Things to do in South America

Tantalising trekking
The Inca Trail is one of the world's great hikes, taking trekkers through extraordinary high-altitude Andean scenery via mountain passes, Quechua villages, Alpine tundra and humid cloud forests. There are several routes to choose from; the 43km classic route is usually completed in four or five days. Most of the trail follows original Incan stone paths, and leads to the "Sun Gate" – the most dramatic entry point to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.
For something just as rugged but dramatically different, hit Patagonia's wilderness: the granite towers of Torres del Paine or jagged peaks of the Fitzroy Range; multi-day treks adorned with fantastic glaciers; off-the-radar treks in Aysén and Tierra del Fuego (next stop: Antarctica).
Alternatively, consider forest hikes to the waterfalls of central Chile's Radal Siete Tazas National Park or the volcanic landscape around Nevados de Chillan (with hot springs to ease any aches), or explore the Lake Districts of either Chile or Argentina, where trails wind through lush alpine valleys and along pristine rivers. And if you're visiting Iguazu Falls, explore its surrounding forest trails.
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A wild continent
Close to four million species live within Brazil’s borders alone, making it the world's most bio-diverse nation. Hit the Pantanal, the wondrous wetland where 700 species of bird and 100 mammals hang out unobscured by jungle as in the Amazon.
Ecuador's phenomenal habitat diversity has wildlife to match: vicuñas and condors in the Andes; cloud forest birdlife; howler monkeys, sloths and anacondas in the Amazon; whales off the mainland; sea lions, iguanas and tortoises in the Galápagos. Peru's amazing species include giant otters, spectacled bears and pink river dolphins – along with 1,800 birds, the second highest of any country in the world.
Hemmed by the Andes, Pacific and Atacama desert, Chile hosts unique mammals like the pudu (pygmy deer) and colo-colo wildcat, alongside puma, king penguins, dolphins, giant blue whales plus soft-furred vicuna. Twitchers can spot gorgeous hummingbirds.
Be a culture vulture (or,
better, a culture condor)
South America is one of the world's richest melting pots
Brazil alone has over 220 indigenous groups, complemented by African slave descendants and more willing global immigrants, each adding their traditions to a fantastic cultural stew. The Andean highlands are home to Aymara and Inca-descended Quechua, while Chile's Chinchorro mummies date back 7,000 years. Everywhere, colonial architecture recalls an Iberian influx. And on remote Easter Island, the Rapa Nui's brooding statues are among mankind's most potent icons.
Extend your reach...
Be greedy when dipping into South America's selection box!
Why stick to one brilliant country when there's another quite different but equally brilliant one next door? If you can make the time, South America amply rewards crossing borders for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to taste as much as you can of the continent's feast for mind and senses. Pair Brazil with Argentina, or contrast Chile's modernity with Bolivia's rustic awesomeness. Galapagos, meanwhile, is a different world to its parent country Ecuador. South America overland is the way to go.

Our top South America Vacation

Galapagos adventure vacation

Galapagos adventure vacation

An active island adventure

From US $4599 10 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2018: 4 May, 18 May, 1 Jun, 8 Jun, 15 Jun, 29 Jun, 13 Jul, 20 Jul, 27 Jul, 10 Aug, 24 Aug, 7 Sep, 21 Sep, 5 Oct, 19 Oct, 2 Nov, 16 Nov, 30 Nov, 14 Dec, 23 Dec, 29 Dec

Next: Families

It's not just the most fearless of families that will enjoy traveling in South America with kids. Latinos are notoriously welcoming towards children, and will be delighted to share their folklore, street food, language and dance with any curious visitor. Ride horses on an Argentinian ranch, discover the wildlife of the Galapagos, discover ancient history that brings storybooks to life and see the brightest stars marking a path above the mythical Andes.
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: McKay Savage] [A wild continent: Joseph C Boone] [Be a culture vulture (or, better, a culture condor): McKay Savage] [Extend your reach...: seretide]
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