THE PERFECT SOUTH AMERICA TRIP ITINERARY
The perfect South America trip itinerary takes some time to plan.
Between picking the best time to go and the best places to see, it often takes quite a bit of research.
Start by asking yourself what your priorities are.
Do you want to see hot springs, go wine tasting, see salt flats, visit national parks, enjoy nightlife, experience beautiful beaches, or go off the beaten path?
While it’s understandable that you may want to experience everything that this gorgeous continent has to offer and soak in all the natural beauty there is, it’s practically impossible to cover everything in a single trip unless you’re going on an extensively lengthy vacation.
South America has so much to offer including spectacular landscapes, beautiful architecture, heritage sites, captivating ruins, bustling and colorful cities, and clear beaches.
Thanks to the massive size of the continent and its different countries, visitors are rewarded with a kaleidoscope of colorful sights, unforgettable experiences, and a variety of climates.
Between experiencing the vibrant, diverse culture in cities, indulging in hearty Latin American cuisine, and exploring the natural landscapes, there’s so much to do and see – you could spend years living on the continent without seeing it all.
A quick 2-week trip simply won’t suffice.
So, first step, don’t stress!
If you have to focus on a country or two at a time to slowly pick away at seeing everything you want to see, then that’s okay.
It’s better to do it right than to rush it.
Given its rich cultural heritage, the experience of traveling to Latin America is tied to closely experiencing the local culture and the warmth and friendliness of its people.
This blog will help you build the perfect South America trip itinerary.
From the best time to visit depending on what you want to see and where you want to go to the most frequently asked questions, we’ve got you covered.
Best Time to Visit South America
Are you looking for the best time to visit South America?
The optimal time will depend on where you want to go.
All four seasons have their own advantages, which is good news.
You’ll always have something new and exciting to see regardless of when you go.
That said, you’ll need to adjust your thinking to the southern hemisphere seasons.
This is what they look like:
Summer: December to March
Autumn: April to June
Winter: July to September
Spring: September to December
When building your South America trip itinerary, you’ll have to consider seasons during each step.
We’ll talk about the pros and cons of each, so you can decide what your priorities are for this trip.
Summer is the high season for tourism in Brazil, Patagonia, and the Atlantic coast.
If this is your first time traveling to South America, then these may be at the top of your bucket list in terms of what you want to see.
Between the beaches, festivals, and New Year’s Eve celebrations, your destination is likely to be packed.
However, even though this is the case, it’s still the best time to visit Patagonia, and it’s ideal for visiting the southern tip of South America because the winter weather can be rough.
Timing is a great thing to think about when it comes to your South America trip itinerary.
Autumn is considered one of the best times to visit South America if you want to explore cities.
If you visit during the summer, you’ll find that you’re absolutely baking in the hot summer sun.
Summer also attracts countless tourists, so you’ll be fighting the crowds everywhere you go.
If you’re interested in going to Patagonia, autumn is also a good time as well.
It’s after the high season, but it’s not cold yet.
Autumn is considered “shoulder season,” which means hotels should be less expensive.
Winter in South America is warm in the northern regions and cold in the southern regions.
This is especially true when it comes to Patagonia in Chile and Argentina.
If you choose to add this to your South America trip itinerary, you’re likely to see frost and snow.
That said, winter is not as severe as it is in the northern hemisphere, so some locations are ideal to visit.
You may experience beautiful weather or wildlife conveniences.
Spring brings the dry season to the Amazon.
You’ll experience fewer crowds and lower prices.
This makes it a good time to visit cities like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
Because winter has ended, you can trek and hike in Patagonia if so desired.
You’ll also earn yourself a nice little discount by not going in the high season of summer.
Places to Include in Your South America Trip Itinerary
In pursuit of the perfect South America trip itinerary, we recommend you also break up what you want to see based on seasons.
Not everything is ideal for each season, and you want to make sure you’re investing your time and money in the right places.
- Hike in Patagonia
- Wildlife in Patagonia and Antarctica
- Highlights: penguins in Peninsula Valdes and Ushuaia
- Carnival festival and New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro
- The Atacama and Uyuni Deserts (summer is dry season)
- March offers a shoulder-season period to travel here, which can make the weather more pleasant
- Iguazu Falls
- Pleasant weather to enjoy the falls
- Iguazu National Park, which protects the Iguazu falls, is a UNESCO world heritage site
- Buenos Aires
- Pleasant weather to see the city
- Best nightlife – great spots for party lovers to let their hair down
- Open street art culture – street art is not prohibited in Buenos Aires anymore, which has given artists the freedom and inspiration to paint public spaces at any time. Also be sure to check out murals and other work by prominent local and international artists
- Check out San Telmo, Recoleta, Palermo
- Rio de Janeiro
- Fewer tourists, cooler weather, some rain
- Art lovers can indulge their visual senses with street art that colors the blank canvases of walls and buildings everywhere
- June is ideal for this destination due to cooler temperatures and clear skies
- The Galapagos Islands, located off the west coast of South America, are home to the famous marine iguana – one of the endemic species studied by Charles Darwin on his second voyage on the HMS Beagle and one of which contributed to the Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by means of natural selection.
- City in Argentina with olive oil and Argentine wine as their main industries
- Destination for sports lovers – horseback riding, hiking, mountaineering, and also offers skiers easy access to the Andes
- Trek in Patagonia
- Teeming with hiking trails – must visit places include the Torres del Paine National Park and the hanging glacier in Parque Queulat, among others.
- But don’t forget the right camping equipment and hiking gear
- Also don’t miss the spectacular marine wildlife – whales, dolphins, seals, and penguins
- Machu Picchu & Inca Trail
- This is the best time of the year to visit Machu Picchu. You’ll experience warm days and cool nights. You’ll also have the lowest rainfall of the year – who doesn’t want that when trekking?
- When you’re famished after a trek to the Inca Trail, consider replenishing yourself with delicious Peruvian food – a treat that food lovers wouldn’t want to miss.
- Winter sports
- Argentina and Chile offer numerous locations for skiing and other snow sports (Las Lenas, Bariloche, Ushuaia, Chile Valle Nevado)
- Death Road
- Officially known as the North Yungas or Los Yungas Road, it’s a must visit spot on the South America trip itinerary of intrepid travelers.
- Located in Bolivia, the Death Road was the “world’s most dangerous road” before a safer road was built.
- Nonetheless it’s still dangerous – it offers bikers incredible views but beware of the cliffs and big rocks.
- Best to avoid during the rainy season as the roads can get wet and slippery and especially treacherous to navigate
- The Pantanal
- The largest tropical wetland and flooded grassland in the world
- Popular wildlife destination in Brazil where you can enjoy watching animals like jaguars, tapir, giant anteaters and otters as well as birds with colorful plumage, in their natural surroundings
- Plenty of fun activities to do like boat trips, kayaking, horseback riding, and of course the renowned jaguar safari on the Cuiába River
- Tango World Festival – You can tango regardless of when you go to South America, but why not go during the Tango International Festival and Dance World Cup?
- Pachamama Festival – located in San Antonio de Los Cobres, Salta; celebrates “Mother Earth” and takes place every August at Quebrada de Humahuaca
- Peninsula Valdes
- Get ready to see some wildlife! Sea lions, seals, killer whales, and the Southern Right Whale are desperate to make it on your South America trip itinerary.
- The Amazon
- This is during the low water season (June to November). Jungle trails won’t be flooded. You can get deeper into the rainforest by foot and will have fewer mosquitos pestering you.
- Argentine Open Polo Tournament
- The Polo Open takes place from November until December each year. If you’ve never watched polo, this is certainly an experience. Argentina has some of the greatest players in the world!
- A neighborhood located in Rio de Janeiro; known for its Balneario beach (one of the most famous in the world)
- Gringo Trail
- It’d be a shame to discuss a South America trip itinerary without a mention of the Gringo Trail. It refers to a trail that covers specific regions from Mexico to Patagonia. It includes parts of about 13 countries – some of the best places to visit in Latin America. That said, it’s important to note that the best Southern American travel experiences are not limited to the Gringo Trail. However, it has been used as a reference point by many travel experts and does include some of the most famous attractions. Just make sure that you do not restrict yourself to destinations on the Gringo Trail.
Common FAQ About Backpacking South America
Q: What does gringo/gringa mean? I keep reading it everywhere.
A: Gringo/gringa means “foreign person” in South America.
It usually refers to a white person, but it doesn’t have to be used toward a white person.
It also isn’t a slur or a hateful term.
However, it can be used hatefully in some contexts.
Being a gringo means different things in each county.
Sometimes you’ll get honked at or taken advantage of in sales situations.
Other times, you’ll be treated like a guest.
If you look lost or confused, people will offer help and assistance at the drop of a hat.
Being a gringo means you’re not going to blend in.
You won’t be taken for a local and that’s okay.
It will impact your experience to some degree, but don’t let it be a bad thing.
Q: What can I expect from the people of South America?
A: Generally speaking, the people in South America are incredibly nice and willing to help strangers.
Even in countries where no English is spoken, locals are willing to stop and offer their help in any way they can.
Sometimes people will even hand you their cell phone to talk to their cousin/friend/acquaintance who supposedly speaks English.
While it can be difficult to navigate these situations, know that everyone is making an effort to help.
The kindness reflects well on the continent.
Now, of course, like any town, city, country, and continent, you’re sure to encounter people you may not have the best experience with.
However, there are wonderful people everywhere, and South America is no exception.
Q: Is South America safe?
A: South America has long had a reputation for being unsafe for travel and backpacking – to the extent that people may ask you why you’re going at all.
While there are safety issues in various parts of the continent, this reputation is largely unfair.
There are numerous places you can and should visit in South America.
To minimize robbery, all you have to do is take some precautions as you would anywhere else in the world.
For that matter, in any corner of the globe that attracts visitors, pickpocketing and theft may be potential problems to watch out for.
These days especially, given tourists’ focus on capturing insta-worthy pictures while exploring new sites, it’s easy to get robbed.
So it’s important to be aware of your environment at all times.
Also, don’t carry large sums of money; if unavoidable, it’s best to divide it into a few parts and keep it in different places – your accommodation (if it’s safe and secure), back and front pockets, and pouches.
Lastly, whatever place you’re planning to visit, just don’t go without doing due research first.
Know where you’re going, whether it’s recommended by your home government, and what resources are available to you while you’re there.
Q: Do I need to speak Spanish to visit South America?
A: When you’re in big cities, you’ll find quite a few people who speak a little bit of English.
However, most countries in South America are Spanish-speaking.
Therefore, knowing a few basic words of the local language – enough to ask for directions, order food, and shop at local stores – will prove to be helpful and convenient.
If you’re keen on experiencing the local culture, learn a tad more Spanish – it doesn’t have to be fluent but enough to help you mingle with the locals who typically love to chat and know where you’re from.
Besides, taking the time to learn different Spanish vocabulary words is not only valuable, but also shows respect, while making it easy to have meaningful conversations with the locals.
It demonstrates to them that you’re genuinely interested in learning about their country and culture.
You’ll find they’re much nicer to you if you show you’re trying.
Download Duolingo to learn Spanish on the go!
Q: Is there reliable internet in South America?
A: Well…it depends.
If you’re traveling to South America as a digital nomad or as a remote worker, then this may be a point of stress for you the entire time.
In all honesty, finding good WiFi in South America is often hard.
Sometimes, it may feel like you never have a consistent signal.
Other times, it will feel like you never left home.
If you’re planning on backpacking hostel to hostel, you’ll want to make sure you’re one of the first people to log onto the WiFi.
Once the connection hits its maximum number of users, then there’s no chance that you’ll be able to obtain a reliable connection.
You can ask the WiFi owner to reset the password again to see if you can get a spot.
A lot of times they reset the password daily anyway to prevent outside users from mooching off the WiFi.
Another way to enjoy better connectivity is to try visiting common zones like lobbies, reception areas, and lounges.
This is because internet coverage might be restricted to a few parts of the hotel or accommodation.
So it helps to get up and walk about until you find a decent Wi-Fi signal.
But of course if you’re looking for a quiet spot with better internet coverage to work, this may not be the best solution.
Overall, it is difficult to obtain consistent and reliable WiFi.
But unplugging may be just what you need to devote all your travel time to sightseeing and exploring the place.
So don’t count out South America just because of this.
On the contrary, it’s quite worth it to disconnect from the virtual world while you’re there!
Q: Do I need to rent a car in South America? What’s the easiest way to get around South America?
A: In a lot of other areas of the world (North America, parts of Europe, Australia, Africa, etc.), not having a car means you’re not going anywhere.
But South America has some of the best public transportation anywhere in the world, and you can easily get around with buses or minibuses.
In fact, even those towns you would otherwise deem in the “middle of nowhere” have public transit that can get you from point A to point B.
Well, the ride just may not be as comfortable as a car.
It may be a bus, taxi, collective, moto-taxi, horse, rickshaw, you name it.
It may be slow and uncomfortable, but with just a little bit of money and a lot of patience, you’ll be on your way!
If this sounds like your speed as a backpacker (i.e. cheap), then add it to your South America trip itinerary.
Q: How do I avoid getting ripped off?
A: Every taxi will try to charge you a “gringo/gringa” tax.
What do you do?
Practice your bartering skills!
The best course of action is to ask a friendly local how much a taxi should cost.
This way, you’ll have a starting point of what’s fair.
In the event that you don’t know what a fair price is, you should haggle down the offered price by 2-3 pesos/dollars/soles/etc.
Unfortunately, you’re probably still overpaying, but don’t sweat it too much.
Your dollar will stretch farther than it does at home.
A small upcharge isn’t going to bankrupt you.
If the price really does seem unfair or outrageous, then feel free to walk away.
Don’t let a taxi driver scam you just because you’re not from the country.
And keep in mind that metered taxis aren’t automatically “safe.”
For example, in Chile, some taxi drivers actually adjust the meters to start higher for gringos.
Q: How do I find good Mexican food in South America?
A: This is a rookie mistake when planning your South America trip itinerary.
DO NOT and we mean DO NOT get your geography mixed up.
Mexico is not all that close to South America, and you’re not going to find that coveted burrito, quesadilla, margarita, or tortilla in South America.
It’s because Latin American food and culture is varied and incredibly different from country to country.
You may think Mexican food exists in South America because the places are similar, right?
That’s a misconception that too many people have.
And if you’re still doubtful, think about it this way, do you find amazing Mexican food in Europe?
Of course not – it’s a different continent.
Q: What’s the bathroom situation in South America?
A: We’re glad you asked because it sometimes surprises people.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys using toilet paper (and that’s not everyone – it depends on your culture and how you were raised), make sure you bring your own roll (BYOR).
Most public toilets won’t offer a toilet seat, soap, toilet paper, or anything to dry your hands with after washing.
You may stumble upon a public toilet that sells small squares of toilet paper, but you’ll end up paying a lot for them.
You can avoid this altogether by always having your own.
Although, we wouldn’t recommend having a whole roll with you at all times (how are you going to carry that around?).
Instead, carry a small travel pack of tissues, or snag a few extra sheets anytime you go to a non-public toilet.
Also FYI, if you do use toilet paper, don’t throw it in the toilet.
The plumbing in South America isn’t made for toilet paper, so you’ll end up clogging it, which makes a big mess for everyone else.
South America Itinerary
Your South America trip itinerary can be challenging.
Where do you start?
How do you even begin to plan?
We’ll give you some quick tips about creating your itinerary based on your desired destinations.
- Decide how long you want to travel. Unfortunately, while we’d all like to travel for months, most people can only get a week or two off of work. Decide how long you want to travel in South America. This will determine where you can go and what you can do.
- Be realistic. Based on the length of your trip, you may not be able to visit everything you want to see. That’s okay. It’s better to do multiple trips over your lifetime and cover at length a few places/countries at a time, rather than rush and try to squeeze everything into one trip. So it’s best to not overcrowd your South America trip itinerary with a ton of places that are impractical to explore over a short span.
- Choose your season. As you saw above, the season greatly impacts what you’re able to see attraction-wise. Plan your South America trip itinerary strategically so you’re in the right areas at the right time.
- Stay flexible. Looking for deals? The best way to find them is to be flexible with timing. This may not be possible if you’re looking to go over a holiday or are traveling with children who need to be in school. However, if at all possible, adjusting your South America trip itinerary to fit within a certain window of time can certainly help cut down on costs.
- Fly into the right airport. Did you know that certain South American airports are ideal for cheap flights? South America is divided into two pieces. “Deep” South America is Argentina, Brazil, and Chile while “Northern” South America is made up of the rest of the countries. If you’re flying from the United States, Northern South America is closer geographically and therefore enjoys cheaper flights due to the number of carriers who fly there.
- Focus on quality over quantity. Your South America trip is about what you see – not the number of passport stamps you get. From the outset, you’ll have to accept that you simply won’t be able to see everything at once, given the sheer size of the continent and the numerous experiences it offers. The weather won’t be ideal. Or you won’t have enough money. Or you won’t have enough time off. But that’s okay. This doesn’t have to be your one and only trip to South America.
As you plan, one great tool you can use to search for flights regardless of which country you’re starting from or going to is Skyscanner.
It’ll allow you to compare flight prices and select flexible dates of travel to ensure you get the best deal.
Latin America has so much to offer at every time of the year!
Be sure to plan your South America trip itinerary according to what’s good for that season or arrange to go at the time of the year that’s optimal for your plans.
We don’t know about you, but we certainly don’t want to trek Machu Picchu when it’s pouring rain.
It’s worth taking the time to create an itinerary that works well with what’s available and what nature is doing.
There’s so much to explore in both cities and nature.
Did you love our thoughts on your South America trip itinerary? Feel free to comment below!
Are you looking for the next stop to hit on your way home from South America?
Check out our Travel Tips for Costa Rica to Know Before You Go.
That’s right – we’ve got everything you need to know and more about countries you may want to visit.
And if you are looking for a step-by-step guide to help you plan your next trip, check out The Ultimate Guide to Trip Planning.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or simply do not have the time to plan your South America trip, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!