So, I haven’t written ANY blog posts during 2018 yet, but there’s a good reason for it! I’ve spent the last 3 months exploring South America – yay! Now I’m home and ready to upload SO much content on this glorious continent – first things first, where did I go?!
Let me start by saying that no amount of time in South America is enough. The likes of Brazil and Argentina for example are HUGE and bus journeys between destinations can be extremely long.
I was limited to three months, so made the decision early on to exclude Brazil and Argentina (mostly) from my trip, as well as the Patagonia region of Southern Chile/Argentina. Some people I met spent 2 months in Patagonia alone, so that will definitely be saved for a return trip!
I was travelling from 18 February to 18 May 2018, starting in Chile and ending in Ecuador. February is a great time to visit Chile if you want some sun as this is the height of their summer! For Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, from November to April is considered the “wet season” but thankfully most of the rain ceases in late March meaning I was only truly travelling in wet season for a week or so!
It is imperative to research the timing of your trip as you may be limited on activities if you choose to travel in the wet or dry seasons. For example, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is closed for the entire month of February, so if this is your dream, don’t plan to go to Peru in February! Alternatively, the wet season might be the perfect time for you to travel if you want to see the Uyuni Salt Slats with the reflective effect!
Without further ado, here’s my itinerary….
I flew into Santiago which is a great place to start your South American adventures as it’s so modern and Westernised – you won’t feel any culture shock here! While relaxing in the Summer sun sounds tempting, there are actually plenty of things to do in Santiago and you will struggle to feel bored.
With sprawling parks to explore, interesting museums, an abundance of restaurants/bars and plenty of history, this city has something for everyone!
Read more about my time in Santiago:
I only spent 1 day in Valparaíso as a day trip from Santiago with a few fellow travellers. However, if I were to go back, I’d probably spend at least one night here so that I can really explore the area.
Valparaíso is a port city most famous for it’s colourful hilltop houses and incredible street art. The city has a cool “hipster vibe”, like Chile’s answer to Shoreditch!
Read about my time in Valparaíso here:
With some time to kill before my flights to Easter Island (oooo, itinerary spoiler!), I decided to hop over the border into Argentina to visit Mendoza. The bus ride from Santiago to Mendoza is around 8 hours and the scenery through the Andes is gorgeous!
I spent my time cycling around the vineyards of Maipu, enjoying thermal baths and horse-riding through the Andes mountains. Again, in the Summer sunshine, these 4 days were incredible and I highly recommend a stop in Mendoza!
Read about my time in Mendoza here:
When getting the bus from Mendoza to Santiago, bare in mind that you have to go through strict customs/baggage procedures to enter Chile as is it a “protected area” and therefore this can take some time. One regret from my trip is choosing a night bus for this leg of the journey as standing in the cold at the top of a mountain for 3 hours in the middle of the night wasn’t fun!
I ended up back in Santiago for 2 days as this is where my flights to Easter Island were from – I won’t complain though, I really did love Santiago!
I decided to take another day trip from Santiago, this time to the affluent beach town of Vina Del Mar. Ideally, when planning your trip, try to spend a night in Valparaíso and then head to Vina Del Mar the next day. They are very close to each other and it saves you going to and from Santiago (albeit, even that bus ride isn’t long)!
Read about my time in Vina Del Mar here:
Now… if you’re on a strict budget, Easter Island probably won’t be on your itinerary. However, if you have spare time and money, GO. The flight is more than 5 hours from Santiago, so you will need two days which are primarily for travelling.
My 4 days actually exploring the island were pretty magical. From exploring the Moai archaeological ruins to hiking to the rim of a volcano to relaxing on a beach, it was a very varied 4 days!
Read more about my time on Easter Island:
The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world and the home of many amazing activities! I chose to explore the incredible landscapes of Valle Della Luna (Moon Valley), go stargazing to spot Jupiter among many constellations, attempt (and fail) to see the incredible Geysers Del Tatio (I’ll save that story for another time) and float in crystal clear salt lagoons.
San Pedro De Atacama was also home to the best food that I found in Chile. As it’s a touristy town, it felt like they had something to cater for everyone.
Read about my time in San Pedro De Atacama Here:
The Uynui Salt Flats appear on most backpacker’s bucket lists, and for good reason. I opted for a three day tour originating in San Pedro De Atacama and ending in Uyuni.
The first two days of the tour explore the surrounding national park areas with gorgeous mountains, hills, lagoons, geysers, flamingos and so much more! The final day is spent taking the standard silly photos on the salt flats.
I visited during the rainy reason which meant the floor of the salt flats was wet and gave the mirror effect (yay) but it’s meant to be just as gorgeous in the dry months.
Read about my time in Uyuni here:
As I had to get to Cusco pretty quickly for my Inca Trail booking, I then flew from Uyuni to La Paz to continue my journey. However, if I had more time, I would have gone to Sucre along with the rest of the people on my salt flat’s tour.
Sucre is known for being a great place to stop and learn Spanish. Bolivians speaks slowly and are easier to understand than many residents of their neighbouring countries. The prices in Sucre are also dirt cheap with some travellers paying as little as $4 per hour for one-to-one Spanish lessons!
The capital of Bolivia isn’t pretty. So while you won’t spend your time wandering around gawping at the gorgeous architecture, there are plenty of weird and wonderful things to do in La Paz!
From taking a free walking tour to learn more about the fascinating history and culture of the Bolivian people, explore the witches markets or enormous El Alto Flea Market (on Thursdays and Sundays only), watch cholitas (Bolivian traditional women) wrestling and cycle down “death road” (a.k.a. “the world’s most deadliest road”).
Read more about my time in La Paz here:
I booked a Bolivia Hop bus from La Paz to Cusco which included two days at Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake). On the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, you have Copacabana, a small town which didn’t particularly amaze me.
The trick to Copacabana is to leave the mainland and instead visit Isla Del Sol (“The Sun Island”), a gorgeous island just a short ferry ride from the mainland. I spent a few hours on the island walking across the island, soaking up the incredible views. However, I met some people who were so in love with the island that they stayed for 3 nights and already declared that they want to retire there! So if you have time, stay the night!
If you’re looking for somewhere to chill out and relac, Isla Del Sol may be the place!
To continue my Lake Titicaca adventures, I arrived in Puno in the evening and quickly hit the hay before exploring the next morning.
The town doesn’t have much going on, albeit the main square is quite pretty. Once again, the main attraction is on the lake itself being the Uros Floating Islands. There’s some controversy surrounding these islands. While I really enjoyed seeing the construction and way of life on the islands, the tour does feel slightly like a human zoo.
While the locals appear to be more than happy to welcome you into their homes, there is a lot of pushy behaviour to make you purchase “handmade” goods from them and pay more money to ride in their wooden boats. It’s hugely a money making exercise as opposed to a cultural learning experience.
Cusco is a gorgeous city with incredible food. It’s also a good place to base yourself for great day trips – which I really took advantage of!
Rather than going and staying in the Sacred Valley, I instead just took day trips from Cusco to all of the archaeological sites. You could easily base yourself in a place like Ollantaytambo for a few days however to shorten the journey times.
Great day trips include rainbow mountain, Moray, Pisac, Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Q’enqo, Puca Pucara, Tambomachay, Maras Salt Miles and many more!
I spent longer in Cusco than anticipated because I got ill and also because I was waiting for some friends to catch up with me – 10 days was a long time to stay put in one city but by this point it was nice to have a constant base for a while!
In the middle of my 10 days in Cusco, I completed the 4 day classic Inca Trail to Machu Pichu! It was an incredible experience and I highly recommend doing a trek of some description!
The Inca Trail often books up 6 months in advance and is quite pricey. If you want to be able to book your trek with short notice and on a lower budget, the Salkantay Trek, the Lares trek and the Inca Jungle Trek are all also popular choices!
Arequipa is known as Peru’s “prettiest city” and I can see why! From panoramic views of the nearby Misti volcano to the gorgeous white architecture in the main square, Arequipa definitely is a pretty city!
There’s more to this city than just pure beauty, take some time to explore the history of Santa Catalina Monastery (which is of course, also beautiful) and be sure to visit Museo Santuarios Andinos, home to the “ice maiden” Juanita, the perfectly preserved body of a young girl found sacrificed on the top of a nearby mountain. The stories of the handful of children they have found on the mountains are incredibly fascinating yet disturbing at the same time!
Between my 3 days in Arequipa, I decided to take a 2 day hiking trip to the Colca Canyon. The two days were pretty intense as I got injured (twice, ha) but very very beautiful!
Seeing the huge Andean Condors, hiking through gorgeous scenery, staying in an oasis at the bottom of the canyon, it’s a trip that I highly recommend!
I didn’t have much time to spend in Nazca, so opted for the Peru Hop quick stop at the viewing tower during a bus ride from Arequipa to Huacachina. If you’re super interested in seeing the lines, be sure to spend a night in Nazca so that you can take a flight over all of the lines!
Huacachina is a oasis in the middle of the desert famed for it’s huge sand dunes (literally, they are HUGE), adventure activities and Instagram worthy location.
Of course, chilling by the hostel pool was high on my agenda, but only after some insane dune buggying/sand boarding and a pisco/wine tasting at a local factory!
After spending such a long time at high altitude, you will be very glad to be back down at sea level!
More time on the sunny Peruvian coastline! Paracas is the perfect time to relax on the beach and eat all kinds of fresh fish!
By way of activities, the Paracas National Park reserve is the ultimate place for loads of adventure activities – from riding ATVs through the moon-like landscapes and paragliding off the steep cliff-faces! If you’re not looking for adventure, be sure to take a boat ride to Isla Ballestas (a.k.a “The Poor Man’s Galapagos Islands”) to see an abundance of birds, sea lions and penguins!
The capital of Peru is known for it’s incredible array of food! Did you know that Lima is the only city in the world to have 2 restaurants in the top 10 best restaurants in the world?
Lima is made up of 42 districts, so it’s pretty damn huge! The three you should definitely explore are Downtown (filled with beautiful architecture and history), Miraflores (an affluent area with tonnes of good restaurants and bars) and Barranco (a cool street art filled district with fun on every corner).
During my trip, I had the opportunity to visit the Amazon Jungle a few times – in Bolivia, Ecuador and a few locations in Peru. You need to choose the area that excites you the most (obviously, the wildlife varies from location to location) and also the one that fits your schedule / budget best. Iquitos is one of the most expensive areas to visit the Amazon due to the fact that you need to book return flights from/to Lima and accommodation seemed to be more expensive than other areas such as Puerto Maldonado (also in Peru but closer to Cusco).
My four days was filled with wildlife spotting, visiting a local tribe (and learning how to use a blow dart gun!), visiting local schools to learn about the conservation work they are doing, boat rides down the amazon river, star gazing, visiting rum factories and so much more.
After nearly 2 weeks at sea level with no hiking, I didn’t really fancy going back to high altitude hikes. However, I did debate going to Huaraz on my way to Ecuador.
Huaraz is known for it’s intense hikes to Lagoona 69, a gorgeous glacier and Cordillera Blanca, all of which look incredible!
Piura was just a stop off on my journey from Lima to Ecuador. It looked like we were the only gringos in the entire town. Unfortunately we couldn’t explore much as there appeared to be a huge graduation ceremony taking over the entire town centre. So we found a hostel and abused their WiFi ha!
After boarding the bus from Piura that would take us across the Peru-Ecuador border, I arrived in Loja for the night. I had a few hours in the morning to wander around what appears to be a pretty little city! While there didn’t seem to be tonnes of tourist attractions, there were lots of cute little plazas with gorgeous churches!
After hearing so much about the amazing Hostal Izhcayluma, I had to go and stay there! For $10 per night, you get a bed in a dorm room (private rooms are also available) as well as a free yoga session in each morning – AMAZING. The yoga studio overlooks the gorgeous valley and is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been!
The hostel also has a pool and massage parlour where I received a 75 minute full body massage for $22! There are plenty of hikes to do around the area and other tours you can book such as horse riding and exploring the “coffee route”!
This is the perfect place to relax and unwind, I’d go back in a heartbeat!
Another day, another pretty little Ecuadorian city! I spent one day exploring what the city had to offer. SERIOUSLY gorgeous cathedrals/churches were a highlight – I always say that if you can impress a European with churches, then they really must be good!
On the second day, I took a day trip to the nearby Cajas National Park for some hiking. The park is seriously beautiful and well worth your time! I did the most simple route which should supposedly take 2 hours – my buddy and I got very lost. Make sure you follow the signs more carefully than us…
Baños is the ultimate adventure destination in Ecuador (although if you want to stay closer to Quito, I’ve heard that Mindo is a great alternative)!
With white water rafting, abseiling down waterfalls, zip-lining, giant swings above the city, paragliding, bungee jumping and so much more, Baños has something to suit everyone’s preferred level of adventure.
If adventure isn’t your thing, visit the thermal baths that the city is so proudly named after or jump into a bus for a tour of the nearby waterfalls.
My three days in Cotopaxi were some of my favourites of the entire trip. I stayed at the super dreamy Secret Garden Cotopaxi which I highly recommend! My days were spent hiking to waterfalls, the peak of the Pasochoa Volcano and the refugio/glacier of the epic Cotopaxi volcano!
While not hiking, I was treated to an abundance of food provided by the hostel (hello unlimited banana bread!), cuddling with the 5 hostel dogs in front of the fire, playing cards and chatting with some incredible travellers and relaxing in the hot tub!
Read more about my time in Cotopaxi here:
Many people hike the Quilotoa Loop which is a 3+ day trail either starting or ending at the Quilotoa Crater Lake. As I was running out of time (and didn’t really want to hike any further after my time in Cotopaxi), I opted to skip the 3+ day hike and instead just took a day trip to the Quilotoa crater from Latacunga.
The crater is seriously beautiful and you have the option to hike around the rim (we walked part of the way) or to walk down to the edge of the water and back out again (two of the girls I was with did this and said it was tough on the way back up)!
By the end of my trip, I was getting a little bit bored of cities and instead loved the more rural countryside destinations, so I didn’t really click with Quito as a city but still loved my time here. Communal dinners and drinks on the rooftop of the Secret Garden Quito with some incredible people made my time here, as well as two great day trips. One to the “middle of the earth” to hop, skip and jump over the equator and another to the famous Otavalo market to pick up some handmade souvenirs!
The Galapagos Islands don’t need much explanation, we all know how incredible they are!
From facing my snorkelling fears (twice), becoming immersed in wildlife, cycling for miles with glorious scenery and relaxing on stunning white beaches, the Galapagos is just as great as everyone says it will be!
The only disappointment is that I didn’t bump into David Attenborough…
Like I said earlier, I had got a bit bored of cities, so decided that I wanted to do something different for my last days in South America before flying home.
I am so grateful to have stumbled across Mario’s website My Trip to Ecuador and I quickly booked a tour with him to a local cocoa farm (yay chocolate)! Without a doubt, Mario is one of the kindest, most welcoming people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and I had the best last day with him!
And before I knew it, Mario was dropping me off at the airport for my long journey home. My trip to South America was incredible and I loved every second of my itinerary from start to finish. There were so many bucket list adventures along the way and I feel so very grateful to have been on this trip! Now… to sit at my desk and stare out the window dreaming of my next adventure…
Have you been to South America? What would be your DREAM itinerary?
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