The Best Treks in South America
South America is an excellent destination for a several-week trip across its vibrant countries, varying terrains and landscapes. It feels more authentic, perhaps even less explored than Europe and Asia, as it hides a wealth of beauty, wonderful people and culture. You can cross the continent on a shoestring budget (college-friendly!) and still experience the essence of each nation. I spent five-weeks exploring South America after graduating college, and it has influenced my future trips and my entire approach to travel.
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Things to do
Start your trip with a few days in Cusco to get acclimated to the high altitude and explore the capital of the Inca Empire. Don't miss the extensive flea markets, Tambomachay ruins and people-watching over Peruvian cuisine in the Plaza de Armas. Then, take a morning train to Machu Picchu and spend the afternoon exploring the town of Aguas Calientes and experiencing the broccoli stew hot baths before your Machu Picchu hike in the morning!
Join the queues around 4 am to hop on a bus to Machu Picchu. Make sure to bring your passport for entry and a fun stamp! You can opt for a hike of Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu. Spend the afternoon on a guided tour exploring the incredible ruins, and don't forget to snap a few cute photos of the alpacas roaming around.
Head back to Cusco to relax for a day, and then get ready to make your way south. Various buses will take you down to Puno with exciting stops along the way to see more of the country. Spend some time in Puno enjoying the town and take a tour of Lake Titicaca to visit the Uros Floating Islands and meet some of the locals who still live there!
Take a bus from Peru to Bolivia. You'll get to cross lakes on the bus, show your passport and walk over the border before boarding another bus. Take a quick break in the colorful lakeside town of Copacabana for lunch before heading down to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. You can also fly out of the International Airport in Juliaca if you'd prefer, though expect a layover.
Once in La Paz, marvel at how the city creeps up from the valley to the higher cliffs surrounding the capital. First, spend some time unleashing your magical side by walking through the Witch Market for interesting wares. Then, take a cable car to the city's top and experience some intense bartering at the numerous flea markets.
Intrepid, or budget, travelers can take a 10-hour bus ride overnight south to the Uyuni Salt Flats, an otherworldly expanse of Bolivia housing the world's largest salt flat. Water collects on the flats in the rainy season, providing an incredible mirror effect that stretches for miles.
With a professional guide, thrill-seekers can spend a day biking down Death Road near La Paz, Bolivia. This winding, 43-mile road is considered the world's most dangerous road, so summon your courage and be rewarded with stunning views of the Amazon jungle and snow-covered Andes peaks.
Reset in the cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a few days, taking in the European-style architecture, lively nightlife, incredible steak dinners and fascinating history. You can see Eva Peron's grave at Recoleta Cemetery, visit the Casa Rosada, explore the Boca neighborhood, and even catch a futbol (soccer) match.
Buenos Aires has frequent ferries to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay that take about an hour if you have time. You can wander the old town by the sea for a day and get a feel for Uruguayan food!
Iguazu Falls & Brazil
The Iguazu Falls are located on the border between Argentina and Brazil, offering distinct vistas from both angles. Cross to the Brazilian side to see the Foz do Iguacu and make your way to your final stop on your South American tour: Rio de Janeiro. Expect an explosion of color and festivities along the various beaches. Relax at Ipanema beach, wander the downtown sites, do some shopping for your Brazilian beachwear and visit Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain for sweeping views of the city.
A note from Rabia
Machu Picchu entry tickets and hiking slots go on sale and sell out well in advance. So make sure to book those ahead of time, so you don't miss your chance! Additionally, the PeruRail train that takes you between Cusco and Aguas Calientes sells out extremely quickly.
Places to eat & drink
Chicha Cusco: Chef Gaston's Cusco restaurant serves authentic Peruvian delicacies and vegetarian dishes.
Chia Vegan Kitchen: Tasty and delicious vegan food with a Peruvian twist, and one of the top-rated restaurants in the area.
Ceviche Seafood Kitchen: Head here for fresh seafood ceviche and follow with a Pisco Sour!
Gustu: Claus Meyer, co-founder of the best restaurant in the world, Noma (in Copenhagen), opened a restaurant in La Paz offering exotic local produce and meats on the menu.
El Vagon: A friendly cafe to try local Bolivian food.
Mercado Lanza: Check out La Paz's food market, which sells produce, dairy, meats and more, along with local snacks and delicacies you can try as you wander through.
Don Julio: Treat yourself to a perfectly grilled Argentine steak and fries, local dishes and an extensive wine list in this traditional restaurant in Palermo Soho.
Desnivel: Another incredible, though more casual, a steakhouse with delicious steaks and fries matched with their in-house chimichurri sauce.
Cafe Tortoni: This French-style cafe opened back in the 1800s and is the perfect place to people-watch over a coffee and some churros. You can catch a live tango show in the evening and even exchange money at great rates over the counter.
Burger Joint: Sometimes you need a taste of America, and Burger Joint delivers, but with an Argentine twist. Grab yourself a burger and fries at this hip spot in Palermo Soho, and know you're eating the very best ground beef straight from Argentina.
Bar Urca: Try authentic Brazilian dishes in a peaceful, local neighborhood overlooking Sugarloaf Mountain. Try the bacalao (fried cod balls)!
Bibi Sucos: Make sure you get a fresh juice every morning in Rio! Try all the flavors and add-ins at the local juice shops on every corner.
Bazzar: Try Brazilian classics like feijoada (black bean stew) for lunch after hitting the beach in Ipanema.
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