7 Ways to Explore South America as an Adventure Traveler
Thousands of tourists flock to the beautiful countries of South America every year in search of some of the best wineries in the world, delicious food and great nightlife complete with Latin American flair. While this gorgeous continent hosts all the above, one of its main draws is the breathtaking natural landscapes that dot each coastline, mountain range, and tropical rain forest from Lima, Peru to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
South America has no shortage of unique adventure travel experiences. Some excursions will test your mental and physical limits, others will make you take a trip down 'history lane', but all are awe-inspiring. We've put together a list of the must-do activities for the explorer, the history-lover, the nature buff, or the active eco-traveler in you. Whatever your passion, we've got you covered.
Conquer the Lares Trek & Inca Trail in Lima, Peru
When traveling to Lima, the number one thing you tend to hear are the excited (and nervous) voices of nature-lovers wanting to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. In reality there's more than one way to reach this ancient Inca site. While the Inca Trail does take you through to the Sun Gate (see next activity), this trail is about 4 days long and may be a bit challenging for novice hikers. Another great choice for trekking through the Andean mountains is the Lares Trek, which takes 2 and a half to 3 days, and (in the local's opinion) a much more enjoyable and culturally immersive experience. The views are unreal at the summit and making your way down you get a gorgeous view of the valley below. Truly a beautiful nature spot.
Do a sunrise hike to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu
Voted one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, Machu Picchu is a historian's dream to behold. The layout of the entire compound makes you want to wander through every passageway you find in search of some hidden clue about how the Incas lived their lives. One of those architectural marvels in the Sun Gate located on the crest of a hill in the mountains around Machu Picchu. Hikers on the Inca Trail start their journey at 230am to reach the Sun Gate before the sun comes up over the surrounding mountains, making for a spectacular view overlooking the entire site. If you're a fan of chasing sunrises, this is a breathtaking must.
Summit Huayna Potosí Mountain in Bolivia
If the altitude doesn't mess with you too much, you can opt to summit the near 6000m apex of Huayna Potosí Mountain in Bolivia. Locals say it's an easier climb than the Lares or Inca trails in Peru, given that the starting altitude in La Paz is 3640m. For this 2-day hike up a glacier, climbers generally take 4x4's up the valley starting in El Alto to arrive at the 4700m base camp, Zongo Pass. From here, your trek would begin with a 1-3 hour hike the same day or following day depending on your fitness levels. One thing that might be challenging is that the accommodations at base camp are a little sparse, so you'll need to carry all your gear including sleeping bags/mats/etc. If you don't mind a bit of a sweat, then this trek and the panoramic views you'll get of La Paz and its surrounding towns are more than worth the climb.
Cycle Death Road in La Paz, Bolivia
Adrenaline junkies, come on down! This is THE activity to do in La Paz if you like to dance with a little danger every now and again. Start your day at 430am to capture the surrounding valley at sunrise before strapping on your helmet and careening down the ever-winding hairpin turns of Death Road. The road is 64km long and was the first road that connected La Paz to the Bolivian Amazon. It has vertical drops of almost 1500ft with no guard rails and treacherous, gravelly roads: an activity that's not for the faint of heart, to say the least. But if you're getting more and more excited with every line you read, then chances are you'll do fine on this mountain biking trail and the surrounding scenery is worth enough to risk your life for...almost.
Explore the ancient Incahuasi Island in the Uyuni Salt Flats
Get ready to feel as though you're stepping foot on another planet with this excursion. This otherworldly island in the middle of the Salar De Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, and was once home to the Incas. The literal translation of Incahuasi is Quechua for 'Inca house'. The entire island is covered with giant cacti, coral-like structures, fossils and algae, all left behind from being submerged under a prehistoric lake some 40,000 years ago. Take some time to hike around the whole island for the best views of an endless 'sea' of white salt, and explore the volcanic remains at the top of the hill.
Go Sand Boarding in Tinogasta, Argentina
Sand boarders typically flock to Huacachina, Peru for epic South American 'dune surfing', but the Bolson de Fiambala in Tinogasta, Argentina is a lesser known but arguably better dune to cruise down. Unlike other sand dunes in South America, Bolson de Fiambala has a practically lunar landscape with fine white/gray sand being the base under your board, making this spot a truly unique and gorgeous place to test out your skills. Sand boarding feels like the perfect blend of surfing the crest of a wave and gripping the snow, so if you're familiar with either sensation you'll have a blast! New to boarding but always wanted to try? Opt to take a lesson at the site itself and hang out with the locals.
Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you've always wanted to know what it feels like to fly, then you need to try your hand at hang gliding, and what better place to do it than over the crystal blue waters of Guanabara Bay in Rio? Doing your flight you can soar around with a bird's eye view of Rio's main attractions, from Sugar Loaf Mountain to Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado, Copacabana, Ipanema, and the city of Niteroi on the other side of Guanabara Bay. Being up in the sky and floating on the breeze overlooking the city below makes you understand why birds are such peaceful creatures. For a unique vantage point of iconic Rio, this activity should be on your adventure travel bucket list.
These trips are a short list of the varied outdoor activities available across South America. What others have you tried or have always wanted to try? Share with us in the comments below!
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Featured Image: Rose Huet