What's The Best Way To Spend 10 Weeks In South America?
10 weeks is a long time which means you will be able to see a lot of this incredible continent.
I would personally follow the classic ‘Gringo Trail’ that starts in Colombia and makes its way all the way down the Pacific coast to Chilean Patagonia. Once at the bottom, you cross the border into Argentina and then start working your way back up to Buenos Aires, before ending your trip in Brazil.
There are many benefits to following this route:
- It’s well travelled so you’ll meet lots of travellers along the way
- Transport between countries is easy and can be done via bus or plane
- You follow a logical path which is efficient and easy
With 10 weeks, you can also divide your time evenly between 7 countries. Smaller countries like Ecuador and Bolivia will only require a week whereas Peru, Chile and Argentina need two.
The Complete 10-Week south America Itineary
This ten-week itinerary is for travellers without a budget. You’ll be visiting 7 countries along with 2 weeks in Patagonia which is one of the most expensive places in South America; but also the best.
Here’s the quick breakdown of this ten-week South America backpacking itinerary:
Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta
Quito, Cotopaxi National Park, Quilotoa, Banos
Lima, Paracas, Huacachina, Cusco, Machu Picchu
Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Uyuni Salt Flats
Atacama Desert, Santiago, Valpariso, Torres Del Paine National Park
Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chalten, Bariloche, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls
Florianopolis, Rio De Janeiro
Week 1 - Colombia
Walking Tour, Cerro Monserrate
Minca, Tayrona National Park, Palomino
Walking Tour, Guatape
Day 1-2 - Bogota
Bogata is a hub for international flights from the US and Europe so it makes sense to start your 10 week South America journey here.
For the days 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 3-5 - Santa Marta / Palomino
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.
On your third, check out the beach town of Palomino.
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.
Palomino is one of my favourite beaches in South America, for more, head to the list post below:
Day 6-7 - Medellin
Medellin is the cultural capital of Colombia and there’s so much history here.
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.
How To Get To Quito (Ecuador) From Medellin
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. The ones outlined in the post below can easily be extended to fill six weeks:
Preparing for your first trip to South America?
Here are 22 FAQ’s to help you prepare for the trip of a lifetime:
Planning a trip to South America can be an exhilarating adventure filled with diverse landscapes, rich cultures, and unforgettable experiences. However, to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey, it's essential to be well-prepared on several fronts. Here are 22 frequently asked questions...Read More
Week 2 - Ecuador
Walking Tour, Teleferico, Pichincha Summit
Secret Garden, Cotopaxi Volcano
Thermal Baths, Route of Waterfalls
Day 8-9 - 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.
On your second day, 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.
For more great things to do in Quito including chocolate tasing, museums, and visiting the equator, head to the guide below:
Day 10-11 - 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.
Everything you need to know about booking and staying at Secret Garden Cotopaxi can be found here:
Day 12 - Quilotoa
The next town to visit after Cotopaxi is Quilotoa and one of the most impressive sights in Ecuador – the Quilotoa Crater.
The Cotopaxi Secret Garden team provide a shuttle bus that will take you to the town of Latacunga. From there you will need to take a local bus to Quilotoa which should take roughly 2 hours.
You only need 1 day here as there’s only one thing to do. Hike around the edge of the this extinct volcano and marvel at the jaw dropping scenery.
This scenic trail circles the crater’s edge and continuously offers up of breathtaking panoramas. The trail takes 4-5 hours to complete and allows hikers to witness the beauty of rural Ecuador on one side and the ever-changing turquoise shades of the waters on the other.
All you need to know about visiting the crater in a single day can be found in the post linked below:
Day 11-12 - Baños
After almost two weeks into this ten week itinerary, why not start with a spa and massage day. The treatments on offer in Banos are fuelled by the volcanic activity surrounding the valley.
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.
For more information on all these activities in Baños including the best restaurants, hostels and transport tips, head to the full guide below:
Week 3/4 - Peru
Paracas National Reserve, Ballestas Islands
Dune Buggy Tour, Sandboarding
Walking Tour, Rainbow Mountain
Laguna Humantay, Salkantay Pass, Machu Picchu
Day 15 - Lima
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.
For more great things to do in Lima including chocolate tasing, museums, and learning to surf, head to the guide below:
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.
Check out the complete backpacker guide to Paracas for more info:
Day 18 - Huacachina
Huacachina is a town geared more towards the adventure backpackers.
One day here is enough. Book onto a dune buggy tour and you’ll tick off two of the best activities to do here. You’ll fly across the desert in buggies and go sandboarding down the tallest sand dunes.
After your tour, head to the top of one of the dunes around the oasis to experience one of the best sunsets in Peru.
If you’re looking to complete all of Huacachina in one day then all you need now is a night out. For a wild party then make sure you check out the famous Wild Rover backpacker hostel.
For more information on this unique place, head to the link below:
Day 19-21 - 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 one rest day, one day to exploring the city and one day to explore its surroundings.
On Day 20, I would recommend you 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 in the Sacred Valley.
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 22-26 - Salkantay Trek & Machu Picchu
One of the best ways to see Machu Picchu is via a multi-day trek.
With the Salkantay Trek you will see many more incredible sights along the way and it’s also the cheapest way to see Machu Pichu as your ticket and accommodation are all included in the price of the trek.
Laguna Humantay and Salkantay Mountain are just two of the incredible places you will visit on this 5-day trek. The best part though is the c.120km you’ll walk, the friendships formed, and the sense of accomplishment gained from trekking in the mountains for 5 days with a bunch of random backpackers.
You’ll reach the ancient ruins on the final day of the trek, arriving at the top just before sunrise and avoiding most of the crowds. This was the highlight of our trip in Peru.
Day 27-28 - Cusco
After 5 days trekking through the Andes, you will need some rest.
Take 2 days in Cusco to slow down and reset before moving on to Bolivia – the 4th country in this ten-week South America itinerary.
For your final days 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.
For one 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:
Week 5 - Bolivia
Cerro Calvario, Isla Del Sol
City Day, Death Road
Salt Flat Tour
Day 29 - 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 30-31 - 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.
Head to the complete La Paz backpacking guide to help you plan further:
Day 32-35 - Uyuni / Salt Flat Tour
How To Book A Salt Flats Tour
On day 32, you need to fly from La Paz to Uyuni.
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.
Salf 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.
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 ten-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!
For more on the Uyuni Salt Flat Tour including the best tours companies and what to pack, head to the post below:
Week 6/7 - Chile
Valle De La Luna, Salt Lagoons, Star Watching
Walking Tour, Sky Costerna
Vina Del Mar
Torres Del Paine National Park
Lago Grey, Grey Glacier, Cerro Paine
Day 36-38 - Atacama Desert
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 39-40 - 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 41-42 - Valparaiso
Valparaíso’s bohemian charm and artistic essence make it a must-visit for a two-day escapade from Santiago.
Day one can be dedicated to exploring its colorful hills, wandering through captivating street art alleys, and riding the historic funiculars for panoramic city views. Delve into Pablo Neruda’s world at La Sebastiana, his quirky home-turned-museum.
The second day offers a coastal adventure – soak in the sun at Reñaca Beach and savor seafood delights at Caleta Portales. Ascend Cerro Alegre for charming cafes, and visit Palacio Baburizza for fine arts.
Day 43 - Puerto Natales
You will need to take another flight down to Puerto Natales to start the Patagonian part of this ten-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 44-48 - Torres Del Paine National Park
Time to end your time in Chile with one of the best multi-day 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.
For more on this incredible place and why it’s a must-visit, head to the post below:
Day 49 - Puerto Natales
After 5 days in the Patagonian wilderness, you will need to recover.
Take one final day in Puerto Natales to recuperate before moving on to Argentina the next morning.
Week 8/9 - Argentina
Perito Moreno Glacier
Laguna De Los Tres Hike, Cerro Torre Hike
Refugio Frey Hike, Circuito Chico
Walking Tour, Tango Show, La Boca
Day 50-51 - El Calafate
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 explore the town and plan your visit to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and 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.
To see some alternative itineraries for this region, head to the post below:
Day 52-54- 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:
Day 55-58- Bariloche
Nestled amidst the picturesque Andes Mountains, Bariloche offers a stunning display of natural beauty. From snow-capped peaks to crystal-clear lakes and lush forests, the landscape is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Surrounding the town are several must-visit spots that provide panoramic views of the region’s mountains, lake and forests, making it a favourite among photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Bariloche serves as a gateway to the Nahuel Huapi National Park, a vast protected area brimming with diverse flora and fauna. The park is perfect for trekking, birdwatching, and exploring the pristine wilderness. Don’t miss the chance to visit the array of islands within the Nahuel Huapi Lake, accessible by boat excursions.
For more on why this is such a fantastic place to visit and spend time in, head to the post below:
Day 59-61 - Buenos Aires
You are nearly at the end of this 10-week South America itinerary but there’s still so much fun to be had.
Now it’s time for 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:
Day 62-63 – 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.
Week 10 - Brazil
Rio De Janeiro
Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ The Redeemer
Day 64-67 - Florianopolis
Florianópolis has it all. Pristine beaches, lush jungle landscapes, vibrant culture and some of the best surf in Brazil.
This island paradise is worth visiting for many reasons. Explore the sandy shores of Praia Mole, surf the Atlantic waves, or bask in the tranquility of Campeche Beach.
Discover the island’s history at Fortaleza de São José da Ponta Grossa, an 18th-century fortress. Or for a unique experience, hike up Morro da Cruz for panoramic city views. Florianópolis effortlessly blends relaxation, outdoor activities, and cultural exploration, making it a captivating destination that caters to every traveler’s desires.
Day 68-70 - Rio De Janeiro
You made it. 10 epic weeks in South America!
For your last three days, enjoy 3 days in Brazil’s capital. This is more than enough to see the best sights and enjoy the iconic beaches.
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: