Getting online can be a bit tricky in Latin America and the Caribbean. For the most part, you’ll be able to use hotel Wi-Fi without any problems. But high usage and low bandwidth can mean that the whole experience will be slow. How to stay connected while traveling around Latin America.Learn all you need to know about getting online in Latin America.
Unfortunately, the region has some of the worst internet speeds in the world! Venezuela, Paraguay and Bolivia are in the top four worst countries for internet speed globally. And for travelers who rely on their mobile device and SIM cards, the situation is also pretty dire – Panama, Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela are in the bottom five countries for mobile connectivity.
However, all is not lost. If you mainly need to just check in with home, send grandma some pics of the kids, or book your next hotel, you will be able to get enough internet. Depending on where you stay, you will find that connectivity varies. A cafe in the Galapagos Island might have a fabulous internet connection while a hotel in Mexico constantly drops in and out. There is a bit of luck involved. And of course, things are improving every day.
So here’s the basics for what you need to know and how you can get the best online connectivity when traveling through South America.
Most restaurants and hotels will offer free Wi-Fi for customers. Take the opportunity to sit down, take a break and get online, all while enjoying a fresh juice or coffee. This is obviously a good option in cities, but in even rural areas you can usually find a restaurant with an open network.
The main problem with public wi-fi is reliability. Try and find a time when the café isn’t too crowded otherwise you’ll be competing with everybody for the connection. You can get around this issue by using a portable wi-fi booster. There are different types of boosters. A simple one is a dongle that you just plug into your computer to improve your connectivity. There are also ones that allow you to plug in multiple devices, which can be good if you need to get the whole family online at the same time.
If you need to get some proper work done, check in to a private apartment for a few days. This way, you have the internet connection all to yourself and will have more reliable access.
Even if you’re not working, sometimes it’s good to have a time out when you’ve been on the road for a few weeks. Spoil yourself with a nice apartment where you can spread out for a day or two, sort through your photos, update all your email and social media, and then hit the trail again (literally) recharged.
Buy SIM cards as you go
If regular connectivity is important to you, then invest in buying SIM cards wherever you go. Even if you’re only staying a few days in a country, this can still be a cost-effective way to stay online.
A new SIM card costs only a few dollars at most. You will need your passport to buy one in most countries so that you can be registered on the network. In Argentina, Uruguay and Peru, Claro is a good option as it is easy to buy and recharge. Keep in mind that although the company is called the same, you will need a different SIM card in each country.
In Chile, the situation is a bit tricky, as you need to have a Chilean phone number before you can register your new SIM, but you can only get a phone number after you register your SIM.
When in doubt about which service to use, ask at your hotel. You can also just look around and see which telecom company seems to be the most ubiquitous. If they have a store on every corner, they’re probably a decent provider. It is definitely easier to buy SIM cards in phone stores, although you can usually pick them up in supermarkets and kiosks as well. But in a dedicated store, the staff will be able to help you get registered on the network right away, rather than having to bust out your best Spanish.
Factor in about 15 – 30 minutes of time to buy the SIM card, get it set up and registered, and figure out which plan to use. Topping up is as easy as going to a kiosk and buying a voucher. Just remember which provider you’re with and your number.
Getting online while traveling through South America might be a breeze depending on where you are and where you stay. But, as with all things while on the road, be patient. Sometimes, connections will be slow or even non-existent. Look at the options around you. You might need to move to a different café or invest in a booster or mobile hot spot device. And hey, if you’re offline for a few hours, it’s not the end of the world. You’re in one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the world. Take a photo now; you can always send it later.