Amazing South America Books To Read Before Your Trip (Or While You’re There)

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it in every related post, I love Central and South America. I’ve been to all of Central America and Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands but I want to go back to both and see even more plus the rest of South America.

I think if I could only visit one region, it would be Latin America with Nordic countries/polar regions in second (as of right now but I haven’t been to any yet.)

And while I’m always dreaming of my future South America trip(s), today I’m just dreaming from home as I make this impressive list of South America books.

I’ve read quite a few of these, but way less than half still. As always, I’ve added a ton of these to my TBR as I worked on this post.

  • If you want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free.  Get that Audible deal here.
  • If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd!  You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot.
  • If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option. It’s $9.99 a month but if you read a lot and like to read more than just new releases, it could be worth it. Get Kindle Unlimited here!
  • Get $5 off of $25 from BookOutlet! This is a great place to find new books for pretty cheap. They also have sales quite a bit, so keep an eye out for those. I tend to check here for books I want if they’re more expensive other places. They don’t have everything but they do have a lot. Get that deal here.
  • Thrift Books has become my go-to when I’m looking for a book and want it cheap. It’s great if you like buying used books. With this you can get a free book after spending $30!
  • Shop my book lists here! You can find every book list I have on Bookshop.org (except my monthly round-ups) and I add everything I can but they occasionally won’t have some. I do occasionally add extras though. If any lists are empty, they’ll be filled in shortly! Shop my bookshop.org book lists here.

Llama Drama

This time, Anna sets off with her friend Faye and limited Spanish on a six-month bicycle journey along the spine of the Andes Mountains starting in La Paz, Bolivia. They sleep in tents most nights and experience 50 mph crosswinds and catastrophic crashes on their 5,500-mile journey.

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories

Antonio Jose Bolivar seeks refuge in amorous novels where he lives in a remote river town in the Ecuadorian jungle. A dangerous shift is happening as tourists and opportunists make their way to the area.

Sola: One Woman’s Journey Alone Across South America

Amy has left her pleasant narrow life for one rich in experiences with panpipe playing Zen masters, nighttime jungle boat rides, Incan ruins, Patagonian glaciers, accidental volcano climbs, and even Giardia.

At the center of it all is a quirky surfer with wacky bits of wisdom and one real question: can you ever go home again?

I loved this one and would highly recommend it!

Patagonian Road: A Year Alone Through Latin America

Kate spends a year in Latin America spanning ten countries, three teaching jobs, and countless buses. This is her solo journey from Guatemala to Argentina where she struggles with language, romance, culture, service, and homesickness. She follows the route outlined by Paul Theroux in 1979 in his travelogue The Old Patagonian Express.

The Queen of Water

Virginia was born in an Andean village in Ecuador and raised in an earthen-walled dwelling. Working in the fields all day is common here, so is being called a longa tonga, stupid Indian, by the mestizos, Spanish descendants.

At seven-years-old, she’s taken to be a servant for a mestizo couple with no idea what the future holds.

This is fiction based on her own upbringing.

The Old Patagonian Express

It starts with a rush-hour subway ride in Boston before he crosses the US, Mexico, Central America, and the Andes until he gets to the Old Patagonian Express.

His journey comes to an end in the desolate land near Antarctica. Along the way, we hear the stories of the people he meets.

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon

This is part adventure, part education as Paul Rosolie, a naturalist, conservationist, and explorer, takes us into the most remote sections of the Madre de Dios.

His love for the Amazon started in 2006 on his first trip there and over the coming years would return as often as possible. 

He ventured into some of the most inaccessible areas of jungle alone, seeing floating forests, jaguars, poachers, and more.  He raises an orphaned anteater and helps fight to protect the Madre de Dios from developers, oil giants, and gold miners.

This is one of my favorite books ever, I have two copies of it. And someday I’d love to go on one of the Tamandu Expeditions trips.

The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes

Even today there are tribes in the Amazon that have avoided contact with the outside world.  This is the story of Scott Wallace’s journey into the Amazon in search of one of these tribes, the flecheiros or People of the Arrow, that are seldom seen and shower all intruders with deadly arrows. 

He sets out on the trek on assignment with National Geographic, heading a team of thirty-four with Brazillian explorer Sydney Possuelo.

His mission is to protect the flecheiros and uncovers clues along the way to find out how they’ve managed to stay uncontacted for so long and why so much about them has to remain a secret if they want to survive.

This one has been on my TBR for a long time and I actually have it with me now.

The Lost City of Z

In 1925, Percy Fawcett set off into the Amazon in search of a fabled civilization, never to be seen again.  Plenty of people died after this trying to find the same place he called “The Lost City of Z.” 

This is one that I have with me and know I’ll read it eventually. Hopefully I’ll read it after some of my other jungle books.

The News From Paraguay

If you’re looking for historical fiction set in South America, this ones for you.

It’s 1854 in Paris when Francisco Solano begins his courtship of Ella Lynch with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and a horse named Matilda.

Ella follows him to Asuncion, Paraguay to reign there as his mistress. Isolated in this new world, she embraces his ill-fated imperial dream that soon devastates all of Paraguay.

Furia

Camila Hassan is living a double life in Rosario, Argentina as a careful daughter under the rule of her short-tempered father and La Furia, a powerhouse on the soccer field.

Her team qualifies for the South American Tournament and this is her chance to see how far her talents can take her, but this path isn’t easy: her parents would never let her play futbol and she needs their permission to go farther.

As life becomes more complicated when the boy she once loved is back in town. she is forced to face her secrets and make her way in life with no place for the dreams of a girl like her.

Treasure of the World

All twelve-year-old Ana wants is to escape the future set for her and her classmates in their small Bolivian mining town. Boys in her class are leaving school to be miners and the girls are destined to be their wives.

Her father forces her often-ill eleven-year-old brother to work in the mines but she gives up her dreams to volunteer in his place.

It’s a dangerous world and the men don’t want a girl in their way. She has to find the courage to not only survive but to save her family after a mining accident kills her father and leaves her brother missing.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

In 1911 Hiram Bingham III “discovered” Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains. 

He was credited as a villain for taking priceless artifacts and credit for the discovery.  Mark Adams follows his footsteps to find the truth and ends up writing more of an adventure than he really had, after all, he never even slept in a tent.

I’ve wanted to read this one for years and just got it for my Kindle! I’ll update this once I read it.

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig

If you want a travel book set in South America, this is perfect! It’s the account of travels across Paraguay, a country rarely visited by tourists.

This is part history, part adventure, and even part travel guide to all things Paraguay.

The Puma Years

First of all, how gorgeous is this cover? Second of all, I can’t wait to read this one. This is actually a memoir about her time in the Amazon jungle.

Laura left her job in her early twenties to backpack in Bolivia where she ended up at a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of the Amazon. Here, she was assigned to a puma named Wayra who she didn’t know would become a friend for life.

Into the Jungle

Lily found a way to escape the endless foster care system and once she steals enough money for the plane, she’s off on a teaching job in Bolivia. Once she gets there, things fall through but she decides to stay and falls for a local man trying out city life.

Soon Omar learns his nephew was killed by a jaguar and gives Lily a choice: stay in the city alone or join him in the ever more remote villages. Now she has to navigate the jungle and all its wonders and terrors.

The House of the Spirits

Esteban is a proud but volatile man whose pursuit of political power is only tempered by his love for his delicate wife, Clara, a woman with a mystical connection to the spirit world.

Their daughter Blanca’s forbidden love affair in defiance of her father gives Esteban an unexpected gift, Alba, his adored granddaughter who will lead her famil and country into a revolutionary future.

Falling off the Map

While this isn’t entirely set in South America, he does visit Argentina and it still sounds interesting.

Pico Iyer travels the world visiting some of the loneliest and most eccentric places from Iceland to Bhutan to Argentina and these are those stories.

Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge

I got this at a library book sale a few years ago and had it with me but just sent it home and now wish I didn’t haha.

On a three month expedition, were taken deep into jungles and swamps to runaway slave hideouts vegetation-strangled remnants of penal colonies and forts.

He recounts the often bloody history of the area, including Jonestown while introducing the area’s inhabitants both human and animal.

The Woman from Uruguay

Lucas is an unemployed writer embarking on a day trip from Buenos Aires to Montevideo to pick up $15,000 in cash, an advance for his upcoming novel and a possible solution to all his problems, mostly the tension with his wife who spends her days working and nights out on the town, possibly with a lover.

He spends his days staring at the blank page, taking care of his son Maiko, and fantasizing about the woman he met at a conference in Uruguay, a free spirit with her own relationship troubles.

Two Spies in Caracas

If you want a thriller set in South America, consider this one!

In Venezuela in 1992, Hugo Chaves staged an ill-fated coup against the corrupt government while catapulting the oil-rich country to international attention. This is the career-defining mission for two spies sent to Caracas: one from the US and one from Cuba.

Ivan’s job is to support Chavez and the revolution while Cristina will do everything she can to cut his power short. Caught in the middle of a political time bomb, they wind themselves in a game of espionage, seduction, and murder playing out with the backdrop of a nation in freefall.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Chula and her older sister can live their lives carefree thanks to their gated community in Bogota. However, just outside of their community, the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and murder remains under the rule of Pablo Escobar who eludes authorities and capture.

Their mother hires Petrona as a live-in maid from the guerilla-occupied slum and Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona’s mysterious ways.

As both of their families struggle to maintain stability, they find themselves in a web of secrecy forcing them to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

The Air You Breathe

Dores is nine years old, orphaned, and working in the kitchen at a sugar plantation n 1930s Brazil. When Graca walks in, everything changes. They quickly bond over shared mischief and a love for music.

One has a voice like a songbird and the other composes melodies and lyrics to match. Music becomes their shared passion and the only way out of their respective lives but only one of them is destined to be a star.

This is another good choice for historical fiction set in South America.

Fordlandia

This is actually a non-fiction book about South America and the Amazon jungle.

In 1927, Henry Ford bought a piece of land twice the size of Delaware in the Brazilian Amazon to grow rubber but soon it evolves to bring golf courses, ice cream shops, bandstands, indoor plumbing, and Model Ts to the jungle.

The settlement was called Fordlandia and became the site of an epic clash with Ford on one side and the Amazon on the other. Fordlandias eventual demise foreshadowed practices till laying waste to the rainforest today.

Dancing With the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Dream

This is another great non-fiction book about South America and the Olympics in Rio.

Juliana has moved a lot in life but Rio is always home. After twenty-one years away, she returned home to find her city undergoing a major change.

In order to prepare for the world stage of the 2016 Olympics, Rio had to vanquish the problems Juliana recalls from her childhood to show off all the best Brazil has to offer with the whole world watching.

Shade of the Paraiso: Two Years in Paraguay, South America

Here’s another Peach Corps memoir for you, if that’s your thing. Mark spent two years in Paraguay serving in the Peace Corps in a remote community.

He shares about his failures, his wedding in a leper colony, his first day beginning with a coup, and life where you read by candlelight, draw water from a well, use a rickety outhouse, and hike for hours to reach a telephone and bus stop.

An Indian among Los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir

I would also really love to read this one, another Peace Corps memoir but in Bolivia this time.

Ursula, a member of the Karuk Tribe, started her Peace Corps service at twenty-five in Bolivia with excitement and trepidation “knowing I followed in the footsteps of Western colonizers and missionaries who had also claimed they were there to help.”

Over the next two years, a series of dramatic episodes brought the tension to a boiling point, and began asking herself what it means to have experienced the effects of colonialism while risking becoming a colonizing force in turn?

Travels with Rachel

This is a fun book about traveling through South America. We hear about George and Rachels’s adventures through swamps in Bolivia, hunting for anacondas, climbing volcanos, taking death-defying bus rides, and trying to get to Machu Picchu all with small backpacks, limited Spanish, and lots of enthusiasm.

Two Wheels Through Terror: Diary of a South America Motorcycle Odyssey

Glen is an adventure motorcyclist seeking out the most rugged places on the planet to ride. No amount of experience in martial arts or as a Hells Angel will prepare him for what he became while riding to the tip of South America: a prisoner.

This is the story of his trip through Central and South America including his capture by Colombia’s rebel ELN army.

I would really like to read this one, it sounds pretty interesting. I just got this one.

Gringos and Flamingos: A Fat Bastard’s Guide to Trekking in Northern South America

This is a pre-cellphone tale of travels of a Kiwi couple through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia as they ride through the Andes in search of the “Authentic Backpacking Experience™.”

If you want a short book about traveling in South America, this one is for you. I just got this one, too.

The Mapmaker’s Wife

In the early 18th century, a group of brave French scientists set off on a decade-long expedition to South America in a race to measure the shape of the Earth.  Their mission revealed the mysteries of a little-known continent to a world hungry for discovery.

Their mission was barely completed after battling jaguars, insects, vampire bats and more.  One scientist was murdered, another died from fever, and a third, Jean Godin, almost died of heartbreak.

At the end of the expedition his Peruvian wife Isabel Gramesón was stranded at the opposite end of the Amazon, a victim of a tangled web of international politics.  Her journey to reunite after 20 years separated had all of Europe spellbound.

Off the Map: A Journey Through the Amazonian Wild

The is the adventure of John Harrison and with wife Heather as they explore the unexplored region of the Amazon in the Guiana Highlands bordering Brazil.

With just a canoe and a shotgun, they follow the most remote tributary of the Amazon River with no means of contacting the outside world.

This one sounds really interesting, too and just added it to my wishlist! It’s perfect if you want a South America adventure book.

Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries

Kim takes us on a historical journey through the Andes Mountains, the world’s longest mountain range, while bringing a fresh view to characters of the area like Charles Darwin, Che Guevara, Pablo Escobar, and more.

We learn about life in the islands of Lake Titicaca and meet a Patagonian woman who is the last living speaker of her language and so many others that were involved with those who influenced the continent so much.

I didn’t think this one sounded like it was for me when I first saw it, but this actually sounds really interesting!

Eight Men and a Duck: An Improbable Voyage by Reed Boat to Easter Island

Nick heard fellow bus passengers discussing the improbable plan to sail the 2,500 miles from Northern Chile to Easter Island in a boat made of reeds. They wanted to revive the pre-Incan boat building method while having an incredible adventure.

Nick talked his way on board to find himself plagued with uncertainty, especially when the crew was made of a tree surgeon, a jewelry salesman, and two ducks. Where’s the navigator? Does anyone here know how to sail? Where is the life raft?

This is perfect for fans of adventure and sailing books.

Ipanema Turtles: A South American Adventure by Bike

Starting at Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Laura and Patrick set off on a 21,000-kilometer bike ride across South America.

They experienced a side of the continent most people don’t see as they cross the Andes, the Amazon, and the Atacama. They traveled through Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana making their way back to the beach where it all began.

This one sounds really fun, too, and I may or may not have also gotten this (I did.)

One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest

In 1941, Richard Evan Schultes took leave from Harvard and disappeared into the Amazon for twelve years, mapping uncharted rivers and living with dozens of Indian tribes. 

In the 1970s, he sent two students to follow in his footsteps and unveil the botanical secrets of coca, the source of cocaine, a sacred plant known as the Divine Leaf of Immortality to the Inca.  This is an account of adventure, discovery, betrayal, and destruction bringing together two generations of explorers.

This is another one I would eventually like to read.

Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. The Impossible Task. The Incredible Journey

In April 2008, Ed Stafford decided he wanted to be the first man to ever walk the entire length of the Amazon River.  He started on the Peruvian coast and crossed the Andes to find the official source of the Amazon. 

He passes through Colombia and Brazil, facing logistical issues, wildlife, indigenous people, and more all while facing his own personal struggles, fears, and doubts.

His journey lasts 860 days and over 4,000 miles as he witnesses deforestation, pressure on tribes due to loss of habitats, and nature in its raw form.  I love books about walking long distances and this was a great one for that.

Amazon Woman: Facing Fears, Chasing Dreams, and a Quest to Kayak the World’s Largest River from Source to Sea

On her 35th birthday, Darcy set off on a 148-day journey kayaking the entire length of the Amazon River with her boyfriend of twelve years and a mutual kayaking friend/colleague. The emotional waters encountered on the trip were often more difficult to navigate than the class five rapids on the river itself.

Along the way they encounter 25 days of whitewater rapids, illegal loggers, narco-traffickers, Shining Path rebels, ruthless poachers, and surprisingly friendly locals before reaching the triumphant end becoming the first to achieve this accomplishment.

Cloud Road: A Journey through the Inca Heartland

This is the account of the five months John spent in the Andes Mountains while following the Camino Real, the great road of the Incas.

Finding and studying remote villages is central to the quest but he also faces dog attacks, sweltering canyons, floods, and stubborn donkeys on his way from the Equator to Machu Picchu.

Have you read any of these South America books? Which ones? Any other books set in South America I should check out?

Author: Megan Johnson

I'm Megan, a cheesehead at heart currently residing in the Sunshine State. You can probably find me reading, watching Forensic Files, or both.

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