The Best of South America in 2-3 Weeks

We spent four months roaming Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, and we want to share what we consider the highlights of that region for people with just a few weeks to spare. I know that a comprehensive “Best of South America” list would include other places like Patagonia and the Uyuni salt flats.  We didn’t get there this time and, besides, these more northern countries offer shorter flights from the U.S. for those on a tight timeframe.

We discussed the very best places we visited in South America, the experiences that really left an impression on us and have boiled it down to a workable, fun two-week itinerary.  In short, you’ve got to do Machu Picchu and the Galapagos!

Day 1:  Catch a Friday night flight into Lima.

Day 2:  Spend the day in Lima wandering the catacombs of the Monastery of San Francisco and eating lots of good food.

Day 3:  Catch a morning flight to Cusco.  Spend the rest of the day acclimatizing in Cusco.

Cusco, Peru

Day 4:  Relaxing in Cusco, taking in museums, shopping, walking the large central square, and drinking coca tea.

Days 5-8:  Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a truly unforgettable experience.  You can read about our hike here.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Day 9:  Fly to Quito and overnight in Quito. If you aren’t on a strict timetable, buying a last-minute Galapagos cruise in person here will save you hundreds of dollars.

Quito Airport

Days 10-15:  Fly to the Galapagos and board your cruise!  Get ready for swimming with sea lions and other up-close wildlife encounters.

Isabela, Galapagos

Tintoreras, Isabela, Galapagos

Day 15:  This should be a Saturday, and it’s time to go home!

Day 16:  Rest at home.

If you’ve got an additional week, we’d recommend flying into Cartagena, Colombia for a taste of this city’s beaches and colonial charm. If a long weekend is all you have, Cartagena is the best destination for that — JetBlue and Spirit both offer inexpensive service there from several U.S. cities.

Cartagena, Colombia

Ancient ruins, a scenic hike, amazing wildlife encounters, and a luxe cruise — sounds like a killer vacation to us!  So what are you waiting for?  Start brushing up on your Spanish skills and go!

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