With so many places to go to in Latin America, it has been really tough to narrow down my favourites…. but here we go… my bucket list of Latin America revealed below:
1. Trek to Machu Picchu
The 3-day Inca trail takes you past several Incan ruins and through a variety of stunning vistas, from snow-capped mountain scenes to cloud forests and jungle terrain. Those with reasonable fitness levels should have no problem reaching the mysterious ‘Lost City of the Incas’, a majestic sight to behold. Availability on this world-famous trek is limited, but don’t worry if you find there are no places left. You can also reach Machu Picchu via the more challenging and less touristy Salkantay Trek, the ultimate luxury Mountain Lodges of Peru Trek.
Top Tip: Spend a final night in a luxury hotel before returning to Cusco. Rest those weary limbs and rise early the next day to have the ancient citadel all to yourself. Climb Huyana Picchu, visit the Temple of the Moon, or just enjoy one of the world’s most famous vistas – It’s a view you can never get tired of!
2. Rio Carnival
Every year millions of people descend on Latin America’s most famous city for the greatest party on the planet. Brazilians definitely know how to put on a good show, and whether it’s the street parties, beach parties or the famous Samba school parades at the Sambodromo, I can guarantee this will be one of the most amazing weeks of your life. During the day, Rio is still running as normal, so you can do all the sightseeing and beach tanning before the festivities start again as the sun goes down.
Top Tip: Spend a bit extra for better seats at the Sambodromo. Base yourself around the halfway mark and higher up in the grandstands where you get a real perspective of the incredible float designs, dazzling costumes and choreographed samba schools.
The ‘White Continent’ is certainly a once in a lifetime journey where few human visitors ever venture. You will never regret following in the footsteps of Shackleton, viewing unique wildlife and cruising past monolithic icebergs.
Yes, it is expensive and the weather is unpredictable, but this will be an adventure that is hard to beat.
Top Tip: Take a cruise that visits South Georgia. The vast King Penguin colonies are a sight and smell to behold. Due to the limited accessibility of the Emperor Penguin colonies on Antarctica, this is you best chance to see one of the larger, more famous breeds.
This is THE waterfall to visit anywhere in the world. You will need 2 days to visit both the Brazilian and Argentinian side of the falls with both offering something different. Brazil has the famous panoramic views, whilst Argentina has the exhilarating and not-to-be-missed boat ride under the lower falls. You will get wet, but it is rather refreshing in the heat!
Top Tip: If you happen to visit during full moon, revisit the Argentinian side for their midnight tour without the crowds. Standing at the edge of the ferocious Garganta del Diablo ‘Devil’s Throat’ in the moonlight is both eerie and romantic.
5. Take a Galapagos Cruise
There is no better way to experience this unique ecosystem than on a cruise. I am not talking about a huge boat, but a small luxury yacht. The itineraries vary in both length and the wildlife you will see. Nevertheless, walking amongst the Giant Tortoises and Blue-Footed Boobies will show you just how little has changed since Charles Darwin himself arrived in the archipelago almost 200 years ago.
Top Tip: if you want to scuba dive, spend a couple of nights on Santa Cruz Island before you leave the Galapagos. This way you don’t miss out on any of the island stops and wildlife tours whilst on the cruise.
6. Watch Icebergs being formed at the Perito Moreno Glacier
One of only a few advancing glaciers, it is impossible not to stare open mouthed at the enormity of this huge jagged ice field. With a face of over 60m in height, and a seamless mix of sapphire crevasses and turquoise peaks, there is always a hushed excitement from the surrounding viewpoints as cracks and creeks inevitably lead to huge chunks of ice being calved of the glacier front, crashing into the lake and sending huge waves toward the shore.
Top Tip: Do not pass up the opportunity to go for an ice trek on the glacier. You can do a short or a longer ‘trek’, and there is nothing quite like heading into the centre of the glacier with the thunderous noise of the ice calving off the glacier face.
At over 2000 miles from mainland Chile, it is not surprising this is considered the most remote inhabited island on the planet. The many hundreds of Moai statues scattered across the island coastline, and the mystery surrounding their purpose, is what draws the visitors.
But there is so much more to offer – vast volcanic crater lakes, beautiful beaches, great diving, caves and some very friendly Polynesian people. It is impossible not to fall in love with this island.
Top Tip: Watch the sunset from atop Ranu Kao Volcano. The crater borders the cliffs on the South West of the island, and you can almost guaranteed to be alone.
8. Drive across the Bolivian Salt Flats
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. Taking a 4×4 journey across the high Atacama Desert plains, and on to the vast expanse of white hexagonal formations is a photographers dream. En route you will pass flamingo-inhabited coloured lakes, conical volcanoes, bubbling mud pools and rock formations reminiscent of a Salvador Dali painting.
Top Tip: Why not visit during the wet season of February & March? The salt flats are turned into a gigantic mirror that is still drivable and provides incredible photographic opportunities.
9. Visit the Amazon Rainforest
Whether you visit in Brazil, Peru or Ecuador, you will be guaranteed front row seats to some of the most colourful and exotic wildlife on the planet. Keep your eyes peeled for monkeys, sloths, tree frogs and multi-coloured birds, and enjoy the serenity of the dense rainforest and its vast tributaries.
Top Tip: Stay in one of the smaller, more remote jungle lodges and explore the rainforest by boat and on foot. The quality of wildlife and guides will make the long journey all the more worthwhile.
10. Tickle whales in Mexico
Every year between January and March, this sandy Mexican peninsula becomes the migration and breeding destination for thousands of Grey, Humpback, Finn and even Blue whales. Grey whales are notoriously friendly and a trip to San Ignacio Lagoon will let you scratch and tickle these gargantuan mammals, a truly phenomenal experience.
Top Tip: Self Drive through Baja California. It is safe and easily navigable. Most importantly it gives you the flexibility to spend as long or as little time at the various whale-watching spots.
The Belize Reef is an idyllic underwater paradise. It is one of the few places I know where snorkelling is just as rewarding as strapping a tank to your back. Divers should not miss the opportunity to dive The Great Blue Hole, one of the top dive site sites in the world. For those without a PADI certificate, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve has some of the most pristine coral gardens and bounteous marine life you will ever encounter. Don’t miss an opportunity to stroke some of the larger creatures in Shark-Ray Alley.
Top Tip: Buy a waterproof casing for your camera. It was one of the best purchases I ever made. It is impossible for even an amateur not to take impressive underwater photos on the reef.
A vast area of savannah and wetlands, seasonally flooded to help keep this one of the premier wildlife spotting places in the world. The opportunity to spot a jaguar during the dry season in certain parts of the northern Pantanal. However this is not the only trump card this corner of Brazil holds. The lack of dense jungle makes it far easier to spot wildlife than the neighbouring Amazon. The variety of unique animals is vast; from anteaters to river otters, anacondas and capybaras.
Top Tip: Spend a bit longer in this corner of Brazil and visit Chapada dos Guimarães National Park. Stunning vistas of table-top mountains, waterfalls, caves and ravines make this a paradise for both walkers and nature-lovers alike.
13. Explore the wilderness of Patagonia
Stretching for thousands of miles from the Chilean Lake district to Cape Horn, Patagonia crosses from Chile to Argentina and back again. It descends from a landscape of snow-capped volcanoes and ancient forests, through icy fjords teeming with salmon, past enormous turquoise glaciers, ending in the shadow of towering granite peaks. The highlight for most is Torres del Paine National Park and its impressive Cordillera, a true adventurers’ paradise.
Top Tip: Stay in one of the luxury full-board lodges within Torres del Paine National Park. The location is stunning, the guides are excellent and the endless list of activities will make you wish you had longer there.
Written by Grant Greenham
Latin America Specialist