Thinking of South America conjures images of untamed jungles, soaring mountains and wild parties. But the verdant continent is so much more than what you see in Hollywood, from the misty shores of Patagonia to the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu and beyond, here is FirstClass’ Top 10 Experiences in South America.
1. Machu Picchu and Cuzco, Peru
Considered by many to be one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu has a deserved place at the top of many travel bucket lists. Hidden high with the Andes Mountains in Peru this ancient Incan city was only discovered at the start of the last century. Since then it has fast become one of South America’s most popular ancient sites due to its well preserved buildings and terraced design. Make no mistake the full journey is not for the faint of heart with the famous Inca Trail taking several days. For those who want to travel in style and not sacrifice the view there is a train which will take you almost to the summit itself.
If you are planning to make the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu than you will most likely start from the historic Incan capital of Cusco. The city is abundant with stunning architecture, alpaca sweaters, local flair, Pisco sours and so much more. While it may not gain the international attention of its neighbour, Cusco is definitely worth a visit.
2. Iguazu Falls, Border of Argentina and Brazil
One of the great natural wonders, the Iguazu Falls are one of the most breathtaking sights on Earth. Made up of more than 250 waterfalls and surrounded by tropical jungle they make Niagra Falls look like a leaky tap. The Argentine side is the best to visit, as you can get especially up close and personal with the falls, feeling the mist on your face. The best way to see them is to climb on board a boat and get right up close and personal. Be careful with your camera though, as you are sure to get absolutely drenched.
Every year in Brazil the streets of the country’s biggest cities come alive in an orchestra of colour, dancing and rhythm for the Carnival. Rio has made a global name for itself as the must visit destination for the Carnival, but for a more authentic experience Salvador’s Bahia style Carnival is the place to be. If you like to dance the night away or just want to see the famous Brazilian Mardi Gras parade, then it is one experience you must tick off your list next year.
4. The Atacama Desert, Bolivia/Chile
The Atacama Desert is a host of alien landscapes. Surrounding San Pedro de Atacama on the Chilean side are rocky craters resembling the moonscape and a volcano that towers over the valley making for a spectacular sunset photo as the colours of reds, purples and blues blend together. On the Bolivian side you travel past multi-coloured lakes home to colonies of bright pink flamingos, framed by towering mountain tops on to arid desert with bizarre rocky outcrops, steam vents and natural hot-springs. Then you arrive on the famous salt flats, a sight that has to be seen to be believed.
5. Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia
What is undisputedly South America’s finest national park, Torres del Paine is a living oil painting of towering glaciers and granite. The Towers of Paine which rise over the Patagonian peninsula to a monstrous 6,500 feet are a breathtaking site to behold and truly something you have to see firsthand to appreciate fully. On the ground down below the marvels don’t cease however and the more adventurous travellers can venture across the tundra and glaciers to catch glimpses of the unique local wildlife from colourful flamingos to rare Andean condors.
6. Galápagos Islands Wildlife, Ecuador
This one-of-a-kind archipelago has a vibrant marine ecosystem that rivals even Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This is the ultimate nature-lovers paradise, giving the adventurous traveller the chance to swim with ancient turtles and playful sea lions or to stroll across desolate lava fields and watch the mating rituals of the blue-footed boobies or even catch a glimpse of the giant iguanas. The best way to see the islands is by boat and Silversea offers an incredible luxury itinerary through the area.
7. Easter Island Heads, Chile
The mysterious Easter Islands off the coast of Chile has captured the imagination of travellers, writers, musicians and film-makers for generations. This is owing almost entirely to the famous Moai monoliths that are scattered by the hundreds across the island. Commonly known as the Easter Island Heads these impressive stone statues are what draws people to the island but aren’t the only reason they stay. The local communities are a vibrant hub of Polynesian culture and flair, topped off by easy access to two unspoilt white sand beaches on which you can relax after a long day hiking through the heads.
8. The Amazon
Any list of the best of South America is incomplete without mention of the Amazon. This enormous region covers close to forty percent of the entire continent and is one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. Under the wide canopy you can see all kinds of jungle creatures, from monkeys, jaguars and sloths to colourful parrots, slinking iguanas and giant anacondas. Tours are the best way to see the most of the Amazon and those that follow the river of the same name give the best access to the most areas.
9. The Great Blue Hole, Belize
If scuba diving piques your interest than the Great Blue Hole in Belize is a must visit for you. The giant underwater sinkhole sits at the centre of the Lighthouse Reef just off the coast of Belize City and is famous for being a personal favourite of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. At over 300 metres wide and an incredible 125 metres deep it is the largest natural formation of its kind, and also part of the second largest reef system on the planet.
10. Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Beneath the towering Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia sits South America’s largest lake, Lake Titicaca. The local indigenous communities call this serene blue giant the Birthplace of the Sun and on clear days it is almost impossible to tell where the lake ends and the sky begins. Bathe yourself in one of the best water views in the whole continent, or sail out to one of the islands that sit on the lake and learn about the local culture which pre-dates the Incans.
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