{{ section.name }} Help

We found {{ category.count + ' ' + (category.count == 1? category.label:category.pluralLabel) }} and {{ category.count + ' ' + (category.count == 1? category.label:category.pluralLabel) }} for '{{ searchTerm }}'

0 Results found

{{ section.name }} Help

Still didn't find what you were searching for?

Get in touch for expert advice from someone who has travelled the world.

Ultimate Latin America Gap Year Adventure

Image of a male backpacker in front of Machu Picchu in Peru - KILROY
View the full itinerary as a list

Recommended duration

At least six months


Cancun/Rio de Janeiro

Travel type



International flights, touring and volunteer project

Book this itinerary
Looking for the ultimate gap year itinerary through Central and South America? Well, look no further! This itinerary combines social group trips, must-book-in-advance adventures with plenty of time for independent backpacking.


Start your Latin America gap year in Mexico. Arriving in Cancun, you'll join a small-group of like-minded travellers for an everything-taken-care-for-you adventure through Central America, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Highlights include the Mayan ruins of Tikal, the volcanic island of Ometepe and the cloud forests of Monteverde. 

The tour ends in San Jose, from where you'll make your own way to Santa Teresa on the coast. Here you'll spend four weeks learning Spanish, enjoying surf or yoga lessons, and volunteering at a turtle conservation project. 

After all that hard work, travel as leisurely as you like through Panama to get to Colombia where another group adventure is waiting for you. You'll be met in Cartagena and head to Tayrona National Park before taking on the challenge of the Lost City trek. 

Then it's up to you to make your way from Medellin to Cusco, travelling independently through Ecuador. In Peru, another challenging trek awaits you with the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Once that's complete, continue DIY to La Paz for an overland adventure across the Uyuni Salt Flats and Atacama Desert.

Choose what you want to see of Chile and Argentina, zig-zagging between the two or focusing on one country to reach Patagonia, where you'll embark on the famous W Trek before heading to steamy Buenos Aires to join a tour to Rio de Janeiro via the spectacular Iguazu Falls. 

*From price per person based on shared accommodation



What's included
  • Flight from the UK to Cancun
  • 32-day small-group tour from Cancun to San Jose with accommodation, transport and activities
  • 28-day volunteering project in Costa Rica with Spanish lessons, surfing or yoga, with accommodation and other activities
  • 12-day small-group tour from Cartagena to Medellin including the Lost City trek, accommodation, transport and activities
  • 4-day Inca Trail trek with guide and equipment
  • 4-day Uyuni Salt Flats adventure with accommodation and transport
  • 6-day self-guided W Trek with dormitory accommodation and transport
  • 12-day group tour from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro via Iguazu Falls
  • Flight from Rio de Janeiro back to the UK
  • 31 breakfasts, 28 lunches and 18 dinners
  • Booking fees
  • Services of your own travel advisor
What's not included
  • Travel insurance (but we can help you with that)
  • Vaccinations (ask us about our discount with Nomad Travel)
  • Meals (unless otherwise specified)
  • Optional activities (but we have loads more to choose from!)
  • Travel arrangements and accommodation during DIY sections of the itinerary (because we know you'll also want to travel independently on your gap year)
  • Flight from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales and flight from Puerto Natales to Buenos Aires

What else you need to budget for this trip

This gap year itinerary includes the perfect mix of can't-do-yourself experiences, must book in advance adventures and unforgettable group trips with loads of opportunities to travel independently at your own pace. That's why there's periods where your arrangements will be taken care of for you, which are covered in the itinerary cost, as well as periods where you'll be travelling DIY. 

We recommend an additional budget of £3,000 in total for these DIY sections. This should cover around 12 weeks of backpacking independently through Central and South America.

Remember that you can rework this itinerary to bring the costs down, if you're on a lower budget. 


Take Me Back To Top

Suggested Itinerary: Ultimate Latin America Gap Year

Home - Cancun - San Jose - Santa Teresa - Cartagena - Medellin - Cusco - La Paz - San Pedro de Atacama - Puerto Natales - Buenos Aires - Iguazu Falls - Rio de Janeiro

This itinerary is just a suggestion and can be customised to suit your unique travel plans. Make it longer, make it shorter. Add in the things you want to do. Get in touch with our travel experts to turn this itinerary into your dream Latin America gap year.

Cancun to San Jose Seven countries on one epic tour

Welcome to Mexico and the start of your epic gap year!

We know backpacking for the first time can be a little intimidating. That's why we're getting you started with a month-long tour through Central America. You'll be joining a small group of like-minded travellers from all over the world.

From Cancun you'll travel through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica - that's seven countries! So it's no surprise that there will be some incredible highlights on your trip, including the impressive Mayan ruins of Tikal, a scenic boat ride on the Rio Dulce, a day to explore the beautiful city of Antigua and a homestay on Lake Atitlan. And that's all before you've even reached country number four in the itinerary!

Other standout experiences include exploring the ruins of Copan and the charming town of Suchitoto, a night out with the group in Granada, and a homestay on the peaceful island of Ometepe.

In Costa Rica, cloud forests and volcanoes await before finishing your adventure in the capital of San Jose.

Volunteering in Costa Rica Turtles, Spanish, yoga and surfing

From San Jose, make your way to Santa Teresa on the Pacific Coast. Here you'll spend the next four weeks on one of our most popular volunteer projects, combining group Spanish lessons with yoga or surf classes, and the chance to assist with turtle conversation.

Your experience will be based at the Jakera Jungle Surf Camp - a jungle paradise complete with a swimming pool overlooked by a rich tropical forest bursting with wildlife including red squirrels, howler monkeys and tiny magical hummingbirds. It's just a 5-min walk from the cool cafes, bars and shops that line the 6km stretch of road and beach that make up Playa Santa Teresa.

Costa Rica to Colombia Travel DIY through Panama

After your unforgettable month volunteering in Santa Teresa, it's time to head off and put your backpacking skills into practice. This section of the trip is totally independent - the next activity we've included is in Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Which means you can choose how to get there!

We recommend taking your time and travelling overland through the south of Costa Rica and neighbouring Panama. Head to Corcovado National Park for a wild experience in a part of the country that can only be accessed by plane or boat. Then cross the border into Panama to check out Boquete and the glitzy capital with its charming old town.

When it comes to getting from Panama to Colombia, you have two options - you can either fly from Panama City to Cartagena (quicker and easier). Or you could head to the San Blas Islands and sail between the two countries. This takes around 3-4 days (depending on weather conditions) but it's definitely the option we recommend!

You'll get to enjoy tropical paradise and the open sea before arriving in the colourful Caribbean city of Cartagena.

Cartagena to Medellin Caribbean adventure and the Lost City Trek

In Cartagena you'll meet up with a group of like-minded travellers from around the world to embark on an adventure through the Caribbean region of Colombia.

This 12-day tour will take you from the colonial charm of Cartagena to the modern vibes of Medellin. But the highlight of the trip is the 5-day trek to the Lost City. You'll hike through untouched jungle, across refreshing rivers and among incredible vistas to climb the 1,200 ancient steps and explore the different sacred sites.

After your hike, there's a chance to relax on the pristine beaches of Tayrona National Park before flying to Medellin where you'll visit the infamous visit the Comuna 13 neighbourhood.

Medellin to Cusco DIY travel through Ecuador

Now that you're familiar with Colombia and have no doubt picked up a good amount of Spanish, it's time for some more independent backpacking as you make your way to the next included activity in this epic itinerary.

From Medellin you can explore more of Colombia. We recommend spending some time in the Coffee Triangle, enjoying colourful towns like Salento and the region's famous caffeinated export. You could also check out the capital of Bogota before continuing south to the border with Ecuador.

Along the way there's the option to check out the surreal Tatacoa Desert, the salsa capital Cali, and the ancient stone sculptures of San Agustin.

In Ecuador you can spend time in the capital of Quito, hike up numerous volcanoes like Cotopaxi, admire the Quilotoa crater lake and enjoy the colonial charm of Cuenca before making your way to Peru.

Your next arranged activity kicks of in Cusco, so you can also take your time exploring northern Peru independently. You might want to head east to the Amazon jungle or west to the coast for a spot of surfing. You'll no doubt pass through the capital of Lima on your way to Cusco, but if you're a keen trekker, you can also spend a week (or even more!) in the town of Huaraz, high up in the Andes where there are incredible trekking opportunities available to you.

Cusco and Machu Picchu Trek the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu is one of the most popular experiences in South America and permits can sell out up to six months in advance. That's why we've included this once-in-a-lifetime experience with a 4-day package that includes camping gear, the Inca Trail permit, food and the services of an experienced guide.

You'll trek through spectacular Andean scenery to reach the famed Inca ruins of Machu Picchu where you'll learn all about the history of the site and what makes it a 'world wonder'.

Cusco to La Paz Travel DIY to Bolivia

Take some time to relax after your 4-day trek before continuing your journey through Peru to neighbouring Bolivia. Most backpackers will head to Lake Titicaca along the way, and we recommend that you do too!

Here you can witness age-old traditions among communities that live on floating reed islands and craft boats from the same reeds. You can even spend a night in a homestay to learn more about life on the water.

When you're ready, cross the border and head to La Paz - the capital of Bolivia.

La Paz to San Pedro de Atacama Salt flats and desert landscapes

In La Paz, you'll meet up with a new bunch of travel buddies to head out on a 4WD adventure across the salt flats of Uyuni and into the surreal desert landscapes of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

Along the way, you'll visit tiny villages, salt hostels, multi-colored lakes with flamingos, geysers, and thermal hot-springs at 4,000 - 5,000m in altitude!

Accommodation, transport, meals and the services of a Spanish-speaking guide are all included in the package.

Chile and Argentina Independent travel

From the dusty town of San Pedro de Atacama, how you explore Chile and Argentina is completely your choice. The bus network in both countries is extensive, so travelling overland is easy and affordable. Another bonus is that you can zig-zag across both countries with easy border crossings.

For a rough itinerary, we recommend travelling from San Pedro in Chile to Salta in Argentina to explore the north with its indigenous influences and weathered landscapes. You can then make your way to wine country via the city of Cordoba. In Mendoza you can't miss the opportunity to take a self-guided bike tour around the vineyards, sampling some of the finest Argentinean wines.

Crossing back into Chile, head west to the capital of Santiago where you can take a day trip to vibrant Valparaiso to admire the street art. Then continue south through Chile to Puerto Montt by overnight bus. Here you can enjoy loads of different outdoor activities on Lake Llanquihue.

From here, we recommend crossing back into Argentina to spend some time in Bariloche, where you can sample delicious chocolates in this alpine-inspired town next to Nahuel Huapi National Park. Then head back to Puerto Montt and arrange a flight further south to Puerto Natales - the gateway to Patagonia.

Patagonia and the W Trek Head further south for adventure

The W Trek is one of South America's most famous and popular treks. Accommodation in the refugios and spots at the campsites sell out months in advance, so you'll need to get in early to secure your place on the trek.

That's why we've included a 6-day self-guided W Trek package that includes dormitory accommodation, transport between Puerto Natales and the Torres del Paine national park, and daily meals while you're on the trek.

But here's the thing - Patagonia is one of the most expensive regions in South America. So if you're on a tight budget, you can always remove this section from your gap year itinerary. In which case, we'd recommend making it to Bariloche in Argentina and then flying to Buenos Aires for the next leg of the journey. This would save you a considerable amount of money.

Let our travel experts know your preference and we'll adjust your itinerary accordingly. Either way, make your way to Buenos Aires for your next adventure.

Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro Marvel at Iguazu Falls

In Buenos Aires we've arranged a semi-independent 12-day adventure to Brazil that includes your accommodation, local transport and some activities.

Enjoy a tour of the city including San Telmo, traditional neighborhood where tango performances can be seen in many bars and restaurants. You'll also get to see a tango show with dinner.

An overnight bus will get you from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu on the border with Brazil. Here you'll have time to relax and recover after the long journey before spending a day and a half exploring the famous Iguazu Falls. Walk along the catwalks to admire the falls from different viewpoints.

Another overnight bus journey will get you to Rio - party capital of the world! Enjoy a full day tour that includes Christ the Redeemer and the colourful steps Escadaria Selaron, made famous by Snoop Dog in his music video 'Beautiful'.

This gap year itinerary ends in Rio with an included flight back to the UK. But you can change that if you want to continue travelling!

Kilroy.OutdatedBrowserBox.Text Kilroy.OutdatedBrowserBox.LinkText

Oops - The page you tried to reach is unavailable. We hope you find what you are looking for here