Bucket List Worthy
By Timothy Scott
If you want to go on an amazing journey that nobody you know of has done before, the land mass stretching from Cartagena to Ushuia has plenty of opportunities for you. In South America you can still feel like an intrepid explorer.
This whole continent is a big unknown to many travelers, which means there are plenty of wide-open spaces and destinations not jammed with tour buses. Since getting here often involves an overnight flight, you don’t get many tourists just coming for a quick weekend getaway. Travelers come here for a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Here are six unique South American adventures that are far from routine.
The famed Inca Trail has plenty of options for trekking to Machu Picchu in style if you book through an upscale tour company, but all involve the same campsites and schlepping along with hundreds of other hikers each day. What if you could sleep in a real bed in a heated room and eat restaurant quality food each night instead? That’s what Mountain Lodges of Peru offers along the alternate Salkantay Trail. Instead of porters pitching a tent for you and cooking from what they’ve carried along for days, you spend each evening in a different comfortable lodge with a view. See a detailed article on the journey here and book at the Mountain Lodges of Peru site.
One especially daunting aspect of visiting Antarctica is the rough sea passage from the bottom of South America across to the White Continent. The Antarctica XXI company gets around this by flying you two hours from Punta Arenas in Chile to King George Island, where you start your sea journey. Trips then run for five to eight days, exploring the region by expedition ship and Zodiacs. See more at the AntarcticaXXI website.
The Chilean tour company Explora was ahead of the curve when they opened their adventure lodges in Patagonia and the Atacama Desert many years ago. For those who want to go beyond being based in one place, however, they also lead overland tours through very remote regions where you may not see another human all day long. At night you sleep in rustic but very comfortable structures that may be a set of revamped stone huts or shipping containers turned into individual rooms and baths. See this story on a Travesia from the Uyuni Salt Flat of Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama. Book that or several other options that cross Chile, Bolivia, northern Argentina, or Patagonia at the Explora Chile website.
For Rail Enthusiasts: First Class Train Travel Through Ecuador It’s been several decades since anyone could take a multi-day train journey through any country in South America. That all changed in 2013 when Ecuador invested heavily in upgrading its rail infrastructure and launched a four-day, three-night luxury trip between Quito and a stop near Guayaquil-connecting the two largest cities. The winding trip goes through the “Route of the Volcanoes” and ventures down the famed Devil’s Nose tracks. You stop off each evening to explore and sleep in a different town. See more at the Ecuador by Train site.
There are plenty of fantastic nature lodges in Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil where you can experience the Amazon jungle in depth. Different animals live in different areas though, of course, and a small ship boat trip allows you to venture from one to the other and experience the great river on the river. The company running the best operation is Aqua Expeditions, with its two ships MV Aria and MV Aqua. See more at AquaExpeditions.com.
You can land in Santiago or Mendoza and set up a quickie wine tasting tour of local vineyards that are open to the public. But if your interest in wine goes deeper, book a multi-day exploration of Chile’s wine valleys in style with Santiago Adventures. These private or small group tours get you access to some of the country’s most award-winning winemakers, reserve tastings, and meals in private on-site restaurants. Some transfers through the scenic countryside can include bike a helicopter ride. See details and prices at SantiagoAdventures.com.