Updated June 2019
Most travellers to South America will inarguably plan for a trip that lasts somewhere between three and five weeks, whether they have a specific interest in mind (like hiking extensively through Patagonia) or are first-time visitors wishing to tick off what we call ‘South America’s Big 5’:
- Machu Picchu
- The Galapagos Islands
- The Amazon Rainforest
- Rio de Janeiro
- Iguazu Falls
There’s certainly a lot of wiggle room in a 3-5 week trip to South America, the upper end of this timeframe being absolutely essential if you want to tick all five abovementioned highlights (6 weeks would make the trip more enjoyable, to be honest) and, the lower end, if you’d much prefer a little more quality time in fewer spots of your choosing. Return visitors tend to plan dedicated 3-week trips to specific regions they want to explore whilst, first-time visitors, try and squeeze as much action into 5 weeks as they possibly can, all the very valid approaches to planning a trip to this very big and varied continent.
Suggestions for a 3-5 week trip to South America
Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot more to South America just it’s five most famous sites and, even on a 3-week trip, you can certainly soak up a lot of gorgeous in-between spots, like Buenos Aires, Lima and Santiago, even as far as Lake Titicaca Lake in the high Andes, right at the border between Peru and Bolivia.
For the first suggestion, let’s cast off following one of our most popular itineraries of all, our 21-day South America Circle tour.
Here are all the amazing highlights you could squeeze into a 3-week trip to South America:
- Buenos Aires (Air NZ flies directly to BA from Australia and NZ so it’s a fabulous entry point for shorter trips)
- Iguazu Falls (shared by Argentina and Brazil, these magnificent falls are unmissable!)
- Rio de Janeiro (it’s just a spring and a hop from the falls to the glitzy Brazilian hub)
- Lima (head all the way west to start your jaunt through Peru)
- Lake Titicaca (conveniently, you can visit the highest navigable lake on earth on your way to Machu Picchu)
- Cusco (the base town for your Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley of the Inca visits)
- Puerto Maldonado (one of Peru’s two major Amazon hubs, directly connected to Cusco by short plane ride)
- Return to Lima and, from here, onwards to your next destination/home
We’ll be truly honest here and state that this is a fast-paced, whirlwind tour – 7 major destinations in 21 days is about as fast as you’d ever want to travel in South America (or anywhere, for that matter) so use the itinerary as a canvas, if you will, to be amended and stretched at will. Add a few additional days here and there (to rest and plan activities) and you’ll find the journey much more enjoyable. But do note that we devised this South America Circle itinerary to maximise efficiency so when you follow its lead, it’s quite crucial to plan stops in the order suggested, which eliminates unnecessary time-wasting and backtracking.
Add just a little more time to your journey, however, and your options will increase tremendously.
ADD a special interest destination AND slow down the travel pace: Our 34-day South America Icon itinerary will see you add the magical Galapagos Islands to the abovementioned highlights whilst slowing down the pace.
See our Island-by-Island Galapagos Guide
ADD a special interest destination only: If you must travel for a shorter time, keep the fast-pace yet still include the Galapagos, as per our 27-day Big Five Explorer.
What if you want to travel overland? Overland journeys are very unique, on a travel-sphere all their own. For obvious reasons, you can really only hone in on one region of South America if you want to explore it by road. In 4-weeks, you can explore Patagonia in summer, for example, tackling a sensational Santiago to Ushuaia Overland Trip, exploring this southern region’s most remote and most famous sites.
How about adding ANTARCTICA to the mix? Travel during the southern summer and your 4-week journey can include the above detailed 3-week trip will be shuffled around slightly to see you end in Buenos Aires, from where you can head to Ushuaia and embark on an unforgettable 10-day cruise of Antarctica. Our 30-day South America Explorer itinerary, like most of those mentioned on this page, can be personalised to suit your wishes, although note that Antarctica cruising season runs from roughly November to March.
What if you’re on a budget? You need not miss out on the excitement of South America travel just because your budget may be a little restricted. We actually have a ton of ways to cut costs on your journey, either swapping a few flights for local transport options, opting for lower-priced accommodation (which are still more than comfortable), slowing down the pace and skipping the most destinations which, in South America’s case, are the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon Rainforest. See just how much fun and adventure you can have if you follow our 20-day South America on a Budget itinerary.
We surely hope to have offered plenty for travel inspiration for those planning a 3-5 week trip of South America.
But wait…there’s plenty more ideas below!
Eight other ways to plan your South America Tour:
2) Planning for a short trip (Two weeks)
3) Planning for long trip (Three Months plus)
4) Planning your trip of you like hiking and outdoor activities
5) Planning your trips if you like cuisine and culture
6) Planning your trip if you like photography
7) Planning your trip if you like wildlife
8) Planning your trip if you like the buzz of cities
9) Planning your trip if you want to relax and unwind on a beach
Chimu Adventures offers many tours to South America to suit your needs. Click here for more info.