It all started with three great destinations: Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Bahia Bustamante in Argentina. How could we possibly choose between them? They’re on the same continent, so we reasoned, “Wouldn’t it be possible to plan a trip where we could do them all?”
After many months of research, we determined the answer was YES! Then it took over another year to figure out the arrangements for what we think will be one amazing trip.
We began planning by plotting out the weather for each destination. High and low temperatures was well as rain. For us, Spring would be the ideal time to visit the Galapagos. The weather would be sunny and warm (good for Beth) and the water would be calm (best for Joe’s tendency to seasickness); the season is prime time for mating tortoises, blooming flowers, and sea lion cubs.
The decision when to visit Machu Picchu wasn’t based on air temperature, which is about the same whenever you go, but on rainfall. We’ll take low rainfall (5-10 mm average) in May through August rather than take our chances with a deluge in January (150mm average).
Bahia Bustamante, in northern Patagonia on the Atlantic Ocean, presented a challenge. The choice was 80 degrees and more rain or low 70’s with less rain. We chose the latter for a November visit.
Filling in the secondary destinations
With this research behind us, we had chosen April in the Galapagos Islands, July in Machu Picchu, and November in Bahia Bustamante. That left big blocks of time in between our destinations, so here’s where the research intensified. We talked to others, read blogs, and consulted guidebooks. Little by little we found wonderful places we wanted to see, things to do, and towns where we just yearned to stay awhile. We started to sketch out an itinerary; then we added destinations, and, not long after, some of those might disappear to make room for a new and better discovery. This went on for a year.
A balancing act
The plan needed to be carefully balanced. We knew our budget, and, if a more expensive destination was chosen for a few days (trips to Manu Biosphere Reserve and Colca Canyon, both in Peru), then less expensive weeks would be needed for balance (studying Spanish for a month on the beach in Canoa, Ecuador staying in their $18/night “deluxe” lodging).
Money wasn’t the only balancing act. We needed to balance our time. Sightseeing is intense and tiring. We’ve learned to set aside and equal or greater amount of time to do our usual routine of reading-writing-walking-eating. Friends will join us for almost 3 weeks in Peru where we’ll tour Manu Biosphere Reserve, head for Machu Picchu, and explore the Sacred Valley. After those busy days our friends will fly home, and we’ll settle into a quiet routine for a few weeks in Cusco.
We started with three destinations (the three blue circles): Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Bahia Bustamante in Argentina. Then we “connected” the destinations with other places of interest to fill our planned 7+ months itinerary.
The final details
The final step for us is key to our tried-and-true system: we make our arrangements before we leave home. If you’re thinking – “Where’s your flexibility? What if you don’t like a place once you arrive?” – then consider this: we’re been traveling non-stop for over 3 years and haven’t regretted for a minute the careful planning ahead. We’ve researched where to stay and chosen accommodations based on value and many great reviews.
Booking early means that we rarely miss out on a place we want to stay; our expenses are known and fit our budget; and many hotels (outside the US) offer free or modestly priced airport pickup.
We spent many months happily looking at places to stay in South America, juggling location, price, recommendations, and amenities. We’ve chosen AirBnBs, boutique B&Bs, lodges, hotels, backcountry camps, and a small ship. Our air tickets are booked. Spanish language school and several multi-day outdoor tours are all arranged.
Does this seem overly scheduled? On a trip of over 200 days we will still have more than enough time to wander aimlessly, explore and discover.
As we depart for South America, we’ll be relaxed knowing that we’ve done what we needed to do to make our trip a success – and that’s one way to plan a big trip.