20 Great Latin American Adventures

From ancient sites to modern bites, gallivanting the Latin way has something for everyone. | By Norie Quintos  
20 Great Latin American Adventures
The sacred and enigmatic moai statues have made Easter Island a popular stop on South American tours. Photo by: Keith Ladzinski

Argentina

Cycling and Sipping

The eight-day “Bicycling Northern Argentina” trip offered by Experience Plus! starts off in the jewel-box town of Salta before cycling off through a mix of cloud forest, red-rock canyon, and salt flats. Test your legs against the 26-plus switchbacks of the 13,678-foot Cuesta de Lipan pass; then sip a well-earned glass of Malbec in Cafayate wine country. Says tours manager Julie Horton, “The empanadas alone are worth the trip.” experienceplus.com

 

Belize

From Treetop to Reef

It’s nine days of active family fun on Wildland Adventures’ “Jungle Tree House and Reef Adventure.” The Caves Branch Jungle Lodge has cabins perched 75 feet above the river (screened to keep out the monkeys but let in the sounds of nature). A highlight is a scary-fun hike/crawl/swim into the Cave of the Stone Sepulchre, a warren of underground caverns once used by the Maya for sacrificial rites. Finally, snorkel the Belize Barrier Reef off a yacht. wildland.com

 

Bolivia

Salty Sailing

During BikeHike Adventures’ 11-day “Cycling the Bolivian Salt Flats and Hiking the Amazon” tour, you’ll pedal across the Salar de Uyuni salt flats before bedding down in a hotel made almost entirely of salt. Then build a balsa-wood raft to take yourself down the Amazon (don’t worry, your indigenous guide will help). “We also bike to the spot where, according to local legend, the last train robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid sits,” says BikeHike owner Trish Sare. “It’s full of bullet holes!” bikehike.com

 

Brazil

At a Food Frontier

Chef Ferran Adrià has said the Amazon is “the last great undiscovered culinary frontier.” On Culture Xplorers’ custom “Marajó to São Paulo” tour, you’ll appreciate Amazonian cuisine’s complexity at South America’s largest outdoor market, in Belém. Then board a boat plying the Guamá River to collect cacao. Along the way, restaurateurs, scientists, farmers, and innovators help demonstrate the importance of a healthy ecosystem to protect crops such as the superberry acai. culturexplorers.com

 

Colombia

Street Art Spectacular

Check out Bogotá’s edgy and often political murals and graffiti—many made during periods of violence and civil war in recent decades—on the 2.5-hour “Bogota Graffiti Tour” of the La Candelaria neighbourhood and downtown, led by local artists. It’s free (but donations are accepted). bogotagraffiti.com

From City to Sea

Wild Frontiers’ 14-day “Viva Colombia” tour hits the cities—romantic Cartagena, arty Bogotá, and reformed Medellín—but also gets you out to trek Tayrona National Park, enter an underground salt cathedral (in Zipaquirá), wallow in the mud volcanoes edging the Caribbean Sea, and ride horseback through local farms. wildfrontierstravel.com

 

Ecuador

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Founded in the 16th century, Cartagena’s walled Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with cobbled alleys and looming churches. Photo by: Yadid Levy

Cruising the Napo

A highlight of International Expeditions’ 10-day “Ecuador Andes & Amazon” tour, which starts and ends in Quito, is the four-night cruise aboard the MV Anakonda, from which you can spot black caimans, pink river dolphins, and green anacondas on the Napo River. Later, deep in the Andean cordillera, relax in mineral hot springs. ietravel.com

Keeping Up With the Quechua

In G Adventures’ seven-day “Local Living Ecuador” tour, you’ll be guests of a Quechuan family. Learn how to use a blowgun, take part in a shamanic healing ceremony, travel by canoe to an animal rescue centre, and make chocolate fondue with local fruits while learning about the cacao pod. gadventures.com

Uncommon Senses

Latin Trails’ eight-day “Andean Flavors” tour isn’t only about taste but about all the other senses. At a 17th-century working farm, sample 14 cheeses made from local milk, feel the crisp air of Cotopaxi (one of the highest active volcanoes in the world), and get a whiff of the country’s famous roses at a plantation. latintrails.com

 

Falkand Islands

Snapping a Wildlife Wonderland

A remote archipelago about 480 kilometres east of the southern tip of South America, the Falklands offer an alternative to the more visited Galápagos. The nearly 800 islands—a British overseas territory—are an ideal venue for finessing your wildlife snaps with a pro photographer. The hands-on 15-day “Falkland Islands With Chris Linder” workshop, from Visionary Wild, brings you close to colonies of cormorants, penguins, and sea lions in locations inaccessible to larger groups. visionarywild.com

 

Guatemala

Cornering the Market

Blend Maya history, Spanish colonial architecture, and premium coffee, and you get Guatemala City. On Urban Adventures’ “Holy Guatemole! Food & Market” day tour, bite into fruits you’ve never heard of (caimito, mamey, or nispero, anyone?) at one of Central America’s largest markets; then sit down at a decidedly non-fancy comedor to taste dishes concocted from corn, chilli, and beans. Last stop is a coffeehouse in the Old City for a cup of Guatemala’s liquid gold. urbanadventures.com

 

Guyana and Suriname

Unsung Paradise

Relatively unknown to travellers, Guyana and Suriname are nature paradises, often known collectively, along with French Guiana, as Earth’s greenhouse. With stays at jungle lodges, Explore!’s 14-day “Guyana and Suriname Explorer” tour includes a night-time canoe glide under starry skies to spot caimans and tree snakes, visits with villagers, and birdwatching in the tree canopy for curassows. The respective capitals, Georgetown and Paramaribo (a UNESCO World Heritage site), round out the itinerary. explore.co.uk

 

Panama

Sun Salutations and Snorkelling

The Caribbean Sea forms the backdrop for down dogs and warrior poses during the Travel Yogi’s eight-day retreat on the Bocas del Toro archipelago, off the coast of Panama. Morning and evening yoga sessions bookend sailing, snorkelling, and sea turtle–watching excursions. thetravelyogi.com

Kayaking the Canal

On the “Panama Canal Through the Chagres River” tour, Aventuras Panamá puts guests on expedition kayaks, wooden canoes, and rafts through drowned forests and Panama’s eponymous canal and near Barro Colorado island, the site of a Smithsonian tropical research centre. You’ll also spend one night as a guest of the indigenous Embera people. adventurespanama.com

 

Paraguay

Ignore at Your Peril

Most visitors to the continent overlook landlocked Paraguay, overshadowed by its larger neighbours, Argentina and Brazil. They shouldn’t. “The country offers its own unique flavour: Jesuit ruins, Guaraní astrology, ‘spiderweb’ embroidery, and smoky-sweet yerba maté,” says Leigh Barnes of Intrepid Travel. Over 12 days, the tour company’s “Asunción to Iguazú Expedition” takes you from colonial towns like Yaguarón to the endangered Atlantic forest of San Rafael National Park and finally to mighty Iguazú Falls, which you can see from both the Brazilian and Argentine sides. intrepidtravel.com

 

Peru

Driving Inca Lands

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A boat safari on the Amazon assures sightings of black caimans, pink river dolphins, and green anacondas. Photo by: SuperStock/SuperStock/Dinodia Photo Library

Peru Safari tours launch from Lima but then go beyond the usual Machu Picchu tourist route to explore Peru’s Andean, Amazonian, and desert landscapes. Seven-night itineraries might include the massive pre-Inca fortress of Kuelap and one of the world’s tallest waterfalls, Gocta. Transport is via self-driven or driver-guided 4×4 expedition vehicles. perusafari.com

 

Uruguay

Finding Your Mellow

Uruguay is arguably South America’s most laid-back country. Tour outfitter Say Hueque creates both package and custom tours there. A “Highlights of Uruguay” trip might depart from Buenos Aires, Argentina (a two-hour ferry ride away), then take you to the 17th-century cobblestone streets of Uruguay’s Colonia del Sacramento (a Portuguese colonial city and a UNESCO-designated site), before dining and shopping in the capital city of Montevideo. Add a day to enjoy the sunny Atlantic beaches. sayhueque.com