Hence begins the Chilean south. The regions of La Araucanía, Los Ríos and the Lakes District jar travelers with menacing ice-topped volcanoes, glacial lakes overflowing with what looks like melted jade, roaring rivers running through old growth forests and coastal enclaves inhabited by the indomitable Mapuche people.
Wedged like a grape between Brazil’s gargantuan thumb and Argentina’s long forefinger, Uruguay has always been something of an underdog. Yet after two centuries living in the shadow of its neighbors, South America’s smallest country is finally getting a little well-deserved recognition.
Iguazú Falls & the Northeast
Northeast Argentina is defined by water. Muscular rivers roll through plains that they flood at will, while fragile wetlands support myriad birdlife, snapping caimans and cuddly capybaras. The peaceful Río Iguazú, meandering through jungle between Brazil and Argentina, dissolves in fury and power in the planet’s most awe-inspiring waterfalls.
Africa meets South America in the staggeringly beautiful northeastern state of Bahia. The heady blend of two seemingly disparate cultures – classic Portuguese architecture and African drum beats, Catholic churches and Candomblé (Afro-Brazilian religion) – is unique, and for most travelers, truly intoxicating.
Surprising, cosmopolitan, energetic, sophisticated and worldly, Santiago is a city of syncopated cultural currents, madhouse parties, expansive museums and top-flight restaurants. No wonder 40 percent of Chileans call the leafy capital city home. It's a wonderful place for strolling, and each neighborhood has its unique flavor and tone.
Salta & the Andean Northwest
Argentina’s northwest sits lofty, dry and tough beneath the mighty Andes. Nature works magic here with stone: weird, wonderful, tortured rockscapes are visible throughout. There's a definite Andean feel characterizing the area's indigenous communities, traditional handicrafts, llamas and Inca ruins, and the high, arid puna (Andean highlands) stretching into Chile and Bolivia.
Devil dusters zoom wantonly through sun-scorched Norte Grande with its undulating curves of rock and stone, Andean lagoons, snow-capped volcanoes, salt flats and sensuously perforated coastline. Famous as much for its hilltop observatories as its massive copper mines, those vast, uninhabited spaces touch the soul and the imagination.
Minas Gerais & Espírito Santo
For those seeking a tangible sense of Brazilian history, no state compares with Minas Gerais. The tortuous cobblestone streets and splendid baroque monuments of Minas’ colonial mining towns have seen it all, from the horrors of slavery to the fervor of Brazil's 18th-century independence movement. Minas’ natural wonders are equally alluring.