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South America's big 5: Where to travel

South America's big 5: Where to travel

If you’re seeking trends in travel look no further than the terms “7 Wonders” and “Big 5”. The original Seven Wonders were of the ancient world and few survive today.

However, now you can find any number of variations on modern, natural, big, exotic, new, manmade, etc, wonders to the power of seven.

The original Big Five was a list of the most dangerous animals in Africa: lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard and elephant. Now there’s a South American Big Five but rather than danger they represent the continent’s most desirable adventure destinations. It’s certainly a list to aspire to: Machu Picchu, Galapagos Islands, Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon and Iguazu Falls.

There’s enough there to justify several return trips to South America.

Machu Picchu
Hidden within the Andes, this Inca citadel is perched on a ridge with a deep river valley on all sides. Few who make the trek along the Inca Trail to come into the sanctuary through the Sun Gate will believe that it is at considerably lower elevation than the entry city of Cusco.

Machu Picchu is a mystical place where little of its original purpose is known. The Peruvian government has tried to limit visitor numbers but it can still be crowded, particularly when the day trippers arrive on the trains from historic Cusco. To fully appreciate it you need to stay overnight to be there early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the crowds have gone and you feel alone with the ruins and the mountains.

Galapagos islands
Like Antarctica, the Galapagos is a place where local wildlife regard humans as largely irrelevant. For those who love nature it’s paradise. It’s beautiful, too. And there’s the historic element that this is where Darwin found the basis for his proposal that natural selection was the basis of evolution.

You can explore some of the Galapagos on a land-based tour, but the best option by far is to take a cruise. If you have a chance to snorkel with playful sea lions do it – it’ll provide a lifetime of funny memories.

Rio de Janeiro
The Marvelous City is perhaps the most dynamic destination in the world. The setting is superb from the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema to the cable car up Sugarloaf while Christ the Redeemer (a modern Seven Wonder) looks on from Corcavado.

Just watching the scene on any of the beaches is worth the visit alone. But Rio has a dark side so it really is a city to explore with someone who knows where to go – and where not to go.

The Amazon River
The greatest river in the world is surrounded by the largest rainforest on earth. The Amazon is more than 10km wide in parts and carries by far the greatest flow of any river. Everything else is on a similar scale. There are catfish that weigh more than 80kg and anacondas that exceed five metres in length and weigh almost 100kg. Then there are the birds, from colourful parrots and toucans to tiny hummingbirds.

The lower river is where it is widest and can be navigated by ocean-going vessels. But it’s in the upper reaches that you really feel you are in a remarkable forest with an incredible river flowing through it. You need at least a few days to experience it. Swimming with piranha, anyone?

Iguazu Falls
Okay, first we need to clear up the name. The name is a derivation of a local name but the local Argentinian town is Puerto Iguazú while Brazil’s is Foz do Iguaçu or Iguassu. 
No matter which side (and ideally both) the falls really are a sight. Effectively, a whole giant river pours out of the jungle into a large horseshoe gorge over some 300 falls, the largest of which is simply known as the Devil’s Throat. On the Argentinean side you can stroll a series of walkways through the falls while the Brazilian side offers an amazing panorama.

Unless you are heading off on an extended holiday along the Gringo Trail (the Latin version of the ancient Hippy Trail across Asia) it’s unlikely you’ll cover all this on a single journey. At least that was true until now.

Written by David McGonigal. Republished with permission of Wyza.com.au.