South America is a continent full of wonders, from the majestic Andes mountains to the Amazon rainforest, from the vibrant cities to the ancient ruins. But beyond the well-known attractions, there are also many hidden gems and secret spots that only locals know about. In this blog post, we will explore some of these places and give you some tips on how to visit them.
Bolivia: The Altiplano
The Altiplano is a high-altitude plateau that covers parts of Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. It is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in South America, such as the Uyuni Salt Flats, the Laguna Colorada (a red lake), the Salar de Coipasa (a white lake), and many volcanoes and geysers. The Altiplano is also rich in culture and history, as it was once part of the Inca Empire and was later influenced by Spanish colonization. You can visit indigenous villages, colonial churches, archaeological sites, and museums along the way.
To explore the Altiplano, you can join a tour from Uyuni or La Paz that will take you on a 3-4 day adventure across this amazing region. You will need to pack warm clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, and plenty of water as the weather can be extreme and unpredictable. You will also need to acclimatize to the altitude as some places are over 4,000 meters above sea level.
Brazil: The Pantanal
The Pantanal is a vast wetland that covers parts of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. It is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, hosting thousands of species of animals and plants. Some of the wildlife you can see here include jaguars, caimans, anacondas, capybaras, toucans, and macaws. The Pantanal is also a paradise for birdwatchers as it has over 600 species of birds.
To visit the Pantanal you can fly to Campo Grande or Cuiabá and then take a bus or a car to one of the many lodges or farms that offer accommodation and tours. You can choose from different activities such as boat rides, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, or safari drives. The best time to go is between May and September when the water level is lower and the wildlife is more visible.
Ecuador: The Chimborazo
The Chimborazo is an inactive volcano that rises 6, 268 meters above sea level. It is not only the highest mountain in Ecuador but also the farthest point from the center of Earth due to its location near the equator. This means that if you stand on its summit you are closer to space than anyone else on Earth! The Chimborazo is also part of the Avenue of Volcanoes, a scenic route that connects several other impressive volcanoes such as Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, and Antisana.
To climb the Chimborazo you need to have some experience in mountaineering and be well prepared for the cold, windy, and low-oxygen conditions. You also need to hire a guide who will provide you with equipment, transportation, and permits. You can start your ascent from Riobamba or Ambato where several agencies offer this service. The climb usually takes two days with an overnight stay at a refuge near the glacier.
Colombia: The Tatacoa Desert
The Tatacoa Desert is a dry tropical forest that covers an area of 330 square kilometers in the Huila department. It is not really a desert but rather an erosion zone where wind and water have sculpted amazing rock formations over millions of years. The Tatacoa Desert has two main zones: Cuzco which has gray rocks and cacti; and Los Hoyos which has red rocks and palm trees. Both zones offer spectacular views especially at sunrise and sunset when they change colors.
To visit the Tatacoa Desert you can take a bus or a car from Neiva which is about 40 kilometers away. You can stay at one of the hotels or campsites near Villavieja which is the gateway town to the desert. You can explore the desert on foot, bike, motorcycle, or on horseback. You can also join guided tours that will take you to different points of interest such as El Valle of the Dinosaurs, El Cuzco Observatory, and Los Hoyos Labyrinth12.
Peru: The Rainbow Mountain
The Rainbow Mountain or Vinicunca is a colorful mountain that lies in the Andes of Peru. It is part of the Ausangate mountain range and has stripes of different colors such as red, yellow, green, and blue. The colors are caused by the mineral deposits that have been exposed to erosion over time. The Rainbow Mountain is considered a sacred place by the local Quechua people who believe it represents the spirit of Pachamama (Mother Earth).
To visit Rainbow Mountain you need to take a tour from Cusco that will take you on a 3-hour drive to the trailhead. You can choose between a one-day hike or a two-day trek that will also include the nearby Red Valley. You will need to be in good physical condition as the hike is challenging and reaches an altitude of 5, 200 meters above sea level. You will also need to dress in layers as the temperature can vary drastically.
Chile: The Marble Caves
The Marble Caves or Cuevas de Mármol are a natural wonder that can be found on Lake General Carrera in Patagonia. They are formed by thousands of years of water erosion that have carved out intricate shapes and patterns on the marble rocks. The caves reflect the turquoise color of the lake and change their appearance depending on the weather and the season.
To visit the Marble Caves you need to take a boat tour from Puerto Río Tranquilo which is about 200 kilometers away from Coyhaique. You can also rent a kayak or a paddleboard if you want to explore the caves at your own pace.
Colombia: The Lost City
The Lost City or Ciudad Perdida is an ancient archaeological site that dates back to the 8th century AD. It was built by the Tayrona people who inhabited the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. The site consists of terraces, stone paths, plazas, and circular houses that are hidden in the dense jungle. The Lost City was abandoned during the Spanish conquest and remained unknown until 1972 when it was rediscovered by treasure hunters.
To visit the Lost City you need to join a guided tour that will take you on a 4- or 5-day trek through the jungle and across rivers. You will need to be prepared for the physical challenge and the basic conditions of the campsites. You will also need to respect the culture and traditions of the indigenous communities that live in the area.
Uruguay: Cabo Polonio
Cabo Polonio is a small coastal village that lies on a peninsula in southeastern Uruguay. It is part of a national park that protects a unique ecosystem of dunes, beaches, and rocky islands. Cabo Polonio has no electricity or running water and can only be accessed by 4×4 vehicles or on foot. It is a place to disconnect from modern life and enjoy nature and simplicity.
To visit Cabo Polonio you need to take a bus from Montevideo or Punta del Este to Valizas or Castillos and then hop on a 4×4 truck that will take you across the dunes to the village. You can also walk along the beach for about 7 kilometers if you prefer. You can stay in one of the rustic hostels or cabins that offer candles and fireplaces for light and warmth.
Mindo is a small town in the cloud forest of northern Ecuador. It is a paradise for nature lovers and birdwatchers, as it hosts more than 500 species of birds, including hummingbirds, toucans, and quetzals. Mindo also offers a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, zip-lining, tubing, rafting, and chocolate tours. You can also visit butterfly farms, orchid gardens, and waterfalls.
To visit Mindo you need to take a bus from Quito that will take you about 2 hours to reach the town. You can also rent a car or hire a private driver if you want more flexibility. You can stay in one of the cozy lodges or hotels that are surrounded by the lush greenery of the cloud forest.
Paracas is a coastal town in southern Peru that is famous for its natural and cultural attractions. It is the gateway to the Paracas National Reserve, a protected area that hosts diverse wildlife such as sea lions, penguins, flamingos, and dolphins. You can also visit the Ballestas Islands, a group of rocky islands that are home to thousands of seabirds and marine mammals. Paracas is also close to the mysterious Nazca Lines, ancient geoglyphs that can only be seen from the air.
To visit Paracas you need to take a bus from Lima that will take you about 4 hours to reach the town. You can also fly to Pisco airport and take a taxi or shuttle to Paracas. You can stay in one of the comfortable hotels or resorts that offer stunning views of the ocean and the desert.
Colombia: La Macarena
La Macarena is a remote town in the Colombian Amazon that is surrounded by natural wonders. It is the base for exploring the Caño Cristales, a river that is known as “the liquid rainbow” because of its colorful algae that bloom between June and November. The river flows through the Serranía de la Macarena, a mountain range that is home to diverse flora and fauna, including monkeys, jaguars, tapirs, and hundreds of bird species. La Macarena also offers opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and kayaking.
To visit La Macarena you need to take a flight from Bogotá that will take you about an hour to reach the town. You can also fly from Villavicencio or San José del Guaviare. You can stay in one of the simple hotels or hostels that offer basic amenities and friendly service.
Chile: San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is a desert oasis in northern Chile that is a paradise for adventure seekers and nature lovers. It is the base for exploring the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world that offers stunning landscapes of salt flats, geysers, volcanoes, lagoons, and dunes. You can also enjoy activities such as stargazing, sandboarding, biking, and hiking. San Pedro de Atacama has a charming atmosphere with its adobe streets, local markets, and cozy restaurants.
To visit San Pedro de Atacama you need to take a flight from Santiago to Calama and then take a bus or taxi that will take you about an hour and a half to reach the town. You can also drive from other cities in Chile or Argentina. You can stay in one of the many hotels or hostels that offer accommodation for different budgets and preferences.
Ecuador: The Choco Bioregion
The Choco Bioregion is a biodiversity hotspot that covers parts of Ecuador and Colombia. It is one of the most diverse and endemic regions in the world, with over 9000 plant species, 600 bird species, 200 mammal species, and 350 amphibian species. The Choco Bioregion also has a rich cultural diversity, with Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and mestizo communities that have their own traditions and customs. The Choco Bioregion offers opportunities for ecotourism, wildlife watching, cultural immersion, and adventure sports.
To visit the Choco Bioregion you need to take a flight from Quito to Esmeraldas or Manta and then take a bus or taxi to one of the towns or villages in the region. You can also drive from Quito or Guayaquil along the coastal road. You can stay in one of the eco-lodges or community-based tourism projects that offer comfortable accommodations and local experiences.
Ceviche is a traditional dish of Peru that consists of raw fish marinated in lime juice, onion, chili peppers, and salt. It is usually served with corn, sweet potato, lettuce, and seaweed. Ceviche is considered a national dish of Peru and has a history that dates back to pre-Columbian times. It is a refreshing and healthy dish that can be found in many restaurants and street stalls throughout the country.
To try ceviche you need to go to Peru and look for a place that specializes in this dish. You can also find ceviche in other countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile, but they have their own variations and ingredients. You should always eat ceviche fresh and avoid places that use frozen fish or serve it too cold. You should also be careful with the spiciness level as some ceviches can be very hot.
Colombia: Ciudad Perdida
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is an ancient archaeological site that dates back to the 8th century AD. It was built by the Tayrona people, who were one of the indigenous groups that inhabited the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. The site consists of over 200 terraces, stone paths, stairs, and plazas that are surrounded by dense jungle. It was abandoned around the 16th century due to the Spanish conquest and remained hidden until 1972 when it was rediscovered by treasure hunters.
To visit Ciudad Perdida you need to join a guided tour that takes you on a four or five-day trek through the jungle. You will need to be physically fit and prepared for challenging conditions such as heat, humidity, insects, and river crossings. You will also need to respect the local indigenous communities that live in the area and consider Ciudad Perdida as a sacred place. You will be rewarded with stunning views of the mountains and valleys, as well as a glimpse into a fascinating ancient culture.