South America: Breathtaking Sights and Must-Dos
If you’re looking for a travel experience that’s equal parts fun and adventure, you can’t miss South America. Rich with a vibrant and welcoming culture, a trip through South America is becoming one of the travel experiences for anyone with a with an eye for something different especially if they’re looking for breathtaking beauty or adventure.
You might be thinking South America seems like too big an adventure, but with a some great planning and a solid itinerary – done by a travel professional, the spectacular experiences South America has to offer are more accessible than ever to almosts every traveller – no matter age or stage. Whether you want to hang out with the good people of Rio Di Janeiro or with a Galapagos Tortoise, South America has you covered.
So, brush up on your Portuguese and Spanish skills, this is what could be waiting for you on your South American trip:
Cruise through the Galapagos
First on your journey, head to Ecuador (frequently noted as one of the top countries for tourists) and take a flight from Quito to the Galapagos. Formed between 3-5 million years ago in the wake of volcanic eruptions, the Galapagos Islands enjoy one of the richest, biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet and was famously the locale of Charles Darwin’s most fruitful discovery of his survival of the fittest theory.
Taking your own exploration of the Galapagos, you might encounter a number of unique creatures including seals, flamingos, hawks, albatrosses, dolphins and of course, the Galapagos giant tortoise.
You can take a cruise as short as 4 or 5 days for a ‘taster experience’ or opt for a more comprehensive 7-14 day exploration. You can explore the Galapagos without taking a cruise, but we would strongly recommend braving the seas for the best views – you never know what new theory you might come up with.
Explore a Natural Wonder at Iguazu Falls
Spanning almost 3km and crossing both the Argentinean and Brazilian boarders are the Iguazu Falls. This collection of 275 waterfalls dwarfs Niagara Falls by 31 metres in height and 2000 metres in width (yes, you read that correctly). It’s an immense and breathtaking sight to behold.
Most iconic to the falls is the U-shaped cliff face, which bisects the Brazilian and Argentinean sides called The Devil’s Throat. A walkway extends above the formation giving you an incredible view of an estimate 13 million litres of water cascading over the edge of the falls every second.
There’s accommodation within the national park surrounding the area or you can spend the night in one of the nearby small towns, Foz do Iguacu (Brazil) or Puerto Iguazu (Argentina), both of which are about 40 minutes by bus.
The best time to see the falls is September or May to avoid the heat of the Summer and the wet season, but really there isn’t a real ‘bad’ time. So you can slot this stop into your journey whenever it suits you!
Mingle with the locals in Rio Di Janeiro
So that’s some of the sights, time to meet the people!
Rio Di Janeiro is a city of extremes, as far as travel goes. On the one hand, Rio is famous for its vibrant and bustling nightlife. The best place to start your evening is by hanging out at one of the cities ‘botequims’. Most easily compared to what we Aussies would consider a pub, locals and tourists alike can be found at these venues most nights, enjoying a cold drink in the warm night air. From there you can decide whether to brave the notoriously energetic club scene or just enjoy a long evening of good conversation and good company.
At the other extreme of Rio is Christ the Redeemer. Regardless of whether you’re religious, this 38-metre-tall statue is as grand as it looks in the oh so many movies it’s featured in. Erected over the course of nine years (with construction finishing up in 1931), the statue marked a permanent change to the Rio skyline and is easily one of the most iconic features of Rio.
Queues to see the Redeemer can be long, but you can book tickets in advance to beat the lines. There are a number of ways to get up the mountain but by far the simplest is to take a 20-minute Cog Train journey from Cosme Velho station.
Salar de Uyuni; The largest mirror in the world
Next stop, Bolivia and a visual experience you’ll never forget! Here you’ll visit Salar de Uyuni, a salt flat spanning an area greater than 10,000 square kilometres. It may not sound like much but don’t be fooled. These flats offer more than you might expect. The surface is a thick layer of white salt, but underneath it rests 70% of the world’s lithium reserves.
More than just a geographic marvel, visit Salar de Uyuni at the right time and you might be lucky enough to see the whole surface transform into a huge, reflective surface, mirroring the sky above. During the wet season (February-April), rainfall can cause a thin layer or water to build up on top of the salt, turning it translucent and reflective. Because of the incredible flatness of the area, the salt reflects the sky back seamlessly, causing the horizon to virtually dissapear. The whole landscape becomes some otherworldly mirror unlike anything you will see anywhere else on earth.
Easily reachable by bus from La Paz to the small town of Uyuni, or for a more unique experience, you can try one of the remote salt hotels found at various points across the flats. These hotels are made entirely of – you guessed it – salt, and we do mean entirely. Local entrepreneurs adapted to their unique environs by cementing and crafting with salt blocks. Even the furniture and amenities are made from salt stone. A truly unique experience.
Discover Machu Picchu
Finally, after you’ve been through Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, there is just one more adventure to be had on your trip.
Machu Pichu (which is loosely translated as Old Mountain) is an Incan city built some 650 years ago at an altitude of 2430 metres. Whether you’re a history buff keen to see the citadel that housed the descendants of Tahuantinsuyo, or you just want to marvel at the grandeur of the whole city, if you’ve got a taste for adventure and the chance to visit this site; take it.
You can take a three-hour train ride from nearby Cusco to Aguas Calientes and from there it’s a shuttle bus ride to Machu Pichu. But there’s more than one way to get up a mountain. Hiking tours up Machu Pichu take four or five days (five is recommended for better acclimatisation) with some camping.
There’s only 500 people allowed to start the Inca trail per day, so hikes need to be booked well in advance. On the plus side, the limit makes for an infinitely better experience for you as a traveller, to absorb the tremendous views of the landscape and Machu Pichu itself as you enter under The Sun Gate.
There is free entry for local Cusco residents on Sundays, so you might want to pick another day to avoid the crowds.
An important note; the high altitude of Cusco and Machu Picchu makes for more than a good view, it can be difficult without proper acclimatisation. Make sure to ascend slowly, with the help of professionals and check with your doctor before you book to make sure you’re up for the trip.
So if that whets your appetite for all things South America (or the trip of a lifetime to anywhere else) you can always give us a call on (02) 6041 5577, drop into the office at 601 Dean Street, Albury or book an appointment with one of our experienced travel professionals via the form below.
You can find more on some of our other top travel destinations here!
My travel agent was great – she made what seemed to be a very complex task look easy. All my questions were answered in detail!Phil Kearney
Your advice, suggestions and knowledge are invaluable – together with your very personalised customer service, best travel agent I’ve ever used.Alan and Lindsey Wright
The team helped me plan and book the best holiday I’ve ever had. I’ve got the travel bug and looking forward to traveling for the rest of my life!Janne Hindle
Enter your details to book your appointment with your preferred travel agent who will help you get the most from your next trip. We'll get back to you as quickly as we can. To read more about our team click here.