Are you planning a trip to South America as a once off visit to the continent and you are trying to cover as much as possible. Herewith information to give you some insight on how to go about this adventure.


It is a huge continent consisting of 18 countries and one will need to decide upfront which attractions you are most interested in since it is not possible to see everything. Of the 18 counties this series of posts will only cover 5 and mention of 2 more.  Although Ecuador and Bolivia was also high on the list it could not be included on this trip, purely because of a lack of time. Furthermore, each country offers many more attractions than one would want to include and you will have to decide which ones pique your interest the most.


This trip took place during March / April 2018 and all reference to time and climate is from a Southern Hemisphere perspective during summer going into autumn (March / April). Note the following:

  • Brazil: Rio and Sao Paulo was hot and humid.
  • Peru: Lima was mild, note that fog regularly rolls in from the Pacific which also causes the temperature to drop a few degrees. It is the end of the rainy season at Machu Picchu and although it often rains during the night and morning, the weather generally clears from around 10:00. Cusco is located at 3 399m above sea level and could be rather chilly, a warm rain proof jacket is recommended
  • Argentina: Buenos Aires was mild to chilly
  • Uruguay: Colonia was chilly, a typical autumn day
  • Chile: Santiago, mild to warm during the day, chilly at night


To create a South American context, herewith my bucket list attractions for each of my top 7 countries:

Argentina: Buenos Aires, Iguazú Falls (on border with Brazil) in the Iguazú National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier, Estancia (rural estate) visit with resident gaucho (skilled horseman), Bariloche region including the route of the seven lakes

Bolivia: Lake Titicaca including Copacabana & Isla del Sol, Tiwanaku, a Pre-Columbian archaeological & World Heritage site, La Paz at 4 058 m above sea level, Madidi National Park, Salar de Uyu, the world’s largest salt flat

Brazil: The Amazon River including city of Manaus with Teatro Amazonas , Rio de Janeiro including Christ the Redeemer as well as Sugarloaf Mountain.

Chile: Atacama Desert including Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon); Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonian region with mountains, lakes and glaciers, Easter Island, very isolated and well known for its 887 extant monumental statues called moai, beautiful Pacific seaside city of Valparaiso, Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago

Ecuador: The capital Quito, Cotopaxi summit, including volcano and one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, Tena as the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest, Montanita Beach / fishing village with spectacular surfing conditions, the colonial city of Cuenca, Otavalo with the local arts, crafts and clothing market, Galapagos Islands, world renowned for its unique ecosystem

Peru: Lima, Machu Picchu including the Sacred Valley (Cusco, Ollantaytambo & Machu Picchu Pueblo / Aguas Calientes) and other Inca sites e.g. Choquequirao & Kuélap

Uruguay: Montevideo, Punta del Este and surrounding areas, Colonia del Sacramento


Depending from where you are flying and your airline of choice we suggest a circular route to see all you want to see, in line with what the flight connections allow.

Furthermore, different travellers have different ideas on how to experience a destination…some want to just sweep in and out, others want to linger. Also, if your flight connection takes you into a destination that was not part of your original plan, we suggest spend a day or two, rather than just wait for a connecting flight. However, that is not always possible. Although travelling to new and exciting destinations is great, it often goes hand in hand with some compromises since flight connections, time of the year, climate of destination etc. is not always what you want on your trip.

An approximate 3-week circular trip that you may want to consider:

  • Johannesburg, South Africa to Sao Paolo, just under 11 hour flight, 2 nights
  • Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires, Argentina, 3 hour flight, 4 nights including 1 day visit to Uruguay
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, 2 ½ hour flight, 2 nights. Now in retrospect, we suggest to add another 2-3 nights here to include either a visit to the Andes Mountains or to the seaside city of Valparaiso

Since Peru was the focus of this trip, we suggest

  • Santiago Chile to Lima, Peru, 4 hour flight, 2 nights
  • Then on to Cusco, 1 ½ hour flight, 1 night
  • Then road transfer to Ollantaytambo (approx. 2 hours), 1 night
  • Then by train to Machu Picchu, 90-120 minutes, 2 night return via Cusco, 1 night, to Lima

Almost time to head back

  • Lima, Peru to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 5 ½ hour flight, 3 nights
  • Rio to Sao Paulo (80 minute flight) to Johannesburg, 10 hour flight


General notes:

  • South America has many World Heritage Sites which you may want to include in your itinerary
  • High tourist season varies from country to country and is dependent on your taste. Note that high season in Rio is during the summer months (September to April) and in Machu Picchu is in the dry season / winter months (April to September). Also note that up to 2 500 people can then visit Macchu Picchu Citadel in one day, thus dry but cooler temperature with LOTS OF TOURISTS
  • Language mostly Spanish & Portuguese with English quite common, especially in the touristic areas
  • Accommodation: Global hotel chains available, lots of cheap / hostel accommodation, especially in the Machu Picchu area. We used Airbnb for our entire trip. We were 2-3 pax at different stages of the trip, apartment type Airbnb accommodation worked well, was convenient and very affordable. Note: was initially worried about the apartment type accommodation and getting the keys from the hosts but in all the destinations the apartment buildings have a reception / concierge and getting the keys was never a problem
  • Type of transport, South America is a huge continent and in countries such as Argentina and Brazil road travel takes very long and is therefore not necessarily a good option if you have limited time available
  • Airline: LATAM & internally there is a LATAM PASS option that discounts fares for tourists travelling to various destinations in South America

To put details into perspective, all destinations referred to in this article is compared to Johannesburg, South Africa in terms of size, population & location / elevation.



2018 South Africa


Argentina Brazil Chile Peru Uruguay
Population 57 398 421 44 588 864 206 992 240 18 386 632 32 551 815 3 469 551
Ranking ± 25th ±31th ± 5th ±65th ± 42th ± 136th
Size of country 1.221 037 km² 2 780 400 km² 8 514 877 km² 756 096 km² 1 285 216 km² 175 016 km²
Ranking 24th 8th 5th 37th 19th 91st
Density 47 pax / km² 16 pax / km² 24 pax / km² 24 pax / km² 25 pax / km² 20 pax /km²
Ranking ?160th ?200th ?190th ?190th ?190th ?190th
Currency Rand


Argentine Peso


Brazilian Real


Chilean Peso




Uruguayan Peso   UYU
Rate US $ 0.08 0.05 0.29 0.002 0.31 0.04
Rate ZA R 0.61 3.58 0.02 3.85 0.44
Language English Spanish Portuguese Spanish Spanish Spanish
Elevation Johannesburg 1 753m

Pretoria 1 339m

Cape Town

0 – 1 590m

Buenos Aires 25 m Sao Paulo

799 – 1 135m

Rio de Janeiro

0 – 1 120m



Lima 0 – 400m

Cusco 3 399m


2 792m

Machu Picchu Pueblo town / Aguas Calientes 2 040m

Machu Picchu Citadel 2 430m

Colonia del Sacramento


Founded 1886 1536 SP 1554

Rio 1565

1541 Lima 1535

Cusco 1100



Understanding population density per country & major cities in South America. Info based on numbers / rates in April 2018 as per internet sources. Some countries do not have accurate 2018 population figures

The densest populated countries (regions) in the world are Macau, Monaco, Singapore & Hong Kong. However, these countries (regions) all have a population of less than less than 7.3 million and the size of the country is less than 1 105 km². The next category in terms of density is countries like Bangladesh with 164,994,076 people in 147,570km², resulting in a population density of 1 118 pax / km² followed by South Korea with 48,456,369 people in 99,538km², thus 487 pax / km². One also needs to mention 2 countries with more than 1 Billion people: India has a population of more than 1,400,000,000 in 3 287 240km², resulting in 425 pax / km² and China in 2018 is 1,415,045,928 in 9,596,961 km², resulting in 147 pax / km²

The biggest countries in the world are Russia, China, USA & Canada. Although both Brazil and Argentina are respectively the 5th and 8th biggest country in the world, population density per country is low.  However, density in major cities is quite high. The largest cities in the world ranked by population density are:

Rank City / Urban area Country Population Land area km² Density

Pax per km²

1 Mumbai India 14 350 000 484 29 650
2 Kolkata India 12 700 000 531 23 900
3 Karachi Pakistan 9 800 000 518 18 900
4 Lagos Nigeria 13 400 000 738 18 150
5 Shenzhen China 8 000 000 466 17 150
9 Bogota Colombia 7 000 000 518 13 500
11 Lima Peru 7 000 000 596 11 750
25 Sao Paulo Brazil 17 700 000 1 968 9 000
27 Mexico City Mexico 17 400 000 2 072 8 400
28 Santiago Chile 5 425 000 648 8 400
31 Recife Brazil 3 025 000 376 8 050
35 Rio de Janeiro Brazil 10 800 000 1 580 6 850
43 London United Kingdom 8 278 000 1 623 5 100
46 Buenos Aires Argentina 11 200 000 2 266 4 950


Watch this space for more South American posts on

  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Visiting Machu Picchu…deconstructed
  • Santiago, Chile
  • Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay