Local South America Experts
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South America is one of our planet’s most diverse and fascinating continents, and it’s a place that travelers invariably fall in love with. Despite how much exposure it receives, however, relatively few people venture beyond the well-worn tracks that make up the continent’s tourist trail.
Brazil, Argentina, Peru and, to an extent, Chile, have all been key destinations in South America for the past decade. It’s little wonder since within the borders of these countries exist marvels such as the Amazon Rainforest, Machu Picchu, Valparaiso, Patagonia and much more (not to mention culturally rich cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires).
But as different parts of the South American continent grow and become internationally recognized as important economic players, so too do these “new” countries emerge as increasingly popular destinations for tourists. Countries such as Bolivia have always been popular with backpackers, but are increasingly sought out by high-end travelers, while places like Colombia have managed to shed their questionable reputations and take huge strides forward in tourism.
To be sure, according to the Trade Ministry, tourism in Colombia more than doubled between 2006 and 2012, and experts predict further (and equally rapid) growth in the coming years.
Of course, it’s not just Colombia and Bolivia. We’ve collected some destinations that we think go some way to creating a new South America - one that adventurous travelers will find every bit as thrilling as the well-worn (but well-worn for good reason, of course) path.
Many people’s experience of Uruguay is a brief jaunt across the Rio de La Plata to Colonia, where a meal and a meander is enjoyed in the picturesque town before the ferry leaves back to Buenos Aires in the evening. While Colonia is full of charm and certainly worth a day or two to explore, Uruguay’s nearby capital Montevideo is a lively city full of bars, cafes and a buzzing nightlife. It’s often dismissed or overlooked thanks to its neighbor, Buenos Aires, but for those seeking a calmer (but still vibrant) city, Montevideo might just be a great choice.
Beyond that, towards the east of the country, Uruguay’s beaches inexplicably remain uncrowded. Trendy Uruguayans rub shoulders in the bars and clubs of Punta del Este, while the Punta del Diablo beaches, isolated as they are from major cities, are a scenic way to unwind.
Further north you can enjoy delicious steak and wine that rival Argentina’s most famous products, and sip mate with gauchos in Uruguay’s beautiful plains.
Beyond the people and the culture of the country (which is what most foreigners fall head over heels in love with) travel to Colombia has so much to offer. Colombia’s capital city is a bustling, chaotic mix of cultures that, come night time, sways to the beat of salsa. It’s modern, trendy and a hub of creativity - much like Colombia’s second city, Medellin, which was recently voted the Most Innovative City in the World by the Wall Street Journal.
Cartagena, on the north coast, is a jewel in South America’s crown: a peach of a colonial city that has had visitors from Barack Obama to Mick Jagger swooning. Near to Cartagena you’ll find hiking options in the Lost City, idyllic beaches at Tayrona National Park and even snow-capped mountains.
All that and we haven’t even started on San Gil, Villa de Leyva, Caño Cristales, El Cocuy and so much more that the country has to offer.
Suriname, a small country in the north of South America, has a rich and diverse culture that comes alive in the dense jungles of the Amazon.
Governed by Dutch settlers from the 1660s until the 1950s, enriched with the local indigenous population, and the descendants of escaped African slaves known as Maroons, the people of Suriname today have developed a passionate and unique lifestyle rarely duplicated around the world.
In the capital city of Paramaribo you can find the typical sites of a major city with a twist of jungle flavor, all heavily influenced by the diversity that has ruled it. Cafes, shops, and bars are dotted around the historic city center (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), while mosques and synagogues stand side by side around the corner.
Spend the days absorbing the different smells and tastes that are offered up by the locals. You can’t miss an adventure in the Amazon rainforest when you in this beautiful country, luckily you’re pretty much always surrounded by it. Travel just a short distance to the interior of the country to explore the mesmerizing rivers, local villages, and unforgettable flora and fauna.
Bolivia has long been popular with backpackers, who see the country as being synonymous with adventure and general shoestring-budgetry. Backpackers normally lead to an influx of higher-end travelers, and the case of Bolivia is no different.
Travelers from all ends of the spectrum are now beginning to flock to Bolivia to experience one of the most unique travel experiences in the world. It might not be the smoothest ride, but there’s no doubt that Bolivia’s raw, rugged beauty makes its mark on visitors.
One of Bolivia’s most iconic landscapes is the Salt Flats of Uyuni. 11,984 feet (3653m) above sea level, the world’s largest salt flats certainly take the breath away, and they’re an absolute blast for anyone that has a passion for photography (or enjoys playing with perspectives).
The famous Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, rests on the border of Bolivia and Peru and makes for a fantastic excursion, and Laguna Colorada boasts some of South America’s most spectacular views.
There's plenty more to discover in this vast, fascinating continent. What are your picks for a new South America tourist trail?
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