Janeiro day by day guide, though they are always up-to-date with their Costa Rica guide. In the books themselves there little budget information for backpackers, with the guides generally aimed at travellers with a bit more money in their pockets. 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.

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

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. However, their South America On a Shoestring edition has now been updated for 2016 and is a popular choice for anyone backpacking around the continent and looking for some quick and useful information. They’ve also recently updated their Argentina and Brazil editions. Whatever you say about Lonely Planet you cannot deny that they are still the number one choice for many casual travellers thanks to their range of titles, easy-to-understand info and details of all the best spots for backpackers to hang out.

Argentina 2016 Edition (Buy UK | USA)
Bolivia
Brazil 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires (UK | USA)
Central & South America Healthy travel guide
Chile & Easter Island (UK | USA)
Colombia 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Ecuador & Galapagos Islands 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Peru 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
Rio de Janeiro 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
South America on a Shoestring 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
Venezuela

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 on 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. The one disclaimer about Moon is that as they are a small player in the market they don’t update their books as often as the others, so check what date the guide was published before purchasing. Their current selection is:

Argentina
Brazil
Buenos Aires
Cartagena & Colombia’s Caribbean Coast (UK | USA)
Chile (Buy UK | USA)
Chilean Lake District
Colombia 2014 Edition (UK | USA)
Cusco & Machu Picchu
Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Galápagos Islands (UK | USA)
Lake Titicaca
Lima
Living Abroad In Brazil (UK | USA)
Machu Picchu: Including Cusco & the Inca Trail (UK | USA)
Patagonia: Including the Falkland Islands 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Peru 2014 Edition (UK | USA)
Quito
Rio de Janeiro
Salvador and Bahia
Spotlight São Paulo 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Tierra del Fuego and Chilean Patagonia
Volunteer Vacations in Latin America (UK | USA)

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 2016 Edition (Buy UK | USA)
Bolivia (UK | USA)
Brazil (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires
Chile (UK | USA)
Colombia 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Ecuador & The Galápagos Islands 2016 Edition (UK | USA)
Peru 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Peru Map
Phrasebook: Latin American Spanish
Rough Guide to First Time Latin America
Rough Guide to South America on a Budget 2015 Edition (UK | USA)

 

Time Out

We used to strongly recommend Time Out guides for those wanting good city guides to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, however these guides have not been updated for some years now and as some of the other publishers have muscled in on doing good cultural city guides we recommend you check out some of their output. This is a shame as Time Out are usually a great source of  irreverent, entertaining and well-written info by locals. They just need to add current to the list to make them an important guide book for South America again.

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)

Our Verdict

For the most popular countries as well as best South American handbook we would have to go for Footprint, followed a good way behind by Rough Guides. Footprint’s South American Handbook is amazingly currently in its 93rd Edition – it’s the only one to be updated each year without fail and is the best – and can be bought HERE (UK | USA). Alternatively, if you’re a backpacker on a short South American sojourn and like Lonely Planet then their recent South America On A Shoestring has to be a good option. If you are heading off on a trip into the wilderness then you should also check out Bradt for their guidebooks to Bahia, Guyana, Paraguay and Uruguay; and we’d also recommend Moon as a good up-and-coming guide books with a constantly increasing catalogue. The Moon books for North-East Brazil and Colombia are very good.

This article was last updated on 24th November 2016


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