peru and bolivia itinerary

Flashpacker vs Budget 5-Week South America Backpacking Itinerary

So, you have five weeks to see the highlights of the incredible continent of South America - but with over 10 popular countries to choose from it can be hard to decide where to go and what route to follow. That’s why I’ve outlined out the perfect five-week flashpacker itinerary for South America that takes you through five countries, perfect for travellers who want to see as much as possible. Or, if you are on a budget, there's also a five-week budget itinerary too.

Contents

Can You Travel South America In Five Weeks?

Five weeks is the perfect amount of time in South America, and you should be able to tick off several countries.

 

The variety of routes you can take through South America is endless. But for five weeks in South America, I think the best route would be a circular one that starts in Argentina, heads south to Patagonia and then loops back around to see the highlights of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

 

The benefit of this type of backpacking route is that you are seeing the very best that South America has to offer. Yes, you’ll be taking more flights and it will cost more, but you you’ll have ticked all the boxes and won’t regret it.

 

If you prefer a more budget friendly approach to South America, don’t worry – there are two itineraries here: one more expensive and one more suitable for budget travellers which will be linked at the end of the post.

peru and bolivia itinerary

Flashpacker Five Week Itinerary For South America

This five-week itinerary is for travellers without a budget. You’ll be visiting Patagonia and the Galapagos Islands which are the two most expensive places in South America but also two of the best. Pick this itinerary if you want to see the best of South America.

 

Here’s the breakdown of this five-week South America backpacking itinerary:

Week 1 - Argentina

  • Day 1-3 – Buenos Aires
  • Day 4-6 – El Chatlen
  • Day 7 – El Calafate

Week 2 - CHile

  • Day 8 – Puerto Natales
  • Day 9-10 – Torres Del Paine National Park
  • Day 11-12 – Santiago
  • Day 13-14 – San Pedro De Atacama

Week 3 - Bolivia

  • Day 15-16 – Salt Flat Tour
  • Day 17 – Uyuni
  • Day 18-19 – La Paz
  • Day 20-21 – Copacabana

Week 4 - Peru

  • Day 22-23 – Cusco
  • Day 24-25- Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu
  • Day 26 – Cusco
  • Day 27-28 – Lima

Week 5 - Ecuador

  • Day 29 – Guayaquil
  • Day 30-31 – Galapagos Islands: San Cristobal
  • Day 32-34 – Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz
  • Day 35 – Quito

Week 1 - Argentina

Day Where? Highlights
1-3
Buenos Aires
Tango Show, La Boca
4-6
El Chatlen
Laguna De Los Tres Hike
7
El Calafate
Puerto Moreno Glacier

Day 1-3 - Buenos Aires

Start this 5-week South America itinerary with 3 days in one of the best capitals on the continent.  Buenos Aires is known as the “Paris of South America,” as it feels like your visiting a European capital.

 

Here some great things to do whilst in BA:

 

  • Tango – experience the city’s famous tango dancing and enjoy its delicious cuisine.
  • Visit La Boca – This colourful neighbourhood is known for its vibrant street art, tango shows, and its famous soccer team, Boca Juniors.
  • Take a Boat Tour on the Rio de la Plata – Taking a boat tour of the river is a great way to see the city from a different perspective and get a great view of the skyline.

For more reasons why this is such a great city to spend time in, head to the post below: 

 

 

Buenos Aires guide

Day 4-6 - El Chalten

El Chalten is known as the “Trekking Capital of Argentina”. You will have your pick of hikes from single day to multi-day options that take you into the beautiful Patagonian wilderness and Glacier National Park.  

 

One of the most iconic single day hikes is the Laguna de los Tres hike, popular for the sublime panoramic views it offers of Glaciar de Los Tres and Mount Fitz Roy. You can hike out-and-back to Laguna de Los Tres from El Chaltén in one day, but a popular option is to camp overnight near the lagoon and witness a fantastic sunrise the following morning.

 

The Laguna de los Tres trek is one of the best in Argentina as well as South America, and if you can only do one single day hike in Argentina’s Patagonia, this should be it.

If you are interested in spending more time in Chile and Argentina, check out the post below:

 

 

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Day 7 - El Calafate

The town of El Calafate is your base for seeing the epic Perito Moreno Glacier.

 

You can take in the views of this huge chunk of ice from the visitor centre or take a boat to get a up close and personal. If you are lucky, you may catch a chunk of ice falling off and crashing into the water below. One day is enough here to see the glacier before heading to Chile.

To see some alternative itineraries for this region, head to the post below:

 

 

glacier in south America

Week 2 - Chile

Chile is country two of five in this five-week South America itinerary. Here’s what you can look forward to in week 2: 

Day Where? Highlights
8
Puerto Natales
Rest Day
9-10
Torres Del Paine National Park
Lago Grey Trek
11-12
Santiago
Walking Tour, Sky Costerna
13-14
Atacama Desert
Valley Of The Moon, Salt Lagoons

Day 8 - Puerto Natales

You are a 5-hour bus and border crossing away from Chile and the town of Puerto Natales Take an early morning bus from El Calafate, so you arrive early afternoon.

 

Puerto Natales is the closest town to Torres Del Paine National Park. Take one day here to get your bearings, buy any last-minute gear for hiking, and prepare for the next few days of trekking.

Day 9-10 - Torres Del Paine National Park

Trekking in Torres Del Paine National Park is a hikers dream and there are many single day hikes to choose from.

 

As you only have a couple of days here, I would recommend the Lago Grey / Grey Glacier trek. The trek takes its name the picturesque glacial lake located at the southern end of the park. This is one of the best treks in the park due to the scenery on offer: on one side, the Patagonian mountains and on the other side, the bright blue Lake Grey.

 

You can spend one day trekking to the campsite at Grey Glacier, stay overnight and then trek back the next day before catching the bus back to Puerto Natales.

For a full list of the best single-day hikes in South America, head to the post below:

 

 

Cordillera del Paine, Torres Del Paine National Park (Chile)

Day 11-12 - Santiago

Once in the capital you can start with the walking tour to get your bearings and then visit one of the several museums Santiago has to offer.

 

I’d recommend Strawberry Walking Tours. They take you to several places in the city including Santa Lucia Hill to discover where Santiago’s history began, and through the Plaza de Armas to enjoy cosmopolitan Santiago. 

 

In the evening, head up to the top of the Sky Costerna, Santiago’s tallest building, to find the best views of the city.

 

For your second day, you can take a day trip outside of the city to Valparaiso, go trekking in the mountains or head to one of the many vineyards to try the best of Chilean wine.

Day 13-14 - Atacama Desert

The Atacama desert is a beautiful place but its sights are spread out meaning you have to book several different tours to try and see it all.

 

Alternatively, renting a car for a day or two means you can explore as much as you want without any time restrictions. Renting a 4×4 for the day should costs somewhere between $60-80 and if there is a group of you then the cost can be split between you.

 

Driving around the Atacama desert means you can see it all on your own terms. You can drive north to see the fields of geysers, then south to float in the salt lagoons before ending the day at ‘Valle de la Luna’ to see strange rock formations eroded over millions of years.

 

Also, whilst you are here, make sure you book onto your Salt Flat tour. This will be your transport from Atacama to Bolivia. I recommend Salty Desert Adventours.

The Atacama Desert itinerary below has all the information you need on how to rent a car, avoid expensive tours and drive to the best places in the desert:

 

 

picture of the desert in Atacama

Preparing for your first trip to South America? 

Here are 22 FAQ’s to help you prepare for the trip of a lifetime: 

Week 3 - Bolivia

Bolivia is country number three out of five on this five-week itinerary. 

Day Where? Highlights
15-16
Uyuni
Salt Flat Tour
17
Uyuni
Rest Day
18-19
La Paz
Cable Cars, Cholita Wrestling, Death Road
20-21
Copacabana
Lake Titicaca

Day 15-16 - Salt Flats Tour

One of the great things about a Salt Flat tour is that it also includes your transportation from Chile to Bolivia.The tour starts the morning of day 15 and picks you up in Atacama before taking you to the border and into Bolivia.  

 

The three-day/two-night salt flat tour will take you exploring on one of the most surreal landscapes in the world.

 

As you are doing this tour backwards, on the first day, the tour heads out across the high-altitude desert known as the Altiplano to see even wilder landscapes such as volcanoes, geysers, and beautiful high-altitude lakes full of flamingos.

 

Then the second day is spent on the actual salt flat taking the popular perspective and reflection photos for the gram. This is one of best tours in the whole of South America and shouldn’t be missed.

For more on the Uyuni Salt Flat Tour including the best tours companies and what to pack, head to the post below:

 

 

Day 17 - Uyuni

The salt flat tour will carry through to the morning of day 17, taking you to a couple more sights before dropping you in the town of Uyuni.

 

On this day you can either decide to fly straight to La Paz to carry on with the journey to save time or take a day to relax in Uyuni.

salt flats

Day 18-19 - La Paz

Once you reach La Paz you have an endless list of activities to choose from such as biking down Death Road, trekking in the ‘Valley of the Moon’, or climbing Huayna Potosi (known as the easiest 6000m mountain to climb in the world).

 

Aside from all the adventure activities, the city is also an incredible place to explore. When wandering around you will see the impressive cable cars and their lines stretching out to every corner of La Paz.

 

Some routes will go as high as 4,000m (13,000 ft) above sea level, and it’s a great see more of La Paz and get incredible views of the city.

 

2 days is a good amount of time to cover it all. I recommend riding down Death Road one day and then using the other day to explore in the city.

Follow the complete La Paz backpacking guide below to help you plan further:

 

 

Best Backpack For South America (Osprey Farpoint)
Best Backpack For South America (Osprey Farpoint)

Is This The Best Backpack For South America?

I love the Osprey Farpoint 50-70L.

 

It’s reasonably priced and perfect for first timers visiting South America.

 

Read more here about why it’s so great or head to the official site below:

Day 20-21 - Copacabana

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,810 metres above sea level. Half of it sits in Peru, the other half in Bolivia.

 

The town of Copacabana on the Bolivian side is a small but pretty place filled with local markets and artisan restaurants, but the lake itself is the must-see.

 

Fun activities include trekking to Cerro Calvario to get beautiful views of the lake and taking a boat tour to Isla del Sol which is the largest island on the lake.

Cable Cars Of La Paz (Bolivia)

Week 4 - Peru

Peru is country number four out of five on this itinerary. You have one weeks here with the highlight being Machu Pichu.

Day Where? Highlights
22-23
Cusco
Rainbow Mountain
24-25
Aguas Calientes
Machu Picchu
26
Cusco
City Day
27-28
Lima
Miraflores, Barranco

Day 22-23 - Cusco

Once in Cusco you have just one day to exploring the city and one day to explore its surroundings.

 

On your second day, I would recommend taking a day trip out of the city to see the beautiful Andean countryside. You can visit the popular Rainbow Mountain or one of the many other natural wonders such as Laguna Humantay at 4200m above sea level.

If you think a trip to Rainbow Mountain is for you, then head to the full guide below so you know what to expect:

 

 

Day 24-25 - Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu

On the morning of day 24, either take the bus or train to the town of Aguas Calientes. For a five-week itinerary, I would recommend the train as it only takes 3 hours in comparison to the bus which takes 9 (meaning you lose an entire day).

 

Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, take the evening to relax and get an early night in preparation for Machu Picchu.

 

Early on the morning of day 25, it’s finally time to climb the 1,600+ stairs up to Peru’s most popular tourist attraction – Machu Picchu.

 

When you need to leave depends on what time ticket you purchased. However, I would recommend trying to get a 6:00 AM ticket which is the earliest entry possible. Most people wake up around 4.30AM and wait outside the gates from 5:00 AM.

 

When the gates open you can start the hike. The alternative is to wait and take the bus which will get you to the top quicker. Either way, you’ll be one of the first people into Machu Picchu, catching the sunrise and largely having the place to yourself (at least for half an hour, until it becomes packed).

Whether you take the bus or the train to Machu Picchu, it’s a complicated journey and there’s lot you need to know. Luckily the guide linked below has everything you need:

 

 

machu picchu views

Day 26 - Cusco

Once you return to Aguas Calientes from Machu Picchu, you can either stay the night here or return to Cusco.  Either way, you should still stay one extra day to rest and recover and plan your next journey on this five-week itinerary.

 

For your final day in Cusco, I would recommend a massage to help those aching legs. Massages in Cusco are cheap, and you have several options from Swedish to deep tissue.

 

In the evening, you should make a reservation at Limbus Resto-bar which has one of the best views in the city. Try to get a booking around sunset and out on the terrace for incredible golden hour views of Cusco.

Head to the Cusco backpackers guide linked below for all the information you need:

 

 

Day 27-28 - Lima

Two days in the capital of Peru is more than enough to round off your time in Peru.

 

For your first day, start by exploring Miraflores and walking along the boardwalk where you will get some beautiful views of the ocean.

 

On your second, the bohemian district of Barranco is well worth checking out. This is the best place to find an authentic local restaurant to try some amazing regional dishes like ceviche. Barranco is also home to some great bars. Head to Ayahuasca bar to try one of the best Pisco Sours in Lima.

amazing coastal views in Lima

Week 5 - Ecuador

Ecuador is the fifth and final country on this five-week itinerary. However, most of your time will be spent on the Galapagos Islands.

Day Where? Highlights
29
Guayaquil
Rest Day
30-31
Galapagos Islands
San Cristobal Island
32-34
Galapagos Islands
Santa Cruz Island
35
Quito
Teleferico Cable Car

Day 29 - Guayaquil

There isn’t much in Guayaquil for backpackers, so take a day here just to rest and relax and get everything ready for your trip to the Galapagos Islands.

 

The full guide linked below has all the information you need from booking flights to what to pack:

 

 

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Day 30-31 - Galapagos Islands: San Cristobal

You have 5 days total on the Galapagos islands which gives you enough time to see two islands.

 

Flying into San Cristobal first is better as the town is a 5-minute taxi ride from the airport (compared to a 45-minute journey on Santa Cruz).

 

Start by exploring the island on your first day. You can walk to many of the best places which include museums, secluded beaches, and viewpoints. Aim to visit the Interpretation Centre, Cerro Tijeretas and Playa Punta Carola.

 

On the second day, book a tour to take you to see the highlands. This popular tour takes you to three unique places. Firstly, a highland lagoon to see nesting frigate birds and a collection of other bird species. The second stop is Puerto Chino, a secluded beach where you can see blue-footed boobies among the coastal rocks and catch marine iguanas and sea lions resting on the beach. The third and final stop is the Giant Tortoise Sanctuary. This is a semi-open enclosure where you can wander around and see these gentle giants up close.

For more on the Galapagos Islands:

 

 

Galapagos Islands From Above

Day 32-34 - Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz

On the morning of day 32, take the ferry to the next island. Santa Cruz is the more developed of the three main islands. The town has more restaurants and bars to enjoy, and a greater diversity of natural areas so you can spend more time exploring here.

 

The waterfront is a pleasant walk where you’ll come across the fish market set in front of a small harbour. The fish market is a popular place for tourists in town because Lupe the Sea Lion is there. Lupe has been visiting the market every day for around the last 10 years. Apparently, she turned up one day, got fed and hasn’t stopped coming back since.

 

After that, it’s a 20-minute walk from Puerto Ayora to get to the Darwin Research Centre. The centre is a fantastic educational space dedicated to the conservation of the rare animals that live on the Galapagos islands.

 

On your second day, a 45-minute walk from town will take you to one of the islands best beaches. Tortuga Bay is a secluded beach surrounded by mangrove trees. Along the beach, you can see marine iguanas crawling out of the sea and up onto the beach to warm up and if you go snorkelling, try looking for baby sharks, rays, and turtles in the mangroves. 

seal in south america

Day 35 - Quito

You have one final day left on this incredible five-week itinerary. As you’ll be flying back from the Galapagos Islands, this only gives you an afternoon to see Quito.

 

I would recommend taking the Teleferico cable car up to the summit of Pichincha Volcano. From here you get one of the best views of Quito. Aside from the birds eye view of the city, you also get 360 panoramic views of the countryside and if it’s a clear day you’ll be able to see Cotopaxi Volcano off in the distance.

For more on Quito,  head to the post below:

 

 

gondola overlooking Quito, Ecuador

Budget Friendly Five Week Itinerary For South America

This five-week itinerary is much more budget friendly that the last.

 

Skipping over the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia means your money will go a long way. Don’t worry though, you will still some of the best that South America has to offer including the Caribbean coast in Colombia, Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador, and Machu Picchu in Peru.

 

Here’s the complete breakdown of this budget five-week South America backpacking itinerary:

Week 1 - Colombia

  • Day 1 – Bogota
  • Day 2-3 – Santa Marta
  • Day 4-5 – Palomino
  • Day 6-7 – Medellin

Week 2 - Ecuador

  • Day 8 – Quito
  • Day 9-10 – Cotopaxi
  • Day 11-12 – Banos
  • Day 13 – Guayaquil

Week 3/4 - Peru

  • Day 14 – Lima
  • Day 15-16– Paracas
  • Day 17 – Huacachina
  • Day 18-19 – Cusco
  • Day 2021– Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu
  • Day 22 – Cusco
  • Day 23 – Bus To Copacabana

Week 5 - Bolivia

  • Day 24-25 – Copacabana
  • Day 26-27– La Paz
  • Day 28-31 – The Amazon
  • Day 32 – Uyuni
  • Day 3335 – Salt Flats Tour

This five-week budget itinerary outlined above is the same as the six week itinerary with the last week cut off.

 

This alternative route includes less flights and sticks to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. These countries are cheaper when compared to places like Chile, closer together, and the travel routes between them by bus and air are short and well-established meaning you are following the most efficient route.

 

This will make your five weeks feel effortless whilst maximising the amount of time you have in each country.

 To see this itinerary in full detail, head to the post below:

 

 

argentina lake and mountains

How Much Money Do You Need For Five Weeks In South America?

A good rule of thumb for backpacking South America is $500 a week. So, for five weeks of travelling around South America, I would budget a minimum of $2500.

 

However, the flashpacker five-week itinerary has you visiting five countries with several flights included. It also includes some of the best tours in South America such as Machu Picchu, the Salt Flats, the Galapagos Islands, and the W-trek in Torres Del Paine National Park.

 

These will also cost extra and add to your budget so therefore, I would recommend budgeting $3500 for this five-week itinerary. That gives you a budget of $700 a week.

 

That $700 a week won’t always be used, but it will be necessary when you come to book expensive flights and tours. For example, your week in Chile or on the Galapagos will likely cost around $800 whereas a week in Bolivia will be closer to $500.

South America Backpacking Itineraries - Torres Del Paine National Park

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