By Ben Lerwill | June 2017 | 6 minute read
Stretching almost 7,500 kms and packing in an astonishing range of natural and cultural variety, South America comes with a guarantee of adventure from the Amazon to Antarctica. Its 12 countries range from tourism heavyweights such as Brazil and Peru and fast-rising destinations like Colombia and Chile, to lesser-known gems such as Paraguay and Guyana.
“South America as a continent is truly a one-stop shop for adventure travel. With the Andes as its backbone, the largest expanse of tropical rainforest in the world, iconic hiking routes and fascinating indigenous cultures, it serves up adventure in all its various forms. And due to its diversity, size and climate, it’s also somewhere that can be visited year-round”
JO ROLLS, HEAD OF PRODUCT AT KE ADVENTURE
Explore the wilds: Patagonia occupies a vast swathe of wilderness at the very south of the continent, ranging across parts of Chile and Argentina. The hiking and climbing potential is superb
Feel the fiesta Brazil is lively at any time, but Rio’s Carnival (usually mid- to late- February) is one of the world’s best festivals
Visit the lost city: A visit to Peru’s ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is a must and totally unforgettable – whether arriving by foot or by tour bus
Islands of wonder: A trip out to the fabled Galapagos Islands, part of Ecuador but located 600 miles off the mainland coast – offers a world-class and unprecedented wildlife experience
The big match: South America is football mad and the atmosphere at big club matches in Argentina, Brazil and elsewhere is usually electric. Tickets can often be arranged at short notice
Head off the beaten track: The three lesser-visited countries on South America’s north coast – Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana – are great for virgin rainforest and tropical adventure
See the fall: The Iguacu Falls sit on the border between Argentina and Brazil and are an astounding sight, with hundreds of waterfalls spread over three kilometres
Cross the salt flat: Take a 4WD trip to the world’s largest salt flat – Bolivia’s mind-bending Salar de Uyuni, a desert of white earth covering thousands of square kilometres
Feast on meat: Carnivores are in their element in Argentina, where the beef is of the highest quality. The red wine’s pretty special too
Head into the Amazon: Sprawled across nine different countries, the Amazon rainforest is a bona fide natural wonder, and packed with options for tours and activities
The end of the world
I lean my body against the wind and struggle towards the little lighthouse. “Welcome,” says the Chilean naval officer, shaking my hand as I reach the door.
It’s a firm handshake – exactly the kind you might expect from a man who lives virtually alone on an island at the bottom of the world. From his window, we have a front-row view of the Atlantic meeting the Pacific in a fury of waves. His nearest neighbours, he explains, live 75 miles away.
Welcome to Cape Horn, where more than 800 ships have been dashed on the rocks offshore over the centuries. The Chilean naval officer is on a year-long posting on the island, with his wife, son and dog.
But I’m here for just a couple of hours, calling in as part of a four-night expedition cruise through the remote waterways of Tierra del Fuego.
We set sail three days ago from Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia, and we’ll be disembarking tomorrow in Ushuaia, Argentina. The voyage has taken us through an unpopulated region of sharp mountains, wild islands and calving glaciers. We’ve seen seals, penguins, dolphins and albatrosses – even the gargantuan tail of a southern right whale.
This is not the South America of street carnivals and football stadiums, but it’s an astonishing place to spend time. One of the biggest assets of the continent, in fact, is that it has so many different faces.
What the experts say
“LATA is thrilled that South America continues to grow in popularity as an expedition and adventure destination and we will continue to work closely with the industry to drive this type of tourism in the region. UK tour operators have launched new adventure tours and the launch of direct British Airways flights to Chile has brought South America closer to Britain. The region has benefited from Rio 2016 and television programmes such as David Attenborough’s Jaguars: Brazil’s Super Cats, and new tourism infrastructure such as the new cable car in Kuelap in northern Peru and boutique hotels are also expected to fuel interest”
TONY MASON, CEO, LATIN AMERICAN TRAVEL ASSOCIATION
Airlines: British Airways began direct flights to Santiago, the Chilean capital, in January, flying four times a week from Gatwick. This follows the airline’s introduction of direct flights to Lima in Peru last year.
Avianca now utilises a 787 Dreamliner on its daily direct flights between Heathrow and Bogota, Colombia, and from this month (May) will increase its flights between Bogota and Cusco in Peru to a daily service.
Air Europa has a new four-times weekly service from Gatwick to Cordoba in Argentina, via Madrid.
Attractions: The spectacular Inca site of Kuelap in Peru is now accessible by cable car.
Belmond has launched its new Belmond Andean Explorer luxury sleeper train, running two-night journeys between Cusco and Arequipa. Tax: As of January, foreign visitors are exempt from paying tax (21%) on hotel stays in Argentina.
Tour operators: KE Adventure has a new 14-day Walks and Waterfalls itinerary in northern Argentina and a new 13-day ‘Best of Chile’ walking holiday incorporating the Atacama Desert and Torres del Paine National Park.
Journey Latin America has unveiled its first Paraguay holiday, the 12-day Signature Paraguay: Mission and The Chaco, and has also introduced a new self-drive holiday in Chile, the 14-day Lake District & Southern Patagonia.
Luxury boutique cruise company Aqua Expeditions has announced new Amazon cruises for 2018 hosted by Jean-Michel (son of Jacques) Cousteau.
Tucan Travel has a new ‘Jungle to Andes’ tour that includes a one-day trek to Machu Picchu. Andean Trails (andeantrails.co.uk) has introduced a new eight-day Colombia tour.
Cox & Kings has a new 11-day Wildlife & Waterfalls holiday in Brazil, with time in the Brazilian Highlands and Rio, and has also revamped its Peru In Luxury tour for 2017. It includes a trip on the Belmond Andean Explorer sleeper train.
Where to book it
Journey Latin America’s Atacama Desert to Patagonian Glaciers is a 13-day tour of Chile priced from £4,118pp, excluding international flights.
G Adventures’s nine-day Colombia Express trip is from £1,099pp, not including flights, with time in Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena and the coffee region.
Rainbow Tours has a 13-day ‘Eco-Friendly Peru’ holiday from £3,470pp, including flights and transfers. Highlights include Machu Picchu and a stay in an Amazonian lodge.