It's a land of myths and legends; of jungles with jaguars, macaws and piranha; of mountains with snow-capped peaks, llamas and alpaca; and of ancient powerful civilizations. There are modern, bustling cities, sprawling beaches, diverse terrain and incredible cuisine.
This is South America. And it's waiting for you to visit.
Between the rustic plains of Las Pampas, the undisputed beauty of Patagonia and Iguazú Falls, skiing near Bariloche in the Andes mountains, the world-renowned Mendoza wine country and cosmopolitan capital Buenos Aires, Argentina is a varied, diverse country with something for everyone. While firmly planted in South America, Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires, has an Old World, European charm.
If you have the time, explore as much of this culture-rich country as possible. But if your vacation only allows for a shorter visit, explore Mendoza and Buenos Aires. Start your trip in the capital city where you can enjoy local cuisine, including popular asados (Argentine barbecue) and yerba mate, an indigenous drink said to have many healing qualities, before partying the night away in one of the many tango clubs. Since Buenos Aires is a port city with temperate year-round temperatures, plan to stroll the waterfront or take in a sailing excursion. Visit the world-famous Teatro Colón opera house, the symphony or the Botanical Gardens or meander through the Recoleta or San Telmo neighborhoods to marvel at European-influenced architecture.
A two-hour flight from Buenos Aires lies Mendoza, one of the world's most important wine regions where the Malbec grape reigns supreme; the city also serves as a base for climbers visiting Mount Aconcagua. Mendoza claims more than 1,000 wineries so getting a taste of local grapes, including Torrontes, is quite easy. Mendoza offers winery tours and is the center for abundant adventure travel, including biking, rafting, horseback riding and fishing.
Bolivia is a landlocked nation with plenty to see and do-and when you get tired of looking around, the Bolivian people will take you in and treat you like a member of the family.
Like many other South American countries, Bolivia borders both the Andes mountain range and the Amazon basin. But one of its most spectacular sites is Lake Titicaca, South America's largest lake that sits approximately 12,000 feet above sea level on the border between Bolivia and Peru.
To really experience Bolivia you must visit during the Carnaval de Oruro, a multi-day celebration with parades, theatrical events, dances and musical concerts all to commemorate an alleged miraculous appearance of a mural of the Virgin Mary that takes place in the city of Oruro, that folk capital of Bolivia.
Situated at nearly 12,000 feet, La Paz, is one of the highest capital cities in the world. Due to its high altitude, getting acclimated isn't easy, but making the effort is worth the trip. The city is known for its many markets, like the Mercado de Brujas, featuring many herbs and natural remedies (hence the "witches' market"), and dozens of museums, including Museo Costumbrista, Museo de Etnografóa y Folklore and Museo Nacional de Arte.
Brazil comprises more than 4,600 miles of coastline with some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world and offers access to the vast Amazon rainforest. Whether you're going to relax or explore, chances are you'll focus much of your time in the two largest cities: Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.
In Rio, be prepared to dance a little samba, visit the famous Christ the Redeemer statue high atop Corcovado Mountain, lounge on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches in the South Zone and let loose during Carnival held the month before Easter. Rio boasts two large urban forests and supremely loyal soccer fans.
Escape from Rio's beaches and head to the mountains around Sao Paolo. Set along ranges that tower 2,600 feet above sea level, the city is attractive for its elevations as well as nearby proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. And with more than 11 million people, Sao Paolo is an ethnically diverse, cosmopolitan city with immigrant influences from around the globe that come to light in the city's restaurants, nightclubs and museums. The city explodes culturally each year with the month-long gay pride celebration, fashion week and the March for Jesus, and every two years, the world's art aficionados descend on the city for the Sao Paolo Art Biennial. So whatever you desire, from beaches and mountains to a hip, urban escape, Brazil has it all.
Chile looks small in comparison to some other South American countries, due to its lanky structure between Argentina and the Pacific coast. But Chile has one of the most diverse climates, ranging from gorgeous beaches and spectacular white-capped mountains to arid deserts, dense forests and towering volcanoes.
Any trip to Chile will usually start and end in the capital city of Santiago, unless you enter through the southern edge of Patagonia, which many people do. Santiago is a fast-growing city with chic shopping, cutting-edge restaurants and hip hotels. Visit the bohemian port of Valpariso or take a day-trip to the nearby wine country and indulge in delicious wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, CarmenÃ¨re and Sauvignon Blanc.
You'll likely want to take an excursion to Easter Island, where you'll marvel at the hundreds of Moai sculptures, go scuba diving or surfing, or stand on the edge of a volcano. Visit the vast ice floes of southern Patagonia, hike in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine or go to the end of the earth at Tierra del Fuego. For such a seemingly small country, Chile really packs it all in.
Colombia's storied history left many travelers wondering if they should visit. In year's past, the answer might have been no. But today the political unrest has made way for one of South America's most attractive destinations.
When people hear "Colombia," they may think of Pablo Escobar, but it's time to shift the focus to the country's much more positive aspects including a booming nightlife scene in the capital city of Bogotá, exotic beaches dotting the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, whale watching, hiking through the jungle and so much more.
Bogotá offers a diverse array of activities and attractions. Spend some time in the historic La Candelaria neighborhood and while away your time at one of the many outdoor cafés; hit the hip clubs and discos of the Zona Rosa, which is a gay-friendly enclave of the city; visit the city's numerous pre-Colonial churches and cathedrals or take a ride on the cable car or funicular to the top of Cerro de Monserrate and see Bogotá spread out before you.
Due to its proximity to the beaches, mountains and the Amazon rainforest, Colombia is an ecotourism draw. Outdoor activities abound throughout national parks, islands and the mountains where rock climbing is popular. Visit Gorgona Island for whale watching tours, the Colombian National Coffee Park or the gorgeous beaches of Cartagena to kick back and relax.
Nestled along the Pacific coast, Peru boasts a mostly hot, tropical climate with beaches and access to the Amazon rainforest. But northern parts of the country sit alongside the Andes mountain range, allowing for skiing, hiking and many other outdoor adventures.
When people think of Peru, the magical and mythical history left by the Incas and their masterful temple, Machu Picchu, often spring to mind. These days, in order to visit the sacred ruins, you must take a guided tour-whether during a one-day bus visit or the more enjoyable multiple-day trek along the Incan trail. Don't be surprised if your gear is carried by one of the many indigenous llamas.
Once you've departed Machu Picchu and the base city of Cuzco, head to Lima, the capital city overlooking the warm waters of the Pacific. Lima is an international metropolis with cultural, gastronomic and architectural influences from around the world. Many museums highlight the country's history and diversity, but it's in the restaurants, nightclubs and varied neighborhoods that Lima really comes to life.
The most popular time of the year to visit Peru is from late May through early September during the dry season, but to avoid crowds at the more visited tourist destinations, like Machu Picchu, wait a little longer and be the smart traveler. December through March might be the country's rainy season, but the lines will be much shorter!
Venezuela may be in the headlines more for the actions of its outspoken leader, Hugo Chavez, but the country has so much more to offer travelers than just political commentary. Set along South America's northern coast on the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela offers visitors a high climate-and hot culture.
Fly into Caracas and whether you plan to spend a few days or your entire trip here, you'll have plenty to do. The capital is set beneath the 7800-foot Cerro El Avila mountain, which separates it from the Caribbean, giving Caracas unique beauty and a varied climate. While there, be sure to visit the Parque Central to see many of the city's art and cultural buildings, and the block-wide Federal Capitol building and its. Pay homage to Venezuela's liberator, Simón Bolívar at his birthplace, now a museum called La Casa del Libertador. And to truly appreciate the country's religious impact, stop by the Caracas Cathedral, where you can also see artwork created by masters including Rubens and Murillo.
Turn your urban excursion into a tropical escape with a visit to one of the many islands of Venezuela's coast, including Aruba and Netherlands Antilles, where crystal-clear waters and soft, white sand will help you forget any stresses