After deciding to quit my job this year, I knew that this would be the perfect time to take some weeks off and travel again. I ended up having six weeks off, three of which my boyfriend was able to join me. He had wanted to visit Peru for a long time, so we decided to give South America a go on five week itinerary! It was the best decision we could have made.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect about going to countries where people tell you stories of insecurities. But if you plan ahead and know where to go and where not to go, you won’t feel unsafe.
Austria is a beautiful place to live in. It’s very safe and there’s a lot of stunning nature with pretty mountains, snow in winter and sunshine in summer. But still, I’ve always felt this urge to travel the world.
It all started when I was a kid. I always dreamt of visiting Australia (yes, that’s different to Austria) and living abroad but I never expected it would actually happen one day. After finishing high school, I started traveling.
During my studies I did an exchange for a semester at a university in Great Britain. I also traveled to Australia where I fulfilled my biggest dream. I then moved to Los Angeles (after finishing my studies) and I can’t tell you how happy this made me.
With the highly contagious travel bug now caught, it was only a matter of time before I visited South America. We planned to visit quite a lot of different places for our five-and-a-half week itinerary to South America. I wanted to see the best highlights that I was most craving. After being there and loving it – I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last visit!
Five Week Itinerary Exploring South America
My trip started in Argentina where I visited Buenos Aires for a kind of stopover and the Iguazu waterfalls for two days. This was enough time to visit the falls from both sides – Argentina and Brazil. Then I flew to the Argentinian side of Patagonia to El Calafate. I visited the Perito Moreno Glacier and went to El Chalten which is a climbers and hikers paradise!
After that, I crossed the border into Chile to visit Torres del Paine National Park and the two cities Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. This was all in the first two-and-a-half weeks which I spent alone.
From Punta Arenas I took a flight to Lima, Peru. I had a one day stopover here and met my boyfriend to fly out to Cusco, the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We spent a couple of days visiting the Sacred Valley including Machu Picchu, Mount Vinicunca and Rainbow Mountain which is not far from Cusco.
Next we took a full day bus trip to Lake Titicaca. We crossed the border to Bolivia and Copacabana, which is a town on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. After a couple of fun days here we continued on to La Paz and spent the day there. At night, we jumped on an overnight bus to the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in the heart of Bolivia.
Our three day tour around the salt flats was incredible! From here we crossed the border into Chile to visit the Atacama Desert and spent a couple of days there before flying to Santiago. Our South America itinerary finished with a couple of days in the capital of Chile before flying home.
Best Experiences on my Trip to South America
Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia was my absolute favourite place. Everything about it is simply stunning. I couldn’t believe my eyes arriving there. To be honest, I did not expect it to be that amazing (as I told you, we have mountains in Austria as well) but I was really overwhelmed by its beauty.
Rainbow Mountain in Peru was another place that I didn’t expect would surprise me because (you know) you’ve seen pictures everywhere. But it really surprised me! The surrounding nature which you never see in pictures is stunning. The Red Valley impressed me a lot. And Rainbow Mountain after the fog clears up is pure bliss.
One place I was expecting a lot from was Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. To be honest, I was expecting quite a lot of this place and it didn’t let me down. Salar de Uyuni and Laguna Colorada really are out of this world. Beautiful lakes, beautiful flamingos and all that stunning landscape!
I had so many amazing experiences and memories from my trip to South America. There was one aspect about traveling there that I really loved and that was running into people in hostels or on hiking trails and hearing stories about their lives.
I spent an amazing and fun night (consuming many drinks) with two ladies from Chile in Patagonia. In Torres del Paine National Park, I met a Brasilian guy on a track and ended up spending Independence Day with him in Puerto Natales eating way too much food.
Another great memory was meeting two guys on a trek in El Chalten. At first I was laughing at them because one of them fell into a frozen lake. But then I remember having nice talks and meeting up with one of them in Torres del Paine National Park. We shared the most beautiful sunrise there. It’s always the people you meet that makes travel so special.
Embracing a New Culture and Way of Life
In South America every culture is different. Not only are people different but also the traditions, food and drinks. Every country has different cultural attractions to offer. I honestly didn’t enjoy the South American food and drinks that much. But if you’re there you should give everything a go.
For example in Chile, all typical drinks are sweet. If it isn’t sweet, it can’t be called original Chilean. Terremoto (earthquake) is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Chile and it really is a drink that knocks you off your chair because of the alcohol and sweetness.
In Buenos Aires, one of the main cultural attractions is Tango because that’s where this dance was born. Whether you see it on the street (there are plenty of people dancing on the street) or in a theatre, it doesn’t really matter as long as you get to experience this dramatic and amazing dance.
Peru and Bolivia were harder places to meet local people that don’t automatically view you as a tourist, especially if you didn’t speak Spanish. On the other hand, in Chile, I was really lucky to stay in a hostel where only Chilean people were staying. It was what I would call good luck, as those two women I mentioned above were really trying to show me their culture.
Hostels are a good place to start. You should be prepared that hardly anyone speaks English. Still, even if you can’t understand them, the people of South America love talking and are really friendly. In tourist areas some can get a bit annoyed – especially in touristic places in Peru as they’re trying to make money – but overall people are friendly.
As mentioned above, I wasn’t such a big fan of the South American food. There is a lot of meat there and I’m not a huge fan of meat. I try not to eat it for every meal of the day but the traditional dishes in South America are mostly made with meat.
In terms of dishes, you definitely have to try Empanadas in Argentina and Chile. There are also hotdogs with avocado which you should try in Chile. In Peru and Bolivia you can try Alpaca meat which is a different and interesting experience.
When it comes to drinks, you have to try Pisco Sour in Peru and Terremoto in Chile. If you go to Cusco, you have to visit the San Pedro Market. It’s a traditional market where you will find plenty of local food made by old ladies who know many delicious local recipes. This was one of the best food experiences I had in South America!
Essential Travel Tips for South America
First of all, don’t be afraid of going. South America might sound dangerous to a lot of people but it really is an amazing place to travel through. There’s a couple of places where you should look after your belongings such as central Buenos Aires and a few places where you shouldn’t go out at night like El Alto in La Paz. But there are also places which are totally safe.
South America might be more difficult to travel through (because of the distances) than other places but it’s worth the effort. Be prepared for some long bus trips – whether they be day trips or overnight long hauls.
It’s also important to remember that some places require pre-booking. For example the W Trek in Patagonia. Other places are easy to visit in a spontaneous fashion.
I hope my trip has given you some inspiration and ideas for your unique South America itinerary. Have an amazing time and tick off all those amazing bucket list destinations!