South America is a treasure trove for curious explorers and a vast playground for adventure-seekers. The combination of great natural spectacles, rural beauty and high-energy cities means there is something for every traveller to appreciate. And at a time when health considerations have never been greater when planning to travel, small group tours provide a compelling way to traverse this stunning continent safely. Here we bring together the best small group tours in South America for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Why take small group tours in South America?

As the world opens up again for travel, there are many extra considerations when it comes to making plans. What are the safest destinations to visit? Are there any local measures and rules in place that you need to be aware of when you arrive? What are the best ways to get around and use local services? And how can you get the most out of your trip while taking all of this into account?

Small group tours are a great option for covering all the bases with minimal stress and impact, while still having an unforgettable travel experience. And South America, with many of its natural attractions found in rural, sparsely populated locations, has a range of options for even the most nervous travellers.

So, let’s take a separate look at each of the big considerations…

Ensuring high safety and hygiene standards

Travelling in a small group setting with a reputed operator, you can expect good safety and hygiene measures to be in place. Whether it’s getting around, eating, interacting with people or staying somewhere overnight, small group tour companies have the right local connections and knowledge to ensure this can all be done safely and hygienically.

Taking the stress away

Opting for a small group tour removes the logistical challenges of organising everything yourself. While we’re big fans of independent travel at Career Gappers, the new considerations when trip-planning in a world readjusting after a crisis do present some difficulties. You can always combine elements of both, like we often do on our travels, and weave an organised small group tour into your itinerary. Even for the boldest travellers, it’s nice to have at least some time when you don’t need to worry about the arrangements.

Rural exploring

In a new world of physical distancing and with more emphasis on personal space, you may be looking for exciting places to travel off the beaten path where you can avoid the crowds. South America offers these in abundance. From the unspoiled Amazon jungle to the great wilderness of Patagonia, and from the vast salt flats of Bolivia to the lake districts of Argentina and Chile, it is a continent of stunning rural beauty.

Sharing the experience

For many people, us included, meeting people and making new connections is one of the great joys of travel. Small group tours provide the perfect environment for this. Many of the lasting friendships Lisa and I have made through our years of travel have come from intimate small group experiences. And for the introverts out there, the ‘organised fun’ element of a small group tour helps ease the worries about approaching people.

Small group tours in South AmericaG Adventures team photo at Machu Picchu

Our recommended operator for small group tours in South America

Lisa and I have travelled extensively in South America in both independent and organised settings. Along the way we’ve taken many small group tours, and learned a lot about what makes a good experience. Furthermore, in the new context of travel, we have taken time to research the measures being implemented by the foremost small group tour companies to adapt and provide a safe, fun environment.

Taking the various factors into account, we recommend G Adventures for small group tours in South America. Here are the main reasons why we recommend them:

Safety and hygiene measures

At the height of travel restrictions, G Adventures acted quickly to put cleaning and distancing measures in places as part of a new ‘travel with confidence’ policy. While the measures will be adapted over time, these are some of the key features you can expect:

  • A team of specially trained support staff who can advise on local rules and regulations prior to your trip
  • Additional training for all tour guides on health and safety measures
  • During the tour experience: regular deep-cleaning and sanitisation, surface disinfecting, assigned seating to ensure physical distancing, face masks when recommended, carefully selected food services

You can read the policy in full here.

Guides that give you confidence

Our first South America tour with G Adventures was the classic Inca Trail in Peru. One of the big takeaways of our experience was the quality of the local guides that looked after our team. Like many people who hike the Inca Trail, it was our first time attempting such a challenging trek, and we were nervous about it. But the pre-tour briefing set a tone of team support and encouragement, which was carried throughout the trek and took away our anxieties. This is an invaluable quality in a tour operator, and G Adventures work with the most reputed local guides in the destinations where they operate.

Optimal group sizes

All G Adventures tours are capped at 16 people, and the average group size is 12. We find this to be the optimal size for fostering an enjoyable social environment and making meaningful connections while sharing travel experiences.

Ethical standards and good causes

One of the main reasons we chose G Adventures in the first place was their commitment to ethical treatment of local staff and supporting good causes. Many of their itineraries include engagement with local community projects, and all of their teams work in good conditions with fair pay. Read more about their approach to responsible travel.

Browse the most popular g adventures south america tours

Inca Trail valley hiking

Small group tours in South America: iconic experiences

A select few of G Adventures’ tours focus on major single attractions or locations, rather than combining several into a varied itinerary. These independent adventures are perfect for experiencing the bucket-list headlines of South America in the capable hands of a trusted local guide. Here are our top picks:

Classic Inca Trail

  • Length: 7 days
  • Physicality: demanding

The legendary trail through the Inca heartlands of Peru, culminating at the lost mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu. View the full itinerary.

Machu Picchu Inca Warriors

Complete Galápagos

  • Length: 17 days
  • Physicality: average

A thorough exploration of the nature and wildlife diversity of the celebrated Galápagos islands on board the Eden boat. View the full itinerary.

Galapagos Islands small groups tours South America

Antarctica Classic

  • Length: 11 days
  • Physicality: light

An expedition to see the landscapes at end of the earth, encountering whales and penguins around the Antarctic Peninsula. View the full itinerary.

Antarctica ice

Amazon Riverboat Adventure

  • Length: 7 days
  • Physicality: light

A guided cruise into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve exploring the unique wildlife of Peru’s Amazon jungle. View the full itinerary.

Amazon riverboat sunset small group tours in South America

Iguassu Falls Adventure

  • Length: 4 days
  • Physicality: light

In-depth discovery of this stunning waterfall system on both the Argentina and Brazil sides of the border. View the full itinerary.

Iguassu Falls square view

Easter Island Adventure

  • Length: 4 days
  • Physicality: light

A focused tour of the remote Rapa Nui, including the mysterious Moai statues, and the island’s beaches and volcanoes. View the full itinerary.

Rapa Nui Easter Island statues

Small group tours in South America: multi-country routes

Several of G Adventures’ longer tour packages span multiple countries in South America, combining a range of attractions and cultural explorations into a more in-depth itinerary. These are some of the most popular routes:

Southern Divide

  • Length: 21 days
  • Physicality: average

A three-week journey from Lima to Santiago, including Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert. View the full itinerary.

Valle de la Luna Chile small group tours

Atlantic to the Andes

  • Length: 25 days
  • Physicality: average

Journeying from the Brazilian coast to the Bolivian mountains, with stops at Iguassu Falls, Pantanal and Salar de Uyuni. View the full itinerary.

Bolivia North Yungas Road

Andes, Iguassu and Beyond

  • Length: 18 days
  • Physicality: light

From Santiago to Rio de Janeiro via the lake districts of Chile and Argentina, plus Iguassu Falls and more. View the full itinerary.

Iguassu Falls Argentina side steps viewing platform

Discover Brazil, Argentina and Chile

  • Length: 16 days
  • Physicality: average

Cultural highlights of each country including historic Valparaíso, Mendoza’s vineyards and samba classes in Rio. View the full itinerary.

Mendoza small group tours in South America

The Scenic Route – Lima to Buenos Aires

  • Length: 30 days
  • Physicality: average

A jam-packed month-long adventure including Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Salar de Uyuni and outdoor fun in the lake districts. View the full itinerary.

Cusco Peru small group tours in South America

The Great South American Journey: Quito to Rio

  • Length: 65 days
  • Physicality: demanding

One of G Adventures’ tours designed for 18-to-thirty-somethings, an epic two-month voyage spanning seven countries. View the full itinerary.

Colca Canyon small group tour

Small group tours in South America: Argentina

Argentina is a truly immense country, known for its great food and wine culture, tango dancing, and mammoths of nature such as Iguassu Falls and Perito Moreno Glacier. These are some of the top small group tours in the country:

Argentina Multisport

  • Length: 15 days
  • Physicality: demanding

An itinerary for adventurers, including trekking and cycling in Mendoza, and rafting and hiking in Argentine Patagonia. View the full itinerary.

Aconcagua Base Camp Argentina small group tours South America

Explore Chile & Argentina

  • Length: 8 days
  • Physicality: light

The Argentina leg of this package focuses on two iconic cities, laid-back wine mecca Mendoza and boisterous Buenos Aires. View the full itinerary.

Mendoza wine glass Argentina

Patagonia Hiking

  • Length: 9 days
  • Physicality: demanding

This itinerary features classic treks on the Argentina side of this vast region, pivoting from El Chaltén and El Calafate. View the full itinerary.

Perito Moreno Glacier walking platform view

Read more of our recommended small group tours in Argentina

Small group tours in South America: Bolivia

Many of Bolivia’s great attractions are found at dizzying altitude in the Andes, including the chaotic metropolis of La Paz and the world’s largest salt flats at Salar de Uyuni. These tour itineraries bring together the country’s highlights:

Bolivia Discovery

  • Length: 11 days
  • Physicality: average

Combining the classic sights of La Paz, Sucre, Potosí and Uyuni, plus a 4×4 excursion into the salt flats. View the full itinerary.

Salar de Uyuni 4x4

Highlights of Bolivia

  • Length: 8 days
  • Physicality: average

A varied, fast-paced itinerary incorporating La Paz, Sucre, Potosí, a traditional farm visit, Uyuni and the salt flats. View the full itinerary.

Bolivia Express

  • Length: 5 days
  • Physicality: average

A budget option for 18-to-thirty-somethings, this five-day tour encompasses the Bolivian deserts and salt flats. View the full itinerary.

Salar de Uyuni small group tour photo

See all G Adventures tours in Bolivia

Small group tours in South America: Brazil

Brazil is a melting pot of nature and culture, from the Carnival scene and glorious beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the tropical jungle and wetlands. The following varied itineraries are ideal for packing a lot of activity into a focused trip:

Wonders of Brazil

  • Length: 15 days
  • Physicality: light

Two weeks exploring Brazil’s classic attractions, including Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande, Paraty, Iguassu Falls, and Pantanal. View the full itinerary.

Rio de Janeiro Sugarloaf Mountain sunset

Highlights of Brazil

  • Length: 8 days
  • Physicality: average

This itinerary is designed for 18-to-thirty-somethings and focuses on the coast, blending cultural discovery and nightlife. View the full itinerary.

Small group tours in South America: Ilha Grande boat trip Brazil

Explore Brazil

  • Length: 9 days
  • Physicality: light

A contrasted exploration of Brazil in three legs, combining Rio de Janeiro, the Pantanal wetlands and Iguassu Falls. View the full itinerary.

Pantanal Brazil wetlands

Read more of our picks for small group tours in Brazil

Small group tours in South America: Chile

A long, thin strip hugging the Pacific coast of South America, Chile is a land of changing landscapes and breathtaking scenery. Here are some of the top small group tours for exploring this country’s great outdoors:

Torres Del Paine W Trek

  • Length: 6 days
  • Physicality: demanding

The classic three-pronged trek in Torres Del Paine National Park, from Grey Glacier to the granite towers of Las Torres. View the full itinerary.

Lisa backpack Torres Del Paine National Park

Torres Del Paine Full Circuit

  • Length: 11 days
  • Physicality: challenging

For more experienced hikers, the full circuit trail or ‘O Trek’ encompassing a full loop of Torres Del Paine National Park. View the full itinerary.

Camping Paine Grande tents Torres Del Paine Patagonia

Highlights of Chile & Argentina

  • Length: 10 days
  • Physicality: light

The Chile section of this route balances city discovery in Santiago and Valparaíso with getting outdoors in Pucón. View the full itinerary.

Pucon white water rafting Chile, small group tours South America

Read more recommendations for small group tours in Chile

Small group tours in South America: Colombia

A country of tropical climates and colourful cities, Colombia is a playground for adventurous travellers. These G Adventures small group tours are our top recommendations for experiencing Colombia’s highlights:

Classic Colombia

  • Length: 16 days
  • Physicality: average

Incorporating the cities of Bogotá and Medellín, the coffee region of Armenia, beaches of Cartagena and Tayrona National Park. View the full itinerary.

Tayrona National Park boat

Colombia Journey

  • Length: 9 days
  • Physicality: average

A shorter, focused itinerary spanning Medellín, a traditional Armenia coffee farm and the historic sights of Cartagena. View the full itinerary.

Cartagena colourful buildings

Colombia Lost City Trekking

  • Length: 7 days
  • Physicality: challenging

The beautifully preserved rainforest trail to the ruins of La Cuidad Perdida deep in the jungle with an indigenous guide. View the full itinerary.

Colombia Lost City

See all G Adventures tours in Colombia

Small group tours in South America: Ecuador

Ecuador may be most famous for the Galápagos Islands, but its mainland has plenty to explore too, from its sweeping highlands and Amazon jungle to its pristine coastline. Some of these tours can also be combined with Galápagos trips:

Ecuador Encompassed

  • Length: 20 days
  • Physicality: average

A varied route combining Ecuador’s biggest draws, including Quito, Manta, Baños and a voyage into the Amazon jungle. View the full itinerary.

Quito capital Ecuador

Highlands of Ecuador

  • Length: 8 days
  • Physicality: average

A blend of rural and local cultural exploration, including South America’s biggest craft market and Cotopaxi National Park. View the full itinerary.

Cotopaxi volcano near Quito Ecuador

Beaches & Coastal Adventure

  • Length: 7 days
  • Physicality: average

This route focuses on the culture and wildlife of Ecuador’s coast, including the port city of Manta and beaches of Puerto López. View the full itinerary.

Puerto Lopez beach Ecuador

See all G Adventures tours in Ecuador

Small group tours in South America: Patagonia

A great wilderness that stretches across Chile and Argentina at the southernmost tip of South America, Patagonia is a rural paradise for hikers and adventure-lovers. Here are our picks for small group tours in the region:

Discover Patagonia

  • Length: 14 days
  • Physicality: average

A two-week journey of Patagonia’s stunning scenery, from the northern lakes to Torres Del Paine and Perito Moreno Glacier. View the full itinerary.

Puerto Varas Osorno volcano

Hike Patagonia in depth

  • Length: 14 days
  • Physicality: demanding

A combination of Patagonia’s classic hikes, including the Torres Del Paine W Trek as well as El Chaltén and El Calafate. View the full itinerary.

Small group tours in South America Lisa hiking in Torres Del Paine silver forest

End of the Earth

  • Length: 14 days
  • Physicality: demanding

This route focuses on the southern national parks, exploring Torres Del Paine, Los Glaciares and Tierra Del Fuego. View the full itinerary.

Small group tours in South America: Ushuaia Beagle Channel Cruise view

Read more recommendations on small group tours in Patagonia

Small group tours in South America: Peru

Peru has been a meeting point of cultures throughout history, as the land of the Incas and the epicentre of the Spanish Empire in South America. It’s also a place of great natural significance, home to the Amazon jungle, great southern deserts, deep canyons and Andean mountain ranges. These are some of our top picks for G Adventures small group tours in Peru:

Absolute Peru

  • Length: 21 days
  • Physicality: demanding

The classic route through Peru, incorporating Lima, Paracas, Nazca, Arequipa, the Inca Trail and the Amazon. View the full itinerary.

Plaza Mayor palm trees Lima Peru

Iconic Peru

  • Length: 14 days
  • Physicality: demanding

An adventure through Peru’s famous natural and historic sites, including Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and the Amazon. View the full itinerary.

Puno Lake Titicaca boats Peru

Amazon to the Andes

  • Length: 12 days
  • Physicality: demanding

A combination of the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and an Amazonian adventure with a stay at the exclusive G Lodge. View the full itinerary.

Amazon jungle lodge bridge Peru

Read our top 10 picks for small group tours in Peru

Looking for more inspiration for your South America trip? Check out our South America bucket list, and our rundowns of the best beaches and most beautiful lakes across the continent.

Image credit: the photo of Colombia’s Lost City is by travelmag.com and is distributed under a CC BY 2.0 license.

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We pick out the best small group tours in South America, and explore why they're a great option for travelling in a safe and sociable environment. #smallgrouptours #southamerica #southamericatours #southamericatravel #gadventures

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