How To Spend One Week In South America
A week in South America is a short time but there’s several itineraries that work so you can still see as much as possible and fit in at least two countries – otherwise it’s not really a South America itinerary if you only visit one country.
The trick is to stick to areas close to the borders between countries, so you can easily fly and be in another great place without losing too much time on travel.
Each of these itineraries stick to two countries each. This gives you approximately 3 or 4 days in each place which is more than enough to see the highlight of the country.
Here are all the different options I think fit well with one week in South America:
- Patagonia – Starting in Chile and ending in Argentina
- Peru and Bolivia – Cusco & La Paz
- Bolivia and Chile – La Paz, Salt Flats and Atacama Desert
- Argentina and Brazil – Buenos Aires To Iguazu Falls
One Week South America Itinerary: Chile & Argentinian Patagonia
This is the ideal one-week itinerary for hike enthusiasts and those that want to see the most pristine and untouched nature in all of South America. You’ll see the two capital cities of Chile and Argentina and do two of the best single day hikes on the continent.
Here is the complete one week South America itinerary that includes Chile & Argentinian Patagonia:
- Day 1 – Puerto Natales
- Day 2-3 – Torres Del Paine
- Day 4 – El Calafate and Puerto Merino Glacier
- Day 5-6 – El Chatlen
- Day 7 – Buenos Aires
Day 1 - Puerto Natales
Wherever you’re flying in from, once you land in Santiago, you need to take a connecting flight down to Patagonia.
Puerto Natales is the closest town to Torres Del Paine National Park so it’s best to fly straight here from Santiago. The flight takes 3 hours 45 minutes and will cost between $100-200 depending on the time of year you visit.
There’s not much to do in Natales. Take one day here to relax after your flight, get your bearings, buy any last-minute gear for hiking, and prepare for the next couple of days hiking in the park.
In Puerto Natales, I 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 2-3 - Torres Del Paine National Park
Trekking in Torres Del Paine National Park is a hikers dream and there are so 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 large glacial lake located at the southern end of the park. This is one of the best treks in South America due to the scenery on offer: on one side, the Patagonian mountains and on the other side, the bright blue Lake Gray.
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:
Day 4 - El Calafate (Argentinian Patagonia)
You are a 5-hour bus and border crossing away from Argentina and the town of El Calafate.
Take an early morning bus from Puerto Natales so you arrive early afternoon. 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 a 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. If you book ahead of time you can catch a late afternoon tour once you arrive.
Day 5-6 - El Chatlen
After a short stay in El Calafate, head north to the small hiking town of El Chatlen, known as the “Trekking Capital of Argentina”. From here you can plan more epic hikes into the beautiful Patagonian wilderness and Glacier National Park.
From El Chatlen you have your pick of hikes from single day to multi-day options that take you to some of the best sights in Patagonia.
One of the most iconic single day hikes in Argentine Patagonia, 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 to turn this 10-day itinerary into a month:
Day 7 - Buenos Aires
From El Chatlen, you will need to catch a flight up to Buenos Aires to enjoy one final city days before flying home and you are done – one incredible week in Chile and Argentina complete.
For more information on Argentina and why you definitely need to spend some time in Buenos Aires, head to the post below:
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One Week South America Itinerary: Peru & Bolivia
This is a great one-week itinerary for travellers who want to see one of the best sights in all of South America – Machu Picchu. You’ll also get a choice of a great tour at the end to finish it off – either visiting the Bolivian Amazon or seeing the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Here’s the complete one-week South America itinerary that includes Peru and Bolivia:
- Day 1 – Cusco
- Day 2 – Aguas Calientes
- Day 3 – Machu Picchu / Cusco
- Day 4 – Cusco
- Day 5-7 – La Paz
Day 1 – Lima
International flights only go to Lima, but you can catch a connecting 1 hour flight from Lima to Cusco to start this one week itinerary.
Once you have landed in Cusco and are settled, a free walking tour is always the best way to explore a new city and I would recommend Inkan Milkyway. They don’t take you to any tourist traps and the tour only focuses only on the history of the city.
After a few hours of walking around the city and seeing how you deal with the altitude, you have several options for evening activities.
Why not go to one of the many backpacker hostels for an evening of partying?
If you need more information on why Cusco is better for backpackers than Lima, head to the post below:
Day 2 – Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is the town closest to Machu Picchu and the main hub for travellers before they start their trek up to the mountain.
The train takes 3 hours from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and I would recommend this as you only have limited time (the bus takes a full day).
Once you are in Aguas Calientes you can explore the town a little, relax and have an early night. You’ll be up early in the morning for a 4.30AM start!
For more information on booking the train, head to the post below for everything you need to know:
Day 3 - Machu Picchu
It’s finally time to climb the 1,600+ stairs up to Peru’s most popular tourist attraction.
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 up. The alternative is to wait and take the bus which will get you to the top quicker but I recommend the climb as it feels like more of an achievement.
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 eventually becomes packed as more and more tour buses turn up).
Getting up early also means you will be able to make it back to Cusco on the same day. Once you’ve climbed back down the steps, head to the train station and take the train back to Cusco.
For more information on how to visit Machu Picchu:
Day 4 – Cusco
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 5-7 – La Paz
On the morning of Day 5, take a flight from Cusco to La Paz which takes just over an hour.
The city is 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.
On Day 6, I would recommend biking down Death Road. This is one of the best tours in La Paz and a lot of fun.
For the 7th and final day of this one week South America itinerary, you have several options. You could book a tour outside of the city to see the beautiful mountain landscapes. Or, if you would like to go further, you could book a trip to see Lake Titicaca.
The bus takes around 4 hours so if you get up early in the morning and leave you can spend most of the day enjoying the highest navigable lake in the world!
Follow the full La Paz backpacking guide to help you plan these three days further:
One Week South America Itinerary: Bolivia And Chile
This is the perfect itinerary with a balance of big cities and nature too. The salt flats tour drops you across the Chilean border and from Uyuni to Atacama you will be treated to some of the best natural wonders in all South America including volcanoes, high altitude lakes and fields of geysers.
Here is the complete one-week South America itinerary that includes Bolivia and Chile:
- Day 1 – La Paz
- Day 2 – Uyuni
- Day 3-4 – Salt Flats Tour
- Day 5-6 – San Pedro De Atacama
- Day 7 – Santiago
Day 1 - La Paz
With just one day in La Paz, best to explore the city. La Paz can be a nightmare to navigate, so a walking tour is a great way to get your bearings and see the highlights.
Red Cap offers severak tours from the standard city centre exploration to foodie tours and even an organised cable car tour if you really can’t be bothered to organise that yourself.
The cable car tour will show you several lines and take you to the best views of the city. If you prefer to do it by yourself, the red line will take you to most of the popular places tourists want to visit such as El Alto, the Witches Market and the Cholita Stadium.
For more on La Paz, head to the post below:
Day 2 - Uyuni
You will need to get from La Paz to Uyuni. You can either take the bus (8-9 hours) which means you will spend the whole day travelling. I would recommend instead taking a flight (1 hour).
There isn’t much to see in the town of Uyuni so best to take a late evening flight and spend the morning in La Paz.
Day 3-4– Salt Flat Tour
The 2 day Salar De Uyuni tour will take you from one unique landscape to the next, starting with the white expanse of the salt flat to the high-altitude desert of the Andes.
The first day of the tour is spent on the actual salt flat taking the popular perspective and reflection photos for the gram. Your tour guide will bring some funny objects for you to take your shots with but why not be original and bring your own.
On the second day, the tour heads out across the high-altitude desert known as the Altiplano to see even wilder landscapes such as volcanoes, geysers, and lakes full of flamingos.
The complete Uyuni guide linked below has all the information you need for planning this part of the journey:
Day 5-6 – Atacama
One of the great things about a salt flat tour is that it also includes your transportation to Chile. The tour ends on the morning of the third day and drops you at Chilean border.
From the border you can take a short 45-minute bus to the town of San Pedro De Atacama where your next adventure awaits. Nice and easy!
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 still has some 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 or float in the tranquil salt lagoons of the desert surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.
The Atacama Desert itinerary linked 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:
Day 7 - Santiago
Atacama is a 1-hour flight to 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.
One Week South America Itinerary: Argentina and Brazil
This is the perfect itinerary with a balance of big cities and nature too. Buenos Aires To Iguazu and then on to Rio in Brazil is a popular route with many ways to customise it to fit your needs.
Here is the complete one week South America itinerary that includes Argentina and Brazil:
- Day 1-2 – Buenos Aires
- Day 3-4 – Iguazu
- Day 5-7 – Rio
Day 1-2 – Buenos Aires
Start this itinerary with 3 days in one of the best capitals on the continent. The capital city of Argentina is known as the “Paris of South America,” as it feels like visiting a European capital.
Here some great things to do whilst in BA:
- Tango – Visitors can also 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. Visitors can explore the colourful streets, take pictures and enjoy traditional foods.
- Take a Boat Tour on the Rio de la Plata: Buenos Aires is a city located on the river, 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.
Day 3-4 – Iguazu
These breath-taking falls are made up of 275 individual cascades, which stretch over 2 miles and create a stunning natural barrier between Argentina and Brazil.
The most famous part of the falls is known as ‘The Devil’s Throat’, a U-shaped waterfall that is over 82 meters high and 150 meters wide. This massive waterfall is the largest and most powerful of the falls and is a must-see for any visitors.
The falls are divided into two main areas, the Argentine side and the Brazilian side. Visitors can take a guided tour of both sides to see the falls from different perspectives. The Argentine side offers a panoramic view of the entire waterfall system, while the Brazilian side provides a more immersive experience with several trails that lead visitors close to the falls.
Visitors can also take boat tours to get a different perspective of the falls. There are ones that go right under the Devil’s Throat waterfall, or others that navigate the lower Iguazu river and enjoy the waterfall from a distance.
The flight from BA to Iguazu takes just under 2 hours and is cheap so do this instead of the cheaper 15-hour bus.
Day 5-7 – Rio
As a backpacker, there are plenty of exciting things to do in Rio de Janeiro and 3 days in Brazil’s capital is more than enough to see the best sights.
This iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer is a must-visit attraction in Rio de Janeiro. You can take a train or a van to get to the top of the Corcovado Mountain, where the statue is located, and enjoy breathtaking views of the city.
Rio de Janeiro is also famous for its beautiful beaches, such as Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. Spend a day relaxing on the beach, swimming, and enjoying the local food and drinks.
On your final day, you should visit Sugarloaf Mountain. The cable car is the most popular option, and it offers stunning views of the city and the ocean. Once you reach the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, take some time to enjoy the stunning views of the city, the ocean, and the surrounding mountains.
Rio has some of the best party hostels in South America, for a full list:
Popular South America Itineraries
If you have more than two-weeks to spare then why not check out our other South America itineraries ranging from three weeks to three months: