South America may be more of a faff to get to than other travel destinations, but it’s worth the haul. This is a continent of spell-binding scenery (think rainforests, red rock canyons, deserts, glaciers and soft white sands), hip-shaking beats, sultry summer sun, cosmopolitan cities of cool, ridiculously good looking locals and loud and proud Latin culture that’s sure to exceed your expectations. All you need to do is show up so read on, be inspired and get planning!
Ah… Argentina. The world’s eighth largest country is truly a traveller’s paradise. There is beautiful wilderness in Argentina when you get down to the pristine and untouched icebergs of Patagonia and then there’s also pulsing nightlife and culture with parties that rival Ibiza’s. And don’t forget that steak…
Spend your first few days exploring the Paris of the South – as Buenos Aires is affectionately known. Recoleta Cemetery will give you a sense of the city’s old-style pomp and grandeur. Elsewhere the arty street markets in San Telmo and the glitzy clubs in Palermo will give you a sense of the city’s split personality. Presuming you manage to leave Buenos Aires (and many don’t), make for Mendoza – Argentina’s gorgeous wine region where you can cycle through vineyards and sample the lush, dark red wine that is Malbec. Ultimate adventure can be found in the south of the country where glaciers make up Patagonia. It’s also the furthest point on earth before you reach the Antarctic, and the surreal launchpad town of Ushuaia truly feels like the final frontier.
Do something similar: Real Food Adventure
With a pronounced cultural appreciation for the finer things in life and generations of migrant cuisine to draw on, Argentina has evolved into a right mecca for foodies. With dishes like asado (slow-cooked grills that infuse beef cuts and sausages with a delicious smoky flavour), fresh and zesty salads, rich pasta dishes and scrumptious desserts, there is an array of fine foods that will cater to any appetite. And with more than 1,500 wineries, myriad food-growing regions and a culture with a deep love of food and the ceremony that comes with it, a Food Adventure in Argentina will not disappoint.
Bolivia is beguiling with its natural beauty and colonial cities – worn down on the surface, but rich and alive with culture and history at their core. It’s not an effortless destination – the roads are bad, the buses are old and the thin air will have you gasping for breath at every step – but there’s adventure at every corner and the diversity of the land will blow you away.
Start in La Paz – one of the highest capitals in the world whose cobbled roads that dramatically spill down into the valley below are crammed full of crumbling old world buildings and lively street stalls. From La Paz, head to Lake Titicaca. Bolivia’s highest mountains are set against this shimmering blue lake with small islands dotted on the surface. The terrain here is rugged and the towns are rough around the edges: a combination of cocaine smugglers who hide-out in the vast cliff sides, indigenous communities who live, eat and sleep on tiny reed islands, and villages that throw a fiesta like you would not believe, drinking Chicha (incredibly strong handcrafted beer) and telling stories deep into the night. Then circle down to the Salt Flats – miles and miles of crystal clear, reflective white salt that has hardened in place of an old lake. Finish your Bolivian adventure in UNESCO world heritage listed Sucre: Bolivia’s most beautiful city.
Do something similar: Bolivian Highlights Adventure
See Bolivia’s main highlights on this amazing 12-day adventure that will leave you awesome memories. Discover La Paz on a city tour, take funny pictures at the famous Uyuni Salt Flats, awe at moon-like landscapes, visit traditional cities like Potosi and Sucre, and learn about the Bolivian way of life. Highlights: Visit beautiful Bolivian cities with colonial architecture Travel to the Uyuni Salt Flats through surreal deserts Explore marketplaces and get in touch with the locals.
Brazilians have longed claimed that “God is Brazilian” – how else to account for the country’s embarrassment of riches? – and now it seems as though the rest of the world, has finally woken up to this fact. Case in point? The Olympic Flame will be arriving in Brazil next summer helping Brazil brush off the old jibe that it is a country of the future – and always will be.
For many people, their abiding image of Brazil is the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the sprawling city and bay of Rio de Janeiro, with its surrounding lush forests and wonderful beaches. This buzzing city, with its beautiful beaches, riotous Carnaval and unique spirit is on most travellers itineraries – and rightly so. But Salvador – the heart of African Brazil – is also worth seeking out as is Brazil’s Amazonian region which includes steamy tropical jungle cut by red-brown rivers, forests and savannahs pierced by tabletop mountains, and white sandy beaches lining blue rivers. Then there’s Iguaçu – a collection of almost 275 waterfalls that range from elegant cascades to brutal chocolate-coloured torrents that plunge into angry cauldrons of white water, making it one of the wonders of the natural world.
Do something similar: The Best of Brazil
From the heat of Rio’s nightlife to the chilled out atmosphere of Ilha Grande, discover the treasures of Brazil on this comfortable week-long adventure. You’ll wander the colonial streets of Paraty—it’s a UNESCO heritage site and quite possibly the prettiest spot on the planet—and savour seafood and life without cars on the island of Ilha Grande. Stand in awe of awesome Iguassu Falls deep in the interior, then marvel at it from Argentina’s side. Brazil awaits—let’s make the most of it.
Picture: Argentina (Credit:iStock)
Cities, glaciers, geysers, the driest desert in the world, forests, fjords, first class wine regions and laid back surfing spots: spindly Chile has the lot.
Spend a day or so exploring Santiago – Chile’s unexpectedly charming capital that’s becoming more than just a stop-off on to other destinations. Don’t miss museums include the Museum of Memory & Human Rights, which exposes the shocking human rights violations that occurred between 1973 and 1990, and the striking Centro Gabriela Mistral centre. The latte is named after the Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral, who was the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then push on to the endearing port city of Valparaiso whose elegant colonial buildings have a dignified, if faded, grandeur. Be sure to ride the old-style funiculars up to the heights overlooking the port. From Valpo, you’ll need to decide whether to go north to San Pedro de Atacama – aka the world’s oldest, driest and highest desert where you can climb mountains of salt, sand-board on ancient dunes or marvel at the nearby El Tatio geysers (the highest geyser field in the world). Alternatively venture south to see the Fjords or escape to Easter Island.
Do something similar: Into Chile Ways
Travel freely and explore the world exactly as you have always dreamed! These Hop-On Hop-Off bus passes are a flexible and independent way to travel on different types of transport (public buses, shuttle vans, ferries, trains and planes) to exciting destinations with daily departures and the flexibility of unlimited changes to your departure dates anytime. Enjoy tonnes of experiences encompassing a variety of adventure, cultural, historical and natural activities. There are no tour leaders and no accommodation included. This decision is left up to you.
Salsa loving Colombia is swapping its troubles for tourism and about time for the country is an intoxicating mix of South America allure and Caribbean charm, that will warm any traveller’s heart.
Bogota — a big chaotic, vibrant city that’s home to around seven million or so Colombians — serves as the gateway to the country. There’s plenty to see and do, from galleries and theatres to bars and clubs and cafes, to artsy districts to ritzy neighbourhoods. But when the hustle and bustle gets too much, escape the tourist hordes and get back to nature on Colombia’s unspoilt Pacific coastline where whale watching, surfing, scuba diving opportunities abound. Alternatively you can just laze in a hammock at one of the many eco-lodged dotted along the shoreline. Whatever you do though, check out Cartagena – a World Heritage listed city on the Caribbean coast where Gabriel Garca Marquez set the luscious, evocative Love in the Time of Cholera. Medellin – Colombia’s second-biggest city that’s set in a deep valley ringed by lush hills – is another must. Once home to the Medellin Cartel headed by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, it’s now thriving. International flights arrive here, so it serves as a slightly more relaxed introduction to the country than Bogota.
Do something similar: Colombia Highlights
From one enticing town to the next, this two week tour of Colombia’s most beautiful places will leave you never wanting to leave. Wander through the streets of Cartegena, sway on hammocks in Tayrona NP and meet some of the friendliest people in South America.
It’s small, but there’s no shortage of things to see – from snow covered mountains to Amazonian rainforest and incredible wildlife – in this small Andean nation. In essence, if Ecuador isn’t on your bucket list, it’s because you have already been….
Begin your trip in Quito – a clash of colonial, indigenous and rampant capitalism. While most visitors stay in the new town, the Unesco World Heritage-listed old town is a wonderful collection of colonial mansions, churches, monasteries and cobbled streets. Then head north east to Otavalo, home to one of South America’s biggest open air markets. Here you can pick up everything from a hammock to a pig, alongside leather jackets and brightly-coloured hand-woven textiles. Next it’s time to get up close and personal with nature (Ecuador is home to1600 species of birds, 4500 species of butterfly and more than 3500 species of orchid) in the Amazon. For more wildlife watching, fly out to the Galapagos. Nominally part of Ecuador, but virtually a world on its own, the Galapagos offers a wildlife experience like nowhere else on earth. Island-hopping tours showcase seabirds, iguanas, tortoises and seals that are completely unafraid of humans. In the water, the snorkelling and diving is equally good. Alternatively chill out on the beach in a surf loving town such as Salinas, Canoa, Montañita and Atacames.
Do something similar: Ecuador on a shoestring
Get an insight into the wonderful South American country of Ecuador on this week-long journey. Discover the culture and charisma of the famed Otavalo Markets, explore the incredible Amazon while guests of a local family, relax in the laidback town of Banos and soak in the charm of Quito, one of South America’s most beguiling capitals.
Encompassing white sandy deserts on the southern coast, breath-taking highlands in the Altiplano and lush jungles in the interior – not to mention the famous Inca City of Machu Picchu – Peru is a land of extremes. It’s a cliche we know but there truly is something for everyone. Little wonder then that Peru is a top pick for travellers…
The big blockbuster attraction is of course the Inca Trail. Few who have walked it would deny that this remains deservedly one of the world’s greatest treks. Yet while Machu Picchu may steal the show in Peru, don’t miss Manu Park – described as the jewel in the Amazon crown. It is one of the most pristine, yet easily accessible, regions of the Amazon basin. Even in this incredible natural region, Manu is unequalled in its number of resident species. In south Peru, you can fly over the dry land to see the amazing Nazcar Lines, large intricate symbols of animal figures and geometric shapes. Elsewhere Peru’s Pacific coast generates some top waves for surfers. Its barren and dry coastline may seem like a different world to the interior jungles and mountain regions, but the laid back vibe and long stretches of sandy beaches are a must to visit if you’re into surfing.
Do something similar: Peru Amazon Ways
This enthralling jungle adventure allows total immersion into the wild beauty of the Amazon in Peru. Walk through abundant rainforest, cruise along murky waterways, spot exotic wildlife and learn about the healing properties of native plants. This tour is an excellent introduction to the friendly people and amazing creatures of the Amazon.
Despite its outstanding natural beauty, Venezuela doesn’t receive many tourists owing to its high crime rate and lack of hotels and domestic flights. But Venezuela, whose tourism minister, is on a mission to put the country on the travel map, isn’t lacking when it comes to stunning attractions. This is a country of Caribbean coastline, Andean peaks, Amazon adventures and cascading waterfalls most of which are within easy (for South America, anyway) distance of each other. Go now, before the crowds catch on.
Spend a few days on the Caribbean coast, perhaps at Parque Nacional Henri Pittier. If you really fancy stretching out in your hammock between snorkel trips, catch a flight to the Las Roques islands, but beware, you might never want to leave!
But leave you must, because it would be criminal to leave Venezuela without visiting Merida and exploring the country’s Andean landscapes. Finally, Angel Falls – aka the highest waterfall in the world – is Venezuela’s other must-see attraction. This silver ribbon of water tumbles 979m off a flat-topped mountain into jungle below. To fly over the falls is to be dazzled by one of the wonders of the natural world, while a boat trip to the base will bring home the sheer scale of them.
Do something similar: Venezuela and Colombia Overland
Start your journey deep in the Amazon jungle and travel past the flat topped Tepuis mountains of the Grand Savannah to Angel Falls. Explore Caribbean beaches and the wildlife filled wetlands of the Llanos, before taking in a few adrenaline activities in Merida. Enjoy the cobbled streets and colonial architecture of Cartagena and the vibrant nightlife of Bogota, travelling south down the back of the Andes through coffee plantations to the colourful markets of Otavalo and our final destination of Quito – the gateway to the Galapagos.
SOUTH AMERICA UNCOVERED
Are you 18-35? Get off the beaten track with Tucan’s Budget Expedition tours through The Guianas. Explore the magical countries hidden in a pocket of South America as you immerse yourself in the colourful cultures of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana enveloped beneath the leafy tropics of the rainforest.