From the Amazon rainforest to the snow-capped Andes and the Atacama Desert, South America is home to some of the world’s most extreme landscapes as well as its most unusual wildlife. While 20 pictures alone can never do South America justice, here’s a handful of amazing images to kindle your spirit of adventure. Scroll on to be inspired!
Standing atop Mount Corcovado in Brazil, some 2,300 feet above the sea, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer is a huge international icon. Completed in 1931, it was funded entirely by Brazil’s Catholic community to stem a ‘tide of godlessness’ that was felt to be sweeping the country. With outstretched arms that measure a whopping 92 feet, it was an amazing feat of construction in a very tricky spot and it's still full of wow-factor today.
Stark and surreal, the Atacama is the world’s driest desert and the ultimate spot for a remote adventure. Far from an endless expanse of scrub and dunes, it’s made up of red rock canyons, blasting geysers and multi-coloured salt lagoons dotted with flamingos. Take a walk through Rainbow Valley, visit the lunar landscapes of Moon Valley, stare into desolate Death Valley and spend your nights stargazing in the perfectly clear skies. If you're headed for Chile, you're in for a treat.
One of the most visited tourist sites in the world, Machu Picchu needs no introduction. Meaning ‘Old Peak’ in the Quechua language, it’s steeped in history and legend. Built around 1450AD, this symbol of the Incan Empire stands at 2,430 metres above level and knocks the socks off every visitor to Peru. Whether you trek the Inca Trail to reach the Sun Gate at dawn or take the train from Aguas Calientes, you’ll be bowled over in an instant. Just be sure to book your permit several months in advance – the tickets sell like hotcakes.
Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls are part of the world’s largest waterfall system. Almost twice as tall as Niagara Falls, the tallest cascade – Devil’s Throat - crashes hard into the pool below, throwing up a cloud of permanent mist. To get the most out of your trip to Iguazu, spend at least a day on the Argentinian side following the walking trails that lead to the Devil’s Throat viewpoint and taking a boat to the falls, before swapping to the Brazilian side for another perspective.
The world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni is quite simply a stunner. Spanning over 4,050 square metres of the Bolivian altiplano, its vast expanse plays with perspective and does strange things to your depth of field, making it brilliant for a bit of bizarre photography. In the rainy season, from January to April, the glistening blanket of salt creates a mirror-effect that is guaranteed to blow your mind. It’s easily one of the most magnificent sights on the planet.
Famously labelled the ‘highest navigable lake in the world’, Lake Titicaca sits between Peru and Bolivia at 3,812 metres above sea level. Smooth as a millpond and perfectly clear, it’s a beautiful body of water to explore. Here, you can hop between floating reed islands, visit Inca ruins and learn about local Andean handicrafts. If you really want to push the boat out, try staying at luxurious Titilaka Lodge, on its own island in the lake.
Covering 2.1 million square miles through 9 South American countries, the Amazon basin is a natural wonder of whopping proportions. While 64% of the rainforest lies in Brazil, it’s possible to visit the Amazon in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia too. Home to over 390 types of tree, 427 species of mammal and 1300 kinds of birds, it’s a dream destination for wildlife lovers. Take a cruise along the Amazon River, try kayaking on its tributaries, stay in a remote jungle lodge and spot monkeys from treehouse hides.
The Moai statues, also known as the ‘Easter Island Heads’, are magnificent and mysterious in equal measure. Created by the Polynesian Rapa Nui people over 1000 years ago, nobody is certain just how, or why, they were made. Many of the statues appear to mark burial sites and most faces stare inwards, watching over the Islanders. Scattered all over the remote headlands, volcanic craters and beaches of Easter Island, they are bound to boggle your mind.
Two of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana and Ipanema are must-sees if you’re visiting Rio. Sit back in the sunshine, sip on a fresh coconut, watch the locals play football as the sun sets and soak up the atmosphere of the city. In the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain, these two tropical beaches are Brazilian through and through, from itsy-bitsy swimsuits to beach volleyball and bars blaring samba music. These are places to feel high on life, so grab a caipirinha and throw yourself in.
Located in Los Glaciares National Park, the Perito Moreno glacier is quite literally dazzling. Rising out of bright turquoise glacial water and currently measuring 250 square kilometres, it’s one of the most active glaciers, with blocks of ice tumbling into the water every 20 minutes or so. You can pack a picnic and hike around the glacier in Los Glaciares National Park or book a boat trip to get even closer. Either way, you won’t be sorry.
650 years older than Machu Picchu, Colombia’s ‘Lost City’ disappeared into the thick jungle during the Spanish Conquest. Discovered again in the 1970s and accessible only by a multi-day hike from near Santa Marta, it's actually a hidden gem. The trek is challenging and the sleeping huts are basic, but there’s a real sense of discovery about the experience and you’ll meet indigenous local tribes on the way. If you’re in the market for adventure, you’ve found it.
Set amidst the high plains of the altiplano, the Laguna Colorada is one of Bolivia’s most bizarre and beautiful highlights. Backed by the snow-tipped Andes and several smoking volcanoes, this rich red lagoon is actually a shallow salt lake speckled with white borax islands spanning a massive 6,000 hectares. The crimson colour is thought to come from the minerals and algae, and the plankton living within the lake attracts six different kinds of flamingo. The whole scene is otherworldly and entirely unforgettable.
Packed with incredible wildlife, Brazil’s Pantanal is the largest inland wetland in the world and, perhaps, it’s best-kept secret. The Amazon may get all the headlines, but the Pantanal is equally great – if not better – for seeing exotic animals in their natural habitat. Home to everything from jaguars to tapirs and monkeys to caimans, it’s a wildlife wonderland. Try piranha fishing and kayaking, set off on night safaris, track jaguars through the jungle and see lakes studded with floating giant water lilies.
Nestled between the rolling green mountains and coffee plantations of Colombia’s Quindio region, the Cocora Valley is a spellbinding and peaceful place. The valley is scattered with wax palms reaching up to 60 metres tall and drizzled with mist, dwarfing everything around them. To get there, you can hike through forests, waterfalls and hummingbird sanctuaries or hop on a horse and dodge the hard graft. However you arrive, you’ll be dumbstruck.
Okay, so it's not strictly a place, but there's no way that we could miss out the Rio Carnival. Held exactly 40 days before Easter every year, it's officially ‘the biggest party in the world’. If you’re looking for a good time, look no further. Every year, more than 2 million people take to the streets of Rio to celebrate carnival, while the main parade takes places in the vast Sambadrome. At the same time, over 600 themed block parties get underway and several hundred samba schools, many from the favelas, take part in the parade.
Scattered off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands form a unique and unrivalled wildlife sanctuary. Home to a handful of very rare species, such as the blue-footed booby, the Galapagos penguin and the giant Galapagos tortoise, they offer animal magic that you won’t find anywhere in the world. As there are no predators on the islands, the creatures have absolutely no fear of humans, allowing you to get closer than you could ever imagine. You can take a multi-day cruise around the islands or opt for island-hopping from a single hotel base.
A couple of hours from the humdrum of Medellin, Guatapé is a small traditional village crammed with colour and charm. The houses, shops and cafes that line the cobbled streets are painted with bright rainbow colours and decorated with cheerful symbols, making it impossible not to smile. Just beyond the village, you can climb the 740 steps to the top of El Peñon, a jumbo rock with sweeping views over a network of deep blue reservoirs. It’s well worth the wobbly knees.
Set along Ecuador’s ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’, just 50km from Quito, Cotopaxi is the most iconic cone in the country. It’s snow-tipped and perfectly symmetrical caldera dominates the skyline of Cotopaxi National Park, which offers great hiking routes and gorgeous views. It’s the second highest volcano in Ecuador, but by far the most active, recently erupting from August 2015 to January 2016.
Part of Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine is a place of humbling natural beauty. A gorgeous patchwork of glaciers, forests, lakes and mountains, it’s one of the top hiking destinations in the world. Sleep in incredible eco-domes under starry skies, take a boat out to Grey Glacier, dip your toes in chilly Lake Pehoe and look out for guanacos as you follow the famous trekking routes. In Patagonian summer, there are 17 hours of daylight here, so get out there and make the most of every minute.
Carved by the Colca River, the Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, with dizzying views at every turn. Almost twice as deep the Grand Canyon, it’s home to the Giant Andean Condor, making it a bucket-list topper for many birders. Here, you can hike between viewpoints along pre-Incan terraced ridges and spot condors soaring through the valley. It’s amazing for photos and terrible for vertigo.
We can put together tailor-made holidays and multi-stop flights all over South America, from Colombia at the top to Chile at the bottom. Our consultants have travelled all over the world, so we can give you first-hand and honest advice about your trip, making sure that you get the most out of your experience. Give us a call on +44 1273320580 or send us an email with your ideas and we'll get to work.