How we travelled South America in less than 3 months

This fast-paced travel itinerary is packed with glaciers, tropical beaches, vintage cars, multi-day hikes, and a number of overnight buses. If you prefer a slower pace of travel, use this itinerary as a guide and leave yourself some extra time to relax.

A Whirlwind 12 Days in Colombia

Day 1: Start by flying directly to Bogota, Colombia’s capital city. While a simple Google search on ‘Bogota’ will result in danger and kidnapping, travelling here is by no means scary. If you keep your belongings out of sight, don’t be flashy with jewellery, and avoid hailing taxis from the street, Bogota will pleasantly surprise you.

We stayed at 82hostel in Zona Rosa (70,000COP for one night).

Day 2: Get up early for breakfast (it should be free at the hostel) and catch an Uber to Parque de Los Periodistas in time for the 10am Bogota street tour. Meet near the statue of Simon Bolivar, under the dome (or just look for a giant blue umbrella).

Grab a bite to eat at the local markets in La Candalaria.


Views over Bogota from Monserrate.

Day 3: Catch an early flight from Bogota to Armenia (one way flights cost anywhere between $30-$80AUD). Catch a local bus from the airport to the bus station in Armenia (should take approximately 20 minutes). Then, catch a 45min bus from the bus station to Salento. Go to Brunch for a meal.

We stated at Yambolombia Hostel (25,000COP a night). It’ll take around 40 minutes to walk from town (with your heavy backpacks) to this hostel, but it’s well worth the hike. Find the big yellow bridge, and keep walking along the road until you reach the giant, colourful sign that says ‘Yambolombia’.


Fruit stalls in Salento’s main plaza.

Day 4: Walk into the main plaza of Salento nice and early in the morning. Catch a 25 minute jeep from Plaza de Bolivar to Valle de Cocora (5-6 hrs for hike).

Catch a bus from Salento to Armenia bus terminal around 7pm. Pre book your night bus from Armenia to Medellin (we went with Flota Occidental, 10:30pm–5:30am, $20AUD).


High wax palms in Cocora Valley.

Day 5: You’ll arrive at the bus terminal in Medellin between five and six in the morning. 

Take a walking tour of Comuna 13 to find out about Medellin’s dark past and their impressive move toward a bright future.

We stayed at Ivy hostel, which is permanently closed as of 2024. Try looking on Hostelworld for hostels with good reviews in Zona Rosa.

Day 6: Catch a morning flight from Medellin to Cartagena (we found flights for $80AUD), just keep in mind the airport is about 45 minutes from the city – allow extra travel time.

We arrived at Cartagena around midday, and spent the afternoon walking the streets of Getsemani neighbourhood before a 4:30pm free walking tour of the Old City – look for a red umbrella at the Clock Tower to the entrance of Old City.

Day 7: Head to Cartagena’s bus terminal, and catch the 4.5hr bus to Santa Marta. Berlinas is a good company to go with – hunt for the best price, but remember that in Colombia you really do get what you pay for.

We stayed at Tiki Hut Santa Marta (35,000COP). Try looking on Hostelworld for hostels with good reviews in Santa Marta.

Day 8: Chill out at the hostel in the morning (utilise those hammocks). Catch a bus from town to Tayrona National Park. If your hostel is on the main road, ask the bus driver to tell you when to get off. We stayed at The Journey Hostel, which is right near the end of the road.

Day 9: Catch a bus from outside the hostel to the Calabazo entry for Tayrona National Park. Start the hike bright and early.

The hike from the main entrance to the park isn’t far from The Journey Hostel. Walk back to the hostel for the night. 


Hiking in Tayrona National Park.

Day 10: Catch the bus from outside your hostel to Santa Marta. Once you’re off the bus you’ll have to find a way up to Minca. We caught a share-taxi with another traveller to get up to Minca town centre (which is tiny, by the way). They’ll likely rip you off on price, but hey, what’s $3?

Check out some of the hikes around town or find a waterfall to take a refreshing dip.

We stayed at Casa Loma, Minca

Day 11: Leave Minca, start your journey back to Cartagena. Alternatively, stay another day in Minca.

Day 12: Spend your last day wandering around Cartagena.


Colourful streets of the Getsemani neighbourhood.

Day 13: On day 13 we caught an early morning flight to Havana, Cuba.

7 Days in Cuba

Day 14: We arrived in Havana around midday, and caught an expensive cab to our casa (25CUP).

Stay at Hostal Red (20CUC). Roberto’s hospitality comes second to none. Plus, if you’re a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, he looks like Anthony Kiedis.


Vintage cars in Old Havana.

Day 15: Catch the Viazul bus from Havana to Vinales (12CUC per person). Spend the night in Vinales Valley.

We stayed at Vinales Villa Maceo y Gladis (20CUC). I’d recommend finding a different casa, as Gladis was unfortunately very pushy with tours and not helpful when we said we wanted to hiking (without a guide) in the area.

Day 16: Get up early and take a long hike around Vinales Valley. We did approximately 18km, following a previously downloaded offline map on We climbed through caves, wandered through farmland, saw many tobacco plantations, and stopped off to see the famous mural, Mural de la Prehistoria.


Hiking in Vinales Valley.

Day 17: Catch a Viazul bus from Vinales to Havana (12CUC per person). 

To save money, we walked from the bus station to our hostel, about 4.5km. Taxis in Cuba are over-priced. Just something to consider if you’re on a tight budget.

Day 18: Catch a Viazul bus from Havana to Trinidad (25CUC per person). We asked Roberto to find us a casa in Trinidad, and he booked ahead for us to stay at Douglas’s casa, about a 20 minute walk from the centre of town.

Douglas met us at the Viazul bus station and organised for a push-bike taxi to take us to his home.

We walked into town for dinner, and watched people salsa dancing in the main plaza on the cobbled streets.


Colourful streets of Trinidad.

Day 19: Rent a bicycle and ride to Playa Ancon. The return trip is close to 18km, and bikes in Cuba aren’t comfortable. A bike shouldn’t cost you more than US $5.


Relaxing on the beach at Playa Ancon.

Day 20: Catch the Viazul bus back to Havana (25CUC per person). Stay at HostalRed again.

Day 21: Explore Old Havana. To save money, walk from your hostel into town via the Malecon to see the local fishermen working their magic.

We caught a flight from Havana to Lima, Peru (LATAM offer direct flights, check prices).

21 Days in Peru

Day 22: If you arrive in Lima early in the morning, catch a taxi to your hostel and explore the neighbourhoods of the city. We stayed in Miraflores at Waikiki Hostel (Previously called Alpes Lima). Miraflores is a very up-scale neighbourhood with many cafes and restaurants around. If you’ve got time, venture further to Barranco, a bohemian seaside suburb with much more to explore.

Day 23: Make travel around Peru simple, and pre-book yourself a seat onboard Peru Hop. First stop, Paracas.

We stayed at Kokopelli (32PS).

Day 24: Either get up early and take a tour out to the Ballestas Islands (US$15) or sleep in and relax by the pool.

The bus leaves Paracas at 1pm (meet at Frayles Residencial around 12:45pm). You’ll arrive in Huacachina at 2:15pm.  

Do not miss out on the dune buggy tour at 4pm. Don’t be afraid to lie face-down on the sand board and zoom down the huge dunes. Just pack a buff to keep the sand out of your mouth and nostrils.

We chose to stay at Casa de Arena (90PS). 

Day 25: The bus departs Huacachina at 1pm from Casa de Arenas. You’ll arrive at Nazca at 7pm for a quick dinner in town. If you wish to stay in Nazca, you’ll likely do the flight the next morning. We chose to continue our journey to Arequipa on the overnight bus.

Day 26: The bus will arrive in Arequipa around 5:30am. Spend the day in Arequipa, check out Plaza de Armas, and find a responsible tour operator for Colca Canyon. We chose to do the 3-day Colca Canyon trek with Peru Andes.

We stayed at Arequipay Backpackers (72PS).

Day 27: Our alarm went off at 3am to start the bus journey to Colca Canyon. If you choose the 3-day trek, on day one you’ll hike 7km and stay in neat little huts.

Day 28: On day two of the Colca Canyon hike you’ll be walking 12km. 


Trekking in the Colca Canyon.

Day 29: On your final day of hiking in the Colca Canyon, you’ll be up before sunrise to ascend more than 1,000m to the top of the canyon from the oasis. All up it’s a 5km hike, and then you’ll enjoy breakfast, and begin the journey back to Arequipa in time for dinner.

We stayed at Arequipay Backpackers again.

Day 30: We hopped back on the bus with Peru Hop at 5:45am for the 12hr bus to Cusco. 

We chose to stay at Sunset House Hostel, up in the San Blas neighbourhood.

Day 31: Take it easy on your first full day in Cusco. At an altitude of 3,300m (3,400m in San Blas) you’ll no doubt struggle to walk up and down flights of stairs in the hostel.

Check out the plaza, and explore the nooks and crannies filled with Peruvian handicrafts.

Day 32: We spent another lazy day in Cusco, and only just started adjusting to the altitude. Walk from San Blas to the statue of Christo Blanco overlooking the entire city.

Pack your bags, get ready to start the Salkantay Trek tomorrow.


Views of Cusco from San Blas.

Day 33: Day one of the 5-day Salkantay Trek.

Day 34: On day two of the Salkantay Trek you’ll reach 4,600m at the Salkantay Pass.


Reached 4,600m before 9am on day two of the trek.

Day 35: Day three of the Salkantay Trek.

Day 36: Day four of the Salkantay Trek.

Day 37: Day five of the Salkantay Trek. Exploring Machu Picchu. Catch the train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco in the afternoon. We stayed at Sunset House Hostel again.


Alpacas grazing at Machu Picchu.

Day 38: Enjoy a nice relaxing day in Cusco. Spend the day asking around for prices and information on various Rainbow Mountain tour operators (there are many).

Day 39: Get up early to do the Rainbow Mountain hike. We chose to book a cheaper tour, and got what we paid for. 

Day 40: Explore Cusco.

Day 41: Spend the day exploring Cusco, get ready for an overnight bus to Lake Titicaca.

The overnight bus departs at 10:30pm. Catch a taxi to the bus station, and try to get some sleep on the windy roads to Puno, on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.

Day 42: The bus will arrive in Puno around 6am. You’ll be taken to a local restaurant for breakfast, and then you have the option to either rest on the bus, or take a 2hr tour to the Uros Islands. You’ll be back in time to catch the 8:30am bus to Copacabana.

13 Days in Bolivia

You’ll arrive at Peruvian immigration around 1pm, and you should be crossing the border by 1:30pm to get your entry stamp into Bolivia. 

We stayed at Hostal Las Olas and chose one of the private rooms. With hammocks, a kitchen, bathroom, and awesome view over the lake, it was well worth the extra money. Search for hostels in Copacabana on Hostelworld.


Views over Lake Titicaca from our private room at Hostal Las Olas.

Day 43: We got up early and took a short hike up to Cerro Calvario.

In the afternoon we caught the boat over to Isla de la Sol. We were back in time for the 6pm bus to La Paz. The bus arrived in La Paz at 10:30pm, and dropped all passengers outside (or nearest to) their hostels.

We stayed at Hostel Journey.


Views from Cerro Calvario over the town of Copacabana.

Day 44: Check out La Paz’s witches markets and try the local empanadas (Salteñas). These are far more delicious than anywhere else in South America. It’s got a much more rich flavour, kind of like a curry instead of just mince meat.

Day 45: Explore La Paz. Start shopping around for the best price/safest tour operators for Death Road. Or, maybe you want to climb to the top of Huyana Potosi? We wanted to do both of these activities, but unfortunately we both caught the flu, so our week in La Paz was nothing too exciting.

Day 46: Check out some local eateries. We highly recommend Popular Cocina, a Bolivian restaurant that serves up a delicious three course meal for 50 Bolivianos per person.

Day 47: Take the 2pm walking tour of La Paz. If it happens to be a Thursday or Sunday, pay extra to go on the extended tour that takes you on the Teleférico up to El Alto, where you’ll see the real Yatiri (medical practitioners and community healers among the Aymara of Bolivia, Chile and Peru) witches markets and a Cholitas wrestling show. 

Day 48: Take an alternative walking tour of La Paz to learn about the famous prison, past politicians, the cemetery, and life in the city. This tour offers a very different perspective and insight into the politics and distinct culture of Bolivia. 

Day 49: Visit Valle de la Luna, just 30 minutes from downtown La Paz. To be honest, we weren’t all that impressed, but it’s worth a visit if you’re low on money and running out of things to do.

If you’re looking for something at a higher altitude, arrange a tour to Chacalyata. We wanted to do this, but as we both had the flu, we figured going up to 5,400m wouldn’t do us any good – so we cancelled at the last minute. If you do choose to go to Chacalyata, your day will start early.

Day 50: If you’re a fellow Australian, be sure to get a good feed at Higher Ground cafe – which was run by a really nice bloke from Melbourne. 

Day 51: On your last full day in La Paz, don’t leave without searching for some small figurines to make great perspective photos on the Salt Flats tour.

Catch a taxi to the bus station around 7:45pm in time to check in for your 9pm overnight bus to Uyuni. We caught a Todo Tourismo bus, which offered the semi-cama option. You’ll be served dinner and breakfast, plus they’ll put a movie on at the start of your journey.

Day 52: The bus will arrive in Uyuni around 6–7am. Everything in town will be closed until closer to 9am, but make your way to your tour operators office if you have already booked. We went with Red Planet Expeditions, and their office is nice and warm with plenty of couches to chill on until 10am when the briefing begins. 

Red Planet Expeditions are a reliable company with great guides and responsible drivers who won’t be drinking over the three days.

On day one you’ll visit the train graveyard, Cochani village, Ilsa Incahuasi, and take many perspective photos of the salt flats. That night you’ll stay at a really nice salt hotel.


Colourful flags flap in the wind on the Salt Flats.

Day 53: The second day of the salt flats tour is jam packed with sights to see. You’ll be up early at around 6am for breakfast, and you’ll stop off at San Juan de Rosario (quinoa farm), Laguna Chullucani, Viscachitas (4,590m) for lunch, Laguna Cachi, Laguna Kara, the stone tree (4,580m), Laguna Colorada (4,350m), and the highest point will be the geysers at 4,910m (you will no doubt feel the altitude up here).

If you’re feeling a little lagooned out, don’t fret – those geysers are really impressive at the end of the day.

On the second night you’ll stay in a basic hotel (not too shabby, might I say). If you pay a little less for your tour you might be left with less impressive accommodation. But I can confirm, Red Planet Expeditions have selected brilliant places to stay.


Flamingos at one of many lagoons as we near the Chilean border.

Day 54: The final day of the salt flats tour is really short. You’ll leave the hotel around 7am. First stop, Thali desert. Second and final stop, Laguna Blanca (4,310m). Volcan Licanbur lines the border between Bolivia and Chile, and it’s 5,920m high. At this point of the tour, those who are continuing on to San Pedro de Atacama will pile into a few vehicles, and those who are returning to Uyuni will start the long drive back.

Wave goodbye to your new comrades, it’s time to do the border crossing into Chile.

17 Days in Chile

Exiting Bolivia is so simple that our guide went and got our stamps done for us. Once you cross the border however, Chile mean business. Get rid of all your coca leaves before you leave Bolivia – Chile have very strict rules and regulations.

We arrived in San Pedro around 2pm, and went to our hostel to drop the bags off before exploring the town (and finding food).

We stayed at Hostal Rural.

Day 55: Rent a bike and ride into Valle de Luna. You’ll save a tonne of money on tours, plus you’ll get to explore the desert at your own pace. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, plenty of water, food and snacks for the whole day.

It’s approximately 16km from town, so expect to ride around 32km all up.


Riding into the desert of Valle de Luna, Atacama Desert.

Day 56: We were nursing sore legs and crotches after a big day of cycling, so we spent the day wandering around town, trying the empanadas, and chilling at the hostel.

Day 57: Take the 3pm walking tour of San Pedro to learn about the history between Chile and Bolivia, and many fun facts about the town. Or, if you’re looking for more of an adventure and have a larger budget, check out the other tours that go further afield to the geysers and volcanoes. We’d just spent three days seeing vast landscapes in Bolivia, so we chose to skip these over-priced activities.


Walk into the desert at night to see the incredible night sky.

Day 58: In the morning we caught a transfer from San Pedro to Calama with Licancabur. It takes two hours, and costs 10,000CLP per person. While the driver was running late, we’d booked it earlier than necessary with this in the back of our minds. Never assume anyone in South America will be running on time. 

We caught a flight from Calama to Santiago and arrived around 4pm.

That night we went for dinner and walked around the Bellavista neighbourhood to get a feel for the city. We stayed at The Bellavista Hostel.

Day 59: We got up early and caught a bus to Valparasio around 10am.

Unfortunately we couldn’t find the correct location for the afternoon walking tour, so we didn’t learn much about the city aside from what an Argentinian bloke from our hostel had to say. But, I’d highly recommend joining one of the walking tours.

We stayed at Planeta Lindo, which is permanently closed. Search Hostelworld for accommodation in Valparasio.


Artwork in Valparasio.

Day 61: Catch a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. There’s not much happening in Punta Arenas, but if the weather is good you could catch a boat out to Isla Magdalena to see Chilean Patagonia’s most important Magellanic penguin colony. We were treated to freezing temperatures and low visibility, so the boats weren’t departing that day.

We stayed at Hostal Ayelen.

Day 62: Catch a bus to Puerto Natales at 10am.

We stayed at Vinnhaus, which is now a boutique hotel and not exactly within a backpackers budget… Search for more affordable accommodation on Hostelworld.

Day 63: Spend the day re-packing your bags for the W Trek and shopping for groceries in Puerto Natales. Get a good nights sleep, you’ll be up early tomorrow for the bus to Torres del Paine.

Day 64: Catch the bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine (2 hours, 2 daily buses US $20). Catch the catamaran from Pudeto to Paine Grande.

Hike from Paine Grande to Refugio Grey (11km). 

Day 65: Day two of the W Trek is a whopping 18km. Hike from Grey Campsite to Italiano Ranger Station. 

Day 66: On day three, hike from Italiano Ranger Station to Los Cuernos (10km).

Day 67: On day four, hike from Los Cuernos to Central (roughly 19km).

Day 68: On the final day, leave your large packs and camping gear behind at Central and hike to the base of Torres del Paine (22km-return).

Catch a shuttle bus back to Puerto Natales at 5pm. Or, if you’re hiking out of season, catch pre-booked transfer (we pre-booked through W Circuito) at the arranged time back to town.

Day 69: Hang around Puerto Natales and relax. You’ve earned it.

Day 70Catch a bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. About an hour into the journey, you’ll reach Chilean customs for your exit stamp.

10 Days in Argentina

Arrive in El Calafate around 2:00pm.

We highly recommend staying at America del Sur (and trying their Argentine asado).

Day 71: Catch a bus to El Chalten at 7:30am. Book ahead if you’re there in peak season, otherwise you should be fine to book the bus at the station one day before.

We stayed at Patagonia Hostel.

Day 72: Hike to Laguna de los Tres (22km-return), at the base of Fitz Roy. Pack enough food for the day, but you’ll be able to fill up your water bottles in the streams along the way.


The lake is totally frozen over in winter.

Day 73: Either take a rest day, or get straight back into it by hiking to Laguna Torre (22km-return), at the base of Cerro Torre. This hike is very flat, a far easier option for those of you who aren’t too keen on rock scrambling.


Having lunch at Laguna Torre. Cerro Torre is hidden in the clouds.

Day 74: Take one of the other small hikes around town, or have a nice relaxing day in El Chalten. Be sure to get some empanadas from Che Empanada. 

Day 75: Catch a bus back to El Calafate at 11:00am. When you get to the bus station, pre-book your seat on a bus to Perito Moreno Glacier for the following day. 

Day 76: Catch a bus to Perito Moreno Glacier at 7:30am. You’ll spend close to five hours at the glacier. Pack lunch with you – the food options at the cafeteria aren’t great (and overpriced).


Perito Moreno Glacier.

Day 77: We hung around town and spent our last few days soaking up Patagonia’s slow-paced lifestyle. But, if your trip isn’t coming to an end, investigate which buses could take you to Bariloche (a bus there could take anywhere between 22–24hrs).

Day 78: Final day in El Calafate. There isn’t much around town here, but you could walk down to the lake and see flamingos, or just take in the beautiful scenery.

Day 79: Fly from El Calafate to Buenos Aires. We stayed at America del Sur Hostel Buenos Aires, which is in the neighbourhood of San Telmo.

Day 80: Fly home (or continue exploring Buenos Aires).

*Cuba isn’t part of South America, it’s in the Caribbean. But cheap flights from Colombia to Cuba meant we couldn’t turn it down.

What did we miss? What would you do differently? If you’ve got any questions, let us know!

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August 16, 2018

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