Whether it’s enjoyed whilst cruising along an Amazon tributary, driving through the spectacular ranges of the Andes Mountains or taking a luxury train ride past scenic lakes and colourful villages, South America is home to some of the most dramatic scenery on earth. Whilst most people only consider the main destinations (Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro, Lake Titicaca, the Salt Flats…), often the most exciting part is getting there.
1. The overland journey from Bolivia to Chile
The two-night journey from Uyuni in Bolivia, across the salt flats and highlands to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, is a photographer’s dream, renowned for its otherworldly scenery. Along the way you pass through an eerie train cemetery, a salt-processing plant, a cactus island in the middle of the salt flats, rural villages, a valley where wind erosion has formed bizarrely-shaped rocks, a canyon, multiple lagoons with abundant wildlife, geysers, thermal springs and more. This journey is all about appreciating the plethora of landscapes, many of which are so surreal that they resemble a painting. In fact, in Bolivia’s Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa National Reserve, there is a surreal, barren, wind-swept swath of land that has been frequently compared to a Salvador Dalí painting.
Read about Tsehai’s overland journey from Chile to Bolivia.
2. The Belmond Andean Explorer train from Cusco to Puno
Travelling by train in South America is a novel experience, and the Andean Explorer is one of a kind in Peru. Furthermore, the train's high standards mean that not only will you enjoy a scenic journey, but it will be an exceptionally comfortable one at that. A journey on-board the first luxury sleeper train in South America, the Belmond Andean Explorer, is the ultimate way to admire Peru’s spectacular landscapes whilst travelling in comfort and style. This is train travel at its finest, traversing one of the highest rail routes in the world through the Andean plateau. Combining glamour, romance and luxury with epic scenery, the train carves its path at 4,800 metres, past archaeological sites, snowy peaks and communities living in the highlands. The Belmond makes its way from Cusco to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, stopping en-route at the Inca site of Raqchi. During the journey you can expect to be well and truly looked after, with three-course meals, afternoon tea and the rest all included.
Read Luca’s blog about his experiences on the train.
3. Cusco to Puno by car
The road from Cusco to Puno follows the same route as the railway line, and you still get to visit several places of interest including Inca sites and a beautiful colonial church. Andahuaylillas, a colonial town, is home to one of the finest churches in the Cusco region, which contains many wonderful frescoes. At Raqchi there are remains of an important Inca building, the Temple of Viracocha. This was an enormous structure, almost 100 metres long and 15 metres tall, although only the bases of the columns remain. Sicuani is a relatively large highland town, about halfway between Cusco and Puno. The road from Sicuani to Juliaca initially climbs to the highest point of the journey, La Raya, at 4,300m, before descending to the ruins of Pucara, dating from around 1500BC-1000BC. The town is also famous for making the clay bulls that can be seen adorning many of the roofs between Cusco and Puno.
Visit Lake Titicaca on your trip to Peru.
4. Lake Titicaca to La Paz
Travelling overland from Peru to Bolivia means you get to cross the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, over the course of three days. After spending a night in Puno, on the shores of the lake, you have a full day to explore the islands on a boat, visiting the amazing Uros Islands, where people live on floating bundles of reeds, and Taquile and Amantaní, where traditional crafts still dominate the way of life. The next day, the three and a half hour drive takes you through the highlands across the border to Copacabana, a charming Bolivian town on the other side of Lake Titicaca. After spending the day exploring the Island of the Sun where highlights include a traditional highland lunch overlooking the lake, the ruins of an Inca temple and Inca stairs leading to the spring water of eternal youth. Finally, the four-hour drive takes you through stunning scenery to La Paz.
Take the journey from Lake Titicaca to La Paz.
5. Avenue of the Volcanoes, Ecuador
Although not covered with extensive train routes in the same was as Europe, South America offers some incredibly memorable rail experiences, from no-frills to luxurious and from coastal lowlands to vertigo-inducing heights. The Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) train in Ecuador is an incredible feat of engineering comprising a zigzag track carved into the almost perpendicular rock face, descending from 2,350 metres to 1,850 metres and stopping in Sibambe to watch a traditional Andean dance. To get there, the drive from Quito to Riobamba runs along the valley which was coined ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’ by the 18th century German explorer Alexander Von Humboldt. The impressive volcanoes passed on the journey include Cotopaxi, a perfect snow-capped cone, the twin peaks of the Illinizas, and Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest volcano, Chimborazo, the summit of which is the furthest point from the centre of the earth. As well as passing spectacular mountain scenery, there are several small villages to stop at en-route, with traditional markets and very few tourists.
View all our Devil’s Nose Holidays.
6. Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine
Given its multitude and variety of landscapes (soaring peaks, glacial valleys, wild grasslands and impressive waterfalls), it’s hardly surprising that the journeys through Patagonia are stunning. The two-hour drive from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine in southern Chile traverses past Lake Sarmiento, all the way to the national park, one of the great wildernesses of the world. Driving through the park itself you can admire lakes, waterfalls and the iconic granite peaks from several vantage points as well as taking a boat ride to the magnificent Grey Glacier. The park is home to abundant wildlife including guanacos, rheas, condors, foxes and rare pumas.
Find out more about Patagonia.
If you are interested in these or any other South American journeys, call us on 020 7263 3000 to speak to an expert or order a free brochure.