In general, the roads in South America (excepting much of Chile) are often in very poor condition. But there is an enormous network of bus lines, and if you have the time and patience, you can travel easily by bus from one country to another. Because car-rental agencies don't allow cars to be taken across international borders, it's very difficult to drive around the continent. There is also no reliable international train service. All in all, flying makes a lot of sense, especially if you're short on time.
LAN offers the most comprehensive service in South America. Besides flying to most major cities in Chile and Peru, the airline also offers flights between Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Taca, Aerolíneas Argentinas, and Varig also have several international routes.
If you plan on traveling between Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, you should consider buying a Mercosur Air Pass. The pass allows you to make two stopovers in each country, with a maximum of 10 stopovers. The pass is good for 7 to 30 days. Prices are based on mileage covered. You must buy the air pass outside of South America, and your initial flight must be on Aerolíneas Argentinas, American, Continental, Delta, LAN, TAM, United, or Varig. For more information, contact Globotur Travel at tel. 800/998-5521 or visit www.globotur.com.
LAN and American Airlines have joined forces to create the Visit South America Airpass, which allows you to travel between Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and Uruguay. You must purchase a minimum of three flight segments, but you can only travel for 60 days or less. Again, fares are based on distance traveled. You must buy the pass in your home country. Contact LAN (tel. 800/735-5526; www.lan.com) or American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) for more information.
It's possible to travel from Venezuela all the way to the tip of Argentina by bus. In fact, for most South Americans, buses are the main method of transportation. However, it's hard to find direct international routes. Usually, you take a bus to the border, where you must switch to a bus owned by a company in the country you have just entered. From there, you may have to take a bus to the largest nearby city, where you then can switch to a bus to your final destination. It's not the most efficient way to travel, but it's certainly cheap and a great way to see the countryside.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.