IVHQ offers volunteer programs in South America including Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador. When volunteers aren’t working on their projects during the week, they have the weekends free to let out their inner adventurer and go exploring. Travel expert Natalia Gomez has provided her top recommendations for travel adventures you can take in South America.
Looking for your next adventure? South America is it. The continent houses some of the best natural beauty in the world, and some of the most famous world wonders. Aside from the activities and places, the continent is cheaper than many others, letting you easily take your dream vacation.
From the top of Colombia down to the bottom of Argentina, South America is calling you, so get ready for your next aventure and take a look at these top five travel adventures you need to take.
1. Hike Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina
Surely the last thing you thought you’d do in South America was hike a glacier, right? If you’re in Argentina and want a unique, arctic type adventure, this is the trip for you. Perito Moreno Glacier sits in Los Glacieres National Park in the Patagonia region of Southern Argentina.
The glacier sits at about three miles wide and 19 miles long, and unlike other glaciers, it’s growing, not shrinking.
Your trek on Perito Moreno begins in El Calafate, a quaint, lakeside town closest to the park. The large, white mass is set atop a wintery blue-green lake, surrounded by the towering Andes mountains.
Various tour groups take you out for a day of climbing around the jagged white ice, exploring the ice caves, a boat ride across the water, and a stop at the observation decks to view it all from above.
2. Head to Iguazu Falls in Brazil
TLC might say not to go chasing waterfalls, but at Iguazu, that’s exactly what you’ll want to do. The mostly Brazilian Iguazu River falls into the widest waterfalls in the world to form the Iguazu Falls on the Argentine border.
While more of the actual falls lie on the Argentine side, the Brazilian side gives you a far better panoramic view of the water rushing down over rocky cliffs in a lush rainforest park.
The Brazil side is also the only spot where you can grab a helicopter tour of the magnificent “new world wonder.” Helicopter tours depart from Foz do Iguacu, the Brazilian town on the edge of the falls, and take you high up above the water to see the over 100 individual waterfalls that make up Iguazu.
The park itself is also home to monkeys, a range of reptiles, over 400 bird species, and many other jungle-dwelling creatures, so be sure to stick around to see what else you can find.
The town of Foz do Iguazu is also close to the triple border between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. When else can you stand in three countries at once?
3. Explore the Amazon in Colombia
Colombia is quickly becoming one of South America’s biggest tourist hot spots, so make sure you don’t miss out on your chance to fall in love with this diverse country. Between growing innovative cities, mountainous countrysides, and Caribbean beaches, it can be easy to forget that about 35% of the southern part of this country is entirely inside the Amazon Rainforest.
Start your trip in Leticia, the capital of the Amazonas department. Leticia is a small city on the triple border between Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, giving you easy access to three countries at once.
From Leticia, you can take a short boat trip up the river to Puerto Narino, Colombia. This Amazonian village has zero cars save for the ambulance and recycling pick up.
Use this village as your base to explore the rivers, see the legendary pink dolphins for yourself, or get to know the local indigenous communities living deep in the Amazon.
Hike through the Parque Nacional Amacayacu to see the millions of animals, including boa constrictors, anacondas, tarantulas, pumas, and more. Nearby Lago Tarapoto gives you the perfect spot to go fishing for piranhas if that’s something you’ve dreamt of doing.
4. Swing at the end of the world in Ecuador
If you loved swingsets and treehouses as a kid, you will fall in love with this grown-up version in Baños, Ecuador. The town sits at the base of an active volcano and is home to “miracle” hot springs (locals says the springs can cure any sickness), water adventures, and a tree house and swing that look over a gorge.
Hike up to one of the 60 waterfalls, the ‘Cascada de la Virgen’ (Waterfall of the Virgin) for a breathtaking view of the town and its many natural beauties below. There you can relax in the hot springs, or check out the ziplining, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and ATV trails that take you up and down the windy mountain paths.
Of course, you can’t forget the ‘Casa del Arbol’ (Treehouse). The small house, with its wooden stairs and stilts, is built into a tree that leans right into the canyon below. Sitting on two ropes tied to the tree’s branches is the famous swing. If you dare, buckle yourself into the seat and watch your feet fly up over the cliff’s edge. The house actually serves as a center to observe the volcanic activity of the nearby volcano.
5. Hike Machu Picchu in Peru
This may seem like an obvious one, but that doesn’t make the classic South American adventure any less worth it. The famous site is the ruins of an abandoned Inca community high up in the mountains of Peru. Start your journey in Cusco, Peru, a city full of colonial Peruvian architecture and reminders of an earlier time.
From Cusco, you can find many tours that will take you to the park, though it is recommended that you book a trip in advance. For the best adventure, try the five day Inca trail. This is a difficult trail and will require you to camp out and layer up.
The path climbs high into the tree-filled mountains with views of the towns, train tracks, and rivers hundreds of feet below you. Arguably the best view you will get on the trail comes at the Sun Gate, the opening to Machu Picchu, which lies just below you.
Of course, you’ve seen pictures of the ruins themselves, but the pictures don’t do them any justice. Take a guided tour through the intricately planned stone village and roam amongst the wild alpacas and llamas now calling the ruins home.
While in the park, be sure to hike Huayna Picchu. This mountain contains some smaller ruins, but the more spectacular view soars high above Machu Picchu giving you a view of the smaller mountain below.
After your time in Machu Picchu, take some time exploring all of the other culture and adventure Cusco has to offer.
Want to learn more about where you can take a volunteer trip? Explore IVHQ’s full range of volunteer travel destinations.