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Let's Go 2003: Peru, Ecuador & Bolivia (Let's Go: Ecuador) Paperback – 1 Dec 2002
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The few guidebooks covering the whole of South America just didn't inspire me (one of which claims it's the most popular guide on South American over 60 odd years - I suspect it's because it was the only one!). And it seems that reviewers on this site felt the same, they invariably said to purchase books for each individual countries instead.
With this in mind I decided on Let's Go as it covered three of the countries I'm going to - Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia - and what a great book it is! Usually guidebooks don't really give you a feel for the place - I only get that once the trip is over and I'm reading it full of nostalgia. But Let's go, although not the most colourful guidebook in the world is good for maps, history, orientation, essentials and basics. They offer very detailed information about accommodation and restaurants in each town - more often than not with anecdotes about the proprietors. They also include opportunities for work and volunteering (especially in the jungle) and some superb tips, suggested itineraries (useful as South America is still a little off the backpackers map) and recommended treks.
It's a book perfect for the budget traveller. My only real gripe (and this is what makes it a 4 and not a 5 star review) is the quality of the paper - will it really last me across the Andean foothills into the Amazon Basin, during the rainy season, through three countries and into Paraguay and Brazil? Well, unfortunately it's looking well thumbed already!
But I definitely agree - get guidebooks for individual countries in South America, it's heavier, but worth it, you can always trade-in as you travel. It's just a shame that Let's Go Brazil isn't out until December!
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Let's Go might have had some audience (it is written by students, for students) at the time when shoestring travel literature was not as developed as it is now. Today, however, the guide inaccuracy, unprofessional writing and overall feeling of amateurish outfit is hard to excuse (do not be fooled by professionally-looking cover).
Travel writing is a serious business: you would not board a plane piloted by an amateur pilot "who is keen to have a go", why would you pay good money for something obviously not put together by professionals? You may do so out of solidarity with fellow students, but will this improve your travel experience? I very much doubt this. The students, after all, need correct addresses and opening times as much as any traveller.
Try Rough Guide or Lonely Planet instead.