Backpacking South America: Our 5 Week Itinerary

Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?
— Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

My relationship with trip planning is similar to Jack Barnes & Brett Ashley's relationship in The Sun Also Rises. You know...unhealthily impossible but also obsessively devoted. On one hand, I am a research nerd through and through. I have never visited a new place without first reading everything I can about it; it's an old habit picked up from a childhood filled with adventures with my trusty sidekick: Library Card! I read Rick Steve's Guide to Italy cover to cover before my trip there (I only visited 5 of the 20+ cities described). But had I not been such an obsessive planner, I never would have ended up driving through the Dolomites and staying in a cabin in Castlerotto or enjoying the best meal I've ever had at Mascaron in Venice (thanks Rick Steves - the original travel research nerd!).  

But on the other hand, an anxiety starts growing of all the things I "must do" or "should do." Lists and schedules take over rational thought. The only trip I've ever taken where I didn't have an itinerary was a week alone in Paris. I had a great time stumbling across sites with little to no plan, but when I got home, the things I "should have done" hit me. I went to Paris, and I didn't visit a single museum. There was apparently more to do there than bicycling around without destination, eating all the cheese and bread I could find, and reading in a variety of jardins. 

As we plan our itinerary for 5 weeks in South America, I'm seeking that sweet spot between well-read traveler and tourist with a to-do list. My first step was the painful realization that I couldn't do everything there was to do on a continent in a month. I also knew I wanted to spend a week at least in each country, so Aaron and I narrowed it down to Peru, Argentina, and Chile. I spent weeks experimenting with BootsnAll's Multi-Country Airfare Search Engine. By adjusting dates and airports slightly, I was able to save thousands of dollars on our flights. Once I had the smartest flight schedule, I double-checked I couldn't get the route cheaper on Expedia or Priceline. As it turns out, the flights were $423 dollars less per ticket on Expedia compared to BootsnAll. In the end, we purchased multi-destination tickets we designed ourselves with 5 stops: Medellin, Lima, Buenos Aires, El Calafate, and Santiago for $1,048 USD each.

June 28th: Medellin, Colombia >>> Lima, Peru 

July 11th: Lima, Peru >>> Buenos Aires, Argentina

July 15th: Buenos Aires, Argentina >>> El Calafate, Argentina

July 26th: El Calafate, Argentina >>> Santiago, Chile

August 1st: Santiago Chile >>> Medellin, Colombia

We're spending 12 days in Peru, and our musts are Huascaran National Park and - of course, Machu Picchu, which will add an overnight bus ride, a separate flight to Cusco, and train tickets to Aguas Calientes. We're spending 4 days in Buenos Aires and 11 days in Patagonia (we hope to visit the Argentinian and the Chilean side - buses in the winter permitting). Finally, we'll spend 5 days in Santiago, and we hope to spend at least 2 of them snowboarding at Valle Nevado.

Our budget for two people for 5 weeks is $5,000 USD. Since we've already spent $2,100 on our flights, that leaves $2,900 - or $85 dollars per day for the both of us for everything else. We have some expensive things on our itinerary (like Machu Picchu and Valle Nevado), so we'll be doing a lot of camping in Peru and Patagonia to make up the difference. This will be the longest and most expensive trip we've planned so far, but I am giddy waiting for our departure date. 

Have you been to Huaraz, Lima, Cusco, Buenos Aires, El Calafate, El Chalten, Puerto Natales (especially in July?), or Santiago? What advice would you give? 


Ashley Peak

Teacher & traveler seeking bright sides and adventures. I recently left my position as a Title 1 middle school teacher in Spokane, WA for a position in Manizales, Colombia teaching English and Geography at a bilingual private school. I'm passionate about education in action, the power of literature, and traveling the world. Optimism Rampage is a place for me to reflect on the adventure. “Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. see the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that . Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.” -Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451