7 top things to do in South America
1. Walk on a rainbow in Peru
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you really could walk on a rainbow? Here, close to the little mountain village of Cusipata in Peru, you come pretty close. No one knew about Rainbow Mountain until four years ago when high altitude snowmelt revealed its kaleidoscopic colours. Some say there are 14 different coloured stripes of rock and sediment running in perfect lines across the top of the peak here. Pink, white, red, yellow, green, brown and more – all are caused by unique minerals in the different soils. It’s up at high altitude so it’s quite a hike through rolling green valleys and red mountains with alpacas grazing on either side. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you get a hearty breakfast to get you on your way.
2. See geysers from your bath in Chile
You need to get up early for this one. The colder the air temperature, the bigger the plumes of super-heated steam the mighty Tatio geysers blast skywards. So we’ll get you there before sunrise. There are over 80 of them, creating an alien landscape of plumes of steam and bubbling mud pools to a backdrop of the snowy Andean peaks. It’s freezing cold up here at this time of day so you need to wrap up well to watch the morning sun rising serenely into the steamy skies. And there’s a great way to warm up – but you need to strip off. Bring your swimmers and you can take a dip in a thermal pool and watch the geysers to do their thing as you float and wallow.
3. Look down the Devil’s Throat in Brazil (and Argentina!)
Pounding hundreds of metres deep into a mighty canyon between Argentina and Brazil the Iguacu falls are heart-stoppingly spectacular. There are viewpoints on both sides, but perhaps the most exciting is appropriately named Devil’s Throat on the Argentinian side. It’s a bit of a walk to get there but that’s part of the adventure. You may spot wildlife like monkeys and coatis as you make your way along the banks of the river. A short train ride then a sequence of walkways above the swirling waters finally leads to a vertigo-inducing viewing platform. Here you look right down into the torrential waters as they cannon vertically downwards. The noise is exceptional. And don’t expect to stay dry.
4. Dive with dolphins in Brazil
We really don’t know what all the fuss is about with this place. Sure it’s UNESCO listed, but all Fernando de Noronha has to offer is a bunch of steep sided volcanic mountains rising heavenwards above verdant rainforest. And then there’s the crystalline sea which laps the sugar sand shores: apparently it’s crammed with rare and wonderful wildlife, like turtles, rays and whales. Worse still, there’s no nightlife. And it’s absolutely the middle of nowhere: this confetti chain of pristine islands is several hundred miles off the coast of Brazil. Anyway, if you do decide it’s worth the trip, maybe you should stick on a snorkel or strap on some tanks and go dive the ultrablue waters? Who knows – you might have an encounter with some frolicking dolphins.
5. Ride like a Gaucho in Argentina
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a real cowboy? One of our favourite places to find out is close to sultry Salta a welcoming old colonial town full of cobbled streets and sleepy squares in the far north east of Argentina. At a working ranch in nearby Chicoana you can stick on your cowboy hat and ride through the rolling countryside, learning about the gaucho lifestyle as you go. You’ll trot through pungent tobacco plantations fringed by mighty mountains. Once you’ve worked up a healthy appetite, dinner is of course a traditional Argentine asado (that’s barbecue to you and me). You can spend the night at the ranch too and learn traditional Argentine folksongs too.
6. Walk on water on a reed island in Peru
Sat right on the border with Bolivia, sparkling Lake Titicaca is vast. Many tribes have traditionally farmed the shores and fished the abundant waters. But the Uro tribe in Peru went a step further. They’ve construct floating islands from the golden reeds that grow along the lakeside. It’s a handy form of self defence and means you’re right on top of the fish! Typically they’re big enough to support several huts housing members of an extended family. A recent count revealed there are over 60, home in total to over 1000 people. Some of the islands have their own watch towers. When you visit you can meet the families that live there and learn how they build and maintain these remarkable structures.
7. Get mobbed by penguins in Chile
Punta Arenas is a remote town almost as far south in Chile as you can go. Formerly an important centre for sheep farming and a stop off for visiting ships, it’s surprisingly lively given its distant location. There’s a brace of interesting islands you can boat out to in the Straits of Magellan here. Most are officially designated as ‘uninhabited’ but there are several hundred thousand feathered residents on Magdalena Island who’d beg to differ! There are three times as many penguins here as there are people back in Punta Arenas and in some places you can hardly move for them. These cute little creatures waddle and flap across the windswept beaches completely unperturbed by your presence. If you don’t get out of the way, they sometimes walk right into you.