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How to Spend 40 Days in South America

by Travelbag on 10 July 2019, 10:07AM

Copacabana Beach Rio de Janeiro

This month, we’re celebrating 40 years of Travelbag. We’ve been offering unforgettable holidays since 1979, to help you experience more of the world. In celebration of the past 40 years, we’ve created a series of unique 40-day itineraries for bucket-list destinations. And this one is designed to help you discover the very best of South America.

It’s a continent that some travellers can find intimidating, due to its sheer size – the UK could fit inside it 73 times – but you needn’t worry. South America is increasingly easy to navigate, allowing you to combine vibrant cities, dramatic landscapes and UNESCO-protected sites into one epic trip. Ready to step outside your comfort zone? Find out how to spend 40 days in South America, as you tick off Chile, Argentina, Peru and Brazil.


Days 1-10: Santiago, Val Paraiso and Torres del Paine National Park

Your South American adventure begins in Chile. Stretching for more than 2,600 miles, Chile is a country of contrasts, home to deserts, glaciers and everything in between. Your trip kicks off in the north, in the capital of Santiago. A mishmash of colourful neighbourhoods – or barrios – and historic buildings, this artistic city has a European feel. Spend a day in the bohemian Bellavista area, where you’ll find bars, restaurants and picturesque squares. It also has easy access to Cerro San Cristobal – a towering hill offering panoramic views over Santiago. If you want to know more about the city’s history, take a walking tour to significant landmarks like the Supreme Court, La Moneda Palace and Plaza de Armas. Spend your evenings in the Lastarria barrio, sipping Chilean wines or authentic pisco sours in a jazz bar.

While you’re in northern Chile, a day trip to Valparaiso is a must. Just a two-hour bus ride from Santiago, this rainbow-coloured port is famous for its murals. In the Historic Quarter, entire lanes, houses and even steps are covered in bright street art, ranging from swirling seascapes to political paintings. A walking tour is the best way to see it all, but you can go it alone if you prefer. 

After a few days, it’s time to fly down to Punta Arenas. The gateway to Patagonia – a region shared by Chile and Argentina – this southern city is a world away from Santiago, and you’ll definitely notice a difference in temperature. But the cooler climate is perfect for one particular creature – penguins. Take a boat trip out to Isla Magdalena, where you’ll be able to walk among a colony of 120,000 wild Magellanic penguins. You’ll also be able to spot sea lions, cormorants and gulls.

Next, you’ll travel on to Puerto Natales, which will serve as your base for exploring Torres del Paine National Park. With dramatic mountains, glass-like lakes and jagged glaciers, this 1,000-square-mile park is one of the most scenic places in the whole of South America. Spend a day taking on the gruelling hike to the Torres – or ‘towers’ – after which the park is named, and another more relaxing day on a boat trip to Glacier Grey.

Torres del Paine, Chile


Days 11–20: Los Glaciares National Park and Buenos Aires

Your journey into Patagonia continues as you cross the border into Argentina, and head to El Calafate. Built on the shores of Argentina’s biggest freshwater lake, this quaint town offers a range of activities, craft breweries and delicious restaurants. You can hire bikes and cycle by the lake, or take it easy in one of the town’s many bars. But the real attraction of El Calafate is its proximity to Los Glaciares National Park – and the gigantic Perito Moreno Glacier. Roughly the size of Buenos Aires, this jaw-dropping chunk of ice is a must-see. There are plenty of day trips available from El Calafate, which allow you to get up close to Perito Moreno – you’ll even be able to hear it creaking.

After a few days exploring El Calafate, it’s time to travel further into Los Glaciares National Park, as you head to El Chalten. Surrounded by mountains, this picturesque town has a series of hiking trails, ranging from short two-hour walks to full-day treks. You can enjoy a gentle walk up to Los Condores, where you’ll have sweeping views of El Chalten and the jagged peaks of Mount Fitz Roy in the distance. Speaking of which, you can spend a day hiking to the summit of this impressive mountain. The circular route takes about seven hours, meandering past forests, streams and glaciers on the way. After a busy day, enjoy an Argentinean steak dinner in one of El Chalten’s restaurants, washed down with a glass of local wine. Or, if you visit during the warmer months, soak up the sunshine in a beer garden.

Once you’ve had your fill of mountains, it’s time to return to city life. Fly to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and enjoy a couple of days in this Latin metropolis. The home of the tango – and nearly three million people – Buenos Aires is romantic and lively in equal measure. Expect to find French-inspired architecture, mouth-watering restaurants and colourful barrios. Stroll around Recoleta Cemetery – the city’s ornate burial ground for the super-rich – and head to La Boca neighbourhood to discover street art, coffee shops and steakhouses. If you’re into wine, make sure you book a wine tasting in Buenos Aires. There are loads of different options available, with some also including dinner, a cooking class or a tango show.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina


Days 21–30: Lima and Lake Titicaca

You’ve ticked off Chile and Argentina – now it’s time for Peru. Fly to Lima and spend your first evening in the city at Parque de la Reserva. As the sun starts to dip below the horizon, the park’s fountains light up and put on a spectacular show. Over the next couple of days, you’ll be able to take in Lima’s fascinating museums, edgy galleries and bustling bars. Plus, you can gorge on Peruvian dishes until your stomach hurts. Influenced by indigenous Incas, plus European, African and Asian immigrants, the flavours of Peru are unique and delicious.

Next, you’ll head to Lake Titicaca. Straddling the Peru-Bolivia border, this vast lake is one of the biggest in South America, and the highest navigable body of water in the world. But the journey is just impressive as the destination. It’ll take you between two and three days to get there – which might sound like a long time, but taking it slow will help your body adjust to the altitude. As you weave through Peru’s diverse landscape, you can have a couple of overnight stops in wildlife-rich Paracas, colonial Arequipa, or the desert oasis of Huacachina. Surrounded by rolling sand dunes, this green town looks like something from a sci-fi film. It’s completely natural, though, as the palm trees take their nutrients from Huacachina Lagoon.

Once you reach Lake Titicaca, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The Incas believed that this magical spot was the birthplace of the sun and, on a bright day, it’s hard to disagree. You can discover Inca ruins and crumbling temples, see the tiered farming fields, and take a boat trip to the lake’s islands.

Next, you’ll head deep into the Andes to ancient Cuzco. The once-capital of the Incan Empire has become a must-see, thanks to its archaeological significance. You can go it alone or take a tour to see the cathedral, Plaza de Armas and the unmissable Coricancha – also known as The Temple of the Sun. This site was the most important religious shrine for the Incas, and its finely-carved walls are among the most impressive in the whole Incan Empire.

Cuzco, Peru


Days 31–40: Machu Picchu and Rio de Janeiro

Of course, when you think of Peru, there’s one place that immediately springs to mind: Machu Picchu. Cuzco is the stepping stone to Peru’s most famous landmark – but you’ll still have to get up early to make the most of it.

There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu, and they all involve some kind of hike. If you want to do it in a day trip, you’ll need to catch the train from Cuzco about 4am to the base of the mountain, then walk the final stretch to Machu Picchu. Alternatively, you can get the train to Aguas Calientes and spend the night there, before trekking to Machu Picchu the next morning. Whichever option you choose, you’re in for a treat. Dating back to 1450, this awe-inspiring citadel will surpass all your expectations. Just make sure you book your Machu Picchu spot several months in advance, as there’s a daily restriction on visitor numbers, to help protect the area.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Enjoy one final day in Cuzco, before flying to your fourth and final country: Brazil. And where better to go than Rio de Janeiro? South America’s most iconic city is the carnival capital of the world. But, after a few days here, you’ll realise there’s so much more to it than that.

First things first – you’ll want to ride the train through the rainforest to see Christ the Redeemer. Standing atop Corcovado Mountain, this 30-metre statue gazes out across Rio’s sprawling cityscape. From the peak, you’ll also be able to see Rio’s famous hillside favelas and the distinctive hump of Sugarloaf Mountain – which you can reach via cable car, if you wish. Another unmissable spot is Copacabana Beach. This stretch of sand is arguably the most famous beach in the world, so make sure you set aside some time to relax – you’ll certainly have earned it after 35 days of travelling.

Downtown Rio is also worth exploring, as you can hop between cathedrals, markets and museums – not to mention endless markets, cafes and restaurants. If you want to uncover the grittier side of Rio de Janeiro, book a tour of the city’s favelas and see how local communities are developing their neighbourhoods. Or you could take it easy with a visit to the Botanic Gardens. Whether you’re looking for cultural experiences, great food or natural beauty, Rio has it in spades – making it a fitting place to end to your South American adventure.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Speak to our travel experts to start planning your trip to South America, or take a look at our exciting birthday offers.

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