Chile: Easter Island
Set deep in the middle of nowhere, the heart of the Pacific Ocean really, the Chilean territory of Easter Island makes for as exotic a vacation as possible. The numerous Moai—centuries-old monolithic human figures made of stone, often placed on a ceremonious platform called an Ahu—scattered across the land are artefacts of legend. But there’s more. Trek up to the volcanic craters of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku to marvel at their unearthly brilliance, or walk along the white sand beaches of Anakena and Ovahe. The volcano remnants provided the stone for the great figures and visitors can see the different stages of carvings and unfinished bits scattered around. Make a visit to the cave systems of Easter Island, which run wide and deep across the island; and make sure to experience the Polynesian dance shows to get a taste of local nightlife.
A former Dutch colony, Suriname is known for its rich history and culture. The capital city of Paramaribo, listed in Unesco’s World Heritage List, is bustling with historic centres and a variety of cafés and restaurants. Large swathes of the country have been declared national reserves, and its ecology remains untouched. Thus, helicopter rides to witness the breeding of leatherback sea turtles or boat rides to spot dolphins through the mangrove forests are popular with visitors. The country also has numerous waterfalls, islands and activities to offer. Other must-dos include stopping at the Jodendavanne to take in the beauty of the ruins, taking a swim in the Coca Cola creek or strolling around the historic Fort Zeelandia.
The large Welsh colony spanning across Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is rich in natural diversity. Come face to face with a sea of ice at the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Los Glaciares National Park, the world’s third-largest freshwater reserve and one of the 48 glaciers in the region. The Valdes Peninsula is a Unesco World Heritage Site and home to populations of sea lions, orcas, the southern right whale and other underwater creatures, perfect for your undersea adventure. Drive along the Route of Seven Lakes, go trekking and mountaineering at the Cordillera or satisfy yourself with delicious traditional Gaiman treats like scones, cakes and tarts.
A land right out of your dreams, an ecosystem of unrivalled diversity: welcome to the Amazon. Going for a jungle tour while visiting the Amazon is a no-brainer. You can also sleep in hammocks among the wild inhabitants of the land or go for a jungle cruise on the world’s largest river. The Manaus Opera House and the Rubber Plantation Museum are good city stops while the INPA science centre is perfect to experience the jungle under controlled circumstances. Head to the meeting of the Rio Negro with the Amazon or visit the Land of Waterfalls for some fairytale landscapes. You can even unwind at the Ponte Negra, Amazon’s very own sand beach.
Bolivia: Salar De Uyuni
White salt as far as the eye can see, the world’s largest salt flat turns into the world’s largest mirror when covered in a thin film of water. Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is one of nature’s extraordinary works of art. Part of a prehistoric salt lake, the Salar de Uyuni holds colourful mineral lagoons set against towering mountains. Visit the train graveyard and the salt hotels, or spend some time with 1,000-year-old cacti at the Isla de los Pescados. Colchani is a village that survives off salt processing; it has a salt museum along with salt souvenirs. Flamingoes at Laguna Hedionda, sulphur pools and geysers at Salar de Manaña or the 350-year-old church at San Cristobal are just a few of the sights available at this salt paradise.
Argentina: Buenos Aires
Spanish culture, European architecture, the land of the tango needs little introduction. The bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires is known for its beautiful blend of old and new, and the romance that surrounds the city. Stroll along the Puerto Madero for a unique shopping and dining experience, immerse yourself in art at the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes and the Teatro Colon or escape the busy city at the Carlo Thays Botanical Garden. The towering El Obelisco marks the spot where the Argentinean flag first flew and the Plaza Dorrego is a haven for shoppers. Walk around the promenade in Palermo where you can rent a paddle boat or experience the elaborate gardens. Visit the famous Recoleta Cemetery and end your day at Café Tortoni for a taste of Buenos Aires nightlife.
The land that’s famous for setting off Charles Darwin’s revolutionary theory of natural selection, the Galapagos archipelago is known for its unique biodiversity. Find the magnificent giant tortoise, the symbol of the Galapagos and visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre in Santa Cruz. The Galapagos islands are a birder’s paradise as well as famous for scuba diving. Take a leisurely cruise along the different islands and experience the rich wildlife, explore the lava tubes and make sure to stop at Las Loberias to spend the afternoon in the company of sea lions. The twin sinkholes at Los Gemelos at Santa Cruz make for an absolutely breathtaking view.
A place where history, culture and nature blend together into a perfect cocktail, Peru is every traveller’s dream destination. From hiking along the ‘Inca trail’ to reach the stunning ruins of Machu Picchu to discovering charming Cusco’s architectural treasures, from being stunned by the high-altitude waters of Lake Titicaca to experiencing the enormity of the Colca Canyon, there are few aspects of wonder that Peru can’t offer. The Nazca Lines display the ingenuity of the land’s ancestors while the Sacred Valley, Huacachina and the Ballestas islands are testament to the beauty of nature. The ancient walled city of Kuelap, built by the Cloud People, holds the largest fortress in South America. Modern cities like Arequipa, Lima and Barranco celebrate the essence of a land moving into the future while the pre-Incan burial ground of Sillustani recalls times past.
Guarded by the mountains on one side and the sea on the other, Rio de Janeiro was described as ‘a staggeringly beautiful location’ by Unesco. With the iconic structure of Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer looming large over the city, Rio revels in colour at the Carnaval and the Escardia Selarón steps. Take a boat to the island of Paqueta and visit the Solar del Ray. Head to the tall, tan, young and lovely beaches of Ipanema and Leblon and experience the cultural life of Rio. The Tijuca National Park is one of the world’s largest forests within a city and has a number of stunning view points including the Largo do Boticario and the Mirante Dona Marta. Stroll along the gardens of the imperial palace Quinta da Boa Vista or take a day trip to the many churches scattered across the city. And end the day, naturally, with a long, long drink at Copacabana.
Colourful, vibrant and pulsating to a Caribbean beat, Colombia is a tropical fantasy. The colonial town of Cartagena and the rapidly innovating city of Medellin are the jewels of urban Colombia while Guatape and El Peñol are perfect getaways to spectacular views. Coffee-guzzlers, head to Salento, in the middle of the Coffee Triangle, while those looking for paradise can move to Tayrona National Park. The salsa capital of Cali and the religious capital of Popayan form ideal locations for all travellers while the town of Mompox is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literature brought to life. Even capital Bogota has transformed into a cool destination.
Brazil: Iguazu Falls
Three times taller and twice as wide as the Niagara, the Iguazu Falls stand in all their majestic glory at the border of Brazil and Argentina. Although the Argentinean side is larger, the Brazilian side has the better view; but no matter which side of the border you’re on, the falls won’t fail to amaze. The main highlight of the falls is the Devil’s Throat, the viewing platform putting you directly atop the falls; exhilarating, to say the least. Walk along the Circuito Superior and the Circuito Inferior or take the Sendero Macuco trail through the rainforest to the Arrechea waterfall. The boat rides along the falls are a great way to experience the sheer might of nature and a helicopter ride is likely to spur you to ponder the insignificance of human life.
The hub of Brazilian culture, known for its vibrant musical and literary roots, Salvador is a living history lesson of the 17th and 18th centuries in these parts. The little Afro-Brazilian centre has several activities to offer, each with their own little twist. Take a day tour of Salvador and visit the Abaete Park, or perhaps stop by the many fascinating museums across the city. A city full of churches, the religious implications are hard to miss; choose from the Convento de Igreja de Sao Francisco, Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, Igreja da Ordem Terceira de Sao Francisco, among many others. A visit to Porto de Barra beach is one of the highlights of Salvador; Flamengo and Stella Maris are just as exciting. Spend the evening shopping in the Old Town and end the day with a scrumptious meal of the famous acaraje.
Uruguay might be small in size but it certainly talks a big game. With some of the best beaches in South America, Uruguay offers the perfect blend of food, culture, history and some good ol’ R&R. Take a walk along the waterfront Rambla, in the historic capital city of Montevideo, and dance to the city’s tango in the Desfile de las Llamadas. The small city of Colonia del Sacramento breathes in its history—walk up to the lighthouse near Plaza Mayor for a stunning view of the massive Rio de la Plata. Let your hair loose in the winds of the Punta del Diable and Punta del Este beaches or hike across the Parque Nacional Santa Teresa to let the charms of Uruguay take you by storm.