Iconic National Parks of South America

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Gala­pa­gos Islands (Ecuador)
Charles Dar­win made this arch­i­pel­ago famous when he stud­ied the exot­ic ani­mals behind the The­o­ry of Evo­lu­tion. Trav­el­ing to the Gala­pa­gos will give you an oppor­tu­ni­ty to see these crea­tures in real life. The tourism indus­try is well estab­lished here, mak­ing trav­el plans easy and acces­si­ble. Fur­ther, a mul­ti­tude of hikes will take you through diverse beach­es, and into the inte­ri­or. Dives offer the chance to swim with marine igua­nas, ham­mer­head sharks, and man­ta rays while The Giant Tor­toise Breed­ing Cen­ter is a great place to spot more bizarre wildlife.

200517639-001Tor­res del Paine (Chile)
This Nation­al Park in south­ern Chile is a hik­er’s par­adise. You can trek the tow­er­ing Tor­res del Paine moun­tains in 8–9 days or opt for short­er hikes through trails in the beau­ti­ful French Val­ley and the Patag­on­ian Steppe. The glac­i­ers at Lago Grey are stun­ning and if you’ve got the skills, ice climb­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties abound here.

Rapa Nui (Chile)
East­er Island (Rapa Nui being the indige­nous name) is most famous for the moai, the large stone heads that were carved from the 10th to the 16th cen­tu­ry. Sci­en­tists have been stumped with the inge­nu­ity of their cre­ators, par­tic­u­lar­ly how they trans­port­ed these mas­sive stones with so lit­tle tech­nol­o­gy. While see­ing the moai first­hand would be amaz­ing, explor­ing the island and see­ing the scars of over­pop­u­la­tion and the envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phes that fol­lowed in the 16th cen­tu­ry are both edu­ca­tion­al and haunting.

4Tay­rona (Colum­bia)
Tay­rona is locat­ed on the breath­tak­ing coast­line of Colum­bia. Here, you can stay in an eco­hab — a small round hut with a thatched roof. Lat­er, you can head inland by through-hik­ing into the moun­tains to vis­it Cuidad Per­di­da. Cuidad Per­di­da is an ancient city that has pro­duced a wealth of archae­o­log­i­cal trea­sures and is believed to have been found­ed around the year 800 A.D. The trek to the city is no easy task and the round trip is 5–6 days.

El Cocuy (Colum­bia)
El Cocuy is locat­ed at the north­ern end of the Andes Range. The park cov­ers 15,000 ver­ti­cal feet and is char­ac­ter­ized by rugged moun­tain peaks, col­or­ful moraine lakes, and for­eign flo­ra that have adapt­ed to the harsh envi­ron­ment. You can begin at the Her­rera Camp and make the 44-mile trek through the park and you would­n’t even begin to skim the sur­face of it. There are moun­tain peaks wait­ing to be sum­mit­ed and qui­et val­leys wait­ing to be explored. If you’re not sure where to go, hire a guide and rent a bur­row to car­ry your gear.

3Iguazu Falls (Brazil)
This behe­moth water­fall locat­ed on the bor­der of Brazil and Argenti­na is locat­ed in a semi-trop­i­cal jun­gle. Iguazu Falls ranks as the sec­ond largest water­fall in the world. There are a num­ber of trails in the area for tourists to explore and soak up the impres­sive sights. The water­fal­l’s con­stant spray ris­ing into the air cre­ates rain­bows that almost nev­er go away. It’s a great place to see wildlife such as gators, mon­keys, and coatis.

Manu (Peru)
Manu encom­pass­es ter­rain rang­ing from the east­ern slopes of the Andes to the Peru­vian Ama­zon Basin. The Ama­zon por­tion of the park is the most bio­log­i­cal­ly diverse place on earth, boast­ing over 800 species of bird and 200 species of mam­mal. The park is large­ly unex­plored and new plants and ani­mals are still being dis­cov­ered. There are at least four groups of native peo­ple groups liv­ing in the park and they aren’t well known. You’ll find a num­ber of com­pa­nies that pro­vide guides who will take you into the park.