South America is a diverse continent. You can walk on glaciers, climb mountains so high they literally take your breath away or cruise on a boat through the Amazon.
The biggest difficulty when planning a trip around South America is deciding where to go. We’ve already written about the best countries to visit on this beautiful continent, but today, we want to give you more specific advice and help you plan your trip.
No matter if you’re backpacking South America, are coming over for a short vacation or are looking for a South America honeymoon itinerary, you’ve come to the right place.
We have put together not just one but a total of eight epic South America itineraries! That way, we cover all possible lengths and show you the best the continent has to offer. Plus, we have lots of practical tips for you along the way.
Table of Contents
8 Epic South America Itineraries
1 Week South America Itinerary – Peru
Putting together a South America itinerary for 1 week is not easy. If you only have a short amount of time, we highly recommend focusing on one single country.
Peru is a great destination for a short trip to South America because you can see lots of cool things in a short amount of time. Here is our suggestion:
Start your trip in Lima. Peru is famous for its colonial architecture and its fantastic restaurants. Get an introduction to Peruvian cuisine by eating ceviche or getting some of Peru’s famous street food.
We recommend spending one day in Lima, so you have time to explore the historic centre and spend some time in Miraflores, a popular seaside neighbourhood. In the centre, don’t miss the Plaza de Armas, the central square, and the nearby Saint Francis Monastery.
If you like history, you should stop by Huaca Pucllana. These ruins were left behind by the Lima civilisation, one of the many pre-Incan cultures of South America.
From Lima, you can catch a flight to Cusco. The Spaniards built this city on top of the remains of an Inca settlement, so pay attention to the pre-Columbian foundations you see while walking around.
Start exploring at the central square, where you can see a statue of Pachacuti, a former Emperor of the Inca kingdom. The nearby Cathedral and Temple of the Sun are both worth a visit.
If you have enough time, head to the Cusco Planetarium in the evening to learn about stars in the Southern hemisphere and to also understand how the Incas saw the night sky.
#3 The Sacred Valley
From Cusco, head to the Sacred Valley. You can see multiple Inca fortresses and terraces here. The ruins of Pisac are amongst the most famous and a must-see on your trip. In Pisac town, you should head to the market, where you can buy souvenirs and local handicrafts.
Try coming on a Sunday, when locals from the surrounding villages head to Pisac to sell their produce and stock up on supplies.
The UNESCO-recognised Maras salt mines are also a great stop in the Sacred Valley. The 4,500 salt pans are still used for salt production today!
#4 Machu Picchu
After visiting the Sacred Valley, spend the night in Agua Calientes. This town sits underneath Machu Picchu, so from here, you can head to the famous Inca ruins.
After the fall of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu remained hidden until 1911. When the Incas abandoned the city, they burned the surrounding forests and trails so nobody could find its location. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that an American archaeologist stumbled upon it by accident.
The best time to visit Machu Picchu is early in the morning before a flood of tourists arrives. Tickets are limited, so make sure to buy yours well in advance.
#5 Lake Titicaca
From Machu Picchu, head to the last stop of this South America trip itinerary – Lake Titicaca. Base yourself in Puno, from where you can head to the lake.
Lake Titicaca is famous for the Uros islands. The Uro people build those floating islands out of reeds and live on top of them in houses. After you’ve visited them, stop by Taquile Island for fantastic lake views and a chance to buy some hand-knitted Peruvian textiles.
Fly home from nearby Juliaca airport, which is only around one hour from Puno.
10-Day South America Itinerary – Argentina & Brazil
If you’re looking for an itinerary for South America and have a bit more than just one week, you have many great options.
You could take the above one-week South America itinerary and expand it by flying to the Amazon from Lake Titicaca.
Or you could choose a different country. We think that Argentina and Brazil make for the best 10-day trip in South America.
#1 Buenos Aires
There are lots of things to do in Buenos Aires, so we recommend spending at least one or two days here. This will give you enough time to explore the various neighbourhoods, like Recoleta, which is famous for its architecture and gave the city its nickname “Paris of the South”. While here, stop by the cemetery.We know it sounds strange to visit a cemetery while travelling, but we highly recommend stopping at the Recoleta cemetery. Not only can you see the graves of famous Argentinians here, but it’s also beautiful, with lots of white marble mausoleums.
Or head to San Telmo, which has a much more lively and bohemian feel to it compared to the more polished Recoleta. La Boca is even more colourful and worth the trip to Southern Buenos Aires.
#2 Iguazu Falls
To reach the next stop on this South America 10-day itinerary, you need to catch a plane and fly to Iguazu. The area has two airports, and since you’re coming from Buenos Aires, you’ll land on the Argentinian side.
The Iguazu Falls are the largest waterfalls in the world, consisting of a chain of more than 250 falls. You can get very close to the falls on the Argentinian side, especially if you get into a boat.
The next day, head to Brazil to explore the other side. You can’t get as close from here, but you get a fantastic overview of the falls cascading down in the middle of the jungle.
#3 Rio de Janeiro
You could easily spend all 10 days of your South America trip in Rio de Janeiro without seeing everything. But since you’re limited on time, focus on the city’s most impressive sights.
Sugarloaf Mountain is a must-visit. From here, you have the most beautiful view in all of Rio de Janeiro. You could also head up to Christ the Redeemer if you’re looking for a different perspective and want to get close to the statue.
Another highlight of Rio is the beaches. Don’t spend too much time here, though, since you’re also going to head to fantastic beaches at the next two stops. Instead, explore the city centre or head to the botanical gardens, where you can see more than 8,000 different plants.
#4 Ilha Grande
From Rio, take a bus to and ferry to Ilha Grande. Ferries leave from three towns on the mainland, but the most popular option is going from Conceição de Jacareí, as it’s closest to the island.
Ilha Grande is a jungle-covered island with perfect beaches. Come here to relax, hike and soak up lots of sunshine. Praia Lopes Mendes is one of the most popular beaches on the island, as it’s long, white and just how you imagine the perfect tropical beach.
You can come here either by boat or hike across the island. Or you catch a water taxi to one of the many other white beaches.
From Ilha Grande, take the ferry to Angra dos Reis, the town closest to Paraty, and continue by bus. Your South America itinerary for 10 days is almost coming to an end, and this is your last stop.
Paraty is famous for its white-washed houses dating back to colonial times. Walk along the cobblestone streets and admire the colourful doors and windows, or sit down for a cup of coffee in one of the many cafes.
From Paraty, you can take a boat to explore the nearby beaches. Schooners leave from the pier in the morning, and the trips usually include four stops at two different beaches and two lagoons.
From Paraty, return to Rio or head to Sao Paulo to fly home.
2 weeks in South America – Option #1 – Patagonia
If you’re wondering what to do in South America for 2 weeks, you’re in luck. We have two options for you, so you can choose between places that couldn’t be more different.
We think that two weeks is the perfect amount of time to visit Patagonia. But we also know that this is the most expensive region on the continent, so if you spend 2 weeks backpacking South America and you’re on a budget, you might prefer going to a more affordable country.
If that’s you, then scroll down and take a look at our Colombia itinerary!
But for now, let’s look into Patagonia.
#1 El Chalten
Start your South America 2-weeks itinerary in El Chalten.
The closest airport is in El Calafate, so you will either have to rent a car or take a bus to get to El Chalten. The trip takes around three hours.
While a rental car gives you more freedom, you can also easily visit Patagonia by using public transport only. We did, and we had a fantastic time.
El Chalten is known as the hiking capital of Argentinian Patagonia. The best hikes take you to the Laguna Torres or the Laguna de Los Tres. They’re both challenging, so check in with the tourist information first for more details and make sure you start early so you have enough time to return to town.
If you prefer a shorter hike, you can find lots of great trails in the area with fantastic views of the Fitz Roy mountain range.
Or you can explore points of interest in the nearby area, like Casa Madsen, a traditional ranch, or Lago del Desierto, where you can go for a boat ride.
#2 El Calafate
El Calafate is a mandatory stop on every Patagonia itinerary, as you can take a day trip to the nearby Perito Moreno glacier from here.
This glacier is the longest in Argentina, and it’s one of the most popular to visit as you can easily get close to it. The end of the glacier reaches into a lake, and wooden walkways take you close to the ice. You can also ride a boat to enjoy a unique perspective.
#3 Torres del Paine
From El Calafate, take a bus (or drive) across the Chilean border to Puerto Natales. This town is the jumping-off point for a visit to Torres del Paine national park.
This South America itinerary for 2 weeks leaves you enough time to spend a few days inside the national park. The most popular option is to hike the W, a multi-day trek that takes you past stunningly blue lagoons and fantastic mountain views.
The hike takes around four days, and you need to plan it well in advance as accommodation tends to book out. If you’re interested, make sure to check out our guide.
Another option is to book accommodation in Torres del Paine and go on day hikes from there. You can also arrange horse riding activities or explore the national park on organised tours.
#4 Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas is a convenient stop on the way down to Tierra del Fuego. The city itself has only a few points of interest, but the real highlight is nearby Isla Magdalena.
This island is home to thousands of penguins who migrate here every year to nest. You can take a boat ride from Punta Arenas and then spend some time on the island watching the penguins taking care of their offspring, going for a swim or grooming each other.
Finish your trip in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city.
Everything here is about being at the end of the world, and you can visit the “Museo del Fin del Mundo” (End-of-the-World museum) or take the “Tren del Fin del Mundo” (End-of-the-World train).
The train takes you into the nearby Tierra del Fuego national park, where you can go for hikes or enjoy a short walk to explore the stunning scenery.
You can also go on many day trips from Ushuaia. Check with the tour operators in town or do some research online to get more information. We recommend a trip to the lakes east of town or a boat ride down the Beagle Canal, where you have the chance to see more penguins and sea lions.
2 weeks in South America – Option #2 – Colombia
If you’re on a budget or prefer a warmer option for your 2 weeks in South America itinerary, then you should head to Colombia.
Colombia is the perfect country if you want to see tropical landscapes, find out where coffee comes from, explore the Andes and see ancient ruins. It’s also popular with backpackers, so if you’re travelling solo, you’re bound to meet other travellers here.
Start your Colombia trip in Bogota, the country’s capital. This city has a few highlights you shouldn’t miss. Therefore we recommend spending at least one full day here.
A great way to see Bogota is by joining a graffiti tour. Those tours take you past the most famous tourist attractions, but you also learn about recent history and discover lots of street art.
La Candelaria, the city’s historic centre, is worth a stop by itself. Close by, you can find the Museo del Oro, one of the best gold museums we’ve ever visited anywhere in the world.
If you still have energy, head to Monserrate to see the city from above. And if you want to spend an additional day, we recommend a day tour to see the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira.
To get from Bogota to Salento, you either need to spend a day on buses or take a flight from Bogota to Armenia and continue from there.
Colombia might look small on the map, but the country is huge, and the Andes make travelling slow. Nevertheless, spending the time it takes to get to Salento is well worth it.
Salento is a colourful village in the coffee zone, so you can visit the nearby coffee plantation and find out how the plant is grown. Another highlight is a day trip to the nearby Cocora Valley, where you can see the highest palm trees in the world. We’ve got a guide to the Cocora Valley hike, but you can also go on a shorter walk if you have less time.
Medellin is one of the most fascinating cities in Colombia. Pablo Escobar’s home changed massively over the past years and transformed from one of the country’s most dangerous cities to one filled with innovation and hope.
One of the best places where you can witness that change is in Comuna 13. This neighbourhood was once the most dangerous one in Medellin (and likely the whole world). These days, it’s famous for its street art and escalators, which connect the steep roads.
Come here to learn more about the violence that once ravaged Medellin and to support those locals who moved away from gangs and now live off tourism.
#4 Santa Marta
From Medellin, you either need to take a long bus (around 12-15 hours) or a short flight to get to Santa Marta. To make the most out of this two-weeks South America itinerary, where your time is limited, we suggest taking a plane.
Santa Marta by itself is not the most spectacular city in Colombia. However, it has lovely beaches, an interesting gold museum, and it is a great base for trips into the surrounding area.
While here, check out the Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino to learn more about Simon Bolivar, the man who helped Colombia gain independence from Spain.
The bus from Santa Marta to Minca takes less than an hour, so you could visit this village on a day trip. We recommend staying overnight, though, so you have enough time to enjoy the countryside.
Minca is famous for the nearby waterfalls, which you can discover on a jungle hike. Bring your swimsuit to take a dip in the refreshing pools. You’ll also come across cafes and restaurants with hammocks, where you can take a break and relax.
If you love coffee, you can also take a tour through a coffee plantation.
Whatever you do, remember you’re in the jungle and bring enough insect repellent. The sandflies that live here can be vicious, so take some DEET to keep them away.
Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most beautiful colonial cities. Nearby San Basilio de Palenque was the first town of free slaves in the Americas, and the area is great for discovering Afro-Colombian culture.
Cartagena is also fantastic if you like street food. We highly recommend taking a street food tour, but you can also explore on your own and stop at one of the many carts to try the local treats.
If you want to relax at the end of this two-weeks South America itinerary, head to a beach. Most locals consider Playa Blanca the most beautiful beach in Cartagena, and you can easily spend one or two days there relaxing in the sun.
Optional: Tayrona National Park or Lost City Hike
We know that we’ve already packed a lot into this itinerary. If you have a few more days (or if you decide to skip some of the above destinations), you could add one or two more fascinating places.
Both of them are close to Santa Marta, so they’re easy to integrate into your Colombia tour.
The Tayrona National Park is famous for its beaches. You can stay overnight, which is a fantastic experience, but if you’re short on time, you can also head here on a day trip. The best activity in Tayrona National Park is to hike along the coast, from beach to beach, and go for a swim when you need a break.
Another excellent destination is the Lost City. These ruins hide in the jungle, and you can only reach them by hiking. Going there and back takes a minimum of four days and a lot of sweat. Don’t underestimate the humidity in the jungle, it’s not unusual to get so sticky that sweat drips from your nose while you walk!
Nevertheless, the hike is stunning and takes you past hidden villages, waterfalls and mountain views. Plus, you can explore ancient ruins from the Tayrona civilisation at the end of it. If you have the time, this one is definitely worth it.
3 weeks in South America itinerary – Chile, Bolivia & Peru
This 3-week itinerary for South America focuses on Bolivia but also covers parts of Chile and Peru. You’ll spend time in the Andes, see the famous Salar de Uyuni and get to know what was once the wealthiest city in the Americas.
Just like our suggestion for a Colombia trip above, this South America travel itinerary is perfect for backpackers but can also be enjoyed by anyone else. Bolivia is one of the most affordable countries in South America, and you can get great value for your money here.
#1 San Pedro de Atacama
Start your South America in 3 weeks itinerary in the Atacama Desert. San Pedro de Atacama is the biggest town in the area, where you can base yourself to explore the desert on day trips.
The Atacama desert is famous for its unique landscapes, including high-altitude lagoons and the moon-like landscape of the Valle de la Luna. We also loved visiting the field of geysers. Trips here leave early in the morning because the geysers are only active when the outside temperatures are low. Just after sunrise is the best time to see them shoot water into the air.
Another highlight is a stargazing tour. The Atacama Desert barely has light pollution, so you can clearly see the Milky Way and learn more about our universe.
#2 Salar de Uyuni
From San Pedro de Atacama, you can take a multi-day tour to the Salar de Uyuni. Those tours cross the Bolivian Altiplano, one of the most spectacular landscapes on this planet. You can expect surreal rock formations, bright red lagoons and thousands of flamingos in a bare desert.
The trip takes you up to 4,800 metres, so make sure to spend a few days in San Pedro de Atacama to acclimatise to the altitude.
At the end of your journey, you finish in the salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. The white landscape seems almost unreal, and it’s the perfect backdrop for taking pictures. Make sure to book a tour that takes you to Isla Incahuasi, a cactus island that rises out of the salt flats.
We deliberately included Potosi on this 3-week South America itinerary because it’s the best place to learn about colonial history.
Due to the nearby silver mines, Potosi was once the world’s most prosperous city. At the same time, that wealth came at a high price. Historians estimate that eight million indigenous and African slaves died in those mines.
And here’s the worst part – safety hasn’t improved that much since colonial times. Workers aren’t trapped underground anymore, but during the mine tour we did, the most stable shafts dated back to colonial times. Wooden beams to reinforce the tunnels are simply too expensive for most mine workers – same as masks.
Many miners die in their forties or fifties from cancer or other lung diseases or perish in terrible accidents.
Visiting Potosi is an eye-opening experience that you cannot miss.
Did you know that Sucre is the capital of Bolivia?
Everyone thinks it’s La Paz, but it’s actually Sucre, a city with white buildings and red roofs high up in the Andes. Sucre is a beautiful city, so you should spend some time wandering around its centre and enjoying the view from Mirador Recoleta.
It’s also home to many museums, so take some time to visit them.
One of the coolest attractions is on the outskirts of Sucre – the Parque Cretacico, where you can see real dinosaur footprints.
#5 La Paz
Getting from Sucre to La Paz isn’t the easiest trip. You need to either catch a plane or take an overnight bus. The bus is, of course, better for anyone who’s backpacking Bolivia on a budget, but it’s much slower and less comfortable than the flight.
If you do decide to go by bus, bring a warm blanket. Even if the bus has heating, there’s no guarantee the driver is going to turn it on and it gets below freezing in the Andes at night!
The bus ride is well worth it to get to La Paz, the largest city in Bolivia. We recommend joining a walking tour to discover the city centre and the markets of La Paz. Another alternative is to go on a food tour to get to know Bolivian food and try some dishes you haven’t had yet.
#6 Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol is the perfect location to dive closer into Bolivian culture. This island in Lake Titicaca is known for its villages and terraced hills. Spend your days relaxing in the sun, hiking or discovering some small pre-Columbian ruins.
It’s a good idea to stay overnight on the island to fully soak up the atmosphere and have as much time as possible to explore.
Your last stop on this South America 3-week itinerary takes you across the border into Peru.
Puno is a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca and an excellent base for visiting the Peruvian side of this lake. Even though you’ve already been to Isla del Sol, you’ll find Puno very different.
From here, you can visit the Floating Islands of the Uros. These reed islands are strong enough to carry houses, and the Uro people use the same reeds to make boats and houses. Around 1,300 people still live on these islands.
From Puno, you can fly home by going to Juliaca airport, which is only one hour away.
1-month itinerary for South America – Peru & Ecuador
Ecuador is an amazing destination on its own, but if you have a whole month, we recommend combining it with a trip to Peru.
This South America itinerary for 1 month will take you from Lima to Quito, passing through the Andes, spending time at the sea and discovering pre-Inca ruins. You can search for hummingbirds in the cloud forest, swim in waterfalls and explore colonial cities.
If you’re backpacking through South America, you’ll be pleased to know that you can easily do this trip on a budget. You can find inexpensive accommodation, food and activities in all of the places below.
At the same time, you can also transform this South America 1-month itinerary into a more comfortable journey by staying at better hotels and using private transport and shuttles.
Start your trip in Lima, the capital of Peru. The city is famous for its colonial centre, coastline and fantastic restaurants.
The must-try Peruvian dish is ceviche, which consists of raw fish cured in lime or lemon juice. The acids in the juice chemically cook the fish, turning it into a delicious delicacy you shouldn’t miss.
The neighbourhoods of Miraflores and Barranco are famous for their restaurants, but you also shouldn’t miss the city centre. Personally, I loved visiting the Monasterio de San Francisco, a monastery dating back to colonial times.
If you’re interested in history, visit the Huaca Pucllana to learn about the Lima civilisation. Or go on a day trip to Caral to see ruins as old as the Egyptian pyramids.
In the evening, head to the Parque de la Reserva in the evening to see the fountain show.
One day in Lima is great for seeing the highlights of the city, but if you have four weeks in South America, we recommend spending a bit more time. Plan for two or maybe even three days in Lima, so you have time to take it all in.
Huaraz is the base for a trip to the nearby Huascaran National Park. If you want to see snow-covered mountains and turquoise lagoons, you’ve come to the right place.
The most famous hike in the National Park takes you to Laguna 69, but you’ll need a few days of acclimatisation to get used to the altitude. While you’re here, we suggest going on different hikes or day trips to the mountains.
If you’re interested, make sure to visit the ruins of Chavin de Huantar. This civilisation might be 3,000 years old, but it was once so significant that it influenced all Andean cultures that came later.
It’s time to leave the mountains and get back to the coast.
Trujillo is famous for its pre-Colombian ruins, and the highlights are visits to Chan Chan as well as the Huaca de la Luna y Huaca del Sol. The latter are particularly impressive for their colourful paintings, which have been preserved over the centuries.
Besides learning about the many civilisations that inhabited South America, Trujillo is also a great place to take it easy. Stroll around the central square, the Plaza de Armas, or head to Huanchaco to learn how to surf.
Some say that the reed boats made here on the beach inspired modern surfing, so try to get a ride on one of them if you can.
Mancora is a beach town that makes for a convenient stop on the way towards Ecuador. Come here to relax by the beach and enjoy ceviche in the evening.
If you’re getting tired of doing nothing, take a tour to see wildlife. From July to October, you can go whale watching, and all year long, you can go looking for green turtles.
Spend a full day here to climb to the top of Cerro Santa Ana, walk along the Malecon 2000 and explore the art galleries in Las Peñas.
If you still have energy, you should head to Santay Island, where you can stroll on boardwalks through a mangrove swamp and discover wildlife along the way.
Visiting Cuenca is one of the best things to do in Ecuador. The historic centre is a UNESCO world heritage site worth seeing for its colonial buildings.
Once you’ve explored the Old Town, book a trip to Las Cajas National Park. At lower altitudes, you’ll come across meadows filled with llamas and alpacas.
Once you go up higher into the Andes, you can then see high-altitude lakes, otherworldly forests and strange-looking landscapes. Even if you take it slow (you’ve just arrived from sea level, so it takes a while to get used to the altitude), you’ll be able to visit impressive viewpoints.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of someone sitting on a swing high above the jungle, you’ve probably seen a picture of Baños. This town is the next stop on our South America 4-week itinerary.
Besides taking cool pictures, you can hike or enjoy many other outdoor adventures in Baños. Rafting, canyoning, rock climbing, all those are options.
Once you’ve had enough of the outdoors, relax by soaking in one of the many hot springs.
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is the highest capital city in the world. It’s also located next to the equator.
You can find lots of things to do in Quito, so you should plan to stay for a few days. Start by exploring the Old Town and visiting some of the churches. If you’re here on a Tuesday, check out the Changing of the Guard in front of the governmental palace.
Next, head to the equator in Mitad del Mundo. The exact location of the equator is a bit unclear. You can visit a monument at the spot where the first expedition marked the equator.
Close by, you can also visit the Museo Intiñan, which claims to be at the site of the “real” equator.
Whichever one is the actual one, both are cool to visit. Take pictures on both lines, and then you might have at least one that’s in the correct place.
Mindo is so close to Quito that you could visit on a day trip.
It’s much more fun to stay overnight, though, so if you have enough time left in this 1-month South America itinerary, base yourself in Mindo for a day or two.
Mindo is located in the Cloud Forest and is famous for its biodiversity. You can spot many butterflies and hummingbirds at the Butterfly Garden and learn about the cultivation of chocolate.
Mindo is also a perfect base for outdoor activities, like ziplining, hiking to waterfalls and tubing.
2 months in South America itinerary – Buenos Aires to Lima
If you’ve got two months in South America, you can see a decent portion of the continent. We’ve put together a sample itinerary for you, which we think covers some of the best places to visit, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.
You could cut the beginning short and head to Colombia instead. Or you could add in some time to visit the Amazon or Patagonia. It’s up to you to decide which areas of South America you like best.
#1 Buenos Aires
Start your South America 2-month itinerary in Buenos Aires. The Argentinian capital carries the nickname “Paris of the South”, and while walking through Recoleta, you can certainly see a resemblance in the architecture and atmosphere.
The cemetery of La Recoleta, with its many mausoleums, is one of the most famous sights here. You should also head to La Boca and San Telmo, two of the most colourful and intriguing neighbourhoods.
In the evening, head to a steak house to try the famous Argentinian meat and watch a tango show afterwards.
#2 Iguazu Falls
From Buenos Aires, catch a plane to Iguazu Falls. Plan to spend at least two days here, so you can both see the Argentinian and Brazilian sides.
You can cross the border into Brazil on a day trip and get a different perspective on the other side. While you can get very close to the water in Argentina, you’ll have a nicer view of the falls in Brazil.
The easiest way to get to Salta is by taking another plane.
If you’re backpacking in South America and prefer to cross as much distance overland without flying, you could also head into Paraguay (we especially liked the Jesuit Missions near Encarnacion, a fantastic UNESCO world heritage site), cross the border back into Argentina and then take a bus.
The bus ride is long. It’ll likely be an overnight bus, so you won’t lose too much time, but you’ll arrive in Salta exhausted.
No matter how you get there, Salta is the perfect base for a trip into the Quebrada de Humahuaca. Expect charming villages, multi-coloured mountains and ruins of a pre-Incan civilisation.
#4 San Pedro de Atacama
You could easily spend a week in San Pedro de Atacama without getting bored. Whether you head to the high-altitude lagoons, watch the flamingos or see the sunset over the Vallee de la Luna, you’ll have plenty of things to do.
If you don’t mind getting up early, take a geyser tour. The natural wonder is only active in the first hours of the morning.
Another highlight is an astronomy tour. You’ll rarely get to a place as dark as the Atacama Desert, so you can easily see the milky way from here.
Your trip to Uyuni will be one of the highlights of your 2-month itinerary through South America. It’s a multi-day journey to get to the famous salt flats. You’ll come across brightly coloured lagoons and see many flamingos along the way.
With a bit of luck, you also get to sleep in a salt hotel before you finally reach the famous Salar de Uyuni. Spend time taking pictures, visit the mysterious cactus island and head to the train graveyard once you’ve arrived.
#6 Potosi & Sucre
In the South Bolivian Andes, you can find two towns worth visiting.
Both cities have stunning colonial architecture and fantastic churches you should see. In Potosi, make sure to head to the Casa de la Moneda, the former national mint of Bolivia.
In Sucre, make sure to visit the dinosaur footprints, which you can find just outside the city. Their sight is awe-inspiring, and how often can you say that you’ve seen footsteps that are more than 65 million years old?
#7 La Paz
To get to La Paz, you either need to fly or take an overnight bus from Sucre.
While La Paz isn’t the capital of Bolivia, it is the seat of its government and one of the biggest cities in the country. Join a walking tour to explore the city centre or go on a food tour to sample some dishes of Bolivian cuisine you’ve never heard of.
La Paz also features fantastic markets, which you should explore while you’re here. The most famous one is the Witches’ Market, but even the regular food markets offer great sights, like bags of dehydrated potatoes.
#8 Lake Titicaca
Your next stop should be Lake Titicaca. The highest navigable lake in the world has multiple points of interest worth stopping for.
The first one is Isla del Sol, on the Bolivian side. Stay overnight on this island, go for walks between agricultural terraces, explore some ancient ruins, and relax in the sun.
On the Peruvian side, you can base yourself in Puno, from where you can explore Taquile Island or visit the floating islands of the Uro people.
#9 Cusco & the Sacred Valley
From Lake Titicaca, cross the Peruvian Altiplano and head to Cusco. Cusco is an excellent stop for seeing the remains of the Inca cities merged with buildings from colonial times.
From here, head to the Sacred Valley to discover Inca fortresses and terraces, lively markets and the famous Maras salt mines.
#10 Machu Picchu
To get to Machu Picchu, you need to take the train to Aguas Calientes. Alternatively, you could also hike the Inca Trail, but make sure to book your trip well in advance as it books out very early!
Machu Picchu is the most famous Inca ruin. This settlement remained undiscovered for centuries, which is why it’s one of the best-preserved sites. Remember to book your ticket and train ride before your start this trip so you’re guaranteed your visit.
Arequipa is a charming city halfway to the coast. Explore the historic centre, and make sure to stop by the Santa Catalina Monastery, a large complex with a fantastic cafe.
Depending on how much time you have left for this South America itinerary for 2 months, you can head to the Colca Canyon. The hike here takes two or three days, and you get fantastic views along the way with the chance to see a condor.
The Nazca lines are amongst the most famous sights in Peru.
Those lines, which are best observed from a plane, are around 2,000 years old and likely date back to the Nasca people. This civilisation lived around present-day Nazca, where you can also visit more of their ruins.
From Nazca, head along the coast to Paracas. The nearby Islas Ballestas are also called the “poor man’s Galapagos” because you can see sea lions, penguins and many birds here.
In fact, there are so many birds that countries once fought a war about the bird poo on those islands, which is a valuable fertiliser!
After you’ve seen the islands, head to the Paracas Peninsula and discover the national park here, with its brightly coloured beaches and remains of the Paracas civilisation.
This South America backpacking route for 2 months finishes in Lima. You’ll need at least one day in Lima to see the major sights, but it’s great if you have more time so you can properly explore the city.
Lima has a great colonial centre, and it’s also the perfect place to try Peruvian food. Head to Miraflores, a neighbourhood with great restaurants and a fantastic seaside walk, or explore colourful Barranco.
If you want to learn more about the history of South America, we suggest heading to Caral on a day trip, one of the oldest settlements on the continent. The ruins are as ancient as the oldest pyramids in Egypt!
3 months in South America itinerary – Rio de Janeiro to Bogota
Do you want to travel around South America for three months? Then we’ve got an itinerary for the ultimate backpacking trip through South America! You’ll start in Rio de Janeiro, cross the continent and then head up along the Pacific Coast from Lima to Bogota.
This 3-month South America itinerary includes three flights, but besides that, you’re mostly moving by bus (though there is the option of cutting it short in Colombia if you don’t want to spend too much time on buses).
#1 Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo
Start your trip in Rio de Janeiro, where you can visit Sugarloaf Mountain, relax on Copacabana Beach or hike through Tijuca National Park.
Then head westwards along the coast. The next stops are Ilha Grande, with its white beaches, and Paraty, a cute colonial town with cobblestone streets.
Finally, head to Sao Paulo. This city is more gritty than anything you’ve seen before, but there are still lots of things to do.
From Sao Paulo, catch a plane to the Pantanal. You’ll need to fly either to Cuiaba or Campo Grande.
The Pantanal is the largest wetland in South America outside the Amazon, and it’s a great region to spot wildlife. We highly recommend taking a tour so you have the best chance of seeing animals.
If you’re in South America backpacking, you might be afraid of the cost, but we can assure you that it’s one of the activities most worth splurging on.
#3 Iguazu Falls
It’s time to catch another plane to get to Iguazu Falls. It’s cheapest to fly to the Brazilian side, but you should also do a day trip to Argentina.
In Brazil, you have a great view of the Iguazu Falls, but in Argentina, you can get much closer. If you don’t mind getting wet, take a boat tour and get sprayed in the mist.
Your next stop is Lima, which means taking another plane. Don’t worry. This is the last flight in a while, and from now on, you can continue overland.
#5 Northern Peru
From Lima, head towards Northern Peru.
Your first stop should be Huaraz, where you can take day trips into the nearby Huarascan National Park. You should also explore the ruins of Chavin de Huantar, which was built by a civilisation that existed around 3,000 years ago.
Next, head to Trujillo. Here, you’ll get further insights into pre-Incan civilisations. The nearby beach is fantastic if you want to learn how to surf.
Your last stop on the way to Ecuador is Mancora. Relax on white beaches or try to spot whales and turtles.
Your first stop across the border is Guayaquil. From here, you could catch a trip to Galapagos, but be mindful that this will add at least another one to two weeks to this South America itinerary for 3 months.
Besides that, it’s easy to spend a day exploring Guayaquil, visiting art galleries and walking through the mangroves on Santay Island.
#7 Cuenca to Quito
From Guayaquil, slowly make your way to Quito. Your first stop should be Cuenca, a charming colonial town which also serves as a base for visiting nearby Cajas National Park.
If you’re interested in high-altitude hiking, stop by the Chimborazo. Or head to Baños, where you can soak in hot springs and hike through the jungle.
Finally, you’ll arrive in Quito. Besides the historic centre, which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site, the city is also famous for its proximity to the equator.
Before crossing the border to Colombia, head to Mindo. You can visit this town in the cloud forest on a day trip from Quito, but we recommend staying overnight. That way, you’ll have the chance to see butterflies and hummingbirds (Mindo is known for its incredible biodiversity), and you can hike to waterfalls.
Mindo is also the perfect place to learn about the creation of chocolate, go ziplining and drift in a tube down a river.
Once you’ve explored Mindo, it’s time to cross into Colombia. Your first stop right after the border is Ipiales, famous for its cathedral, which stands on a huge bridge.
#9 Salento & the Cocora Valley
From Ipiales, it’s a long bus ride to Salento. If you prefer flying, skipping Ipiales and taking a plane from Quito is better.
The colourful town of Salento sits in the middle of the Coffee Region, so you should tour at least one coffee plantation while you’re here. Nearby, you’ll also find the Cocora Valley, famous for its wax palms, the world’s highest palm trees.
Medellin used to have a bad reputation, but these days, the city is worth visiting for so many reasons. Find out how one of the world’s most dangerous neighbourhoods transformed into a tourist hotspot, or head to nearby Guatape for a day out in the countryside.
#11 Colombia’s Caribbean Coast
Ah, the Caribbean coast. There are so many things to do up there that you could easily spend a week or two of this South America backpacking trip on the coast.
From Medellin, you can catch a bus or plane to Cartagena. This colourful Caribbean town with its colonial centre is also the perfect place to catch up on Colombian street food.
Next, head to Santa Marta. You’ll return to this city multiple times while you explore the surroundings. Swim in waterfalls in Minca, hike to the Lost City or relax on the beaches of Tayrona National Park.
#12 San Gil & Villa de Leyva
From Santa Marta, it’s time to head to Bogota – but not without a few stops along the way.
The great thing about backpacking in Latin America is that every area you come through is different. You’re now headed into a region of villages with white-washed houses and dark roofs, and you can also stop for a wine-tasting tour in Villa de Leyva.
San Gil is called the adrenaline capital of Colombia, so it’s a great region if you’re interested in rafting, mountain biking or paragliding. But there are also lots of other fantastic options that you can find here.
Your trip is coming to an end. After backpacking through South America for 3 months, Bogota is your last stop.
Colombia’s capital is famous for its street art, so make sure to see the best pieces of art on a guided tour. You should also explore the gold museum, and if you still have time, you can head to the salt cathedral in Zipaquira.
There are so many great things to do in South America that it’s hard to settle on an itinerary. That’s why we’ve tried to give you plenty of options, no matter how long your trip is.
Have you been to South America? Where did you go? Leave us a comment below to let us know what you explored!
Also, make sure to check out our posts about South America. After months of exploring this continent, we have an extensive collection of articles with everything you need to know:
- The best countries to visit in South America for the ultimate adventure
- Explore the coastline from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo
- Take an epic trip from the Atacama Desert to the Salt Flats of Uyuni
Until your next adventure!
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