21 Must-Read Books About South America

Reading is the ultimate form of escapism. It stimulates our imaginations, enhances our understanding and energises our minds. It is also a great way to build excitement for an upcoming trip. 

These books about South America will get your feet itching, no matter whether you are reliving a trip gone by or are getting excited about a future adventure. Put together with the help of our epic Facebook community, this list of books about South America covers everything from history to fiction and even memoirs. Add them to your TBR pile now! 📚

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21 Best Books About South America 📖 

Fiction Books Set in South America

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1. One Hundred Years of Solitude

  • Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Year: 1967

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

One Hundred Years of Solitude is written by one of the most famous authors in South America. Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, Marquez put Colombia on the map with this profound work of magical realism.

Set in the fictitious town of Macondo, which remains almost completely isolated from the outside world for over 100 years, this spellbinding novel illuminates the intangible and mysterious aura that seeps into the skin of every South American traveller.

“One hundred years of solitude is my number one book ever.” – Katie. 

2. Colombiano

  • Author: Rusty Young
  • Year: 2017


At over 800 pages, Colombiano might look like an intimidating read. Rest assured that the pages fly by. Set in some of the darkest days of Colombia’s history, it follows the heartbreaking story of Pedro Gutiérrez, a fifteen-year-old boy who is just like any other. That is until his father was brutally murdered in front of him. 

In retaliation, Pedro joins an illegal paramilitary group and vows to get revenge on those who killed his father. This devastating story exposes the impossible choices faced by child soldiers in Colombia. A harrowing read but oh so important. 

3. The Bad Girl

  • Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Year: 2006

The Bad Girl: A Novel

In this novel, renowned Peruvian author Llosa has created a story about love in its most passionate, obsessive form. Originally meeting in Lima, Peru, Ricardo Somocurcio chases an alluring woman around the world for close to a lifetime. 

From Paris to Japan, readers watch as the seductive power of a world-class bad girl dictates the course of his life.

4. Lost City Radio

  • Author: Daniel Alarcón
  • Year: 2007

Lost City Radio

This fast-paced novel centres around the mysterious disappearance of a woman’s husband. As Norma sits in her broadcasting studio reading out the names of the lost, she is caught off guard when a young boy from the jungle arrives unannounced. Carrying a link to the whereabouts of her husband, the two embark on an unlikely adventure.

5. House of the Spirits

  • Author: Isabel Allende
  • Year: 1982

The House of the Spirits: A Novel

A story of fortune-telling, love, relationships and sexual intrigue. House of the Spirits spans multiple generations as a young woman pieces together her family history using her grandmother’s diary. 

Set in 1970s Chile, this book shines a fascinating light on the political turmoil that was raging within the country at the time. 

“House of the Spirits is an amazing book.” – Jake.

6. Galapagos 

  • Author: Kurt Vonnegut
  • Year: 1985

Galapagos: A Novel (Delta Fiction)

Surely dreamt up during a massive acid trip, Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos makes for an interesting, if not farfetched read. Follow the fictional story of the last humans on earth as they evolve into seal-like creatures on the Galapagos islands.

Reading about the world crumbling is a stark reminder of how fragile our human societies really are and is especially poignant in the current climate.

7. Love in The Time of Cholera

  • Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Year: 1985

Love in the Time of Cholera (Oprah's Book Club)

Another favourite amongst backpackers and literature fans alike, Love in the Time of Cholera is a story of romance, forbidden love and masking pain with sexual experiences. 

Covering over 51 years from start to finish, this book is sure to bring a tear to the eye of any hopeless romantic on the road!

“Love in the Time of Cholera, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, (a famous Colombian writer) is an incredible read!!!” – Julie.

South American Memoirs

8. The Motorcycle Diaries 

  • Author: Ernesto “Che” Guevara
  • Year: 1992

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey

In South America, adventure is the name of the game and no novel captures this energy better than the early journals of radical Che Guevara. 

Join Guevara as he travels the length of South America, some of it on his trusty 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle. Deeply moved by the world around him, Che let his introspections guide his journey, getting lost in the many layers of his surroundings. While it’s a great read, let’s just say Che’s personality leaves a little to be desired.

9. My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile 

  • Author: Isabel Allende
  • Year: 2003

My Invented Country A Nostalgic Journey thorugh Chile

Straddling two different worlds, Allende writes about her childhood in Chile and her adult life in America. Drawing on the spirit and resilience of her native Chile, she describes the traumatic event that prompted her to write and the aftermath that brought her to the United States.

Allende also writes about the terrorist attacks on September 11th, an event which shakes her new home and forces her to confront her sense of self.

10. Jungle 

  • Author: Yossi Ghinsberg
  • Year: 1985

Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival in the Amazon

When four travellers embark on the adventure of a lifetime, they didn’t expect to get lost deep in the Bolivian jungle. This South American memoir follows backpacker Yossi as he fights for survival in the harshest of environments. With each passing day, his hope evaporates and his body starts to give up the fight. Will he survive? (Spoiler: Yes, he wrote this book.)

“Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg, both inspired and frustrated me so much… which meant it occupied a lot of my headspace! It’s also been made into a film with Daniel Radcliffe which I refuse to watch after having seen Swiss army man – that was where I drew the line on that guy.” – Flower.

11. The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World

  • Author: Tom Feiling
  • Year: 2009

The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World by Tom Feiling (2009-09-22)

A brilliantly absorbing read which explains the political and social implications that cocaine has had on South American history. 

Examine the cultivation, distribution and difficult censorship of this drug through The Candy Machine. The book is a gripping example of journalism, revealing the cultural complexities of cocaine that run like electric currents under the feet of every wide-eyed traveller. 

12. Old Patagonian Express 

  • Author: Paul Theroux
  • Year: 1979

The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

From Boston to the southern tip of Argentina, follow Paul Theroux’s epic train journey along the length of the Americas. This travel classic makes no bones about the glamour of travel and instead shows us the monotony, discomfort and at times, downright agony that life on the road can produce. Despite this, we still bet that you’ll come away wanting to strap on your backpack and jump on a plane!

13. Even Silence Has An End

  • Author: Ingrid Betancourt
  • Year: 2010

Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle

In 2002, Colombia was a scary place. This is demonstrated perfectly in Ingrid Betancourt’s Even Silence Has An End. Ingrid was a Colombian politician and anti-corruption activist determined to weed out the bad guys from her country. 

That was her plan until she was kidnapped by FARC and held in chains for over six years. This harrowing account was written in her own words after her eventual release in 2008. 

14. Marching Powder

  • Author: Rusty Young
  • Year: 2003

Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail

Rusty Young spent close to four months living inside Bolivia’s most infamous prison, San Pedro, La Paz, to get to know the inmate Thomas McFadden. Famous amongst backpackers across the continent, McFadden showed tourists around the prison, sold them cocaine and even had them stay overnight in his cell. Fun fact: these prison tours once made it into the Lonely Planet’s Bolivia guidebook!

Initially imprisoned for international drug smuggling, the memoir follows Thomas as he learns how to navigate life in a Bolivian prison and rediscovers hope. 

“Marching Powder is a great read!” – Patricia.

15. Llama Drama

  • Author: Anna McNuff
  • Year: 2020

Llama Drama: A two-woman, 5,500-mile cycling adventure through South America (Anna's Adventures Book 3)

Adventurer and all-round good egg Anna McNuff is back! After running the length of New Zealand and completing an 11,000-mile cycle journey through every one of the US states, Anna has turned her attention to South America. 

Alongside her intrepid friend Faye, the pair decide to cycle along the spine of the continent, the mighty Andes mountain range. Their journey sees them travel 5,500 miles and ascend over 100,000 metres, that’s the height of Mount Everest – 11 times! 

16. Touching the Void

  • Author: Joe Simpson
  • Year: 1988

Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival

Touching The Void documents the story of two best friends and a mountain climb that went terribly wrong. After believing his friend Joe had died climbing in the Andes, Simon cut the only rope that was keeping Joe from falling off the side of the mountain. The thing is, Joe wasn’t dead and the fall didn’t kill him either. 

This remarkable tale of survival, friendship and bravery has reverberated amongst the climbing community since it occurred over 25 years ago.

17. Miss-Adventures: Backpacking Around South America

  • Author: Amy Baker
  • Year: 2017

Miss-adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America

A much more lighthearted memoir, Miss-Adventures is a series of embarrassing, worrying and laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes from Amy’s travels across the continent. 

Each chapter begins with a snippet of ‘helpful’ advice dished out from friends and family before she began her travels. Amy dissects this advice and rates it on its accuracy. A must-read for those who want an understanding of what travelling South America is like in this day and age!

18. The Puma Years

  • Author: Laura Coleman
  • Year: 2021

The Puma Years: A Memoir

Set in Bolivia, The Puma Years is a wonderful memoir which proves that backpacking really can change your life. In her late twenties, author Laura headed off to Bolivia in search of an unforgettable adventure and that was certainly what she found!

Her journey brought her to Bolivia where she began volunteering in an animal sanctuary. During her time there, she struck up an unlikely friendship with the puma Wayra, the sanctuary’s most intimidating and standoffish resident. 

South America History Books

19. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent

  • Author: Eduardo Galeano
  • Year: 1971

Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent

Giving voice to the stories that often lay dormant, Eduardo Galeano tells the story of Latin America’s exploitation. From the discrimination against its indigenous cultures to the pillage of its natural resources, Galeano has bravely chosen to illuminate the truth in Latin American history.

20. The Galapagos Affair

  • Author: John E Treherne
  • Year: 1983

The Galapagos Affair (Pimlico)

South America is full of intriguing tales but none more so than the story of European settlers to the Galapagos Island of Floreana. Stories of nudist colonies, free love, dominating female figures, unexplained disappearances and murders make this one of the most fascinating accounts of the 21st century.

21. Silver, Sword and Stone: The Story of Latin America in Three Extraordinary Lives

  • Author: Marie Arana
  • Year: 2019

Silver, Sword and Stone

Silver, Sword and Stone describes over 1000 years of South American history through three running themes: natural riches, violence and religion. The stories are woven together artistically and keep you gripped from start to finish. If you want a solid foundational knowledge of the continent before you arrive, this is the book for you.

Few of us are can travel forever (much as we might want to). Therefore, the best way to consolidate the experiences and learnings that we’ve had is to read. This varied list of books set in South America will be the icing on the cake of any adventure around the continent. 

Have we missed your favourite book about South America from our list? If so, jump into the comments section and let us know!

Nikki Scott Bio Pic
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker. At age 23, she left the UK on a solo backpacking trip and never returned. After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine about backpacking in Asia. The rest is history.

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