The Best South America Tours [2019]

Sacred Valley, Peru

There’s few places on earth that offer such a diverse and intoxicating travel experience as South America. From awe inspiring nature to ancient cultures to vibrant cities, you could spend a lifetime exploring this amazing continent.

In search of the best South America tour, we spent many hours gathering information on all the most popular tours on offer.

We then evaluated them based on a range of criteria including the itinerary, accommodation, general value for money, and reviews from travellers who have taken previously taken the tours.

After the tour reviews below, we discuss the key things you should look out for when choosing your South America Tour to ensure you get the best experience to suit your personal preferences.


South America Tour Reviews

#1 ​La Paz to Buenos Aires Adventure

Best short tour (younger group)

Days:

15

Operator:

G Adventures

Highlights:

La Paz, Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia salt flats), Atacama Desert, Buenos Aires

Age range:

18 to 39

Max Group Size:

18

Accommodation:

Hostel, Hotel, Lodge, Sleeper Bus

Transport:

4WD, Overland Truck, Plane

CHECK reviews & PRICES at tour radar

​Starting in the intoxicating city of La Paz, this tour first takes you south to the beautiful capital of Sucre and the historical silver mining town of Potosí.

You will then spend a couple of days around the incredible Salar de Uyuni before making your way over the border to Chile and the Atacama Desert.

Check out the Argentinian city of Salta before boarding a plane to cosmopolitan Buenos Aires.

#2 ​Galapagos: In Darwin's Footsteps

Best short tour (all ages)

Days:

14

Operator:

Exodus

Highlights:

Small group tour showcasing the best of the Galapagos with an expert guide

Age range:

16 to 99

Max Group Size:

15

Accommodation:

Hotels, Guesthouses, Tents

Transport:

Train, Boat, Private Vehicle, Plane

CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES AT TOUR RADAR

Utilising local accommodation and boats to hop between the islands, this tour covers the islands of San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabella and Santa Cruz. An expert guide accompanies you throughout, explaining the wondrous wildlife and natural phenomena that abound in this incredible part of the world.

#3 ​Epic South America

Best longer tour (younger group)

Days:

40

Operator:

Intrepid

Highlights:

Banos, Amazon Jungle, Cusco, Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia salt flats), Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro

Age range:

18 to 29

Max Group Size:

16

Accommodation:

Hotel, Home-stay, Camping, Sleeper Bus

Transport:

Bus, 4WD, Local Transport, Plane, Mini-coach

CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES AT TOUR RADAR

Starting in Quito, Ecuador, and finishing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this adventure will take you to the top spots South America has to offer. What's more, you'll be in the capable hands of Intrepid Travel.

From Machu Picchu to Bolivia Salt Flats to Iguazu Falls to Rio de Janeiro, this tour is sure to make a solid dent in your bucket list.

#4 Peru Encompassed

Best longer tour (all ages)

Days:

21

Operator:

Intrepid

Highlights:

Lima, Nazca, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, Amazon Jungle

Age range:

15 to 99

Max Group Size:

16

Accommodation:

Hotel, Home-stay, Camping, Lodge

Transport:

Train, Boat, Local Transport, Private Vehicle, Plane

CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES AT TOUR RADAR

A very popular tour from Industry leaders Intrepid, this trip starts and finishes in Puru’s vibrant capital of Lima. While it Includes many highlights of this fascinating country the highlight is no doubt the Inca Trail (train option available) and the ancient city of Machu Picchu.

#5 Quito To Rio (15 Weeks) Kingdoms & Carnivals

Best Budget tour

Days:

105

Operator:

Oasis Overland

Highlights:

Amazon Jungle, Huacachina, Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia Salt Flats), Patagonia, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro

Age range:

18 to 69

Max Group Size:

23

Accommodation:

Camping, hostels, simple hotels

Transport:

Overland truck

CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES AT TOUR RADAR

​Overland travel experts Overland Oasis offer this epic 105 day adventure for travellers looking to experience the real South America.

Starting in the Quito, the tour winds its way down the west coast of the continent and includes the best experiences Bolivia and Chile have to offer before making its way into Patagonia.

From the southern tip you now travel up the east coast where highlights include Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and Rio de Janeiro.

#6 ​Ultimate South America with Galapagos Cruise

​Best high-end tour

Days:

26

Operator:

Cosmos

Highlights:

Rio de Janeiro, Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley, Galapagos Islands

Age range:

8 to 99

Max Group Size:

50

Accommodation:

Hotel, Guesthouse

Transport:

Coach, Plane

CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES AT TOUR RADAR

Starting with the usual “highlights of South America” route, this tour from Cosmos starts in Rio de Janeiro before working its way down to Iguassu Falls and Buenos Aires. From there, you make your way north to see the best of Peru (including Machu Picchu of course) before heading to perhaps the highlight of the trip, a 4-day cruise around the incredible Galapagos Islands.


CHOOSING YOUR SOUTH AMERICA TOUR

It can be pretty overwhelming searching through the various tours on offer. To make things a bit easier, we’ve provided a list of the key things to keep in mind. Here’s what to look out for when selecting your South America tour:

Itinerary

South America is such a diverse continent and no itinerary is going to cover all the highlights. You’ll therefore need to pick the things that are most important to you and ensure your tour covers as many as possible with the time you have.

Also, bus travel in South America can be long and arduous. Try to pick a tour that concentrates on a particular part of the continent that is of interest to you, or uses flights to travel the longer legs.

Below are the sights and cities that are generally considered the highlights of South America (in no particular order):

Tour Style

Tours generally have a certain “flavour” to them. Some are designed to be action and adventure packed, while others are more focused on cultural experiences. Some of the best tours combine elements of both.

Do you enjoy good amounts of fee time to explore while on a tour? Make sure you select a more relaxed option that doesn’t have a jam-packed daily schedule.

Tours generally have an age range that they have been designed to suit. It should be displayed in the tour information, but if not, feel free to send them an email and ask. They also differ in terms of the level of physical fitness required - be sure to check this out before you book if it is a concern.

Accommodation

Accommodation in South America varies drastically depending on location and budget.

Most tours priced at the low-medium end of the spectrum will include accommodation in tents, or budget hotels and hostels, often sharing a room with others.

Higher-end tours will include private hotel accommodation, however, given that some of South America’s best sites are well away from populated areas, be warned that your desired level of comfort may not be possible in certain locations. 

Weather

The good news: There’s no bad time to visit South America.

Given the size of the continent, there will always be countries that are suitable for travel at your preferred time.

Here’s the best and worst times to visit each country:

Argentina - Best: September - May (spring, summer, autumn), Worst: June – August (winter)

Bolivia - Best: May – October (dry season), Worst: November – April (rainy season)

Brazil - Weather is OK for visiting year-round with temperatures generally cooler in the south and at higher altitudes and warmer near the equator.

Chile - The Weather in Chile is suitable for travellers year-round although avoid Patagonia in the winter months of June – August.

Colombia - Worst: April – July, October – November (wet seasons), Best: August – September, December – March (dry seasons)

Ecuador - Weather is warm year-round so there are not really any bad times to visit. December – May is the rainy season.

Peru - Best: June – August (dry season), Worst: December – March (rainy season)

Source

Traveller Reviews

Salar de Uyuni

What better way to gain insight into a tour than to hear from someone who has first hand experience?

Tour Radar is a great resource for genuine traveller reviews on tours from all the major operators. (They are also a good option for the booking your tour as they provide a best price guarantee and 24/7 expert support).

Reading traveller reviews is a great way to get an insight into what the tour guides are like, the general level of quality and oraganisation, and other things people did and didn’t like about the tour.

If reviews aren’t available for the specific tour you are looking at, have a look at reviews for the tour operator themselves, as this should give you a good indication of how they operate and their general level of quality.

Price

Price is obviously going to be a factor when selecting any tour.

At the budget end of the spectrum you may be able to find something for around $40-50/day. These tours will generally be provided by lesser known operators, transport will be by bus (often over very long distances), and accommodation will be shared hostel dorm rooms.

The sweet spot for adventure type tours in South America is likely to be around $120-160/day. This will get you a tour with a reputable operator and an expert guide. Tours at this price range should be well designed to pack the best experience into the tour duration, accommodation should be comfortable and transport should be suitable for the journey.

Tours in the $160+ range are likely to either involve additional logistics e.g. plane, boat, 4WD travel thanks to them being more intrepid or remote, or they will be slightly higher-end tours with private hotel rooms.