The Best South American Travel Guidebooks

By | 22 November, 2018

Finding the best travel guidebooks for any journey can be a nightmare, especially with so many to choose from. That’s why we’ve put together this yearly-updated list of the best guidebooks for South America, letting you know which ones we think are worth it for each region and also letting you know which ones are the most up-to-date. From Argentina and Brazil to Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela, we’ve got you covered. (And, as of recently, we’ve also included a few additional countries in Latin America too.)

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

Bradt

It’s fair to say that Bradt, along with Footprint, is the bible for backpacking around South America. They’re the ones who really focused on South America first and they’ve long stayed ahead of the curve. Part of this is because they get to some of the harder-to-reach destinations, meaning their writers have to rough it a little more, 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. This focus on the less-popular spots is something they’re keeping intact – they’ve recently published a Falkand Islands guide book and updated their Paraguay and Guyana books, as well as Colombia (which is still a guide book that’s less represented than it should be). The downside to this is that they aren’t updating the larger countries so much (so if you want a guide for Argentina, Brazil, Peru or the entirety of South America we’d recommend looking elsewhere). Below are our pick of the South America guide books that Bradt offer:

Chile: The Carretera Austral (UK | USA2015 Edition
Colombia (UK 2019 Edition | USA 2015 Edition)
Falkland Islands (UK | USA2018 Edition
Guyana (UK | USA2018 Edition
Paraguay (UK | USA2018/2019 Edition
Peru Highlights (UK | USA2013 Edition
Suriname (UK | USA2015 Edition
Trekking in Peru: 50 Best Walks and Hikes (UK | USA) 2014 Edition
Up The Creek: An Amazon Adventure (UK | USA)
Uruguay (UK | USA) 2017 Edition

Other titles from Bradt include (all of which haven’t been updated since 2012): Amazon Highlights (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil), Argentina, Bahia, Chile Highlights, Galápagos Wildlife, Guyana, Montevideo, Pantanal Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide to Brazil’s Wet Grassland, Peru Highlights, Peruvian Wildlife: A Vistor’s Guide to the High Andes, The Amazon, 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, or the kind of “off the beaten track” choices you get from Bradt or Footprint.

DK Eyewitness have only made a handful of guides for South America though these are all updated regularly, see the most recent editions below. Here’s their current selection:

Argentina (Buy UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Brazil (UK | USA2018 Edition
Top 10 Buenos Aires (UK | USA) 2015 Edition
Chile & Easter Island (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Cuba (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Top 10 Cuba (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Peru (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Top 10 Rio de Janeiro (UK | USA2018 Edition

Fodor’s

Fodor have some similarities with the DK Eyewitness titles. They make full-colour visually-stimulating guide books that feel great in the hands. They also have some really good articles on history and culture which make them fine companions. However, for us, the recommendations of places to visit and stay can seem a little too obvious, but this depends on whether you really want to get under the skin of South America. If you’re just planning on having a short stay or creating an itinerary to see a few countries over a few weeks, then these books could be perfect.

Fodor’s do only offer up-to-date books on Argentina, Brazil and Peru in South America, though their Belize and Guatemala one could be useful for anyone heading that way. Their South America guide book has unfortunately not been updated since 2008 so we recommend giving that one a miss.

Here’s their current range:

Essential Argentina: with Wild Country and Chilean Patagonia (Buy UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Belize with a side trip to Guatemala (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Brazil (UK | USA) 2015 Edition
Buenos Aires with side trips to Gaucho Country, Iguazu and Uruguay (UK | USA2014/2015 Edition
Chile including Easter Island and Argentine Patagonia (UK | USA2015 Edition
Lima Travel Guide: Insider Advice from Expats in Peru (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Essential Peru: With Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Rio de Janeiro & Sao Paulo (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
South America (UK | USA2008 Edition

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 good cultural articles and details with recommendations of places to eat, drink and stay, as well as good suggestions for things to do.

One thing we really like about Footprint is that in some of their newer paperback editions they’ve managed to make their guides smaller, more lightweight and manageable, which makes them even better travel companions. This is the case with The South American Handbook, which is ridiculously small for the amount of information that’s within it. They also went through a phase of publishing guides to smaller regions and areas called Focus guides, which were great for those wishing to travel just smaller areas, though they seem to have stopped publishing new editions of those now. Their current catalogue includes the following:

Argentina (UK | USA2017 Edition
Bolivia (UK | USA2015 Edition
Brazil (UK | USA) 2016 Edition
Cartagena & Caribbean Colombia (UK | USA) 2016 Edition
Chile (UK | USA2015 Edition
Colombia (UK | USA2018 Edition
Costa Rica, Nicaragua & Panama (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Cuzco, Machu Picchu & the Inca Heartland (UK | USA)  2017 Edition
Ecuador & Galapagos (UK | USA2015 Edition
Guyana, Guyane & Suriname (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Paraguay (UK | USA2015 Edition
Patagonia (UK | USA2016 Edition
Peru (UK | USA2015 Edition
Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Recife & Northeast Brazil Focus (UK | USA) 2016 Edition
Rio de Janeiro & Minas Gerais (UK | USA) 2016 Edition
Salvador & Bahia (UK | USA2016 Edition
São Paulo (UK | USA2016 Edition
The South American Handbook (UK | USA) 2017 /2018 Edition
The South American Handbook 1924 Edition (UK | USA) – fancy knowing what it was like travelling round South America in 1924?
Venezuela (UK | USA2015 Edition
Western Brazil: Iguacu – Amazon – Pantanal Handbook (UK | USA2016 Edition

Other South American titles from Footprint (these were all published in 2014 or earlier): Bariloche & Argentine Lake District Focus, Bolivia Focus, Brazilian Amazon Focus, Brazilian Pantanal Focus, Buenos Aires & The Pampas Focus, Northeast Argentina & Uruguay Focus, Quito & Gálapagos Islands Focus, Uruguay Focus, Venezuela Focus

Buy The Footprint South American Handbook 2017/2018 Edition (UK | USA)

Frommer’s

After a few lean years in regards to South America Frommer’s have recently published two EasyGuide books for Colombia and Peru which could be useful for some travellers. The Peru one, in particular, is well suited for anyone looking to head to simply Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu when in Peru (though we’d always recommend doing plenty of up-to-date research on Machu Picchu as it’s such a popular location and things do change). The Colombia one is perhaps a little too light, there are few photos or maps, and the information can be patchy, but it does provide an overview of the country. They also have a new Costa Rica guide, which is always welcome as there are few guides for the country. For some, their Day-to-Day guides to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, which were released a few years ago now, may be very useful.

Buenos Aires Day by Day (Buy UK | USA) 2012 Edition
EasyGuide to Colombia (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Costa Rica (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
EasyGuide to Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Rio de Janeiro Day By Day (UK | USA) 2014 Edition

Other titles from Frommer’s (all published before 2013): Argentina, Brazil, Chile & Easter Island, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Peru Day-by-Day, South America (last published in 2010).

Lonely Planet

For many people, there is nothing better than a Lonely Planet. For finding accommodation recommendations, places to eat, places to visit, and even the odd nugget of useful information for a place, not to mention their very useful maps, there are few better. While we felt Lonely Planet went off the boil for a few years, at least Latin America-wise, they have since published a number of new editions for the continent’s most popular destinations which has put them bang up-to-date and well worth using. Their South America On a Shoestring book is also a big favourite, and always rivals Footprint’s The South American Handbook for the best continent-wide guide. It’s a shame that Lonely Planet don’t do some of the smaller countries but for the rest it has a great selection.

Argentina (Buy UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Bolivia (UK | USA) 2019 Edition
Brazil (UK | USA) 2019 Edition
Buenos Aires (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Chile & Easter Island (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Colombia (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Costa Rica (UK | USA) 2017/2018 Edition
Ecuador & Galapagos Islands (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Mexico (UK | USA2018 Edition
Peru (UK | USA) 2019 Edition
Rio de Janeiro (UK | USA) 2019 Edition
South America on a Shoestring (UK | USA2016 Edition

Moon Travel Guides

There is no doubting that Moon Travel Guides are now one of the major players when it comes to Latin America. With guides written by expert locals and a real commitment to keeping things up-to-date and exploring different regions, they really are one of the best out there, and very much carry on the good work that Bradt was doing initially.

Moon’s guides aren’t as concise as some of the others, with a more minimal visual design, though they are very personal and go to many destinations that the others don’t. For that reason, we don’t recommend Moon for the big countries, but their Peru and Colombia are highly recommended, as are all of the books they’ve made for smaller regions, especially those that offer guides to parts of Brazil and Colombia.

Belize (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Belize Cayes (UK | USA2017 Edition
Bogotá (UK | USA2017 Edition
Buenos Aires (UK | USA2017 Edition
Cartagena & Colombia’s Caribbean Coast (UK | USA) 2016 Edition
Chile including Easter Island (UK | USA) 2013 Edition
Colombia (UK | USA2017 Edition
Costa Rica: Living Abroad (UK | USA2017 Edition
Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands (UK | USA2015 Edition
Galápagos Islands (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Machu Picchu: With Lima, Cusco & the Inca Trail (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Medellín (UK | USA2017 Edition
Patagonia: Including the Falkland Islands (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Peru (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Spotlight Salvador and Bahia (UK | USA) 2015 Edition

Other titles, of which there are many, published by Moon include (these were all published in 2015 or before): Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Lake Titicaca, Living Abroad In Brazil, Quito, Rio de Janeiro, Spotlight São Paulo 2015 Edition, Tierra del Fuego and Chilean Patagonia, Yucatán Peninsula

National Geographic

If you’re looking for a map to accompany you on your trip then we whole-heartedly recommend these by National Geographic. They’re waterproof, tear-resistant and easy-to-read. What more can we say really?

Argentina (UK | USA)
Bolivia (UK | USA)
Brazil (UK | USA)
Chile (UK | USA)
Colombia (UK | USA)
Ecuador and Galapágos Islands (UK | USA)
Peru (UK | USA)
Uruguay & Paraguay (UK)

Rough Guides

They’ve earnt their reputation as backpacker’s choice thanks to their focus on budget selections and the amount of information they pack into each book. It’s astonishing actually how big some of their editions are, with their simple design meaning that they get a lot of recommendations and info onto each page. Definitely one for the more hardened traveller. In the last couple of years they’ve really come back into their own by updating many of their books, making them a big player in South America once again after a quiet spell. Here is their current selection:

Argentina (Buy UK | USA2016 Edition
Belize (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Bolivia (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Brazil (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Chile & Easter Island (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Colombia (UK | USA) 2018 Edition
Costa Rica (UK | USA) 2017 Edition
Ecuador & The Galápagos Islands (UK | USA2016 Edition
Peru (UK | USA2018 Edition
Rough Guide to South America on a Budget (UK | USA) 2019 Edition

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 instead.

Our Verdict (The Best Travel Guide for South America)

If we’re talking about the best guide book for South America as a whole then we would opt for Footprint‘s South American Handbook (UK | USA), though with Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring and Rough Guide to South America on a Budget very closely behind. We’d also say something similar for the most popular countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru) with the choice being between Footprint, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. When it gets to the smaller countries, as well as Colombia, then Moon and Bradt are also well worth considering.

This article was last updated on 22nd November 2018


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