South America is a vast continent with a wide variety of landscapes, wildlife, ancient cultures and modern cosmopolitan cities. The countries share interwoven histories of colonisation by the Portuguese in Brasil and Spanish everywhere else, dating back to the time of Columbus and the age of conquest. This strong European colonial influence enshrines the whole continent in a familiarity that contrasts with the remnants of powerful indigenous civilisations, providing an exotic blend that all inquisitive travellers will long to experience.
Consider the impressive remains of the ancient Inca civilisation in Peru and Bolivia, and Andean mountain landscapes stretching along the Pacific coast from Colombia in the north, through Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, all the way south to Argentina and Chile. The Amazon rainforest covers an immense area, including parts of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, with pristine virgin forest, wildlife and jungle lodges. Cruise the Galapagos Islands, Chilean Fjords and Glaciers of Tierra del Fuego or venture into Antarctica. The national parks of Patagonia in Argentina and Chile are the perfect places to embrace the great outdoors, walking in the mountains and admiring glaciers at close range. Travellers will also find beautiful sandy beaches and sophisticated cities such as Lima, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires with world class arts, shopping and culture, and high quality cuisine, hotels and restaurants to match.
In South America the seasons are reversed so it's Summer while we shiver in the Winter.
The largest and most biodiverse rainforest on EarthLearn More
South America - Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest covers territory in 9 countries in South America, stretching over the vast basin of the Amazon river, and considered to be the lungs of the world. Hidden beneath the thick rainforest canopy is an ecosystem of extraordinary biodiversity and home to a spectacular array of flora and fauna. A journey into the Amazon is a magical encounter with nature, escaping civilisation to reach secluded areas of pristine rainforest.
The majority of the rainforest is in Brazil, with Manaus acting as the main entry point. After exploring this fascinating city, once one of the richest in South America thanks to the rubber boom, a journey into the rainforest will continue along the Amazon river. A motor canoe will take visitors to one of the excellent Amazon Lodges in the area, either to the comfortable Amazon EcoPark nearby the city, or to a more basic and remote lodge such as the Juma Lodge. Alternatively, an excellent way to visit distinct parts of the rainforest is to take a cruise along the river in a riverboat such as the Tucano. An important distinction between the rainforest of Brazil and other parts of the Amazon is that in Brazil the forest floods. The low water period is in January, while the high water period is in June. During the flooded months, it is possible to take canoe trips through the labyrinth of trees which is the flooded rainforest.
Peru also has a considerable area of Amazon Rainforest, in two main regions. The Tambopata National Reserve, located on the Madre de Dios river (a tributary of the Amazon river) is located in southern Peru, a short flight from Cusco. This makes it the ideal option for travellers who would like to visit the rainforest in conjunction with a visit to Peru's ancient sites such as Machu Picchu. In the northern Peruvian rainforest, visitors can take river cruises through the Pacaya Samiria reserve, such as the Delfin II which departs from the city of Iquitos (a two hour flight from Lima).
There is also a relatively small area of Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, which makes it a perfect accompaniment to a trip through the Ecuadorean Andes, or the Galapagos Islands. Entering through the city of Coca (a 45-minute flight from Quito), there are excellent cruises along the Napo river such as the Manatee or Anaconda, and specialist lodges such as the Napo Wildlife Centre.
It is important to note that while there is abundant wildlife throughout the Amazon, the dense rainforest and shy nature of many species can make them difficult to spot. Specialist naturalist guides are on hand on all of our tours to help you see them, often with the aid of binoculars. Just as important as seeing wildlife in the Amazon is the experience of being within the jungle, seeing the giant trees close-up, and learning about the ecosystem of the world's largest tropical rainforest.
The world's longest continental mountain rangeLearn More
South America - The Andes
The Andes mountain chain forms the backbone of South America, running from Colombia (where it splits into 3 separate ranges) through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and forming the natural border between Chile and Argentina all the way south to Southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Its highest peak, Aconcagua in the Mendoza region of Argentina, at 6,961m above sea level is the highest mountain in the world outside of Asia.
The Andes were home to the Inca civilisation, the most powerful empire in the Americas before the Spanish conquest. Their empire covered territory up to northern Ecuador and southern Colombia, as far east as Bolivia, and as far south as northern Argentina and central Chile. Their capital was Cusco in the southern Peruvian Andes, which is still brimming with ruined Inca architecture and artifacts which demonstrated their wealth and power. Coricancha, the Temple of the Sun in central Cusco, and the fortresses of Sacsayhuaman and Puca Pucara just outside, are excellent examples of Inca stonework and longevity in the face of Spanish efforts to destroy them. Further examples of Inca ingenuity, scientific knowledge and engineering prowess can be found throughout the Sacred Valley at sites such as Ollantaytambo, with its fortress and well-preserved town, the crop-laboratory of Moray, and the ruins at Pisac. What is more, the modern descendants of the Incas can be found throughout the region, many wearing their traditional dress, and continuing their ancient practices of terrace farming, llama-rearing, and spinning and weaving with llama wool. The citadel of Machu Picchu, deep in the mountains, remains one of the most thrilling sites for visitors. Preserved for centuries by the encroaching forest, it is remarkably intact because the Spanish invaders never found it. Having been abandoned by the Incas on the arrival of the Spanish, it was only rediscovered in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham. There are also numerous Inca sites throughout the extent of their empire, such as in Ecuador and Bolivia, but of lesser importance than those in Peru.
Further South, the Andes are the backdrop to a variety of National Parks, lakes, forests and glaciers. The Chilean Lake District and the Argentinean Lake District find themselves on opposite sides of the mountains, but share the characteristics of dense forests, picturesque lakes, glacial rivers and waterfalls: all-round excellent terrain for lovers of the outdoors. Activities such as hiking, mountain-biking, horse riding, and kayaking on the lake are among the more strenuous excursions on offer, while many visitors are happy to take scenic drives and tranquil boat rides for a more relaxing day out.
Southern Patagonia, towards the very southern tip of the Andes, has its own National Parks and some of the finest natural attractions in South America. Chile's Torres del Paine National Park, with its distinctive mountains in the shape of 'Cuernos' (horns) and 'Torres' (towers), is a must-see for lovers of grand landscapes, snow-capped mountains and a feeling of isolation. There are excellent walking routes throughout the park, which can be enjoyed as day walks or attempted as a longer trek known as the 'W Trek', staying overnight in simple hostels. Argentina's Los Glaciares National Park, easily accessed on day trips from the town of El Calafate on the shore of Lake Argentino, is home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the world's only advancing glaciers, and one of the many fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
Discover momentous colonial and modern history in South America's great citiesLearn More
South America - Historic Cities
South America's great cities have histories stretching back hundreds of years to the times of Spanish and Portuguese conquest, some even further. They have been the epicentres of colonial rule, homes of royalty and viceroyalty, and the sites of revolutions, independence movements, dictatorships and the establishment of democracy. Their links with Europe throughout the colonial period imported sophisticated Spanish culture to much of South America, and Portuguese culture to Brazil. This has left many of the cities with well established artistic and cultural heritages, magnificent cathedrals and palaces, and universities.
The first great city in Brazil was Salvador, on the north eastern coast of Bahia. Founded in 1549, it was Brazil's first capital, and because of its location was one of the main ports for trade with Europe and the Portuguese empire. The state of Bahia was one of the richest in Brazil, through its production of sugarcane and tobacco. Rio de Janeiro, now a cosmopolitan metropolis known for its beaches, was from 1808-1821 the capital of the Portuguese empire. This move paved the way for a number of royal palaces to be built, and enhancing the city's culture, fine arts and architecture - a legacy which can still be seen today. This importance led to Rio remain the capital of Brazil through its independence, until 1960 when it was transferred to the newly built city of Brasilia.
In Peru, the city of Lima was founded in 1535 on the site of a much older settlement, evidenced by the adobe pyramid of Huaca Pucllana dating to around 200-700 AD. It was named 'The City of Kings', and became the administrative centre of the Viceroyalty of Peru, and wealthy through the trade of silver and gold passing through its sea-port at Callao. Remains of the lavish colonial period can be seen in the old city's palaces, cathedral, and convents, while the later Republican period is characterised by highly ornate wooden balconies on the outside of the buildings. Meanwhile, Cusco was also conquered by the Spanish invaders, who took the opportunity to loot the precious metals from the Inca temples and palaces. They were able to destroy many of the Inca buildings and use their foundations to build their own houses, churches and convents. Cusco became a wealthy city through agriculture, cattle farming, and mining for precious metals. It was also an important religious centre in the Andes, drawing many artists and craftsmen to work for the church, leading to an artistic style known as the Cusco school. Paintings in this style can still be seen in galleries and churches throughout Cusco.
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Insights & Highlights
Valle Sagrado de los Incas - Urubamba valley near Pisaq, Peru, by Jason Hollinger - licensed under CC
Sacred Valley of the Incas
The Sacred Valley is characterised by traditional agriculture, bustling markets and outstanding Inca ruins.Learn More
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