Advice needed, can’t decide where to go

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Advice needed, can’t decide where to go

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1. Posted by Asolmar (Budding Member 3 posts) 3y Star this if you like it!

Hello fellow travelers.

I hope to get some advice, to help me decide where to go/what to see.

I’m a danish guy going in my first trip to South America. I’m going to meetup with a friend in Santiago, travel around/explore something, and end up in Buenos Aires, for a couple of days, before flying home. In total we have three weeks, and would like at least a couple of days in each city, so basically two weeks to travel around.

My problem is, that there is so much I want to see and experience, and there is so little time in only three weeks! So I want to find the perfect balance of experiencing a lot, but also get to enjoy life and not rush around..

I would like to do at least one of theese things:
- going south to explore some wild nature and glaciers in Patagonia
- Macchu Picchu 3-4 day trek
- Atacama dessert
- Iguazú falls

So do any of you have any advice for my on how to plan the route or recomendations on where to go/what to see? Also, what is possible in two weeks only to avoid rushing around?

I definitely love mountains and wild nature, but I also like charming old cities/historical sites, and I love good food and wine.

Any advice/recomendation would be helpful and appreciated! Thank you

2. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5701 posts) 3y 2 Star this if you like it!

Probably the most important question to ask is: when are you going to do this?

With two weeks, I'd limit yourself to at most two of the destinations you listed; personally I'd probably stick to only one and do that in depth.

For Patagonia, the season to go there is basically limited to November through March. Late October / early April is still possible as well, but I've had it snow on me already in early April in El Chaltén. I personally prefer the Argentinian side, with El Chaltén being hiker's paradise - a week is too short a time there for my money. Fly into and out of El Calafate, from where you can do Perito Moreno. The way the flights between El Calafate and Buenos Aires are structured, half of them allow for a basically "free" stopover in Ushuaia, which is worthwhile for a few days as well.
The Chilean side doesn't have as much to see/do, but of course has the big draw with Torres del Paine with the W trek. I'm glad to have done it, but yeah - with only two weeks, in retrospect I wouldn't bother again with the overhead of border crossings and trying to combine that with the much more convenient hiking around El Chaltén.

For Machu Picchu, the dry season is April through October. June through August is peak season, which I'd try to avoid. May and September are perfect. if you want to hike the "classic" inca trail, you need to book 6+ months in advance; more for peak season. (Might be that you need to book as much as a year in advance nowadays; I haven't kept up since I did this ten years ago.) There's various "alternative" 4 day hikes via inca sites that all "end" near Machu Picchu, which you can generally book just a few weeks / months in advance. I wouldn't mind at all hiking some of those at some point in my life, but I'm glad to have done the classic inca trail. The sequence of ever more impressive inca sites ending with Machu Picchu itself, really gives you proper context of just how overwhelmingly amazing Machu Picchu is.

The big thing with hiking to Machu Picchu is that you need altitude acclimatization beforehand; altitude sickness sucks massively, and you do not want to risk it. That means that before you arrive in Cuzco, you need to schedule in another 3+ days at lower altitudes, and having gotten acclimatization to higher altitudes helps a lot with the hike itself. Arequipa at 2350 meters is the general "first stop" on the gringo trail, altitude-wise (and a very nice city to spend some time in), and Lake Titicaca at 4000 meters will then help you be fully prepared for the heights of the inca trail. But that means that your 4 day inca trail now turns into an 8+ day Peruvian adventure.
(Machu Picchu itself is actually located at relatively low altitude, so if you don't go hiking but train straight to Aguas Calientes, you could scrape by without altitude acclimatization, even though Cuzco's altitude is risky.)

[ Edit: Edited on 25-Oct-2018, at 14:14 by Sander ]

3. Posted by Teoni (Travel Guru 1747 posts) 3y Star this if you like it!

For 2 weeks you would have to cut either the Inca Trail or Patagonia. If your trip is soon and you have not organised the Inca Trail permits then that activity would be out of the question. In saying that you can still visit Machu Picchu without doing the Inca Trail. You could still visit Cusco, have a side trip to Colca Canyon check out Lake Titicaca maybe even see the Nazca Lines. Since all the other places you want to visit are north anyway it might be better to stick to that area.

If you like cultural cities you might want to check out Valparaiso in Chile.

4. Posted by Piecar (Inactive 1218 posts) 3y Star this if you like it!

To make your line streamlined, I'd meet in Santiago(lived there once....bleh) go over the Andes and head towards BsAs, but detour to Iguazu Falls. The Atacama Desert is WAY outta your way. You CAN NOT see it all, and to rush it is just stupid. Enjoy your three weeks. See what you can and make another trip some other time.

I agree that this is not always a popular view, but capturing buzzword destinations isn't the best way to travel. Knowing a place, having a few days to Know it, is better than HALOing into a place and moving on to the next place. In Spanish, the idea of visiting a place is to "know" it. (Tu conoces Cancun? Si). I cleave to that idea.

However, if you are playing Spring Golf, have at 'er. The Atacama is awesome...(thought I saw some of it in a very rare bloom...How can this be drier than the Sahara?)

Anyways, my advice is to go to BsAs with a detour to Iguazu

Post 5 was removed by a moderator
6. Posted by Asolmar (Budding Member 3 posts) 3y Star this if you like it!

Thank you for all for taking time to give me some advices, it is all very helpfull! Of course I should have wrote when I’m going - it is in February 2019.

7. Posted by Borisborough (Moderator 1639 posts) 3y Star this if you like it!

Quoting Asolmar

Thank you for all for taking time to give me some advices, it is all very helpfull! Of course I should have wrote when I’m going - it is in February 2019.

That makes your decision a little easier - the Inca Trail is closed every February (although Machu Picchu is still open). :(:(:(

But it is possible to do another trail - the Salkantay Trek but that's five days. :):):)

[ Edit: Edited on 25-Oct-2018, at 23:13 by Borisborough ]

8. Posted by ToonSarah (Travel Guru 1377 posts) 3y Star this if you like it!

I second the advice about Valparaiso but you can easily do it as day trip from Santiago.

The Atacama is out of your way if travelling overland to Buenos Aires but if you're flying you could easily fly up to Calama from Santiago for a few days and I really recommend it. It was possibly my favourite destination in Chile (fighting it out with the Torres del Paine NP ;) ) You would however have to back track to Santiago. Alternatively it's possible to travel overland from there into Bolivia and you could then fly from Uyuni up to La Paz for a connection to Cusco. You wouldn't be able to do the Inca Trail, as others have said, but Cusco itself will appeal if you like historical cities, and a few days in the Atacama will have helped acclimatize you to the altitude. You could then get the train to Machu Picchu, and from there via Lima to BA. That should fill your two weeks without packing a ridiculous amount in, e.g.

Day 1 fly to Calama and transfer to San Pedro.
Days 3-5 in the Atacama
Days 6-8 overland to Uyuni (less if you get the bus - this allows for a tour which you can book in San Pedro I believe - we didn't do this, I should add, but I did research it online)
Day 9 fly to Cusco
Day 10 explore Cusco
Day 11 train to Machu Picchu and start to explore
Day 12 more time at the ruins then train back to Cusco
Day 13 fly to Lima, overnight stay
Day 14 fly to BA

If you can squeeze an extra day you could have more time at MP, spend it in the Sacred Valley, breaking the journey to MP, or have a chance to see a little bit of Lima. You could also cut down to 2 days in the Atacama, as you'll see more of the same sort of scenery on the trip to Bolivia, and use that day elsewhere.

9. Posted by neurotraveler (Budding Member 18 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

We just returned from a 3 week trip to Patagonia. If you like mountains, this is the place to go. The scenery is spectacular! Photos and a blog on this site.

10. Posted by ToddP (Moderator 226 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

- Macchu Picchu 3-4 day trek. I did not do the trek as I would not be that keen on such a physical challenge. :) However visited Macchu Picchu and is as good as expected. Definitely worth a visit!

- Iguazú falls. I've visited from both sides (Brazil and Argentina). The best waterfalls I've even seen (and I've seen good few of them). :)