Stay in an Airstream Camper on the Bolivian Salt Flats
The world’s biggest salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, is one of South America’s most mesmerising sights. Stretching out to 10,000 square kilometres, the salt plains were once a prehistoric lake; today the salt-studded surface sparkles with salt crystal and the cracks seem to tessellate for miles on end.
Exploring the salt flats by deluxe Airstream camper will allow you to be completely immersed in this reflective, lunar-like landscape where you can camp away from any civilisation, but with all your creature comforts plus meals prepared for you. You will appreciate the changing shades of the dazzling pans from dawn to dusk as well as exploring local villages and visiting a cave to discover preserved pre-Columbian mummies. Bikes are on board for you to take off on your own – the Salar de Uyuni’s vast remoteness is a unique experience.
Spot Wildlife in Guyana
Little known Guyana, sandwiched between Venezuela and Suriname, is one of South America’s hidden wildlife enclaves with a huge diversity of ecosystem, opening out onto the Atlantic Ocean. With new direct flight connections, exploring this off-the-beaten track country is easier than ever.
The best way to get to grips with Guyana’s wildlife is by staying in a series of eco-lodges which link up the rainforest, river and savannah to create an intrepid wildlife journey though Guyana’s bird and animal-rich landscapes. Over two weeks, discover a variety of terrain and the creatures that reside here. Spot giant river otters and black caiman on a boat trip on the Essequibo river, hike a trail into the rainforest to glimpse the elusive jaguar, traverse the savannah to climb Surama Mountain and explore the grasslands at night to seek the nightjar. Coming to Guyana means immersive wildlife experiences with knowledge guides staying at remote lodges, deep in untamed nature.
Come Face to Face with Rapa Nui
Perhaps one of the world’s most far-flung islands, Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island), found in the remote waters of the South Pacific Ocean is a tiny Chilean island with a big history where the mysterious megaliths carved in the shape of fearsome faces continues to lure intrepid travellers.
A mesmerising sight, few will forget getting up close to the huge head carvings, but standing in awe of the moai (statues) is just one part of your exploration of Rapa Nui. Basing yourself at an architecturally designed lodge, you will have time to discover this cultural landscape and the Rapa Nui people who inhabit it. Get to know the island with a range of activities including snorkelling the island’s crystal-clear waters, climbing the Terevaka volcano, browsing the colourful Sunday market in Hanga Roa or simply relaxing on the pink sands of Anakena beach, all the while following in the footsteps of an ancient civilisation through archaeological sights, caves with rock art, ceremonial structures, the moai quarry and more.
Follow the Footsteps of the Incas
One of the most popular trips in South America and for good reason, hiking the Inca Trail, leading to the mystical wonder of Machu Picchu, will forever be a bucket-list worthy activity which will be indefinitely seared into the memory of those that undertake it.
What makes it so special is the combination of challenging activity, stunning ever-changing landscapes, connection to local people and traditions and finally the jewel in the crown: arriving at Machu Picchu at sunrise. With a cap on numbers at the site and on the trail, it’s important to book ahead which leaves you time to buzz with anticipation for your trip – over 43 kilometres spread over four days, combining amazing mountain scenery and lush cloud forest rich in Andean flora and fauna in between nights spent on remote campsites. The final day at Machu Picchu where you reach the Sun Gate at sun rise to watch the citadel become bathed by dawn, includes a guided tour as well as free time to soak up this extraordinary Inca feat of engineering, including the special energy that surrounds the temples, terraces and bridges.
Stargaze in the Atacama
Another ace in South America’s deck is the Atacama Desert, located in northern Chile. Rust red mountains, plateau lakes, hot springs, craters and snow-capped peaks make up the beautiful yet barren topography and under a huge and practically always blue sky, there’s adventure abound.
One of Real Holidays’ favourite properties is the Nayara Alto Atacama, formed from red adobe architecture, its low-rise design framing the drama of the encircling mountains. Alongside biking and hiking the desert, there’s one activity that will take your breath away. Like many natural phenomena, seeing the resplendent night sky above the Atacama Desert is a combination of timing and luck – a full moon will make the sky too bright, and clouds may hide the twinkling skyscape. However, the Atacama Desert has zero light pollution and very little habitation and using Nayara Alto’s professional telescope, you’ve got a great chance to see craters on the moon, constellations and nebulae in startling definition.
Experience Hacienda Life in Andean Ecuador
Staying at this family-run, 17th century manor and working farm gives you a glimpse of authentic rural life amid vast Andean landscapes. Two hours north of Quito in Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanoes, a stay at Hacienda Zuleta makes a perfect pitstop after an exploratory trip around the Galapagos or at the end of an itinerary around South America.
Run by the Lasso family, the hacienda will give you a very warm welcome and it also makes a great option for families. There’s something for everyone around the hacienda’s 2,000 acres of land including resplendent gardens, meadows, lakes and forests, guarded over by the distant snow-capped Andes. Explore the landscapes by foot, bike or on horseback, maybe spotting a spectacled bear or condor. Come home to the hacienda and perhaps help cook some local specialities, visit the on-site cheese factory or learn the art of embroidery, all of which help root you to your environment and connect you to local traditions.
Visit an Indigenous Community in Colombia
Deep in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain range live the Kogi People, descendants of the Tayrona culture. The indigenous group live as a community, observing traditional way of life through minimal contact with civilisation as we know it.
With a carefully managed trip alongside a Kogi guide and translator, you can have the privilege opportunity to view the world through the eyes of the Kogi. In a unique exchange, you will learn about their traditions, beliefs and connection with nature, which requires significant humility and respect. You may have the chance to meet elders and share a meal or you might simply be free to observe their lifestyle, traditional long house homes and way in which they farm and gather food. As you might expect, photography is discretionary, based on permission from the Kogi community and in any case, your encounter with this extraordinary group of humans will be lodged firmly in your memory forever.
Relax at Uruguay’s hippest beach town
Although South America is very much about big adventure, there are times when it’s good to kick back and connect to your environment for a few days. We have the perfect spot to do just this – the hip beach town of Jose Ignacio in Uruguay.
Even better you can base yourself at the stylish beachside retreat Playa Vik, location of some of South America’s most stunning sunsets, which you can enjoy from the logic-defying cantilevered swimming pool. Here you can horse ride on the beach, paddleboard, taste wines or relax by the pool. Visiting the boho town of Jose Ignacio, you’ll discover a wealth of art galleries and artisan makers, plus olive oil and wine producers. Nearby is also the impressive Tierra Garzon Foundation, an outdoor art gallery, plus there are wineries to tour, picnics to enjoy by the river, sunset DJ sessions to nod your head to and plentiful restaurants to savour. The good life, in essence.
Discover South America’s Wildlife Heart
Not nearly as well-known as it should be, Brazil’s Pantanal in the very heart of South America, is a unique wildlife haven within its seasonal wetlands and ancient woodlands. Home to species such capybara, caiman, ocelot, the elusive jaguar, giant anteaters plus the highest concentration of birdlife in South America, this should be on the list for any wildlife lover.
The best way to explore this diverse biome is by staying at newly upgraded Casa Caimain, with suites set around a flower-filled garden and a pool. Guiding here is superlative, which you’ll quickly realise as you head out on a 4×4 jeep safari, canoe tour, nocturnal hike and horse ride through the wetlands. Staying here also means backing eco-tourism, as the Caiman group support sustainable practices including a jaguar habituation project, which in turn means more jaguar sightings for visitors – showing a successful economic model for sustainable tourism that simply works.
Blend Your Own Wine
Known for its viticulture, robust malbecs and wineries aplenty, Argentina is certainly wine country. Mendoza is probably its most famous wine-growing region but we’re shining a light on the lesser- visited gem of Cafayate, where altitude vines develop 1,700 metres above sea level and combined with the thin air produce a concentrated aroma and and the darkest grapes of Argentina.
Cafayate’s Calchaquí Valley is where you will produce your own wine blend. First, you’ll be taken to a winery for a tour of the estate, learn about the wine-making process and taste various varieties including malbec, syrah and tannat. Instead of finding just one you like, you will start your own production, creating a unique blend that perfectly suits you. You’ll even design your own wine bottle label. What better memento of your trip to South America?
Our Top 10 South American Experiences Delve Deeper
A land of undulating desert, deep jungle, yawning chasms and embedded culture, built on an ancient civilisation with a backbone set by the formidable Andes Mountains, South America opens the door to adventure.