So many choices, such little time, or so the intrepid explorer’s story goes. Planning a trip to South America is fun, we’ll grant you that, but it can also be a little stressy, considering the sheer amount of choice of highlights, destinations and famous sites to visit. On our 10 EPIC Must-do Journeys Across South America, we aim to take some of the pressure off by highlighting the most sensational adventures you could have in the land of misty peaks, llamas and mouth-watering churros.
Top 10 journeys across South America:
- Antarctica Expedition - set sail for the end of the world
- Search for hidden wonders in the Amazon
- Time travel to Lake Titicaca
- Drive the mighty route 40
- Sail the Galapagos Islands
- Tackle the W-treck in Torres del Paine, Patagonia
- Take on the big five challenge
- Ride the historic train to Machu Picchu
- Hang-glide in Rio de Janeiro
- Take a speed-boat ride under the Iguazu Falls
1. Antarctica Expedition – Set Sail for the End of the World
Choose the journey of your taste to Antarctica here.
The journeys to top off all journeys, an Antarctica cruise expedition cruise takes you to the end of the world. And how epic would that be?! Set off form Ushuaia across the infamous Drake Passage before finally casting your eyes on the mesmerizing white contours of Antarctica, our planet’s last true frontier. Gargantuan icebergs, noisy penguins, majestic whales and lazy elephant seals: an Antarctica expedition is unrivalled grandeur at its absolute best.
How to do it? Much as with the Galapagos, you have a whole world of options for visiting Antarctica. Our Discover Antarctica cruise gives you a good overview of what you can see and where you can go in just 10 days.
2. Search for Hidden Wonders in the Amazon – The Ultimate Jungle Adventure
Go on adventure to mysterious Amazon rainforest. Explore more opportunities here.
Our planet’s most prominent rainforest is a whole different world onto itself. Remote, enticing, luscious and challenging all at once, it offers what is, perhaps, the most distinctive journey of all in South America. Covering an estimated 6.9 million square kilometres (almost half of the entire continent) the Amazon is a gigantic ecosystem home to dozens of still-uncontacted tribes and thousands of species of wildlife and flora, making up at least 10% of the world’s biodiversity, as far as we know. It is an astonishing wonder to explore ad infinitum.
How to do it? The Amazon is subdivided into various reserves in multiple countries and your best bet for a rewarding experience is to hone in on one. One of our favourites is Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve because it’s easy to access, well set-up for visitors and still pristine as can be. Most of your time is actually spent IN the jungle, not trying to reach it and that makes it an excellent choice. See our Colours of Peru tour to see how seamlessly a visit can be integrated into a country-wide itinerary.
3. Time-travel to Lake Titicaca – A Boat Trip to an Ancient World
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The highest navigable lake in the world is seemingly stuck in a time-warp of sorts, having barely changed at all in the last few centuries. Indigenous Peruvians and Bolivians still live here as they have since time immemorial, floating on their hand-made reed islands, replenishing their foundations constantly and welcoming curious visitors with charming friendliness. The fact that the lake is framed by vertiginous Andean snow-capped peaks certainly adds to the appeal, as does the sapphire hue of the water. Life, up here, looks spectacularly beautiful and a boat trip on Lake Titicaca about as glorious as a South American journey can get.
How to do it? Peru and Bolivia share Lake Titicaca and there are two towns (Puno and Copacabana, respectively) that act as great bases for boat trips. Puno is particularly convenient to reach from Cusco and that’s why it’s often included on a visit to Machu Picchu. See how we combine the best bits on our Enchanting South America tour.
4. Drive the Mighty Route 40 – The #1 Adventure Road Trip
Have the most exciting road trip through changing incredible South America's landscapes. Find your trip here.
The legendary Route 40 isn’t just one of the most epic must-do journeys in South America: it rates as one of the most sensational road trip destinations on the planet. One of the longest highways ever built, stretching for over 5,000km across spellbinding landscapes comprising sky-reaching peaks, fertile valleys and breathtaking rocky gorges, the Route 40 is one every adventure traveller’s bucket-list. A better visual feast, in just a single drive, you’ll never find.
Need one travel the whole distance to have a rewarding journey, you ask? Not at all! We’re absolutely in love with the northern Argentinian section, where we find one soaks up a stellar number of sites and experiences in a relatively short (1,300km) section of the route. From the ethereal salt plains of Salinas Grande to the multi-hued mountains of Purmamarca, the architectural delights of forgotten villages and ancient colonial towns and the dramatic rocky maze of the Talampaya National Park, this section of the sensational Route 40 serves up all the goodies along with the unforgettable ride.
How to do it? With a sports bra and an ATV truck, of course! Check out our most popular itinerary in the region and see how you can soak up the wonders of the Northern Route 40 in just 2 weeks
5. Sail the Galapagos Islands – A Wildlife-enriched Yachting Adventure
Choose your way of exploring here.
No epic must-do journeys in South America list could ever be complete without the Galapagos, one of our planet’s most astonishing wildlife refuges. This remote archipelago lies off the coast of Ecuador and – despite its short-lived history as a whaling and fishing haunt – has flourished almost untouched by man. Most of the islands are uninhabited by humans but filled to the brim with exotic and unique creatures. Some of the most enchanting in the world. Exploring this wonder of nature by small-ship about the best way to soak it all up.
How to do it? Read our Galapagos Guide to know more about visiting this fervently protected sanctuary and check out our 10-day Sea Star Luxury Journey to get an idea of the kind of life-changing experience you can have.
6. Tackle the W-trek in Torres del Paine, Patagonia – The Ultimate Hike
Hike in the most beautiful places of South America. Click here to explore your options.
Aaaahhh, the Towers of Pain, as we love to call them, are an unfightable force of nature and certainly an unmissable challenge for hikers the world over. One of South America’s most prized national parks, Torres del Paine is the cherry atop Patagonia’s magnificent cake, revered for its mind-boggling peaks and impressive concentration of wildlife. Soaking up the sight on foot – and with just a dash of breathlessness – is about the best way to experience it. The choice of hiking trails here is phenomenal with the W-walk, a popular choice for expert hikers, taking multiple days to complete and covering a staggering 50km. This route takes you to the glorious Grey Glacier, along the stunning French Valley and, for the ta-daaaa moment, the most magnificent viewpoint of the granite towers after which the park is named. Start training in earnest for this one!
How to do it? Yes, you could prepare for a mammoth hiking expedition or you could be a sneaky fox, like us, and split up the W-walk into three, much more manageable sections. Check out our Southern Explorer itinerary to see how we do it and where we access the park.
7. Take On the Big Five Challenge – A Whirlwind Journey
Experience diverse culture from different locations in South America. Click here to see the tours.
The mother of all epic must-do journeys in South America, the Big Five Challenge is no mean feat and certainly not for the faint of heart. You’d need a ticker of platinum to put up with this much excitement in one single adventure! So strap on your boots, water the plants, leave extra food for the cat and get ready to be totally blown out of your routine: we’ve talking Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, the Galapagos AND Machu Picchu (otherwise, it would be the Big Four, d’uh!) in one, sensational journey of discovery. A mammoth first-timer’s delight and just perfect if you’re one of those individuals who want their cake and eat it too.
Because why have cake if you can’t eat it?!
How to do it? Planes, trains and automobiles are needed to take on the Big Five Challenge. We suggest you plan about a month for this mega journey. Check out our Big Five Explorer to see how we do it.
8. Ride the Historic train to Machu Picchu – One of the World’s Best
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Exhausted yet? Thought you might be. Perhaps it’s time to take a more leisurely approach to epic journeys because, at the end of the day, no-one said it had to be exhausting! Peru’s most famous archaeological site is also the continent’s most sought-after highlight and, although visiting this ancient Inca city can be done on a multi-day trek through the Andes, it is also possible (and immensely enjoyable) to do so by train. Why? Well, because it takes just an hour and a half to reach Machu Picchu Town by train (as opposed to 5 days on foot), you get spectacular Andean views the whole time and will actually arrive in Machu Picchu with plenty of energy to still tour it thoroughly and really enjoy it. A triple-whammy, in our eyes! Plus, this is the world’s third-highest railway line so one does get extra brownie points for that!
How to do it? First, you’ll need to reach Cusco, the capital of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, then organize transport to Ollantaytambo and, from there, take the train to Machu Picchu town. Considering you’ll probably plan on seeing more of Peru, check out our Peru Highlights itinerary to see how many more epic journeys we can squeeze in over just 9 days.
9. Hang-glide in Rio de Janeiro – For the Best Bird’s Eye-View
Experience the highs of trips to South America.
South America is home to some seriously wicked capital cities; hubs that are wonderful for shopping, sightseeing and gastronomic feasting. Having said that, there aren’t many that anyone would consider reason enough to fly half-way around the world to visit. That is, except Rio de Janeiro, a true Brazilian sparkle that, ironically enough, isn’t even its capital. Rio is one of the most vibrant and enticing cities in the world, home to spectacular highlights and a wonderful gateway for outstanding adventures. So what’s not to love? Climb up to Corcovado, take a selfie with the Cristo and enjoy swoon worthy views on a cable-car up to Sugar Loaf. But wait…there’s more! Hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro rates among the continent’s most insane adventures, casting off from the edge of Corcovado Mountain and soaring high above a nature reserve before landing on the fabulous beaches below. The most magnificent Rio views of all and a thrilling journey you’ll never forget.
How to do it? Whilst there are no direct flights between Auckland and Rio, there are direct connections to Buenos Aires, Argentina. From here, it’s just a swift hop to Rio over the spectacular Iguazu Falls. Hit your golden trifecta this way (see our itinerary suggestion) and you’ll bag way more than you could ever dream.
10. Take a Speed-boat Ride Under the Iguazu Falls – Drenchin’ Good Fun!
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The continent’s most famous and spectacular falls are epic to visit any which way you can. But for a truly EPIC experience, add an unforgettable speed-boat ride right into the guts of it. Boating Iguazu Falls is one of the most sensational thrills South America offers as it gets you closer to the action and the truly astonishing force of the falls. Drenching is absolutely guaranteed on this journey but so are life-long memories. Superb to do on a sweltering hot summer day! We suggest you do your boat ride just as soon as you arrive: not only does it grant you an ethereal ‘intro’ to Iguazu Falls but it also gives you the rather genial chance to stay cool (and dry off) for the remainder of your visit.
How to do it? With a convenient airport nearby, Iguazu Falls is an easy addition to any tour of South America. If you love the idea of road trippin’ over, however, check out our awesome Highlights of Argentina and Uruguay small group tour and see how we get you there (and everywhere else) in 2 totally fab weeks of adventure.
If you’re wondering where you own epic journey across South America will start, we’d happy to offer even more inspiration. Visit our Viva Expeditions page for itinerary ideas and explore our comprehensive array of exceptional destinations throughout all of Latin America. Contact us here for more info on how you can join one of our tours.