A couple of years ago I spent 4 wonderful months exploring South America as part of my round the world backpacking adventure. This continent was truly awakening, from the mesmerising landscapes, friendly locals and ancient wonders. If you’re visiting this corner of the globe, do yourself a favour and don’t miss out on the following encounters:
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
If you’re in search of the worlds most unique encounters than a visit to the Galapagos Islands should be at the top of your travel bucket list. This volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean offers the ultimate (and I mean ultimate) wildlife viewing experience and inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Swim side by side with Galapagos sea lions (the labradors of the Galapagos), come face to face with a Blue Footed Booby and experience the cycle of life like you never have before. To really get a feel for the islands, take a boat tour for at least 5 days to understand just how diverse and spectacular this archipelago is.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu may just be one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever encountered whilst travelling. After a six day trek through the Salkantay mountains I was bowled over by the sight of this ancient Incan citadel perched high in the Andes Mountains. The ruins offer unique insight into the ancient life of Incans, full of sacrifice and survival. Make the most of the day by arriving at sunrise and staying into the late afternoon when the tourists disperse and you can marvel at the ruins all by yourself. Don’t be disheartened by Aguas Calientes, the launching pad for exploring the ruins – the town is characterless and designed for tourists but nevertheless provides a convenient base for exploring.
Lake Titicaca, Peru/Bolivia
At an elevation of 3,812 metres this natural South American attraction will literally take your breath away. The highest navigable lake on the globe is best experienced from Isla Del Sol in Bolivia or the town of Puno on the Peruvian side. Take the short boat trip from Copacabana in Bolivia to visit Isle Del Sol and admire the snow-capped Andes mountain range appearing from behind the lake in the distance.
The Colca Canyon, Peru
Nestled in Southern Peru you will discover the Colca Canyon, one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions and considered among the deepest canyons in the world. It is best accessed from the vibrant town of Arequipa and you can complete the walk in 2 or 3 days. Along the way you will encounter indigenous villages and awe-inspiring panoramic views. Finish the trek at one of the basic hostels offering a natural spring (featured above). The spectacular mountain views and refreshing springs are worth the absence of electricity. Go off the grid for a while!
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Nestled on the picture-perfect Rio de la Plata in Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento may just be one of the prettiest towns on the planet and is a maze of cobbled streets, historic architecture and perfectly placed wagon wheels, pot plants and vintage cars. You only need a day or two to explore but the journey is well worth it. You can catch a bus to the town from the capital of Montevideo (a fascinating destination in itself!)
Do’s and Don’ts for Visiting South America:
- Get travel insurance. This continent definitely has an edge and it’s not worth taking the risk of not having cover.
- Do your research and get the appropriate vaccinations. Some countries will quarantine travellers on the way back into the country if they haven’t had the yellow fever vaccination (Australia is one of these countries).
- Gradually acclimatise at high altitudes and drink plenty of cacao tea, great for helping with the altitude.
- Catch overnight buses – they have fantastic bus systems in South America with a dining service and reclining seats! Do your research on the company before travelling.
- Learn some basic Spanish, a little bit can go a long way!
- Smile! The locals are incredibly friendly and a smile cuts through any language barrier.
- If you have the freedom and flexibility, book your tours in the country to save middle-man mark ups.
- Wear jewellery or flash around your camera. There is a time and a place and this trip ain’t worth you becoming a victim of theft.
- Panic. The country is full of friendly locals willing and ready to lend a helping hand. Just be smart about who you ask (usually people that work in the hostel/restaurants are great people to ask for directions or suggestions on where to go)
- Travel alone in unregistered taxis. Take down the details of your driver. Unfortunately taxi crime and assault is quite prominent in many South American cities.
- Forget your camera!
Over to you! What are your favourite South American destinations and encounters? Let me know in the comments below!