South America is home to the Amazon, ancient cultures and rare wildlife. We asked Rachel Williams, founder of Viva Expeditions, to come up with her five all-time favourite South American destinations.
After you have visited the citadel perched up high in the mountains, surrounded by cloud forest, you will realise why Machu Picchu features in so many bucket lists. Rachel believes the picturesque setting of this archaeological wonder, with the Andes as a backdrop, makes it the biggest of the Big 5, in every sense of the word. Options include hiking the Inca trail or taking the train to Machu Picchu from Cusco – Rachel’s recommendation is the ultra-luxury Harim Bingham train.
Here you can hang out with giant tortoises, sunbathe with marine iguanas and dive with sharks. Up to 100 hammerhead sharks gather in the Galapagos islands. Rachel says this is something that only occurs in a few rare places on earth, so if you get a chance to see it, then dive in – with expert support and advice of course. She recommends a cruise as a great way to take in the islands.
The Amazon covers entire regions from no less than nine South American countries. Rachel suggests accessing it via Brazil, Peru or Ecuador. Generally, after arriving at the gateway to the Amazon, you will travel by boat up or down river to your lodge. Excursions from this base include hikes, canoeing, boating, wildlife viewing, visits to native villages, shamen visits, canopy exploration, swimming and fishing for piranha. Cruises allow you to cover a greater range and offer a different perspective.
Rio de Janeiro
While the name may conjure up images of Brazilian street parties and Samba dancers, for Rachel, Rio de Janeiro’s appeal goes way beyond carnival, Explore the exciting metropolis, check out the views from the statue of Christ the Redeemer or stroll along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Rachel describes the panoramic view from Sugarloaf Mountain as “one of the best in the whole continent”.
Rachel says she has seen the Iguazu Falls amaze even the most experienced traveller and the fact that you can visit it from two countries (Argentina and Brazil), makes it even more intriguing. For the ultimate ‘wow factor’, she recommends taking a helicopter ride over the falls.