3 weeks in South America, for noobs. What to do?
August 2, 2010 11:44 PM   Subscribe

Planning a trip to South America. Only have 3 to 4 weeks max for the entire holiday. We will be flying in from Australia so will be coming in and out of Buenos Aires, and are keen to see as much of Argentina and Brazil as possible. I feel like I know next to nothing else other than the continent is huge and I have nowhere near enough time. Hive mind, help me plan the best possible itinerary! Tips and stories highly encouraged.

I'll be going with my boyfriend, and hope to budget less than $200US for the both of us per day. Is this is reasonable, given that I'd like to avoid staying in dorms if possible?

We are planning on starting the trip in late May 2011. We'd both rather enjoy a few key places than go mad trying to cram a million things in each week. I understand that there are very good bus or coach services in South America but I don't really know how practical this would be on a tight time budget.

Do we see northern Argentina then travel through Paraguay or Uruguay through to Rio? Do we fly straight through to Peru or Bolivia then try and make our way back? The boy would like to see the Amazon, is this possible? How much is reasonable in 3 weeks?

I have experience travelling but not much doing the backpacker thing. My boyfriend has more travel experience, in Europe and SE Asia. Neither of us speak any Spanish or Portuguese but we will be taking Spanish lessons for general interest before we go.
posted by arha to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
From a past post of mine:
PS - From the trip

Most beautiful City I've ever seen - Rio De Janeiro
Most fun city I've ever been to - Buenos Aires
Most fascinating tour - Salt Flats, Bolivia
Most incredible cultural location - Machu Picchu
Most breathtaking nature - Patagonia, Argentina
Nicest people - Peru
Most beautiful people - Argentina (Sorry Brazil, you lost)
Easiest language - Peru
Most unsafe - Rio
Most cultural city - Buenos Aires
Largest, most impressive structure(s) - Perito Moreno Glacier / Iguazu Falls (Argentina)
Best camping - Torres Del Paine, Patagonia

I could go on, and on.
posted by namewithhe1d at 5:31 AM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: As for what to visit within a month? That'll be tough.. I would stick with bus travel, just go with the overnight "Cama" buses which have totally flat sleeping quarters. Save of hotels and travel in one! Also, if you enter a country by bus, they don't collect any money for Visas which can cost around US $100 in each place. Make sure you organize your Brazil visa ahead of time if you plan to go.

As for an itinerary, I would pick either one of two routes:
1) Peru, Bolivia and N. Argentina
2) N. Argentina, Uruguay and into Brazil (skip Paraguay, and no.. not enough time for Amazon)

I would spend a lot of time in Buenos Aires (either at the beginning, end, or both) because it is such a damn enjoyable place. Here are my recommendations for each route:

1) 1 night in Lima (see the catacombs), 5-6 nights in Cusco (1-2 to acclimate, then 4 to hike to Machu Picchu), 1 night in La Paz, 3 nights on Salt Flats tour (have them drop you off in Argentina, no return to Uyuni), 1 night in Salta, 2 nights in Mendoza, 1 night in Iguazu falls, 4-7 nights in B.A

(stay longer in any place you like, but those are the appropriate distances to reach overnight)

2) 3 nights in BA, 1 night in Colonia (montevideo can be skipped), 1 night in punta del este, 1 night in Porto Alegre, just to get to 3+ nights in Florianopolis. 1-2 nights in Iguazu Falls, 1 night in Sao Paulo, just to get you to 2 nights in Isla Grande, then 5 days in Rio, then fly back to BA for the rest of the trip. You can even set up a weekend trip to Santiago / Vina del Mar if you want.. the plane tickets are fairly cheap (but remember, you may have to pay for a visa)

*** One other bit of advice, when you're looking for place flights in any local country, use the "local version" of the Airline's webpage for the best plane ticket prices (they take care of their own). You can always use google translate for the page so you see how to operate it.

As for places to stay, a lot of backpacker hideouts are pretty nice and have private rooms for 2 people... worth a look. And with two people, you're going to find a lot of cost savings on a per person basis.

Have fun!
posted by namewithhe1d at 6:00 AM on August 3, 2010

PS.. Lonely Planet S. America is the Bible. THE BIBLE.
posted by namewithhe1d at 6:01 AM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: You can get very nice and comfortable buses (with decent food and beverages included) coming out of Buenos Aires easily. However, it's going to be a full 24 hours to get to Northern Argentina (let's say Salta or Jujuy) from Buenos Aires. And while there's bound to be the occasional spot of interesting things through your bus windows, regular routes here are quite boring, so with so little time I'd say you better go with flights. In any case, the best online portal for bus travel is here (Spanish only, and you might be able to buy on advance, even from abroad, but I have no idea if it would be a good idea or even work for you - anyways, Buenos Aires is full of places that handle bus tickets on the spot).
posted by Iosephus at 6:23 AM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: Couple of comments re the above posts. Yes, national airlines (Aerolineas Argentinas mainly) have lower prices for locals, but you have to provide local ID when you fly otherwise you'll have to pay the full price for that day. It's tempting to try for the lower price - don't do it. Look at Gol ("budget" part of Brasilian Varig) - I've taken it from Brasilia, Lima and Bogota to Buenos Aires and it's always been the cheapest.

Plataforma10 is a great site to get an idea of frequency / length of journeys but only Argentinian ID holders can buy online, it's easy to get hold of tickets whilst here. Buses are very good in Argentina, although confusingly, despite the name (cama means bed), Cama service is not a flat bed. The flat bed service is often called Suite or 1ra Clase.

If you decide to spend any time in Bolivia, you do have the option to fly from La Paz to Rurrenbaque which is in the Amazon basin and suitably jungly. The other option would be the the Ibera wetlands in NE Argentina (could easily be combined with Iguazu) which whilst not a jungle are supposed to have better wildlife spotting than the Amazon (less trees!).

$100USD pppd is definitely a step up from basic backpacker level. As a guide, here in Buenos Aires a night in a dorm currently costs around 50pesos ($12.50) and a double room in a good hostel would be around the 150 mark ($35-45). I would recommend hostels rather than hotels for the simple reason that they are much more social and you'll meet a lot more people that way.

I've been in South America for nearly 2 years and have travelled all over it - any questions feel free to memail me.
posted by jontyjago at 7:04 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with the Peru, Bolivia and N Argentina crowd. Lake Titicaca, the Bolivian salt plains and the Atacama desert are like nowhere else on earth. As a lot of others have pointed out, the distances are vast, but this area is comparatively dense in attractions. The far south with the glaciers is great too, but the distances are so huge and the land so empty, that seeing an oil well by the side of the road is quite an exciting event.
posted by rhymer at 7:13 AM on August 3, 2010

jontyjago: you have to provide local ID when you fly otherwise you'll have to pay the full price for that day

Ah.. if you've been there the last 2 years, then you would know better than I. Previously I was doing that in 2006 - 2007 without ever having to show local ID... Times change I guess.
posted by namewithhe1d at 7:56 AM on August 3, 2010

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