South America is a huge territory, and it can be intimidating to choose where to start. In order to help you to decide on a perfect South America backpacking route that is the best for you, I put together these 10-routes from 1-week to 6-week itineraries.
Whether you have some bucket list destinations that are unmissable, such as Hike Patagonia, explore Machu Picchu, or soak in the sun in Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, here you can find the perfect itinerary to South America backpack.
Why this is the most complete guide for Backpack in South America? Well, amigos, this guide is a collaboration between some professional travel bloggers from all over the world, who have put these routes together, combined with my experience as I was born and raised in South America. With so much expertise, here you can find the best route for you.
You will fall in love with the continent with an incredible variety of things to do, and places to visit from pristine beaches on the coast to lush forests, historical towns, ancient ruins, and towering mountains. In South America, you can also find some of the best hikes on the Planet.
Even better, it is very affordable and safe to travel around South America, doesn’t matter if your adventure includes hitchhiking or fly around your amazing South America backpack route.
Enjoy it and safe travels!
Finding the best South American backpacking route for you depends on a couple of things, and a good start is to ask yourself these 3 mains questions:
South America is without a doubt one of the most diverse continents on the Planet. Here you can find the largest forest in the world, the Amazon. It is home to the world’s second-highest mountain ranges in the Anes. You can also find world-class surf beaches. Plus you can explore glaciers, deserts and very unique wildlife.
South America attracts and older and more experienced backpacker visitors than Southeast Asia, and here you have plenty of options to get off-the-beaten-path, and it is definitely one of the ultimate backpacking destinations.
|Brazil||São Paulo | Paraty | Rio de Janeiro||1- Week||Have a taste of Brazil with this 1-week route, great for fun, culture, and outdoor lovers. Enjoy the amazing local cuisine and art in Paraty. Visit the main spots of the 2 major cities in Brazil.|
|Brazil||São Paulo | Curitiba | Iguaçu Falls | Florianopolis||2- Weeks||Cultural visit in São Paulo with many museums to explore. Curitiba is a very unique and modern city, and follow to one of the Wonders of the World, the Iguaçu Falls. Florianopolis is a paradise for outdoor lovers and surfer.|
|Argentina & Chile||Buenos Aires | Puerto Madryn | Ushuaia | Torres Del Paine | Perito Moreno | Bariloche | Santiago | Valparaiso | Mendoza | Salta | Iguaçu Falls||3 - 6 Weeks||With this itinerary, you are able to explore the big highlights of both countries. With lots of outdoor activities and wildlife along the way. Visit wineries in Argentina, go hiking, and whale watching on this route.|
|Bolivia & Chile||La Paz | Uyuni | San Pedro de Atacama |||1 - Week||You can do this route in only 1-week on an off-road adventure. This is a short length route, but full of adventure along the way.|
|Colombia & Peru||Cartagena | Medellin | Bogota | Lima | Arequipa | Cusco | Machu Picchu||3 - 4 - Weeks||Visit some of the main cities in both countries. Enjoy the phenomenal cuisine and learn more about the ancient history of the Incas. Visit the incredible Colca Canyon and the ancient town of Machu Picchu|
|Ecuador||Quito | Cotopaxi Volcano | Quilotoa Crater Lake | Mitad del Mundo| Cuenca |||9 - 14 Days||Explore Quito and enjoy some day trips to Cotopaxi Volcano & Quilotoa Crater. For outdoor lovers, go hike in Las Cajas National Park.|
|Patagonia - Chile & Argentina||Starts in Puerto Montt | Finish in Puerto Natales||2 - 3 Weeks||This off-the-beaten-path route is about 1,243 miles. It is a great route for adventure travelers and for hitchhiking. Plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and mountain-bike|
|Peru||Cuzco | Machu Picchu | Arequipa | Chivay | Valle del Colca | Puno | Lake Titicaca||2 - Weeks||This amazing route is the best option to visit the main highlights in Peru. Great for adventure travelers with plenty of outdoor activities. Visit the ancient town of Machu Picchu and go hike the Montaña Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. Go hike the Colca Canyon and visit the incredible floating islands at Lake Titicaca.|
|Colombia & Argentina||Bogota | Medellin | Lima | Buenos Aires | Patagonia||2 - 3 Weeks||This route takes you to the best cities in South America. With plenty of cultural options and also, to enjoy the incredible local cuisine.|
|Chile & Argentina||San Pedro de Atacama | Atacama desert | Valparaiso | Santiago | Mendoza | Buenos Aires||4 - 6 Weeks||If you have more time to backpack South America this is the perfect route for you. Great for adventure travelers and hitchhiking/ camping. Travel slower and on a budget, seeing the most amazing spots of each country.|
HOW TO GET TO SOUTH AMERICA: There are several airlines for you to choose from, depending on your departure location. The best way to start your South America backpacking route is to fly to a large city. I recommend you browse and compare prices for the BEST DEAL with Expedia or Skyscanner to find the best options for flights.
BUDGET: The good news is that backpacking in South America is very affordable, especially if you are traveling from other parts of the world such as the US or Europe when the exchange rate is really good. Planning an average budget of $50 to $100 USD per day/ person is relatively easy.
TRANSPORTATION: When you choose to backpack in South America, it is important to know that it is generally easy to get around the continent. It is really inexpensive to travel by bus or fly. Trains are relatively rare in South America. If you decide to rent a car, it is also a good option as you can find the major international rental car companies in the main airports. South America is also safe if you decide to hitchhike around.
GROUP & PRIVATE TOURS: Group or private tours are also great options, especially for some activities. A safe and great option I recommend is to book through Get Your Guide, as they have many options for tours, and you can plan and book ahead.
ACCOMMODATIONS: You can find a large range of accommodations from a budget hostel or basic hotel to a large hotel chain. Make sure you book your accommodations from a reliable source, where you can also make cancelations within 24-hours – Booking.com is my first option, and I recommend it because of the thousands of reliable options.
SAFETY: Backpacking in South America is safe, as long as you pre-plan your route. Have a plan on where you will stay, what transportation will you take, and places you want to visit. Also, leave your jewelry at home, and watch your electronics closely.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Don’t travel to South America without Travel Insurance, as anything can go wrong. I use and recommend World Nomads, as they are the best option for travel insurance that fits any kind of adventure.
LANGUAGE: Don’t expect many people to speak English outside the major cities in South America. I recommend trying to learn some basic Spanish before your trip, or Portuguese if you are traveling to Brazil. It can be as easy as these 13 cools ways to learn Spanish without leaving home. If you don’t have the chance to learn the language, you can take with you a Spanish phrasebook or if you are going to Brazil take a Portuguese phrasebook. Or take a Translator device is also a good option.
WHEN TO VISIT SOUTH AMERICA: It really depends where you are going. The countries near the equator do not experience distinct seasons. As you go further south, the more seasonal the climate. Remember that the southern hemisphere seasons are reversed, with summer roughly from November to February, and winter from June to August. The high season for all countries in South America is from December-February. Check the weather for the destination you are going to.
One of the best destinations in South America for backpackers is Brazil. Besides being the largest country in South America, it is ironically a great destination for a 1-week only. It happens because of the large variety of options of places to visit within São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro states – and they are only 6-hours driving apart. If you are planning a trip to Brazil, this is a great route for you to experience the fun, culture, and beauty of this vast country.
DAYS 1-2: SÃO PAULO
Start your this South America backpack route in the largest city in Brazil, São Paulo. You have the option to hire a private guide or to visit by yourself. Visit the Park Ibirapuera, an urban oasis in the middle of the city. Visit the Vila Mariana known as the bohemian, culture, and art neighborhood. On the second day, visit the Cathedral da Sé in the city center, Municipal Theater which is one of the most important landmarks in São Paulo, and have lunch at the Mercado Municipal. You can rent a bike and ride down the Avenida Paulista, the city’s most important road. If you have more time, you can take amazing day-trips from São Paulo.
DAY 3-4: PARATY, RIO DE JANEIRO
Head to Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state (5-hour driving distance). You can take a bus or rent a car. Here you can enjoy one of the most spectacular settings of preserved colonial center, the incredible ocean, surrounded by the mountains. Take a boat tour for the day and go on an island hop. You can do kayaking, the city center sightseeing tour and also, take a Jungle-jeep tour and visit the many incredible waterfalls.
DAY 5-7: RIO DE JANEIRO
From Paraty, go to Rio. You can take a bus or rent a car and drive for less than 4-hours. In days you can have the taste of this marvelous city, and to get to learn some of the Rio amazing fun facts. If you take a private tour, you get to visit the main attractions in the city in as short as one day and use the second day to soak by the Copacabana Beach and enjoy some coconut water, while watching the incredible views of your surroundings.
If you have weeks to spend backpacking in Brazil, this is the best route for you. The majority of the international flights arrive at the airport in São Paulo. If this is your case, start your trip to São Paulo. If you fly to Rio, you can start your 2-week in Brazil route spending the first few days before you continue your trip.
DAYS 1-3: SÃO PAULO
You can follow the same itinerary for São Paulo suggested above, or you can hire a private driver to explore more this large and amazing city. São Paulo has also many museums to visit, and if you have more time, the best ones are: Pinacoteca, MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), Museu do Ipiranga, Museu de Art Moderna (MAM).
DAY 4-7: CURITIBA, PARANA
From São Paulo, head to the south of Brazil to another amazing large city, Curitiba. It is less than 6-hour driving/ bus or you can take a 1-hour flight. Here you can explore one of the greenest cities in the world. You can hire a private driver or explore by yourself. Visit the unique Wire Opera House, sample some international food and drinks in the Italian Woods neighborhood, take a walking tour of the historic district and enjoy other great activities, such as the scenic train ride Curitiba-Paranaguá.
DAY 8-10: IGUAÇU FALLS
Head next to Iguaçu Falls, to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. You can take a short and cheap flight from Curitiba, or take a bus/ car for an 8-hour drive. You can visit the waterfalls in different ways, like by walking or boat tours. While in the area, you can walk along two bridges, as Iguaçu City is located at the triple border of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. You need to buy your ticket in advance – check here for the tickets.
DAY 11-14: FLORIANÓPOLIS, SANTA CATARINA
From Curitiba, head to Florianopolis for some relaxation on this magical island. It is less than a 5-hour drive/ car or you can take an affordable domestic flight. Floripa, as the locals call, is filled with white-sand beaches, diverse hiking trails, and lush rainforests. The center of the island has a hippie vibe, with a trendy area and rustic restaurants, perfect for backpackers.
If you have 3 weeks to backpack in South America this is a great route. But if you have more time to explore slower each location, it is even better. Traveling to the most southern tip of South America is one of the best trips you can make! Spend three to six weeks exploring the most beautiful destinations in Argentina and Chile with this bucket list Argentina-Chile travel itinerary, covering all the big highlights of both countries.
DAYS 1-2: BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Start your trip in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and of the tango. The city has many landmarks, museums, restaurants, and different neighborhoods to keep you entertained for weeks. Try to keep your stay limited to a few days, especially as you’ll be coming back at the end of your trip.
DAY 3-4: PUERTO MADRYN
Head to Puerto Madryn and the Peninsula Valdes by bus. This is one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Argentina, known for its whale watching opportunities June-December. There are penguins, elephant seals, and other wildlife as well – Check for tickets here.
DAYS 5-7: USHUAIA
Take the bus further south to the most southern city in the world: Ushuaia. It’s a great place for skiing, exploring small glaciers, and hiking in the Tierra del Fuego national park.
DAYS 8-11: TORRES DEL PAINE
Your next stop should be Torres del Paine, one of the most stunning reserves for multiday hikes. You’ll see wildlife, camp in beautiful places, and enjoy some stunning glaciers.
DAYS 12-14: PERITO MORENO
Take the bus to the biggest glaciers outside the poles next: the Perito Moreno. There is not much else to do in the area, so don’t stay too long and just focus on a trip to the glacier.
DAYS 15-16 BARILOCHE:
Head to Bariloche for its stunning lake district next, cross the border with Chile and enjoy the lakes from the Chilean side as well before heading up north. Both are great places for hiking.
DAY 17 SANTIAGO & VALPARAISO, CHILE – Chile’s capital Santiago is your next stop, but make sure to include a day trip to graffiti capital Valparaiso as well.
DAYS 18-19 MENDOZA – Cross the border once more and visit Mendoza in the wine region of Argentina to make a wine tour and visit some wineries for tastings.
DAY 20 SALTA – Salta is your next stop. This charming small town has plenty of things to do, so take your time to visit the salt flats, Purmamarca mountains, the vineyards, and canyons.
DAY 21 IGUAÇU FALLS – If you have enough time, you could add the Iguazu waterfalls to this itinerary, but it takes a while to reach them. Otherwise, head back to Buenos Aires to fly home.
Only have a week to backpack South America, but want to squeeze in an off-road adventure? Bring your energy, because this grueling itinerary takes you through some of the most surreal landscapes on the planet.
DAYS 1-2: LA PAZ, BOLIVIA
Start your journey in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital and city in the clouds. Sitting at 3,640 meters above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. If you are coming from a lower elevation, be sure to take it easy your first day to give your body time to acclimate. A great relaxing activity is to ride the public transit gondolas that whisk local commuters around La Paz. One day 2, explore the city. In the evening grab the 9-hour overnight bus to the desert town of Uyuni.
DAY 3-5: UYUNI ROAD TRIP
There isn’t much to see in Uyuni apart from a “train graveyard,” but you won’t be staying here overnight anyway. Instead, pre-book a three-day 4WD tour through the Uyuni Salt Flats, one of the most popular activities in Bolivia.
The Uyuni Salt Flats route is plied by dozens of jeeps every day and is one of the most quintessential backpacker experiences in South America. You and your traveling companions will spend your days exploring otherworldly landscapes, including the famous Uyuni Salt flats, where endless salt flats let photographers play with perspective.
DAYS 6-7: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, CHILE
Another amazing route to backpack South America, and explore from the tropical Paradise in the Caribean to uncover one of the top destinations in South America, Peru and the amazing cuisine to the ancient history of the Incas. You can do this route in 3 weeks and if you have more time to explore South America, extend your stay to 4-weeks.
DAYS 1-4: CARTAGENA AND AROUND, COLOMBIA
Start your backpacking adventure in Colombia and the Northern beach town of Cartagena. Admire the colonial architecture in the Walled City (Old City) before taking a few days to explore the islands of Tierra Bomba – a tropical paradise in the Caribbean.
DAY 5-9: MEDELLIN
A 13-hour bus journey south through rural Colombia brings you to the famous city of Medellin. Once home to the infamous Narcoterrorist Pablo Escobar, Medellin was once considered the most dangerous city in the world. Discover the city’s tumultuous past on a Comuna 13 tour and conquer the 740 step ascent of El Peñón de Guatapé.
DAYS 10-12: BOGOTA
DAYS 13-15: LIMA, PERU
Your final destination on your whistle-stop 3 to 4-week backpacking tour around South America is Cusco. Explore the heart of Sacred Valley at the Moray ruins and Maras Salt mines, before heading off to the highlight of any South America excursion: Machu Picchu – Check train tickets here.
DAYS 20-21: MACHU PICCHU
Discover the history of the famous Inca ruins on a day-trip from Ollantaytambo, or via the 3 day Inca trek. Whichever way you choose to explore Machu Picchu, it is sure to provide a wonderful culmination to your trip!
Ecuador is one of the best and epic routes to Backpack in South America. With plenty of budget options and easy and cheap transportation between places. The ideal length of this Ecuador route is 9-14 days. You have several options of day-trips from Quito, or you can always spend more time in each place if you have the ability to. For easy day trips from Quito, visit the Cotopaxi Volcano and the Quilotoa Crater Lake for excellent hiking, located 50 km and 170 km away from Quito, respectively.
DAYS 1-4: QUITO, ECUADOR
DAY 5: COTOPAXI VOLCANO (option of a day trip from Quito)
DAYS 6: QUILOTOA CRATER LAKE (option of a day trip from Quito)
DAYS 7: MITAD DEL MUNDO (option of a day trip from Quito)
Another must-see day trip location from Quito is the Mitad del Mundo, to experience the iconic sensation of standing with “one foot in each hemisphere!” You can book a day tour, take a bus, or take an Uber round-trip.
DAYS 8-9: CUENCA
Traveling across Patagonia is an amazing backpacking experience. The suggested route starts in Puerto Montt and finishes in Puerto Natales.
The total distance of the route is about 1243 miles (2000 km) and takes between 2 to 3 weeks to complete, depending on how many stops you want to make.
This backpacking route in South America includes off-the-beaten-path places and famous landmarks in two countries, Chile and Argentina.
Hitchhiking is the most adventurous way of traveling through the region. Patagonia is one of the best places for hitchhiking; it’s safe, there are no dangerous wild animals, locals are very friendly and helpful. If hitchhiking is not your cup of tea you can explore the region by car or use local buses to commute between the towns and to cover long distances.
Cheap accommodation like camping and hostels is in abundance in the region which means traveling here can be done on a tight budget.
The big part of the route, 1200 km is on the Carretera Austral in Chile, a spectacular area with many outdoor activities. The scenery along the Carretera is fantastic; lush green forest, turquoise color lakes, mountain rivers, beautiful waterfalls, and picturesque mountains. The area has many incredible one-day and multi-day hikes, mountain-biking trails, and great spots for rafting and kayaking.
The Argentinian part of the route includes El Chalten, the hiking-capital of the country, and Perito Moreno Glacier, the most impressive natural attraction in this part of the world. Both places offer some incredible adventure experiences like hiking, rock climbing, glacier hiking, and kayaking.
The route ends in Puerto Natales, a small town that is used as a gateway to the famous Torres del Paine National Park. The park is well-known as one of the best places for hiking in the region.
There are two challenging long-distance treks and many easy day-hikes.
Peru is a bucket list destination Backpack in South America for any backpacker lover. This is because of the variety of things to do and see while doing this route. With plenty of Inca historical sites to visit, to the phenomenal local cuisine, to some of the best hikes in South America making it a paradise for Adventure Travelers – Plus, travel in Peru is very cheap. Ideally, this route takes 2-weeks, but if you have less time, you can always skip some attractions and still explore Peru in less time. The best transportation options to travel around Peru are buses for long-distance, small group tour vans, and hiring a private driver to take you to sites around the Cusco region, as the prices are very affordable.
DAYS 1-3: CUZCO
Start this incredible South America backpack route in Cuzco, the archaeological capital of the Americas. Plan to spend a few days in Cusco, acclimatizing to the altitude (11,152 ft.). Make sure to visit the Cathedral in the main scare and explore the busy city local market and the incredible local cuisine.
DAYS 4: DAY TRIPS FROM CUSCO
Take a day trip from Cusco going on small group tours. Explore the fascinating Sacred Valley. Visit the ancient site of Pisac, the incredible Salinas de Maras, the sacred valley of Urubamba, and the ancient Inca temple and fortress of Ollantaytambo.
DAYS 5-6: AGUAS CALIENTES & MACHU PICCHU
You can go on a private tour or take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The next morning get up early and take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and spend the day exploring the ancient city. You have the choice to climb the Montaña Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu – you need to buy the ticket in advance.
DAYS 7-9: AREQUIPA
When deciding which route to take on your South America backpacking trip you may be spoiled for choice. One route that you may want to consider to be able to see some of South America’s best cities would see you starting in Colombia’s capital and heading down to the Southern cone.
DAY 1-3: BOGOTA, COLOMBIA
Flying into Bogota, Colombia from the US or Europe you can get quickly get acquainted with the La Candelaria neighborhood, (a great place to try the best Colombian Food from all regions) and to see some of the country’s best museums and architecture.
DAY 4-7: MEDELLIN
travel by bus up to Medellin (10 hrs) to explore the city of the eternal spring and to try the infamous Banjea Paisa. In Medellin, you can enjoy places such as the El Poblado neighborhood and take a trip to a local coffee farm
DAY 8-10: LIMA, PERU
From Medellin take a plane directly to Lima (3 hrs) and explore the architecture of the colonial buildings the Centro Historico. Then do some souvenir shopping in Miraflores and spend a couple of nights in Barranco, Lima’s bohemian neighborhood where you’ll try some of Peru’s finest ceviche
DAYS 11-14: BUENOS AIRES
From Lima, you can get a direct flight to Buenos Aires (4 hrs) or even take the bus (72 hrs). On arrival to Buenos Aires head over to San Telmo, the oldest neighborhood in the city and be sure to see the bustling Sunday market there.
DAYS 14-21: PATAGONIA (suggested week 2 itinerary)
From Buenos Aires, you can extend this itinerary and travel to any other country in Latin America or head down to Patagonia and visit Punta Tombo, which is one of the best spots in Argentina to see the penguins.
For the adventurous backpacker, the hitchhiking / camping trip from Chile to Argentina is an unforgettable and rewarding experience. This backpack South American route begins after a tour of Bolivia’s famous Uyuni salt flats, with San Pedro de Atacama being the drop-off point, and ends at the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aries. The whole trip can take between 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the number of stop-offs and luck at hitching a ride.
Hitchhiking is safe and straightforward in Chile and Argentina, with many friendly truckers wanting some company or just happy to give a helping hand. What’s more, is that these countries are perfect for camping. Chile’s Route 5 highway runs close to beaches which are a great spot to camp, and the Atacama desert is considered one of the best places in the world to see stars at night. The Argentinian countryside has plenty of forests, lakes, and campsites to enjoy the remote and beautiful outdoors.
Learning basic Spanish beforehand would be a bonus on this trip while spending the long hours with hitchhiking rides. Traveling as a couple is recommended for some company during those long waits to be picked up!
WEEK 1: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, BOLIVIA TO ANTOFAGASTA, CHILE
From San Pedro, hitchhike west to the coastal city of Antofagasta, where camping supplies can be bought at the mall. On the outskirts of town is the surreal sculpture Mano de Desierto (hand of the desert), which is worth visiting.
WEEK 2: ATACAMA
Next, hitch a ride south, through the Atacama desert and towards La Serena, known for its beautiful beaches and historic churches. There are many towns along the coast worth exploring and camping on the beaches, such as Caldera and Puerto Viejo.
WEEK 3: VALPARAISO & SANTIAGO
Continue south towards the trendy city of Valparaiso, full of brightly colored houses and creative street art. The Capital city of Santiago is just 70 miles east of here, which is the last stop in Chile before crossing the border into Argentina.
WEEK 4: MENDOZA TO BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
After crossing the border is Mendoza, Argentina’s most important city for producing wine and famous for winery tours. The Hitchhiking route will head east across the beautiful Argentinian Countryside. Some excellent stop-off points are the nature city of San Luis and the small town of Merlot, that’s surrounded by a spectacular mountainous landscape. Follow the route north towards the city of Cordoba, Argentina’s second-largest city. Then onto Buenos Aries, which is the final stop of this epic South American route!
Well amigos, by now you can see that Backpacking South America is a dream destination for any adventurer traveler as it offers a large variety of incredible things to do, see and explore. There is a route for any adventure traveler or any taste or personal interest to choose from.
Backpacking to South America is also an inexpensive trip where you can make the most of your budget. Also, it is safe to backpack in South America, as long as you plan and prepare before your trip.
To really experience and emerge on the local culture, try not to stay at chain hotels or eat at fancy-touristy restaurants. I don’t even need to mention to NEVER eat at fast food. Support the local economy in any way possible as eating at local restaurants, and by hiring a local guide when possible.
When visiting remote places and interacting with indigenous villages or small communities, always ask before taking photos. Always show them the respect they all deserve.
I hope you found this guide to the best South America backpacking routes valuable, and if you have any additional questions, please just leave me a comment below.
South America is the place I was born and raised, and I am so proud to share my homeland with you.
I hope you have the best time of your life and Safe Travels!
If you are going to travel to South America, pre-planning, research, and understanding what you are looking for will help make your travels far more successful and safe.
Here is some further information I think you might need to plan your trip: