A wild continent full of sweeping jungle, sprawling mountains, colorful culture, interesting architecture, and natural wonders that’ll leave you breathless, there’s a reason backpackers and luxury travelers alike gravitate toward South America.
If you’re looking to get seriously off the beaten path, look no further than these 7 exotic and incredibly photogenic gems in this wild and rugged continent.
Swing at the End of the World in Banos, Ecuador
The adventure capital of Ecuador, Banos is a small city in the Andean highlands whose name literally translates to “Baths,” referring to the sacred geothermal hot springs in the area. A great place to embark on a jungle tour, go ATVing, rapel, paraglide, whitewater raft, or try a number of other adrenaline-pumping pursuits, the crown jewel of the region is the three-hour hike (or 30-minute taxi ride) to La Casa Del Arbol (aka “The Treehouse”). Literally a plank and rope swing hanging off the side of the cliff with no safety measures whatsoever, if you can push your fears aside, it’s the ultimate photo opp set to a crazy backdrop of the rumbling Tungurahua volcano in the distance.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Famously where Darwin studied evolution, getting to the Galapagos is feat onto itself. With just two private airports and a few cruise ships docking a day, the unique biodiversity surrounding the islands is a designated whale sanctuary and marine reserve, second only in size to The Great Barrier Reef. The entire area is a world heritage site and while there is no cap on tourism per say, back in 1991 there were less than 2,000 beds to rent a night. That number has since grown to 145,000, but to give you a sense of comparison, there are more than 90,000 rooms (not beds) in Manhattan alone.
The World’s Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia
Built in the 30s by Paraguayan prisoners during the Chaco War, Yungas Road leading from La Paz to Coroico in the Amazon is essentially a deathtrap. It’s estimated that 200 to 300 travelers are killed there each year with steep cliffs and hillsides that rise up to 2,000 feet with no guardrails. A terrifying drive any time of year, the rainy season from November to March only ups the fear factor with an extreme fog that severely hampers visibility and water runoffs, turning the road into a muddy mess. Summer’s not much better with rock fall and dust a common problem. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, though, that just may appeal to you.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Located in Argentina's National Glacier Park, Perito Moreno is 1 of 47 massive ice fields in Patagonia and the world’s third largest fresh water reserve. The unique landscape is actually growing in size due to pressure from the weight of the ice. The glacier is slowly pushing outwards over the southern arm ("Brazo Rico") of Argentino Lake, damming the section and separating it, simultaneously creating some pretty epic pictures. You can hike the entire glacier in about five hours or take a shortened version to get a feel for ice picks and spiky crampons in about an hour and a half.
The Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca, Peru
One of the greatest mysteries of the world, the Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs best viewed by air. Shallow lines made in the reddish desert sand, there are hundreds of figures from pronounced animals and people to geometric shapes open to interpretation. Why they were made is more a question than how, but it’s been theorized that they may have been created in an attempt to communicate with the sky gods.
Easter Island, Chile
One of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, Easter Island in it's entirety is just 14 miles by 7 miles across so you can traverse it completely by foot in a day. Famous for its 887 Moai statues carved by Polynesian settlers, each is about 13 feet high with it’s own humanistic features carved out of hardened volcanic ash. With a minimalistic design that’s similar in feel to the terracotta army in China, their purpose is unknown and curiously worth mulling over.
Chapada Diamantina Caves, Brazil
Sometimes, the most amazing natural environments are not found on Earth, but below. This is especially true of the flooded Caves of Chapada. A site where many extinct species have been uncovered, you can swim in the crystal-clear waters of Poço Azul and glide around the remains of old submerged trees. There are a number of wells, waterfalls and grottos to explore for a truly ethereal experience.