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4-5 Months in South America...now, we need some traveler tips from you!

South America tips, itinery and budget for 4-5 months
9 years ago, February 22nd 2012 No: 1 Msg: #152204  
Hi Everyone-

We are finally getting to the part of our RTW trip where we need some advice. South America is obviously HUGE and very expensive in some countries. We are trying to manage 4-5 months on a budget if at all possible before heading back to the cheaper part of the world to finish our trip in India.

We've started working on must see places but word of mouth is always the best. We plan to start in Columbia (sailing from Panama to Cartegena), then make our way in a counter clockwise direction the route looks like: Columbia, (Ecuador?), Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil

Our questions for you:
*Has anyone traveled overland recently from Columbia to Ecuador/Peru? Is safety an issue?
*Amazon in Peru, Bolivia or Brazil?
*Any special spots off the gringo trail that are worth checking out?
*What amount of time is appropriate for each country?
*On a tight budget, what can we expect from each country?? In all of SE Asia and thus far in Central America we have managed about $25 USD per day per person.
*Any recommended itineraries would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks ahead of time!
Nate and Jessie Reply to this

9 years ago, February 23rd 2012 No: 2 Msg: #152265  
I'm envious of you heading to South America, it seems like an age since we were there. It's about 2 years since we travelled there so I can't give you much info re: budget as it's probably changed a fair amount since then. However, we travelled on a very tight budget across our entire trip and managed ok there. You cheaper countries are Peru, Bolivia, Columbia and Ecuador so you should maybe spend the most of your time there if you're watching the cash. Getting around in the cheaper countries is pretty good value (esp if you ask for the economico seats), and hostels are also pretty cheap. Eating out is really cheap - go for the menu del dia, often a 3 course basic meal for about £1 UK or equivalent. In Chile and Argentina we cooked for ourselves in hostel kitchens and shopping can be had pretty cheap (amaaaaazingly cheap beef in Argentina!). Bus travel in Argentina is the big cost as the journeys can be very long. Brazil is the most prioey and so, other than going to carnaval in Rio, we avoided it this time due to budget constraints

Timewise, it really depends on what you want to see, we had 7 months in SA and probably had roughly a month per country which allowed us to see loads.

We probably mostly stuck to the trail, highlights (amongst many) including Tayrona in Colombia, Galapagos (where lots of our budget disappeared but it was well worth it), Nazca lines and Machu Picchu in Peru, Salt flats in Bolivia, Carnaval in Rio, San Pedro de Atacama and Torres del Paine in Chile, Bariloche and El Calafate in Argentina, Iguazu falls from both the Argentine and Brazilian sides. Some places maybe less on the trail that we loved were San Gil in Colombia for cheap adventure activities (caving, bungee, rafting, paragliding), Cotopaxi and the Quilotoa loop in Ecuador - beautiful walking/local towns, El Chalten in Argentina for great hiking and free campsites along good trails, Cali in Colombia for great salsa clubs...(feel free to have a flick through our blog and pick out some more for yourselves). In short it's an amazing continent!

We did the Amazon basin from Bolivia by going to Las Pampas grasslands - huge amounts of wildlife. I'm not a big jungle fan so we didn't do anything more jungley!

Enjoy your planning and happy travels when you get there Reply to this

9 years ago, February 23rd 2012 No: 3 Msg: #152266  
Oh, we travelled from Colombia to Ecuador overland and it was fine but its recommended to do the journey by day. Ecuador to Peru was also fine. Reply to this

9 years ago, February 24th 2012 No: 4 Msg: #152295  
Hey Nate & Jessie,

I hope you guys have recovered from your robbery, sounds really harrowing!

To confirm the above, travel from Colombia - Ecuador overland is fine. We did it in May 2011. From Pasto, we got a bus to Ipiales (It's only a short trip). We then overnighted at the nearby Santuario de Las Laja, an incredible church built into a cliffside that is a really popular pilgrimage site (It's very cheap to stay in a nearby ex-convent, sleeping on straw matresses!) The following day, a reasonably early start got us back to Ipiales, over the border and on a direct bus to Quito (I think 5-6 hours). (I don't think you can do Pasto - Quito in one day, unless you get up really really early!)

We also did the Panama - Cartagena boat crossing, an incredible trip and a total highlight of our year away. We blogged on it ( Panama - Cartagena Boat Trip Blog ) and mentioned a few tips for picking up a boat. Prices vary wildly for this boat trip! You will love that trip.

Quilitoa circuit in Ecuador (South of Quito) is a brilliant few days and not too many people do it. Cost wise Ecuador, Peru (Except Cusco area) and especially Bolivia will be the cheapest countries in SA.

Other highlights for us: Cuenca in Ecuador is a great city to stop off at on your way South. In Peru, Huaraz is a brilliant base for some walking (North of Lima). For the Amazon, i can recommend the bus trip from La Paz - Rurrenabaque (Las Pampas) along hairpin bend roads built into steep hillsides. Lots of wildlife to see in the area once you get there, but in rainy season you can get trapped there for a few days. In Southern Bolivia, the salt flats are incredible, and if you can fit it in, the overland 4x4 trip to Atacama in Chile will let you scenery like i have never seen anywhere else in the world! Machu Picchu and Iguaszu are must sees. Unfortunately you are the wrong time of year for Patagonia but it sounds like it is not on your schedule anyway. If you are into wine, Mendoza is a beautiful spot at the base of the Andes with knockout wines to try (With the steaks of course)!

Brazil was expensive when we were there 2 years ago. Argentina used to be cheap - but we were in Buenos Aires last June and prices there have rocketed over the last few years (Inflation is comething like 20%!)(MISSING). Food can still be good value, accom is not. As Mark & Chrissie mention, all hostels seem to have kitchens in Argentina & Brazil which helps a lot with costs. I'd guess transport in Argentina is prob expensive now as well, but buses are super comfy for the long journeys, and despite all that BA is my favourite city anywhere - such an energy and passion!

You guys have such a treat ahead of you. South America is an incredible place to visit. Enjoy every minute. If you want any more info, just drop me a note. I am super jealous of you!

Mike Reply to this

9 years ago, February 24th 2012 No: 5 Msg: #152299  
Hi Nate & Jessie,

I hope you are fine after the robbery!

We have travelled through South America in 2008. Unfortunately our blogs from that time are in German only. Therefore, I try to give you some information on this way:

We started in Ecuador and went south (we did not visit Columbia). Ecuador was fine despite Quito which tends to have lots of pick pocketing. Especially at night it is not save to walk around on you own. Even at day time it is not really safe in the old town. Lately, there have been some robberies on overland buses - but friends just visited the country an were perfectly safe. I just would recommend to travel only on daytime. Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile - this is (considering the "normal" precautions) perfectly safe. The cheapest country by far is Bolivia.

Ecuador: quite touristy but nice is the train journey from Riobamba to Alausi. The Quilotoa Loop is nice. We did not like the beach very much - but Canoa is a very relaxed beach town and worth a visit. As Galapagos was extremely expensive. If you travel overland to Peru which can be easily done, make a stop in Vilcabamba in the south. It is a stunning place and perfect for walking. There are buses to Peru.

Peru: By entering from Ecuador we suggest to visit Kuelap. It is a hidden historical place and comparable to Macchu Picchu but with only few tourists and therefore cheap. Huaraz is amazing for some hiking and for wonderful mountain views. As we have family in Lima, we stayed there safely for a while. But like in Quito, you have to be really careful in the big city. On the countryside it is fine. In the south we can recommend the oasis Huacachina for sandboarding and great landscapes. The Nazca lines, Cusco, Macchu Picchu are expensive and very touristy. We did not go there but a lot of travellers told us, that there are some drug problems (guys pouring drugs into your drinks). But Arequipa should not be missed - it is an amazing town.

Lake Titicaca: it was a highlight on our trip. It is cheaper to visit it from the bolivian side. We stayed in Copacabana for some days and also on the Isla del sol for 2 nights which was amazing.

Bolivia: We loved this country. People are very nice (they keep your more on a distance, but once you talk to them they are amazing and more honest than in other countries - well, this was our feeling). The 4 weeks you can stay for the visa are nearly too short. La Paz is amazing, Potosi was a stunning place - you must do the mine tour, also Sucre. The most amazing landscape are the Uyuni Salt flats. We highly recommend to start a 4-day-tour in Tupiza. Tupiza is a cool town with cheap accomodation. The tours starting here are about the same price as those from Uyuni. But Uyuni itself is a horrible place with high prices, bad accomodation and a lot of hassle. We took a tour from Tupiza with only 4 people in the vehicle which was amazing. It takes a day longer! The tour stopped in Uyuni. We stayed there for only a night and than took a public bus to San Pedro de Atacama. The cheapest way to get there.

Amazonas: We went there in Ecuador but the peruvian jungle is less touristy and cheaper. The cheapest possibility is in Bolivia. But we do not suggest Rurrenabaque - try some place in the south of Bolivia. Less tourists and cheaper!

Argentina: The north is wonderful. If you go to Bariloche we suggest you take a bus further south (2 hours) to Bolson. It is much more relaxed and cheaper - you get a real patagonian feeling there. Overall, Argentina is not cheap.

We have not visited Brasil so far - but the Paranal must be stunning and worth a visit.

Have a great trip through this wonderful continent,

Nina Reply to this

9 years ago, February 26th 2012 No: 6 Msg: #152428  
Just to confirm the above message from Nina, we also did the Bolivian salt flats from Tupiza and it was stunning. I'd recommend this option for the same reasons and also because you can do some spectacular horseriding there (even if you're beginners as we were)before heading out on the tour. Reply to this

9 years ago, February 27th 2012 No: 7 Msg: #152489  
Hey Nate and Jessie!
Ahh how exciting! I spent six months in SA in 2008 and I can tell you it was the best six months of my life - SA has so much to offer, you will have a fantastic time wherever you end up going. I went to Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, roughly in that order. As has already been mentioned, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador were definitely the cheaper of the five, however you can also manage in Argentina and Chile on a budget.

I spent a month in Ecuador and was there for New Years, which was fantastic, in a little beachside town called Montanita. Prices did go up on NYE and the week afterwards, but I didn't get hit too bad because we'd gotten there just before NY. We were paying about 8 AUD a night. I think at other times of the year it's closer to 4 or 5. There were mostly tourists but there were still a lot of Ecuadorian tourists as well which made it a good mix! I would also highly recommend Banos and Vilcabamba. Try some of the candy that they make in Banos! And climb up the mountain. I spent a few days in Cuenca as well, which was nice but not as rewarding as the other two. Quito had some interesting sights (we went to this huge food market/hall which had all sorts of animals slow-roasting whole) but it didn't feel as safe as a lot of the other places I went. The people at the hostel recommended you come in as soon as it gets dark - not sure if that was a marketing ploy but I decided to keep my skin rather than find out. Guayaquil gets a lot of rap for being a big, dirty city, but it didn't seem that bad - I went to a park where there were just a whole lot of giant iguanas lazing about! The train from Riobamba was not properly functioning and it was a total waste of time going there.

Bolivia is a traveller's dream - from there you can catch a boat safari kind of thing into the Amazon (Rurrenbarque (I know I spelt that wrong)). I think it's cheaper to go here than in Brazil. La Paz is a really interesting city, you should check out the music museum, I thought that was cool. You can also book a bike ride down the 'World's Most Dangerous Road', we had a great guide called Matt and sped down it in record time. It would have been nice to do it a bit slower and really appreciate the breathtaking views but it was still nice. You also end up at an animal sanctuary for lunch. We booked that through the travel agent in the Wild Rover Backpackers, but travel agents everywhere are advertising it.
Think the hostel was about 5 dollars a night.

Lake Titicaca is definitely worth the hype - Copacabana is a pretty small town with a lot of tourists but it's obviously easy to get on the lake and everything. My favourite place was on the Peruvian side, we went to some ruins just outside of Puno. I can't remember what they were called exactly but that scenery was my favourite. We also stayed for a night (my birthday!) on an island called Amantani I think, with a woman and her three daughters who opened their home to us. They made us delicious food and gave us tea, and at nighttime they dressed us all up in the traditional Bolivian dress and taught us Bolivian dance. That was great. Visiting the little reed islands felt pretty touristy (you get the feeling they wouldn't live there if not for the tourists) but still worth it, you get to go in a reed boat and stuff.

Peru has so much to offer. I spent Xmas in a town called Mancora, I think a lot of Peruvian tourists head there around that time too. More nice hostels are springing up there now, so it's been four years, it might be way more touristy now than it was back then. Huanchaco and ChanChan have some very interesting and accessible ruins, and not that many tourists. Lots of cheap seafood. Huacachina is good for trying sandboarding on mountainous dunes, and crazy dunebuggying with a guide. Cusco and Machu Picchu are of course highly recommended. You can get really cheap food by buying the meals of the day - they give you soup and a drink and a main meal and it costs like 3 soles. So delicious too. While you're in Cusco check out the Sacred Valley ruins as well, a lot of them had a lot less tourists than Machu Picchu, and some have cool markets and stuff.
Stayed for a month in Cusco, at a hostel that cost about 10 dollars a night (that was probably one of the most expensive hostels there).

Safety wasn't really an issue - I got my camera stolen once (by a taxi driver on the way to the airport to go home!!) and an attempted thievery (had my jumper in a basket in the basket on the front of my bike, a motorcyclist drove past and took the jumper), both in Argentina but other than that had no issues. Except didn't feel safe in Quito, but may have been overly paranoid.

Only went to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile - was good but a bit pricey and all tourists.

Argentina - see Salta, Iguazu, Cordoba, Rosario (only really need a day or two for the last one). Patagonia is the expensive part of the country. You can get by on 25 USD a day in Buenos Aires (depending on what kind of hostel you choose) if you buy food at supermarkets. A lot of hostels have kitchens and stuff in them (we did this in Cusco as well).

All over though there are people selling dirtcheap street food that tastes amazing. I didn't get sick at all from eating any of it ... in fact the only time I got foodsick was the first time I cooked for myself!!

Good luck! Wherever you choose I'm sure you'll have a great time 😊
Reply to this

9 years ago, February 27th 2012 No: 8 Msg: #152490  
Oh, also, timingwise, I spent a month in Ecuador (which was a good amount of time, but you could definitely do it in less), 2.5 months in Peru, 2 weeks in Bolivia (definitely would recommend more time), 2.5 months in Argentina, 1 week in Chile. Reply to this

9 years ago, February 28th 2012 No: 9 Msg: #152521  
B Posts: 5
Hi guys,

everybody above has great recommendations.

Here's the spending (in EUR). It includes everything - transport, drinks, meals (mostly in restaurants), accomodation (in hostels), trips, a return flight to Easter Island, a couple of visas, shoes, clothes and everything else you need to purchase/replace along the way.

Colombia - 35/day (over a 3 week period)
Peru - 24/day (3 weeks)
Bolivia - 16/day (3 months)
Chile - 35/day (1.5 months)
Argentina - 33/day (1.5 months)
Brazil - 55/day (1.5 months)

Other countries:
Venezuela - 35/day (3 weeks)
Guyana/Surinam/French Guyana - 50-55/day (3 weeks)

Good luck Reply to this

9 years ago, March 5th 2012 No: 10 Msg: #152796  

SculforandJupp are currently traveling through South America and should be able to provide you with advice. I've been following them as I hope to do the same trip someday. Of course, I will be following your journey too. Reply to this

9 years ago, March 13th 2012 No: 11 Msg: #153159  
Hi everyone!

We just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to give us your thoughts on what to check out in SA. We always value the opinions of other like-minded travelers. We're off to Colombia soon and can't wait to get started.
We apologize for not responding on the sooner. We don't really have any great excuses other than we've just gotten far behind on the blog and are trying to play catch-up now. Thanks again everyone and hope your travels are going great!
Nate and Jessie Reply to this

9 years ago, March 13th 2012 No: 12 Msg: #153161  
Mike and Helen,

We actually found your blog on the sailing trip a while ago and have it bookmarked on our computer! We did a ton of research and explored all options but in the end we have decided to fly to Cartagena due to the time of the year and the massive swells. Our friends just completed the trip and they said it was 40 hours in what they described as a hot coffin due to the swells (5-6 meters!) while they did their last 2 days at sea. I, Jessie, get extremely sea sick and although the trip sounds amazing if the timing is right, we both feel flying this time around is the way to go. Our side trip to the San Blas also got cancelled due to the winds and weather around the islands right now. As Nate just said, we are looking forward to South America and a new chapter of our adventures.

Thanks again for the comment and the very informative post about the sailing trip.

Jessie and Nate Reply to this

9 years ago, March 16th 2012 No: 13 Msg: #153301  

we are just coming to the end of a year travelling in SA, and am jealous of you just starting !!!

I agree with the advice that everybody has given you so far, but can only emphasise the importance of spending time in Bolivia. Everybody who goes there falls in love with it. we were there three months and are now working out how to move from UK to Sucre.

The only place we were afraid was the journey from Tumbes ( Peru) to Huaqillas (Ecuador). We sort of got kidnapped and found out later that this was quite common. It really is a dangerous border crossing and you should try to avoid it.

Going off the gringo trail is much more satisfying. We spent three weeks in The Andes in Peru - Huancayo, Huancavelica and Ayacucho - where it is difficult to come across other gringos. Stunning scenery, great trekking and friendliest people about.

Pricing wise - most expensive Brasil. easily, it is frighteningly expensive. It is also very organised and doesn't give off as much of a South American atmosphere - feels much more european. Cheapest - Bolivia followed by Peru. Ecuador has expensive beer and food.

Just have a fantastic few months. if you have a chance, here is our blog of our travels:


Gordon and Wendy Reply to this

9 years ago, April 21st 2012 No: 14 Msg: #155082  
Nate and Jessie,
We have really enjoyed reading everyone's suggestions. Our only travel to SA so far has been to Peru. We will be following your blog very carefully.

We agree with all that has been said--don't miss the Colca Canyon where you can see the Condors fly! We loved flying over the Nasca lines. Lake Titicaca and the reed islands are not to be missed. Machu Picchu is magical. The oasis Huacachina offers a lot of fun but is also very serene looking. It is in a location where you would not expect to see what you are seeing.

Can't wait to hear your impressions.

You may want to check out Slowfeet as they traveled SA last year and did it on a budget.

[Edited: 2012 Apr 21 15:20 - D MJ Binkley:42569 ]
Reply to this

9 years ago, May 3rd 2012 No: 15 Msg: #155660  

Very envious of you planned trip.

We did it some time ago - check out our blogs - but basically overlandedn from Rio - Mexico, going all the way to the southern tip of argentina in the process. Our rough itinerary was as follows. timescale was about 6 months total.

Rio - Ilha Grande - Iguassu - BA - Puerto Madryn - El Calafate - Puerto natales - Torres Del Paine - Navimag Ferry trip from Puerto Natales to Osorno - Puco - Bariloche - Las Lenas - Mendoza - Salta - Northern Argentina - Potosi - Uyuni - San Pedro De atacama (small return trip to UK from BA) - BA - Valparaso - Arequipa - Lima - Iquitos - Leticia (by boat on amazon) - Bogota - Villa de Layva - Santa marta - Cartegena - Panama - remainder of central america

we loved columbia - safety was not an issue for us - but check out more recent events in case the situation has changed.

iquitos in peru was also brilliant - but there might be easier places to access to jungle in ecuador

have a great trip Reply to this

9 years ago, June 12th 2012 No: 16 Msg: #157564  

Hey guys Colombia is awesome and beatiful and really friendly. For a spot a bit off the gringo trail which is definitely worth checking out is Aracataca, 1 1/2 hours south of Santa Marta.

The town has a rich history and is the home town to Nobel prize winning novelist, and possibly Colombia's most famous ambassador, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In Gabo's most famous work, One hundred years of Solitude, he draws upon his childhood experiences of Aracataca to create the entruiging world of Macondo, home to the Buendia family. Tim Buendia, as he is commonly called, opened The Gypsy Residence two years ago and is helping the town back onto the tourist map with comfy accomodation and tours around the town including Gabos school, the museum del telegrafista and the Aracataca River to name a few. The hostel is very homely and you feel like you are entering a different world in this quaint and friendly town.

If history isn't really your thing and you haven't read any of Marquez's works (which I hadn't before coming) there is still plenty to do and the local Aracatacians are very friendly and embracing to visitors. Located only an hour and a half from Santa Marta on the road to Bogota, it is a must see for at least one or a couple of nights. Tim makes the experience real and is an awesome character and host.
Reply to this

8 years ago, October 18th 2012 No: 17 Msg: #162130  
Hello My name is Sandy! Last year I traveled to both Ecuador AND Colombia! I think it's great that you decided to go there! If you're planning on going to Ecuador, I can tell you it's super cheap! I was there for nearly 2 weeks and only spent about $100 (which included all food, travel fare, and souvenirs!) I traveled through Quito, Ibarra, and Manta -although I have heard Guayaquil is super awesome! My absolute favorite part of my trip was visiting the Otavalo Market near Ibarra. It's an ENORMOUS market that carries a vast array of handmade items, paintings, woven clothing and blankets, and food!!! The one thing I warn you against is that if you LOOK like a gringo, you will not get very great deals. I went with some Ecuadorian friends, and we noticed that if I asked for a price, they would tell me it cost 4x more than what it would cost for an Ecuadorian -so make sure you haggle well!!!

I stayed in Colombia for 3 weeks and visited Medellin, Bucaramanga, and Tayrona Park. In Medellin, you can see Plaza Botero, El Parque de los Deseos, the botanical garden, and many many other attractions. In Bucaramanga, the winds are PERFECT for paragliding!!! Do it! 😊 And Tayrona park is by far the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen in my life!!! It's a 4 hour hike through the jungle to get to the beach, but totally worth it! (But go with money, because they charge an arm and a leg just for potable water there, and you CAN'T get it anywhere else without trekking BACK through the 4 hour jungle! So beware!)

Here's a video of my travels, if you want to see some examples of these wonderful places I've mentioned! (I'm actually entering it in a contest, so if you could click the LIKE my video, I'd appreciate it a whole bunch!) Enjoy!
&feature=plcp Reply to this

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