How to Plan a trip to South America (Peru, Ecuador and Colombia Itinerary)

We didn’t manage to explore all of South America (yet!) but we managed 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 this blog is to help people find places they want to see, get to them efficiently and be able to plan an amazing trip! Hopefully this outline of our itinerary helps you sketch out a rough idea of what you want to see in these countries, and how long you want to be there for!

We won’t repeat it fully, but you can check out our thought process for planning trips in our Complete SEA/Australia/New Zealand Trip Itinerary post. We find that we travel a bit faster than the average backpacker, so keep that in mind while reading our itinerary. 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 make 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!). Make sure you leave time for travel days, and some extra days as a buffer. If you have an unlimited amount of time, then go do everything on that list! If not, you may have to pick and choose and narrow down your original list to fit your travel time.

Real Life Timeline

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

Due to the planning involved with Machu Picchu, it usually makes sense to head to Peru first, so that the rest of your trip can be more flexible. 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 hit some beaches, or fly into Quito/Guayaquil. Busing from Ecuador to Colombia isn’t hard or dangerous through Tulcan.

Peru (Sept 29 – Oct 18)MachuPicchuPic7

  • Sept 29 – Travel to Peru
  • Sept 30 – Oct 1 – Cusco
  • Oct 2 – Oct 5 – Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu
  • Oct 6 – Cusco
  • Oct 7 – Arequipa
  • Oct 8 – 9 – Colca Canyon
  • Oct 11 – 12 – Huacachina
  • Oct 13 – 14 – Lima
  • Oct 15 – Huanchaco
  • Oct 16 – 18 – Mancora

Tips – We sped through Peru because we had decided to spend more time in the Galapagos once we go to Ecuador. We could’ve easily spent more time in Cusco (we’re talking a week or so if we had the time). A four day trek to Machu Picchu along the Salkantay Trek was the perfect length, 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 certainly was 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)BansoPic3

  • Oct 19 – Travel to Ecuador
  • Oct 20 – Guayaquil
  • Oct 21-30 – Galapagos Islands
  • Oct 31 – Nov 1 – Montañita
  • Nov 2 – 5 – Baños
  • Nov 6 – 9 – Quilotoa Loop
  • Nov 10 – 12 – Quito
  • Nov 13 – 16 – Amazon

Tips – 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! The amount of time we spent in Baños and Quito was adequate, although we definitely could’ve stayed longer if it had been possible, and 4 days hiking the Quilotoa Loop was perfect. The Amazon is easily accessible from Ecuador, compared to other countries, and booking a lodge there for 4 days was amazing.

Colombia (Nov 17 – Dec 6)GuatapePic8

  • Nov 17 – Travel to Colombia
  • Nov 18 – 21 – Armenia/Salento
  • Nov 22 – 25 – Medellin/Guatapé
  • Nov 26 – 27 – Cartgena
  • Nov 28 – 29 – Tayrona National Park
  • Nov 30 – Dec 1 – Taganga
  • Dec 2 – 5 – Minca
  • Dec 6 – Fly back to Toronto via Bagota

Tips – We split our long distance travel in Colombia between buses and planes, as we’d heard some trips through the mountains were brutal. We flew between Medellin 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 flashpacker and tourists with money, so 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 could have unwound here and down a bit more, but we were glad in the end to allot more time to the wonderful town of Minca! We could’ve easily stayed a week in Minca hiking around waterfalls and taking in the spectacular views, definitely include this on your visit to Colombia.

We have found we travel faster than most, so take that as you will. There’s always places you want to stay forever, but you have to move on eventually! Hopefully this can serve as a loose guide for you travels, but make sure you cater to your own needs. 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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