Top Ten South America Overland Routes

Recommended itineraries and backpacking adventures

Planning an overland trip to South America can seem like a daunting prospect, but it needn't be! Use the following tried and tested overland routes for some travel-planning inspiration. 

South America's Best Overland Routes

1. The Rio de Janeiro Loop

Rio, exuberant and modern, has its fair share of local attractions--not least the beautiful city beaches. But the surrounding region is well worth exploring, too. Nearby Paraty and Ilha Grande make a popular detour, which can be visited on a leisurely circular route that starts and finishes in Rio.

Rio de Janeiro

Starting in Rio, set aside enough time to explore the city’s famous beaches. Ipanema and Copacabana are world renowned. You’ll see why as soon as you step foot on them.

The other classic must-see, the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado peak, affords picture postcard views of the city’s skyline.

If you’ve got extra time explore the waterfalls and wildlife of Parque Nacional da Tijuca, where some of Rio’s original jungle is preserved.

“Favela tours” have taken some flak recently for their undertones of poverty tourism, but nonetheless a sensitively-organized tour of Rio’s poorer suburbs can offer unique insights into the city’s cultural and social history most famously highlighted in the movie “City of God.”

Ilha Grande

From Rio, head to Ilha Grande. In a country known for its beautiful beaches, Lopez Mendez beach on Ilha Grande is thought by many to be the most gorgeous of all.

The traditional route involves a bus from Rio to the port at Angra dos Reis (2.5 hours) followed by 1.5 hours by boat to Ilha Grande. More recently pooled shuttle services from Rio have become more popular. These will pick you up in Rio, drive you to Conceição do Jacarei, followed by 20-40 minutes by boat. Book ahead with a reputable agent.

You could easily while away a lifetime on the beaches of Ilha Grande. A minimum of two or three days is recommended.

Paraty

If you’ve not had your fill of paradise head on to Paraty, a town known as much for its colonial history as its glorious beaches.

There is a boat service from Ilha Grande to Paraty but it requires a minimum of 6 people and can be unreliable. Most people prefer a boat/land combination; either a boat to Angra dos Reis (1.5 hours) and a bus to Paraty (2 hours), or a private transfer via Conceição do Jacarei (approx. 2.5 hours).

Spend at least two or three days losing yourself among the town’s cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, most of which are closed to vehicles.

If you’ve got the time, take a side trip to Serra da Bocaina National Park or the traditional fishing town of Trinidade.

From Paraty it’s a 250 km/155 mi (4 hours) by bus or private vehicle back to Rio.

Rio de Janeiro loop route planner

Rio to Ilha Grande

170 km/105 mi

2 hours by road, up to 2 hours by boat

Ilha Grande to Paraty

Up to 2 hours by boat, 2 hours by road

Paraty to Rio

250 km/155 mi

4 hours by road

2. Buenos Aires To Rio

If you’re the type of person that likes a trip that includes both city and nature, action and relaxation, this one is for you. You’ll visit some of the most exciting cities in South America, as well as one of the most impressive natural sites in the world on this excursion--not to mention getting some beautiful beach time in as well.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires offers a unique and fascinating blend of Europe and Latin America that you won’t soon forget. You can enjoy the best the modern world has to offer as well as visit the different neighborhoods with their own histories and nostalgias. Make sure you spend at least three or four days here.

This is a place with an all-night pulse--evenings start late! Like any major city, there are plenty of museums and art galleries for you to enjoy. Pop into the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, if nothing else.

Pedestrians love Buenos Aires, especially San Telmo and La Boca for a stroll around the original streets. Stop for a coffee in one of the many old-school cafes.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can enjoy the incredible meat-oriented gastronomy (and delicious red wine). Due to the large number of Italian immigrants, Italian eateries appear every few blocks. Then work it all off by learning some tango--or just enjoying one of the stunning shows.

Puerto Iguazú

After you’ve enjoyed the vibrancy of the city, it’s time to immerse in nature--well-earned after an 18 hour bus ride. One of the most amazing natural sites in the world is the Iguazú waterfalls. You will need at least one full day to take in the national park.

Hike around the jungle surrounding the falls on your own or hire a guide to help you get around them and search for the wildlife that inhabits the region. You can also opt for a speedboat tour right under the falls.

Foz do Iguaçu

You’ve seen the Argentine side of the falls. Now it’s time to take a short trip (about half an hour drive time) to the Brazil half, giving you a whole different viewpoint of this natural wonder. Hiking through the rainforest on this side is the ticket to see the many birds and other wildlife that live here. You will want at least half a day to visit this part of the falls.

Florianópolis

Next up is about 15.5 hours of drive time trip to the turquoise waters at Florianópolis. Although it is a city in its own right, the real reason for visiting is the many beautiful beaches that are located here, many of which are great for surfing. From Praia dos Ingleses in the north to Lagoa da Conceicao, you will want at least a couple of days here to soak up beach life.

Sao Paulo

Give yourself at least a couple of days to see the sights, especially after around 11.5 hours of road journeying.

Some of the highlights include Ibirapuera Park, where you can jog, skate, cycle, or just hang out in the greenery. With two square kilometers to play in, it’s a great getaway from the city yet within it.

Don’t miss the Museu do Futebol if you love the ‘beautiful’ game. Housed in an art-deco stadium, you can enjoy the many exhibits and play some games inside.

Ascend the 130 meter (426.5 ft) high skyscraper Edificio Martinelli to get commanding views of Sao Paulo. Free tours depart every 30 minutes.

Paraty

Now it’s time to hit the sand again for a few days, after about six hours of drive time. Many people visit Paraty for the beaches, and for good reason, but there’s lots more to do here too.

Don’t miss the colonial history as you immerse yourself in the cobblestone streets and architecture of the town. The streets are closed to vehicles, making it a really enjoyable place to walk around.

On top of this, take a side trip to visit the jungle at Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina and visit the small traditional fishing town of Trinidade for a taste of local life.

Ilha Grande

In a country known for its beautiful beaches, Lopez Mendez beach on Ilha Grande is thought by many to be the most gorgeous of all. Decide for yourself; all it takes is a 1.5 hour boat ride from Paraty.

Rio de Janeiro

A relatively brisk three to five hours of combined drive and boat time (shorter by private transfer than local transport) brings you to the iconic Rio. Like Buenos Aires, you can keep the party going all night in Rio. Unlike BA, however, you also have the chance to play in some of the most beautiful beaches imaginable as well.

You’ll need four or five days to really take in all that this amazing place has to offer. The world renowned Ipanema and Copacabana beaches are the ideal spot to have a rest for a day. For more action, visit the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, where you hike around the preserved jungle to explore the wildlife and waterfalls.

Other than that, the enormous Christ Redeemer statue is a must-see and offers incredible views of the city--as does Sugarloaf Mountain and the cable car journey to the top. Find out more about the city with a favela tour and take a visit to the poorest areas of Rio, highlighted in the movie “City of God.” You can find tours by people who grew up there, conducted in a way that is inclusive and supports the neighborhoods.

Buenos Aires to Rio route planner

Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú

1612 km / 1002 mi

18 hours

Puerto Iguazú to Foz do Iguaçu

16 km / 10 mi

30 mins

Foz do Iguaçu to Florianópolis

936 km / 582 mi

15.5 hours

Florianópolis to Sao Paulo

704 km / 437 mi

11.5 hours

Sao Paulo to Paraty

276 km / 172 mi

6 hours

Paraty to Ilha Grande

2 hours by road, 20 - 40 minutes by boat

Ilha Grande to Rio de Janeiro

250 km /155 mi

20 - 40 minutes by boat, 2 hours by road

3. Cusco To La Paz (via Puno & Copacabana)

From Machu Picchu, head east to Bolivia. Along the way, you’ll see some fascinating Andean sights. High altitude and an expansive altiplano lake will keep you buzzed as you window-gaze from Cusco to La Paz.

Cusco

There’s so much to do in and around Cusco that you can easily take several days to explore this area. The former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco presents a fascinating blend of that ancient culture, along with Colonial and modern-day fixtures.  

From the cathedral in the main plaza and the Plaza de Armas to Tipon south of the city, there is so much to see and do--and a host of tour operators to do it with. Within Cusco you will want to visit Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, Tambomachay and Qoricancha. In the Sacred Valley, the most important sites are at Pisac and Ollantaytambo.

Museums are, surprisingly, a little thin on the ground but the best of the bunch is the MAP, or Museo del Arte Precolombiano. Other than this, get outdoors by mountain bike, whitewater raft, horseback ride or trek en route to one of the wonders of the world: Machu Picchu.

Puno and Lake Titicaca

It takes more than five hours by bus to get from Cusco to Puno. The real reason to get off the bus here is to head out onto Lake Titicaca, which has the distinction of being the highest navigable lake in the world. You will need at least a couple of days here to take trips out onto the lake and explore the city.

Several islands on the lake are worth the boat trip, on both the Peruvian and Bolivian side (the lake is split between the two countries). Take day trips or overnight visits from the port in Puno. The typical tours are a one-day trip to the island of Taquile, or a two-day trip to the floating islands of Uros, a homestay on Amanatani, and then a trip to Taquile the next day before heading back to Puno.

Copacabana (Bolivia)

In just under four hours you can get to the Bolivian side of the lake. Copacabana has a relaxed atmosphere that can convince you to just hang out longer than you planned. But the main reason for visiting here is to take a trip the Isla de Sol (Sun Island) on the lake.

You can do a day tour which will have you hiking pretty quickly to get across, or stay in one of the many hostels on the island. A good look around is best done slowly, over two days.

La Paz

Another four hours and you will hit La Paz. One of the highest cities in the world--at 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level--it is a quirky favorite of many tourists. If you’ve already come through Cusco, though, you should be pretty well acclimated. In addition to offering the things that any large city would--restaurants, bars, museums--it’s the jumping off point for other nearby sites.

One of the main places to visit within the city itself is the Witches Market which sells the products shamans buy for their offerings and healing rituals. A great place to hike is the Valley of the Moon, which delivers on its lunar landscape promise.

The fascinating archaeological site of Tihuanaco pre-dates the Inca empire and is worth a visit while thrill-seekers won’t want to miss bicycling on Bolivia’s Death Road. Elsewhere, Huayna Potosí mountain has something to offer climbers of all experience levels, in particular some amazing views at the top. Many head onward via bus to the Uyuni salt flats.

Cusco to La Paz route planner

Cusco to Puno

389 km / 242 mi

5 hours 15 mins

Puno to Copacabana (Bolivia)

223 km / 139 mi

4 hours

Copacabana to La Paz

154 km / 96 mi

4 hours

4. Lima To Cusco (via Arequipa)

Go way beyond trekking and Machu Picchu. A journey from Lima to Cusco by ground gives you the chance to experience the deeper side of what makes Peru special. You’ll go from city to coast to high desert to city, sprinkled with moments like volcano apparitions and condor spotting along the way.

Lima

Starting off in metropolitan Lima is a perfect way to begin your Peruvian odyssey. On the surface, it may not seem much different than any big city, but pretty quickly you will learn what makes it uniquely Peruvian. Urbanites should plan on two to three days here.

Lima has a huge number of museums of all types. The Larco museum in Pueblo Libre is one of the best and a good place to start getting a feel for the vastness of cultures before the Inca. It’s particularly known for its annex of pre-Colombian erotic pottery. There are also a great number of art museums and galleries, in particular in Barranco.

Come hungry. Lima is in the global spotlight for its food. If you want to have a splurge meal while you’re traveling, this is the place to do it--check out Central, ranked fourth in the world.

Downtown Lima is worth the traffic battle to check out the Main Square and the government buildings there that date from colonial times. Visit the catacombs at the San Francisco Monastery while you’re there.
While Lima is full of parks and plazas, one of the most enjoyable is Parque Kennedy, especially if you’re a cat lover as they are allowed to roam the green. 

Paracas

The appeal of Paracas is a visit to the Ballestas Islands. Some call it a “mini Galapagos Islands” for the chance to see a wide range of marine life including sea lions, cormorants, pelicans, boobies, and Humboldt penguins. 

On occasion, you may be lucky enough to see a dolphin. As you head out to the islands by boat, you’ll also pass a geoglyph shaped like a candelabra that was etched into the sands centuries ago. It takes four hours by road to get there from Lima but you’ll only need a day or two to see the sights.

Huacachina

A short 1.5 hour drive from the coast through the desert will land you at the lagoon of Huacachina, a freshwater lake amidst sand dunes. Opt to explore via dune buggy and, if you’re up for a thrill, you can sand board down them as well.

Another great place to check out--just a 10 minute drive from Huacachina--is Ica. Here, there are a number of pisco distilleries that offer tours and tastings. You don’t need much more than an overnight stop here.

Nazca

From Huacachina, you continue driving on through the desert for just over two hours to arrive at Nazca, world-famous for the mysterious and enormous images carved into the sand. Only truly visible from the air, the best activity here is a small plane flight over the Nazca Lines. Swing by the museum in town or take a trip into the desert where you can view the well-preserved mummies.

Arequipa

It takes more than nine hours to get from Nazca to Arequipa, so traveling at night is a good way to make use of your time. After the long ride, you’ll want two or three days here. Arequipa is a beautiful city, to be savored just sitting in a park or café and watching people go by. Or sign up for an organized day tour. 

Santa Catalina Convent pops with color and oozes colonial charm. In addition to housing nuns, it was once a refuge for noblewomen. Nearby, the Museo Santuarios Andinos is known for housing Juanita, the mummy of an Inca girl who had been sacrificed and found preserved in ice on a nearby mountain crater.

If you’re feeling adventurous and fit, climb the El Misti volcano that watches over the city. You may need specialist equipment for this, and a guide is advised. Especially recommended is a 2 or 3 day side trip to Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world. Arrive by car or on foot by trekking. The highpoints on this journey are the chance to see condors flying, a soak in the hot springs, and visits to the small-town communities.

Cusco

A 10 hour bus journey connects Arerquipa to Cusco, the Inca Empire, where ancient culture meets modern colonial city. Plan on at least two or three days for wandering in and around the city.

Cusco serves as gateway to the adventure travel holy grail that is Machu Picchu. From Cusco, get there by train, a combination of bus and walking, or by trekking. If you want to trek the Inca Trail then this needs to be booked several months in advance. No permits left? Don’t despair. Alternative hiking trails span the Sacred Valley area, as well as activities like mountain biking, whitewater rafting and horseback riding.

In Cusco, see the ancient Inca sites of Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, Tambomachay and Qoricancha in the city or those of Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Tipon nearby. The best museum is the Museo del Arte Precolombiano.

Lima to Cusco route planner

Lima to Paracas

283 km / 176 mi

4 hours

Paracas to Huacachina

75 km / 45 mi

1.5 hours

Huacachina to Nazca

150 km / 93 mi

2 hours

Nazca to Arequipa

565 km / 351 mi

9.5 hours

Arequipa to Cusco

471 km / 293 mi

10 hours

5. Rio de Janeiro To Iguaçu

Can’t decide if you want the action of a city or to just lay on the beach and play in the ocean? Do both! On this route, your beach dwelling will be split up by stays in Rio and Sao Paulo, two of Brazil’s most exciting cities. Top it off with a visit to the Iguaçu Falls for a grand waterfall finale.

Rio de Janeiro

Well known as an iconic party place (and rightly so!), Rio also edges some of the best beaches anywhere. In particular, the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana are ideal for rest days between viewing the iconic Christ Redeemer, taking a trip up Sugarloaf Mountain and exploring the wildlife and waterfalls at Parque Nacional da Tijuca.

On the city outskirts, take a visit to the poorest areas of Rio, highlighted in the movie “City of God.” You can find favela tours by people who grew up there, conducted in a way that is inclusive and supports the neighborhoods. Rio is vast; plan for at least three or four days here.

Ilha Grande

In a country known for its beautiful beaches, Lopez Mendez beach on Ilha Grande is thought by many to be the most gorgeous of all. Depending on your love of sand and relaxation, you probably want a couple of days here.

To arrive to Ilha Grande from Rio requires a bus and boat combination. Make it easy on yourself by booking a transfer rather than piecing together the various public transit options.

Paraty

Many people visit Paraty for the beaches, but there’s lots more to do here in addition to soaking up the sun. The architecture and cobblestone streets, which are closed to vehicles, make for great exploring and an insight into the colonial history.

Other than that, you can take a trip to the jungle at the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina and get a different beach setting at the fishing town of Trinidade. Look to spend two or three days in Paraty if you want to take it all in.

Sao Paulo

As you can imagine, with the size of Sao Paulo, around 20 million people strong, you can find pretty much everything you could want here. Whether you want cultural outings, to party all night, or both, you’ll be in the right place. Allow two or three days to explore the city.

Don’t miss the 130m (426.5 ft) high Edificio Martinelli skyscraper to get the best views of the city, the great exhibits at the art-deco stadium hosting the Museu do Futebol or a walk around the beautiful Ibirapuera Park.

Florianópolis

After nearly 12 hours of bus ride, take a break in Florianópolis for at least two or three days. Although it’s a city in its own right, the real reason for visiting is the many beautiful beaches that are located here, many of which are popular surfing scenes. 

Foz do Iguaçu

The longest bus ride of the route yields perhaps the greatest reward. Iguaçu Falls (Iguazú on the Argentine side) are made up of 275 individual cascades combining to form one of the most awe-inspiring natural sights in the world. Besides viewing the falls, you can take a boat ride underneath them, and you can hike in the surrounding rainforest where many birds and animals live. Take a day trip (or more) to the Argentine side of the falls and get a completely different perspective.

Rio de Janeiro to Iguaçu route planner

Rio to Ilha Grande

250 km /155 mi

20 - 40 minutes by boat, 2 hours by road

Ilha Grande to Paraty

2 hours by road, 20 - 40 minutes by boat

Paraty to Sao Paulo

276 km / 172 mi

6 hours

Sao Paulo to Florianópolis

704 km / 437 mi

11.5 hours

Florianópolis to Foz do Iguaçu

937 km / 582 mi

15.5 hours

6. Buenos Aires To Santiago (Via Mendoza)

Think nightlife 'til the break of dawn, sensual tango dancing, wine tasting in one of the most renowned growing regions of the world, lots of grilled beef, and outdoorsy fun such as rock climbing and rafting. This route is a great way to make your way from Argentina to Chile, taking in classic South America travel moments between bus rides.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is one of the more European feeling cities in South America, especially as transplants from Europe kept coming long after the colonial days. In particular, the great numbers coming from Italy over the years has coloured the traditional neighbourhoods as well as the fantastic food scene. Dinners tend to start and end late here, and nights out last until the early morning. 

Any less than three days in Buenos Aires will feel too rushed. There are a plethora of museums in the city, as well as art galleries, to take in some of the culture. Do not miss the gastronomy here and indulge the stunning meat and red wine on tap around the Buenos Aires.

Old city tours will take you to the more traditional neighbourhoods such as San Telmo and La Boca where a stroll through original streets is in order, along with a coffee in one of the many old-school cafes. And remember, no visit to Buenos Aires is complete without going to a tango show.

Mendoza

Around 60% of Argentina’s wine production comes from Mendoza. Here’s your chance to visit wineries of all sizes, from internationally recognized vineyards to small family owned bodegas. This a fabulous place for wine tasting--you can even do it on horseback!

Wine is the perfect way to relax after a day of adventure. Tours from the city include hiking, rafting, and even skiing in the winter. Give yourself a few days to partake in it all.

Santiago

Poised between the ocean and snow-capped Andean mountains, Santiago’s gorgeous surrounding landscapes are outdoor playgrounds. There’s enough here to fill a week; we recommend at least two or three days to scratch the surface.

For the best view of all that surrounds you, head to the top of Cerro San Cristobal.  Combine it with some action by hiking or biking it. In winter, you can get in some great skiing with runs that range from beginner to extremely challenging. In summer, the lift will take you to great hiking trails; horseback riding and rock climbing are also available.

Like many South American cities, the Plaza de Armas is the place to go if you want to soak up some history, and you can visit the Cathedral and nearby Pre-Columbian Art Museum for more.

Chile rivals Argentina as a world-class wine producer. If that’s your thing, hit the winery trail near Santiago. Microbreweries are also popping up and many organise tasting tours. Thirsty and hungry? Santiago is a great place to experience Chilean food like a Santiaguino. A highlight on the local food tour is the Mercado Central.

Buenos Aires to Santiago route planner

Buenos Aires to Mendoza

1050 km / 652 mi

14.5 hours

Mendoza to Santiago

364 km / 226 mi

7 hours

7. Lima To La Paz

If you’ve got a couple weeks, this route will let you see some of the best sites of Southern Peru, with at least a taste of Bolivia at the end. This eclectic journey ranges from city to desert, then from high jungle to a high altitude lake. Each stretch of bus riding pays off in different ways.

Lima

Many South American journeys kick off in Lima. But few spend enough time here to get beneath the surface. Looking past the traffic and hazy skies, you’ll find what makes it distinctly Peruvian. Take at least two full days here. 

Lima has great museums, even for non-museum types. The highly-rated Larco museum in Pueblo Libre is a good place to get into deep history and life before the Inca. Some go just for the annex of pre-Colombian erotic pottery. Bohemian and artsy, the neighbourhood of Barranco hosts fun museums and galleries to peruse.

If you splurge on just one amazing meal on your trip, Lima is the spot for it. Chef-driven and haute fusion, the food will have your taste buds thanking you. 

Finally, head to Downtown Lima and check out the Main Square and the government buildings there that date from colonial times. Look around the creepy catacombs at the San Francisco Monastery while you’re there.

Paracas

Coastal Paracas attracts with its Ballestas Islands. It’s likened to the Galapagos Islands for the wide-range of marine life. You’re likely to spot sea lions, cormorants, pelicans, boobies, and even Humboldt penguins. 

On occasion, you may be lucky enough to see a dolphin. As you head out to the islands by boat, you’ll also pass a geoglyph shaped like a candelabra that was etched into the sands centuries ago. Two days here is plenty.

Huacachina (Ica)

You’ll head from the coast through the desert and arrive at the lagoon of Huacachina, a freshwater lake amidst sand dunes that you can opt to explore via dune buggy and, if you’re up for a something a bit more active, you can sand board down them as well.

Another great place to check out that is just a 10 minute drive from Huacachina is Ica. Here, there are a number of pisco distilleries that offer tours and tastings. You only need a night in Huacachina but if you’re going to head to Ica, then consider a couple of days.

Nazca

From Huacachina, hop back on a bus through the desert to Nazca, world-famous for baffling historians and scientists alike with its images carved into the sand. Only truly visible from the air, the best way to take it in is by small plane tour over the Nazca Lines. Two other boxes to check here are the museum in town and trip into the desert to see the well-preserved mummies.

Cusco and Machu Picchu

Plan two or three days in Cusco, stay for four or five. That’s the kind of high-altitude small city it is. The former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco charms with its blend of history and contemporary creature comforts. 

In Cusco itself, you’ll want to visit Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, Tambomachay and Qoricancha. In the Sacred Valley, the most important sites are at Pisac and Ollantaytambo. South of the city, Tipon is worth a visit. Orient yourself around the central Plaza de Armas and pop into the Cathedral at some point.

Nobody passes through Cusco without at least a day trip to Machu Picchu, the crown jewel of South America travel. Two days with an overnight in Aguas Calientes is even better. With Cusco as its gateway, you can get to Machu Picchu by train, a combination of bus and walking, or by trekking.
Outdoor activities are also on tap. Adrenaline junkies will get their fix from whitewater rafting, mountain biking and horseback riding nearby. One of the go-to activities in the region is trekking, with the classic Inca Trail and its many alternatives. If your heart is set on the Inca Trail, you must book several months in advance.

Puno and Lake Titicaca

The real reason to get off the bus in Puno is to take in Lake Titicaca, which has the distinction of being the highest navigable lake in the world. Boat out to one of several islands on the Peruvian side (the lake is split between the two countries), reachable from the port in Puno.

The typical tours on the Peruvian side are either day trip to the island of Taquile, or an overnight trip to the floating islands of Uros, a homestay on Amanatani, and then a trip to Taquile the next day before heading back to Puno.

Copacabana (Bolivia) and Lake Titicaca

Copacabana has a relaxed vibe that can lull you into hanging out longer than you planned. But the main reason for visiting is to take a trip the Isla de Sol (Sun Island) on the Lake. A day tour will have you hiking pretty quickly to get across. Or stay in one of the many hostels on the island and take your time.

La Paz

Of all the capital cities in the world, La Paz has the lofty status of being at the highest altitude. If you’ve already come through Cusco, and travel by bus, you should be pretty well acclimated. In chilly La Paz you’ll find the trappings of any large city--restaurants, bars, museums--and it’s also the jumping off point for nearby sites.

In La Paz, take a walk through the Witches Market, where you can shop alongside local shamans for the goods used offerings and healing rituals. A great place to hike is the Valley of the Moon, where the landscape delivers as stark and otherworldly.

The city itself only needs a couple of days, unless you plan a big day trip. Favorites are the pre-Inca archaeological site of Tihuanaco, a freewheeling bicycle ride down Bolivia’s Death Road, and a brave mountain climb up Huayna Potosí.

Lima to La Paz route planner

Lima to Paracas

283 km / 176 mi

4 hours

Paracas to Huacachina (Ica)

95 km / 59 mi

1.5 hours

Huacachina to Nazca

145 km / 90 mi

2 hours 15 mins

Nazca to Cusco

654 km / 406 mi

15 hours

Cusco to Puno

389 km / 242 mi

5 hours 15 mins

Puno to Copacabana (Bolivia)

223 km / 139 mi

4 hours

Copacabana to La Paz

154 km / 96 mi

4 hours 45 mins

8. La Paz To San Pedro de Atacama

If you see only one side of Bolivia, make it the Uyuni Salt Flats. They are breathtaking and unlike anywhere else on Earth. The 4X4 will drop you in Chile in San Pedro de Atacama, where you can easily launch into the famous Atacama desert.

La Paz

Lofty La Paz sits at an elevation of 3,500m (11,500 ft), making it the highest altitude capital in the world. If this is your first stop in the Andes, you’ll want to give yourself a couple of days to acclimate. Stay warm in its restaurants, bars, museums, then take at least one day trip to the nearby sites.

You’ll inevitably find your way to the city centre and the Witches Market, with its llama foetuses and other oddities the shamans purchase for their rituals. To stretch the legs, head for a hike in the eerie and stark Valley of the Moon.

Day-trippers have three main choices: the Tihuanaco archeological site, the infamous Road of Death downhill bike ride, or mountain climbing up Huayna Potosí mountain for amazing views.

Uyuni

The landscapes of the Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest in the world, have a topography comparable to, well, nothing. In the nothingness is the beauty. When you cross this vast flat plain on a clear day, it seems to just go on forever. A typical tour of Uyuni on the way to San Pedro will usually cover the following ground:

Day 1 – Leave Uyuni in the morning and visit the train cemetery where many locomotives were left to die. After, you stop by the small town of Colchani where you’ll see how the salt is refined for use. From here, head out through the salt flats themselves. See how the salt is collected and check out some of the varied views of cacti and rock formations.

Day 2 – The landscape changes yet again as you pass through mountains, volcanoes, and algae-hued lagoons.

Day 3 – On the third day, you rise early for geysers and mud pools before visiting some nearby hot springs. After a trip to a green lagoon set against a backdrop of snowy peaked volcanoes, the end of the ride is the town of San Pedro de Atacama. 

San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)

San Pedro de Atacama is located amidst the driest desert there is. Active and outdoorsy types gravitate toward the Los Flamencos National Reserve, with its varied and hauntingly beautiful landscapes. 

Try out a trek, sandboard, or ride horses. Even the archaeological sites can be reached by hiking or biking. Stay up late at least once for some of the best stargazing on the planet. It’s hard to say how many days you should spend in Atacama but you can easily fill four or five.

La Paz to Atacama route planner

La Paz to Uyuni

541 km / 336 mi

7 hours 15 mins

Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)

440 km / 273 mi

Typically covered in a 3 day jeep tour via Uyuni

9. Buenos Aires To Ushuaia

If you’re up to super-long bus rides to the end of the world, rewarded by epic hiking in world-famous national parks, this route to Argentine Patagonia is for you. Start off in Buenos Aires for a taste of civilisation before seeking pure wilderness and communion with nature.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is as buzzy and urban as it gets before falling off the grid in Patagonia. Part Latin American, part European in personality, it’s the kind of worldly city to visit at least once in your life. Find the quintessential BA moments that involve grilled steak, late-night tango, and too much wine.

Extend your stay to three or four days just to walk around and do some old city tours through the traditional neighbourhoods. San Telmo and La Boca still have their original streets and old-school cafes.

Bariloche

Bariloche is the active adventure traveler’s dream come true. You’ll meet fellow enthusiasts of sailing, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, kayaking, cycling, hiking, and mountain living. All of this takes place against a backdrop that looks like a postcard from Switzerland.

Take a day trip around Lake Nahuel Huapi just below Cerro Campanario. A chairlift will take you up for an amazing view from the top. Good to stay for at least two days between long bus rides.

Perito Moreno

Not to be confused with the famous glacier of the same name, the town of Perito Moreno is the place to stop in order to visit the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands), a unique series of caves known for its cave art, including the outlines of hands from whence it gets its name. 

Logistically, this small town make a good stopover in the long haul bus route from Bariloche to El Chalten. Take at least a day and a night to get out of the bus seats and walk around.

El Chalten

The far south begins! This pretty town has a frontier and bohemian feel to it, making it a chill place to hang out. But the reason to come here is, without a doubt, to climb Cerro Fitz Roy (3,440 msnm). If climbing isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of hiking to do around the mountain and capture its iconic profile in a photo. 

El Calafate

Definitely a tourist town these days, you’ll still want to stay in El Calafate just long enough for a day trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier--perhaps the best known of all the ice mountains in Patagonia. The Lago Argentino (Argentine Lake) is stunning, especially if you are lucky enough to be there when pieces of blue glacier break off and crash down into it.

Ushuaia

This is it, the “End of the World.” Snowcapped Andean mountains meet the sea at this southernmost part of South America. Outfitters organise hiking, skiing, kayaking, scuba diving, and sailing all from this one place. Wildlife viewing includes whales, penguins, and other types of marine life. You can also head to the Tierra del Fuego National Park from here, which offers picturesque scenes of rivers, mountains, lakes, forests and teeming flora and fauna.

Buenos Aires to Ushuaia route planner

Buenos Aires to Bariloche

1,590 km / 990 mi

21 hours

Bariloche to Perito Moreno

800 km / 500 mi

15 hours

Perito Moreno to El Chalten

590 km / 360 mi

8 hours

El Chalten to El Calafate

215 km / 132 mi

4 hours

El Calafate to Ushuaia

865 km / 540 mi

17 hours

10. Rio de Janeiro To La Paz

On this route spanning Brazil and Bolivia, you’ll see a full cross-section of South America. Cross booming cities, heart-stirring beaches, thunderous waterfalls, wild wetlands, colonial towns, and other-worldly salt flats at a staggering Andean altitude. Catch your breath gazing out a bus window in between.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio is a Brazilian city that mixes nightlife with gorgeous beaches like a fruity cocktail with ice. Set a flip-flopped foot on world famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Crane your neck to peer up at Christ the Redeemer. Hike through the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. For insight, ponder Rio’s poorest areas with a favela tour done responsibly. At least three days is best to take it all in.

Ilha Grande

In a country known for its beautiful beaches, Lopez Mendez beach on Ilha Grande is thought by many to be the most gorgeous of all. Take a full day to chill out on the golden sands.

Paraty

In Paraty, the cobblestone streets are closed to vehicles, making it a really enjoyable place to walk around. That’s just one of the nice surprises here, along with the beaches.

A trip into the jungle at the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina is good for greenery, and a foray to the small traditional fishing town of Trinidade serves up local culture. Paraty is a two-day or three-day kind of stop.

Sao Paulo

The sheer size of Sao Paulo (around 20 million people!) means you can find pretty much everything you could want here.

With two square kilometres of green space, Ibirapuera Park is a great city escape from within. You can jog, skate, cycle, or just hang out and people-watch.

A (literal) high point of Sao Paulo is the 130m (426.5 ft) high Edificio Martinelli skyscraper with its commanding views from the top. A free tour starts every 30 minutes. 

Florianópolis

Although Florianópolis itself is a city in its own right, the real reason for visiting is the many beautiful beaches at its fringe, many of which are popping surf scenes. 

Foz do Iguaçu

Iguaçu Falls (Iguazú on the Argentine side) are made up of 275 individual cascades combining to form one of the most awe-inspiring natural sights in the world. Besides viewing the falls, you can take a boat ride underneath them, and you can hike in the surrounding rainforest where countless birds and animals live. Take a day trip (or more) to the Argentine side of the falls and get a completely different perspective.

Campo Grande

Campo Grande is the capital city of Mato Grosso do Sul. There’s not a great deal to do here, but it’s an important access point for trips into the Pantanal and Bonito. Currently under construction is the Pantanal Aquarium, which will be the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. You’ll need to put your watch back an hour here as you enter Brasília time.

Bonito

This eco-friendly town, with its surrounding waterfalls, lakes and caves, is a gentle gateway into nature before you head into the Pantanal. A special treat are the crystal clear rivers where you can swim along with hundreds of tropical fish. 

Pantanal

The Pantanal is a beautiful wetlands park where a wide variety of wildlife such as caiman, macaws, capybara, and piranhas put themselves out on display. A safari-style tour of four days and three nights will allow you to span a wide area before you continue onward to La Paz.

Corumbá

Once an important river port, Corumbá is now mostly known for its access to the Pantanal. There are still some leftovers from colonial days that are interesting to see, worth an overnight breather before a long train journey.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is an unusually modern city compared to most of Bolivia, and it is a quite diverse one as well. It’s the largest city in the country with settlers from all over the world. This makes for some diverse cuisine. Consider staying for a couple of days--especially after an eight hour bus journey (or 16 hours by train) to get there.

Sucre

Sucre, the “city of white”, is known for being a beautiful colonial city, with plenty of historical sites. Many visitors will say that even more than that, it’s the overall vibe there that will make you want to hang around for more than a day to look around the markets or just relax.

Potosí

Potosí became an extremely important city during colonial times because of the silver mine located there. It’s a poignant place to stop, not only because of the vestiges of the colonial society but also for the mine’s homage to the exploitation that natives suffered at the hands of the Spanish. An overnight is probably sufficient.

Uyuni

The landscape offered by the salt flats of Uyuni, the largest in the world, is one of a kind. You’ve got to see the flat white infiniteness to believe it. Added bonuses are the mountains, volcanoes, and lagoons en-route. You can take multi-day tours or just tick it off the list in a day.

La Paz

Of all the capital cities in the world, La Paz wins for highest altitude. In addition to offering the things that any major city would--restaurants, bars, museums--La Paz is also the jumping off point for other nearby sites.

Highlights to choose from include the Witches Market, a hike around the Valley of the Moon, the pre-Incan archaeological site of Tihuanaco, the adrenaline filled Death Road, or climbing up the incredible Huayna Potosí mountain. 

Rio de Janeiro to La Paz route planner

Rio to Ilha Grande

250 km /155 mi

20 - 40 minutes by boat, 2 hours by road

Ilha Grande to Paraty

2 hours by road, 20 - 40 minutes by boat

Paraty to Sao Paulo

276 km / 172 mi

6 hours

Sao Paulo to Florianópolis

704 km / 437 mi

11.5 hours

Florianópolis to Foz do Iguaçu

937 km / 582 mi

15.5 hours

Foz do Iguaçu to Campo Grande

709 km / 440 mi

12 hours

Campo Grande to Bonito

298 km / 185 mi

5 hours

Bonito to Pantanal

220 km / 137 mi

4.5 hours by private transfer

Pantanal to Corumbá

3 hours

Corumbá to Santa Cruz

657 km / 408 mi

16 hours by train

Santa Cruz to Sucre

848 km / 527 mi

15 hours by road or 41 minute flight

Sucre to Potosí

156 km / 97 mi

3 hours

Potosí to Uyuni

204 km / 127 mi

3 hours 15 mins

Uyuni to La Paz

540 km / 336 mi

10 hours