Spectacular South America

June 12, 2008 - São Paulo, Brazil

Ten weeks in South America is barely enough time to scratch the surface of this huge continent - and its vastness is just one aspect of its beauty.

Ecuador is famous for the Galapagos islands, and rightly so. The magical place where you can step into the animals' domain is a pure delight. However, there's much more to Ecuador. The markets were great and the natural scenery was simply breathtaking. Despite the rain that caused huge landslides on the dangerous, windy roads, the mountainous countryside is simply spectacular.

Peru's many sub-climates ensure your backpack is put to good use, with eerie fog in the north, spectacular beaches, awesome sand dunes and the amazing Andes. Colca Canyon's majestic condors are worth the trip alone, as you sit silently, watching these huge birds soar through the cold morning sky on a thermal. A little further north, take the scenic flight to get a bird's eye view of the Nazca lines for an out-of-this-world experience, and make your own summation of how the lines were formed.

No trip to Peru is complete without a visit to Machu Picchu, and I'm happy to report that it does live up to all the hype. I've visited about 20 ancient ruins, temples and pyramids this year, and this one is the most aesthetically beautiful and architecturally amazing that I've seen in Central and South America, surpassing the might and power of Teotihuacan, the beauty of Palenque, Tikal and Tulum, and the mystery of Chichen Itza. The supporting tourist town of Cusco was also a highlight, with street festivals everywhere you turn and a great atmosphere.

Argentina's capital Buenos Aires is the most cosmopolitan city I visited in South America. Full of statues and theatres, it has a Melbournian feel to it. Unfortunately, I was suffering from a cold during my stay, so I was unable to visit a tango show or do it justice here, but it is definitely one of the easiest cities to get around and should be on anyone's travel list.

Travel throughout Argentina was top quality, and very easy. Joey from Friends would be proud of the luxury tourist coach seats that turn into lazi-boys and then extend to become beds. The bus host brings around meals and even offers you free champagne! Needless to say, an overnight trip on one of these buses was an experience not to be missed, and very different from the cramped conditions on the overnight bus in Guatemala.

Iguazu Falls were the highlight for me in Argentina. I by-passed Bolivia so I could visit the falls, and I was rewarded with the most spectacular sight so far this year. The epic 18-hour bus ride to the falls and 23-bus ride onwards to Rio de Janiero were justified when I saw the magnitude of these splendid falls. Experiencing the sheer power of St Martin's falls by sitting in a boat that drove directly into them was as thrilling as hearing the roar of the Garganta del Diablo (devil's throat), with a churn of white water at the bottom and cloud of spray many metres above ensuring you didn't need that morning shower.

Crossing the border into Brazil and heading for the coast, Rio de Janiero is one of my top five cities that I've visited so far this year. Despite it being winter, Rio still had a great party atmosphere. The magnificent Christ the Redeemer statue stands open-armed above the city, embracing everyone as they go about life. The beaches were filled with people playing volley ball and foot volley, walking dogs and socialising. The city is surrounded by mountains and oceans, and hangliding was definitely a great way to take it all in.

South America is not the easiest travel destination, but for anyone who wants a bit more adventure, this is the place. The people are warm and welcoming, and there's always something interesting around the next corner.

Pictures

Parque Laje
Beautiful garden
Overgrown castle
Parque Laje waterfall
 
 
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