From the most revered ancient archaeological treasure to the most vibrant cities and utterly magnificent feats of nature: our 5 WOW Facts About South America’s Top 5 Travel Highlights will do more than just scratch your curiosity. They’ll entice to bag your bags and come discover this most magical part of the world that is South America.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
You may know Machu Picchu as the Lost City of the Incas and you may also know that this is arguably the most visited site in all of South America. But did you know….
1. Many of the porters employed to carry groups’ camping gear on their multi-day expedition still follow ancient superstition, and hide mirrors under their camping mat at night to ward off evil mountain spirits.
2. The complex is actually built on the convergence of two fault lines. However, the puzzle building system allows rocks to bounce during an earthquake and then fall back into place.
3. Every year, the Inca Trail marathon attracts hundreds of competitors. The fastest time? Just under 3.5hrs. It’s an almost painful thing to be reminded of as one struggles half-way thorough day 3!
4. It is officially forbidden to enter the complex of Machu Picchu whilst donning the traditional costume of another country. So if you’re contemplating wearing your lederhosen or dirndl, you may want to bring a change of clothes…
5. Experts are quite unanimous in their belief that what killed off the entire population of Machu Picchu, was a smallpox pandemic introduced by Spanish conquistadores.
2. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
One of the most incredible wildlife destinations in South America – and the world – the Galapagos archipelago is a maze of spectacular volcanic islands inhabited by a mesmerising array of unique creatures. Ancient and unspoilt, this is one of the last true pristine natural havens left on earth.
But yes, we know you know all that. But did you know…
1. The most famous Giant Galapagos Tortoise who ever lived was poor, lonely ol’ George. Lonesome George (Jorge Solitario) was the ‘alleged’ last Pinta Tortoise left on earth and the local conservation authority furiously tried for years to locate a mate so he could reproduce. In order to keep Jorge’s sperm supply in tip-top shape, they had to employ a personal masturbator. We.Kid.You.Not. George passed over the rainbow tortoise bridge, offspringless, in 2012. His preserved self is now on display at the Charles Darwin Station in the Galapagos.
2. The Galapagos Waved Albatross is one of the most monogamous creatures on earth. They mate only once a year, only on the Galapagos, and only with the one partner, for life. Romantic, no?
3. Decades ago, the Ecuadorian Army held a survival training course on the Galapagos deeming them ideal due to the harsh living conditions they pose for humans. After just a few days, the volcanic rocks disintegrated the soles of the soldier’s army-issued boots, and they all had to be rescued by helicopter.
4. The Galapagos Green Turtle is so old that the species witnessed the evolution, and extinction, of dinosaurs.
5. The Galapagos float on the convergence of five pivotal ocean currents. This is primarily what has created the incredible biodiversity.
3. Amazon Rainforest
With still-uncontacted indigenous tribes and a mind-boggling array of flora and fauna, the Amazon Rainforest is our planet’s most important and enigmatic forest. Luckily, you know all that already and no-doubt appreciate the pivotal role this prized region of South America plays on the health of the world. Plus, it’s exotic, enticing, imposing and immensely gorgeous! Here are 5 weird facts you may not know about our beloved Amazon:
1. The Amazon receives the mineral deposits it needs to thrive every year, from just a single location in Africa’s Sahara Desert.
2. In 2011, researchers discovered a fungus in the Amazon that consumes plastic.
3. For only 21 days of the year, a tidal wave develops on the Amazon River that creates a 4m-high wave which can be surfed for over 10km
4. Dodging caimans, piranhas and anacondas, Slovenian long-distance swimmer Martin Strel famously swam the length of the Amazon River, in 2007. It took him 66 days to cover 5,268km, a distance that is longer that the width of the Atlantic Ocean.
5. Amazonian flora is used as a base for up to 25% of all modern medicines in the world. Astonishingly, however, the known plants comprise only 10% of those that exist in the region.
4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sun, surf, sensational beaches, music and an unforgettable sensory overload: that’s South America’s amazing Rio de Janeiro summed up in a sambabeat! We know you want to visit Rio, because who wouldn’t? And we also know the following super cool facts will impress you no end.
1. In Rio, you’ll find the 7th largest library in the world, which contains more than 9 million literary items. The collection was brought over by the then Portuguese Royal Family in 1807, when it fled from Portugal to escape Napoleon’s advancing army.
2. Floresta da Tijicua, in the heart of Rio de Janeiro and comprising Corcovado Mountain and the city’s Botanical Gardens, is the largest urban forest on the planet.
3. Rio is home to approximately 1,000 favelas – or slum districts – and these host the great majority of samba schools in the city.
4. The largest football game on the planet was played here, in 1950. Almost 200,000 crammed into Maracanã Stadium. Copacabana Beach also hosted the world’s largest concert, in 1994. Rod Stewart played to a roaring crowd of over 3 million people.
5. After being conquered by the French in 1711, Rio was held for ransom until the Portuguese paid 612,000 gold Portuguese reals and 100 chests of sugar to get it back.
5. Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
The most forceful and intimidating waterfall not just in South America but on the planet, Iguazu is a force of nature that needs to be experienced to be truly believed. It is one of those sites that manages to humble, inspire and amaze the soul. You’ve seen the photos, you’ve heard the stories and you probably think you know all there is to know about this stupendous natural treasure. But we bet you didn’t know….
1. Iguazu sits above the Guarani Aquifer, the second-largest known underground freshwater reservoir in the world.
2. The protected forests surrounding Iguazu Falls are home to opossums, the only known marsupials living outside Australia
3. A colony of Great Dusky Swifts live and thrive at Iguazu by setting up nests on the rock face behind the curtain of waterfall. They can often be seen diving head-first into the falls’ side. Iguazu spawns an incredible ecosystem actually and is home to over 400 species of birds, almost 40 reptiles and over a dozen amphibians.
4. The haunting 1986 film The Mission (Starring Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro) recounted the story of Jesuit priests travelling deep into the South American jungle, converting indigenous tribe members along the way. In the opening scene, a priest is seen being tied to a cross and thrown over the edge pf a waterfall. The scene was filmed on location at Iguazu Falls. The movie is still considered one of the most evocative ever made.
5. There’s a luxury hotel inside the Iguazu Park (only one) which grants you access to the walkways to view the falls after the daily crowds have departed. Due to the park;s opening hours, staying at the hotel is the only way to soak up the sunrise and sunset over Iguazu.
Ready to tick off South America’s BIG five? What are you waiting for?! Now is the perfect time to plan the adventure of a lifetime, ticking one, two or why not ALL of South America’s Top 5 Travel Highlights off your list. We have a head spinning array of fantastic itineraries to explore each of the best highlights, and can design a bespoke tour to include YOUR most favourite sites. For professional and experienced South America travel advice, contact us today.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”