From the Andean peaks and glaciers of Patagonia to the jungles of the Amazon to the miles and miles of beaches, South America is full of landscapes captivating for any outdoor enthusiast.
Over the last year, we spent close to six months exploring the sights and sounds of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil, and we can’t wait to return for more (Argentina, we are looking at you)! If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure in South America, here are a few you can’t miss.
Hiking in Patagonia
Rugged, wild, arid, and unpredictable — yet stunningly beautiful. This is how we would describe Patagonia, a region located at the southern end of South America in both Argentina and Chile.
Patagonia is heaven for hikers! The region has no shortage of mountain ranges, trails, and hiking spots that will suit trekkers from all walks of life with varying levels of experience. You’ll find everything from a challenging 5-Day W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, to day-hikes to Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy in El Chalten, Argentina.
While we only had three weeks to spend in Patagonia, avid hikers often spend months taking in the region’s spectacular views and amazing trails.
Trekking in the Peruvian Andes
The town of Cusco is not only a UNESCO Heritage Site and the historic capital of the Inca Empire, but also a hub for some incredible treks throughout the Andes Mountains. Steeped in Incan history and tradition, many of the treks offer more than just a physical challenge — they become historical journeys that retrace the footsteps of ancient civilizations.
While most travel to the region in hopes of completing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, many don’t realize the number of other incredible treks you can undertake in the region. We managed to escape the crowds at Machu Picchu and enjoy a beautiful, but challenging 5-day trek to Choquequirao instead, dubbed Machu Picchu’s little sister. The trail to Choquequirao spans over 60 kilometers, zigzagging along the walls of the deep Apurimac Valley.
It’s spectacular, and the fact that it leads to an incredible set of lesser-known Inca citadels is just icing on the cake.
Cycling the Death Road in Bolivia
Not all beautiful spots in South America can be explored on two feet. The Yungus Road, also known as Death Road, located outside of La Paz, is best explored by mountain bike.
There is a reason why Yungus has been dubbed “the most dangerous road in the world.” The three-meter-wide road stretches for over 40 miles with sheer cliffs and very few guardrails, yet the danger of the ride is exactly what makes this adventure so thrilling. The ride is not for everyone (only one of us was brave enough), but the courageous ones are rewarded with spectacular views of the Yungus Valley that can only be seen from the treacherous road.
Camping in Tayrona National Park in Colombia
Pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and a protected natural environment in Tayrona National Park makes this a destination you won’t want to miss. You can only get into the park by hiking (unless you want to cheat and take a long boat ride in), but that doesn’t seem to deter beach bums and nature lovers from Tayrona’s many shorelines. During our visit last Christmas, the beaches were packed to the brim with locals!
Luckily, if you stay away from the park’s most popular beach, El Cabo, you’ll be able to find a patch of sand or grass to call your own. The warm waters create perfect conditions for coral growth, so snorkeling and diving are popular inside the park. Hiking trails abound, many weaving along the coast, connecting a set of secluded beaches.
Camping is permitted — in fact, it’s encouraged, as there are only a handful of eco-cabanas available inside the park and they are not easy on the wallet.
Hiking to the top of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil
No South American bucket list is complete without a trip to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, but few visitors opt to take the scenic route on the way up.
The one to two hour hike to the top of Corcovado Mountain starts inside of Parque Lage and winds gently through a dense forest before turning into a steep path that leads up the mountain. The hike is challenging, but rewarding, giving a different dimension to an experience that will otherwise be remembered as just another spot for an awesome photo.
Diving in the Galapagos Islands
There are not many places in the world where you can get up close and personal with wildlife, but the Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, is one of them. The islands are full of opportunities to interact with incredible nature and its unique inhabitants, whether it be through hikes to the highlands and volcanoes or visits to the Tortoise Breeding Center or the Charles Darwin Research Station. But the best and most unique wildlife in the Galapagos is found deep underwater.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a week-long liveaboard cruise in the Galapagos to get a chance to spot hammerhead sharks, turtles, manta rays, or sea lions. Day dive trips can be organized from Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands, allowing you to explore the underwater world without spending a fortune.
Strong currents in the waters near the Galapagos make the dive sites here most suitable for experienced divers, but anyone with an Open Water Certification is usually welcomed aboard. So go on, the sea lions await!