This epic 34-day South America tour begins in Ecuador and crosses the continent ending in Chile. Swim with sea lions on a Galapagos cruise, experience the wilds of the Amazon, and visit the mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu. Explore the dynamic cities of Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires,and Santiago. Hike the dramatic scenery of peaks and glaciers in Patagonia and finish walking amongst the Moai statues on Easter Island. Varied and unique, this itinerary is sure to delight travelers wishing to experience the best of South America.
Observe toucans and macaws at Sacha Lodge in Ecuador
Snorkel among marine life in the clear waters of the Galapagos Islands
Watch water cascade over the magnificent Iguazu Falls
Hike to the foot of the gigantic spires of El Paine from Ecocamp
Arrive in Quito and drive north to historic Hacienda Pinsaqui. The hacienda is nestled in the Otavalo valley in the shadow of Imbabura Volcano. From here we visit the white city of Ibarra, the leather shops of Cotacachi, or take horses around Cuicocha Lake. The 200-year old hacienda with its gardens and old textile shops is yours to explore.
Saturday is the largest market day in Otavalo, although it is offered every day of the week. Indigenous people from the mountains descend into the valley to sell their crafts, textiles, and livestock in the tiny town of Otavalo. This is the most famous Indian market on the continent, and the good-hearted Otavaleños are certain to win your heart. Plan for an early arrival to the animal market to view a riotous time of literal horse trading, then spend the day bargaining with the locals over fine sweaters, tapestries, and woodwork.
Your days at Sacha Lodge are filled with discovery. During excursions, travelers are divided into small groups (max 6), each with its own native guide and bilingual naturalist. Native guides carry a lifetime of knowledge about the medicinal and functional uses of rainforest plants. They proudly display the wonders of their home environment, sometimes even offering a tasty treat like the strange lemon tasting ants that coexist in the stems of certain trees. Naturalists, educated in biology and ecology, translate for native guides and complement excursions with explanations of the scientific workings of the rainforest. Sacha Lodge has something for everyone. A favorite activity includes paddling dugout canoes along blackwater creeks and lakes past luxuriant lianas, bromeliads, and enormous palms. Swimming and piranha fishing are also popular (the piranha here are harmless, really!). And for the adventurous Ecuador traveler there are night walks and canoe trips in search of caiman and other nocturnal creatures. Sacha Lodge offers a number of very unique sites to its visitors.
A 130-foot observation tower and a 940-foot canopy walkway both give visitors a chance to get above the rainforest canopy for incredible views of the area. These areas are also great places to observe toucans and macaws and, with luck, spot noisy howler monkeys or a three-toed sloth. Another site is the butterfly house where over 40 local butterfly species are bred. Visitors can see the process of breeding and raising these colorful insects and wander through the "flying room." Finally, visit the Yasuni Parrot Lick. Just a short distance from Sacha Lodge is Ecuador's most famous parrot lick, where visitors can observe dozens of the magnificently colored birds feeding on the clay.
In the morning, leave Sacha Lodge and transfer to Quito. This afternoon spend touring the city. Drive north to visit "El mirador de Guápulo" (view point), and admire its church and Quito's nearby valleys. You'll visit Quito's colonial center - one of the world's cultural heritage sites, see many historical buildings; including churches, museums and monuments. Visit the Basilica del Voto Nacional or Iglesia de Compania cathedrals, or test your bargaining skills in the local artisan markets. Opt to take a drive north to get a great view of the city from above, or spend your time in Calle La Ronda. Customize your time to see the sites around that most interest you. Visit artisan markets, test your bargaining skills for local weavings See some of our best ideas below or add in an Aerial Tram tour or a visit to La Mitad del Mundo with more time.
Your Galapagos cruise will explore the islands of Santa Cruz, Santiago, Rabida, Isabela, and Fernandina. Explore the diverse landscape of this volcanic archipelago and visit with its famous natives: giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, sea turtles, white-tipped sharks, pelicans, Flightless Cormorants, and more. Stop at Black Turtle Cove to snorkel and Sullivan Bay to explore the extensive lava flows which are present on the island. Wildlife is abundant, fascinating, and personal. The Galapagos islands are sure to delight and entrance its travelers.
Disembark the cruise in Baltra and return to Quito. Fly to Lima and after picking up your luggage and clearing customs, walk across the street to the comfortable and conveniently located Ramada Costa del Sol Hotel. Settle into your room and rest before your next flight.
Today is free to relax and explore with your guide or on your own. Visit the churches and surrounding ruins, such as the enormous Sacsayhuamán ruins that overlook Cusco (these ruins showcase building blocks the size of pickup trucks). You can also wander through the bustling Plaza de Armas in the heart of Cusco, shop for love potions in the local markets, or people watch from the cafes and restaurants that line these lovely streets. For those bursting with energy, horseback riding, mountain biking, or even whitewater rafting (Class III-IV) can be arranged. The evening is yours to take in some of Cusco's varied and exciting nightlife where live folk music and excellent food abounds!
In the morning, journey into one of the most beautiful areas of Peru: the Sacred Valley. Test your bargaining skills with the locals while visiting one of the great textile markets in the area, hike to the inspiring ruins of Pisac, or take a short walk through the countryside to the seldom-visited town of Maras, where pre-Columbian salt mines still operate today. Visit the Inca agricultural terraces of Moray, thought to have been a nursery to experiment with and modify different varieties of crops. Make your way to the living Inca city of Ollantaytambo.
In the morning, visit the ruins and town of Ollantaytambo. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo served as a royal estate and later a refuge after the Spanish conquered Cuzco in 1537. The ruins feature expansive terraces and well-preserved architecture, and the town is still laid out as it was during the Incan empire, allowing its visitors to glimpse the history which still exists within its boundaries.
Board the train and follow the Urubamba River as it tumbles its way towards the Amazon and the sacred city of Machu Picchu. Tour the ancient canals which still bring water from the high mountains to the baths which were used by Inca priests. As visitors, you are welcomed to respectfully dip your hands in the cool water. After your guided tour of Machu Picchu, return to the village of Aguas Calientes (located at the base of Machu Picchu) and enjoy one of many excellent local restaurants. Alternatively, end your day with a soak in the hot springs after your day of exploring one of the most magical archaeological sites in the world.
Today is your chance to watch the sunrise at Machu Picchu and to listen to the spirits of the city's past inhabitants before the hikers from the Inca Trail arrive. Later, you can climb the sacred peak of Huayna Picchu, hike to the Sun Gate which overlooks the ruins or take a walk through the lush cloudforest to the Temple of the Moon. In the late afternoon you'll return by train to Cusco with your guide.
Meet your guide at the hotel for a half-day visit to Rio de Janeiro’s most popular attraction – the 125 foot statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain that stands over Rio de Janeiro. Begin the ascent of the mountain in a cogwheel train through the lush Tijuca Forest, a national park and the world's largest urban forest. Arrive to the base of the statue where you can truly appreciate the size of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The views from the observation platforms are spectacular and provide insight of how the city of Rio has grown around and up the seemingly inhospitable natural rock features along the coast. Rio spreads out below you, revealing Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, the famous Maracana Stadium, and the luxurious Botafoga Bay. It is impossible to ignore the favelas, Rio's hillside communities.
Return by train and explore the coast with your guide as you drive along Sao Conrado, Ipanema & Copacabana Beaches. Your afternoon is free to relax on the beach, shop in Copacabana's boutiques, or enjoy caipirinha, Brazil's national drink, at a beachfront cafe. Additional activities such as boat or helicopter tours, a visit to a favela, samba lessons, or a trip to the coastal hotspot of Buzios can be arranged.
Day 18: Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain got its name from Portuguese sailors who felt the granite monolith's resembled a traditional block of sugar. Today's tour gives a different perspective of Rio, as you and your guide take a cable car that climbs to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. From the peak, the entire cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city), coastline, and Atlantic Ocean spread out below you. Descend by cable car and do a driving tour of Rio de Janeiro's city center to see the famous Sambadrome, the Teatro Municipal, and the modern-styled Cathedral. Please note that this half-day excursion can be arranged on any day and is a good option in the evenings to enjoy the sunset over Copacabana Beach. The remainder of your day is free to relax, take in the sights of Rio's beaches, or choose an optional excursion during this custom Brazil tour.
Explore the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls and watch as the water cascades from the cliffs at various angles. Board a small train to Devil's Throat Station and walk across the suspended pathway which spans the area.
Later, explore the two walking circuits. Beginning with the upper walk, which is a quarter-mile long and takes approximately 45 minutes. From here you can see the Two Sisters, Bosseti, Adam and Eve, Bernabe Mendez, Mbiguá and San Martín Falls. The lower circuit has been described as the "most beautiful thousand meter walk in the world." Heading in a clockwise direction you get a very different perspective of the falls. Watch out when you get to the middle of the walkway - you might get wet!!
Spend the morning exploring independently, and transfer back to the airport for your afternoon flight to Buenos Aires. In the afternoon, explore Argentina's capital city and take in an evening dinner Tango show. At Esquina Carlos Gardel, experience this intimate dance that unifies the city and its people together in a passionate embrace. The tango expresses the heart and the spirit of Argentina.
This morning tour the exciting and seductive city of Buenos Aires! This tour includes a bilingual tour guide and visits to typical neighborhoods like La Boca, Palermo, Recoleta, and the Colon Theater, the National Congress and the Presidential Palace. Experience the highlights of Buenos Aires, and appreciate this great city.
Fly next to El Calafate. Overnight there and have the evening free. Let us know if you are interested in staying on a working sheep ranch to experience the gaucho lifestyle.
Drive into Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for views of the stunning Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier is more than 3 miles wide at its front and stands over 20 stories high. Take a boat across Lago Argentino and pass the massive front wall of blue ice. After landing on a small beach, start to hike through the beech forest to the icepack of the glacier. Step foot on the glacier with crampons and explore the area. Please note that this Glacier trek has a minimum age of 10 and a maximum age of 65. Alternate excursions are available for those under 10 or over 65 years of age. Eat your lunch on the lateral moraine of the glacier and absorb the magnificence of the glacier's anatomy as you listen to its thunderous concerto of cracking ice as it drops into the lake below.
Contact us if you are interested in the Big Ice Adventure, a more active excursion that spends more time on the ice. Click here for more details.
Transfer back to El Calafate for the 6 hour bus ride to the Chile border. Here meet with your 4x4 transfer the rest of the way into Torres del Paine National Park and arrive at the Ecocamp, a deluxe tent camp of large igloo-shaped tents which were built to minimize environmental impact while providing a comfortable setting. The EcoCamp provides candlelight, feather comforters, composting toilets, and plenty of quiet to enjoy your spectacular surroundings.
Your time at the EcoCamp is flexible and includes a menu of guided excursions. Choose your day's activities from a daily menu based on your interests and energy level for the day, options ranging from easy-paced to strenuous hikes or even cycling tours. Click here for the weekly excursion schedule.
Hikers can venture to the foot of the gigantic spires of El Paine (8 hours roundtrip). Weather permitting, you'll witness the most famous sight of the Torres del Paine - the three granite monoliths reaching 9,400 feet- a testament to the massive glacial forces that carved them out of the earth.
Some travelers prefer to relax and stay at the EcoCamp to enjoy the vistas and tranquility or take a walk apart from the guided group. Horseback riding and spa services can be arranged at the nearby Hosteria Las Torres during any free time or as an optional activity.
Fly to Santiago and explore the beautiful city of Santiago this afternoon. Visit historic downtown, including La Moneda, and the main square. The tour also includes famous Cerro Stana Lucia; make your way through the web of pathways and lush landscaped plazas. Finish your Santiago tour exploring the residential areas of Bellavista, Providencia and Las Condes.
A representative pick you up at your hotel and head south to the wine country. Once in the wine country, offload the bikes and ride through three vineyards and the small towns supported by the wineries. Ride for a few hours at an easy pace while exploring the three varying vineyards. Visit a rustic family-owned estate producing a wide variety of wine including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere (thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in Chile in 1995). See also a contemporary vineyard, started by a wealthy Santiago family to produce high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah and Cot (Chile's version of the famous Argentine Malbec); and finally finish in a 100% organic vineyard where travelers will taste wine directly from the tanks. After the final vineyard enjoy lunch at a nearby restaurant before biking and then driving back to Santiago.
Take the morning plane to Easter Island (the natives call their island Rapa Nui or Te Pito o Te Henua, "the navel of the earth") from either Santiago, Chile, or Lima, Peru. You'll be met at the local airport and transferred the short distance to your family-style hotel minutes from Hanga Roa, a small township where Easter Island's 2,500 inhabitants live. Or send your luggage ahead, and stroll to the hotel on foot, enjoying your new tropical home for the next few days.
Early this morning you start your tour of the island by driving along the southern coast. Your first stops are at Ahus Vaihu and Akahanga. Ahu, which means "sacred place," refers to the rectangular stone platform on which the famous Moai (enormous, 100-ton basalt statues) were often erected.
Next you head to the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku. This might be the most impressive site on the island. Seventy standing sentinels, embedded up to their shoulders in grass on the south slope of the volcanic crater Rano Raraku, lead the way to the quarry or "nursery" inside of the impressive crater rim. This is where the Moai were cut from volcanic tuff, and some 150 figures remain here in all stages of completion. They are mute witnesses to the mystery that suddenly stopped all work. You visit the Ahu of some of the nearby Moai, and check out the holes in the crater rim that were used to maneuver the statues.
You drive to Ahu Te Pito Kura on the northern coast and visit the Anakena beach, the legendary landing place of the island's founder Hota Matua. After swimming and relaxing in this piece of South Pacific paradise, you'll return to the hotel for the evening.
Day 32: Orongo | Ahu Vinapu | Ana Kai Tangata Cave
You drive to Rano Kau volcano, the biggest on the island, whose enormous crater is now a fresh water lake with floating green fields of totora reeds. This site offers an exceptional view of three tiny and craggy off-shore islands: Nui, Motu and Kao-Kao. Perched 400 meters above the lake on the crater wall is the ceremonial village of Orongo, where the bizarre "bird man" ritual took place. The partially restored village has 48 oval buildings built out of overlapping stone slabs. Over the cliffs you can see an amazing string of "bird man" petroglyphs.
The Ana Kai Tangata cave sits at the end of a beautiful little bay. A rocky trail leads you to the cave entrance, and venturing inside you see a few paintings relating to the birdman culture. Once you've explored the cave, you'll return to your hotel and have the afternoon free.
At the ceremonial center of Ahu Akivi there are seven standing Moais who unlike most others, look out at the sea. It is said they represent the sons of a Maori sorcerer sent to search for Rapa Nui, the home for King Hotu Matua. However, Georgia Lee states "their function was to look out over the ceremonial area... the ocean just happens to be out there in the distance." Approximately a week after the spring equinox, the seven statues all look directly at the setting sun. This inland ahu was restored in 1960, and all around the site are volcanic caves which you are free to explore. The most impressive caves are called "Two Windows" and the "Cave of the Banana." Before returning to your base, you'll visit Ahu Tepeu and the quarry Puna Pau, where topknots - hats or hairpieces for the Moai, in essence - were carved from the soft volcanic scoria.
Return to your hotel in the afternoon and explore on your own!
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares Entrance fee:
The fee must be paid locally in Argentine pesos-approx. 5500 ARS
Gear Rental: Snorkeling Gear
Bilingual Naturalist Guide
Adventure Life Pre-departure Services and In-Country Assistance (Quito Representative)
Shore Excursions, Swimming and Snorkeling
Transfers and Baggage Handling in the Galapagos
Round Trip Vistadome train
Gear Rental: Crampons & Helmets
Gear Rental: Bikes & Helmets
Taste of three wines
Bike Tour in Casa Bosque Winery
Guided excursions are included, and you will discuss the options with your guide and set a plan for your stay. Most popular options include: Trekking to the towers, Lago Grey boat trip, and hiking the French Valley. You can see all of the options online here.
Entrance Fee: Cataratas de Iguazu National Park
Maras Entrance Fee
Bottled water on the excursions
Pick-up/drop-off from accommodation
Guided City Tour
Flight costs (please request a quote)
Additional excursions during free time
Fuel and transportation surcharges (when applicable)
Galapagos Park Entrance Fee: $100 per adult, $50 per child under 12. Payable upon arrival to the Galapagos, only in cash dollars.
Buenos Aires Hotel tax (up to $2 per person/night) - paid at checkout
Wetsuits are not included but are available to rent on board - $25 for 4-day and 5-day tours, $50 for 8-day, 11-day, and 12 day tours, and $75 for 15-day tours.
Kayak available for $45/use
Glass bottom kayak
Entrance Fee: Quito City Tour Entrance Fees Not Included & Are Paid Locally
Park Entrance Fee - Optional parrot salt lick
Internal Flights: Coca Round trip, Galapagos Round Trip, Quito - Lima, Lima - Cusco Round Trip, Lima - Rio, Rio - Iguazu - Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires - El Calafate, Punta Arenas - Santiago, Santiago - Easter Island Round Trip
Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu
When to Go
Good to ideal period to travel, and many people choose to visit at this time.
Chance for unpredictable weather but with fewer visitors.
Typically not offered during this period because of weather conditions.
This was our first trip to South America and we were a little nervous. But Adventure Life made things so easy! All our questions were answered before we left, and our guide, Vidal, was amazing! He gave us enough space to explore without rushing us along. He also knew where the best picture taking opportunities were, which was great.