Adoration 4 Adventure’s collection of South American highlights from travelers.
A collection of traveler’s favorite places within the South American continent, including many “off the beaten path” destinations. To be used for your next South American itinerary, travel inspiration or just a good read.
Also read a collection of African highlights from travelers.
Highlights of South America
Morro Branco, Ceara, Brazil
One of the destinations I remember most fondly from my 7 month stay in Brazil is Praia de Morro Branco. Translating from Portuguese it means “Beach of White Hill” to represent the many sand dunes in the area. It is also well known in Brazil as the filming place of a famous telenovela (soap opera) “Final Feliz” during the 1980s.
Here visitors can take an exhilarating buggy (or “boogie”) tour of the sand dunes, beautiful beach and filming locations. Along the beach there are various mysterious caves with water trickling down through the rock crevices to create mini waterfalls.
The highlight of the area for most is the Labirinto das Falesias, which is a maze formed into the dune-shaped cliffs. This provides an opportunity to clearly see all the different colors of natural sand in the rock. Nearby there are market stalls which sell glass jars containing patterns created from the different colored sands.
Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island, Isla de Pascua on your boarding pass, or Rapa Nui if you ask the locals – is a truly incredible place to visit. A five hour flight from Chile, the South American island is one of the most remotely inhabited islands on the planet. Home to the iconic Moai head statues, Easter Island is brimming with adventure and history – it’s recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main city, Hanga Roa, has a nice selection of bars, tourist shops, and restaurants (the pisco sours and ceviche were fantastic). The triangle-shaped island is small, about 24.5 km (15 mi) long by 12 km (7.5 mi) wide, so you can cover most of it on one of the many guided tours. You can also rent bikes and cars if you prefer to explore at your own pace.
Only 50,000 people make the trip to Easter Island each year, and they only allow one flight to the island each day. Watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean behind the silhouette of the Moais will always be one of our favorite travel memories. It is definitely our favorite city in South America- and possibly the world!
Cartegena is a great mix of historical Colonial buildings, vibrant salsa scene and Caribbean beaches. Basically it has something for everyone! I love being able to wander around the old walled city. With all the historical buildings refurbished, everything was very pretty and photogenic, albeit expensive for a backpacker (perfect for the middle aged tourist though!).
Out in the newer part of town, I stayed in Getsemani area. This is the bar and salsa scene where backpackers mix with locals, and lots of vibrant street art brighten things up. The main draw of Cartagena is its location on the Caribbean coast, which means that the weather is humid, but you are striking distance from fabulous beaches and national parks, and it’s easy to get a boat to Panama!
If you prefer your activities on solid (that’s questionable!) land there is also a mud volcano that can be visited for a full body mud pack, which comes with a mama (local lady) to wash you off in the lake afterwards!
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The most amazing destination in South America is easily the Galapagos Islands. And while many opt for a cruise to island hop and explore the whole archipelago, we based ourselves on land and enjoyed everything the city of San Cristobal had to offer.
Tourism here is quite low compared to other hubs in the Galapagos, and it is wonderful to explore away from excessively large tourist crowds. We snorkeled close enough to touch enormous sea turtles, were slapped around under water by playful sea lions, and swam through schools of sharks, rare coral, and colorful fish while frigate birds circled overhead. At the end of each day we would collapse onto the beach next to equally exhausted sea lions, enjoying an afternoon nap under the warmth of the fierce Equatorial sun.
The wildlife on display here is equal to none. Blue-footed boobies were a highlight, as were the massive Galapagos tortoise. This really is nature’s greatest showcase and is one of the few destinations left in the world which actually lives up to its hype.
Nestled right next to the busy touristy town of Montanita is a quiet little surf town called Olon. As soon as we stepped foot in Olon, we immediately fell in love! Unlike its neighboring town, the beach here was long and empty, giving you loads of space to relax and unwind. When we stumbled upon this gem of a place, we were looking for somewhere to live for a month while we learned Spanish and surfed. The town itself is very quiet with a few good restaurants here and there.
However, out of everything, the best thing about Olon is the people! Every morning when I go for my morning walk by the beach, the people in the streets greet me happily. There was even one particular time when Tom just finished surfing and badly wanted a beer, a store owner happily gave it to him and just said pay me tomorrow. People are laid back, the beach is stunning and the surfing is fun. We couldn’t have picked a better place to learn Spanish and live for a month. Definitely don’t miss this place when heading to South America!
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The journey to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia takes three days of travel from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, and although you reach high altitude (over 4000m) which can easily translate into sickness, it is all worth it. The trip is amazing and culminates with the sunrise which is absolutely spectacular!
The tour takes you through a variety of places like amazing Lagunas – Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde, Laguna Colorada – the Dali desert, thermal baths (more than welcome if you suffer from altitude sickness), geysers, canyons and cute villages. So how can it get better than that?
The days before reaching Salar de Uyuni are a preparation, a beautiful and varied one, but the most breathtaking place is this huge salt land – the biggest in the world – transformed into an endless mirror when covered by rain.
Atacama Desert, Huacachina, Peru
What would you expect to see in a village of 115 inhabitants and how many days would you plan to spend there? Huacachina is one of these place, where once arrived, you don’t want to ever leave! A small oasis in the heart of the desert, both its day and nightlife are fantastic!
Do you like wine or pisco? There’s a tour for you, where you can see how the liquors are made and learn how to taste the wine. Do you prefer adventure? Go on a dune adventure at sunset! Your adrenaline levels will go sky high when the buggy you’re in will take a sharp curve on the edge of a high dune. You’re also in for a treat with sand boarding! Lay down on the board (or keep it under your feet if you’re brave enough) and let go down the dune, whilst the sun is setting behind you.
Do you want to surprise your girlfriend? Endure the sand and climb the highest dune around the oasis after dark. It will be just the two of you, watching the stars, seeing the lights of the towns behind the dunes. Look into each other’s eyes and share a long, romantic kiss!
Oh my dear Valparaiso. I hate you and love you at the same time. You are like that hipster handsome guy, with no money in his pockets, always having fun, too busy to shave and to take life seriously. But I still keep coming back to you, attracted by your bohemian magnetism and vibrant hues.
Just 90 minutes from Santiago, the Chilean capital, Valparaíso used to be a wealthy city, prior to the opening of the Panama Canal. But who cares if it’s not rich anymore. Its vibrant personality and fading architectural glory earned the port a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 2003. Valpo, as locals called it, was then reinvented with pretty boutique hotels, amazing street art, bars and museums. All spreading across a series of hillsides forming an amphitheater that overlooks the sea. This city has inspired a bunch of artists, intellectuals and poets, like Pablo Neruda.
I might have been to nicer places, like San Francisco or Capri. I’ve been in safer cities like Tokyo and Seoul. I’ve been around the world, but there is no place like Valparaíso.
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