The Gringo Trail: Exploring South America’s Most Iconic Backpacking Route

The Gringo Trail, a renowned expeditionary path, beckons wanderers to embark on a mesmerizing journey through South America’s most awe-inspiring and diverse destinations. Regarded as one of the globe’s most emblematic routes for backpackers, it enthralls intrepid explorers hailing from all corners of the world.

Whether you boast the experience of a seasoned backpacker or are venturing into the realm of travel for the first time, the Gringo Trail bestows its wonders upon all. From resplendent panoramas to enriching encounters with diverse cultures, this path presents an extraordinary opportunity to submerge oneself in the very essence of South America.

Bus en Ecuador

Understanding the Gringo Trail

The Gringo Trail is a loosely defined route that spans several countries in South America, including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina. It is called the “Gringo Trail” because it is often taken by North American and European backpackers.

The trail can be completed in several ways, with different starting and ending points, depending on your travel style and interests. However, the most popular route starts in Lima, Peru and ends in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with several key stops along the way.

Machu Picchu

Key Stops on the Gringo Trail

  1. Lima, Peru: Known for its delicious cuisine and colonial architecture, Lima is the perfect starting point for your Gringo Trail adventure. Take a stroll through the historic center of Lima, sample local cuisine, and visit the world-renowned Museum of the Nation.
  2. Cusco, Peru: Cusco is the jumping-off point for exploring Machu Picchu, one of South America’s most famous destinations. Take a train ride to the ancient ruins and spend a day exploring the incredible history and architecture of this breathtaking site. Dont miss the local Peñas where you can enjoy local flocloric music and ballads, thats not only for this location but in most major South American citis there is a great deal of good music to be discovered dont miss out on it!
  3. Lake Titicaca either on the side of Bolivia at Copacabana or at the Peruvian side in Puno. make sure you to a boat tour on the lake the colors in this altitude are very intense and of an indiscribebel beauty. Put on sun protecting cream the sun is intense! From Puno you can visit the floating islands created by the Uros.
  4. La Paz, Bolivia: La Paz is one of South America’s highest cities, located in the Andes Mountains. Here, you can explore the vibrant local markets, sample delicious street food, and visit the famous Moon Valley.
  5. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flats and offers a truly unique and otherworldly experience. Take a tour and marvel at the endless sea of salt, surrounded by towering mountains.
  6. Quito, Ecuador: Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, stunning views, and rich cultural heritage. Visit the historic center of Quito and take a guided tour of the city’s stunning cathedrals and museums.
  7. The Galapagos Islands can be reached with tours originating from Quito.
  8. Bogotá, Colombia: Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and is known for its street art, delicious cuisine, and vibrant nightlife. Take a walking tour of the city and explore its many museums and cultural centers.
  9. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Buenos Aires is the end of the trail and is considered one of South America’s most cosmopolitan cities. Here, you can experience the rich cultural heritage of Argentina, sample delicious steak, and dance the tango in one of the city’s many clubs.
  10. Try to visit the rain forests wherever you can mostly tours are available from the some of the capitals along the route like from Quito for example or from Lima to Iquitos. If you want to hike in any national park make sure to get a local guide, its easy to get lost!

Copacabana, Lake Titicaca

Tips for Traveling the Gringo Trail

  1. Plan your itinerary carefully: With so many destinations to choose from, it’s important to plan your itinerary carefully to make the most of your time on the trail. Consider your budget, travel style, and interests when deciding which destinations to visit.
  2. Pack light: The Gringo Trail can be physically demanding, so it’s important to pack light to make the most of your experience. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes, a lightweight backpack, and clothing that is suitable for the different climates you will encounter.
  3. Buy the South American Handbook available here at Amazon. This is the most complete guide for this route and has information of transportation as well as budget accomodations and much more. This is a must! If you onle travel to one country then well yes buy a country specific guide.
  4. Plan your trip ahead and for how to do that see our recommendations here. This includes tto check for health issues like vacinations needed depending on your destination.  Also get familiar with custom and visa requirements, sometimes you need to show a ticket out of the country etc.. The travel guides can help here but be sure the info is up to date.
  5. Learn the language! It pays to know some spanish at least and makes the trip much more interesting when you can have a conversation with locals! I even had a little dicionary with me one for Paraguay with “Guarani” and another for the Andean highlans with “Quechua” the local languae there ya dont have to know it all but just to say hello how are you etc opens many doors and hearts!
  6. Have an open mind and try to learn from wherever you go dont go to preach your world views they dont need that. You will come home rich in knowledge if you listen, see and learn!
  7. Check the news sometimes political trouble like the one in Peru latley (as of writing this article early 2023) will disrupt travel and you need to check where to stay best away.
  8. Stay away from drogs and obey the local laws, you dont want to end up in any of the local jails!
  9. Get a travel insurance for the duration of your trip! Better safe then sorry!
  10. Be very paitent traveling by bus or train is not like in Europe calculate enough time as delays are very common.

Train in Peru

Here I add a map one of the popular routess the gringo trails

The Gringo trail can go from do Mexico all the way to Tierra de Fuego in Argentina, and your not in any way bound to any route, go to where your heart leads you thats where you wana be! 😉

south america the gringo trail


Here in this section we add a great selection of travel videos about the gringo trail and south america:

Planning my next backpacking trip to South America 💃🏻Research, Budget, Packing + more

My next backpacking trip is approaching! I have chosen my destination and the planning is in full swing. This is everything I've ...

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