After many months of deliberation and contemplation, by the time I finally made up my mind about going ahead with my desire to do a solo backpack trip to parts of S.America, I had only a month or so left to plan everything out. Two months later I was to be back in India for a family function, and I wasn’t sure how long would I be staying there. So it was NOW or NEVER.
That left me with hardly any time to apply for visas, research on places to stay, how to travel, what cities to visit and most importantly the time and money required. Initially, I was keen to do an Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile trip. But considering I had limited time in my hand(a month), limited budget(USD 2000) and taking into the fact that I had already managed to see almost all of Ecuador(I currently reside in Guayaquil), I decided to cut down my travel plans and to travel only to the heart and soul of South America(from a backpackers angle), i.e. to Peru and Bolivia.
With so much to do in such a restricted time frame, the best idea would be to do it methodically. I suggest divide your plans into major headings and then dedicate days on getting the nitty gritty’s right for it. The broad headings that you can divide your research is into:
1) Visa Applications and Approvals.
2) Countries to visit (depending on time frame and budget).
3) Cities to visit.
4) Mode of travel and journey time.
5) Days to spend in each city depending on the things to do.
6) Hotels/Hostels to stay and making the bookings.
7) Tally the approximate cost of the trip(inc. travel,stay, food and misc. items) with the set budget.
The base of all these points mentioned above is the word that I feel I use the most in all my blogs. RESEARCH.
Trust me, the reason I talk about it so much is because with every new article you read online, you get a different perspective of a particular thing which might actually be the reason for making your upcoming trip, GREAT instead of just a GOOD.
And so, that’s how I began.
I) Visa Applications and Approvals:
While finding out about the process and the kind of documents required for visa is an easy task, the implementation of application and getting an approval might take you time. Hence, your first task has to be to collect all your documents and submit them at the nearest embassy.
While for most American citizens the visa can be obtained at the airport or at the border(in case traveling by bus), the same is not the case for other passport holders. Since I hold an Indian passport, I required to get the visa before hand. It’s anyways my policy to not leave things for the last moment and so decided to drop my documents at the Peru embassy in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I will be covering the detailed process in my subsequent blog.
Since there was no Bolivian embassy in my city, I decided to apply for the same in Lima, Peru.
It took me exactly a week to get my visa, and I was extremely happy about that. But to be on the safer side, take the approval time as 10-15 days.
II) Countries to visit (depending on time frame and budget):
In the beginning of actually formulating a plan, all that you know for sure is- how much time you can afford to be off on the road, and how much money can you spare for the same.
Once you have these 2 parameters set, you can start planning around it. For me I had: 1 month to travel and USD 2000 to spare.
People have done it at much lesser as well, and so don’t worry if your budget is lesser. You might have to drastically cut down on the type of food(only local) and kinds of places you stay(only hostels); but it is manageable.
With only one month to spare, I started reading a lot of the internet for suggestions of backpackers who had done a similar trip before; and one thing that was common was that- if you want to enjoy S.America then don’t rush it. Thus I decided to cover 2 countries in depth over the 4 weeks and because Peru and Bolivia seemed to have the most to offer in terms of sights to visit as well as in terms of the reasonable prices; I decided to go ahead with these countries.
After having shortlisted the countries that I had to visit, the next task was to further break down my research on what were the cities worth visiting in these countries. Since I would be starting my journey from Ecuador, the logical path would obviously be to start from the north of Peru and then slowly move towards the south till you reach Bolivian border and then cross over to explore rest of Bolivia.
Best way would be to keep a Peru and Bolivia map in front of you, to get an idea of what would be the path that you should follow. Highlight all the major tourist cities on the map, by referring to TripAdvisor and Lonely planet on recommended cities to visit.
IV) Mode of travel and journey time:
If you are planning to backpack in literal terms like me, then it means taking the BUS, 90% of the times. The bus services in S.America are well connected to almost all cities. While the bus service in Bolivia is rough and a little uncomfortable, but it still is majorly popular amongst all the tourists and the locals. There are bus companies like Cruz del Sur, Ormeo and Flores and they have better services and are safer as compared to others. A little expensive, but will definitely lead you to being tension free while traveling.
Once you have the list of cities to visit in front of you on the map, use the link http://www.rome2rio.com/ to research the distance between one city to the next and the preferred mode of travel.I find this link really helpful as it depicts in a map of where you are traveling to and also in case the journey is long, it gives you an idea of where to probably make an overnight stop.
If you are okay with traveling by overnight buses, taking in consideration the safety issues, then the benefit would be that you would be saving a lot of those precious morning hours which you can spend exploring the city and also be saving on half a days cost of the hostel you book.
Personally, I feel more comfortable to be traveling in the daylight as I can get to my hostel easily without getting spooked out with the thought that every taxi driver is a kidnapper or a robber ;/. So maximum 8 hours traveling and then a halt for at least a day. If the city had a lot to offer, the number of days would automatically increase till I covered all that on my ‘things to do’ list.
V) Days to spend in each city depending on the things to do:
Again I took the help of the net to research on what are the cities that were on my list- famous for. In fact, after deciding on the countries that you will visit, do a broad research on the most famous and popular destinations in that country. For eg, for Peru it will include Machu Picchu, Colca Canyon, Nasca lines etc and similarly for Bolivia it will be Salar de Uyuni, Lake Titicaca, biking on the Worlds most dangerous road etc.
So make sure that all these are on your list of things to do. When you read reviews and personal experiences of people, you will also get an idea of ideally how many days to spend in the city. For eg. all reviews will suggest that you spend at least 3 days in Cusco, Peru to acclimatize before going on the Inca trail, or, most reviews will tell you not to waste too many days in Puno, Peru as there isn’t much to see. Thus make use of all this information when making your itinerary.
VI) Hotels/Hostels to stay and making the bookings:
Once you have prepared the list of cities and the number of days to spend in each city, it is important to do a detailed online research of the recommended hostels in that city. You don’t want to be in a position where you reach a city and have no idea where to ask the taxi driver to take you. Or a situation, where you end up paying a huge amount of money for a shitty room. You later realized that only if you had read the reviews(I rely on Tripadvisor, Bookings.com, Hostelworld and Lonely Planet), you would have known better.
And so, for every city that you have on the list- keep an excel sheet with the name, address and contact number of at least 3 hostels with a good rating. You can always make a choice of one or the other depending on availability of rooms and the price.
I recommend that for the first four cities on your list, book in advance(bookings.com has free cancellation policy), as the chances of any delay in the first leg of the journey is rare. This was you are assured of having enough time to get settled to the idea of traveling alone and managing it well.
You can keep making reservations for the next city, a day or two in advance so avoid the hassle of reaching the city and then searching.
VII) Tally the approximate cost of the trip(inc. travel,stay, food and misc. items) with the set budget:
Last but not the least, the most important thing to see is whether you are staying between the lines you drew at the beginning of all the planning.
Tally up all the costs of traveling(include major costs of tours for eg. Machu Picchu trek, Salar de Uyuni) and stay(appx costs available online) and another USD 500 for food and misc expenditure. This amount should ideally be a little lesser than your budget. If it is over, you know that you must try going for the cheaper place to stay and cut costs on traveling if possible.
For eg. if your travel cost including tours is USD 1000 and avg daily cost of a hostel is USD 15. Then the calculation is as follows:
1000+ (15*30)+500= USD 1950
So you would end up spending USD 2000-2200 and you are more or less on track.Obviously,this is us being positive and hoping we don’t get mugged during our journey(Ouch).In such a scenario, having a credit card for emergencies is definitely a good idea.
With all these points in mind, you are all set with the PERFECT ITINERARY for your trip.
I referred to the below links while making my itinerary and thus sharing the same with all of you. Definitely helpful:
I might have given an overdose of information and a lot of homework before the upcoming trip; but it never ever harmed anyone to be well prepared.
So, all the best. Do let me know if the above tips were helpful and do share your experience and tips if any.