For many, planning a South American vacation feels like plotting a course across a blank map. Outdated stereotypes of exotic destinations drum up anxiety in those unfamiliar with the region. Much like our country, the continent offers diverse destinations for travelers of all ages, interests and income brackets. We’ve set up a cheat sheet of deals for South American destinations based on their stateside equivalent.
Those who crave the sizzle of white sand beaches and nonstop nightlife should head to Brazil’s second largest city, Rio de Janeiro. World famous for its annual Carnival, the beach city is home to over 50 miles of shoreline. Parties last past sunrise on Copacabana, possibly the most notorious strip of sand in the world. Visit in February to dance samba with the locals during the two-week carnival celebration or plan in advance to visit when the city hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup or 2016 Summer Olympics.
The three-day hike to the “Lost City of the Incas” is not for the faint of heart. Travelers must be in physical condition to walk for days and camp in tents up to 14,000 feet above sea level. The reward of reaching the UNESCO World Heritage site perched atop the Andes is worth the risks; it is among few Incan sites left untouched by Spanish conquerors and considered a sacred place. Book early to reserve your spot -- the Peruvian government allows only 500 people on the Inca Trail each day, and passes sell out far in advance.
An itinerary filled with tango and beef just scratches the surface of Buenos Aires, a walkable city with tons of cultural and sporting events to attend. Walking tours are an efficient way to sample the city’s ever-expanding food scene and neighborhoods that are as clearly defined as crossing from one side of the Brooklyn Bridge to the other. Party until dawn with young professionals at an “After Office,” which puts happy hour in the city that never sleeps to shame, or head to La Boca where futbol fans are as passionate about their squad as anyone in a Yankees cap.
Charles Darwin’s visit nearly 200 years ago to the isolated islands off Ecuador inspired his Theory of Natural Selection. Ever since, the islands have been a popular destination for nature lovers, both professional and amateur, hoping to catch a glimpse of giant tortoises, iguanas and many other wildlife species that call the archipelago home. Daily flights and private yachts transport visitors from the mainland to the islands. Most islands are off-limits without a guide, so book a boat tour from Santa Cruz to visit uninhabited islands.
Unlike vineyards in other premier wine regions that keep blends under lock and key, Argentina’s vintners are eager to share recipes and techniques with visitors. Most wineries offer free tastings and tours of equipment and vines, but require a reservation. Make sure to ship a case of your favorite Malbec home to the states.
An early sanctuary for the continent’s freed slaves, today the city is still a diverse mix of ethnicities. The historic old town is walled in and mainly intact, representing some of the finest architecture from Spanish Colonial rule. Located on Colombia’s northern coast, boat tours are a convenient way to tour the city’s modern beachfront community, Bocagrande, spot wildlife, or even do some fishing.