Route #1 - Bolivia, Chile and North Argentina Backpacking Itinerary
This route starts in La Paz makes it way down to Uyuni, crossing the border here to Chile. This is a common route and efficient as the Uyuni Salt Flat tour drops you at the Chilean border.
This route can either be turned into a full circle, returning to Bolivia, or you can end up in Buenos Aires to finish if you prefer.
Here is the complete 1-month Bolivia, Chile and North Argentina itinerary:
- Day 1-3 – La Paz, Bolivia
- Day 4-6 – Rurrenabaque and the Amazon, Bolivia
- Day 7-9 – Uyuni Salt Flats Tour, Bolivia
- Day 10-13 – Atacama Desert, Chile
- Day 14-16 – Santiago, Chile
- Day 17-20 – Mendoza, Argentina
- Day 21-23 – Cafayate, Argentina
- Day 24-26 – Salta, Argentina
- Day 27-30 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Day 1-3 - La Paz
La Paz is the thriving capital of Bolivia and your first stop on this itinerary.
For your day in the city, book onto a Red Cap walking tour to explore the sprawl that is La Paz, ride the cable cars around to some incredible viewpoints and then spend the evening enjoying the lively bar and club scene.
You also have one full day of adrenaline-fuelled fun on the Death Road tour. Your heart will be in your mouth as you bike down one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
Day 4-6 - The Amazon
Visiting the Amazon in Bolivia is much cheaper and easier compared to other countries in South America.
First, you need to get yourself to the town of Rurrenabaque which is either a short 20-minute flight or a 20-hour night bus from La Paz. We know which one we would choose.
From Rurrenabaque you can book a tour taking you into the jungle. Most Amazon tours are 3 days and two nights.
The Pampas tour is the most popular among backpackers. On the tour, your days will be spent on a longboat winding through the tributaries of the Amazon searching for caimans, anacondas, and exotic birds. You can even go swimming with pink river dolphins!
This is one of the best tours in South America and a fraction of a the price it would cost in countries like Brazil or Colombia.
Our complete guide to getting to Rurrenabaque and finding and booking an amazon tour can be found here:
Day 7-9 - Uyuni Salt Flats
Your next stop is to the town of Uyuni, most famous for the beautiful Salt Flats.
The three-day/two-night tour will take you exploring one of the most surreal landscapes in the world. This is one of the best tours in the whole of South America and shouldn’t be missed.
Day 1 is spent on the actual salt flat taking the all-important perspective and reflection photos before spending a night in the famous salt hotel. Day 2 takes you out across the high-altitude desert to see even wilder landscapes such as volcanoes, geysers, and beautiful high-altitude lakes full of flamingos.
The salt flats tour then drops you off at the Chilean border where you can take a short bus to the town of San Pedro De Atacama. Nice and easy!
For more on the Uyuni Salt Flat Tour including the best companies to book with, head to the post below:
Day 10-13 - Atacama Desert
Your mind may have just been blown with volcanoes, high-altitude lagoons, and surreal landscapes on the salt flats tour, but it doesn’t stop there.
Just across the border, the Atacama Desert has even more incredible landscapes worth checking out.
Why not rent a car and explore it yourself this time? You can head to the ‘Valle de la Luna’ to see strange rock formations eroded over millions of years, go sandboarding in ‘Death Valley’ or float in the tranquil salt lagoons of the desert surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.
Check out our Atacama Desert itinerary for more information on the best places to visit:
Day 14-16 - Santiago
Santiago is a long drive away from Atacama so best to take a short 1-hour flight. 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.
For any extra days you wish to stay, you can take day trips 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.
For more expertly planned South America backpacking itineraries, be sure to check out this post:
Day 17-20 - Mendoza
It’s a short hop across the border to Mendoza, Argentina’s best wine-producing region.
Whilst here, one of the best things to do is head out to the vineyards, rent a bike, and hit up all the different bodegas on a self-guided tour.
You can pay a small amount for a tasting at each bodega, and you will end the day rather tipsy. Lots of backpackers do this and everyone else biking around ends up back at Maipu Bikes for a final round of drinks.
Other activities include trekking around Cerro Aconcagua the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere or escaping to Lake Potrerillos – a 7-mile- (12-kilometer-) long lake, fed by the Mendoza River. You can take a relaxing stroll around the lake’s edge for breath-taking views of the rugged landscape or for adventure travellers, go rafting or river boarding down the rapids of the Mendoza River.
Check out our North Argentina backpacking itinerary for more great ideas on some extra stops you can add to this part of the itinerary:
Day 21-23 - Cafayate
Cafayate is a must for wine lovers and follows on perfectly from a stay in Mendoza.
The town is the wine-producing region of the northwest of Argentina and is one of the world’s highest suitable locations for growing grapes. It’s second only to Mendoza as one of the best wine-producing regions in the country.
Check out our full guide to the town including the best bodegas and vineyards to visit here:
Day 24-26 - Salta
Salta is the biggest city in the northwest of Argentina. It’s full of interesting sights such as the Museum of High-Altitude Archaeology (MAAM) which contains a perfectly preserved mummified corpse of an Andean child, thought to be sacrificed by her tribe hundreds of ago.
If that’s not your cup of tea, then the Teleferico cable car will take you to top of San Bernardo Hill for great views of the city or you can head to Calle Balcare to party with the locals.
Salta is also great to use as a base for exploring the countryside. You can take a day trip out to Cabra Corral Dam for some adrenaline-fuelled activities such as bungee jumping or visit the smaller towns like Chicoana or Cachi as day trips.
Day 27-30 - Buenos Aires
After your time in Salta, you have two options: you can head up Route 9 to visit the awesome towns of Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Tilcara before then crossing the border back into Bolivia. Or you can travel to Buenos Aires and finish up your trip here.
If you want to return to Bolivia, then the town closest to the border is Humahuaca where you can find Argentina’s beautiful Rainbow Mountain. Then just across the border in Bolivia is the town of Tupiza. Both towns are worth a day or two and the border crossing is simple.
From Tupiza, it’s a 4-hour bus back to Uyuni where you can travel to other parts of the country such as Sucre or return to La Paz.
This route can also be done easily in the other direction.
Fly to BA then travel the north of Argentina down to Mendoza. Then cross the border in the opposite direction to Santiago. In Atacama, you can take the Salt Flat tour in the opposite direction ending in Uyuni before travelling the rest of Bolivia.
Simply pick the direction that works best for you!
Route #2 - Bolivia and Patagonia (Chile & Argentina) Backpacking Itinerary
This route skips over the north of Argentina in favour of Patagonia, hitting all the highlights in the south of Chile and Argentina before ending in Buenos Aires again.
There are one or two days less in some of the bigger cities to make more time for Patagonia.
Here is the complete 1-month Bolivia and Patagonia itinerary:
- Day 1-2 – La Paz, Bolivia
- Day 3-5 – Rurrenabaque and the Amazon, Bolivia
- Day 6-9 – Uyuni Salt Flats Tour, Bolivia
- Day 10-11 – Atacama Desert, Chile
- Day 12-13 – Santiago, Chile
- Day 14 – Puerto Natales, Chilean Patagonia
- Day 15-19 – Torres Del Paine W-trek, Chilean Patagonia
- Day 20 – Puerto Natales, Chilean Patagonia
- Day 21-22 – El Calafate, Argentinian Patagonia
- Day 23-25 – El Chatlen, Argentinian Patagonia
- Day 26-29 – Bariloche (North Patagonia), Argentina
- Day 30-31 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Day 1-2 - La Paz
There are so many great things to do in La Paz, you will never run out of options.
If you are a hiker then why not summit Huayna Potosi. This mountain just outside of La Paz is considered by many to be the easiest 6,000m mountain in the world. Let’s put that into perspective. If you summit this mountain, you will have climbed almost 70% the height of Everest.
If you are looking for more great things to do whilst there or our favourite hostels to stay in, then check out more of our posts for La Paz:
Day 3-5 - The Amazon
The tour we mentioned in the previous route is the Pampas tour which sticks to the small tributaries of the Amazon. It’s a great tour for those of you who want to see more animals but you aren’t technically in the Amazon Rainforest. If you wish to go deeper into the actual Amazon jungle, then you need to book a Jungle tour.
We’ve compared Pampas and Jungle tours here on price, timings and pros and cons so you can decide which one is best for you:
Day 6-9 - Uyuni Salt Flats
To get down to Uyuni from the Amazon, it’s probably best to fly. The 2- hour flight saves you returning to La Paz and then flying again or taking an overnight bus.
Like the previous route, sign on to the 3-day salt flats tour which takes you to the Chilean border.
For more guides to the town of Uyuni and the Salt Flats:
Day 10-13 - Atacama & Santiago
The part of the journey is the same as the route above. Once you reach Santiago, you need to take a flight down to Puerto Natales to start the Patagonian part of this itinerary.
Do you have longer than a month in South America? Check out our 3 month itinerary for help on planning your route:
Day 14 - Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is the closest town to Torres Del Paine National Park so it’sbest to fly straight here from Santiago. Take one day here to get your bearings, buy any last-minute gear for hiking, and prepare for the next 5 days of hiking on the W-trek route.
In Puerto Natales, we stayed at the Singing Lamb hostel which was super cosy. They have a huge lounge area with sofas and tables, and the shared dorms had comfortable beds.
Day 15-20 - Torres Del Paine National Park
You can use Puerto Natales as a base to travel into Torres Del Paine for day trips, but we highly recommend the W-trek.
This 5-day self-guided trek takes you in the shape of a W – in, out, and around the beautiful Cordillera Paine mountain range.
The trek is relatively easy with the first two days taking you on an easy 3–4-hour hike past Lago Grey up to the stunning Grey Glacier.On the final day, you will trek to the famous towers of Torres Del Paine.
After the 5-day trek, you may be a bit tired so we recommend taking one extra day in Puerto Natales to recover, get clothes cleaned and get organised for the next step of the journey.
For more articles like this on other great countries in South America and why you should visit them, head to the posts below:
Day 21-22 - El Calafate (Argentinian Patagonia)
You are a short border crossing away from Argentina and the town of El Calafate. From here you can visit Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and the epic Puerto Morena Glacier.
You can take in the views of this huge chunk of ice from the visitor centre or take a boat to get up close and personal. If you are lucky, you may catch a chunk of ice falling off and crashing into the water below.
All hotels and hostels in El Calafate offer tours that include both a boat trip and time at the visitor centre.
Day 23-25 - El Chatlen
After a short stay in El Calafate, head north to the small hiking town of El Chatlen. From here you can plan more epic hikes into the beautiful Patagonian wilderness and Glacier National Park.
You can do single-day hikes to Laguna de Los Tres to see the famous Mount Fitzroy or multi-day hikes combining all the different sights and camping among the mountains.
Patagonia is one of the many reasons why backpacking South America is well worth it. For more great reasons, head to the post below:
Day 26-29 - Bariloche (Northern Patagonia)
For the final part of the trip, you need to grab a long bus or flight up to Bariloche, the lake district of Patagonia.
Bariloche offers travellers even more thrilling outdoor activities, incredible hikes, and nature in abundance. The small swiss-style town is also great and filled with lots of chocolate shops, boutiques, and artisanal breweries.
Day 30-31 - Buenos Aires
Finish up with a few city days in Buenos Aires before flying home and you are done! One incredible month in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina complete.
Whilst we’ve completed the first part of this itinerary (Bolivia, North Argentina, and Chile), coronavirus shut down the world in April 2019, and we had to fly home just after completing the W-trek.
Crossing the border into Argentinian Patagonia and travelling back up to Buenos Aires was the second part of our trip we had planned. So, unfortunately, we don’t have any guides on this part, but we hope you can use this itinerary as a rough guide to plan a trip in the future!
If these countries aren’t your top picks, or if one month iss too long or not long enough, then why not check out our other curated itineraries for South America: