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TID Marketing Manager, Brona Pham and her husband Dave, recently spent 4 months travelling in South America through Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
After all the rickety bus rides, questionable border crossings and memorable meals, here are their top 8 experiences that are worth travelling 15,000 kms for.
The Galapagos Islands are a group of 18 volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean and famous for the huge amount of wildlife unique to the region. We spent 5 days cruising around the western islands and it was by far the highlight of my four month trip. Getting up close to sea lions, giant tortoises, penguins, iguanas and blue footed boobies was truly a once in a life time experience.
Top Tip: Book last minute in Quito or on the island of Santa Cruz to save up to 50% on Galapagos Island cruises.
Believe the hype – the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is as magical as you’ve heard. The 4 day, 43km hike through the Andean mountains is challenging but well worth the effort. The Andes are home to numerous micro climates so the scenery is constantly changing from lush green mountains to jungles and cloud forests. The final destination of the wondrous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu is the perfect end to the journey.
Top Tip: Spots on the Inca Trail are limited to 300 people per day so book your trek well in advance.
The Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve is situated in the south western region of Bolivia in the Andean mountains. Covering an area of over 7000 sq km, it is home to erupting volcanoes, hot springs, lagoons and geysers. The scenery is out of this world with dramatic landscapes and some impressive rock formations. It is difficult to visit the reserve independently but most Uyuni Salt Flat tours include a 2 day trip to the park as part of the itinerary.
Top Tip: Accommodation here is basic with no hot water and limited electricity, so wrap up warm as nights get very cold, even in summer.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most popular attractions in the Patagonia region in southern Argentina. Located 80km from the town of El Calafate, the scale of the glacier is staggering – 30km long, 5km wide and 60m tall. Don your crampons (a spikey shoe you can hire for walking across the ice) and enjoy a mini trek across part of the glacier for a closer look at this awesome ice formation. You’ll also get great photos of the glacier on the boat ride across the park to where the hike begins.
Top Tip: Ice trekking not your thing? View the glacier from afar from one of the many viewing decks.
Traditionally renowned for violence and drug wars, many Rio favelas have been pacified in recent years and are now safe for travellers. Vidigal, perched high above the city, enjoys a wonderful view of Ipanema beach and has a number of hostels. We stayed here for a week, enjoying the local cuisine, catching the bus with locals and getting to know a different side to Rio. Get yourself a good map as the favelas are huge and steep hills make getting lost a tiring exercise!
Top Tip: Take the 90 minute hike to the top of nearby “Two Brothers Hill” for unbeatable city views. Early birds can get an extra special treat with stunning scenes at sunrise.
You cannot visit South America without experiencing the electric atmosphere of a soccer game. Chanting, drumming and singing starts long before the first kick of the ball and continues throughout the 90 minutes. Due to violent clashes in the past, security is high and anything that can be thrown or used as a weapon will be confiscated. Leave phones, lighters and even make up like lip gloss and eyeliner behind.
Top Tip: Check out the teams ahead of time and make sure you are not wearing the wrong colours!
A ski haven in winter, Bariloche is also a great stop in summer with lakes and mountains galore. Challenge yourself with the scenic ‘Circuito Chico’ 27km bike ride through the mountains and around lakes. Take the short but steep hike up Cerro Campanario for stunning views over the area. For a longer hike, tackle Refugio Frey, a scenic trail through the forest and mountains to a lake hidden at the top. It’s well worth the seven hour return trip.
Top Tip: Enjoy street parties every weekend in summer on Juramento when local pubs have seats outdoors and local bands entertain revellers.
Cartagena is the tourist capital of Colombia with the walled Old Town the key attraction. The historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, complete with cobblestone streets and colourful buildings. Walk around the 13km colonial walls, sample some street food or fine Colombian coffee in a local café. Outside the walls, don’t miss Iglesia de la Trinidad in Getsemani where locals gather every evening to dance, eat, drink and socialise.
Top Tip: Skip the overcrowded and underwhelming beaches at Bocagrande. Get a boat to the picturesque Playa Blanca beach instead.