As part of our round the world trip me and my girlfriend are spending 2 months in South America flying into Santiago and flying out of Rio De Janiero.
What we do in the meantime I have no idea where to start. The only thing I know we want to do is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.
I've heard there are no rail systems in south america. Is this true? Buses will take a long time. So is it worth just choosing 2/3 countries e.g. Chile, Argentina and Peru? We are reluctant to book more flights but will have to if necessary. Recommended itineraries?
Difficult one. For example, Iguazu Falls is more to the east and en route to Rio, but 2 months might be better to stick to northern Chile, southern Peru, Bolivia and west and northwestern Argentina. And visit Brazil (including pantanal for example) another time, together with buenos aires and uruguay.
You could do a loop anti clockwise for example:
santiago - mendoza - salta - bolivia (tupiza, tour of 4 days around the southwest, ending in Uyuni) - on to La Paz, maybe via Sucre and or Potosi - Lake titicaca - Cuzco/Inca Trail - Arequipa - Arica (visit lauca national park, beautiful!) - San pedro de atacama - santiago again.
There are few rail systems indeed. Check the South America part of this article here on TP.
Cheers and enjoy!
[ Edit: Edited on 25-Feb-2009, at 13:07 by Utrecht ]
I noticed you didnt say what months u plan to come. If you go in July, its winter here. Santiago is good for skiing. U also said about buses. I agree buses isnt fun but it allows you to go to other places. You said Santiago to Rio. There are alot of good places to go along the way. For example as a one way route, Santiago, Mendoza, Buenos Aires, Montevideo if u have to (1 day should be enough there), Gramado (a mountain resort outside of Porto Alegre Brasil), Iguazu Falls ( a must) Curitiba and Rio. Avoid Sao Paulo all together as it is NOT a tourist city. You cant go wrong with these places as other people would post the same thing also. Its a long way but alot of these buses go all night, which means you wont need a hotel and some, if not most, all the buses have sleepers (like 1st class in an airplane). In Brasil they are called leito.
My friend and I spent 3 months last year travelling from Rio to Santiago. As it was winter we decided to leave out Patagonia (southern Arg/Chile).
Anyways, must dos in my view are the inca trail, salar d'unuyi, iguasu falls and either the Pantanal (which we did) or the Amazon/Pampas in Bolivia (skipped till next time).
You could go North from Santiago to San Pedro de Attacama do the salt flats into Bolivia then go to Peru/Cusco for the Inca Trail back across to La Paz then go either via Santa Cruz into Brazil and the Pantanal then head for Iguassu then east for Rio or head south again (double back a bit) for Mendoza (Arg) then Buenos Aires if you wanted or straight Iguassu for Rio... We had plenty of time for our trip in 3 months and we spent a week in Rio, BA and La Paz.
What we did was Rio - Ihla Grande - Iguassu Falls - Campo Grande - Pantanal Trip - Corumba - Santa Cruz (Bolivia) - La Paz (4 nights) - Salar d'Unuyi - Potosi (6 days due to strikes) - Sucre - returned to La Paz (4 more nights) - Arequipa (Peru) - Cusco - Inca Trail - Nasca - Tacna - Arica (Chile) - Iquique - Mendoza (Arg) - BA - Salta - Valparaiso (chile) - Santiago
All that in 12 weeks and never rushed either - buses service brilliant, drivers can be like rollercoasters, varies from country to county too though but regular enough, we got one train from Corumba to Santa Cruz - experience i will never forget... we did zig zag a bit but it didnt bother us...
Hope that helps in some way! Very jealous would do it all again in a heartbeat!