Unlike traveling through Southeast Asia where English was widely spoken, it was not as common in many of the places I visited in South America. I started the trip knowing barely any Spanish except for a few weeks with my Duolingo app but ended the trip being pretty good at getting around. I stopped along the way in Arequipa, Peru for a week of intensive Spanish school and although it was hard, it was the best way to learn. (Also, I didn’t make it there but don’t forget that Brazil is the Spanish exception and the speak Portuguese!)

SEE ALSO: Essential iPhone Travel Apps: South America

The most challenging part of traveling through so many countries is that even though they speak the same language, their accents are all very different. Once I got the hang of one accent in one country I was onto the next and had to start again. I found my Uber and Taxi drivers wanted to chat the most and that was the best practice.

If you learn nothing before you leave, memorize these phrases. It’s amazing how far a little bit can take you.


Hola // Hello
Adios // Goodbye
Buenos días // Good morning
Buenos tardes // Good afternoon
Buenos noches // Good evening
Cómo se llama? // What is your name?
Me llamo… // My name is…
Sí // Yes
No // No

Por favor // Please
Gracias // Thank you
Muchas gracias // Thank you very much
De nada // You’re welcome (Depending on the country (i.e. Colombia) con gusto is more common but it depends)

¿Cómo estás? // How are you?
Bien // Well
¿Y usted? // And you?


Me gusto… // I like…
No me gusto… // I don’t like…
¿Tienes…? // Do you have…?
Necessito… // I need…
Tengo… // I have…
¿Puedo tener…? // Can I have…?

Número // Number
Uno // One
Dos // Two
Tres // Three
Quatro // Four
Cinco // Five
Seis // Six
Siete // Seven
Ocho // Eight
Neuve // Nine
Diez // Ten

A qué hora? // At what time?
Ahora // Now
Hasta // Until

Cien // Hundred
Mil // Thousand
Dólares // Dollars

*It’s good to know the hundred and thousand because many currencies are in large denominations.

Primero // First
Segundo // Second

¿Cuánta cuesta? // How much is it?
Tengo una pregunta // I have a question
Falta… // I’m missing.. (i.e. missing change)


Quisiera… // I would like…
La cuenta por favor // The check please
Una cerveza // A beer
Un vaso de vino // A glass of wine
Un copa // A cup

Sin… // Without…
Picante // Spicy
Caliente // Hot
Frío // Cold
Uno más por favor // One more please


Un boleto // A ticket
Necessito un taxi // I need a taxi
Necessito ir al aeropuerto // I need to go to the airport
Mi veulo es… // My flight is…
Voy… // I’m going…

Izquierda // Left
Derecha // Right
Derecho // Straight
La proxima // The next
Aqui // Here

Things People Ask You

¿De dónde eres? // Where are you from? (In Peru they often just asked ¿Qué pais? instead)
¿Hablas español? // Do you speak Spanish
Un poco // A little
¿Hablas inglés? // Do you speak English?

*The number one question always asked is where are you from so knowing how to say your countries name in Spanish is essential!

Los Estados Unidos // United States


¿Es… ? // Is it…
Caro // Expensive
Barato // Cheap
Cerca // Close
Seguro // Safe
Despacio // Slowly

*Remember, manners mean a lot! I love this sign I came across in Medellin.

Spanish Phrases You Need to Know Before You Travel