Six Bucket-List Worthy Adventures in South America

In the film Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid, Cas­sidy was onto some­thing when he said, “Kid, next time I say, ‘Let’s go some­place like Bolivia,’ let’s GO some­place like Bolivia.” South America’s misty moun­tains, desert dream­scapes, impos­si­bly blue waters, and wild jun­gles still haunt the adven­tur­ous among us, espe­cial­ly since the region is slid­ing into spring right when the north­ern hemisphere’s set­tling into deep freeze. Ready to book a tick­et for way south of the bor­der? Here’s our adven­ture buck­et list.


Moun­tain Bik­ing Ecuador’s the Avenue of Volcanoes
If the thought of freerid­ing vol­canic ash and hard­ened lava down a Volcano’s shoul­der doesn’t get your blood pump­ing, the views of Lake Quilotoa’s crater full of emer­ald water and the hulk­ing chain of vol­ca­noes from Chimb­o­ra­zo to Cotopaxi should do it. Ecuador boasts one of the high­est per­cent­ages of pro­tect­ed lands, one of the world’s high­est active vol­ca­noes, and friend­ly locals, too. If wildlife is your thing, book a flight out to the Gala­pa­gos while you’re there, too, and kayak along­side tor­tois­es and more types of birds than you can imag­ine pos­si­ble in one place.


Trekking Tor­res del Paine Nation­al Park, Chilean Patagonia
To behold in per­son the strik­ing spires of Tor­res del Paine might be enough to moti­vate a five-day trek. But they’re far from the only rea­son to hike in the park. Patagonia’s laud­ed as one of the most untouched, uncon­t­a­m­i­nat­ed places on Earth, and a tour of its glow­ing blue glac­i­ers, cerulean alpine lakes, water­falls, and pris­tine forests doesn’t dis­ap­point. Stay in a hos­pitable Refu­gio if camp­ing isn’t your thing. And if you’re a climber, be sure to vis­it the alpine Mec­ca of El Chalten.


Pad­dling Brazil’s Bay of Paraty
The Bay of Paraty’s crys­talline green-blue water feels as good as it looks. Calm, warm cur­rents wel­come begin­ning pad­dlers, and plen­ty of shops rent stand-up pad­dle­boards and sea kayaks. Islands dot the bay, call­ing for explo­ration, and live­ly under­wa­ter ecosys­tems await swim­mers, snorkel­ers, and divers, as well. Plus the town of Paraty’s charm­ing cob­ble­stone streets, his­toric church­es, and roman­tic restau­rants eas­i­ly fill up rest-days when surf­ing or bask­ing on the beach is just too much to handle.


Trekking to Machu Picchu
Trekking through Peru’s green vel­vet Andes can only be topped by step­ping through the Sun Gate at Machu Pic­chu as the first rays of day­light peek above the misty Peru­vian Andes onto the Incan ruins nes­tled into the moun­tain­top. The pop­u­lar Inca Trail winds up to Machu Pic­chu along the Urubam­ba Riv­er, one of the Amazon’s head­wa­ters, and stops by oth­er ruins along the way. Trekking it requires a per­mit and guide—but a vari­ety of oth­er trails offer less crowd­ed options. And after a few days of moun­tain trekking, the dream­i­ly land­scaped nat­ur­al hot springs at San­ta Tere­sa are paradise.


Ski­ing Por­tillo, Chile
If you dream of pow­der, even in the heat of sum­mer, you need to get down to Por­tillo. The old­est ski cen­ter in South Amer­i­ca, it’s also one of the purest ski des­ti­na­tions you can vis­it. Just 100 miles from San­ti­a­go, but 9,450 feet above sea lev­el, Por­tillo is pri­vate and pris­tine. No Guc­ci shops. No McDon­ald’s restau­rants. Just 2,500 feet of lift-ser­viced Andean per­fec­tion look­ing down on the gem-like blue-green Lagu­na del Inca. Por­tillo feels remote, but cer­tain­ly not unciv­i­lized. Frothy pis­co sours at the Por­tillo Bar and seduc­tive hot tubs pam­per skiers at day’s end.


Tour the Salar de Uyu­ni, Bolivia.
South­west­ern Bolivia might just trump the rest of the con­ti­nent for Pin­ter­est-wor­thy vaca­tion pho­tos. And pur­su­ing shots of the famous­ly pris­tine salt flats, blue-sky-mir­ror­ing lakes, and rich­ly col­ored Sal­vador Dali Desert is a wor­thy adven­ture all in itself. But if you lean toward masochism, load up a bicy­cle with camp­ing gear and as much water as you can car­ry to brave the lunar land­scape and infa­mous winds on a tour past the vibrant Lagu­na Col­orado and Lagu­na Verde, and through the rich­ly col­ored Sal­vador Dali Desert from Uyu­ni to San Pedro de Ata­ca­ma. Or hire a guide to take you out for a four-day Land Cruis­er tour.