I’m sharing how to put together an awesome three week itinerary for travelling around South America including Machu Picchu, the Atacama Desert and Buenos Aires!
My itinerary for three weeks travel in South America will hopefully give you lots of inspiration for your own trip to this awesome continent! But I definitely want to point out, as it was for our three weeks in Southeast Asia, this is definitely not enough time to explore the whole continent. That would be ridiculous! I definitely only touched the beautiful surface of this part of the world. But, if you’re looking for ideas on how to put together a holiday that hopefully you can squeeze into your annual holiday entitlement, there then you best read on!
There are many South America tour packages and even more backpacking South America tours, but they can be restrictive time-wise and honestly it’s not hard to put together a travel itinerary like mine, it just takes a little planning!
By leaving on a Friday and returning on the second May Bank Holiday, we managed to maximise our holiday days. We were actually away for 18 days, so just under 3 weeks but it only cost us 11 days holiday. Although we did make it to 19 days away due to the massive issues with British Airways and our flight being cancelled! Though that meant an extra day drinking Malbec in Buenos Aires, so not all bad I suppose.
The reason for our trip? To trek up to Machu Picchu!
After talking about Machu Picchu many times with some friends, and discussing how much we’d love to go we decided to just do it! We researched the best time to visit Machu Picchu (May is shoulder season which means good weather on the whole and also not full of families and tourists over the Summer months. September is also a great time to go.) and then looked at where else we’d like to travel to in South America.
Our South America itinerary was a mixture of ultimate adventure and city travel, out in the elements with some luxury thrown in. It was a pretty epic trip which I can’t wait to share!
South America Itinerary for 3 weeks travel
As I mentioned, Machu Picchu was the whole reason for our trip to South America and we knew it would be quite intense so we rightly put it at the beginning. British Airways fly direct to Lima from London and then it’s just a short flight to Cusco. Due to time restraints we decided have a 6 hour lay-over in Lima before continuing straight on.
It is highly advised to spend at least two days in Cusco to acclimatise to the altitude before starting your trek. And having experienced the shortness of breath literally as I stepped off the plane I totally agree with this! Also, Cusco is a beautiful city to explore so you definitely won’t get bored. This ancient city is full of beautiful architecture, history and some great places to eat and drink. I do advise not going too strong on the alcohol, though ay least one pisco sour is compulsory!
4 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu
This was the biggie! Our whole itinerary for South America was centred around the Salkantay trek up to Machu Picchu.
Just wow. I can’t recommend this enough! You will feel on top of the world when you get to the final day after trekking over 70 km over the previous 3 days through sun, rain, wind and snow. Climbing the 1500 plus steps to the top of Machu Picchu, arriving just after sunrise, is truly magical.
There are so many different Machu Picchu tours and trekking companies, book the best you can afford. Things like food and sleeping conditions make a whole world of difference. I was nervous before we began as I don’t exercise regularly and therefore not that fit at all. Although it was definitely a real challenge for me, our guides stopped as much as we needed and it just made me feel the awesome kind of exhausted. The one where you can’t believe what you just achieved, but yes, I would like a shower and to sleep now.
Back to Cusco!
After 4 days of trekking to Machu Picchu and camping in the elements you need a day to rest before moving onto your next destination. It is still a holiday after all!
We decided to book a beautiful luxury boutique hotel in Cusco. I definitely recommend adding a little luxury at this point in your trip! I can still remember the massive cosy bed… it was a dream after camping! Much needed before we started the next leg of our trip.
Having planned our whole itinerary around when was best to go to Machu Picchu (being in the southern hemisphere that means May is going into their winter) we just had to go with the weather elsewhere. Let me tell you, Chile gets COLD. Like real freaking cold.
San Pedro de Atacama
We where here for the stunning Atacama Desert. We stayed for 4 nights so we could get three full days. Being the driest desert in the world we assumed although it may be cold it would still be warm in the day due to all the sunshine… Well, unfortunately we got one day of rain and snow! This is so rare, so it felt like a little bit of bad luck as some of our tours got cancelled. But we did get to see the out-of-this-world Valle de la luna.
After nearly two weeks of intense travelling and lots of outdoor activities, we needed some comfort and good food! After many recommendations, Buenos Aires was added to our South American itinerary.
We stayed in a super cute little boutique hotel in the hipster neighbourhood of San Telmo. Stay here for a more authentic and local experience of Buenos Aires. I ate my body weight in steak and drank a fair few glasses of Malbec, we danced tango with locals and I ate choripan every single day. Man it was good.
Out of the whole of our South America itinerary I think my lowest point was the rainy/snowy day in Chile. It was so frustrating to be rained off our tours for that day. There was so much I wanted to see! Obviously issues with weather can happen at any time – it’s an extreme environment – but it still sucked, hard.
Surviving the 4 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu! Not only are you presented with one of the wanders of the world, when you get to the top you have such a sense of achievement too. Especially for someone who is not confident with such endurance. As our guide told us, it’s all about your mental state. Mind over matter people, and god does it work.
That was our three week South America itinerary. Take me back! Are you planning a trip soon or do you already have a favourite place in South America?
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