Your backpack is probably already stuffed to the brim, but if you have a few square inches to spare, consider packing a South America travel book that is time-tested and beloved by generations of travelers before you. Whether you’re hiking Patagonia, heading out on a railway tour of South America, or just wanting to brush up on your knowledge of Inca history and culture, here are the top 10 South America travel books that we recommend.
Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost
Hard to get your hands on, this out-of-print classic tells the story of the ruins around Cusco, considered the navel of the world by the ancient Incas. Essential if you plan on spending plenty of time in Cusco and the Sacred Valley exploring its myriad ruins, museums, and other treasures.
The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland by Hugh Thomson
A delicious tale of the wild, unexplored regions of Peru’s Andes by a British filmmaker. Another excellent read if you want to brush up on Inca history and retrace Thomson’s steps through the Andes in search of Inca ruins.
The Heights of Machu Picchu by Pablo Neruda
Although Neruda is a Chilean poet, he ventured to Machu Picchu and wrote a memorable book of poetry about the marvelous Inca city in the sky. Pack this light book of poems while you explore Machu Picchu, and enjoy Neruda’s gift for earthy, ancient language.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
The 20th century Argentinian literary giant wrote Ficciones in 1944 as an anthology of Latin American literature, and its one of the seminal works of the century. You’ll find plenty of magical realism, essays, and more in this classic anthology.
Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez
Instead of watching Madonna’s take on the iconic Evita Peron of Argentina, read Martinez’s strange and comic account of Evita’s embalmed corpse as Peronistas and others vied to get ahold of it during the political turmoil of the period. A great way to understand the enormous influence of the Perons on Argentina’s 20th century history.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
The explorer and travel writer Chatwin covered destinations as far-flung as Benin in West Africa to the Outback of Australia, and in the 1970s, he made his way down to Argentina and Chile’s rugged, glacier-speckled Patagonia country. His years covering the glaciers, small Welsh farmer towns, and wild Tierra del Fuego led to the publication of In Patagonia, an important piece of travel writing that gets at the untamed natural beauty of South America’s nether parts.
Death in the Andes: The Last Days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by Daniel Buck
If there’s no better place to hide, its the heart of Bolivia’s Andes, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid snuck off once they realized their bank robbing days were numbered. This account tells of their last stand in the high-altitude towns of Bolivia — a country that is still remote and difficult to navigate for foreigners.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Perhaps one of the most iconic magical realism works of fiction, Allende’s The House of the Spirits tells the story of a family dynasty during Chile’s tumultuous political times in the mid-1900s.
Through the Brazilian Wilderness by Theodore Roosevelt
After his presidency, Roosevelt spent part of his retirement exploring the River of Doubt, which runs through the Pantanal in Brazil and Paraguay. The adventuresome president and his companions documented several thousand species of birds and animals, pioneering a history of environmental research in the Amazon and the Brazilian wilderness.
The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas by Paul Theroux
Journalist Theroux makes his way along the railways of South America during the 1970s, from Massachusetts down to Patagonia, where the railway gives out to thorn bushes and briers. He called his work, “the ultimate book about getting there,” emphasizing the powers of observation rather than participation in encountering a new place.
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