How to Plan a Trip Across South America & My Two Week Itinerary

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This is the 2nd post of my South America Trip series, you can find the first post, my South America Tourhere.

If you want to plan a trip to South America but don't know where to start, you're at the right place. Planning my trip to Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and Machu Picchu caused me quite a headache. This post will go over some issues that came up while planning the trip, our itinerary and the approximate cost so hopefully you can learn from my research and experience!

Getting around South America

You may find that buying individual flights really adds up. That's where a LAN South American Airpass or OneWorld Visit South America Pass comes in. The two different programs offer discounted flights if you book 3 or more one-way flights between South American cities. You can check out this helpful thread on FlyerTalk forum to learn the difference between the two.

I ended up using LAN South American Airpass partly because of their awesome itinerary tool:

LAN South American Airpass Planning Tool and my itinerary

To purchase the pass, you have to fly into SA through their network of OneWorld member airlines, which includes American Airlines and Cathay Pacific. You have to buy the flight before or while you're buying the pass because they will ask you for your flight confirmation.

I booked my LAN pass by phone and I was definitely on the phone for about 45 minutes. Be prepared with the exact flights that you want!

Planning your itinerary

The main issue in my itinerary was getting in and out of Iguazu Falls, so let me try to clear things up for you. There are two airports at Iguazu Falls, one called Iguazu which is in Argentina, and one called Iguazu Falls which is in Brazil. The two airports are within about an hour drive of each other.

Walking down to take a boat into the falls from the Argentina Side
Getting up-close and personal with the falls from the Brazil Side

With the LAN Pass, Iguazu only flies to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls only flies to Lima. So if you're planning to go to Iguazu Falls, ideally, you'd be visiting either Buenos Aires, Lima, or both.

However, I imagine if you're visiting, you're going to be short on time, want to budget effectively, and want to eliminate flying roundtrip to the same airport. I had a limitation when planning this trip because I had to be in Buenos Aires for work right before this. As a result, my itinerary ended up looking like this:

US → Buenos Aires  Iguazu, AR  Drive to Iguazu Falls, BR → Lima & Machu → US

Alternatively, you don't have to only take LAN flights, you can actually fly in or out of Iguazu using a different airline. For example, I've had friends who have done the trip like this:

US  Rio  Iguazu Falls, BR  Drive to Iguazu, AR  Buenos Aires  Lima & Machu  US

Warning: Because I like to err on the side of caution, I would also like to warn you that I have had friends who have had flights cancelled on them for one reason or another. As a result, I would always always add some extra buffer time in between flights here. My friends had to take a bus from Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires.

That's a 16 hour bus ride instead of a 1.5 hour flight! Luckily for me, none of my flights were cancelled and my trip went according to plan. However, be safe and build in some flexibility in your schedule.

Budgeting & Cost of Trip

So initially when I thought about making a trip through South America, I didn't think it would cost too much since most of the area is still relatively underdeveloped. However, once I looked into getting from one place to another, I started to see the dollar signs $$ start piling up.

Peruvian Soles - $1 USD = 2.59 Soles
When I talked to my coworker about it, he said, "You're essentially making a cross country trip. How much do you think flying from New York to Miami, then to San Francisco would cost?" And the truth is a cross country trip across the US will probably cost you roughly the same depending on the time you're flying. So when budgeting for your South America trip, consider that even on a budget, a round trip ticket from NYC to South America can range from around $800 upwards to about $1300.

Then, add in the LAN pass, depending on which cities you end  visiting, it really will add up. The cost of flights alone costs upwards to $2000 for me! Indeed, this is not a cheap trip!

To help you get a realistic expectation on how much you're going to be paying for on this trip, I compiled a rough list of costs in the table below. It includes transportation and admission to the Iguazu Falls National Park in Argentina. Do keep in mind that my costs below isn't from one from someone who is on an extreme budget. On my trip, I was trying to be time-efficient and comfortable.

I've seen budget travelers blogs where people take public buses which only costs them something like $0.25 USD to travel for 2 hours. So a cheaper trip is entirely possible, however I like to think that I'm a mean bargainer and definitely hustle for cheaper taxi rides!

EXPLORE TRANSPORTATION COST
1 Buenos Aires $1100 RT AA Flight
2 Iguazu Falls, AR Fly from Buenos Aires (AEP 1:10p) to Iguazú, AR (IGR 2:55p)
Taxi from IGR Airport to Sheraton
$750 USD LAN Pass

3 Iguazu Falls, AR Walking tour of Iguazu using Park Pass 130 AR Peso pp
4 Iguazu Falls, BR Taxi from Iguazu Falls AR to Iguazu Falls BR to Airport
Fly from Foz do Iguaçu, BR (IGU 8:10p) to Lima (LIM 10:25p)
$50 USD Taxi Ride
LAN Pass
5 Aguas Calientes, aka
Machu Picchu Pueblo
Fly from Lima (LIM 5:20a) to Cusco (CUZ 6:40a)
Combi Taxi from Cusco to Ollantayambo (~ 1.5 hour)
Train from Ollantayambo to Aguas Calientes ( ~ 1.5 hour)
LAN Pass
10 Soles pp
$50 - $80 Train
6 Machu Picchu
Pisac Market & Ruins
Bus to Machu Picchu (15 min)
Train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantayambo
Taxi from Ollantayambo to Cusco in Private Taxi Tour (2 stops)
$17 USD RT Bus
$50 - $80 Train
~120 Soles / 5 hrs
7 Cusco Half Day Sacred Valley Tour of Maras Salt Mines & Moray ~ 70 Soles pp
8 Puno Personal car from Cusco to Puno (8 hour drive) 500 Soles w/ tip
9 Puno & Lake Titicaca Boat to Uros Floating Islands (Half Day Tour) > 35 Soles pp
10 Lima Taxi from Puno to Juliaca (45 min)
Fly from Juliaca (JUL 1:05p) to Lima (LIM 2:45p)
70 Soles
LAN Pass
11 Home Sweet Home Fly from Lima (LIM 12:20am) to NYC (JFK 09:00a) AA Flight
Total for Transportation 
* Taxi costs are approximated and split between 2 people
$2190* pp

In my next few posts, I'll be writing about my experiences in each of the individual cities itself.

Update: See my new post about 10 Things You Need to Know about Getting to Machu Picchu (and other tips + FAQs).

Hope you've found this information helpful! I know when I was planning my trip I was doing so much research but no one really went over the logistics that I really wanted to learn more about. Also, leave comment below if you have any questions about planning your upcoming South America Trip. I'll be happy to help!

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