How To Spend 3 Months In South America
Picking a 3-month long itinerary can be difficult. What countries do you visit? What parts can you skip? Do you want to see more places or slow down and get to know a country better? And the most important question of all, which itinerary can you afford? The possibilities are endless.
We’ve outlined two ways of planning it here so you can pick the one that suits you best.
Here are your options:
- 3 months, 3 countries – Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia
- 3 months, 5 countries – Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile
Both itineraries are based on our year-long trip to South America. We spent a month in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia so that itinerary is almost a carbon copy of our route.
For the 5-country itinerary, we’ve just cut out some of the off-the-beaten-track towns and places we’ve visited and squished it together with the month we spent in both Chile and Argentina.
The best part about both plans is they are completely flexible.
You can get rid of any of the bits that you don’t like, and we will offer some alternative routes and suggestions as well. However, we think these options are the best as the routes are efficient (going from north to south) and avoid a lot of flights because you can simply take buses across the borders.
3 Month South America Itinerary - Ecuador, Peru & Bolivia
Who Is This Itinerary For?
Those of you who want to take your 3 months a little slower and prefer to experience a country properly rather than rushing through on a whistle-stop tour.
This itinerary also includes space for a week in language and surf school if you are to looking to start learning Spanish.
- 5 Weeks In Ecuador
- 5 Weeks In Peru
- 2 Weeks In Bolivia
Week 1 - Quito, Mindo and Otavalo
Spend 2-3 days in the capital getting your bearings. Whilst there you can explore the UNESCO historical centre, visit the equator line at Mitad Del Mundo, and have a night out on the town. If you are feeling brave you can also attempt your first hike at altitude and climb Volcano Pichincha which looms over the city.
For more information on what to do in the capital, check out our guides below:
Then it’s a short 2-hour bus journey north to Otavalo for a couple of days to see the largest indigenous market in the whole of South America and to complete your first hike at the beautiful crater lake, Laguna Cuicocha.
If you didn’t climb Pichincha in Quito, then this will be your first hike at altitude to get you prepared for the many more to come over your South America journey.
For more on Otavalo:
- The Best Things To Do In Otavalo
- How To Visit Laguna Cuicocha
And to finish off your first week in South America, another short bus ride will get you to the town of Mindo so you can go exploring in the beautiful cloud forest.
Here you can try some of the best chocolate in Ecuador at one of the many farms, hike in the cloud forest along the ‘Route of Waterfalls’, or go tubing down one of the powerful rivers.
Week 2 - Cotopaxi National Park & The Quilotoa Loop
Now it’s time to spend 2 days at Ecuador’s best hostel – Secret Garden Cotopaxi. The hostel is set in the middle of the national park and has one of the best views in the world, directly opposite Cotopaxi Volcano.
From the hostel, you can plan hikes into the park, go horse-riding across the Andean planes, and even summit Cotopaxi if you are brave enough.
Read our review for all the reasons you need to stay at this hostel:
After a lovely stay at Cotopaxi, it’s time for more trekking. A short journey will take you to the town of Latacunga where you can prepare for the epic 3-day, self-guided trek known as the Quilotoa Loop.
The 70km ‘loop’ will take you through 3 towns in the Ecuadorian countryside, eventually ending at the breathtaking Quilotoa Crater.
Completing this 3-day trek requires some preparation so be sure to read out guides so you are fully prepared:
Alternatively, if you aren’t a big hiker you can just visit the crater on the day trip. The town of Quilotoa is tiny and you can walk to the crater in 5 minutes for incredible views without any of the hiking.
This will give you a couple of extra days spare if you want longer in the surf town of Montañita or to visit the Galápagos Islands.
Week 3 – Baños & Guayaquil
You can easily spend 4-5 days in the adventure capital of Ecuador.
There’s so much to do here including hiking, riding bicycles to the crazy waterfall ‘Pailon del Diablo’, and enjoying the thermal baths fuelled by the volcanoes surrounding the town.
Check out our Baños guides for more information:
After this, you will need a full day to travel to Guayaquil (7-8 hour bus) where you can also spend an extra day or two if you wish, but there isn’t much here for backpackers.
Just get ready for your once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galápagos Islands.
Week 4 – The Galápagos Islands
You can’t visit South America for 3 months and not come to the Galapagos Islands. The price often puts a lot of backpackers off but it’s such an incredible place that it can’t be missed.
If you can’t afford a week then 5 days is still a good amount of time to visit two of the main islands and still have a great time.
If you are looking to do it on a budget then check out these three posts:
Week 5 – Montañita
You will fly back from the Galapagos into Guayaquil where you might want to rest up a day before heading to the amazing beach town of Montañita.
Now it’s time to relax, sign up for an incredible Spanish school, and learn how to surf!
Week 6 – Lima & Huaraz
Two days in the capital of Peru is more than enough to explore the bohemian district of Barranco and try some amazing regional dishes like ceviche. But there isn’t much here for backpackers so feel free to move on if you want.
Then on to Huaraz, the hiking capital of Peru.
Single-day hikes to Laguna 69 or Laguna Paron are perfect for beginner hikers who still want to experience the beauty of the mountains.
Alternatively, there are multi-multi-day hikes such as the famous Santa Cruz trek or the Cordillera Huayhuash route that will see you climbing among the above the clouds and camping in the mountains from 5 to 10 days.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit Huaraz whilst we were in Peru but it’s on the list for 2021/22.
Week 7 – Paracas & Huacachina
Paracas National Park is an untouched natural landscape perfect for exploration and adventure. You can navigate the park by bicycle, ATV, or dune buggy. As you fly down giant dunes at sunset with an endless expanse of desert in front of you, it will feel like you’re on another planet.
Check out our guides for more info:
Then after Paracas, it’s time to swap one desert for another with a visit to the famous oasis at Huacachina.
You’ll get another chance to fly across the giant dunes in sand buggies as well as sandboard down to the tallest of them, watch the epic sunset, and party the night away in the crazy Wild Rover backpacker hostel.
Wild Rover in Huacachina is one of our favourite hostels in South America. For a complete list of the best hostels on the continent, follow the link below:
Week 8 – Arequipa & Colca Canyon
Arequipa is an amazing city for backpackers but the real wonder here is a visit to Colca Canyon – the second deepest canyon in the world.
Trekking down into the Colca Canyon is an experience like no other takes anywhere from 2 to 3 days depending on the route you take. You’ll spend most of your time picking your jaw up off the floor as you walk around in awe of the canyon’s vastness.
Week 9 – Lake Titicaca & Cusco
An overnight bus from Arequipa will get you to the town of Puno and Lake Titicaca.
All you need is one day here touring the highest navigable lake in the world before moving on to Peru’s most popular city, Cusco.
Cusco is the highlight of the country with Rainbow Mountain, the Sacred Valley, Laguna Humantay, and many other incredible sights to enjoy.
If you aren’t busy hiking or exploring the beautiful natural wonders around the city, you’ll be relaxing in one of the many artisan cafes or partying the night away with all the other backpackers in town.
Check out our guides for more:
We’ve decided to add an extra week in Peru for the Salkantay Trek and visiting Machu Picchu. Again, here is a place you may what to change this itinerary to fit your needs. If you aren’t interested in the 5-day Salkantay Trek, then you can visit Machu Picchu from Cusco by train or bus and use this week in another place.
Our Machu Pichu guides have everything you need to know about visiting the ancient Inca citadel from Cusco:
Week 10 - The Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is consistently voted among the world’s best treks and it’s a fun and challenging way to reach Machu Picchu as well.
The 5-day trek will take you to some of the most scenic places in Peru such as Laguna Humantay and the Salkantay Pass, and then on the final day, you will climb the steps to the famous Incan citadel for sunset.
This will be one of the best memories from your trip to South America. We guarantee it.
Check out our guides here:
Week 11 - Copacabana & La Paz
Catching the bus from Cusco to Copacabana is a cheap and easy way to get yourself to Bolivia. We didn’t visit ourselves as we flew straight to La Paz, but we heard it’s beautiful and much nicer than the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
Once you reach 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.
3-4 days is a good amount of time to cover it all. Follow our La Paz guides to help you plan:
Week 12 - The Amazon & Salar De Uyuni
We saved the Amazon until last as it’s so much cheaper in Bolivia than Ecuador or Peru.
You can get a package deal that includes a 3-day jungle tour and return flights from La Paz for around $200 depending on the season and how savvy you are.
From the town of Rurrenabaque, you will spend 3 days exploring the winding tributaries of the Amazon river by speedboat, searching for caimans, anacondas, and rare birds of paradise.
Read our booking guide for more on how to find the best tours:
After the Amazon, you can fly back to La Paz or straight down to Uyuni. And once you arrive in Uyuni, it’s time to end this epic South America trip with one of the best tours on the whole continent.
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 on day 1, to the high-altitude desert of the Andes on the next.
Your mind will be blown by all the incredible scenery and you will leave on a high. The perfect way to end an incredible 3 months in South America!
Check out our posts for more:
3 Month South America Itinerary - Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chila & Argentina
Who Is This Itinerary For?
Those of you who want to see the highlights of South America and aren’t too concerned about rushing at some points along the journey to get it all done.
After these 3 months, you will have ticked off most of what South America has to offer.
- 3 Weeks In Ecuador
- 3 Weeks In Peru
- 2 Weeks In Bolivia
- 2 Weeks In Chile
- 2 Weeks In Argentina
3 Weeks In Ecuador
Follow most of the plan we outlined above, just cut out trips to Otavalo and Mindo whilst in the north, then shave a few days off Banos and Montanita and you should be down to a nice three-week schedule even though it may be a little tight.
If you want you can skip over Montanita completely to save a whole week, and when you return from the Galapagos Islands to Guayaquil, fly straight to Lima.
Or if money is more of a worry then cut out the Galapagos Islands instead.
Check out our three-week Ecuador itinerary for more detail so you can decide which places to skip:
3 Weeks In Peru
Same as with Ecuador, follow the same route we have outlined in the first itinerary but skip over a couple of places.
Personally, we would skip Huaraz and Puno, and just follow the classic backpacking route that loops around to Cusco:
Lima > Paracas > Huacachina > Arequipa > Cusco
Once you reach Cusco, you won’t need a week there. Check out Rainbow Mountain and then take two days to visit Machu Picchu by yourself instead of via the Salkantay Trek.
Again, check out our shorter Peru itineraries for more detail so you can decide which places suit you the best and which ones to skip:
2 Weeks In Bolivia
Don’t change anything from the above itinerary. The Amazon and Salar De Uyuni are two experiences that can’t be missed.
If you want to extend your time in Bolivia then places like Torotoro National Park and Sucre are hidden gems that are off the usual backpacker trail, so feel free to add them in if you like that sort of thing:
2 Weeks In Chile
A Salar De Uyuni Tour drops you on the border between Atacama and Bolivia.
All you need to do is take a 45-minute bus from the border to the town. Once here we recommend renting a jeep and exploring even more high-altitude lakes, volcanoes, and geysers.
Or if you don’t want to rent a jeep you can book tours. We highly recommend the stargazing tour – you can see the whole of the Milky Way in the desert because the night sky is so clear.
- Renting a Jeep & Exploring The Atacama Desert
After a couple of days in the desert, fly down to Santiago for the standard city escape with walking tours and museums. You’ll only need a day or two here before catching another flight down south to Puerto Natales.
- Santiago City Guide & Best Things To Do
Once you arrive in Puerto Natales you can take a day to organise yourself and purchase any last equipment you need before embarking on the 5-day W-trek in Torres Del Paine National Park.
This 5-day self-guided trek is one of the best in the world and the sights of Patagonia will leave you in awe.
We haven’t got round to writing up our Chile guides yet so check this space again soon.
2 Weeks In Argentina
From Natales, you can cross the border into Argentina to experience even more of Patagonia’s incredible sights.
In the town of El Calafate, you can visit the Perito Moreno Glacier before travelling north to El Chalten for even more trekking amongst the beautiful mountains.
From here we will leave it up to you! You can fly to Buenos Aires for a few days and then head up to Iguazu Falls, you can visit the lake district region of Patagonia in Bariloche or you can head to Mendoza for wine tasting.
Alternative South America Backpacking Itinerary Options
Chile and Patagonia make this 3-month itinerary much more expensive than the first one. If you can’t afford this part of the trip, then another great option is to head into North Argentina after Santiago.
Just across the border from Santiago is Mendoza, where you will find Argentina’s best wine region. From here you can follow the wine route north to El Cafayate and Salta or you can travel across to BA.
The north of Argentina is a hidden gem untouched by tourism, so everything is cheap and you get all the sights to yourself.
Check out more of our North Argentina guides here:
We visited Colombia in 2016 but haven’t got round to writing that up on the site yet either (so much content, so little time), but you could easily swap out Bolivia and start in Colombia.
Or try and do all 4 countries in 3 months which is certainly doable as well. Alternatively, you could start in Peru and Bolivia then finish up in North Argentina which is just as cheap as Bolivia.
As we said, the routes for travelling around South America are endless!
For more South America backpacking routes and itineraries, follow the links below: