How To Plan A Trip To South America: Peru, Ecuador and Colombia Itinerary

Though we haven’t seen all of South America (yet), we did manage to see a large chunk of the Northeast side of the continent by visiting Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. We were able to thoroughly tour these countries in just under 10 weeks. Our main goal on Whirlwind Travellers is to help people find places they are truly interested in visiting, and efficiently help them plan their own amazing trip. Here we’ll teach you how to plan a trip to south america! We want our itinerary to help you sketch out a rough idea of what you want to see in these countries, and how long you want to be there for!

You can check out our thought process for planning budget friendly trips in our Complete SEA/Australia/New Zealand Trip Itinerary post. Our travel pace is a little faster than the average backpacker so keep that in mind while reading.

We believe that the best way to plan out a trip is to research the area you want to go, and write down everywhere that interests you. Once you complete that list, try to assign a number of days to each location, depending on how many things you want to do there (our list below can help with that!). Helpful Hint: Make sure you leave time for travel days, and some extra days as a buffer, in case of emergency, delay, or spontaneity! If you have an unlimited amount of time, then go do everything on that list! If not, you may have to pick and choose your must-sees to narrow down your original list to fit your allotted travel time.

Our Exact Timeline

South America (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia) – Sept 29 – Dec 6 (68 days)

Due to the planning needed to visit Machu Picchu, we would advise heading to Peru first, so that the rest of your trip can have more flexibility. If you fly directly to Cusco (city closest to Machu Picchu) via Lima, make sure to allot a few days to adjust to the altitude. Once you’ve done the Southern loop of Peru (Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Huacachina, Lima) you can either bus up the coast and visit some beaches, or fly into Quito/Guayaquil in Ecuador. From there, bussing from Ecuador to Colombia is easy and safe through the boarder city of Tulcan.

Here we’ll help you plan a trip to South America by showing you our exact timeline by country, and include helpful hints for each country at the bottom.

Peru (Sept 29 – Oct 18)Plan A Trip To South America, Peru, Machu Picchu, Peru Itinerary

Tips For Peru – We sped through Peru because of our decision to spend more time later on in the Galapagos, Ecuador. However, we could’ve easily spent more time in Cusco (we’re talking at least a full week we had the time). A four day trek to Machu Picchu along the Salkantay Trek was the perfect amount of time; challenging but rewarding. Arequipa is another place we could’ve explored more! Unless you really need to split up the trip, the surfing town of Huanchaco is only worth the visit if the sun is shining during high season, which is not in October. Mancora was a place we originally had left off our itinerary but really loved once we visited; it was a great place to unwind after our whirlwind Peru tour.

Ecuador (Oct 19 – Nov 16)How To Plan a Trip to South America, Ecuador, Baños, Banos, Ecuador Itinerary

Tips For Ecuador – We were forced to spend a day in Guayaquil due to bus schedules, and after being advised to skip it we were pleasantly surprised by it! Spend a day here if you can. Galapagos Islands were hands down the best part of our trip. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s the best money we’ve ever spent travelling (maybe ever). Make sure to allot at least 10 days here if you’re going! Our time spent in Baños and Quito was adequate, but we would have stayed longer if possible. Spending 4 days hiking the Quilotoa Loop was perfect. The Amazon is easily accessible from Ecuador and booking a lodge there for 4 days was amazing.

Colombia (Nov 17 – Dec 6)How To Plan A Trip To South America, Colombia, Guatape, Colombia Itinerary, Guatapé

Tips For Colombia – We split our long distance travel in Colombia between buses and planes, as we’d heard that the bus trips through the mountains were brutal. The flights we chose were between Medellín and Cartagena, and from Santa Marta to Bogota on our way back home. We could’ve stayed and explored Medellin way longer than 4 days! Cartagena is nice to visit, but caters to the flashpackers and tourists with money, so it wasn’t quite our cup of tea. We hit Tayrona at a terrible time (check out our post!) and frankly it’s kind of overrated. Taganga really surprised us; we definitely could have unwound here for an extra day. However we were glad in the end to allot more time to the wonderful town of Minca! We could have easily stayed a week in Minca hiking around waterfalls and taking in the spectacular views, so definitely include this on your visit to Colombia.

We have found we travel faster than most, so you may need to adjust the times for your own personal pace. There will always be places that you want to stay in forever, but you have to move on eventually! Hopefully, How to Plan a Trip to South America can serve as a loose guide for your travels, but make sure you cater to your own needs. We’re here to help, but how you plan your trip is up to you!


3 Replies to “How To Plan A Trip To South America: Peru, Ecuador and Colombia Itinerary”

  1. Hi,

    We’re planning to go to Columbia and Ecuador in July 2020. Regarding the Amazon – did you talk to travellers who had done Yasuni and compare to your trip to Cuyabeno? I’m really having a hard time trying to decide which one to visit! $$$ aren’t an issue for us, we just want the best experience. Any suggestions?

    1. We didn’t talk to anyone who had done Yasuni in person, but from our research and reviews we found that the Yasuni lodges were a little more posh and it was harder to get there, and the prices obviously reflect that. We also heard that the wildlife encounters were pretty similar in both, but considering Yasuni is deeper in the rainforest you could assume you’d be able to see more. When we were at our lodge in Cuyabeno we were definitely fully enveloped in rainforest, that’s all you could see for miles from our lookout tower. We were definitely remote, we had to take a 2:15 minute bus ride, then a 2 hour boat ride from the nearest town to get there. We were super happy with all of the wildlife we saw (and it’s hard to impress Alex with wildlife encounters, he’s a biologist who’s worked for a summer in a zoo!). In summary we would say both provide true Amazon experiences, in Yasuni you’re probably going to get nicer accommodation, and potentially better guides. Cuyabeno is more of a Amazon backpacker destination, so what you save in $$ may cost you in guide competency and accommodation (though we were very happy with our room and food on site!).

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