From luxuriating in one of the world’s least hospitable places to hurling yourself off the cliff of a mountain, and sleeping in see-through capsules suspended high above a stunning Andean valley, South America offers the curious and adventurous traveller a crazy word of totally unique experiences.
Here are the Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in South America:
1. Climb the 2nd Highest Peak in the WORLD
Mt Aconcagua straddles the border of Chile and Argentina, near the latter’s wine-making region of This. It stands at an impressive 6,962m in elevation and is so imposing that it can still be visible from more than 150km off the western Chilean coast. Theoretically, an ascent of Aconcagua is not terribly technical yet even though it may not present too many technical challenges for experienced climbers, the formidable peak still claims a couple of lives a year, mainly due to altitude sickness and the kind of unpredictable climate that’s part and parcel of our world above 6,000m. It is for all these reasons that a climb of Aconcagua is revered in international climbing circuits and considered a bucket-list challenge with few rivals. Think you have what it takes to bag this peak? Then you’ll have to be well prepared, acclimatized, and ready to dedicate at least 10 days to reaching the summit.
As enticing as an ascent of Aconcagua may be (you know…to some) it is certainly not the only ‘impressive’ hike you can tackle in South America. From its northernmost reaches to its southernmost tip, in Patagonia, the whole continent is a hiker’s dream and offers a mind-boggling array of treks to suit avid and occasional trekkers. Check out our guide to South America if you like hiking for plenty of inspiration.
2. Throw yourself off the edge of a perfectly good mountain
Just as there are people who love to climb mountains, there are also those who prefer to jump off them, instead. Hang-gliding is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most insanely fun activities, one that’ll see you hurl yourself off the edge of a 520m peak right above all those fabulous sparkling beaches. Fight your inner urge to keep your feet firmly planted on terra firma and soar like a bird, soaking up the most astonishing views in the whole city. Flights can be taken from sunrise to sunset and, depending on weather conditions, can last upwards of 30 exhilarating minutes.
3. Go hot air ballooning in the Atacama Desert
Now here’s a way to reach dizzying heights with very little effort!
Hot air ballooning is the latest unique activities on offer in Chile’s strikingly beautiful Atacama Desert. Of all the places in the world where sweeping views are immensely rewarding, the Atacama would have to be the most ideal, considering its sheer size and lunar-like landscapes. A sunrise balloon ride over the Atacama’s highest peaks and jagged red horizons is spellbinding. Rising way above the Death and Moon valleys at first light, and soaking up the kaleidoscope of colours, is one of the most magical experiences you can have, in one of the most magical places on earth.
4. Sleep in a see-through luxury capsule suspended on the side of a mountain
We’re not sure what inspired the guys at Natura Vive to come up with this totally insane idea of securing see-through luxury sleeping pods on the side of a vertiginous mountain, 400m above the Urubamba Valley near Cusco, Peru. But we dig it.
Because who wouldn’t want to sleep in a luxurious pod secured to the side of a sheer cliff?
The fabulous thing about the SkyLodge is that sleeping in the suspended pods isn’t even the most hair-raising part of the whole experience. To reach the pods, one must negotiate a hike and obstacle course of sorts, which includes climbing on narrow steel staircases. Next morning, you’ll be served breakfast with a side-dish of adrenalin, as you’re sent flying down to the valley floor on a thrilling zipline ride.
Love to live life on the edge? Then sleep like it!
5. Propel yourself down one of the world’s most dangerous roads…on a mountain bike
Gravity-assisted mountain biking down Bolivia’s uber-famous Death Road is often dubbed ‘the most daring activity in Latin America’ and for very good reasons. If you’re one of those adrenalin junkies who thrives on having their hearts permanently implanted in their throat then this will be right up your alley. What’s gravity assisted biking, you ask? That’d be an adrenalin-pumping speedy descent on a steep and narrow gravel road that starts above the clouds at 4,850m just outside La Paz and ends, after a harrowing 64km-long descent of more than 3,600m, in the tropical town of Coroico.
The experience, as well as the sweeping mountainous views, are absolutely breathtaking….although you’ll need to keep your eyes wide open to really enjoy this death-defying ride.
6. Dine in one of the ‘World’s Best Restaurants’
South America has recently come to the culinary spotlight after no less than eight of its eateries were included in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards. Here at Chimu, we’ve often waxed lyrical about the best restaurants in South America being absolute world-class contenders and, to be honest, consider a culinary tour de force an unmissable highlight for any visiting foodie.
Among the most superb delectable highlights, we’re particularly fond of Lima’s Central. Everything about Central is sublime, from its unique menus inspired by Peru’s native cuisines to the crazy story of how its Michelin-starred chef only realized his culinary talents after injury forced him out of a professional skateboarding career. What a delectable case of serendipity!
So travel to South America! Explore. Feast. Enjoy.
7. Experience the Amazon in world-class luxury
You probably know that there’s a multitude of ways you can experience the Amazon Rainforest, be it by boat or based on one of the many eco-lodges built on stilts in various locations. But we bet our bottom dollar that you didn’t know that you can actually experience the Amazon in absolute, world-class luxury.
Amen to that!
Tailor-made for discerning adventurers who still crave an authentic and organic experience (without the need to give up on creature comforts) cruises aboard the Delfin IIII – as featured in our Ultimate Luxury Tour of Peru – offers a truly extraordinary jungle experience, one that comes complete with magnificent suites, plunge pool and Jacuzzi, beauty spa, gourmet dining and a fabulous array of water toys like kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. Aboard this grand river-dame, the hardest part of your day will be deciding what titillating activity to do first. Uncompromising luxury in one of the most challenging destinations on earth?
Yes. We’ll drink a sundowner on the Amazon River to that…
8. Ride on one of the world’s highest railways
The Lima to Huancayo train ride meanders along one of the world’s second highest railways and is renowned among enthusiasts as one of the greatest railway journeys on our planet. The railway was first built in the 1870s to aid mining in the region and still rates as an impressive feat of engineering. Showcasing some of the most picturesque scenery in the whole country, the train kisses the edge of the Andes the entire way up and affords mind-blowing views for hours on end. The ride covers the 346km-distance in an astonishing 12-14 hours, due to the logistical challenges of climbing to an eye-watering elevation of 4,781m, across 58 bridges and straight through 69 tunnels. In order to tackle the steep ascent, the railway was designed to incorporate some truly hair-raising switchbacks. Twenty-one of them, in fact.
Do note that exceptional vista-admiring is only afforded if you take the train up from Lima. The return journey, from Huancayo, takes place overnight.
Huancayo is the heart and soul of the central Peruvian Andes, a traditional city steeped in history and culture. Once here, you can discover stunning geological rock formations and choose from a wide array of brilliant hiking trails. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience in Peru, combined with an eye-popping railway journey you’ll surely ever forget, then this one’s for you.
9. Take a time-travel journey back to 19th-century Germany
High above a verdant valley of one of Venezuela’s most luscious rainforests hides Colonia Tovar, one of the most authentic Bavarian villages you’ll find outside of Germany. Initially settled by a wave of German immigrants in the 1870s who fervently remained true to their heritage, Colonia Tovar is a pretty-as-a-postcard town dubbed ‘The Germany of the Caribbean’. Aside its spectacular location on fertile hilltops, the town is an absolute visual feast as well as a unique culinary treasure. Homes and buildings showcase that distinctive Bavarian architectural style of dark wooden panelling and steep red roofs, which originally evolved in Germany to deflect heavy snowfalls. Colourful floral decorations adorn window sills and gardens in Colonia Tovar, and you’ll see many lady vendors dressed in traditional dirndls.
Local traditions in Colonia Tovar include rowdy Oktoberfest celebrations and huge fiestas on the 8th April, the town’s birthday. Yet the most rewarding experiences are offered in local restaurants. Bavarian bratwurst and baked pork knuckles, apple strudel, Black Forrest cake and a divine selection of dark sourdough breads are proudly displayed on restaurant menus. Colonia Tovar is only 65km west of Caracas and easily reached by road in 1.5hrs.
10. Channel your inner gaucho in Uruguay
Few cultural experiences can match the thrills and rewards of an all-encompassing stay in a traditional hacienda (or estancia) in South America. As the latest tourist trend continues to grow in popularity, an array of amazing historical ranches and farmhouses are opening up to the public.
Haciendas typically offer an array of experiences: from wine- tasting to spa treatments, horse riding excursions and luxury indulgences in former coffee plantations.
Some of the most unique and authentic stays, however, are in rustic and rural estancias in Uruguay. Many just a few hours’ drive from the beautiful capital, Montevideo. What sets Uruguay’s estancias apart is the fact that most are true-blue working ranches; ones which may have now opened their doors to visitors but not ones which still only exist because of them. Places like wonderful Estancia Los Platanos and Aguila Blanca don’t just offer a comfortable rural retreat in Uruguay, but also an in-depth look into the agricultural history of the region, hands-on farm experiences alongside plenty of excursions to explore the striking and sprawling countryside. Uruguay’s diminutive size means that you can easily add a few nights’ stay to a whirlwind visit of Montevideo, a very enticing city in its own right.
Here at Chimu Adventures, we love nothing more than to inspire, delight and assist, in planning unforgettable journeys to what we consider the most exciting, surprising and rewarding destinations on earth. For all Latin American adventures (and more super cool stuff to discover) contact us today.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”