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.