I posted this question to a couple of specific travel helpers - one of whom suggested I post this in the general South America forum. So here goes ...
As part of a 5 month RTW trip I will be travelling from Ushuaia to Lima, and I have exactly 34 days to cover that distance and hopefully see what I want to see between my flight into Ushuaia and my flight out of Lima.
At the moment I have no other fixed points or prebooked plans during that time, but I would kinda like to be at Machu Picchu on my birthday and stay overnight in Aguas Calientes. If I do prebook that (by train), that would give me 27 days to get from Ushuaia to Cusco and 5 days from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Lima.
These are the areas I want to see:
Torres del Paine NP (not to do the Circuit or W, just day hiking)
Perito Moreno Glacier
San Rafael Glacier (not a must-see if I don't have time)
Chilean Lake District
Atacama Desert (can skip this if it is a choice between this & Salar de Uyuni)
Salar de Uyuni
Lake Titicaca & islands
Macchu Picchu & Sacred Valley
Arequipa & Colca Canyon
Nazca Lines (again not a must-see if I don't have time)
When I booked my flights I thought that nearly 5 weeks would be ample time to do all this overland. But now I'm not so sure - it's an awful long way on buses. I'm thinking that it's probably a good idea to fly part of the way - maybe Santiago/Pt Montt to Calama. Or if I skip Atacama desert, maybe fly to La Paz and get a round-trip tour to Salar de Uyuni from there.
The main question I guess is, if I book my birthday stay at Machu Picchu, is 5 days after this long enough to see a bit of the area around Ollantaytambo and then get to Lima (via Arequipa/Colca Canyon) without it being a headlong rush? Would I be better off doing Arequipa before I get to Cusco/MP instead of after?
And any advice or suggestions about how to fit the rest in (or which bits to leave out) would be very gratefully received.
mega tough one here.
ok, to give you an idea on buses. I got a bus from Puerto Natales up to Osorno (I think) and it took 32 hours. From there to Pucon took another few and from there to Santiago took 12 or so. It's a long long way by bus.
If you want to see the lake district and maybe climb a volcano or take part in some fabulous outdoor persuits then Pucon in Chile is fantastic. Conversely if you go to some of the places you mention you may come back up route 40 I think???) on the Argie side in which case Bariloche is very similar and in the centre of the lake district, 7 of them in fact.
Rather than see the Atacama I would consider strongly going to Tupiza and doing the 4 day/3 night trip to the Salar de Uyuni. You see some terrific landscapes, it's mega cheap, and it is very very easy to get onto. ie. arrive then book and go in morning, next day at worst.
In order to see the Chilean fjords I took a ferry from Purto Montt down to Puerto Natales. It was called the Navimag. I don't think it is ideal for you because it takes 3.5 days. Leave PM to go south on Monday and leaves PN to go north on Fridays.
Sorry if this is in no particular order!!!
Maybe whilst in the Torres I would go to see the likes of the grey glacier and obviously the rest of the park. I beleive this to be better than the PM Glacier, albeit others will prob disagree. Torres was my favourite place in SA over a 6 month stay. Truely beautiful.
You are going to have to build a day or two contingency into your trip I think in case.
Lake Titicacca and the uros islands can be seen in very little time indeed with a stop on the Peruvian side. The drive from La Paz to Cusco goes past here anyway so no detour.
I spent my birthday at MP. Fabulous day, good choice. I had spent the previous few days on the Inca Trail. Not sure if you have time for it but it was brilliant. (I used SAS, won't have a bad word there).
Went to Arequipa and it took me a day or two to sort a 3 day/2 night trek in the CC. You can do a 2 day/1 night. It's beautiful but hard work. Remember you won't have acclimatised as well as I maybe did with all my time in Bolivia. It's not to be underestimated but some take to it very well. La Paz would be harder as would Cusco.
Nazca Lines you can stop on the Arequipa to Lima bus route without any problem. I got the bus there from Arequipa at mindnight, woke up there in the morning, did the flight, and left that avo. No issue there at all. You can even book the flight whilst in Arequipa no worries but prob a little more expensive.
So all in all I have jabbered on lol.
With 5 weeks I would:
Have 5 days in Torres
day travel north
Bit of time in Pucon or Bariloche (3 days)
travel north (1 day) to somewhere like Mendoza in Argentina for a day or two and wine it up. (2 weeks up already).
Bus further north through Salta and onto Arg/Bol border and 2 more hours to Tupiza. a big day travel - prob full 24 hours +)
4 day 4WD trip to Salt Flats.
Bus to La Paz for a day or two - great cycling, crazy city, good hostels. (up to circa 3 weeks)
Bus on to Lake Titicacca, either at Copacabana on Bol side or place beginning with P on Peru side.
On to Cusco/MP for you birthday for a few more days.
Down to Arequipa for a few more.
then the final few days going on to Nazca.
Any time left go to Huacachina for some sand surfing. Only a few hours to Lima then!!
Well, hope it helps a bit, getting tired lol.
If you have any more questions ask one at a time so I don't jump all over the place!!!
Thanks very much for all this advice, it's really useful!!