Can You Travel South America In Six Weeks?
Yes, six weeks is an ideal amount of time in South America, and you should be able to tick off a lot of countries.
The variety of travel routes you can take through South America is endless. But for six weeks in South America, I think the best travel route would be one that goes from North to South starting in Colombia and then down to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and then ending in Chile.
The benefit of a backpacking route like this is that these countries are cheaper when compared to places like Brazil, close together, and the travel routes between them by bus and air are short and well established meaning you are following the most efficient route.
The Comprehensive Six Week Itinerary For South America
Here’s the breakdown of this six-week South America backpacking itinerary:
Week 5 - Bolivia
- Day 24-25 – Copacabana
- Day 26-27– La Paz
- Day 28-31 – The Amazon
- Day 32 – Uyuni
- Day 33-34 – Salt Flats Tour
- Day 35 – Travel To Chile
Week 6 - Chile
- Day 36 – Atacama Desert
- Day 37 – Santiago
- Day 38 – Puerto Natales
- Day 39-43 – Torres Del Paine National Park
Week 1 - Colombia
Colombia is the best place to start this six-week South America itinerary. Here’s what you can look forward to in week 1:
Walking Tour, Cerro Monserrate
Minca, Tayrona National Park
Palomino Beach, Tubing
Day 1 - Bogata
Bogata is a hub for international flights from the US and Europe and most stop here before connecting to other South America countries. So it makes sense to start your South America journey here.
However, you can only spend one day in the capital before moving on. There isn’t much here for backpackers and the rest of Colombia is much more interesting so best to get moving. You only have six weeks in South America, so you will have to miss every now and then.
On the day you are here, find a free walking tour to help you explore the city with ease. Beyond Colombia is my personal favourite and they will give you a good introduction to the city. On top of this they offer a free food tour as well. This is a great deal as you will get fed well and see the highlights of the city.
If you have time in the evening, walk to the top of Cerro Monserrate for an incredible viewpoint of sprawling Bogotá.
Day 2-3 - Santa Marta
From Bogota, you want to take a short 2-hour flight to the Caribbean Coast in the north. You can then use Santa Marta as a base for exploring for the next few days.
Make sure you stay at the Dreamer Hostel. This is one of the best hostels in Colombia and maybe even South America. They allow you to leave your big bags in storage whilst you explore the region.
Spend one day in exploring the cloud forests in Minca. Minca is a tiny town in the mountains, 30 minutes away from Santa Marta. Here you can find some great coffee and chocolate farm tours that will also let you do tastings, go searching for waterfalls and watch the sunset from one of the many great eco hostels that sit atop the mountain.
On your second day, trek into Tayrona National Park known for its palm-shaded coves, coastal lagoons, rainforest, and rich biodiversity. You can stay the night on the beach in Tayrona National Park, which is a fun experience, but just make sure you book ahead before trekking all the way as spaces are often limited.
Day 4-5 - Palomino
Palomino is a quiet beach town north of Santa Marta (around 70km away).
It started as an off-the-beaten track town, but has it grown popular in recent years with backpackers. Travellers come here for a few days to enjoy tubing along the jungle rivers or to wander along the endless stretches of empty beach.
Tubing is a fun activity that starts in the jungle foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and ends on the beach in the Caribbean Sea. This can be a relaxing journey or depending on who you go with, it can turn into a party.
If you manage to join a big crew of backpackers, then people will bring alcohol and enjoy floating through the jungle with a few beers as well.
Make sure you have a beach day whilst here too. Palomino beach, with its white sands fringed with huge palms trees, is empty most of the time and you can enjoy peaceful walks up and down it without coming across another person.
Day 6-7 - Medellin
The only downside of this six-week South America itinerary is that it requires a couple of internal flights in Colombia. The Andes goes through the middle of Colombia and separates a lot of the big cities which means bus journeys take a long time.
You will likely have to fly from Santa Marta to Medellin to avoid a seriously long and bumpy overnight bus.
Whilst here, take a tour out to the beautiful Guatape region to see the colourful town, the beautiful reservoirs and the huge celebrity mansions that back out onto them.
Also take some time to explore the city. Again, a free walking tour is your best bet so that you stick to the safe areas and learn about the rich history of the city.
This is the final part of your Colombia trip and from here you will need to fly from Medellin to Bogota to then reach Quito in Ecuador. This can be booked altogether with a stop over or you can book them separately if you want to spend a bit longer in the capital.
A flight from Medellin to Quito (with a connecting flight in Bogota) should cost around $150.
If you are backpacking on a budget and all the flights in Colombia are a concern, then feel free to edit this part of the itinerary. Why not check out some of our other backpacking itineraries that are more budget friendly. This one can easily be extended to fill six weeks:
Week 2 - Ecuador
Ecuador is country two of five in this six-week South America itinerary. Here’s what you can look forward to in week 2:
Walking Tour, Teleferico
Secret Garden, Cotopaxi Volcano
Thermal Baths, Route of Waterfalls
Fly to Lima
Day 8 - Quito
The easiest and cheapest thing to do in Quito is to explore the city on the free walking tour.
A walking tour takes you to the main sights in the historical centre including Plaza Grande – the main square which includes the presidential palace, and La Ronda – the popular tourist street filled with galleries, craft shops, and restaurants.
If you have time, you should also ride the Teleferico – Quito’s cable car that takes you up to 3495m above sea level to the summit of Volcano Pichincha. At the top you will have unobstructed views of the city.
Day 9-10 - Cotopaxi Secret Garden
Time to get treated to one of the best hostel experiences in all South America.
Booking a two-night stay at Secret Garden Cotopaxi is the best way to see the National Park and experience the stunning Cotopaxi Volcano. For $96 you get a two night stay, two guided treks and all your meals included.
The hostel sits directly opposite the volcano and the views are unrivalled. They also run tours into the park such as trekking to Cotopaxi Glacier, horse riding and mountain biking.
Day 11-12 - Baños
After 3 days of trekking, why not start with a spa and massage day with treatments fuelled by the volcanic activity around the Baños.
El Refugio is the best choice of spas in town. Along with thermal baths, they have saunas, steam rooms, and offer a range of services such as massages, mud baths, and pedicures.
On your second day in Banos, it’s time to ride the ‘Route of Waterfalls’ – a single main road that winds its way through the Baños Valley, with waterfalls dotted at almost every corner and bend on the way.
The best stop along the route is Pailon del Diablo, an insanely powerful waterfall that plunges 61 metres into a pool of powerful rapids. With bridges and paths running through the gorge, and multiple platforms and viewpoints, this is an incredible natural wonder not to be missed.
Day 13 – Guayaquil / Travel Day To Lima
Well done! You’ve ticked off your second country on this six-week South America Itinerary. 4 more weeks to go.
On your final day in Ecuador, you will have to make your way to Guayaquil from Banos which is a 8-hour journey. From there you can take a flight to Lima and continue the next part of this epic journey.
Week 3/4 - Peru
Peru is country number three out of five on this six week itinerary. You have two weeks here as there’s so much to do, especially around Cusco:
Paracas National Reserve, Ballestas Islands
Dune Buggy Tour, Sandboarding
Travel Day To Bolivia
Day 14 - Lima
One day in the capital of Peru is more than enough. There isn’t much here for backpackers so best to move on and use your limited days on the six-week itinerary for the more exciting places in Peru.
Start by exploring Miraflores and walking along the boardwalk where you will get some beautiful views of the ocean.
If you carry on following the boardwalk south, you will eventually reach the bohemian district of Barranco. 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.
Day 15-16 - Paracas
Paracas National Park is an untouched natural desert perfect for exploration and adventure.
You can navigate the park by tour, bicycle, ATV, or dune buggy. Whatever mode of transport you choose, make sure you are in the park as the sun is going down for some epic sunset views.
On your second day in Paracas, book a tour to the Ballestas Islands (also known as the Poor Mans Galapagos). This is the perfect tour for wildlife lovers as the islands are full of sea lions, penguins and even dolphins if you are lucky.
Day 17 - Huacachina
Then after Paracas, it’s time to swap one desert for another with a visit to the famous oasis at Huacachina.
Huacachina is a town geared more towards the adventure backpackers. It’s here where you can fly across the desert in buggies and go sandboarding down to the tallest sand dunes.
And like most places in Peru, it’s also another great place watch the sunset.
If you’re looking for a wild night out, then make sure you check out the famous Wild Rover backpacker hostel.
Day 18-19 - Cusco
You have two options to get to Cusco: flight or overnight bus.
The bus is around 17 hours so I would personally recommend flying. Flights from the town of Ica The cost under $100 and the flight time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Once in Cusco you have just one day to exploring the city and one day to explore its surroundings.
On your second day, take 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.
Day 20-21 - Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu
On the morning of day 20, either take the bus or train to the town of Aguas Calientes.
For a six-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).
The train is more expensive but it saves you a lot of time, it’s a more enjoyable experience and it means you get more time to experience Agua Calientes and Machu Picchu.
Then early on the morning of day 12, 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. With the early ticket you may be able to get to the top for sunrise and you also miss the large majority of crowds.
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:
Day 22 - Cusco
Once you return to Aguas Calientes from Machu Picchu, you can either stay the night there or return to Cusco. Either way, you should still stay on extra day to rest and recover and plan your next journey on this six 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.
Day 23 - Travel Day To Bolivia
After a relaxing day in Cusco, you can then get the bus to into Bolivia and straight to Copacabana which takes around 8-9 hours.
That’s country number 3 ticked off from this six-week South America itinerary. We have 2 more weeks to go and two more countries to visit!
Week 5 - Bolivia
Bolivia is country number four out of five on this six week itinerary. You have just 10 days here in total to see some incredible places including the Amazon and the Salt Flats:
Cerro Calvario, Isla Del Sol
City Day, Death Road
Salt Flat Tour
Travel To Chile
Day 24-25 - 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 it’s the lake itself that is the must-see.
Fun activities include walking up to the summit of 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.
Day 26-27 - 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.
Day 28-31 - Amazon
Visiting the Amazon in Bolivia is much cheaper and easier compared to other countries in South America. You can fly from La Paz to the town of Rurrenabaque, which is where most Amazon tours embark.
The Pampas tour is the most popular among backpackers compared to a jungle tour as you see much more wildlife.
You will spend 2 nights sleeping in a wooden hut next to the river and your days will be spent winding through the tributaries of the Amazon on a longboat searching for caimans, anacondas, and exotic birds. You can even go swimming with pink river dolphins!
This is one of the best tours in Bolivia and it costs a fraction of the price compared to countries like Brazil or Colombia. It was one of the best experiences I had whilst backpacking in South America, and I highly recommend it.
Day 32 - Uyuni
On day 31 you will fly back from the Amazon to La Paz. On this day you can either decide to stay in La Paz and relax or carry on with the journey to save time.
The flight back from the Amazon is only 20 minutes so if you prefer to save the day then you can either hop on another flight down to Uyuni or take the overnight bus which takes 8-9 hours.
Either way, once you reach Uyuni you will want to take a day to chill and organise your Salt Flat tour. You can book it online, but I always prefer doing it in person. Booking in person means you will find cheaper deals and you can haggle on the price!
I recommend Salty Desert Adventures for their excellent guides and competitive prices.
Day 33-34 - Salt Flat Tour
The three-day/two-night salt flat tour will take you exploring on one of the most surreal landscapes in the world.
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 beautiful high-altitude lakes full of flamingos.
This is one of best tours in the whole of South America and shouldn’t be missed.
Day 35 - Travel Day To Chile
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 (day 35) and drops you at Chilean border which works perfectly for this six-week itinerary. From the border you take a short 45-minute bus to the town of San Pedro De Atacama where your next adventure awaits in Chile!
Week 6 - Chile
Chile is the final stop on this six week itinerary. You have one week here to enjoy Patagonia:
Valle De La Luna, Salt Lagoons
Walking Tour, Sky Costerna
Torres Del Paine National Park
Lago Grey, Grey Glacier, Cerro Paine
Day 36 - Atacama
Your mind may have just been blown with volcanoes, high-altitude lagoons, and surreal landscapes but there’s more to come in Atacama.
Instead of booking tours this time, why not rent a car and explore it yourself? 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 visit so many different parts on your own time. 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.
Day 37 - Santiago
You will need to fly from the Atacama Desert to Santiago. Chile is a big country!
Then once you land in Santiago, you have one day to explore Chile’s capital.
The best thing to do is join a free walking tour. 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.
Day 38 - Puerto Natales
Again, you will need to take another flight down to Puerto Natales to start the Patagonian part of this six-week itinerary. Puerto Natales is the closest town to Torres Del Paine National Park so it’s best 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, I recommend staying at the Singing Lamb Hostel. They have a huge lounge area with sofas and tables, and the shared dorms had comfortable beds.
Day 39-43 - Torres Del Paine National Park
Time to end this epic six-week South America itinerary with one of the best treks in the world – the W-trek in Torres Del Paine National Park.
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. Then on the final day, you will trek up to the famous towers of Torres Del Paine.
A lot of people wake up at 3AM to start trekking to reach the towers for sunrise. If the weather is good then it is definitely worth it, as the three towers are lit up perfectly by the morning sun.
How Much Money Do You Need For Six Weeks In South America?
Here’s a rough estimate of what you should budget daily and weekly for each country on this six week South America itinerary:
|Week/Country||Daily Budget||Weekly Budget|
Week 1 - Colombia
Week 2 - Ecuador
Week 3 - Peru
Week 4 - Peru
Week 5 - Bolivia
Week 6 - Chile
A good rule of thumb for backpacking South America is $500 a week. So, for six weeks of travelling around South America, I would budget a minimum of $3000.
However, this six-week itinerary has you visiting five countries with several internal flights as well as flights between countries. It also includes some of the best tours in South America such as Machu Picchu, the Salt Flats and the W-trek in Torres Del Paine National Park.
These will alll cost extra and add to your budget so therefore, I would recommend budgeting $3300 for this six-week itinerary. That gives you a budget of $550 a week.
In some countries you will spend than $550 a week.
If we take Ecuador as an example, with a budget of $35 a day this is more than enough:
- 1 Day In Quito – $35
- 2 Days In Cotopaxi – $100
- 2 Days in Banos – $100
- Flight to Lima – $100
However, if we were to look at the Chilean part of this itinerary, it is more expensive:
- Atacama Desert with car rental – $100
- Flight to Santiago – $75
- Day In Santiago – $50
- Flight To Puerto Natales – $75
- W-Trek with entrance feeds and camping in park* – $500
*$500 is the mid-range option for trekking in Torres Del Paine which includes renting tents from each campsite rather than bringing your own tent.
These two estimates are a little extreme, but I’ve used them as an example for backpackers who are aiming to do this six week itinerary laid out exactly as it is.
You can easily take your budget down to around $35 a day in most countries if you want. You can take overnight buses instead of flights to save money with the sacrifice of losing a day or two here and there. You don’t need to rent a car in Atacama. There is a lots of ways to cut your spending gown.
An Alternative Budget Friendly Six Week South America Itinerary
If the outlined six-week South America itinerary doesn’t suit your budget, then don’t worry. There are lots of other options to see South America in six weeks.
Here is an alternative option:
Week 1/2 - Ecuador
- Day 1-3 – Quito
- Day 4-5 – Cotopaxi
- Day 6–9 – Quilotoa Loop
- Day 11-13 – Banos
- Day 14 – Guayaquil
Week 5 - Bolivia
- Day 26 – Copacabana
- Day 27-28– La Paz
- Day 29-31 – The Amazon
- Day 32 – Uyuni
- Day 33–34 – Salt Flats Tour
- Day 35 – Travel To Chile
Week 3/4 - Peru
- Day 15-16 – Lima
- Day 17-18– Paracas
- Day 19 – Huacachina
- Day 20-21 – Cusco
- Day 22–23– Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu
- Day 24 – Cusco
- Day 25 – Bus To Copacabana
Week 6 - Chile / Argentina
- Day 36-37 – Atacama Desert
- Day 38 – Travel to Salta
- Day 38-39 – Salta
- Day 40-42 – Buenos Aires
Avoid Colombia – Colombia has a couple of internal flights that will add to your cost, and it isn’t the most efficient of journeys through the country as you fly from south to north and then back again.
Instead, extend your time in Ecuador. Ecuador is a budget backpackers dream, and you can easily enjoy the country on around $35 a day.
Spend a couple of extra days in Quito and Banos, and include the 3-day Quilotoa Loop into your itinerary as well. This is a 3-day self-guided trek that costs next to nothing.
Avoid Chile – Chile is one of the most expensive countries to travel in South America. The long internal flights and trekking in Patagonia really do increase the cost of your trip.
Instead, you can cut this part of your journey out and visit North Argentina instead.
After seeing the Atacama Desert, you can get a bus across the border into Argentina to the town of Salta. This is the wine region of Argentina. It’s a beautiful place to explore and as the north of Argentina isn’t as well travelled, it’s budget friendly.
You can go south from Salta to see towns like Cafayate which is the second best wine producing region in Argentina after Mendoza.
You can go north to check out the small towns along Route 9 and see the natural wonders on offer such as Argentina’s very own Rainbow Mountain. Or you could head to Buenos Aires to check out the capital and then you are in the perfect spot to fly home.
Backpacking off the beaten track through the northwest of Argentina is one of many great reasons to add Argentina to your South America trip. For more great reasons, head to the post below:
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: