I'm going to be travelling the above trail with my boyfriend in May - we have about two and a half weeks to get from Cusco to Santiago and the preference is land travel ahead of flights. My question is - will it be a nightmare where we spend hours at a time on buses or will it in fact be a fulfilling and enjoyable experience?
Hello, I did roughly this trip in the opposite direction with my girlfriend of the time a few years ago so knowledge and timings are a bit rusty but I think I caught a bus from Santiago to Cuzco in one go. Long. 36 hours springs to mind and i always regetted not seeing the bits in between so enjoy it! I think it's do-able in that time, and I think you'll make it fine with a longish ride every 2-3 days. Try using overnight buses to cover big bits, Pullman Class so you can stretch out and actually sleep!! It's so very much worth the extra cash.
Have fun, travel safe and I hope this was useful, Will.
Two and half weeks should be plenty, although if you want to travel overland, you will have to battle through a few long bus journeys. As long as you're careful to book decent buses with good reclineable seats you should be fine though. We did this route in November 06 over the space of about 2 weeks and it was fine.
We took a bus all the way from Cusco to the Peru border at Tacna (overnight - about 16 hours - make sure you take a blanket or sleeping bag!) - from there you can get across the border to Arica, (if you're lucky, in an old school open-top Cadillac!).
Not sure exactly what's in Arica as we didn't hang about - perhaps someone else can advise. From Arica we took a four hour bus direct to Iqueque, a fantastic seaside resort on the north coast. We stayed in a great hostel called 'Backpackers' - there's a few things in the area to see too. We hung around for a week as it was so relaxing after all the trekking and partying in Cusco.
From there we took a direct bus to Santiago (24 hours) but you could perhaps think about breaking this up with a stop inland at San Pedro de Atacama. We stopped here on our way up from Argentina, and although it's a small town, there are plenty of trips to do in the area such as Valle de la Luna and the Geysers del Tatio. Also, if you think you can squeeze in a four day trip across the Bolivian Altiplano and over the Uyuni Salt Flats I would highly recommend it - by far one the best highlights of our South American trip!
Personally, I think you can get away with only spending two or three days in Santiago as there are much more interesting things to see elsewhere.
Take a look at my blogs for these legs of the journey, they may give you some other ideas - sorry, still getting around to uploading my photo's so only the latter two have them.
http://dbosozblog.travellerspoint.com/12/ (San Pedro de Atacama)
http://dbosozblog.travellerspoint.com/13/ (Bolivian Altiplano & Salt Flats)
I'm really jealous by the way!
Have a wicked time... it's an amazing part of the world!
Brilliant advice from you both, thank you so much for taking the time - it's always reassuring to know that the trip you're planning isn't completely insane
I think we'll definitely take our time over it, and will get the Salt flats in if we can!!!
One other transport question thought - do we need to book coaches in advance or are we pretty safe to rock up a day or two in advance and get us some comfy seats?!
It's probably adviseable to get yourself down to the bus station in Cusco a good few days before you intend to travel as the routes out of there can get pretty chocker! There are a good 20-30 agents in the one bus station so if you're on a budget make sure you shop around for the best deal - they're not adverse to over-charging you if they think they can get away with it - we paid half of what our friends did to leave on the same day, and ended up in better seats on the same bus!
For the rest of the journey, you can probably just turn up and get tickets on the day, although we always found it best to go one or two days before to make sure we were getting the times and prices we wanted. If you're on a pretty tight schedule this is probably a good idea anyway.