Easy Tips To Stay Healthy Before Jetting To South America

Backpacking through South America or visiting just one of the continent’s treasures soon? Here’s how to keep your health in perfect shape.

Here’s everything you need to know about preparing a safe trip in South America. From vaccinations to what to expect in the water, we’ve got health tips here:

1. Argentina

There are no required vaccinations for entry into Argentina. When trekking in the Andes, be mindful of altitude sickness and use sunscreen whenever possible. Water from urban areas is safe to drink.

Easy Tips To Stay Healthy Before Jetting To South America
Photo: Flickr/Eneas De Troya

2. Bolivia

Beware of the sanitation and hygiene conditions in restaurants and at food stalls. Tap water is not considered a safe source of drinking water, so plan on using bottled water. Plan on using iodine tablets to purify water when trekking.

Altitude sickness is common for travelers crossing the altiplano, which lies between 3000m-4000m (9,800ft-13,100ft) above sea level. The high altitude will affect blood sugar readings so diabetics should use the Touch II blood glucose meter to provide accurate readings for altitudes above 2000m (6,500ft).

Bolivia is located in a yellow-fever zone, so vaccinations are highly recommended (US citizens, and anyone who comes from a yellow-fever area, are required to have it).

Easy Tips To Stay Healthy Before Jetting To South America
Photo: Flickr/Alex

3. Brazil

Malaria is a huge concern for anyone venturing into the Amazon, so it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits before using any preventative care for Malaria (Chloroquine is not effective, see: Malaria section above). Cover up as much as possible and use insect repellent when necessary. Though tap water is generally safe to drink, filtering water or using bottled water may be best.

To avoid heatstroke, agua de coco (coconut water) is recommended as it contains electrolytes. The sun is strong so using sunscreen will be key to avoid heatstroke, dehydration and sunburn.

There are no required vaccinations, although a Yellow fever vaccination is highly recommended. It’s better to get immunized before departure but many Brazilian borders and airports have vaccination posts where travelers can receive an immunization shot and certificate on the spot (it’s free for foreign travelers). The ‘morning-after’ pill (a pílula do dia seguinte) is readily available in most pharmacies for about R$20 (about $7.75).

Easy Tips To Stay Healthy Before Jetting To South America
UNSPLASH Shot by Cerqueira

4. Chile

Tap water is generally safe to drink unless you’re in the Atacama Desert. Altitude sickness and dehydration is a concern for travelers in the north of the country while sunburn is a concern for travelers venturing into the southern region of Chile. Clínicas will be your go-to-spot if you need medical attention. There are no required vaccinations.

Easy Tips To Stay Healthy Before Jetting To South America
Photo: Flickr/Luz Adriana Villa

5. Colombia

Though Colombia is lauded for its excellent medical facilities, they are not often cheap or affordable. Travel insurance will be key to ensure proper access to the country’s healthcare facilities so keep your travel insurance information handy.

Public hospitals may be crowded so it’s best to first seek out private clinics. Boil or disinfect water when in rural areas, but tap water in large cities is considered safe to drink. If you plan to visit national parks a Yellow fever vaccinations is required. If not, then you are not required to have any vaccination for entry.

6. Ecuador

The best medical facilities are located in major cities. Many doctors and hospitals will expect payments in cash, regardless if you have travel insurance. The primary health hazards are altitude sickness, malaria, typhoid and yellow fever.

Flickr Art G. French Guiana
Photo: Flickr/Art G.

7. French Guiana

A Yellow fever vaccine is required for all travelers entering French Guiana. Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne illness, is also a concern for travelers. You can visit the CDC’s site on Chikungunya for more information on how to protect yourself.

Flickr David Stanley giant lily water Guyana
Photo: Flickr/David Stanley

8. Guyana

Chloroquine-resistant malaria and dengue fever is endemic, so take precaution when visiting. Recommended vaccinations include typhoid, hepatitis A, diphtheria/tetanus and polio. Guyana is located in a yellow-fever zone so vaccinations are suggested. It’s best to not drink tap water, especially in Georgetown. Be wary of Cholera outbreaks when around unsanitary conditions.

Flickr Deni Williams Paraguay
Photo: Flickr/Deni Williams

9. Paraguay

There are relatively few health hazards for travelers in Paraguay. Water is generally safe to drink, make sure to carry sunscreen and private hospitals typically provide better care than public facilities.

10. Peru

Yellow fever vaccination is recommended. Watch out for altitude sickness, especially when trekking in the Andes Mountains. A rabies immunization is recommended for travelers who plan to stay longer than four weeks or for those will plan to stay in remote locations prone to wildlife exposure.

Abortions are illegal in Peru, except if the mother’s life is in danger. For a list of available sexual and reproductive health clinics in Peru, visit Instituto Peruano de Paternidad Responsible for more information.

Flickr David Stanley Suriname
Photo: Flickr/David Stanley

11. Suriname

Technically, a yellow fever certificate is required for entry though it may not always be asked for upon arrival. Typhoid and chloroquine-resistant malaria is present in the country. Tap water is considered safe to drink in Paramaribo but not recommended elsewhere.

Flickr Vince Alongi Uruguay
Photo: Flickr/Vince Alongi

12. Uruguay

There are no required vaccinations for entry.

13. Venezuela

Public hospitals and clinics are free, with the best facilities located in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. There are some risk of malaria and dengue fever in tropical areas, so take proper precaution when in areas of high infection. Though tap water is fine for brushing teeth, it’s not a recommended source of drinking water.

Jerry Alonzo Leon


Jerry's favorite country to travel to is Spain. When he's on the road, he keeps it real simple with a pen and a pad. His travel style is spontaneous, easygoing, and always in search of a great adventure.

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