I’d like to introduce my epic South America backpacking itinerary.
With so many South America travel options – which will you choose?
Allow me to give you a helping hand…
After spending so long in Latin America, many people have started to ask me to give them the best itinerary for South America travel.
The reality is that there’s no one best place or the best time to travel to South America. The countries are so diverse it’s best to look at different routes.
Quick Answer – South America Travel Route
- South America Travel Route – A Bulletproof Backpacking Itinerary
- Best Accommodation – Where to Stay in South America
- Travel Insurance – The Best way to Keep Safe
- Where Dan Started – From Bogota to Buenos Aires
- Avid Advice for Backpackers – Tips to keep you on track
From there you can begin to create the perfect itinerary for South America that suits you and your travel plans.
Then, all you should need is your best backpacking gear and you’re ready to rock and roll. This is going to be the ultimate South America trip.
South America Travel Routes
Right, so without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most popular travel routes in South America.
Don’t let time put you off, you can always skip some locations or stay longer.
Use the links below to jump to the countries in South America you desire:
The countries are listed in the order according to the suggested route.
Famous for: Tropical landscapes, Birdwatching, Exotic fruits, Biodiversity.
Route: Cartagena > Parque Tayrona > Mompos > San Gil > Villa de Leyva > Bogota > Salento > Cali
It’s no secret that Colombia is one of my favourite countries in Latin America.
Not only is it diverse and rich in culture, but it also boasts many other interesting points for any backpacker thinking of backpacking South America.
There are some places to visit in Colombia that are truly unique Latin America. Colombia is also my preferred entry point to South America.
One of the most popular things to in Colombia is to visit the lost city which can be accessed from Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Famous for: Equator Line, Mega-diversity, Amazon Rainforest, Cocoa beans, The Huaorani.
Route: Otavalo > Quito > Cotopaxi > Banos > Riobamba > Sibambe > Cuenca
It’s true that Ecuador is similar to Colombia in many different ways, but unique in itself. If you travel to Ecuador it will not fail to show you how unique it is.
A nice and easy journey from Colombia if travelling by land. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even check out the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest that is home to over 587 species of birds and 4 thriving National Parks to discover.
The main highlight for many backpackers is the Galapagos Islands – an incredible place to visit ecologically protected wildlife and if you South America Travel budget allows it you can even get there without taking the cruise.
Famous for: Amazon, Landscapes, Cultural Diversity, Food, Surfing.
Route: Mancora > Mompos > Huaraz > Lima > Huacachina > Nazca > Cuzco > Machu Picchu
Why not plan a trip to Peru on your first time backpacking South America?
Whether is learning about the Incan Empire in Cusco, or trekking through the Peruvian Amazon you’ll not be disappointed. You can even go sandboarding in Huacachina which has the only natural desert oasis in South America.
Not matter how you look at the country; it’s oozing in culture. Peru has a great national reserve and you’ll find the best food in Latin America.
Depending on your South America travel duration you can hopefully get to see Machu Picchu one of the 7 wonders of the world.
Here’s a perfect 2 week Peru itinerary that goes from Lima to Cusco if you are looking for a popular Latin America backpacking route.
Feeling a bit short on time? No worries, you can always check out this snazzy 4 day Peru itinerary that may just help you squeeze the most out of your days.
Famous for: Pisco, Atacama Desert, Extreme Landscapes, Wine, Sports.
Route: Copacabana > Isla del Sol > La Paz > Sucre > Potosi > Salar de Uyuni
The cheapest country to visit in South America. Bolivia and it’s culture will have you daydreaming about how much you wished you’d visited earlier.
I hope your South America travel itinerary will carry you here. If it’s your first time you’ll want to know some tips and trick for Bolivia to get you started.
First time in Bolivia? Copacabana is the main Bolivian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca, it makes a great starting point if backpacking from Peru by land.
Don’t leave Bolivia without seeing Salta de Uyuni the experience and scenery is unforgettable; with landscapes changing every 10 minutes as you cruise in a jeep it’s been the best place to visit in South America for many backpackers.
Famous for: Pisco, Atacama Desert, Extreme Landscapes, Wine, Sports.
Route: Santiago > Valparaiso > Vina del Mar > Copiapo > Antofagasta > San Pedro de Atacama
Whatever you do, please don’t be undermined by Chile’s size. Whether you’re just passing through and only looking for the top things to do in Santiago or you’re here to sample award-winning wines you won’t be disappointed.
Chile packs some serious adventure for any keen backpacker and absolutely perfect terrain if travelling overland by motorhome or adventure camping.
If you’re not a fan of the heat you can always head down to Patagonia and check out places like Torres del Paine which offers a bunch of multi-day hikes.
Santiago is a great starting point and a booming capital city. If you didn’t know Santiago is one of the largest cities in the Americas. You’ll find that most South America travel books have great things to say about the capital’s success.
Famous for: Tango, Elegant Architecture, Football, Steak, Wine.
Route: Buenos Aires > Rosario > Alta Gracia > Cordoba > Mendoza > Salta > humahuaca > Iguazu
Every South America trip planner should include Argentina. If you are lucky to make it to the southern cone you’ll get a true taste of South American culture.
For me as a city Buenos Aires has been on of the most diverse and exhilarating places to visit in South America.
The people are animated and you’ll notice their body language speaks louder than words.
A must for any South America travel route you’re thinking of pursuing. Many people use Buenos Aires as a landing point to get their trip off the ground.
I salute you if you ever get the chance to travel to Patagonia in the south.
Famous for: Quality of Life, Drinking Mate, Meat, Marijuana, Unspoiled nature.
Route: Colonia > Montevideo > Piriapolis > Sucre > Punta Del Este > Cabo Polonio
Many name Uruguay as one of safest countries as I’ve seen it mentioned in various South America travel publications.
You’ll quickly learn how the Rio de la Plata plays a significant role in joining with Buenos Aires and how many citizens use it day to day.
Arriving at the port you’ll quickly see why! Though, definitely not one of the cheapest countries in South America.
If backpacking on a budget it’d be best to start your South America trip itinerary here in conjunction with Buenos Aires.
If you’re thinking of doing a road trip and wondering how to travel Uruguay you’ll find its 660-kilometre-long coastline very appealing.
Famous for: Carnivals, Portuguese, Luscious Beaches, Samba, Football.
Route: Iguacu Falls > Curitiba > Ilha do Mel > Sao Paulo > Paraty > Ihla Grande > Rio de Janiero
You’ll find some of the best cities in South America lie in Brazil. The mammoth capital Sao Paulo is very popular with many backpacker.
You’ll need a good duration to be able to explore as Brazil is the largest country in South America. Have you brushed up on your Portuguese already?
I have gotten by with Spanish in some of Brazil’s best places and spend many hours travelling by bus and plane around the country.
Brazil is not for the light hearted or beginner backpacker I would say.
However, if you are thinking of going make sure you check out Rio de Janeiro as it makes a great introduction to Brazil as well as a good ending point.
Hence why I invite you to consider it as part of your South America backpacking itinerary.
Best Accommodation in South America
Depending on your budget you’ll find some great options for places to stay in South America.
Before you start planning a trip to South America I suggest you do a little research on the types of accommodation will suit you best.
If you only have 3 weeks in South America then maybe your accommodation strategy for would be different.
Or if you are backpacking on an itinerary of 6 months then you’ll need to learn how to mix it up.
In my Smart Travel guide, I talk more about my accommodation strategy for Latin America.
For you to be able to get a full 360 experience it’s best to try one of the many types of accommodation South America has to offer.
The most poplar is hostels which you can get for free if you know how.
Preparing for your Trip
Starting your South America itinerary without much travel experience?
Don’t worry! I assure you that you’re going to meet many people doing the same type of travel.
Some prefer to travel alone and there are many reasons why.
Thinking of doing something unique? Like glamping in the Peruvian Amazon, don’t be surprised if you find someone with similar interests.
Decent travel insurance is definitely overlooked by many backpackers in South America. I’ve travelled without it in the past when on a 3 month
South America itinerary that I had to cut short.
If you’re travelling out soon get a free quote from World Nomads by entering your details below.
No matter what, even if you know your 2 month South America itinerary, for example, will only be in one location.
A good travel insurance plan should give you that peace of mind.
There’s more than 1 reason why Travel Insurance is important to consider whilst planning your South America travel routes.
Below I’m going to list some of the things to consider:
- Trip Cancelation
- Trip Interruption
- Flight Delays
- Lost Luggages
- Property Damage
If you looking for ideas on how to plan a trip to South America, the last thing you want to have to worry about is any of the above complications that can quickly become a part of anyone’s trip.
Can you drive to South America?
If you’re based in North America maybe you’re thinking of driving to South America, trust me, not even the most experienced backpacker decides to leave home without travel Insurance.
Backpacking through South America
As part of my South America backpacking itinerary and after doing years of solo travel in Latin America in general.
I’d like to share 5 pieces of advice based on what I’ve learned and applied along all the South America travel routes I have taken.
One of the most memorable I did was from Bogota to Buenos Aires which was an amazing trip. I went to live in Buenos Aires and learn more about the cultures of South America.
Maybe you have a Central America backpacking route that you’re trying to extend to the south.
If you’re asking yourself where does South America start or how to get from Central America to South America.
You can pick one of few options but I’d recommend flying from Panama to Colombia.
Some people ask me, can you drive from North America to South America, and I’m like of course, there are so many people that are doing it.
Whichever of these South America backpacking routes you decide I have a few backpacker tips that may help you somewhere along the way.
Below I’m going to write you a few tips that have strengthened my character and understanding of who I want to be as a young man.
1# Keep moving
When travelling solo you’re facing new situations daily. There are certain interactions which really challenge you to be authentic.
One challenge could be opening up to others, feeling vulnerable to sharing your personal history, or who you want to become.
That is quite normal and a minor sticking point that only you can overcome.
Another way I’ve seen people deal with this is by being a square, choosing to remove themselves from the interaction or environment.
That can be quite normal, we all have done that at some point.
In my humble opinion either can be appropriate, depending on how well you know yourself and the purpose of your trip.
When you’re aware you’re unhappy with your current surrounding I found it best to keep moving along until I arrive at a place where there are people similar to me or to a location that is more likely to support my growth.
Your personal growth time is too valuable to allow yourself to waste it at the expense of thoughtless strangers.
2# Everybody feels lonely
The more I travel solo the more I learn about myself, however, I can’t learn about myself without the luxury of meeting other people.
Travelling solo is quite a selfish exploration. Solo travel is a gamble, maybe you don’t meet anybody during your whole trip that likes you, let alone understands you or shows you any affection.
It took me many trips of growth to realise individuals, despite travelling with group, feel lonely.
This is the perfect motivation for interacting with people on a personal level, even though they may seem like they’re with a group of old time friends.
3# Saviour is around the next corner
Know the difference between feeling lonely and being alone?
It’s crucial that you do. Understand the difference before you embark on your first or next solo travel. Being alone is a state of being whereas loneliness is a state of mind.
Although solo travel is about travelling by yourself, feeling lonely is never a goal or a desired outcome. However, it’s inevitable.
I’ve found it’s the tools you have to be able to change your state of mind when loneliness creeps in that will make or break you.
I felt lonely many times on my solo travel adventures and honestly, it just takes one conversation with one person and the feeling is gone.
People are always willing to talk, how and where you meet those people is down to you.
4# Aligning with allies
How many times have you bumped into an old friend in the street and instantly rekindled a connection?
Often during solo travel adventures, you’ll bump into somebody that you feel you’ve known for ages.
I learned that we instantly identify and feel a deeper connection with people from the same city or country etc. It’s almost relieving at first.
Beware of this as I’ve fallen back into my comfort zone and my trip of growth was affected.
Maybe you stick around for a conversation, but relying on others to hold hands with you for the rest of your trip is dangerous.
The good news is, being aware of this paradox you can consciously take a break from your solo adventures, but remember, while ever you’re travelling with other people you’re sacrificing a part of your own personal growth.
5# Always travel first class
I know what you’re thinking, and no, not in a pretentious way.
One thing solo travel taught me is people who have less naturally go further out of their way to help others.
How will you manage to connect with people from different walks of life? Also, will you honestly be able to relate to them if you’re too cool or pompous to use public transport or visit a certain neighbourhood?
When deciding on the best route to travel South America everybody has their own standards yes. But on a trip of growth your threshold has to be reduced to allow from random and random’s friend to come in.
Try not to let your high standards get the best of you. Learn how to travel with all classes of people.
Over the past 4 years, I’ve travelled solo consistently, improving my lifetime after time.
Since my first trip to brazil in 2012 I’ve become fluent in a new language but not Portuguese.
From taking these new trips of growth and I’ve learned so much and created opportunities for myself and even others in the making.
South America travel Routes
I hope by looking at these ideas and basic South America travel routes you can get inspired. There are so many other places you can see and I will be writing about them in my Latin America section.
There are some really good tours you can check out along the way also. From example if you’re in Medellin maybe you’d like to do the Pablo Escobar tour.
A great way to learn about the Medellin Cartel. Or, if you’re in Peru, you’ll do the famous Inca tour which I’ve heard is a once in a lifetime experience.
If like me you really like the idea of being in Brazil. Any South America trip itinerary would have to be tailored to spend a huge chunk of its time there.
Otherwise, you don’t even end up scratching the surface of what Brazil can offer as a country and an eclectic mix of cultures.
Over the past 4 years, I’ve travelled solo consistently, improving my lifetime after time. Since my first trip to Brazil in 2012, I’ve become fluent in a new language from taking these new trips of growth and I’ve learned so much.
Out of all the South America travel routes I have done, each one has created more opportunities for myself and others in the making.
Whether that’s been learning Spanish, or helping the local family I’ve stayed with during my travels.
I sincerely hope you got some useful information from this South America backpacking itinerary – if not – please let me know of any questions you may have.
Find this useful, already planned your South America travel route?
💬 Leave a comment or let’s start a meaningful conversation below!
Be sure to remember them on your next trip to South America. Also please leave me a comment below, especially if you’re thinking of travelling solo or have any questions about anything written in today’s blog post.
P.S. if you’re looking for a Central America backpacking route see my guide of Central America travel route for more inspiration.
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