Ben and Katie in front of the Grand Canyon

Over the next few months, we’re going to be interviewing and speaking to some of the best known and most experienced travel bloggers on the internet.

With each having their own unique experiences of countries in South America, we’re going to be speaking to and getting first hand tips and advice from people that have gone out and experienced the best that the continent has to offer.

Today we’re speaking to Ben and Katie at Two Wandering Soles, asking them about their time travelling around Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador.

If you had to live the rest of your life in Ecuador, Colombia, Costa-Rica, or Ecuador, which country would you choose and why?

Oh, this is such a difficult question to answer. We loved each country for different reasons, and choosing one is quite hard.

If we were to choose for Western comforts and amazing wildlife, we would pick Costa Rica.

If we were to choose based on friendly people and having a good time, Colombia would be our choice.

And if we were going to choose a place to have a wild adventure, it would be Ecuador.

How easy is it to change money between countries? Are there any exchange tips you would share?

Getting foreign currency is quite simple, but it’s easy to lose money along the way if you’re not prepared.

Here are a couple of our top tips for getting foreign currency:

    • Avoid Currency Exchange Booths

Often times, currency exchange booths have a commission fee, so we try to avoid them when possible. The ones with the highest rates are typically at the border or in airports, so try to stay away from those if you can.

    • Withdraw from ATMs

You’ll get the best exchange rate when you withdraw from ATMs. We have a card that reimburses all ATM fees at the end of each month, so we don’t ever have to pay a fee to take out money. We use Charles Schwab, which is an investment bank in the US, but look into what cards or banks will reimburse these fees. It saves a ton of money!

    • Don’t leave the country with cash

When we have just a few days left in a country, we try to calculate all our expenses so we don’t leave with lots of cash. It’s a good idea to have a little bit of cash on hand when crossing a land border, but you are going to lose a lot in exchange fees if you try to swap currencies at the border.

What do you think were the most useful phrases or words that you knew while in South America?

We loved traveling through Central and South America because it is a great place to practice your Spanish skills. Plus, the language remains the same even when you travel between lots of countries, so you can pick up quite a bit.

Locals really appreciate you trying to use Spanish, and it can lead to more authentic experiences.

Practice ordering food in Spanish, and learn how to introduce yourself and say where you are from. Also, knowing how to ask for the toilet is a great phrase to have!

Lady selling her handmade clothes in La Paz

Were there any culture shocks that you weren’t prepared for during your travels?

Honestly, we didn’t really experience culture shock in South America. We came with an open mind and were excited to learn about the countries that we visited.

There were certainly aspects that surprised us.

For instance, in Bolivia, there were many men on the street wearing full winter facemasks even though it was hot outside. They looked like burglars in the movies, but we were told they are shoe shiners, which is a lowly job, and they are protecting their identity. And in some parts of Ecuador, the indigenous people don’t want their photograph taken because to them it is like capturing a part of their soul.

But truthfully none of these things we discovered left us feeling like we had encountered “culture shock”. If anything, the thing that surprised us most was how safe and welcomed we felt in most places, which was contrary to what many news sources would have us believe.

Occasionally, you tend to hear about street scams that people could fall for while abroad. Were there any notable ones that you’d make people aware of?

We didn’t encounter any real scams during our travels in South America, but we felt like taxi drivers were often trying to rip us off. We typically looked up how much a journey should be or asked our hostel ahead of time. Once we had an idea of how much we should be charged, we were much harder to rip off.

In some cities, using the meter is best, and in others you’ll want to decide on a price before you get in the taxi. Ask around so you know how to negotiate and keep your map app open in your phone so you know if they are taking you a long route. And when possible, using a rideshare app like Uber will help you avoid being overcharged.

If you could bring one piece of daily culture back from South America, what would it be?

We loved visiting local markets, and seeing how families did their shopping for the week. And in general, we loved the family-centered culture we found just about everywhere in South America. Family is incredibly important, and it was a beautiful thing to witness how they put each other first.

Nuts and seeds on offer in a South American market

What food could you bring back to the UK if you could?

We love arepas and empanadas, but it’s probably a good thing we don’t have them as frequently at home. Our waistlines would definitely be a bit bigger!

What tip would you have for people choosing a hostel in Ecuador?

When choosing a hostel, we always read reviews ahead of time to make sure it’s a place we’d want to stay. Think about what is important to you: location, cleanliness, price.

And also consider what type of atmosphere you are looking for. Do you want a social place, or would you prefer it to be quiet? Often times, the reviews will be a really good indicator of how good (or bad!) a hostel is.

During your time in the Galapagos islands, what is the ultimate must do activity you would advise people to enjoy?

Get out on the water! It doesn’t mean you have to do an expensive cruise. You can just rent snorkels or go on a day trip.We based ourselves on land, but are so happy we did a snorkeling tour and got out on the ocean.

That’s where you will see the most wildlife! While tours in the Galapagos aren’t cheap, they are definitely worthwhile, so choose a couple of splurges.

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