First time trip to South America

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean First time trip to South America

1. Posted by matt23 (Budding Member 2 posts) 10y Star this if you like it!


I’m going to be travelling around South America for 2 months (December / January) with my girlfriend. It is our first real experience of travelling on our own and we are after some advice.

We were thinking on spending 1 month in Peru then flying to Rio and spending 1 month in Brazil. Realistically is 1 month to long in each country?

I’m keen to do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and visit Lima city but other than that is there any other things we must do in Peru? Like wise for Brazil we will visit Rio but not sure what else to do considering the distances you need to travel to reach other cities.

I have been reading some of the comments made on this forum and I am thinking of perhaps breaking the trip up and visiting Chile / Bolivia as well as Peru and Brazil (so 2 weeks in each country). Can anyone suggest a good / cheap way of seeing all these places. Is public transport a reliable and viable option for travelling between countries or will we need to book on a tour bus / flight?

Sorry for all the questions but we suddenly realised that although we have good plans for N. America we have done very little to fill our time on S. America. If anyone has any suggestions on what to see and do during the two months we are in Brazil and Peru or Chile / Bolivia it would be greatly appreciated. Any accommodation and general travel tips wouldn’t go a miss either.


2. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5670 posts) 10y Star this if you like it!

Hey Matt,

I guess 2 months is a perfect amount of time to visit several countries, and I as I was reading your questions and itinerary I thought you could also travel overland from Lima to Rio in about 2 months without rushing it too much. That way you can visit some parts of Brazil when slowly making your way towards Rio.
Public transport is perfect and you won't need to book anything before you leave or go with tours or whatever (well, except the Inca Trail of course).
As a suggestion here is a possible itinerary:

  • Lima: 1 day (is more than enough)
  • Southern Peru: 2 weeks, visiting Arequipa/Colca Canyon/Cuzco and Machu Picchu/Puno (Lake Titicaca)
  • Bolivia: 2 weeks: visiting La Paz, south to Sucre and or/Potosi, on to Uyuni and a tour across the salt lakes and southwest corner (really, this is not something to miss, liked it very much, can recommend Tupiza Tours). You can end in Tupiza and travel south into Argentina and on to Salta.

Now that's about the first 4-4,5 weeks. You could also do this slightly in a different way by going to Cuzco/Machu Picchu first, than to Arequipa/Colca Canyon (and skip Puno) and head into Chile from here to visit Arica and Parc Nacional Lauca, south to San Pedro and do a tour from here to Uyuni like described above.

Second part:

  • Salta and surroundings: 5 days: some daytours to Cafayate and the Altiplano (Cachi for example) are nice, thousands of cacti on this route, one of the biggest I ever saw.
  • From here there are several options, by bus to Buenos Aires is about 24 hours so a flight couldn't heard I guess.
  • BA several days, than up north to Iguasu Falls and if you have time north to the Pantanal and than east towards Rio. Sorry haven't been to Brazil yet, so not really know which are the best things to do and see here.

If you don't want to go into Argentina, there are buses in Bolivia from Uyuni heading east to Potosi/Sucre and down to Santa Cruz, from where you can take the train to the border with Brazil (24 hours), crossing at the southern Pantanal, which you can visit from Corumba (bordertown) and head to Rio from here or first south to Iguasu Falls.

Pfff, this has got to be one of the longest replies I ever gave, but there are so many routes and things do see/do.
Hope this is a start for you.
have fun and cheers!

3. Posted by Degolasse (Travel Guru 823 posts) 10y Star this if you like it!

I think 2 months is too short to do all that but I guess it depends on what kind of traveler you are. I don't like to be rushed at all, so the first part of Utrecht's itinerary (Peru and Bolivia) is what did in a full two months (plus Huacachina in Peru). Peru is so much more than Lima and Machu Picchu, and you would not be hard pressed to find enough stuff to do in a whole month.
Arequipa is unmissable and was my favorite city in the country. Arequipa is also a base for visits to the Colca Canyon which has to be hiked to appreciate it. So with a couple days in the city and the hike, that's 5 days.
Huacachina just south of Lima is a really cool spot and is a must for a couple days.
Cusco deserves at least 3-4 days including a day trip to the sacred valley. Then you want to do the Inca Trail which is 4-5 days or something. Book it online early, it's required and it fills up several months ahead. Alternatively do a cheaper and easier to book trek like Salkantay.
Lake Titicaca is also a must. The Peruvian side is worth doing an overnight tour to see.
So with that I'm figuring that a little more than 3 weeks is better for this bit.

Then there's Bolivia. This side of Titicaca is again worth a visit for at least 2 days so you can do an overnight on Isla del Sol. Even better is to give yourself 2 nights so you can have one full day to kick around and do a hike.
La Paz is a pretty cool city and worth spending at least 2 days in. And one of the highlights of this region is the World's Most Dangerous Road and Coroico, which is great for a couple days relaxing.
So that's more than the month gone. Unfortunately, the highlight of Bolivia is the Southwest, which will take another 4 days from La Paz to see. Sucre is also a nice city for a couple days.
So I think to get this far, if you want to take the time to enjoy it, will take 5-6 weeks at minimum.
Sorry, can't help you with the rest of your trip, I've never been to Brazil.

4. Posted by KST (Budding Member 8 posts) 10y Star this if you like it!

Two months is barely enough time for Peru and Brazil. Long distance bus travel is reliable, maybe more so in Brazil than in Peru. In Brazil the roads are better in the south, poorer in the northeast, almost non-existent in the north.

One adventuresome way to get from Peru to Brazil is by river. Peru has two riverboat ports that are accessible by bus from the rest of Peru: Pucallpa and Yurimaguas. From either one you can get riverboats to Iquitos, then more riverboats downriver -- all the way to the mouth of the Amazon at Belem if you want. From Belem there are a couple of bus routes to Rio -- one via Brasilia and one via the main northeastern coastal cities. With less time you can fly to Iquitos, then take some combination of fast boats and traditional riverboats downriver.

I would plan a trip like this by reading the latest Lonely Planet guides on Peru and Brazil -- you will probably find more 'musts' than you can reasonably do in two months (I'm about to take off on a two-month trip going only to one state in Venezuela [Amazonas] and two in Brazil [Amazonas and Para] and still won't have time to go everywhere I would like) -- then start eliminating those that are not as interesting. If you are including the Amazon on your route you should look at the Bradt guidebook, The Amazon, as well.


5. Posted by PeterT (Budding Member 6 posts) 10y Star this if you like it!

If you do make it to Brazil, and you want to see some wildlife....try and stop at the Pantanal. I've never seen so many different kinds of animals and wildlife in my life!!! Make sure you bring plenty of memory cards. I went with Joanne Williams and spent almost a week there. It was really worth it. Look into it if youre at all into photography or you enjoy wildlife on any level!!

6. Posted by tricky (Respected Member 323 posts) 10y Star this if you like it!

has anyone even mentioned Rurrenabaque in Bolivia.

An absolute must I feel.

I agree on Huacachina too. Sand boarding and a good old relax there is awesome.

1 month per country and you are going to see quite a lot. You are NEVER going to see everything no matter how long you have.

My advice would be have a flexible plan in place. If you really love somewhere stay on and enjoy it. If you don't get a good vibe just move on, there is somewhere waiting for you up the road.

7. Posted by tricky (Respected Member 323 posts) 10y Star this if you like it!

If you take a look at the map on my blog that provides a pretty darned good route through Bolivia and Peru and I took 1 month ish on each.

Covers a small part of Brazil too along with lots of Argentina, a little of Uruguay and the south of Chile (Santiago down).

Enjoy your trip.