South America has something everyone can enjoy. The fourth largest continent in the world is home to a vibrant blend of cultures, fantastic food, fierce football, free activities, chocolate, coffee, rainforests, rivers, music, romance, and passion. Most of it comes at affordable prices, and if you’re U.S.-based it’s pretty much at your doorstep — so really, what are you waiting for?
The continent is also home to majestic levels of ecological diversity, attracting millions of tourists each year to traverse its jungles, climb its towering peaks, and swim in its crystalline seas. It boasts the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall (Angel Falls in Venezuela); largest river (Amazon River); longest mountain range (Andes), driest non-polar spot on earth (the Atacama Desert) and of course, the planet’s largest rainforest (the Amazon). These awe-inspiring natural resources will ensure that a vacation to any one of South America’s 12 countries is a totally unforgettable experience from start to finish.
And with a little research and prior planning, South America can be blissfully smooth sailing. Opt for a DIY trip to Colombia’s Caribbean coast, a river cruise through the Brazilian Amazon with Adventure Life, or take an awe-inspiring vacation to the Galapagos islands with a tour company like Intrepid Travel. In South America, the possibilities and combinations really are endless, so immerse yourself in the planet’s dreamiest spots and plan one of these nine easy trips right now.
Island-hop in Ecuador’s Galapagos
It’s a challenge to uncover a more bucket list-worthy trip in South America than the jaw-droppingly spectacular Galapagos islands. A chain of 19 islands and dozens of islets formed after a series of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, it’s a magical place that will linger in your mind long after leaving. The Galapagos islands once served as the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s seminal work, “The Origin of Species,” and today, there are still natural wonders aplenty to uncover. Be sure to head there with a a trusted tour operator as they’ll provide a knowledgeable guide and you won’t want to miss out on any of the fascinating information.
Intrepid Travel offers a fabulously put-together itinerary in their Galapagos Island Hopping trip, and their expert trip leader will take you around the main islands, covering San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana. You’ll stay in modern, air-conditioned accommodations, eat delicious local cuisine (most meals are included), and take some spectacular boat trips between islands.
The Galapagos islands are home to the highest levels of endemism on the planet (species of animal and fauna which only exist there), and an Intrepid trip will grant you jaw-dropping access to some incredible sights. Fancy snorkeling in glass-like waters with hammerhead sharks, graceful manta rays, playful sea lions, and turtles? Yeah, thought so. You’ll also observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat, hike an active volcano, and probably pinch yourself on more than one occasion. Spotting wildlife is easy; you’ll get the chance to get up close and personal with incredibly colorful iguanas basking in the sun on powdery beaches, spot surreal-looking blue-footed booby birds nesting in jagged volcanic rocks, and if you’re lucky, you might see Galapagos penguins. There are also plenty of amazing kayaking trips around blue lagoons with your guide to be had, and the chance to sample hand-made chocolate and artisan coffee from the local farmers. This jam-packed, eco-conscious Latin adventure tour is unbeatable value for your money and will take place among a ready-made batch of like-minded travelers of mixed ages.
Backpack along Colombia’s Caribbean coast and coffee region
There’s a reason Colombia is consistently voted among the happiest countries in the world; it offers a spectacular combination of breathtaking biodiversity, Instagram-worthy beaches, and friendly people. Just a few hours’ flight from New York City lies Colombia’s Caribbean coast and coffee region, which is guaranteed to impress even the most hard-to-please wanders. It’s an easy trip that can be tackled in two to three weeks on your own, via the affordable and safe buses that ferry tourists and locals around. Fly into Cartagena, the sparkling colonial jewel of the country which is comprised of pastel-painted buildings and lively nightlife. From there, catch a bus along to Santa Marta where you can arrange trips to the isolated town of Minca. Nestled in the Colombian Sierra Nevada mountains, Minca offers amazing views overlooking the Caribbean seas and unique backpacker hostels.
Then, head back down the hills to uncover some pristine coastal rainforest at Parque de Tayrona, a protected national park filled with monkeys, lizards, and parrots where you can camp or spend the day. The beach-bum town of Palomino on the coast is also worth a trip — tubing down a river and sunning yourself in a hammock are the main attractions, along with hikes to nearby indigenous communities in the mountains. Next it’s on to the coffee country in Salento, a rural town that offers serene mountain views, amazing architecture, and paisa hospitality with a smile. There are, of course, tours aplenty offering expeditions to these areas (many of which also tie in visits to the cities of Medellin and Bogota), but after years of political unrest, Colombia is shrugging off its reputation as a nation unsuitable for tourists and it’s now super-simple to organize a stand-out vacation yourself, as I did. If you’re looking for a tour, Intrepid’s Best of Colombia tour takes you from mountains to beaches so you don’t miss a thing.
Uncover the best of Bolivia and Argentina
Immerse yourself in some authentic Latin culture with an adventure through Bolivia and Argentina. An Intrepid tour takes the stress out of ticking things off your bucket list and incorporates an ethereal experience to the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. You’ll also be taken to the incredible Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth which boasts flamingos bathing in mineral lakes and an everlasting supply of cacti. If you’re into colonial architecture and eclectic cities, this trip also takes you to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where you’ll dine on great food and explore some incredible neighborhoods as well as La Paz, a city renowned for its incredible markets. Many of the attractions included in this trip can be hard to arrange yourself, but an Intrepid trip is a safe and efficient way to do a lot in a short space of time and includes all accommodations and 16 meals.
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