South America is a wildlife lover's absolute paradise, where exceptional animal encounters are a near daily occurrence no matter where you go. Take just one step outside of any major capital, and you’ll be thrust in the arms of Mother Nature. This is, primarily, what makes the continent so unique. Massive urbanization means most of South America is actually scarcely populated and given the sheer variety of ecosystems found here – from some of the world’s highest mountains to its most luscious rainforests, cloud forests and everything in between – wildlife thrives at every turn.
Wildlife experiences are a given no matter what kind of South America travel experience you seek: whether it’s sailing around its tropical islands of the north or spellbinding fjords of the south, hiking in the heart of its most incredible national parks, taking overland road-trips through its arid altiplanos or heading to particularly fertile spots – like the Pantanal or Amazon – specifically in search of unique species to admire.
The best wildlife experiences of all, across a continent that boasts inarguably the most varied collection of animals on the planet.
There’s a beast here for every taste!
The Amazon Rainforest
Explore the Amazon Basin or cruise down the mighty Amazon river on these holidays with Viva.
The most famous natural treasure in all of South America boasts one of the highest rates of wildlife biodiversity on earth. The Amazon Rainforest is home to over 400 mammals (among them jaguars, giant otters and tapirs the size of a small car), more than 1300 birds and almost 400 different reptiles, alongside thousands of invertebrates and unique fish like the toothy piranhas. Now, the only tricky aspect of wildlife-watching in the Amazon is that the luscious rainforest cover that allows all these creatures to thrive is the same cover that makes spotting them a little challenging. Nevertheless, for an iconic wilderness and wildlife-spotting experience, the Amazon Rainforest is unsurpassed. Easy to access from several base point across quite a few countries (Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia being among the best) a visit to the Amazon is a quintessential wildlife experience on South America travels.
Contrastingly, the Galapagos Islands are inarguably the best for seeing a wide array of very unique animals, really close up. Step on any of these stunning volcanic islands, and it’s like Mother Nature literally hurls the creatures at you! Step over marine iguanas on the rocky shores, waddle with lazy seals along a glorious stretch of pristine beach and sit for hours watching albatross and blue-footed boobies dance for their mate just meters away from you. Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are renowned as one of the world’s very best wildlife-watching destinations and certainly rate #1 in South America for truly immersive and almost interactive experiences. There’s nowhere else on the continent (or the world) where you can get this close to all the animals. Choose a small ship cruising expedition here for a week, and it’ll be just you and your ship-mates hiking on idyllic uninhabited islands spotting Giant Tortoises and wondering why life can’t be this perfect, every single day.
When it comes to tropical wilderness areas that are super ideal for spotting wildlife, then Brazil’s Pantanal trumps them all. Yep…even the Amazon. The world’s largest tropical wetlands are just as gloriously nutritious and enticing as the Amazon, yet the distinct lack of thick forest cover means you actually get to see them all in their glory. Yes, there are jaguars in the Amazon but your best chance of seeing one is in the Pantanal (and the same can be said for capybaras, anteaters, tapirs etc.) and that’s because the Pantanal is only a fraction the size of the Amazon. Hence its wildlife concentration is infinitely higher. If you dream of an iconic tropical jungle experience with some wildlife-watching then pick the Amazon. If animals are the only thing that matter…then you just can’t canoe past the Pantanal.
For animals of a very different kind, Patagonia is where you’ll want to go. South America’s southern region (which is shared between Chile and Argentina) is home to a spectacular array of Andean wildlife, among them guanacos, Andean condors, pumas, penguins, foxes, armadillos and maras, among so many more. This is a particularly excellent place for bird-watching tours and given the extensive lack of human habitation this far south (splendid for nature but brutal for climate) and a stunning array of hiking opportunities, Patagonia is the best destination in the continent if you want to spot plenty of animals on day-long walks.
The Valdes Peninsula – The Ultimate Marine Wildlife Destination
For some of the best whale watching in the world, click here.
The southern region of Patagonia is also an excellent whale-watching destination, especially in the Valdes Peninsula if you’re planning to visit between August and December. This is the mating and calving period for southern right whales, one of the most elusive (and threatened) whale species of all. The peninsula, brimming with enormous colonies of elephant sea lions, also entices orcas all year long, who famously hunt for the delectable little guys by surfing on the shores. This is one of the continent’s most incredible wildlife spectacles. Head here in October or November to see both orcas and southern rights, as well as dolphins, penguins and seals, in all their amazing glory.
Discover the magnificent mountains and glaciers of South Georgia on these cruises. Sometimes called the 'Serengeti of the Southern Ocean'.
Part of the British governed South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands archipelago, South Georgia is one of the best wildlife watching destinations in the Antarctic Peninsula and can be considered the Galapagos of the freezing South. This deceptively barren island is home to hundreds of thousands of pairs of King Penguins as well as a mind-boggling number of Macaroni penguins and leopard seals. The beaches here are so chock-full of wildlife that, sometimes, landing ashore is a bit of a challenge! South Georgia (along with the nearby Falklands) is one of the prime highlights on Antarctica cruises departing from Ushuaia in Patagonia, the southernmost city in the world. When planning an Antarctica expedition, make sure you choose an itinerary that includes a stop-over on South Georgia. It may well end up being the most unforgettable South America travel experience of all.
If you’d love to know more about tailor-made and small group tours to South America (and even cruises to Antarctica) feel free to contact us today.