Computing the optimal road trip across South America

By popular request, I’ve created another follow-up to my posts about computing optimal road trips across the U.S. and Europe. This time, I made an optimal road trip around South America. If you’d like to get into the nitty-gritty of how these road trips are created, check out the first post about the U.S. road trip.

South America is yet another massive and diverse continent, so again there’s no way I’ll be able to pick a series of stops that will please everyone. However, by combining recommendations from TripAdvisor and Huffington Post, I was able to create a trip with a nice mix between beautiful outdoor sights and lively cities across the entire South American continent. Below is the optimized route between those stops.

south-america-optimal-road-trip

Click here for the interactive version

This trip ended up mostly following along the coastline of South America, covering roughly 18,148 miles (29,206 km) of driving, ferrying, and flying. You should plan to spend 3 or more months on this trip if you want to really enjoy it.

Google Maps isn’t routing between Colombia and its neighboring countries, so I drew direct lines between Quito <--> Bogota & Santa Marta <--> Isla Margarita that may need to be taken by plane instead. Your best bet with this trip is to start at Isla Margarita, Venezuela and follow the route south from there.

Here’s the full list of stops in order:

  1. Isla Margarita, Venezuela
  2. Angel Falls, Venezuela
  3. Jericoacoara, Brazil
  4. Fortaleza, Brazil
  5. Natal, Brazil
  6. Salvador, Brazil
  7. Trancoso, Brazil
  8. Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  9. Buzios, Brazil
  10. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  11. Sao Paulo, Brazil
  12. Curitiba, Brazil
  13. Florianopolis, Brazil
  14. Gramado, Brazil
  15. Punta del Este, Uruguay
  16. Asuncion, Paraguay
  17. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  18. Torres del Paine, Chile
  19. El Calafate, Argentina
  20. San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
  21. Santa Cruz, Chile
  22. Santiago, Chile
  23. Vina del Mar, Chile
  24. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
  25. Nuestra Senora de La Paz, Bolivia
  26. Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru
  27. Arequipa, Peru
  28. Urubamba, Peru
  29. Cusco, Peru
  30. Lima, Peru
  31. Mancora, Peru
  32. Quito, Ecuador
  33. Bogota, Colombia
  34. Cartagena, Colombia
  35. Santa Marta, Colombia
  36. Taganga, Colombia

Make your own road trip

If you’d like to customize your own road trip, I’ve released the Python code I used in this project with an open source license and instructions for how to optimize your custom road trip. You can find the code here.

Happy exploring!

Dr. Randy Olson is a Senior Data Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, where he develops state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms with a focus on biomedical applications.

Posted in analysis, data visualization, machine learning Tagged with: , , , , ,
  • Guilherme

    Just eliminate assuncion and it will save you a lot o time…
    Really, Asuncion is not that great… And from punta to Buenos Aires you can drive to Colonia Del Sacramento and take a ferry…

  • Hugo Leonardo

    This is nonsense .. it was not researched if the road is actually possible, there is no way to get the Transamazonia, it’s just a plan, the road is only possible during the dry season and if you have a 4×4 suv, and it is also not indicated. And he missed the path to Foz do Iguacu, one of the most beautiful landmark between the triplice border between AR BR PY. If the algorithm just analysed the possible path thry the Google Maps, so, it’s a waste of time as you need to know if the road really exists, if it’s safe, if there’s an alterantive and so on.

    • Guilherme

      Perfect!
      The transamazonica road never was a road… Any Google image search will show that it is just impossible to assume that you can cross it without special vehicles…

      http://www.newsrondonia.com.br/imagensNoticias/image/transamazonica.jpg

      • Right – you’ll likely need a ferry for part of this trip. It was difficult (impossible?) to find a road route around the entire continent.

  • Oriana Matheus

    Hey Randy! I just discovered you blog and I love it! I don’t know anything about programming (I’m an economist) but I do love travelling and your “optimal roadtrips” got me.
    I’m from Venezuela and I was recently at Angel Falls, you really can’t get there by car, you need to take a plane and then take a canoe like 5hrs down the river to get to the base of the sightseeing spot, then a long hike in the jungle.
    It could be good to change that destination with Gran Sabana, which is in the same State as Angel Falls, same geological formations (you can also find tepuyes there) and has a much easier access.
    Another advice is to do some reaserah on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border, it´s a very dense jungle in most of its parts and it’s very dangerous.
    Try to cut one of the Peruvian places and include Machu Pichu (I think the only way to get there is by train), one of the most magical places I’ve been to.
    Bye 🙂

  • Dani Milan

    Skip Paraguay (no offense Paraguayanos) and include the Salar de Uyuni and Foz do Iguacu. Also please don’t try to drive through the Amazon.

  • Laura Malter

    Hi Randy; (I’m Alumni MSU Engineering Dept), I tried to click on the code for the link and it comes up FORBIDDEN. Am I doing something wrong, or is the link broken?

    thanks so much! Laura

  • Laura Malter

    Now it works! thanks!

  • envido32

    This is an amazing job, but to be honets there are some places in the list not worth visiting, and it’s missing lots of amazing places. I decided to make a better list if anybody is willing to use it for this (or any other pursposes) is wellcome to use it. Please share it! Southamerica is one of the most amazing places for a road trip

    1.
    Bariloche
    , Argentina

    2.
    Buenos Aires
    , Argentina

    3.
    Córdoba
    , Argentina

    4.
    El Calafate
    , Argentina

    5.
    Humahuaca
    , Argentina

    6.
    Iguazú
    , Argentina

    7.
    Mendoza
    , Argentina

    8.
    Puerto Madrin
    , Argentina

    9.
    Rosario
    , Argentina

    10.
    Salta
    , Argentina

    11.
    Termas del Rio Hondo
    , Argentina

    12.
    Ushuaia
    , Argentina

    13.
    Valle de la Luna
    , Argentina

    14.
    La Paz
    , Bolivia

    15.
    Lago Titicaca
    , Bolivia

    16.
    Potosí
    , Bolivia

    17.
    Belo Horizonte
    , Brasil

    18.
    Bonito
    , Brasil

    19.
    Florianopolis
    , Brasil

    20.
    Fortaleza
    , Brasil

    21.
    Manaos
    , Brasil

    22.
    Porto Alegre
    , Brasil

    23.
    Recife
    , Brasil

    24.
    Rio de Janeiro
    , Brasil

    25.
    Salvador de Bahía
    , Brasil

    26.
    Sao Pablo
    , Brasil

    27.
    Punta Arenas
    , Chile

    28.
    San Pedro de Atacama
    , Chile

    29.
    Valparaíso
    , Chile

    30.
    Barranquilla
    , Colmbia

    31.
    Bogotá
    , Colmbia

    32.
    Cartagena
    , Colmbia

    33.
    Medellín
    , Colmbia

    34.
    Santa Marta
    , Colmbia

    35.
    Baños de Agua Santa
    , Ecuador

    36.
    Cuenca
    , Ecuador

    37.
    Guayaquil
    , Ecuador

    38.
    Montañita
    , Ecuador

    39.
    Quito
    , Ecuador

    40.
    San Cosme y Damián
    , Paraguay

    41.
    Callejón de Huaylas
    , Peru

    42.
    Cuzco
    , Peru

    43.
    Lima
    , Peru

    44.
    Máncora
    , Peru

    45.
    Nazca
    , Peru

    46.
    Colonia del Sacramento
    , Uruguay

    47.
    Punta del Este
    , Uruguay

    48.
    Canaima
    , Venezuela

    49.
    Caracas
    , Venezuela

    50.
    Mérida
    , Venezuela

  • Thank you for sharing and expression. ev dekorasyon

  • Lucas McCain

    You’re missing some of the most amazing places to visit in south america and driving a lot of miles to… Asunción??? No no no! You should forget about Asunción and go straight from Curitiba to IGUAZU FALLS!!! (if want to go to every country, you can go to Ciudad Del Este (Paraguay) on the Triple Frontier, if not, forget about it) Then down to Punta del Este, Montevideo, a ferry to Buenos Aires, Rosario, SIERRAS DE CORDOBA, San Luis and Mendoza. And you should definetely include USHUAIA (the southernmost city in the world!). And in Bolivia you can not miss COPACABANA, at the shore of Lake Titicaca and ISLA DEL SOL!!!

  • Bárbara Diniz

    Just so I know, where did you see anyone recommending a visit to Belo Horizonte? That’s where I live, and although it’s a great place, I would never recommend for a tourist to visit it. It’s specially embarassing because you didn’t include Brasília nor must-sees like Foz do Iguaçu or any place in Pantanal.

  • Ignacio Hutin

    So you are telling is more important to go to Punta del Este than Montevideo? You are kind of crazy. Asunción is irrelevant, if you go to Bolivia only for La Paz you will miss a lot, I strongly reccomend you to go to Iguazu and, if you have time, quebrada de Humahuaca is totally worth it.

  • Lots of beautiful spots missing, too many boring spots included in the above list – I would NOT drive this way. Yeah well, if you turn off your brain, don’t do any research of your own, and leave your planning to computer apps = the result.
    We’re DRIVING Latin America in our 5th year.

  • geoIndigo

    Some discrimination against the 3 Guianas countries (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana) going on here I think! Also, if you get to the latter you can tick off the European Spaceport and European Union itself..

  • Rocio Rodriguez Cueto

    I think you’ve missed lots of beautiful places in Argentina….Purmamarca, or Humahuaca in Jujuy, Iguazu Falls, Perito Moreno, and so on…

About this blog

This blog is my labor of love, and I've spent hundreds of hours working on the projects that you'll read about here. Generally, I write about data visualization and machine learning, and sometimes explore out-of-the-box projects at the intersection of the two. I hope you enjoy my projects as much as I have.

If you would like to use one of my graphs on your website or in a publication, please feel free to do so with appropriate attribution, but I would appreciate it if you email me first to let me know.

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