The natural untouched beauty of the mighty Andean mountain range, the majestic Inca ruins of Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca Islands that are barely affected by the modern world. Street markets and Andean culture in Bolivia, sand-boarding in the Atacama Desert and 4×4 drives across the Bolivia salt flats. All this can comfortably be experienced in around a month travelling through this awe-inspiring corner of South America.
Below is a suggested one month backpacking itinerary, starting and finishing in Peru and travelling by bus throughout.
Fly into the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, Peru. With Machu Picchu on its doorstep, Cusco is a tourist hot-spot where you can organise tours into the Amazon rainforest, explore Inca culture and history, become acclimatised to the Andean altitude, and see the many Inca ruins, most notably the Inca city of Machu Picchu. If you’re into trekking, the 4 day Inca Trail finishing at Machu Picchu at sunrise is a must. In and around Cusco, there’s a wide selection of museums, galleries, Andean villages and markets to explore.
From Cusco, head to Puno on the shores of the enormous Lake Titicaca. Whether you book onto a tour or just turn up at the pier and get on a boat is up to you, but you won’t want to miss a trip to the remote islands on Lake Titticaca. The floating reed islands are postcard-perfect and on Isla Amantani, staying with a local family will give you a real insight into life in this remote part of the world where life has barely changed for centuries.
Next head by bus to Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. The highlight of this is the day trek up the coast to a little village where you can hire a small boat and driver to take you across to Isla Del Sol. The scenery is spectacular, and what a night on Isla Del Sol may be lacking in luxury and comfort (supplies are carried up by mule and water is at a premium), the Island more than makes up for in spectacular scenery and walking opportunities.
Back to Puno and on to La Paz, a major city in Bolivia. One of the highest cities in the world, La Paz is nestled in the mountains which provide a perfect backdrop for wandering the stall-lined streets, and exploring the bustling markets and museums.
From La-Paz, head south and get on a 4×4 tour through the huge salt flats at Salar De Uyuni. You’ll end up at the Chilean border and on to San Pedro de Atacama, the centre of tourism in the spectacular Atacama Desert. You can go sand-boarding, mountain biking, horse riding and trekking with San Pedro de Atacama as your base, but however you choose to see it, experiencing the desert should be on your list.
Next, head to the Northern Chile coastal town of Iquique, a place where high desert plains abruptly meet the Pacific Ocean creating spectacular cliffs and probably one of the top paragliding destinations in the world. Amazing climate, familiar food and travelling in comfort will all probably be appreciated in Chile after a few weeks in Peru and Bolivia.
Next, head North to Arica and on to the barely discovered gem, the highlight of Northern Chile; Parc Nationale Lauca. One of the best ways to explore this area is to hire a car in Arica for a couple of days. Stay in a rural village like Putre, and explore the spectacular natural landscapes of snow-capped volcanoes reflected in crystal clear lakes, spot flamingo, alpaca and vicuna and buy Andean handicrafts from the villagers.
Continue North into Peru and head for Arequipa. This beautiful city has lots to offer the visitor, not least a trip into the nearby Colca Canyon. From the village of Cabanaconde on the Canyon rim (about 100 miles from Arequipa), you can trek into the canyon in a few hours where you bathe at the Oasis (sheer bliss) and stay in a hut by the river. Your hosts (a local family – no need to reserve, in fact it’s probably not possible to reserve) will cook you a meal, light you a fire and provide you with basic accommodation. The sense of tranquility in such a remote location and the expansive natural surroundings mean a trip into Colca Canyon should feature on every traveller’s itinerary.
After another day or so relaxing in the cafes and restaurants of beautiful Arequipa, it’s a convenient transport hub for flights back to Lima and home, or on to your next destination.
Excluding the cost of flights and travel insurance, and travelling independently as a backpacker, this trip is likely to cost around $1800 – $2500 per person.