Loaded with ancient ruins, stretches of white sandy beaches, tropical forests and picturesque trails; South America is a playground for backpackers.
For first-time backpackers, it can be a daunting task deciding from where in this vast continent to begin your next exciting adventure, however one thing’s for sure – there’s no shortage of options. From historic landmarks to scenic trails, you are sure to fill up your itinerary quick smart!
With a little bit of planning and some good advice, you’ll be able to hit the bull’s eye and discover regions packed with exciting sites for fun adventures, while keeping an eye on that all-important thing – your budget. Finding the cheapest flights from Australia can help you pack more into your visit, and similarly, you’re bound to find plenty of hostels and hotels in your journey to punctuate your trip if you’re aiming to keep your spend down.
Here are our top-tips of things to do if you’re thinking of backpacking through South America:
Inca Trail, Peru
Machu Picchu Backpacking Through South America
Perhaps the most obvious ‘must-do’ activity in South America is the Inca Trail, this is the attraction most backpackers flock to. You’ll find a number of route options according to the degree of difficulty and of course, how much time you have.
Picking one, however – the 5-day trail – sees you hiking along the Inca Trail leading to the magnificent Machu Picchu in Peru. The trail is 26 miles of spectacular beautiful mountain scenery, subtropical jungle, lush cloud-forest and a mélange of ruins, tunnels and Inca paving stones, that lead to the mystic Lost City of the Incas.
Along the trek, you’ll cross the Vilcanota River up to the village of Wayllabamba where you’ll likely spend the night by campsite; equipped with showers, toilets and a small restaurant. The highest pass of the trail is 4,200 meters, and once you reach it, you’ll no doubt be celebrating having completed it!
From there, the descent to Pacamayo is steep although not difficult so long as you are sure-footed. It will take you around an hour to climb up the ruins of Runkaracay, before finally arriving at Sayacmarca – via a remarkably designed stone staircase. Your group will likely take a short break along the way to take in the beautiful portrait of cloud-forest filled with hanging mosses, colourful orchids, tree ferns and flowers. Grab your camera here folks – you won’t be disappointed.
Before starting the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu, you can stay at the Trekkers Hostel and enjoy a well-deserved beer! The hostel has dormitory beds, or if you’re really counting your pennies – you can sleep on the floor for only a dollar.
Not long before reaching Machu Picchu, you’ll find yourself passing the ruins of Winay Wayna. The ruins are impressive and again, a good excuse to whip out your camera for some snaps. The ruins with their agricultural terraces and 10 stoned baths – that were likely used for ritual cleansing in the day – are awe inspring to say the least.
The final trail contours around a mountainside with a vertical flight of 50 steps leading to Machu Picchu. Trust us when we say that nothing can prepare you for this magnificent site. In what will be a “rub your eyes moment”, the Lost City of the Incas showcases a peek into ancient history with the Temple of the Sun, Nusta Palace, Sacred Plaza, Chamber of the Ornaments, Intihuatana Pyramid, House of the Hight Priest and much more.
If you’re looking for the backpack adventure of a lifetime, the Inca Trail should be one of your first picks, and you can find more information about it from Peru Tourism’s site here.
Hiking to the summit of Cotopaxi at Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Nation Park is a dreamlike adventure in and of itself. Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world boasting with picturesque scenery of green plains, sparkling lakes and wild horses.
It’ll take you around three days to reach the highest refuge cabin at the base of the mountain, at which the altitude is around 4,000 meters, allowing your body to acclimatise easily. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be treated to moonlit nights with the beauty of the volcano in the shadows.
Hitting the snow line, you’ll soon be prompted to strap on some warmer gear. From here, reaching the summit at 5,800 will take some work, but once you arrive on top, it makes for an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment. The breathtaking view of the surrounding valley is simply breathtaking.
Torres Del Paine, Chile
Backpacking through the Torres Del Paine is a mesmerizing experience, and one to definitely include on your ‘to-do’ list. This adventure is certain to challenge your wildest dreams.
Nestled in the south of Chile, it can be reached from the nearby cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. Along the route, you’ll find marked paths and modest refugios for basic services and shelter. Every day of the hike provides vistas of the spectacular granite Towers of Paine, with delightful sightings of pink flamingos, nandus, condors and herds of guanacos.
Jaw-dropping views of the Towers of Paine topping 8,000 feet follows you along the W circuit, leading to Glacier Grey and Lago Grey. Gazing at the turquoise-coloured icebergs sprawled across the lake, it’ll have you entranced in a moment of silence, as you marvel at this wonder of nature.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Another notable journey not to be missed, is a hike to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia – the world’s largest salt flat lake stretching over 4,000 miles. This place is so surreal that you’ll think you’re on another planet.
Hiking through the salts, you’ll be led to the desert, featuring amazing rock formations, colourful red and green lakes, bursting geysers, hot spring baths and Fish Island. The tranquility is soul reaching, and the scenery unceasingly spectacular. The Salar de Uyuni is one of Bolivia’s treasures that will get even the most discerning backpacker excited.
Don’t think about it…just do it!
Backpacking through South America will undoubtedly leave you with unforgettable memories of majestic cities, captivating landscapes, and…, new friends. What’s more, there’s plenty of ways to cut down costs when you’re over there. Do yourself a favour: take the plunge!