South America journey
The Andes of Chile, Bolivia and Peru

G Adventures Southern Divide trip review (trip code: SMS)

August 2003

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Chile, Bolivia, Peru travel itinerary
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Suggested itinerary for a tour to Bolivia, Peru and Chile

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This trip review focuses on a long journey through the Andes in South America for a period of three weeks, exploring the most important archaeological sites and some of the best landscapes of Chile, Bolivia and Peru. Actually a low cost tour, it includes transfers by public transport such as bus, train, plane and ferry, with accommodations in small, family-run guest houses found along the way. At the most important archaeological sites and museums, local guides were hired on the spot in order to learn more, while the Bolivian plateau crossing was made in a 4x4 car and an experienced driver. Much of the tour takes place at extreme altitudes well above 3000 meters, among some of the world's most dramatic and beautiful landscapes.


Chile, Bolivia and Peru are among the most beautiful countries in the world, in terms of extreme landscapes, nature, culture, history and archeology. Chile and Bolivia are particularly recommended for those who love nature, landscapes and geology, while a trip to Peru is particularly suitable for those who have interest in history and archeology. Although a comprehensive tour of each country may require several weeks of travelling to see all the attractions, there are many agencies and tour operators offering tours combining two countries lasting a couple of weeks (for example, Chile and Bolivia for nature and landscapes lovers, or Peru and Bolivia for history and archeology), as well as three countries (Chile, Bolivia and Peru), lasting a minimum of 20 days excluding flights. These combined tours, such as the one presented in this trip review which includes Chile, Bolivia and Peru, provide a good overview of the three countries and a great mix of nature and archeology, however, some of the attractions offered by each country are left out, such as the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Bolivia, or Patagonia in Chile.


The best season to visit Bolivia, Peru and northern Chile, as per the itinerary presented in this travelogue, corresponds to austral winter, so from May to October inclusive. During these months the temperatures are cooler, but the sky is clearer and the precipitations are greatly reduced or virtually absent. This climate not only allows to better enjoy the outdoors life that a similar kind of tour imposes, but also prevents the possibility of having to change the route, for example because of landslides or floods that interrupt roads, tracks and railways, event not to be excluded during the rainy season.


Well, you just decided to book a tour to Bolivia, Peru and Chile in winter (as said before, the best time to visit these countries), but you're now wondering if it will be too cold. First of all, it's important to know that the temperature varies considerably with latitude and altitude, and this itinerary covers several spots with substantial differences. In northern Chile (San Pedro de Atacama and Atacama desert) the temperature is cool and pleasant during the day, with strong solar intensity, while at night and early in the morning it can be quite chilly. In Bolivia, accordingly to the itinerary presented in this trip review, you will always travel at considerable altitudes, where it's cold even during the day, but still above freezing point if it's sunny. Instead, the nights in Bolivia can be very cold, as well as early mornings, with temperatures dropping down up to -15 degrees Celsius. Sometimes these temperatures are accompanied by strong winds, both day and night. In Peru, the temperature gradually becomes milder proceeding from Lake Titicaca to the north, either because we are closer to the equator, either because the altitude decreases gradually. The climate in Machu Picchu is much milder, but also more humid and rainy, even in winter, and this is one of the few places throughout the itinerary where you will notice the presence of a beautiful rainforest with trees and flowers. One aspect to consider is that many cheap guest houses along the route, not to mention the simplest refuges in Bolivia, have no heating system, so it can happen to eat and sleep in very cold environments, condition for which you have to be prepared with appropriate clothing to be used even when you are indoor. Another very important aspect to consider is the strong intensity of the sun due to the extreme altitudes, a condition for which it is important to protect exposed parts of the body, and to always wear sunglasses.


The altitudes at which this tour to Peru, Bolivia and Chile takes place, are higher than 3,000 meters for most of the days, with extremes ranging from 4500 to 5000 meters from time to time. If you decided to take a trip to Peru, Bolivia and Chile, but you're wondering if the altitude will give you problems, be aware that to prevent altitude sickness while traveling in these countries, it may be useful to:

  • Do not start the trip in La Paz, reaching this city directly from your home country. La Paz is located at almost 4,000 meters above sea level and if you come here without being acclimatized to the high altitude, you will almost certainly have some altitude sickness problem. The best place to start this trip is in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile (2400 meters) where to stay 2-3 nights, before heading to higher altitudes. Alternatively, you can also start from Arequipa in Peru (2400 meters, not present in this trip review), while Cusco, with its 3400 meters, may be more problematic.

  • Initially, get to higher altitudes only with short day trips, and go back to lower altitudes to have your dinner and to sleep. In San Pedro de Atacama there are many possible day trips to higher altitudes that may help you to better acclimatize your body to the thin air.

  • Climb as gradually as possible, avoiding to exceed 300 meters of differences between two consecutive overnights. For every 1000 meters of total climb, plan an extra day of rest.

  • Do not climb further (and reschedule your itinerary accordingly) if at current altitude you already do not feel well. If the problem persists for more than 2-3 days, it is best to go back at lower altitudes.

  • Drink at least 2-3 litres of water a day, even if you are not thirsty

  • Do not smoke, drink alcohol or lot of coffee

  • It's good to drink coca tea for altitude sickness? In Bolivia and Peru, it is customary to drink "mate de coca" a tea made with coca leaves, because it would have mild analgesic effects and may help to acclimatise to high altitudes. The mate de coca is an infusion (essentially a tea) made from coca leaves, which does not cause addiction and does not have the heavy direct effects of assuming coca directly. However, there are no scientific studies that demonstrate the usefulness of such infusion in preventing and treating the altitude sickness (at least at the time of writing this travelogue). I drank mate de coca because it is good and, as explained, drinking lot of liquids out of alcohol or coffee, is essential to better acclimatize to extreme altitudes.

  • For further info about mountain sickness please click the link, as it is from another mountain trip to the Himalaya.


Chile, Bolivia and Peru are particularly suitable for independent travel, letting to have only a plane ticket and a reservation for just the most important services required, such as domestic flights and 4x4 tour in Bolivia (in high season it might be difficult to find availability for this tour with last-minute bookings made on place in La Paz or San Pedro de Atacama), everything else can be organized along the way, including transfers by bus or train, guided tours in the archaeological sites and overnight stays. If you prefer to travel in peace of mind, many agencies offer tours in Peru, Bolivia and Chile and you sill certainly find an itinerary and a travel style that suits your interests and budget. The journey presented in this trip review was booked with GAdventures and code of the journey is SMS (Southern Divide), the service provided was excellent and everything did meet my expectations.

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Santiago del Cile (Chile) Santiago day tour <<-- GO
Guided day tour of Santiago, visiting Plaza de Armas, the downtown with its modern skyscrapers, and the outskirts. Santiago is the starting or finish point for many tours in Chile or South America, and the city certainly deserves one free day.
Winery tour from Santiago (Chile) Winery tour from Santiago <<-- GO
Chile is getting every year more competitive in the wine market, thanks to the quality and to the increasing quantity. A winery tour in a farm near Santiago lets to discover the wine production process and to taste excellent wines.
Moon Valley (Chile) San Pedro De Atacama and Moon Valley <<-- GO
The Atacama desert in Chile is considered one of the world's driest place where and in several areas there are no registered rainfalls for many consecutive years. But this certainly doesn't mean that there is no life or nothing to see...
Atacama Desert (Chile) Day trip to Salar De Atacama <<-- GO
Day tour from San Pedro de Atacama to Salar de Atacama, a huge salt flat surrounded by majestic volcanoes, where flamingoes have made their home. San Pedro de Atacama is the ideal starting point for tours to Bolivia and offers also excellent day trips to the many nearby attractions.
Laguna Verde, Bolivia (Bolivia) Travel to Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorada <<-- GO
Today the groups gets into Bolivia where an adventure by 4x4 begins. The today itinerary goes from Laguna Verde (green lake) to Laguna Colorada (red lake) driving off road or onto dirty roads, between spectacular lunar landscape of high mountains.
Tree rock, Bolivia (Bolivia) Crossing Bolivian plateau by 4x4 <<-- GO
The Bolivian desert expedition by 4x4 continues at altitudes between 3.500 and 5000 meters above sea level, in an incredible landscape of rocks sculptured by winds and other extreme elements. This is a paradise for landscape lovers and tourists interested in geology.
Salt flats in Bolivia (Bolivia) Salar De Uyuni tour <<-- GO
With an average altitude higher than 4000 meters, the Bolivian plateau offers spectacular scenery, like the immense Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat. We make a stop at Isla Pescado (fish island) a small hill in the middle of the salt, where there are giant cactus.
Uyuni - Potosi road, Bolivia (Bolivia) Travel from Uyuni to Potosi <<-- GO
Travel by public bus service from Uyuni to Potosi, over partly paved roads at extreme altitudes, in the middle of the Andes. The trip takes several hours, but the spectacular landscape makes the experience very enjoyable.
Potosi, Bolivia (Bolivia) Potosi city tour and silver miner excursion <<-- GO
Excursion to the interesting "museum of the coins" in Potosi, then tour into a silver miner where people work in terrible conditions inside a mountain above 4.000 meters of altitude. Potosì is rich in history and culture, making the city one of the most interesting in South America.
Sucre, Bolivia (Bolivia) Sucre city tour <<-- GO
Travel by public bus from Potosi to Sucre in Bolivia, then short Sucre city tour and excursion to the "dinosaurs footprints" site, a vertical wall of rock where dinosaurs tracks were left impressed after a sudden catastrophic event.
La Paz, Bolivia (Bolivia) La Paz city tour <<-- GO
Flight from Sucre to El Alto (La Paz), one of the world's most elevated airports. In the afternoon, a tour of La Paz follows, exploring the downtown and hiking among shops and street vendors selling locally produced artifacts.
Tiahuanaco ruins, Bolivia (Bolivia) Tiahuanaco day tour from La Paz <<-- GO
Excursion to Tiahuanaco ruins by bus, departing from La Paz. This archeological site is very interesting and belongs to pre-Inca time, however, most of the constructions were destroyed to collect bricks for new buildings.
Copacabana, Bolivia (Bolivia and Peru) Travel from La Paz to Puno via Copacabana <<-- GO
Travel by public bus from La Paz to Puno (Peru) via Copacabana. Today, we cross the border line between Bolivia and Peru, traveling along the Titicaca lake shores and making a brief lunch stop in Copacabana near the border line between Bolivia and Peru.
Titicaca lake (Peru) Titicaca lake cruise <<-- GO
Like the ancient Uros people, about 2000 Peruvians still populate the floating islands built of Totora reeds, over lake Titicaca in Peru. Everything, from homes to the floating islands itself, is built using Totora reeds, a plant growing along the shores of lake Titicaca.
Perurail train (Peru) Travel from Puno to Cusco by train <<-- GO
Travel from Puno to Cusco by train with Perurail, over one of the world highest railway. The entire journey takes almost 12 hours, but worth rather than taking a faster bus, because of the beautiful scenery.
Sacsayhuaman ruins, Peru (Peru) Excursions from Cusco <<-- GO
Cusco, in the middle of the Andes in Peru, is a city full of history and fascinating museum (some of the best in South America). The first day spent in Cusco is dedicated to an excursion to Sacsayhuaman fortress and to the temple of the sun.
Pisaq, Peru (Peru) Pisaq and Ollantaytambo tour <<-- GO
Drive from Cusco thru the Sacred Valley to Pisaq with its ancient ruins and the local handicraft market. Continue to Ollantaytambo to visit the Inca fortress, before spending the night in a local small guest house.
Rail to Machu Picchu (Peru) Travel to Machu Picchu by train <<-- GO
Travel to Machu Picchu by train from Ollantaytambo with Perurail. The narrow gauge railway finishes in Aguas Calientes, where we have some rest and overnight before actually getting to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu (Peru) Machu Picchu tour <<-- GO
Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca town, has been discovered only in 1911, although was always known by several local farmers. A tour of Machu Picchu gives the possibility to better understand the everyday life of who has lived here.
Inca wall (Peru) Cusco city tour visiting the museums <<-- GO
During any tour in Peru, only one day in Cusco is never enough, so, in this second day, I visit several interesting museums and do more hikes in the city, where many modern buildings are built over ancient Inca walls.
Andes (Peru) Flight from Cusco to Lima <<-- GO
Short flight from Cusco to Lima by a Lan Peru on an Airbus A320. This journey thru the Andes of South America is now about to finish and the rest of the day is spent relaxing in Lima after so many days at travel.
Pre-Inca cemetery in Lima (Peru) Lima day tour <<-- GO
Excursion to a pre-Inca cemetery, before visiting Plaza de Armas and the interesting San Francisco monastery with the catacombs. Brief visit to the more modern parts of Lima along the shores of Pacific ocean.
South Amrica pictures Collection of the best pictures from Bolivia, Peru and Chile <<-- GO
The most beautiful pictures from Peru, Bolivia and Chile are collected in this page. In Peru, Bolivia and Chile there are some of the most spectacular landscapes of the world, so impressive that you may still see them by closing your eyes, even after long time after your visit.
Minolta reflex film camera Photography equipment review <<-- GO
A trip photographically challenging because of lighting conditions not always optimal, and in a period of transition between traditional and digital photography. This section contains information on cameras and film used throughout the tour.

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