Mission Impossible: Planning the South America Itinerary

Your mission, dear readers, should you choose to accept, is to determine how we will spend our time in South America. (You didn’t think we were just going to let you visit our blog and not do any work, now did you?)

You will need to keep the following in mind:

1. We will have approximately 22 weeks. Though we don’t have exact dates yet, for now we will assume the dates to be October 19 through March 21.

2. In this time period, we would like to visit: Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

3. We must start in Nicaragua.

4. We must end near a major airport with international flights.

5. We must be in Peru (on the Inca Trail to be exact) the last week of December/first week of January.

6. Things that we are intent on doing include: the Inca Trail (4 days + acclimation period in Cusco), Roraima in Venezuela (5 days), Spanish lessons in Granada, Nicaragua (1 week), the Galapagos (7-10 days), hike the Circuit or W in Torres del Paine in Patagonia, Chile (5-7 days), Amazon tour [unsettled on location–Peru, Bolivia, Brazil–you pick] (4-7 days).

7. We would like to minimize flights/optimize overland transport, while at the same time not burning days and days on travel.

So what do you got? Is there just absolutely no way for us to fit all of this in or is this entirely doable?

Post your best attempt at an itinerary in the comments. It can be as basic as Weeks 1-3 Nicaragua or as detailed as Day 1: Arrive in Managua, Transfer by bus to Granada. (We would seriously owe you if you did that!). Whoever ends up closest to our actual itinerary (as lived out by us, not planned by us) could win a prize. (Then again, they also could not… And then again, I could just mail you a postcard and call that the prize…)

Now that Jeff and I have given notice to our landlady that we’re moving out in two months (!!!!), this is our next big project, and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it should be. There’s always “what about this” or “well if we went this way, then we could…” And yes, yes, we hear you about not over planning, leaving room for spontaneity, etc. We will, we will. We just want to have some kind of rough itinerary planned out. Maybe we’ll get going and toss it out the bus window. Or maybe we’ll stick to it like peanut butter on jelly (ewww…have I ever mentioned that I have never eaten that very weird food combo…). Only time will tell. For now, give us your best shot.

Come on, you just know you want to tell us where to go.

15 Replies to “Mission Impossible: Planning the South America Itinerary”

  1. I just finished a third syllabus draft for my upcoming business writing class. Class planning is one of those domino things where you move one little thing (or notice one little hole), and the whole thing has to be re-done. I think the syllabus is in good shape, but I also know there will be another re-drafting tomorrow(Thursday?) after I talk to someone with more business writing teaching experience than me.

    In fewer words, I’m all scheduled out. And honestly, as you know, I’m bad at travel. So there’s my contribution.

  2. And here I’ve been looking forward to you telling us what your S.Amer itinerary will be!! I will share with you our own itinerary for our RTW trip starting next June. Unlike you, we will only be covering three countries, and in less time – 12 weeks – but I think it will encompass much of what you have in mind.

    Start in Lima, Peru for the better part of three weeks, getting to know the city, the culture and the language – this is where we will take spanish lessons. Then it’s off to Cusco for 3 days to see the sights, but mainly to acclimatize to the altitude before we head off for the classic Inca trail (so this will be in December for you) – I’ve decided on the classic trail b/c well, it’s a classic! I live in a tourist area that also has a famous trail – sure, there are others, but it’s not the West Coast Trail – there is something about doing the original!!

    From Cusco, we’ll head to Puerto Maldonado for an Amazon Jungle Trek for 4 days. There are a number of options in Peru, but you’ll be in Brazil too so maybe there will be better/more options there.

    We’ll return to Cusco only to bus to Puno to see Lake Titicaca. I understand that this can be quite touristy, but I read somewhere that sometimes all you need for a reason to go somewhere is the name – and my partner giggles every time he sees the name…so, gotta go!

    I have always thought seeing the Grand Canyon would be, well…grand – so when I learned about Colca Canyon I knew we had to go.

    From here on out the itinerary is a little looser – I found Peru to be overrun with things to see and do. That doesn’t mean that Chile and Argentina won’t be fabulous but, for right now, not as many ‘must sees’. We will bus through Chile to Santiago with the only ‘must see’ being the Salar de Atacama – I was hoping to see the salt flats in Bolivia and so was thrilled to learn that I can see some of this in Chile also.

    From Santiago, we’ll but over to Mendoza and then on to Buenos Aires. There will be many stops along the way – mostly decided upon based on local information and people we meet. We’ll settle into BA for about a week and a half before flying out and continuing on.

    I’ll be interested to read what others recommend, and what you ultimately decide. I found setting an itinerary to be difficult, but necessary – it is all subject to change of course, but I feel a need to have a rough sense – if only to know what I’m throwing out if we decide to make a change!!

    Good Luck!!

  3. Hello,

    My name is Eric Morillas and I am the Managing Director of Andean Odyssey.

    If you need extra help planning your trip to Sout America, please contact us.

    We are Strategic Partners of Condor Travel , one of the largest Ground Operators in South America. We have offices in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, & Brazil.

    So please drop us a line since we specialize in these countries.

    We offer special & comfortable prices through the internet.

    I am sure that we can be of assistance.

    Kind regards,

    Eric Morillas Summers
    Managing Director
    Andean Odyssey

  4. also the easiest way to do this is just to go down one coast and the up the other…..thats the simpliest way to do it so you save time on transportation that way u can leave from venzeuala or if u have to back track a little to brazil…. anyother way would be to zig zag ur way down to argentina and fly out of B.A.

  5. Nicaragua is our only Central America stop, so we’ve just lumped it in with South America. We won’t be going through Costa Rica and Panama, but will instead fly from Nicaragua to ????. One of the other issues that we have to factor in is weather. Climbing Roraima and hiking in Patagonia have somewhat limited timeframes, so we have to try to work around that. I think we’ve been working more off the zig-zag idea, but may want to look a little more into the down one coast and up another approach.

  6. I spent a total of about a year backpacking pretty much all of South America. I’m not you and you’re not me, but here’s how I see it:

    The less of an itinerary you have, the more enjoyable the trip. Adventures don’t come to people with itineraries. Itineraries also stop you from spending a few extra days in a spot you really like, or some extra time with people you really like, or to go back to a restaurant you really enjoyed. If you’re on a schedule, you’re more likely to wear a watch, more likely to worry about what day it is, more likely to stress over how much time you’ve got left. Throw caution to the wind – play it by ear.

    When I look back on my time in South America, it’s the time I spent in Cafe’s with a collection of Ozzies, Kiwi’s, Israeli’s, German’s and Brits that I remember the best. I remember the time we had to hitchhike from Boa Vista to Manaus – this is in 1990 when there wasn’t really a road there, and pretty much NOTHING in between. I remember hanging out with my girlfriend (now wife) and we would try and go out and meet anyone that looked like they spoke any English. I remember hanging out in Arica, Chile (gorgeous spot) reading a huge pile of novels one week. These are the little things that created who I am today … somewhere along the way I got plunked into a Toronto suburb, but that’s a whole different story.

    When you get back, everyone will want to know if you hiked the Inca Trail, go see the Perito Moreno glacier, check out the whales in Puerto Madryn, hang out on the Copacabana beach, etc. etc. etc. The “Been There, Done That” form of travelling. I guess you have to visit these things as you pass them, but don’t book minute by minute your trip around them! My only regret on my trips to South America were that I didn’t spend more time hanging out in one spot.

    What happens in 22 weeks? The coach turns back into a pumpkin? ? Why such a drop-dead end date?

  7. Chris G,

    If you do not already know, you’re asking the “what happens in 22 weeks” question to the queen of logistics.

    Actually your first two questions seem rhetorical. The third one seems to ask for an answer. Personally, I think you make some great points. I like the “‘Been There, Done That’ form of traveling” term you created.

    Signed (and Cheers),

    Theresa’s brother

  8. I’m about as laid back as they come but there has to be some sort of schedule/planning. Down to the hour, minute, second? Of course not. But I think intermediate dates are necessary or a moving range of dates. Its 22 weeks give or take because thats the decision that has been made to move on to Southeast Asia. This blog may be “Lives of Wander” (and while I guarantee there will be plenty of wandering) if it turns solely into wandering Theresa and Jeff will never make it back to America because they’ll be out of money somewhere in the middle of Africa. I think the idea here is to get a ROUGH understanding of where to be around what time so it doesn’t turn into 20 days in Cuzco because it was cool. Well that leaves only 2 days for somewhere else and it may be even cooler.

  9. Gregory, I think you hit the nail on the head. We’re not aiming for a minute-by-minute account of our time, nor even a day-by-day one. We’re not plotting where we’re staying, what bus we’ll be on when, or the exact number of days we get to stay in Buenos Aires. We’re saying, “We have one year and we definitely want to see X, Y, and Z, how do we make that happen?”. X, Y, and Z aren’t the only things we hope to see nor will they take up all of our time. The rest of the time is open, available for whatever comes our way, but we feel we will be disappointed if we don’t see/do X, Y, and Z. Twenty-two weeks is the time we’ve set aside for South America. Right now we aren’t planning to become lifelong nomads. We’re planning a one year trip. Of course, things could change once we get going, but that is the contingency we’re working on at this point.

    And though I have a certain amount of admiration for people who can wake up each day and just see what it brings, that is not me. And I would be miserable trying to be that way. It is absolutely counter to my personality, and rather than fight to be someone I’m not, I’m going to work with what I have. For me, it’s easier to say, “Well I planned to do this, but I think I’d rather just sit here and hang around,” then to say, “Well I made no plans and nothing’s come up, so now I have to figure out what the hell to do.”

    I think we agree that we want one of the highlights of our trip to be meeting people from all over the world. But I’ll go ahead and be honest and say that I hope they’re the type of people who want to at least wander around town, not just sit in a bar and chat and drink. For one, my butt gets tired of sitting after about one hour on a barstool. (No, you don’t want to be the person seated next to me on long flights/bus rides, as I move about every 4 minutes.) And for two, I don’t like beer. 🙂

    Chris. G, no blog? Sounds like you have some good stories, though I guess blogs weren’t the thing in 1990! But life in a Toronto suburb…that could be interesting too.

  10. Based on my experience, five two to three week long trips to S. America, my suggestions are:

    1. If you get bored in bars easily like I do, learn to dance on your trip, ESPECIALLY in Buenos Aires or Rio/Salvador de Bahia. I can’t recommend BA enough, although you do have to be extra alert for crimes committed against tourists. For instance, a scam that I heard about (and narrowly escaped) involves cab drivers deliberately running out of gas in an isolated area. When his cabbie “friend” pulls up behind to “help,” the two of them tag team the passengers.

    2. Unless you know people who live there, don’t stay in Lima for more than a few days; the same goes for Cusco and Quito.

    3. Visit the vineyards outside Santiago de Chile and in Cordoba. The tastings only cost around $10 and if you actually swallow your wine, you won’t be able to do too many of them anyway.

    4. For beaches, I recommend Ilha Grande in Brazil. A lot of people like Punta del Este in Uruguay, but I never went because it sounded like a South American version of Miami beach.

    5. Although I loved the people that I stayed with in Bolivia (American priests and nuns), I can’t say that I would want to go back to Bolivia. Maybe that is because I didn’t visit La Paz or the salt flats. It could also be because the food was incredibly heavy and starchy. I have to admit, many of my preferences are based on the local food and wine!

    Just curious, are strained US-Venezuela relations going to have any impact on your trip planning? Also, the Brazilian real will most likely continue to appreciate against the USD, so you may want to spend your time there sooner rather than later.

  11. What else have I got to say about your itinerary:

    Apart from Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, La Paz & maybe Asuncion, my advice is not to bother staying in the BIG cities. Miraflores inside Lima is nice, but far too posh.

    The South American Handbook is the bible.

    The beaches along 95% of the west coast are crap. 95% of the beaches on the East coast are phenominal. The northern countries have so-so beaches, but generally not great.

    South America is the best damn continent in the world! You’ll have a blast. I was there in 1990, 1992, 1995, 2000 and 2005.

    It’s all about the people, not the tourist draws. South American’s are all friendly – every last one of ’em.

  12. Hi everyone,

    Just stumbled across this and I know its over a year later…hopefully you can still help! I’m planning on starting an 8-12 month or so stint in SA JUne 2010. All your comments are very helpful and I really want to have an impromptu style trip. My questions are these:

    1. Where’e is the best location to start at that time of year?
    2. Which gneral direction should I head
    3. What sort of budget should I allow for (I’m 31 and happy to lead backpaker trails..with some comfort when wanted 🙂 )
    4. Theresa, how was your trip after all the above advise?!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.