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Backpacking has become a right of passage for many young 20-somethings, as well as other travelers. Strapping on that oversized bag with your entire life in 70 liters of nylon is, for many, their mecca, their last hurrah before adulthood, or an initiation into a life of itching for the next trip, the next new horizon. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time, money, or patience to take a trip around the world, which means choices need to be made. Southeast Asia has long been a popular destination for a wide array of travelers but it is facing some serious competition from South America. And sure, Rio and Buenos Aires have always seen their fair share of tourists but now the entire continent is experiencing a new-found flood of backpackers. So which one to choose? We’re going to make it easy and help with a conclusion for all the indecisive folks out there.

By mangostock


This is tough. Southeast Asia has remarkable mega-cities like Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Hong Kong but South America is going to get the win here, not for their mega equivalents Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo but for having an advantage when it comes to smaller, midsized cities like Cuzco, Valparaiso, and Mendoza.

Point: South America



Both places are undoubtedly prime destinations for outdoorsmen, but while Southeast Asia has endless beach access and amazing turquoise waters — as seen in places like Palawan in the Philippines or Vietnam’s Halong Bay — it simply cannot compete with the diversity in South America. From the Amazon to glacial volcanoes and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador to the Caribbean shores of Colombia to the deserts of Northern Peru and back down to the sublime views in Patagonia, South America could be the place to be on Earth for nature-lovers.

Point: South America

By Embassy of Colombia

Historical Appeal

At first glance, Southeast Asia seems to have the leg up here with its many temples and landmarks like Angkor Wat and Bagan, as well as painful recent memories in Cambodia and Vietnam, but for true history buffs, we are going to recommend South America. The continent’s ability to present a visible progression from indigenous beginnings to overcome recent struggles is fascinating. South America also seems to have a few more classic museums, as well as art and artists more familiar to the average Western backpacker, people like Neruda, Marquez, and Botero. The musical history and passion of Latin America also plays a part here.

Point: South America

By Pinterest


It is important to remember that South American cuisine is not Mexican food, and while Peru has popular flavors, the continent, in general, tends to favor meat-heavy dishes without much spice or flavor. Southeast Asia is the opposite, it may even have too much flavor for some, but with classic go-to dishes like pad thai, pho, and curries as well as more daring tastes, this is an easy point to award.

Point: Southeast Asia

By Health Magazine

Getting Around

Southeast Asia is going to get a point because of South America’s sheer magnitude, so drives are longer and flights more expensive. People don’t realize that a direct flight from Bogota to Buenos Aires is pushing seven hours; South America is massive, so if a backpacker wants to see the entirety of a region, go to Southeast Asia. Warning for anyone taking a cab, bus, etc: drivers in both South America and Southeast Asia are certifiable speed-seekers.

Point: Southeast Asia



There is a reason why these two regions are battling it out instead of somewhere like Europe. They are both affordable for budget travelers. Southeast Asia may have extremely wealthy city-states like Singapore, but it is more consistently cheap when compared to the prices in the Southern reaches of its opponent. Countries like Chile and Argentina can be quite expensive, although others like Bolivia and Paraguay could give anywhere in the world competition.

Point: Southeast Asia


Much like the nature category, this one comes down to a preference of diversity. The majority of Southeast Asia is in a perpetual sweat from the heat and humidity, and while this is common in parts of South America as well, backpackers can head way south and hit the slopes for a day of skiing. Meanwhile, cities in the Andes, ranging up and down the continent, experience milder or cooler weather.

Point: close but goes to South America


South America has experienced a tourism boom in recent years largely because many of its historically conflicted countries like Colombia have made tremendous strides in progress towards peace. This may be true and some countries like Uruguay and Peru are considered incredibly safe, but others, like Venezuela, are in the thick of civil unrest. Off the beaten path countries, such as Myanmar and Laos in Southeast Asia are more consistently safe. Solo female travelers in Asia are also likely going to experience less unwanted harassment. It should be noted that while these places do have some issues, both are well documented as having some of the friendliest and most welcoming people.

Point: Southeast Asia

By Tong_stocker

Coolness Factor

Let’s face it, for Millennials and whatever the generation after us are called, this is important. Gotta do it for the ‘Gram. At this point, nearly everyone has a pretty good idea of what to expect from a Southeast Asian adventure. Sure, you look super cute next to that elephant but so do a lot of other travelers. Southeast Asia definitely attracts an enlightened crowd but backpackers are also just as likely to run into drunk frat stars and Starbucks addicts going through PSL withdrawals. Don’t be fooled, these human gems exist in South America too, but the continent still has a few more places and experiences that are less documented and likely to make your social media circle say, “Whoa!”

Point: South America


It was a close call but South America takes the victory here. Happy travels!

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