It’s a weird time for us backpackers. Coronavirus has forced many of us to cut our trips short, cancel future adventures and some of us have even got locked down abroad. I don’t know about you but I feel like my feet have never been on the ground for so long!
However, as lockdowns lift and we start to toy with the idea of backpacking again, you may find yourself wondering, ‘can I travel in South America yet’? It is a question there is no simple answer to so we’ve had an in-depth look at every country’s virus control measures and border restrictions to give you the lowdown on what is happening on the ground.
What has happened in South America?
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 occurred in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 26th February 2020. Whilst the virus didn’t initially spread as quickly as in other continents, by early April, all South American countries had reported at least one case. It was at this point that many countries began hard lockdowns, to try and limit the spread of the virus.
By the middle of April, coronavirus was rapidly taking hold. Brazil, Peru and Colombia topped the charts for the highest number of cases and deaths across the continent. On 22nd May 2020, the WHO announced that South America was the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was largely thanks to a rapid surge in infection rates across Brazil.
At of 23rd November, South America has over 10.7 million confirmed cases and nearly 318,000 deaths. Whilst these numbers are shocking in their own right, there is also claim that owing to inadequate testing and insufficient medical facilities across the continent, the outbreak of the virus is much worse than the official figures demonstrate. As of 30th November 2020, Brazil is the third-worst affected country in the world, sitting behind only the US and India in infection rates.
It is fair to say that this paints a bleak picture. However, policies and situations change quickly and knowledge is your best tool if you’re hoping to plan a trip to South America (or Southeast Asia) in the future. That and a crystal ball of course!
Our recommended travel insurance during the coronavirus pandemic is SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance. It is one of the only travel insurance policies which offers COVID-19 sickness cover as a part of their International medical cover. It is better to be safe than sorry!
Current Status of Travel & Border Restrictions in South America
*This article is the result of many hours of research, however, coronavirus guidance across South America changes very quickly and often without notice. If you are planning a trip in the not too distant future, always check the advice from your government for the latest and most up to date information.*
The government of Argentina has announced that residents and nationals of neighbouring countries can now enter Argentina through the Port of Buenos Aires and Ezeiza International Airport for tourism purposes. Travel between cities and provinces is still restricted so the tourism allowance currently only applies to Buenos Aires.
Bear in mind that these new rules make no mention of foreign nationals who are currently in South America travelling, only nationals of neighbouring countries. Those who do qualify will need to present a negative PCR coronavirus test and proof that their medical insurance covers COVID-19.
Argentina has extended its quarantine and social distancing policy until at least 20th December. However, previous quarantine extensions have led to protests in the capital of Buenos Aires. Masks and face coverings are mandatory in public areas.
As of the time of writing, no official date has been given for when commercial flights for tourism will resume. This is currently reviewed every few weeks.
Currently, all of the land and sea border crossings in Bolivia are closed however, it is now possible to enter the country on an international flight. You can now fly to Bolivia if you produce a negative COVID-19 test (dated within 7 days of travelling), which may need to be certified by a Bolivian consulate. If you arrive without a negative test, you will be required to quarantine on arrival.
Regarding current restrictions, there is conflicting information online. According to the US embassy in Bolivia, the government have suspended all COVID-19 restrictions until 15th January 2021. The exception to this is the wearing of face coverings in public spaces and social distancing measures.
However, the UK foreign office website says that curfews are in force across the country, although they vary depending on where you are. Buses are currently running between different provinces, however, only within the hours outside of the curfew. Therefore if you are planning to travel across the country, you must plan your journey accordingly.
Brazil hit the headlines early on into the pandemic and even six months on, the country and it’s COVID-19 numbers are never far from the news. It may surprise to you hear that despite being the worst affected country across the continent, it is business as usual for Brazil and their borders are open to international tourists. Brazil resumed international flights on July 27th 2020, despite the country’s infection rates continuing to soar.
As you would probably expect, both the US and the UK government are currently advising against anything but essential travel to Brazil and whilst there are no official quarantine requirements in Brazil, travellers from the UK are required to quarantine for 14 days upon their return from the country.
All non-Brazilian residents or nationals must present a medical declaration on entry which states they do not have COVID-19. Any traveller who begins to experience symptoms of COVID-19 during their trip should self isolate for 14 days.
When it comes to specific restrictions across the country, these vary from place to place. Wearing a face mask on the street, in public spaces or when using public transport is compulsory everywhere. Some cities have their own rules regarding social distancing, mandatory use of masks at indoor venues such as gyms and shopping centres. Land and sea borders are still closed to foreign nationals.
One of our readers who lives in Brazil says, ‘Brazil is open for everyone, everything is open and working, people really forgot that corona exists.’
The UK and US government are currently advising against all but essential travel to Chile. On 23rd November, Chile opened the air border at Santiago Airport. This means that non-resident foreigners can enter, on the following conditions.
- You must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test dated from the last 3 days, prior to arriving in Chile.
- You must fill out an electronic Health Passport before you depart your home country.
- You must have a health insurance policy that covers coronavirus – we recommend SafetyWing!
- You will be required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
If you are returning from Chile to the UK, you will need to provide your journey and contact details as well as self-isolate for 14 days.
Chile is still in an official state of emergency (introduced on 18th March) and has strict rules to try and curb infection rates, including daily curfews which are dependent on where you are. It is also mandatory to wear a face covering in all urban areas.
Colombia has closed all of its sea and land borders to visitors until further notice but as of September 21st, limited international flights have resumed.
On 25th March 2020, nationwide isolation measures were put in place. These cover the enforcement of social distancing and use of masks in public places. Local restrictions are also in place over some parts of the country. A National Sanitisation Emergency will remain in place until at least 28th February 2021.
Colombia has introduced the ‘COVID-19 bioseguro’ which is a pioneering certification and the first of its kind in Latin America. This certification will be awarded to companies who have implemented strict hygiene and biosecurity protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Whilst the US and the UK are currently advising against anything but essential travel to Ecuador, the country began to allow commercial flights on June 1st 2020. Despite this, land and sea borders are still closed.
Although a mandatory 14-day quarantine was in place for all visitors to Ecuador (at your own expense), this has recently changed. Now, if you can provide a negative COVID-19 test (has to be valid for a maximum of 10 days before you entered Ecuador), you no longer need to quarantine. The quarantine will still apply to visitors who either can’t get a test in advance or test positive. This move has been done to stimulate the tourism industry.
If you are unable to source a COVID-19 test prior to your arrival, you will be required to take a test at your arrival airport in Ecuador.
As of 13th September 2020, curfew restrictions are no longer in place. However, a national public health emergency was extended by 90 days on 13th September 2020. This means that use of face masks in public spaces are mandatory, public gatherings are not permitted and a nationwide tracing app has been rolled out within the country.
If you are heading to the Galapagos Islands, you must take a COVID-19 test 96 hours before you depart from the mainland. Unlike previous years, the Galapagos Transit Control Card will need to be filled our online at least 24 hours before your travel. You will also be required to fill in a health declaration and provide your accommodation address on the islands.
At present, neither the UK nor the US government is advising that people travel to Paraguay. Currently, foreign nationals can enter by air into the country, providing they comply with health protocols.
You will need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, however, this time may be reduced to one week if you can provide a negative COVID-19 test result 72 hours before entering and repeat the same test with a negative result on your seventh day of quarantine. One direct flight to Europe is expected to fly Paraguay every month.
International medical insurance covering COVID-19 is mandatory and the health card must be completed upon entry to the country.
The land borders with Brazil are now open between certain hours. However, there are restrictions on non-resident foreign nationals entering the country via land.
There are restrictions on movement between 11.59 pm and 5 am. The use of face coverings is mandatory at all times, as well as observing social distancing guidelines.
Peru has been badly hit in the coronavirus pandemic, not in the least fuelled by illegal gatherings. At present, both the UK and US governments are currently not advising non-essential travel to Peru.
Commercial flights into Peru began on 5th October 2020 from other Latin American countries. This is because Peru has deemed flights with less than 8 hours of flying time ‘safe’. Face masks and visors are mandatory, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test, taken 72 hours before the flight.
The state of emergency in the country has been extended to 31st December 2020. This has put several measures in place, including a nationwide curfew from midnight to 4 am. The use of face masks are mandatory outside of the home and social gatherings are prohibited.
Machu Picchu opened to visitors on November 1st 2020, however, capacity is limited at 30% of the usual numbers to comply with social distancing protocols.
Uruguay is currently closed to everybody except nationals and legal residents. There are a few exceptions to this, for example, those entering for humanitarian purposes. In this instance, a request to enter the country will need to be applied for in advance.
There are now some flights available to repatriate European citizens, however, these fill up fast. You are advised to check with a travel agent to see whether seats are still available and be aware you will need a negative COVID-19 test to board.
Unlike many other Latin American countries, there is currently no curfew in place across the country. However, people have been asked to respect social distancing rules, stay at home when possible and avoid public transport.
If you have any new information which is not in this article or see something that needs updating please let us know in our Facebook community!