The Nature Lover’s South America Itinerary

Each itinerary in this series might take up to six or seven months to complete, but if you’re rushed, you could probably race through it in three or four. We spent eight months in each continent (South America, Asia), and covered off all the places in these itineraries at quite a leisurely pace, so go figure. 

All destinations mentioned here link to our full travel journals, so if you want to find out more detail about these wondrous places, click on the place name to be taken to the detailed portrayals of our adventures…

ARGENTINA

  • Puerto Iguazu (Iguazu Falls): Take an early local bus to avoid the tours, take the first train in the park and run along the walkways to the Devil’s Mouth for jaw-dropping views. Take a walk along the various trails for high panoramas and low trails for close-ups of the falls. It will be REALLY busy, but trails such as the 3.5K to the falls where you can swim offer some respite. If you have an extra day and cash for the visa, check out the Brazilian side for the best panoramas.
  • Puerto Madryn & Punta Tombo National Reserve: Head to this tiny seaside town to tour (or drive) into the Punta Tombo park for an unforgettable encounter with hundreds of thousands of penguins, from fluffy baby chicks to adults. Walk along the trail and pause whilst they cross in front (there are no barriers!); watch them swim and waddle; look into the distance and see nothing but endless penguins. Cuteness overload.
  • El Calafate & the Perito Moreno Glacier: Town itself is essentially just a tourist trap, but El Calafate is worth the trek for its star feature, the Perito Moreno glacier. You can reach it by local bus (don’t get drawn into a tour!) and go late in the afternoon, when the glacier is hottest and you’re likely to see a huge chunk of marbled white-blue ice (the size of several houses) smash down into the turquoise lake. There’s also great hiking in nearby El Chalten, but our knees were ruined after Torres del Paine so we skipped it.

CHILE

  • Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine National Park: This cool outdoorsy town full of micro-breweries and tasty Patagonian lamb is a great place to base yourself before trekking the ‘W’ route in the Torres del Paine park. Stunning glaciers, unreal turquoise lagoons, pebble beaches, bluebell woods and vibrant green mountains await as you scale mountainous peaks, ending with the granite ‘Torres’ spires themselves.
  • San Pedro de Atacama: Prepare yourself for a desert that’s 2438m above sea level. It’s dry, hot, and (at first) difficult to breathe, but this landscape rewards you in abundance. Numerous brilliant tours – from star gazing; to visiting geysers at dawn as they explode in the sunrise; thermal springs; salt caves and flats; jaw-dropping desert-scapes dotted with alpacas and desert foxes; and stunning Valle de la Luna. Also, eat llama! Delicious.

BOLIVIA

  • Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats): Needing little introduction, Salar de Uyuni is one of the best experiences of South America. Four days spent exploring deserts, stunning lakes of white, green and pink, flamingos flocking and flying, competing with llamas for attention, driving through quinoa fields and staying in hotels made of salt. That’s without mentioning the mesmerising flats themselves, Fisher Island made of cacti, the old railway cemetary, and the crazy fun bond you’ll make with your fellow jeep mates. Unmissable.
  • La Paz & The World’s Most Dangerous Road: We weren’t huge fans of La Paz as it’s quite built-up and polluted, but there’s the Witches’ market for textiles and llama fetuses (!) and a cable car for great views. Our favourite activity here was cycling the ‘Death Road’ – from high altitude to jungle – on death-defying hairpin bends with sheer drops (and no barriers!), under waterfalls, through stunning mountain sides and local farming communities. A truly white-knuckle unforgettable experience!
  • Coroico: A great place to end the ‘Death Road’ cycle, or just for some R&R. Coroico boasts several eco-reserves set in semi-tropical paradise in this jungle town. Kick back by the pool, star gaze, go tropical bird-watching, swing in a hammock, do some yogo, or do nothing at all. Bliss.
  • Isla del Sol: Beautiful Isla del Sol is the closest Bolivia has to a sense of the sea, as it’s set on gigantic Lake Titicaca which extends beyond its horizon. Spend a few days climbing Inca steps, walking through pretty farms and cornfields, saying hello to backyard llamas, eating fresh trout, and watching the unique ‘moon rises’ on the clear horizon. Take plenty of sunscreen and jumpers as you’ll get burnt in the day and freeze at night!

PERU

  • Cañon de Colca Trek: When we heard about the Colca Canyon, I imagined dusty rocks and a gravel path, but this couldn’t be more different. Verdant green mountains snake around trails, with buzzing wildlife, springs to bathe in, cacti and tiny villages where you can eat local delicacies like alpaca and sleep in huts. We even gained a little furry trekking buddy in the form of Perro, a stray dog, who walked with us for three days!
  • Machu Picchu: Undeniably a highlight of South America, this ancient Inka site is a true marvel, perched high above Peru seemingly floating, surrounded by incredibly advanced irrigated farming. There’s many ways to do it, but we conquered the trek independently for £45, walking through jungle, rivers and train tracks, stopping at little guesthouses en route. We even built in time for hot springs! You can usually buy entrance tickets the night before you want to go in nearby Aguas Calientes. Download offline maps (maps.me) and go for it!
  • Slow boat to Iquitos (Amazon Jungle): There are quicker ways to get to the Amazon Jungle, but the long boat is arguably the most immersive and atmospheric. For a crazy cheap price, you can spend 2-3 nights travelling down the Amazon, passing stilt villages to drop off/pick up cargo, mingle with local families, swing in a hammock in the open breeze and watch the best sunsets you’ll ever see. See our blog article for details.
  • Amazon Jungle Lodge: An absolute must for Peru, the Amazon is just incredible. Book a lodge for 5+ days, and you’ll spend your days on boats cruising the river with guides pointing out exotic creatures like monkeys, sloths, giant lizards, pink and grey dolphins and (if you have the stomach) adders, tarantulas and bats! You can trek the jungle for giant bugs and killer snakes, swim in the river, and fish for piranhas. We had an amazing guide and stayed in an excellent Lodge (Libertad) and we learnt and saw so much. We will definitely return!

ECUADOR

  • Baños: This pretty, quaint Ecuadorian town offers some stunning lookouts, as it’s in a basin surrounded by beautiful mountains. You can walk up to the ‘Bellavista’ white cross mirador; there are also local ‘chiva’ bus tours to surrounding countryside, and a swing positioned off the edge of a huge mountain. In town itself, we had a great time in the local hot springs, where you can duck under an exhilarating waterfall that flows right in.
  • Puerto Lopez: Tiny Puerto Lopez isn’t much more than a few dirt tracks, but the seaside town boasts some great sunsets, and also nearby Parc Nacional Machalilla which is really stunning and worth a daytrip, to see some beautiful deserted coastline, swim with boobies, and take n the miradors. You can also whale watch here (but we didn’t)
  • Montañita: Stoner surfer bliss, this little dusty town moves at a sloth-like pace, from beach to cafe, enjoying a chilled pace of life that proves addictive. We camped here for a week, sunbathing on the wide, beautiful beach and eating our weight in pancakes, fresh fruit and granola. There’s delicious fresh seafood, great bakeries and plenty of bars and clubs to keep you occupied. Kick back and relax!
  • The Galapagos Islands: Words truly escape me. Even if you think you can’t afford it, go. We did it independently and it was surprisingly affordable. The park entrance and any day tours are the main costs, but you can 100% do it easily without a cruise. Snorkel with sealions and giant Galapagos turtles; swim with a pyramid of golden stingrays and nurse sharks; meet the Northern-most penguin and tiny seahorses; see Sally Lightfoot crabs with their galaxy-patterned shells and pink lakes of flamingos; gawp at gnarly marine iguanas and unique blue-footed boobies; spend days on the beautiful sands and in the clear blue seas; go to the great free museums like the Darwin Centre and the Interpretation Centre; snorkel lakes with volcanic cores. This is only half of it! See our blog articles for full details. Oh, and be prepared for sea-sickness!

COLOMBIA

  • Salento: Epicentre of Colombia’s coffee district, Salento is a picturesque colonial town surrounded by mountains, with a permanent-holiday vibe. The town centre buzzes with stalls selling patacones and venues for playing explosive throwing game Tejah. Brilliant, cheap coffee tours abound at Don Eduardo’s plantation and nearby Valle de Cocora with its towering wax palms and hummingbird farm is an excellent day trip.
  • Sapzurro & Capurgana: A bit of a trek from Colombia, these tiny islands on the border with Panama offer a slice of hidden paradise for those who can brave the rocky boat to reach them. Avoid rainy season as it’s unrelenting, but otherwise these isles offer crystal clear water, white bays and hammock-hanging locals, and it’s easy to lose a few days here.
  • Tayrona National Park: Get lost in this beach and jungle paradise. Stay a few days (or a week!) and camp out under coconut trees, cook your meals on an open fire, and spend days wondering through the undergrowth spotting rainbow lizards and monkeys overhead. Swim in stunning turquoise bays, and sunbathe on peachy sands. The further you go, the more deserted the beaches, but this is firmly on the tourist map so don’t expect solitude!
  • San Gil: Gorgeous colonial town San Gil is a great place to base yourself for a few days of outdoor adventuring. Wild swim with ducks in Pescadito lake; raft down the terrifying class three rapids of the Rio Fonzo; daytrip on cheap local buses to the falls of Cascadas de Juan and sunbathe at the top with brave locals; relax in town and enjoy the great food markets, cheap lunch menus and people watching on the town square.

The Adventurous South America Itinerary

Each itinerary in this series might take up to six or seven months to complete, but if you’re rushed, you could probably race through it in three or four. We spent eight months in each continent (South America, Asia), and covered off all the places in these itineraries at quite a leisurely pace, so go figure. 

All destinations mentioned here link to our full travel journals, so if you want to find out more detail about these wondrous places, click on the place name to be taken to the detailed portrayals of our adventures…

CHILE

  • Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine National Park: This cool outdoorsy town full of micro-breweries and tasty Patagonian lamb is a great place to base yourself before trekking the ‘W’ route in the Torres del Paine park. Stunning glaciers, unreal turquoise lagoons, pebble beaches, bluebell woods and vibrant green mountains await as you scale mountainous peaks, ending with the granite ‘Torres’ spires themselves.
  • Pucon: This tiny town at the foot of huffing Volcan Villarica is a heaven for adventure lovers. Whether you’re kayaking out on the peninsula; trekking and swimming in the lakes of nearby Huerquehue National Park; hydrospeeding down class three rapids or climbing the volcano itself (subject to eruptions!) you’ll have a thrilling time. Check out award-winning Chili Kiwi Hostel for a unique place to sleep and meet new friends.
  • San Pedro de Atacama Desert: Prepare yourself for a desert that’s 2438m above sea level. It’s dry, hot, and (at first) difficult to breathe, but this landscape rewards you in abundance. Numerous brilliant tours – from star gazing; to visiting geysers at dawn as they explode in the sunrise; thermal springs; salt caves and flats; jaw-dropping desert-scapes dotted with alpacas and desert foxes; and stunning Valle de la Luna. Also, eat llama! Delicious.

BOLIVIA

  • Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats): Needing little introduction, Salar de Uyuni is one of the best experiences of South America. Four days spent exploring deserts, stunning lakes of white, green and pink, flamingos flocking and flying, competing with llamas for attention, driving through quinoa fields and staying in hotels made of salt. That’s without mentioning the mesmerising flats themselves, Fisher Island made of cacti, the old railway cemetary, and the crazy fun bond you’ll make with your fellow jeep mates. Unmissable.
  • La Paz & The World’s Most Dangerous Road: We weren’t huge fans of La Paz as it’s quite built-up and polluted, but there’s the Witches’ market for textiles and llama fetuses (!) and a cable car for great views. Our favourite activity here was cycling the ‘Death Road’ – from high altitude to jungle – on death-defying hairpin bends with sheer drops (and no barriers!), under waterfalls, through stunning mountain sides and local farming communities. A truly white-knuckle unforgettable experience!

PERU

  • Cañon de Colca Trek: When we heard about the Colca Canyon, I imagined dusty rocks and a gravel path, but this couldn’t be more different. Verdant green mountains snake around trails, with buzzing wildlife, springs to bathe in, cacti and tiny villages where you can eat local delicacies like alpaca and sleep in huts. We even gained a little furry trekking buddy in the form of Perro, a stray dog, who walked with us for three days!
  • Machu Picchu: Undeniably a highlight of South America, this ancient Inka site is a true marvel, perched high above Peru seemingly floating, surrounded by incredibly advanced irrigated farming. There’s many ways to do it, but we conquered the trek independently for £45, walking through jungle, rivers and train tracks, stopping at little guesthouses en route. We even built in time for hot springs! You can usually buy entrance tickets the night before you want to go in nearby Aguas Calientes. Download offline maps (maps.me) and go for it!
  • Huacachina: A surreal little oasis in the desert, Huacachina is essentially a tiny cluster of hotels around a lagoon, surrounded by vast desert! It’s the epicentre of sandboarding, which is SUPER fun. Dune buggies drive you up and down the HUGE slopes, and you board down on your stomach on narrow boards. A thrilling experience! Also a cool place to kick back by a pool and lap up some rays.
  • Huaraz & The Santa Cruz Trek: Huaraz is a pretty traditional town where you can try ‘cuy’ (guinea pig) and base yourself treks in the Cordillera Blanca high mountain range. We did the Santa Cruz trek, which was testing but rewarding – beautiful snow top mountains, turquoise lagoons, camping under the stars, and natural thermal springs, but also quite muddy, cold, and hard to breathe on the (very) high peaks!
  • The Ayahuasca Experience: A truly life-changing experience, a course of Ayahuasca ceremonies could be equated to years of counselling. Not for the feint-hearted, the Ayahuasca is transformative and intense, causing both visual hallucinations and personal epiphanies, through 6-8 hour trances. We chose to go with a trusted ‘medical’ shaman and completed our ceremonies alongside regular Iquito locals, rather than forking out thousands of pounds for a touristy Ayahuasca resort, and it was excellent. See our blog article for details.

ECUADOR

  • The Quilatoa Loop: Stunning 2-3 day walk that takes you through tiny indigenous towns, from stunning turquoise Quilatoa crater lake, through endless miles of pretty patchwork farmland, down sandy steep maze-like canyons, through hamlets dotted with bulls and sheep, via unbelievable lookouts. For the last stretch, you can also ride on the back of a local milk truck, which was super fun. The best thing in Ecuador after Galapagos.
  • The Galapagos Islands: Words truly escape me. Even if you think you can’t afford it, go. We did it independently and it was surprisingly affordable. The park entrance and any day tours are the main costs, but you can 100% do it easily without a cruise. Snorkel with sealions and giant Galapagos turtles; swim with a pyramid of golden stingrays and nurse sharks; meet the Northern-most penguin and tiny seahorses; see Sally Lightfoot crabs with their galaxy-patterned shells and pink lakes of flamingos; gawp at gnarly marine iguanas and unique blue-footed boobies; spend days on the beautiful sands and in the clear blue seas; go to the great free museums like the Darwin Centre and the Interpretation Centre; snorkel lakes with volcanic cores. This is only half of it! See our blog articles for full details. Oh, and be prepared for sea-sickness!

COLOMBIA

  • Sapzurro & Capurgana: A bit of a trek from Colombia, these tiny islands on the border with Panama offer a slice of hidden paradise for those who can brave the rocky boat to reach them. Avoid rainy season as it’s unrelenting, but otherwise these isles offer crystal clear water, white bays and hammock-hanging locals, and it’s easy to lose a few days here.
  • Cartagena: Colourful touristico Cartagena is made up of cobbly, pretty colonial streets, great restaurants, buzzy plazas on which to drink beer, museums, and a city wall dotted with canons. Nearby Volcan de Lodo el Totumo (an organic mud ‘volcano’) is fun to bathe in and escape the heat; Playa Blanca is a pretty (if over-developed) nearby beach. Town itself is great fun – at day, or to party at night. A good intro to Colombia!
  • San Gil: Gorgeous colonial town San Gil is a great place to base yourself for a few days of outdoor adventuring. Wild swim with ducks in Pescadito lake; raft down the terrifying class three rapids of the Rio Fonzo; daytrip on cheap local buses to the falls of Cascadas de Juan and sunbathe at the top with brave locals; relax in town and enjoy the great food markets, cheap lunch menus and people watching on the town square.