Our 2-month South America backpacking itinerary

After only 5-6 years and tens of your questions, we finally felt inspired to write down the itinerary of our first grande journey. It all started when we decided to head for South America and explore it for about 60 days. In this article, we want to wrap up the whole journey and share with you our 2-month South America backpacking itinerary.

Horseback riding, El Calafate, Argentina

Packing our backpacks

Such a trip needs a corresponding preparation. Here is what our sofa looked like before we left. We managed to stuck everything into our backpacks.

The journey to South America

The whole trip to South America tooks us about 30 hours.

The trip to Barcelona passed uneventfully.  There we were met with Spanish punctuality. We booked a hotel room near the airport because we’ll be there for a short while and we wanted to rest optimally before the day-long flight. However, we had to wander around the terminal before our transport came.

The hotel was great. It was quiet even though it faced the airport.  We ate lightly in the restaurant and then drifted off. The next morning we were ready on the bus at 6 o’clock and we were 10 minutes away from the terminal. We wanted to wrap our backpacks, but there were lines at both wrapping stations. Thankfully, we found another one and managed to do it quickly without having to run for the plane. We were adamant to not have our backpack busted at the beginning of our journey.

And so we are in Madrid and we are changing terminals by the little train which passes between terminals 4 and 4s. We found our exit easily, we even had time for a bocadillo.

We had only 10 hours left on the Iberia plane. We watched The Ninja Turtles twice, played twenty games of backgammon, slept, ate (they even offered us fat-free food).

Days 1 – 4: Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

As soon as we got some sleep after landing in Rio de Janeiro, we headed for the beach. Our first beach to visit was Copacabana and we did some fair share of beach hopping in Rio in the following days. We also visited the major landmarks of the city as the Cristo Redentor, Sugarloaf Mountain, we even had a favela tour in the biggest favela in South America – Rocinha. The heat and humidity were so bad that we even did a day trip to the mountain town of Petropolis.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Days 5 – 6: Paraty

We ventured outside Rio to visit the colonial town of Paraty and its beautiful coastline. We had our first low for the South America Grande journey here: we returned from a great day of snorkeling and sailing only to discover all our cash money was stolen from the hostel we stayed at. After a fight with the hostel owner and a visit to the local police station, we decided to make peace with the fact we’ll never see the money and try to move on.

Days 7 – 8: Ilha Grande and Lopes Mendes beach

We needed the tropical paradise of Ilha Grande and Lopes Mendes beach after the misfortune in Paraty. We actually prolonged our stay and enjoyed the time in paradise so much!

Lopes Mendes beach, Brazil

Days 9 – 11: Rio de Janeiro

We returned to Rio to stay near the Sambodromo, enjoy carnival rehearsals, and make sure that Rio is actually a much safer place, despite its reputation. Having explored Rio for a total of a week, it was time for us to move on and fly to Foz do Iguacu.

Days 12 – 14: Foz do Iguacu + Iguazu Falls

A dream come true – we got close and personal with the magical Iguazu Falls, from both Brazilian and Argentinian sides! The journey was not without road bumps (like the Brazilian transportation workers strike) or and getting wet to the bone (by going under the falling water in a boat). But it was amazing and we highly recommend visiting the largest waterfall in the world!

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Day 15: Puerto Iguazu – Ciudad del Este – Encarnacion

That was the first full travel day where we had to transport ourselves from Puerto Iguazu to Encarnacion. We passed the Friendship Bridge which may or may not be considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Anyways, we arrived in Paraguay safe and sound just in time for Christmas day.

Days 16 – 17: Encarnacion, Paraguay

Christmas time with a mate on the river beaches, a few beers with our new friend Ivan, and a day trip to Jesuit Missions in Paraguay later, we felt like we’ve explored a lot but needed to return for more to this land-locked charming and full of history country in South America.

Парагвай, Енкарнасион, плаж на река Парана

Day 18: Encarnacion – Posadas – Buenos Aires

Another long trip through Argentina in a comfortable semi-cama bus with rain ruining our plans for sightseeing in the stopover town – Posadas. Transporting from A to B seems to start to be a crucial part of the adventure!

Day 19: A day in Buenos Aires – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Walking around the central part of the Capital – Buenos Aires, we found a nice little park where locals also hang out. We took out the maps and the book to plan our next move, then we boarded the ferry to Uruguay and Colonia del Sacramento.

Day 20: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Our almost-two-days in Colonia del Sacramento were extra colorful because of our lovely Couchsurfing host Mariano and some of his other guests. We slept on mattresses on the floor, ventured to known and unknown places, cooked dinners with strangers who turned into friends in no time.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Days 21 – 22: Montevideo

We couldn’t have imagined the crazy experience around New Year’s in Montevideo – the traditional water wars on the streets, the calendar sheets all over, everything shut down hours before New Year’s. We had amazing hosts and they adopted us for the festive dinner, sharing their food with us, and us sharing our wine (all we could buy). We greeted 2015 in the spirit of international language exchange and sharing kindness!

Days 23 – 24: Buenos Aires suburbs

Our luck was present again and Jacqui and her family responded on CS so we headed to the suburbs of Buenos Aires. We paid a visit to El Caminito, La Boca, and other popular attractions, but we’ll always remember the Rodeo restaurant and rancho experience where we were the honorable guests and the only non-locals. Thank you for the great time Jacqui, Guido, Graciela, and Roberto!

Argentina. Buenos Aires, Castelar, rancho with gauchos and dance and wine

Days 25 – 28: El Calafate

Arriving in unbelievable Patagonia came with a price, too. We learned that beauty (especially in high season) had a price tag. Anyway, we enjoyed our time in El Calafate, doing amazing day trips like horseback riding, visiting Viedma Glacier, and more.

Perito Moreno glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

Day 29: El Calafate – El Chalten

Surrounded by all the pristine beauty, traveling to El Chalten felt like minutes, not the hours it actually took.

Days 30 – 32: El Chalten

El Chalten is also called “the trekking capital of Argentina” so we spent our time doing day hikes, catching a glimpse over Cerro Fitz Roy, and trying to connect with other people offline (as Internet connectivity was scarce).

El Chalten, Argentina

Days 33 – 34: El Calafate

After our plans to visit Chilean Patagonia were canceled, we returned to El Calafate to enjoy a couple more days there and visit the famous Perito Moreno Glacier. After a small incident, while observing the glacier from afar, we also visited El Calafate’s hospital.

Days 35 – 36: Mendoza

With half of our team unable to bike, we had to find alternative ways to discover Mendoza’s wineries. And we couldn’t be happier that someone else was responsible for driving while we were solely responsible for tasting (and bottling) world-renown wines!

Bottling our own sparkling wine in Cruzat winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Day 37: Mendoza to Santiago

One the 8-hour bus ride from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile, we learned that country borders can be located in the most mountain-desert conditions and that hairpin turns are called that for a reason!

Days 38 – 40: Santiago, Chile

Daniel was our Couchsurfing host in Santiago and there was no better way to see Chile’s capital – a local took us to some of the most epic places and we had some alone time to explore on our own as well. And we received the best compliment in a taxi in Santiago – that we sounded Peruvian by our Spanish accent!

Couchsurfing meeting, Santiago, Chile

Days 41 – 42: Valparaíso

We’ve seen the picturesque town of Valparaiso in The Amazing Race but there was so much more to it than what was shown on the screen. We loved going up and down the hilly streets, enjoying the colorful architecture and some food delights.

Valparaiso, Chile

Day 43: Valparaiso – La Serena

We did have to run those colorful vibrant hills to be able to arrive at the bus station on time to catch a bus to La Serena. We didn’t have time to stock up with water and food, nor to go to the toilet, which made our ride and all its stops full of errands and tension. Oh, well…

Days 44 – 45: La Serena

After meeting the ocean at La Serena, we headed for a stargazing session, with one of the powerful telescopes in the area. We also managed to visit Humbold National Park and its lovely inhabitants.

Humboldt National Reserve, Chile

Day 46: La Serena – San Pedro de Atacama

We’re starting to love those journeys – after only 17 hours of a bus ride, we left the ocean landscapes and entered the desert. You have time to think a lot of thoughts, watch some movies, recap the last 45 days of a journey…

Days 47 – 49: San Pedro de Atacama

The driest non-polar desert welcomed us with lots of heat and dust, followed by rain! San Pedro de Atacama is a special place in the Atacama desert and there is no shortage of special experiences if you can stand the heat, the dust, and the sun!

Atacama desert, Chile

Days 50 – 52: Tour from San Pedro to Salar de Uyuni

One of the highlights of our South America backpacking itinerary was our off-road tour from San Pedro in Chile to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. The salt flats were truly unbelievable and once-in-a-lifetime encounters with nature and its creations.

Day 53: Uyuni, Bolivia

After being captured in Salar de Uyuni and released later, we spent a day in the town of Uyuni, slowly returning to reality. Another plan to catch the train to La Paz got compromised, so we headed to the overnight bus.

Days 54 – 55: La Paz, Bolivia

Most of the people we’ve met had a love-hate relationship with La Paz. We’ll remember for a long time some of the views and the emotions, but it was quite controversial, to say the least.

Day 56: Rurrenabaque

Time for the jungle! We took a flight to Rurrenabaque to avoid a 24-hour bus ride with missing parts of the road. Rurrenabaque welcomed us with lots of humidity, mosquitoes, and a local fiesta.

This scene is from our exploration of the Amazon jungle in Bolivia.

Days 57 – 59: Madidi Jungle

Our first experience in the Amazon Jungle was a blast! We hiked on blooming with flora jungle paths, swam in tubes along the river, hoping nothing will eat us, observed fauna in the jungle, and even made rings of nutshells. The good news is we managed to not get bitten by the nasty ants and suffer unbearable pain.

Day 60: La Paz

Our last day in Bolivia, spent in controversial La Paz, inclined us to browse through memories from the last two months… Our South America Grande journey was coming to an end, but not before we visit Peru (last time we spent 10 days in Peru).

Day 61: Nazca, Peru

The skillful driver managed to get us to Nazca in Peru in no time (by the time of riding, we felt like throwing up more than once). In Nazca, we continued with shaking experiences like a desert buggy ride and a flight over the famous lines.

Day 62: Huacachina

An unexpected stop on the last long trip turned out to be Huacachina – a desert oasis where they serve pizzas in discos after a long sandboarding day.

Nazca lines flight, Peru

Days 63 – 64: Lima

We arrived in Lima a day late to stay with a wonderful CS host named Xano. He took care that we celebrate our time in Peru’s capital and mark the end of our grande journey in style.

So here we are – that was our whole 2-month itinerary in South America. We’ve collected some practical tips and tricks on traveling in South America. Almost 3 years after South America Grande, we did a Central America Grande journey and now time shows it’s time for South America Grande 2!

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