Best Travel Guidebooks for South America

The Best South American Travel Guidebooks

By | 10 November, 2017

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 constantly-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

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) Updated in 2017
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)
Cuba (UK | USA) Updated 2017
Top 10 Cuba (UK | USA) Updated 2017
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)
Lima Travel Guide: Insider Advice from Expats in Peru (UK | USA) Updated 2017
Patagonia
Essential Peru: With Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail (UK | USA) Updated 2017
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 (UK | USAUpdated 2017
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 (UK | USAUpdated 2018
Costa Rica, Nicaragua & Panama (UK | USA) Updated 2017
Cuzco, Machu Picchu & the Inca Heartland (UK | USA) Updated 2017
Ecuador & Galapagos Handbook 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Guyana, Guyane & Suriname (UK | USA) Updated 2017
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 (UK | USA) Updated 2017
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) Updated 2017 
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
Easy Guide to Colombia (UK | USA) Updated 2018
Costa Rica (UK | USA) Updated 2018
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) Updated 2017
Central & South America Healthy travel guide
Chile & Easter Island (UK | USA)
Colombia 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Costa Rica (UK | USA) Updated 2016
Ecuador & Galapagos Islands 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Mexico (UK | USAUpdated 2016
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

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 (but who seem to have taken their foot off the gear recently).

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
Belize (UK | USA) Updated 2017
Belize Cayes (UK | USAUpdated 2017
Bogotá (UK | USAUpdated 2017
Brazil
Buenos Aires (UK | USAUpdated 2017
Cartagena & Colombia’s Caribbean Coast (UK | USA) Updated 2016
Chile (UK | USA)
Chilean Lake District
Colombia (UK | USAUpdated 2017
Costa Rica: Living Abroad (UK | USAUpdated 2017
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)
Medellín (UK | USAUpdated 2017
Patagonia: Including the Falkland Islands (UK | USA) Updated 2017
Peru (UK | USA) Updated 2017
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)
Yucatán Peninsula (UK | USAUpdated 2016

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)
Belize (UK | USA) Updated 2017
Bolivia (UK | USA)
Brazil (UK | USA)
Buenos Aires
Chile (UK | USA)
Colombia 2015 Edition (UK | USA)
Costa Rica (UK | USA) Updated 2017
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)
Footpring South American Handbook 2017

Our Verdict (The Best Travel Guide for South America)

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 94th Edition – it’s the only one to be updated each year without fail – 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 South America On A Shoestring has to be a good option. If you are heading off on a trip into just one country, or even a region of a country then we thoroughly recommend the Moon travel guides which cover the smaller areas really well and are constantly updated by expert guides. The Moon books for North-East Brazil and Colombia are particularly good.

This article was last updated on 10th November 2017


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