South America Trip Ideas for First-Timers
picture of the cover of a sample tour itinerary
  • Get This Itinerary Now! 📬
South America Travel News

South America Trip Ideas for First-Timers

9 min read

Jun 3, 2019


By Millie Davies

Share This Post

Last updated on January 3rd, 2021 at 06:57 pm

The Best South America Trip Ideas

I may be biased as I am a fully-fledged, adopted South American-er, but South America truly is the most incredible continent in the world! With so much to offer in terms of fascinating history, culture, stunning nature and landscapes, and delicious food and wine, it is no wonder that tackling this beast of a continent seems somewhat daunting. For me, coming from the small island of England, I am always impressed by the sheer size of South America.

The fact that you could literally fit every single European country inside Brazil and still have room left over is incredible! Then consider that Brazil is only half of South America and things start getting put into perspective. If you have a two-week holiday to play with, it is simply impossible to see all the highlights in every country. To even attempt such would be futile.

My expert tip for South America trip ideas would be to focus on what you’d like to see and do. Work out what it is that excites you the most about the countries and, in the words of Oasis, “Roll with it.” I backpacked across this glorious land several times. As well as have years of experience selling and creating custom itineraries. Therefore, I put together a list of South America trip ideas for you “South America First Timers.” This list is to start giving you some food for thought. And to wet that South American appetite of yours (which undoubtedly would feature a meat feast and lashings of wine).

South America Trip Ideas for Bucket Listers

First on our South America trip ideas list is an itinerary full of bucket list destinations. If crossing destinations off your South America bucket list is your cup of tea, then a Peru and Brazil trip combination may be just the answer. This adventure is a great idea as you would be taken on a discovery starting in Lima and continuing to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Cuzco before heading south into the continent. Here you would have a couple of days visiting the world-famous Iguazu Falls.

Machu Picchu Landscape Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Finish in Rio de Janeiro and hang out with Christ the Redeemer and the locals who call this vibrant city home. Another great positive for this trip would be that you could comfortably fit it all into a two week holiday (or even 10 days at a faster pace). The famous Amazon jungle is also an easy add-on to this adventure in either Peru or Brazil!

Who would this trip suit?

A perfect South America trip idea for people looking to enjoy some of the highlights while incorporating a good mixture of history, culture, and landscapes. This trip includes two of the Seven Modern World Wonders, so it will not disappoint. Check out our example itinerary for an Iguazu Falls and Machu Picchu Tour for some more details of what to expect.

Journey Down South Travelers

Chile and Argentina are both home to some of the best food and wine that South America has to offer. But they also have some of the most breath-taking scenery on the whole continent which you cannot miss. If you were to journey down south, you would discover the glorious Patagonian region.

Learn that Chile and Argentina also offer a feast for the eyes (and not just our stomachs). Some of the highlights in this area would be Torres del Paine in Chile and Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. As well as the Lake District region which straddles the two countries.


Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

The beautiful thing about creating an itinerary with these countries would be that you could fly into Santiago, for example, and journey down south through the Lake District and Torres del Paine. Then cross the border into El Calafate in Argentina and work your way back up Argentina, finishing in Buenos Aires. You could then catch a flight home from there. I would recommend about 2-3 weeks to really get the best out of your experience and to spend enough time enjoying each destination.

Who would this trip suit?

Perfect for active people who enjoy hiking and trekking amongst stunning scenery. After a day of venturing through the outdoors, kick back with a gourmet dinner and a bottle of wine in the evening. The Patagonian high season would be December through February, which are the peak summer months and when it would be at its busiest. However, it is also good to consider the ‘shoulder seasons’ of spring [September through November] and autumn [March through May] when planning your trip. These seasons are a great time to explore without the crowds. Check out our best time to visit Patagonia page for more information.

South America Trip Ideas for Wanderlust Chasers

If truly breathtaking scenery and rustic beauty is your thing, then a journey of discovery in Chile and Bolivia may be just the ticket for you! The northern parts of the Atacama have some of the most incredible desert landscapes, lakes, lagoons, and geysers. Also, the Salt Flats of Uyuni is home to one of the most unique vistas in the whole world, so an adventure combining the two would simply be amazing!

Man taking photo at Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The journey could start in Santiago, with some time enjoying the capital, and nearby Valparaiso (another hidden gem) before journeying north to the Atacama Desert. From San Pedro de Atacama, you can embark on a wonderful adventure by land crossing borders to arrive into Uyuni and experience the true wonder of the Salt Flats! Once you are done having your breath quite literally taken away, you could head on up to La Paz to finish your trip for 2 or 3 nights in this beautifully authentic city.

Ten to fourteen days would give you enough time to see and do all of the above. But an extra week or so would mean you could take it at a more leisurely pace. And perhaps add on a couple more destinations such as Puerto Varas in Chile or Potosi in Bolivia.

Who would this trip suit?

Perfect for people seeking out of this world landscapes with authentic and unique destinations. The most popular time to visit the Atacama would be through the months of December through February. Whereas the dry season in Uyuni would be July through October. You may have to consider going in a shoulder season to get the best of both worlds. The best chance of seeing the famous ‘Mirror Effect’ in Uyuni is in March and April. Learn more about the changing seasons and the Best Times to Bolivia.

Natural Beauty Seekers

For some people, the adventure is all about discovering incredible natural scenery and experiencing wildlife in its natural habitat. If that sounds like you, then a good South America trip idea may be a journey throughout Ecuador and the Galapagos. Ecuador is a wonderfully versatile destination, as it can be visited pretty much all year round due to its proximity to its namesake the ‘Equator’.

Sleeping Sea Lion in the Galapagos

Sleepy Sealion in the Galapagos Islands

Ecuador contains enough for you to enjoy time in pretty colonial cities like Quito and Cuenca and appreciate wonderful rail journeys throughout the countryside. Experience time spent exploring the famous Amazon jungle and the cloud forest of Mindo. And, of course, we cannot forget the world-famous Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin’s playground of the Galapagos will be the highlight of any nature lovers’ trip.

Here the abundance of wildlife, flora, and fauna is so intense that some of these species can be found nowhere else on this glorious earth! Should you choose an adventure in Ecuador, I would allow at least 2 weeks to enable you to enjoy time in various destinations on the mainland and embark on an exploration of the Galapagos.

Who would this trip suit?

Perfect for the wildlife appreciation society and those at home enjoying natural beauty at its finest! As I have mentioned above, one of the beautiful positives about a holiday in Ecuador is the fact it can be visited all year round, as the weather is fair throughout. However, depending on what it is you really want to see in the Galapagos Islands, it is worth checking which months have the best chance of seeing your top animals.

Whether it be the blue-footed boobies courting, the green sea turtles laying their eggs, or mating season for the iguanas. The best time to visit the Galapagos is an excellent source of breaking this down for you to work out which month would be best for you.

Off the Beaten Trackers

For travelers that like to think outside the box and get off the tourist trail, Colombia would be an excellent choice for you. Colombia is an extremely vibrant and diversely beautiful country. It is also small enough to allow you to truly explore an adventure there. With a time frame of 2-3 weeks, you will be able to visit several different locations. And gain some great insight into Colombia and all it has to offer. Especially in terms of colorful history, electric Latin cities, stunningly rustic landscapes, and national parks.


Countryside of Colombia

An itinerary in Colombia could include a few days in the capital of Bogota, exploring the fascinating history and culture. Relaxing in the famous coffee regions of Pereira and Armenia and sampling the local delicacies. It could also include hanging out in ‘the city of eternal spring’ in Medellin. And then heading on up north to Cartagena, Santa Marta, and the Caribbean coastline to finish up your Colombian Adventure!

Who would this trip suit?

Perfect for those looking to focus and really connect with one country. Ideal for travelers that like to get off the beaten track! Colombia has a lot more to offer than the infamous Pablo Escobar. Check out what is Colombia famous for to learn more about many other wonderful things within this incredible country.

More South America Trip Ideas

Are you ready to embark on South America as a first-timer? With the help of one of our expert Travel Consultants, any road bumps on your first trip will be smoothed over. Contact us today to see how you can get started!

Plan Your Trip to
the Galápagos
the Amazon
Machu Picchu
Create Your Own Custom Tour

Click your preferences: Destinations & Activities. Be as specific or general as you like - or click Help Me Decide! We'll spice it with hidden gems & personal tips to create your perfect trip.

Choose Amazon destinations (optional)
Choose destinations (optional)
Choose Bolivia destinations (optional)
Choose Brazil destinations (opt)
Choose Chile destinations (opt)
Choose Colombia destinations (optional)
Choose Ecuador & Galapagos destinations (optional)
Choose Paraguay destinations (optional)
Choose Patagonia & Antarctica destinations (optional)
Choose Peru destinations (optional)
Choose Interests
Choose activities
What category of accommodation?

You can choose more than one!

When would you like to go?
How many travelers?
age groups
age groups
Review my trip summary





Highly recommended - Phone: We ❤️ to talk! A brief chat with your personal Travel Consultant helps us create your perfect trip!


Last updated on January 3rd, 2021 at 06:57 pm

Hooray! Thanks for Sharing!

If you have an additional 30 seconds we’d love to learn more about you…

Custom Form Blue Popup

  • Including accommodations, transportation and activities/tours.
  • One Moment Please

    We are matching your tour idea with the right Travel Consultant
    who will be in touch shortly.
    Thank you for your request!