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My experiences as a digital nomad in South America

Guest article by Sascha Hoffmann

by • April 10, 2024 • 12 min read

Diving into the digital nomad lifestyle in South America isn't just about swapping your office for a beach or café. It's about embarking on a journey that intertwines work with unparalleled adventures across a continent ripe with culture, diversity, and connectivity. South America.

South America’s robust internet infrastructure in bustling cities and serene towns alike, has become a magnet for digital nomads seeking to blend productivity with exploration.

From the lively streets of Rio de Janeiro to the historic avenues of Quito, this continent offers more than just picturesque backdrops for your Zoom meetings. It offers a gateway to experiencing life in a profoundly different and enriching way.

As we navigate through the ins and outs of making the most of the digital nomad lifestyle in South America, you'll discover how to leverage its thriving digital nomad community, cost-effective living, and coworking spaces to not just work remotely, but to live fully.

My digital nomad story in South America

I personally, traveled for 4 months the Gringo Trail (in my own route). I started in Brazil and made my way back to Ecuador to travel south again to Argentina and Uruguay.

I’m Sascha a digital marketing consultant and website portfolio owner. While I had to put aside my website side projects, like my marketing blog, I focused mainly on client work during my 4-month travel. I usually worked in the mornings - when I wasn’t traveling in between places or already on a hike. I reduced some project work but to my surprise, I got way more done than I anticipated. South America wasn’t my first digital nomad experience. Before, I lived for two years in Thailand.

But I dirges, here’s my experience and some helpful tips for you to navigate being a digital nomad in South America.

Brazil: The Vibrant Start of the Trail

Starting our digital nomad journey in Brazil, we're greeted by the twin jewels of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. These cities serve as the epitome of Brazil's allure for digital nomads, offering a blend of high-speed internet, dynamic coworking spaces, and an unbeatable lifestyle that's as vibrant as the local culture itself.

Rio de Janeiro, with its iconic landscapes and beaches, isn't just a postcard destination; it's a hotspot for remote workers seeking inspiration amidst natural beauty. The city's digital nomad scene thrives on its laid-back yet productive coworking environments, where the high-speed internet meets the high tide. Networking is as easy as a stroll along Copacabana, with digital nomads and local entrepreneurs eager to exchange ideas under the sun. (It’s just hard to talk to locals as only a one-digit percentage of locals speak English)

Moving inland, São Paulo shifts the narrative from beachside brainstorming to urban innovation. As one of the major cities in South America, São Paulo's reputation as a business hub is well-earned, attracting remote workers with its cosmopolitan vibe and myriad working spaces. The city's infrastructure ensures robust internet connectivity, making it a reliable base for those whose work demands uninterrupted digital access.

Ecuador: Diversity from Quito to Galapagos and Cuenca

Ecuador stands as a testament to the diversity and adaptability required of digital nomads, offering experiences that range from the historical streets of Quito to the unparalleled natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands, and the culturally rich city of Cuenca.

Quito, Ecuador's capital, harmoniously blends colonial history with modern necessities, making it a fascinating starting point for nomads in South America.

The city's infrastructure supports remote work with reliable internet connectivity, ensuring that digital nomads can easily find their groove amidst its vibrant culture. Quito's burgeoning digital nomad scene is supported by a growing number of coworking spaces, offering a community for remote workers seeking collaboration and networking opportunities. The US dollar is the official currency, which takes one worry away already.

The Galapagos Islands - my highlight of the trip - offer a unique detour from the typical digital nomad path—proving that remote work can indeed mean working remotely from some of the most remote locales on the planet.

For me, scuba diving in the Galapagos was not just about exploring the underwater marvels, it's also about leveraging the surprisingly good WiFi on a liveaboard to stay connected between dives.

This experience underscores the incredible balance between work and life that digital nomads strive for.

scuba diving in galapagos as a digital nomad

Cuenca presents yet another facet of Ecuador's appeal to digital nomads. Known for its stunning architecture and thriving expat community, Cuenca offers a quieter, more contemplative setting for remote workers. The city's affordable cost of living, coupled with its high-speed internet connectivity, makes it an ideal spot for those looking to immerse themselves in their work without the distractions of a larger city. Cuenca's Airbnb’s and cafes provide not just workspaces but social hubs, fostering a sense of community and belonging for digital nomads and expats alike.

Peru: Ancient Wonders and Urban Life

Peru encapsulates the spirit of adventure that attracts many to the digital nomad lifestyle, offering a mix of urban sophistication and awe-inspiring natural landscapes. From Lima's bustling streets to Huaraz and Cusco's breathtaking trails, Peru presents digital nomads with the opportunity to blend work with exploration in some of the world's most iconic settings.

Lima, as Peru's capital, stands as a beacon of modernity and a testament to the country's rich cultural heritage. This city is a hub for digital nomads in South America. Lima's thriving digital nomad community is well-supported by a plethora of fast internet, work cafe’s and coworking spaces.

The cost of living in Lima strikes a balance, making it possible for digital nomads to enjoy the city's diverse culinary scene and cultural offerings without straining their budgets.

Venturing beyond Lima's urban landscape, Huaraz and Cusco invite digital nomads to disconnect and immerse themselves in Peru's natural and historical wonders. Huaraz, known for its stunning mountain scenery, offers a reminder of the importance of scheduling off days during hikes to truly appreciate the beauty of the Andes. These moments away from the keyboard are not just breaks but essential parts of the digital nomad experience, allowing for personal growth and inspiration drawn from nature.

Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, embodies the blend of history, culture, and adventure that defines the digital nomad lifestyle. While the city itself offers reliable connectivity and coworking spaces, the real magic happens during the off-grid excursions to ancient Incan ruins. Planning for off days during these hikes is crucial, as it allows digital nomads to fully engage with the awe-inspiring surroundings without the pressure of work deadlines. These experiences enrich the nomadic journey, providing content and context that enrich one's work and personal life.

Bolivia: Remote Beauty and Connectivity Challenges

Bolivia represents the quintessential off-the-beaten-path destination for digital nomads, where the allure of its landscapes is matched by the challenge of its connectivity. From the bustling heights of La Paz to the surreal expanses of the Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia offers a backdrop of stunning diversity and unique challenges that test and reward the adventurous nomad.

La Paz stands as a beacon of culture and tradition, nestled high among the Andes. It's here that digital nomads find a city vibrant with life and steeped in indigenous and colonial history. Despite its remote location, La Paz surprisingly caters to the needs of remote workers with a burgeoning digital nomad scene. The city's internet connectivity is reliable enough to maintain productivity, with cafes offer not just workstations but gateways into the local community.

The cost of living in La Paz is also notably affordable, allowing for an extended stay without the financial strain often found in major cities.

la paz remote working from Airbnb

Venturing into the Uyuni Salt Flats, digital nomads are reminded of the importance of preparation and flexibility. The vast, otherworldly landscapes provide a dramatic contrast to the urban environment of La Paz, offering moments of reflection and unparalleled natural beauty. However, this remote wonder comes with the caveat of being virtually off-grid. The experience of spending days exploring the salt flats, with little to no internet access, underscores the necessity for digital nomads to occasionally disconnect and recharge, both literally and metaphorically. For those willing to embrace these connectivity challenges, Bolivia offers a profound lesson in the value of unplugging and immersing oneself at the moment. But who doesn’t want to trade a work assignment to hang out with Flamingos?!

Chile: The Urban Oasis of Santiago

Chile, stretching along the western edge of South America, presents a stark contrast between its long, diverse geography and its concentrated urban centers of innovation and connectivity. At the heart of this contrast is Santiago, Chile's capital, which has rapidly emerged as a preferred destination for digital nomads looking for a blend of modern amenities and access to natural wonders.

Santiago offers a compelling urban experience with its reliable internet connectivity, making it a seamless environment for remote workers to stay connected and productive. The city is rich with coworking spaces that cater not just to the practical needs of digital nomads but also to their desire for community and collaboration. You can get around with English quite easily.

However, Chile and especially Santiago aren’t cheap. Chile is the most expensive country in South America.

Argentina: From Urban to the End of the World

Argentina offers a uniquely diverse setting for digital nomads exploring the southern cone of South America. From the bustling streets of Buenos Aires to the rugged terrains of El Chaltén and Ushuaia, Argentina presents a range of experiences catering to remote workers' adventurous spirit and professional needs.

Buenos Aires stands as a beacon of culture, creativity, and connectivity. Known for its European flair, the city is a melting pot of the arts, cuisine, and technology, making it an attractive destination for digital nomads. Internet connectivity in Buenos Aires is among the best in the country, with a plethora of coworking spaces and cafes designed to meet the demands of remote work. The city's digital nomad scene is vibrant and welcoming, offering ample opportunities for networking and community-building. Moreover, the cost of living in Buenos Aires allows for an enjoyable lifestyle without the exorbitant expenses associated with major cities in other parts of the world.

Venturing south to El Chaltén and Ushuaia, the landscape shifts dramatically, offering digital nomads the chance to experience the raw beauty of Argentina's natural environments. El Chaltén, Argentina's trekking capital, provides a perfect backdrop for those looking to balance work with outdoor activities. The town's growing popularity with nomads in South America has led to improved internet connectivity, making it possible to work remotely while exploring the Patagonian wilderness.

Ushuaia, often referred to as the end of the world, offers a unique blend of maritime history, stunning landscapes, and a close-knit community. Despite its remote location, digital nomads will find Ushuaia to be surprisingly accommodating, with cafes and local establishments offering good WiFi and cozy working environments. The experience of working from the southernmost city in the world is unparalleled, providing not just a workspace but an adventure that epitomizes the essence of the digital nomad lifestyle.

Uruguay: The Trips Finale

Uruguay may be small in size compared to its neighbors, but it punches above its weight when it comes to offering an idyllic setting for digital nomads seeking peace, stability, and a strong sense of community. Nestled between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay serves as the tranquil finale to a journey through South America, with Montevideo and Colonia highlighting the country's allure for remote workers.

Montevideo, the capital, seamlessly combines the laid-back Uruguayan lifestyle with the necessities required by digital nomads. The city boasts reliable internet connectivity, making it a stronghold for remote work within the region. The cost of living in Montevideo is reasonable, allowing nomads to enjoy the city's rich cultural offerings—from its beachfront promenades to its historic downtown—without financial strain. Montevideo's balanced approach to work and life encapsulates the very essence of the digital nomad lifestyle, making it a standout destination in South America.

A short journey from Montevideo lies Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its charming cobblestone streets and picturesque riverside setting. Colonia offers a retreat for digital nomads looking to immerse themselves in history and serenity. While the town's internet connectivity may not rival that of larger South American cities, it provides a sufficient backdrop for those seeking to combine productive work sessions with relaxation and reflection.

Tips for Navigating the Gringo Trail as a Digital Nomad

Embarking on the Gringo Trail across South America as a digital nomad involves more than just packing your laptop and setting off into the sunset. Success and fulfillment on this journey require thoughtful preparation, adaptability, and an openness to new experiences. Here are practical tips to navigate this adventure while maintaining productivity and embracing the nomadic lifestyle:

  • Embrace Flexibility: Internet connectivity can vary greatly across South America. While cities like Santiago and Buenos Aires boast high-speed internet, remote areas like the Uyuni Salt Flats will challenge your usual work routine. Plan for these variations by scheduling demanding work tasks in urban centers and lighter tasks or off days when exploring more remote locations.
  • Join Local Communities: Engage with the digital nomad community in each destination. Platforms like Meetup or local Facebook groups can be invaluable resources for finding coworking spaces, networking events, and local insights that can enrich your experience.
  • Balance Work and Exploration: The allure of South America's landscapes and cultures is undeniable. To fully enjoy what each country has to offer, schedule your work around exploration. This might mean working extra hours on some days to free up time for an extended hike in El Chaltén or a cultural immersion in Montevideo.
  • Stay Safe: While South America offers incredible experiences, it's important to stay informed about the safety of different destinations. Keep abreast of local news, and heed advice from fellow travelers and local residents.
  • Manage Finances Wisely: The cost of living can vary significantly between South American cities. Use budgeting apps to manage expenses and ensure your nomadic lifestyle is sustainable over the long term. Additionally, consider exchange rate fluctuations and banking fees as part of your financial planning.

Concluding Thoughts

The Gringo Trail, with its diverse tapestry of cultures, landscapes, and cities, offers a unique canvas for digital nomads to paint their adventures. From the vibrant streets of Buenos Aires to the tranquil shores of Uruguay, South America provides a backdrop that is as varied as it is beautiful. Embracing this journey requires a blend of preparation, flexibility, and a willingness to dive into the unknown.

For digital nomads, South America is not just a destination but a journey that tests and rewards, pushing the boundaries of what it means to work remotely. It's a continent that offers the promise of discovery, not just of new locations but of new ways of living and working. As we've explored the nuances of each country on the Gringo Trail, it's clear that the digital nomad lifestyle in South America is about much more than finding a place to work; it's about creating a life that is as enriching as it is productive.

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