2 Month South America Itinerary

Ahhh the Andes...the longest continental mountain range on the planet. Running down the western edge of South America, the Andes span 7 different countries and make up some of the most iconic and unique natural landscapes in the world. In this itinerary, we’ll focus on a two-month trip down the edge of the Andes mountains through Ecuador, Peru & Bolivia -- three stunning countries with deeply ancient roots and enormous diversity amongst their people, both indigineous and not. You may think that this trip will be all about mountains, glaciers and hiking...and you’re not wrong. But stick with me, because I’ll show you how you can experience all sorts of landscapes in one two-month trip. I’m talking white sand beaches, biodiverse jungles, searing hot desert dunes and much more.

Please note, for this route, I’ll only be focusing on the South American countries I visited on this trip: Ecuador, Peru, & Bolivia (not Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Uruguay, Paraguay, Suriname or Venezuela).

To see my two-week itinerary for Colombia, click here.

To see my one-month itinerary for Peru, click here.

Why 2 Months?

Like most of my two-month trips, I picked this amount of time because any less time simply won’t be enough to comfortably travel through all three countries. Because South America is such a large continent, travel times can take anywhere up to 20 hours. If you allot yourself less than two months, it’ll be much harder to get around to every highlight on this list, and the last thing you want to do is miss out on some big attraction because you overbooked. Having said that, feel free to split up this itinerary as you see fit for shorter trips that can accommodate your schedule.

Overall Safety in South America

Another major draw to these three countries is that out of all the countries in South America, these three are within the top margins for tourist safety. Because South America is a continent and not a country, there is a large variance in crime rates from country to country. Countries like Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia do have their fair share of issues. However, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia (for the most part) don’t report high incidences of violent crimes. Do they still happen? Yes, but most reported crimes in this region of the continent are non-violent like pickpocketing, scamming, and purse-snatching. Other than in Quito, I really didn’t feel unsafe at any point during this trip, so as long as you keep your valuables close, use those street smarts, and do your best not to stand out as a target, you shouldn’t run into any trouble.

Visas in South America

Visa requirements in every country shift with the changing political climate. However, at the time of my trip, the only country in this trio that required a pre-approved visa was Bolivia. With my U.S. passport, I qualified for Ecuador and Peru’s free visas-on-arrival, so I didn’t need to do anything there. For your Bolivian visa, do some research to see where your closest embassy is and what you need to bring with you when you go. Chances are, you’ll need to bring your passport, a few passport-sized photos and potentially proof of a return ticket (so they know you don’t plan to stick around past your visa allotment). Bolivia also does require you to have a yellow fever vaccine, so you’ll need proof of that as well when applying for your visa. I’d recommend getting this sorted sooner rather than later just so that you don’t find yourself scrambling for a visa days before your trip.

If you’re worried about remembering all of these, I’ve got all the visa documents you’ll need covered in my packing checklist.

Altitude in South America

Because a large portion of this route weaves through the Andes (some of which reach as high as 7,000 meters/23,000 feet), altitude is a real factor to consider when planning your trip. Altitude sickness only affects people when they go above 2,500 meters (or 8,000 feet), but you’ll be going well above that during the course of this trip. The hard truth about altitude sickness is that it only affects some people, and it’s hard to predict why or how it does. I had moments on my trip where I felt no altitude sickness at all, and others when I definitely did.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness include:

  • Dizziness or balance issues

  • Insomnia

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath (even with minor exertions of energy)

  • Fast heart rate

What can you do about Altitude Sickness?

The general rule of thumb when it comes to altitude is to take it easy. Stay as hydrated as possible and do your best to acclimatize gently (easing your way up over a few days) so that your body can slowly adjust to the lack of oxygen. Definitely do not go on a strenuous hike the day you arrive at a high-altitude location (I’m looking at you Rainbow Mountain). You can also ask your doctor to write you a prescription for altitude sickness pills before you leave, so that if you feel particularly ill, you’ll  have some backup ready to go. As always, just listen to your body and don’t overdo it.

 

Two Month South America Itinerary

Country 1: Ecuador (Days 1-13)

 
Currency

United States Dollar

Exchange Rate

$1 USD = $1 USD

Capital

Quito

Primary Language

Spanish

Time Zone

GMT -5 hours (Central Standard Time)

Seasons

Dry Season: June - September; Rainy Season: October - May

Days 1-3: Quito

 

Some people love Quito and some people hate Quito. I personally fall somewhere in between. As the first city on this list, I’m not going to say it’s outstanding, but it does hold a tremendous amount of cultural and historical significance as the capital of the country. My recommendation is to meet some other travelers and explore the city together in an effort to stay safe and make some connections quickly into your trip. Quito is also an excellent spot to do some day trips to other local areas, like the Cotopaxi Volcano, Otavalo Market or the cloud forest in Mindo.

What to do in Quito:

  • Take the (free) guided tour of the Old Town

  • Straddle the world at the Mitad del Mundo (the Equatorial line)

  • Go shopping in La Ronda

  • Visit the Virgin Mary Statue on El Panecillo

  • Ride the Teleferico cable cars for some panoramic city views

  • Visit some of Quito’s exquisitely designed churches

Where to stay in Quito? I loved Community Hostel

 

Days 4-6: Baños

Most people familiar with the Spanish language know that “Baños” translates to “bathroom,” but Baños, Ecuador derives its name from the dozens of waterfalls that surround it. Dripping like sink faucets, the waterfalls around Baños are truly a sight to see, and a far cry from the crowded and urban Quito. There’s so much to see and do in this small tourist town in the mountains. Rent a bike and cycle around to all the waterfalls; bathe in the local hot springs; zipline across canyons, or grab a beer, kick your feet up in a hammock and just enjoy the clean mountain air.

What to do in Baños:

  • Rent bikes and cycle to all 7 of Baños’ waterfalls

  • Go whitewater rafting on the Rio Pastaza

  • Visit the Casa de Arbol & try out the Swing at the end of the World 

  • Zipline across the winding hills

  • Soak in either of the town’s two thermal baths (be sure to wear that bathing cap!) 

  • Go canyoning, climbing, & rappelling down waterfalls

Where to stay in Baños? Try Santa Cruz Backpackers Hostel

 

Days 7-9: Cuenca

Once you’ve had your fill of adventure sports and waterfalls, grab some snacks and take the 8-hour bus to Cuenca. Believe me, you’ll know the long ride is worth it when you arrive. Cuenca is a beautiful city nestled amidst the Andes that features quaint colonial architecture, extravagant cathedrals and ancient Incan ruins. The city is quickly modernizing, somehow preserving its trademark aesthetic while popping up boutique shops and restaurants in between its traditional buildings. It’s easy to stroll around Cuenca and get lost, but if you do, don’t worry! It’s one of the safest cities in Ecuador.

What to do in Cuenca

  • Do a day hike at El Cajas National Park (my top pick! I wrote a handy guide for it here)

  • Tour the city’s brand new Cathedral de la Inmaculada (well, brand new since 1975)

  • Catch a panoramic view of the city from the Turi Viewpoint

  • Explore Incan ruins right in the middle of the city at the Pumapungo Archaeological Park

  • Learn some local history & culture at any of Cuenca’s numerous museums

  • Soak in some volcanic baths at the local Baños (not to be confused with the other Baños)

  • Walk through the city’s central Parque Calderón (free WiFi, y’all)

  • Shop, eat, and tour the city’s local markets (food, flower, textiles)

Where to stay in Cuenca? I liked Mi Casa Hostel

 

Days 10-12: Montañita

Once you’ve finished up in Cuenca, catch a bus to Guayaquil and transfer over to the bus to Montañita (the full trip is about 7 hours & there is unfortunately no direct route). If you’ve been craving some sun, sand and tan, then Montañita is your spot. Located on the country’s western coast, Montañita is a quiet surf town by day and a beachside nightlife hub by night. If you’ve been to the islands in Thailand then you’ll know what to expect. This place has tons of stunning white sand beaches, all the western food you could want, and a whole strip of bars to crawl to at night. It’s a lovely spot to relax and unwind during the day and let loose when the sun sets.

What to do in Montañita:

  • Spend your day surfing, just minutes away from your hostel

  • Check out some turtles & blue-footed boobies on Isla de la Plata, one of two Poor Man’s Galapagos’

  • Have a beach day at Los Frailes, widely regarded as Ecuador’s prettiest beach

  • Take a dip in a mud bath at the Agua Blanca Tourism Project

  • Have a wild night out! This is the spot for it!

  • Nothing at all! Grab a cocktail and nap in a hammock for all I care!

Where to stay in Montañita? I loved ChiChi Babylone Backpacker

Day 13: Bus to Guayaquil; Bus to Mancora

After you’ve finished up your stay in Montañita, wake up nice and early and catch the 2.5-hour ride back to Guayaquil, where you’ll transfer to a bus headed towards Mancora. This will be a border-crossing bus, so make sure to have your passport and documents on hand and ready to go when you reach Peru. The total trip will be about 8.5 hours (2.5 from Montañita to Guyaquil and 6 from Cuenca to Mancora), so settle in for a long day of travel.

Country 2: Peru (Days 13-45)

 
Currency

Peruvian Sol

Exchange Rate

$1 USD = 3.42 Soles (as of March 2020)

Capital

Lima

Primary Language

Spanish

Time Zone

GMT -5 hours (Central Standard Time)

Seasons

Dry Season: May - October; Rainy Season: November - April

Days 13-15: Mancora

 

Another beach town just across the border from Montañita, Mancora is more like the east coast of Long Island than the Bahamas. Straddling the Pacific, Mancora is much more a temperate surfers paradise than it is subtropical, complete with sandy cliffs, aggressive waves and a distinctive Pacific sea breeze. Spend a few days here learning to surf or vegging out on the beach, or maybe spend the next few nights partying at the town’s party hostels. The beaches here are nice but not fantastic, so get that tan on while you can, because this is the last of the warm beaches you’ll see on this trip.

What to do in Mancora:

  • Surf, Surf, Surf

  • Go Humpback Whale Watching (if you’re there from July-October)

  • Swim with Sea Turtles off Mancora Beach (but don’t touch!)

  • Party when the sun goes down!

Where to stay in Mancora? Check out  The Point Mancora - Beach Hostel

Day 16: Bus to Huaraz

I hope you got your fill of sand and sun, because we’re headed to the complete opposite climate next. Grab the 16-hour bus from Mancora to Huaraz and pop in some podcasts. I know this is a long trip, but remember that you’re essentially driving halfway down the entire country, so it’s worth it. Bundle up for this ride because the buses often blast the A/C, and Huaraz will be much colder than Mancora.

 

Days 17-18: Huaraz

You made it to Huaraz! Stretch those legs after your long journey and check into your hostel for some well-earned rest. Huaraz is a quiet mountain town in the center of the Peruvian Andes. Known for its famous Laguna 69 Trek, Huaraz is a fantastic jumping point for some serious mountain climbing and glacier hunting. For those just getting acquainted with the altitude change, I recommend trying out the Rajucolta Valley and Llaca Valley hikes first (they’re easier), and attempting more challenging hikes like Laguna Churup, Laguna Paron and Laguna 69 once your body’s acclimatized. Regardless of which hikes you go for while you’re here, Huaraz is undoubtedly a perfect gateway drug into Andean hiking.

What to do in Huaraz:

  • Hike, Hike, Hike (your most common options are Rajucolta Valley, Llaca Valley, Laguna Churup, Laguna Paron, Laguna 69)

  • Do an overnight hike through Cordillera Blanca

  • Acclimatize by wandering around town and exploring the local markets

Where to stay in Huaraz? I liked Alpes Huaraz

 

Days 19-22: Lima

Once you’ve sufficiently frozen into a popsicle from all the glaciers and hiking, take a bus southward and warm up in Lima, Peru’s capital. The ride will take about 7 hours and get you into one of Lima’s major bus stations, where you can Uber to your hostel. Lima is perfectly located on the steep and stunning cliffs on Peru’s mid-western coast. It has a temperate climate year-round, often avoiding major storms, but sits on a fault line and therefore experiences occasional earthquakes. It has dramatic beaches perfect for surfing and its steep cliffs make for some excellent paragliding. Lima is a bustling metropolis, possibly the most modern and technological city on this trip. You can easily spend a week or more here, but we’ll try to condense the highlights into four days.

What to do in Lima:

  • Go Surfing 5 minutes away from your hostel

  • Take the Free Walking Tour of Lima’s Old Town (that begins in Miraflores & ends in the Plaza del Armas)

  • Take a Graffiti Tour of Barranco -- Lima’s hip, Bohemian neighborhood

  • Head to the Circuito Magico del Agua at night for an amazing Water Fountain Show

  • Take a dip with some sea lions off Palomino Island

  • Check out the Pre-Incan Huaca Pucllana Ruins in the Miraflores District

  • Spot all the cats in Miraflores’ Kennedy Park (there are legit dozens of them)

  • Go airborne by paragliding off the seaside cliffs

  • Sample some of Peru’s most iconic foods like ceviche, anticucho, & pisco sours

Where to stay in Lima? I liked Dragonfly Hostels Miraflores

 

Days 23-24: Paracas

Once you’ve had enough of Lima’s hustle and bustle, head south just 4 hours to Paracas, a sleepy Pacific beach town right on the edge of that small peninsula on the western coast of the country. Paracas is a really fascinating place. The desert landscape it’s known for is entirely different from that of Lima, and its slithering fields of sand extend all the way to the coast, resulting in otherworldly beaches dyed red and black. This is definitely not a beach town meant for swimming and tanning. The beaches are often dirty and smell like low tide, and the local pelicans call dibs on all the good spots. However, this strange little town has some really and truly unique sights that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. You don’t need more than a day or two for Paracas, however, so buckle up and get ready for a beach town entirely different from anything you’ve seen.

What to do in Paracas:

  • Start your day at Islas Ballestas (the other Poor Man’s Galapagos) to spot some penguins, seals and bottlenose dolphins

  • Take a tour of Paracas National Reserve to see some lunar-looking landscapes, flamingoes and red-sand beaches

  • Take an hour-drive to Tambo Colorado to see some well-preserved Incan ruins

Where to stay in Paracas? I liked Icthus Paracas Backpackers

 

Days 25-26: Huacachina

Just an hour away from Paracas, Huacachina is fairly easy to get to. Grab the hour-long bus to Ica and hop on a tuk-tuk from the station to Huacachina. When you arrive, you’ll instantly see why Huacachina is on every travelers bucket list when they visit Peru. The town of Huacachina is a man-made oasis in the middle of a desert. Essentially catered to backpackers, the small town is walkable in 20 minutes and is comprised of restaurants, bars, hostels and tour offices, straddled on all sides by enormous hills of sand. The town is a lovely break from an adventurous trip, so take advantage of the relaxing vibe here.

Sandboarding in Huacachina

If there’s anything to do in Huacachina it’s sandboarding. Departing in the late afternoon, these ATV tours take you up and around the dunes and stop at several spots along the way for you to try your hand at sandboarding. The ride is very bumpy and very precarious, but incredibly fun. Once you stop, you get the chance to glide down the dunes at speeds that feel completely inhuman. I personally could only manage horizontal sandboarding (and messed even that up occasionally), but some adventurous souls managed to do it upright. Finally, the ATVs will take you back towards town just in time to catch sunset over the oasis. The whole thing takes about 3 hours and is worth every penny.

Where to stay in Huacachina? I really liked Wild Olive Guesthouse

Day 27: Bus to Cusco

Buckle up, kids, because this will be a long journey. Though it looks fairly close on a map of Peru, Cusco is actually about 19 hours away from Huacachina, mostly because the Andes force the roads to wind around them rather than drive a straight line through them. Grab some food, snacks, and water, download some podcasts and music and try to get as much sleep as you can. You could alternatively take the bus to Arequipa (still about 11 hours) and then head on to Cusco, or you could take the bus back to Lima and fly to Cusco (just a one-hour flight). All viable options. This is just my best-bet budget option. Adjust accordingly.

 

Days 28-38: Cusco & Machu Picchu

You brave, brave souls...you did it! You endured the 19-hour bus ride and arrived in the one-and-only Incan center of the world! If I’m honest, I’d love to give you guys a real talk-style, brutally honest, scathing review of Cusco, but the fact of the matter is that Cusco legitimately lives up to its hype. Nestled comfortably in the high-altitude Andes at 3,400 meters, Cusco is a real-life gem of blended old-school architecture and modern tourist-centric aesthetics. I’m talking vegan restaurants, late-night party hostels, and European cafes, surrounded by ancient cathedrals, colonial buildings, and dotted with rainbow-clad llamas. It’s a truly unique city that puts other tourist-heavy cities to shame.

I've allotted 10 days for this leg of the trip because Cusco has so much to see and do, but you could easily get stuck here for much longer checking out the local ruins, hiking its dramatic mountains and getting fat off its exceptional cuisine. But focus up, y’all! We’re here to hike!

What to do in Cusco (other than a Machu Picchu hike):

  • Do a day tour of the Sacred Valley (perfect for acclimatizing to the altitude)

  • Check out the otherworldly and unexplored Maras Salt Mines

  • Do the challenging Rainbow Mountain hike (but NOT on your first day) 

  • Check out any of Cusco’s informative museums (Inka Museum, Coca Museum, Pisco Museum, Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino)

  • Find the city viewpoint under the giant Jesus statue for a panoramic view of Cusco

  • Take a quick & free tour of the Chocolate Museum

  • Buy some gringo sweaters or other textiles at the local markets

Where to stay in Cusco? I really liked Kokopelli Hostel Cusco

Machu Picchu Trekking Options

I know you’re really here for Machu Picchu so let’s get right into it. Machu Picchu, like Cusco, really does live up to the hype. It’s an enormous and fantastically-preserved archaeological park with a real profound charge in the air. It’s an incredibly historically significant site, and it somehow doesn’t manage to feel overcrowded despite having thousands of people there a day.  I recommend you get there early (as early as possible), and pay attention when your guide explains you the meaning behind the sites so that you get the full impact of this truly iconic wonder of the world. 

There are several ways to Machu Picchu, and they all have their pros and cons. Let's sift through some of them to see which suits you best.

Option 1: Take the Train

Duration: 1 Day

Difficulty Level: 0/5

Whether you find yourself exhausted from your other hikes or from the altitude, you can take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and catch the train to Machu Picchu from there. This will definitely be the priciest option, with train fare costing up to $140 for a one-way trip. Though this is the luxury option, I’d implore you to push yourself to hike to Machu Picchu rather than take this route, because hiking is truly the most spectacular way to get there. You’ll catch the train back to Cusco afterwards anyway, so you won’t be missing out on much.

Option 2: Jungle Trek

Duration: 4 days, 3 nights

Difficulty Level: 2.5/5

The Jungle trek offers a pretty comfortable middle-ground between the other trekking options. It bypasses the glaciers and high altitudes, effectively making it easier than the Salkantay Trek, and instead weaves you through the low-altitude jungles in the Cusco region. With more time and less strenuous hiking, the Jungle Trek offers some fun add-ons like whitewater rafting, zip-lining, mountain biking and more. It sounds like it ticks all the boxes for an adrenaline-packed adventure hiker without the intensity of high altitude climbing, and it’s comparable to the cost of the Salkantay Trek ($175 USD). I also recommend booking this one just a day in advance.

Option 3: Inca Trail

Duration: 4 days, 3 nights

Difficulty Level: 3.5/5

The Inca trail is well-known as the most authentic way to get to Machu Picchu, as it follows the pilgrimage path that the Incans themselves used hundreds of years ago. This trail is known to be somewhat difficult, complete with plenty of altitude changes, but it also spans a bunch of different ecosystems (glaciers, mountains, jungles, cloud forests) packed into just 4 days. You also get the added benefit of arriving at Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, which offers some stunning panoramic views that you don’t get from other treks. Keep in mind, however, that Inca trail bookings need to be done well in advance and are rather costly. You can easily get locked out from this trail if you don’t plan ahead, and keep in mind that this option will put a pretty hefty hole in your wallet (it goes for around $500 USD).

Option 4: Salkantay Trek

Duration: 5 days, 4 nights

Difficulty Level: 4/5

The Salkantay Trek is the hike that I did, and I really can’t recommend it enough. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever been on, but it’s definitely worth it. On this trail, you’ll weave your way through the mountains, heading up to the Salkantay Pass on Day 2, head back down into the jungle on days 3 and 4, and then climb up to Machu Picchu on day 5. Day 2 is easily the hardest, as you’ll be hiking entirely uphill at an already high altitude (4,000+m), but the difficulty helps you bond with your fellow travelers and make the glacier at the top all the more worth it. This tour usually involves some zip-lining and hot spring bathing, so there’s plenty going on to keep your interest. It’s also one of the cheapest options if you book a day in advance (and I recommend you do). I believe I paid something in the realm of $175 USD for the five days.

 

Days 39-43: Arequipa

For those of you who are all hiked-out, I have some bad news. Arequipa is a lovely town 10 hours from Cusco by bus, and it’s known for both uphill and downhill hiking. Straddled on both sides by two enormous volcanos, and located right next to the world-famous Colca Canyon, there’s plenty here for the hiking aficionado, but also plenty more for those of us who need to give our legs a break. Dotted with beautifully constructed cathedrals and an open-air feel, Arequipa is my favorite Peruvian city. It’s clean, bright, safe and extremely walkable. So post up at a hostel, meet some other travelers, and either climb the mountains or admire them from a rooftop with a Pisco Sour in hand.

What to do in Arequipa:

  • Hike down into Colca Canyon (and stay overnight in the oasis at the bottom)

  • Do the 2-day hike of Volcan Misti (I hear it’s rather difficult, peaking at 5,822m)

  • Soak your aching body at some of the local hot springs (La Calera Thermal Waters)

  • Admire the condors at Mirador del Cruz Condor (usually coupled with a Colca Canyon Hike)

  • Weave your way through the Santa Catalina Monastery 

  • Participate in the Free City Walking Tour (it’s a great spot to meet other travelers)

  • Learn how to cook some Peruvian staples at a cooking class (I recommend the ceviche one)

Where to stay in Arequipa? I liked Arequipay Backpackers Downtown

 

Days 44-45: Puno & Lake Titicaca

Okay, okay I promise. No more hiking. Next we head to Puno, a city in the southeast of Peru that borders Lake Titicaca, and where we’ll wave goodbye to Peru and head towards Bolivia. Only a 6-hour bus ride from Arequipa, Puno is known for one thing and one thing only -- its floating islands. If I’m honest, I wasn’t super impressed with them or Puno as a whole. However, it’s a necessary stopover on our way to the next country, and Lake Titicaca itself is quite a spectacle to see. Be sure to bundle up on your way over, though. Puno is high altitude and therefore pretty darn chilly.

What to do in Puno:

  • Check out the Floating Islands (these are man made islands created by the indigenous Uros people)

Where to stay in Puno? I liked Cozy Hostel

Getting to Bolivia from Puno

From Puno, take the 4-hour bus to Copacabana over the Bolivian border. It’s a pretty straightforward ride, but just be sure to have your immigration documents in hand onboard the bus rather than in storage underneath it. You’ll need your passport, your pre-approved Bolivian visa and your vaccine checklist for the border guards to see.

 

Country 3: Bolivia (Days 45-62)

Currency

Bolivian Boliviano

Exchange Rate

$1 USD = 6.90 Boliviano(as of March 2020)

Capital

Sucre

Primary Language

Spanish

Time Zone

GMT -4 hours (Bolivia Time)   *note this is different from the other countries

Seasons

Dry Season: May - November; Rainy Season: December - April

Okay, raise your hand if you don't know very much about Bolivia. No? I didn’t either. Out here in the west, we don’t learn very much about this amazing landlocked country in central South America, but it’s a really unique and deeply cultural place. With all sorts of altitudes and ecosystems rolled into one (you’ve got the low-altitude Amazon in the north and the brutally high altiplano in the south), Bolivia’s landscape is entirely its own and unparalleled anywhere else in the world. The country has a phenomenally rich cultural history that’s developed entirely separately from the rest of South America, and it shows in the food, fashion and etiquette. It won’t be uncommon to pass by a bowler-capped lady walking her alpaca on the street, or a man dressed as a cowboy selling his wares in the local market. So wave goodbye to Peru and get ready for an entirely brand new experience.

 

Days 45-46: Isla del Sol

Welcome to Bolivia! You’ll probably notice almost immediately that this is no Peru. Bolivia is a completely different country that’s developed largely on its own from its indigenous communities, independent from its neighboring countries. When you get off the bus at Copacabana, head to the port and grab the ferry to Isla del Sol.

Isla del Sol is just an hour away from Copacabana, and holds a really dear place in the hearts of locals as the mythical birthplace of the sun. The island looks like it’s stopped in time a few hundred years ago, with very basic amenities and limited WiFi. It’s a laid-back and slow moving place to be, which can be a very welcome thing at this point in the trip, but also has a few interesting things to do. All in all, Isla del Sol can be done in a day (it’s very walkable), but if you want to extend it to an overnight like I did, you can take all the time you like. Keep in mind, there is a general separation of North and South on the island, as the locals conflict there, primarily over tourism disputes. You will likely stay on the south-side, which is absolutely fine because there’s plenty to see on that side of the island.

What to do on Isla del Sol:

  • Hike the Incan Path for panoramic views and to see the island’s unique flora (about 3 hours)

  • Check out some of the ancient ruins scattered on the island (dating back to the 15th Century)

  • Check out the Museo del Oro to learn why this spot is the birthplace of the Incas

  • Eat some local food at the quaint restaurants (especially trout caught from the Lake)

Where to stay on Isla del Sol? I liked Casa de la Luna

 

Days 47-50: La Paz

Once you’ve enjoyed the slow-paced life on Isla del Sol, get ready for the exact opposite in La Paz. Densely populated, La Paz is the antithesis to Isla del Sol in that its bustling, fast-paced and crowded. Yet another city that blends its ancient history with new modernizing aesthetics, La Paz isn’t technically the capital of Bolivia, but it sure as heck functions as one, and is a fantastic home base for your excursions in Bolivia.

Take the ferry from Isla del Sol to the mainland and catch a bus to La Paz (3.5 hours). You’ll notice pretty immediately that the city is flanked with snowy Andean mountains and is very high altitude (3,650m). If there was ever a city for altitude sickness pills, La Paz would be it. I got winded just going up the stairs to my dorm room in my hostel.

What to do in La Paz:

  • Check out the voodoo and shrunken heads at the Witches Market

  • Get around by the Teleferico cable cars

  • Do the Free City Walking Tour 

  • Challenge your fear of heights on Death Road

  • See a Cholita Wrestling Match

  • Check out the abandoned Chacaltaya Ski Resort

  • Hike Huayna Potosi (this is a hard hike)

  • Explore the lunar landscape of Valle de la Luna

Where to stay in La Paz? I liked The Adventure Brew Hostel

Days 51: Getting to Rurrenabaque

Once you’ve explored La Paz a little bit, it’s time to head to the jungle. I’m not going to lie to you folks...this ride is grueling. 40 minutes by plane, 9 hours by car-hire and 12+ hours by bus, getting to Rurrenabaque is a challenge. If you have the cash to spend, go ahead and book the time-saving and convenient flight. However, if you’re on a budget, my advice is to gather a group of 4 people and hire a car. It’s by far the fastest option and relatively cheap when split among four people. The ride is bumpy, backwoods, and tight, but it’ll all be worth it when you finally end up in the Amazon.

Keep in mind, all roads leading to Rurrenabaque have to drive through Yungas Road (a.k.a. Death Road), as it’s currently the only way to get there. The road is very narrow, and derives its name from the many car accidents that it used to cause back in the day. Since then, they’ve expanded it a bit so that there’s room for two-way traffic as you go. I still think that a car hire is better than a top-heavy bus, but use your own judgment.

 

Days 52-56: Amazon & the Pampas

Once you finally arrive in Rurrenabaque you may start to wonder why you just did what you did. The town is small and unglamorous, but that’s purely because it’s built for function. Most people who come here are en route to the jungle and therefore just stop by. So gather your things, check into a hostel and get to booking your Amazon trip.

The Amazon- 3-Day Madidi Reserve Trip

My Amazon experience was easily one of the coolest experiences of my life. I did a three-day stay at an eco-lodge in the Madidi Reserve, and would have stayed longer if I had the time. You’ll start out in Rurrenabaque and take a 3-hour boat ride through the local river to arrive at the reserve. The grounds are expansive and remote with no internet access, limited running water, and plenty of mosquitos. Wear long-sleeves (I know, it’s blistering hot here) to keep the bugs at bay and enjoy touring the jungle with your guide while you stay in some beautiful eco-cabins.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this experience was the wildlife that the reserve had on hand - rescued (and mischievous) spider monkeys, tapirs, macaws and parrots. The tour guide shuttles you and your group through the jungle, pointing out squirrel monkeys, caiman and all the local jungle plants that make the Bolivian jungle unique. At night, you’ll be taken on a canoe through the lake with flashlights in hand to spot the caiman hiding out on the outer banks, and you’ll do a late-night walk through the woods to try and find some nocturnal animals like tarantulas and more. All in all, it’s a remote and in-depth experience that any nature-lover would be thrilled with. I can’t recommend it enough.

Pampas Tour

The Pampas Tour that I did was a quick day trip from Rurrenabaque, but you could easily swap the Pampas and the Amazon excursions if you’d like more time exploring the outer banks of the Amazon jungle. On the Pampas tour, you’ll be guided through the wetlands of the jungle on a river boat, spotting incredible animals along the way. Blue and yellow macaws, squirrel monkeys, caiman, and capybaras make appearances all along the riverbanks, but nothing compares to the pink river dolphins.

At one point, your guide will stop the boat and tell you to get in the water. You’ll get in the water (trying not to predict the inevitable parasites that you’ll get infected with) and notice a bunch of breaching all around you as the pink river dolphins come out to play. They’re harmless and playful, but can be quite a surprise given the murkiness of the waters. They are, however, beautiful and unique, so I definitely recommend taking a dip with them. Your tour will return you to the port at Rurrenabaque just in time for you to catch a late night bus back to La Paz.

Day 57: Back to La Paz

Once you’ve finished up in Rurrenabaque, book a bus or car hire and head back to La Paz overnight. When you arrive, you’ll be able to spend the day recuperating before heading out to Uyuni the following night. You won’t be able to book your Uyuni Salt Flats tour until the morning of, so just book a bus from La Paz to Uyuni (the journey takes about 7 hours), and veg out before you have to get back into travel mode.

 

Day 58-61: Uyuni Salt Flats

Like Machu Picchu, I was worried that the Uyuni Salt Flats would be overrated. How cool can an endless expanse of white actually be? Boy, was I wrong. The Salt Flats wound up standing out as one of the top 3 experiences on my trip and possibly my life. Arrive in Uyuni early in the morning and book a three-day tour at any of the local tour agencies, where you’ll be shepherded into a van and headed off to the flats.

In the wet season, the flats are doused in a thin coating of water, perfectly mirroring the sky and making for a really otherworldly view. During the dry season, they look like huge desert plains made of dry, crackled snow. Either season is a fantastic time to visit, so don’t worry if you don’t manage to get there in time for wet season. Keep in mind, however, the Salt Flats are freezing cold at any time of year, especially at night. Bundle up for this one, guys.

Included in your tour will be a few stops on the flats, at the train graveyard, some museums, excavation sites, and a night at the salt hotel (yes, the building is entirely made of salt). Then, you’ll be driven into the Atacama Desert (the one that borders Chile) and shown some pretty stunning lunar landscapes, volcanoes and flamingo flocks. At the end, some people in your group will be dropped off close to the Chilean border so they can continue on, but you’ll head back toward Uyuni town. Once you arrive back in town, grab your packs and head to the bus station to catch the next night bus back to La Paz.

 

Day 62: Fly Home

When you arrive back in La Paz, it’ll likely be early morning, giving you plenty of buffer time to head to the airport and catch your flight home. Hopefully by now you feel like you experienced a large part of Bolivian culture and nature. I know we missed out on Sucre and Santa Cruz, but there’s only so much you can do in 62 days!

All in all, I hope this guide helped you structure your trip or give you ideas of where you’d like to visit in this part of the world in a functional amount of time. As my first solo trip, this itinerary holds a special place in my heart and I hope it winds up doing so for you too. Hopefully you leave yourself enough wiggle room in this tight schedule for advice and tips from other travelers. But more than anything, hopefully you find the same joy for the magic of the Andes that I did when I came here.

If you’re interested in seeing other parts of the world, you can always check out my other itineraries right here. Happy travels, my friends!

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