We’ve kept this one simple. Our ultimate top seven picks from Latin America, because once this difficult period of our lives is over, there’s still a magnificent world waiting to be explored. Of course, travel shouldn’t be about ticking places off a list, for us it’s all about the different experiences you get – whether it’s that Peruvian lady who sold you some textiles in a tiny Andean village or that delicious steak you ate with your group on your final night in Argentina. But as clichéd as it might sound, many people are realising now more than ever that life’s too short, and the freedom of travel isn’t something we should take for granted. So if any of these beautiful destinations weren’t already on your list, they should be now!
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
This is a great one for first-time visitors to South America. For many people, Machu Picchu is the first thing that comes to mind when they think about South America. Whether you approach it from the iconic Sun Gate after three days of hiking through beautiful Andean scenery on one of the many trails, or choose to take a daytrip from Cusco, you won’t be disappointed. The extensive ruins are bigger than many people think, and you can spend a whole day discovering what each part of the ancient city was used for, from the the quarry where much of the stone for the constructions was obtained, to the highest point, Intihuatana, which was used by the Incas to measure the position of the sun in relation to the earth. You can also climb the two mountains, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu for an ever better view of the ruins and surrounding mountains.
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“My goodness, what a day! We’re aching all over and exhausted. But we did it! Machu Picchu was more amazing than I’d anticipated.” – Vivien, Llama Travel Customer
Read our customer’s journal from her holiday to Peru.
View all our Machu Picchu holidays here.
2. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Although one of the more expensive Latin American destinations, the Galapagos are worth saving up for, whether it’s for a trip next year or in ten years time. The main draw of the Galapagos Islands is the fearless wildlife. We’re talking about the sea lions that swim in circles around you, encouraging you to play with them as you snorkel amongst brightly coloured fish, and the sea turtles that drift past you so closely that you have to keep turning around to check you’re not touching one of them. The more unusual of the beautiful creatures that call the Galapagos home are the boobies, of which there are blue-footed, red-footed and Nazcas. You might spot these as you approach the volcanic islands on a dinghy boat, ready to jump off onto the beach in search of giant tortoises and hundreds of iguanas piled on top of each other, whipping their tails as they crawl past your toes. Other animals to look out for include dolphins, white-tipped reef sharks, penguins, cormorants, frigate birds and sally lightfoot crabs. It’s not all about the wildlife though – you also get to learn about Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, hike to viewpoints to admire the volcanic landscapes, admire spectacular sunsets and enjoy the year-round pleasant climate.
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“It didn’t take us long to slip into the leisurely routine of life on-board. The best way to start each morning was by watching the sun rise, sitting on the top deck with a cup of tea, then heading down to the dining area for breakfast. There were two activities each day, and plenty of time to relax on the boat in-between.” – Hannah, Llama Travel
Read Hannah’s blog on why she loved the Galapagos.
Browse our Galapagos Trips online.
3. Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Many people have heard about Mexico’s famous ruins, but less people know about the Mayan history behind it. Despite being popular and often crowded with tourists, much like Machu Picchu, the site continues to inspire anyone who visits it. You can spend several hours visiting Chichén Itzá – from the Grand Ball Court where ritualistic games were played by the Mayans to the El Caracol Observatory, with its spiral staircase leading to the tower which gave them unobstructed views of the skies and surrounding landscape. Combine this with more jungle ruins, archaeological sites, white-sand beaches, colonial cities and some of the best food in the world, and you’ve got a perfect Mexico itinerary.
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“Steeped in centuries of history rich in culture and tradition, the archaeological sites that remain make this country truly fascinating to explore and see how their communities once functioned.” – Otto, Llama Travel
Visit Chichén Itzá with Llama Travel.
4. Christ the Redeemer, Brazil
Just one of the three New Seven Wonders of the World that can be found in Latin America (along with Chichén Itzá and Machu Picchu), Christ the Redeemer towers over the city of Rio de Janeiro, perched on Corcovado Mountain. The 30-metre tall statue of Jesus Christ is so high that it gets struck by lightning at least twice a year, although this rarely causes damage. To visit, you can take a funicular train to the top of the mountain, where abundant photo opportunities of the panoramic view await you. The statue can be seen from most parts of the city, including Sugarloaf Mountain, another iconic sight in Rio which can be reached via a vertigo-inducing cable car.
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“A stay in Rio is a fabulous way to end a trip in Latin America. My recent trip has reminded me why it is such an iconic and lively city, and I cannot wait to go back. Hopefully before another 18 years has passed this time.” - Luca, Llama Travel
Our director revisited Rio after 18 years – find out about his trip here.
See all our Rio de Janeiro Holidays.
5. Salt Flats, Bolivia
Arguably one of the best spots in South America for photography enthusiasts, the Uyuni Salt Flats are the largest of their kind in the world. Spread across 10,500 square kilometres, the salt flats were created from prehistoric lakes which over the years formed a thick salt crust. Many locals work in the salt industry, which you can learn about and even buy the salt to support their work. The unusual landscape is great for snapping perspective shots – with the help of your guide you can make it look like you’re tightrope walking across a shoe lace, balancing on a coke bottle or standing on your friend’s shoulders. Watching the sun set over the salt flats is a particularly special experience, and there are several other sights too, including an eerie train cemetery and an island full of cacti.
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“For days I felt as though I was living in a painting. While the landscape was vast and at times we drove through similar and never-ending desert scenery for hours, the assortment of colours, animals and sights at each spot along the way continued to excite me as I filled the SD card of my camera faster than I could have imagined.” - Tsehai, Llama Travel
It’s not just the salt flats that are impressive in this region of Bolivia – read Tsehai’s blog about the flamingo-filled lakes, elusive desert animals and snow-capped peaks that can be seen on the journey from Bolivia’s Salt Flats to Chile’s Atacama Desert.
View all our Uyuni Salt Flats Holidays online.
6. The End of the World, Argentina
If you’re not sure why this one is on the list, the clue is in the name – what place could be more exhilarating to visit than the end of the world? We are of course talking about Patagonia, and more specifically, Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. From here, you can take a catamaran trip into the Beagle Channel to see penguins and sea lions, hike through the dramatic Tierra del Fuego National Park or walk to the end of the Pan-American Highway which starts in Alaska and runs all the way down the Americas.
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“These amazing people were able to successfully etch out a living in the harsh climate, hunting sea lions, diving for shellfish and traveling by canoe between islands to collect food. They kept warm by huddling around small fires, the rising smoke and embers of which were spotted by sailors on passing ships, who consequently referred to the island as the ‘The land of fire’.” – Mai, Llama Travel
Read our Tierra del Fuego blog for an historical insight into visiting South America’s southern tip.
Visit the End of the World with Llama Travel.
7. Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
For birdwatchers, nature-enthusiasts or anyone who wants to see sloths hanging from branches and turtles hatching eggs on the sand, Costa Rica is a must. In the cloud forest, you get to stay in a beautiful hotel built in harmony with nature, in an extremely well-preserved reserve home to monkeys, sloths, frogs, snakes and numerous species of birds including toucans and hummingbirds. Each day you will hike through untouched forests with an experienced guide to teach you about the flora and fauna – from the medicinal uses of the plants and the habitats of the insects, to the diet and unusual habits of the larger animals – and then you’ll spend time back at the hotel, relaxing by the pool accompanied by birdsong and enjoying delicious Costa Rica meals. The tiny Central American country continues to grow in popularity, and in just over a week you can experience the cloud forest as well as seeing turtles on the Caribbean Coast, hiking to waterfalls and hot pools next to a volcano, visiting coffee plantations and you can even extend your trip to spend time on the wildlife-rich rainforest-fringed beaches on the Pacific Coast.
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“The hotel was once owned by an ex-Costa Rican president and his wife, who aimed to build this place with special Costa Rican character while maintaining a certain harmony with nature. I personally think they achieved this goal spectacularly as stepping out of the transport and onto the hotel grounds is like being transported to a different, more relaxing world.”- Mari, Llama Travel
Read Mari’s blog about spending time in the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest.
View all our Costa Rica Cloud Forest trips.
Of course there are many other highlights of Latin America – Iguazu Falls, Easter Island and the Amazon Jungle, to name a few. Give us a call on 020 7263 3000 to find out more about these places from our experts. Check in next week for our Africa Top 5 Picks for 2021.