How To Spend 10 Days In South America
10 days in South America is a short amount of time but there are several itineraries that work to ensure you still see as much as possible. The trick is to stick to areas close to the borders between countries, so you can easily fly or bus over 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 5 days in each country which is more than enough to see the best things in each place.
Here are all the different options we think fit well with 10 days in South America:
- Patagonia – Starting in Chile and ending in Argentina
- Peru and Bolivia – Cusco, La Paz & The Salt Flats
- Ecuador and Peru – stick to the Pacific coast and the beautiful beaches
- Argentina and Brazil – Buenos Aires To Iguazu Falls
10-Day South America Itinerary: Chile & Argentinian Patagonia
This is the perfect 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 10-day South America itinerary that includes Chile & Argentinian Patagonia:
- Day 1 – Santiago
- Day 2 – Puerto Natales
- Day 3-4 – Torres Del Paine
- Day 5-6 – El Calafate and Puerto Merino Glacier
- Day 7-8 – El Chatlen
- Day 9-10 – Buenos Aires
Day 1 - Santiago
Wherever you’re flying in from, 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 2 - Puerto Natales (Chilean 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 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.
If you have longer than 10 days, then head to the post below to see how to turn this itinerary into a full month of incredible travel:
Day 3-4 - 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 5-6 - 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. So, one day will be spent travelling and the second day can be spent on a tour.
To see some alternative itineraries for this region, head to the post below:
Day 7-8 - El Chalten
After a short stay in El Calafate, head north to the small hiking town of El Chatlten, 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 Chalten, 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 9-10 - Buenos Aires
From El Chatlen, you will need to catch a flight up to Buenos Aires to enjoy a few city days before flying home and you are done – ten incredible days 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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10-Day South America Itinerary: Peru & Bolivia
This is the perfect itinerary 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 is the complete 10-day South America itinerary that includes Peru and Bolivia:
- Day 1 – Lima
- Day 2 – Cusco
- Day 3-4 – Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu
- Day 5 – Cusco
- Day 6-7 – La Paz
- Day 9-10 – The Amazon or Uyuni
Day 1 – Lima
Miraflores has an abundance of trendy cafes and great restaurants to check out. In the evening, walk along the seafront and enjoy the ocean views.
Just make sure you’re here at sunset as you are in for a treat. Grab a spot near the edge of the cliffs and watch the sun go down as paragliders circle above and surfers catch the last waves of the day.
I’d recommend one day here as the rest of Peru deserves more of your time.
If you need more information on why Cusco is better for backpackers than Lima, head to the post below:
Day 2 – Cusco
Fly directly to Cusco in the morning and spend the day. I would recommend taking this day to adjust to the altitude as you are now at 3200m above sea level.
A free walking tour is always the best way to do this, and I would recommend Inkan Milkyway. They have the best walking tours that don’t take you to any tourist traps and focus 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?
Cusco has many great hostels, some relaxed and some geared towards partying. For more information on the best ones, head to the power below:
Day 3 – 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.
On day 3, you have two options: taking the train or the bus to Aguas Calientes. The train takes 3 hours from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and I would recommend this as you only have limited time. The bus takes 8 hours and will be better if you are on a budget, but this means the whole day will be spent on transport.
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 4 - 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 5 – 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 6-7 – La Paz
On the morning of Day 6, take a flight from Cusco to La Paz which takes just over an hour.
In La Paz, you have an endless list of things to choose from such as biking down Death Road, trekking in the Valley of the Moon, or climbing Huayna Potosi.
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 would recommend riding down Death Road one day and then using the others to explore in and outside of the city.
Follow our La Paz backpacking guide to help you plan these two days further:
Day 8-10 – Amazon Or Uyuni
You have two options here that include two of the best tours in South America: visiting the Amazon or visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats.
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 as you see much more wildlife.
You will spend 2 days 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.
The complete guide to booking an amazon tour in Bolivia can be found here:
The 3-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.
Your mind will be blow by all the incredible scenery and you will leave on a high – the perfect way to end these 10 days in South America!
The Uyuni guide linked below has all the information you need for planning this part of the journey:
10-Day South America Itinerary: Ecuador and Peru (Pacific Coast)
This is the perfect itinerary for travellers who love the beach and don’t want to do much else apart from surf and party. Montanita and Mancora are two of the most popular party beaches in South America and they are only 10 hours apart.
Here is the complete 10-day South America itinerary that includes Ecuador and Peru:
- Day 1-5 – Montanita
- Day 6 – Travel Day To Mancora
- Day 7-10 – Mancora
Day 1-5 – Montanita
This is a simple 10-day itinerary that only includes two places!
Make sure you book a flight directly to Guayaquil International Airport, and as soon as you land you can take a 4-hour bus to the beach town of Montanita.
It will be a long day of travel (depending on where you’ve flown from) but it will be worth it as tomorrow morning you can wake up and hit the beach.
Montanita is the surf and party capital of Ecuador. It draws in travellers and locals alike looking for good swells and beachside dance floors that stay open late into the night. It’s not all just surfing and boozing though, and the town has a lot more on offer from immersive language schools to tranquil yoga retreats.
Spend your 4 full days here learning to surf, learning some Spanish and partying the nights away!
For more on Montanita, head to the post below:
Day 6 – Travel Day
To squeeze another country into this South America itinerary, you’ll need to spend a whole day travelling on day 6.
From Montanita, take the bus back to Guayaquil. And then from Guayauqil, you can take a 6 hour bus across the border to Peru to reach the beach town of Mancora.
The Ecuador to Peru border crossing at Aguas Verdes is one of the simplest in South America.
The great thing about this border crossing is that an international bus will take you directly from your starting point in Ecuador to the final destination in Mancora. The company to book with is Cruz Del Sur. You’ll have to get off once at the border to have your passport check and then you’ll be back on your way.
Day 7-10 – Mancora
If there is one word to describe Mancora it would be wild. This beach town is filled with locals, backpackers and other tourists wanting to do two simple things: surf and party.
The hottest places to let loose are the Loki and Wild Rover hostels, but to be honest any of the other backpacker hostels in town which double up as bars and clubs will lead to a wild night.
Once the party is over, it’s time to jump in the ocean and get rid of that hangover.
It’s is a great place for beginners who have never been on a board before, as well as intermediate and advanced surfers, and the continual waves, calm water and warm weather culminate in the perfect conditions for surfing.
For more on why Mancora is such a great place to visit, head to the post below:
10-Day 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 Brazil is a popular route with many ways to customise it to fit your needs.
Here is the complete 10-day South America itinerary that includes Argentina and Brazil:
- Day 1-3 – Buenos Aires
- Day 5-6 – Iguazu
- Day 7-10 – Sao Paulo or Rio
Day 1-3 – 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 4-5 – 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 6-10 – Rio
From Iguazu, you can take a flight into Brazil.
You have several options here:
- To the north, Sao Paulo is a 1 hour 40-minute flight, or Rio is 2 hours.
- Or if you want some beach time, head east to the Atlantic coast to Florianopolis.
If you’ve never been to Rio before then best to start here. 4 days in Brazil’s capital is more than enough to visit Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer and Copa Cabana beach.
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: