The Big Loop
This classic South American journey takes in some of the continent's most famous sites, including Andean peaks, Amazonian rainforest, Machu Picchu, Iguazú Falls and the Galápagos Islands.
- Start off in Buenos Aires. Spend several days exploring the mesmerizing Argentine capital.
- Go east to Bariloche for spectacular scenery then head to Chile's verdant Lake District at Puerto Varas.
- Continue north to Santiago, then cross back into Argentina to Córdoba and gorgeous Salta before re-entering Chile at the desert oasis of San Pedro de Atacama.
- Head into Bolivia to experience the surreal Salar de Uyuni.
- Continue to La Paz and on to Peru via Lake Titicaca.
- Linger at ancient Cuzco and Machu Picchu before going to Lima and on to Ecuador.
- From Guayaquil, fly to the Galápagos Islands.
- Back on the mainland, visit colonial Cuenca and historic Quito.
- Pass into Colombia to the lush Zona Cafetera and bustling Medellín, then go to Cartagena for Caribbean allure.
- See beautiful Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona and relax in Mérida, Venezuela, before visiting Salto Ángel.
- Cross into Brazil and onto Manaus for a jungle trip. Afterwards fly down to Rio de Janeiro for beaches and nightlife.
- Visit thundering Iguazú Falls and return to Buenos Aires.
For rugged adventure, unparalleled alpine vistas, rich indigenous cultures and colorful market towns journey down the Andes from Colombia to Argentina. Along the way, you'll pass through colonial towns, cloud forests and surreal desert landscapes.
- Fly into Bogotá, taking in the old historic center and lively nightlife.
- Continue south to San Agustín to explore pre-Columbian ruins, and on to Parque Nacional Puracé, for Andean treks.
- Then go to Pasto and on to the beautifully set Laguna de la Cocha.
- Cross into Ecuador and visit Otavalo, for markets and day trips to alpine lakes.
- Head west to Mindo for misty cloud-forest adventures.
- Continue south through Quito and on to Volcán Cotopaxi, for hikes and majestic scenery.
- Visit colonial Cuenca, relax in laid-back Vilcabamba, then continue into Peru and down to Huaraz for trekking in the Cordillera Blanca.
- Spend a few days in Cuzco, then hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
- Head across shimmering Lake Titicaca into Bolivia for more hiking in the Cordillera Real.
- Continue south to the Salar de Uyuni, before crossing to Argentina by way of the spectacular Quebrada de Humahuaca.
- Continue into Argentina toward enchanting Mendoza, near massive Cerro Aconcagua, the western hemisphere's highest peak.
The Deep South
Mysterious, windswept, glacier-riddled Patagonia is one of South America's most magical destinations. Patagonia – and the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego – is best visited November through March, and you can see more for cheaper if you camp.
- Start in the outdoors-loving town of Bariloche. Take in the stunning Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi and Parque Nacional Lanín.
- Head south to Esquel, for a taste of the Old Patagonian Express.
- Travel west into Chile to the Andean hamlet of Futaleufú for outstanding rafting.
- Take the scenic Carretera Austral to Coyhaique and on to Lago General Carrera, and visit the caves of Capilla de Mármol.
- Head to windswept Chile Chico, then cross into Argentina to Los Antiguos.
- Bounce down to El Chaltén in spectacular Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and on to the wondrous Glaciar Perito Moreno near El Calafate.
- Cross back into Chile at Puerto Natales to hike beneath the granite spires of Torres del Paine.
- Head to Punta Arenas, then south into Argentina's Tierra del Fuego and bottom out at edge-of-the-earth Ushuaia.
- Travel north along the Atlantic, stopping for penguins in Reserva Provincial Punta Tombo and whales in Reserva Faunística Península Valdés.
- End the trip in Buenos Aires.
Sailing the Mighty Amazon
This tough but rewarding journey travels the length of the fabled Amazon, taking in wildlife-watching, historic cities and beautiful river beaches.
- Start in Pucallpa, Peru (a flight or bus ride from Lima).
- Before hitting the river, visit nearby Lago Yarinacocha, a lovely oxbow lake ringed by tribal villages.
- From Pucallpa, begin the classic slow riverboat journey north along the Río Ucayali to Lagunas, where you can continue on to the wildlife-rich Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria. Afterwards, spend a day exploring the bustling city of Iquitos.
- From here, get a boat to the tri-border region of Peru, Colombia and Brazil, and take a break in Colombia's Leticia.
- From Leticia, it's three more arduous days to the bustling city of Manaus, which is famed for its 19th-century opera house and buzzing markets. This is also a great base for jungle excursions.
- Chug east to Santarém, where you can visit the white-sand beaches of Alter do Chão.
- Another 3½ days further, and you'll reach culturally rich Belém, a good spot for sampling traditional Amazonian cuisine.
- From here, cross over to Ilha de Marajó, a massive river island dotted with friendly towns, wandering buffaloes and pleasant beaches.
Exploring the Guianas
The Atlantic Coast
Colonial towns, Afro-Brazilian culture, gorgeous beaches and buzzing nightlife set the stage for an epic 7400km ramble up the Atlantic coast. Surfing, snorkeling, forest treks and urban exploring are all essential experiences along the way.
- Start off in Argentina, spending a few days taking in the charms of Buenos Aires before ferrying over to historic Montevideo.
- Follow Uruguay's coastline north through glitzy Punta del Este, dune-fringed Cabo Polonio and the laid-back beach town of Punta del Diablo.
- Make your way to Florianópolis, gateway to secluded beaches and stunning scenery, then head up to the scenic colonial town of Paraty, and rainforest-covered Ilha Grande.
- Continue to Rio de Janeiro for pretty beaches, lush scenery and samba-fueled nightlife.
- Fly to Porto Seguro and continue to Trancoso and Arraial d'Ajuda – both enticing, laid-back towns near cliff-backed beaches.
- Spend a few days in Salvador, Brazil's mesmerizing Afro-Brazilian gem.
- Further up the coast, visit pretty Olinda, then catch a flight from Recife to the spectacular Fernando de Noronha.
- Back on the mainland, travel north, stopping at the backpackers' paradise of Jericoacoara and the surreal dunes of Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses.
- The final stops are reggae-charged São Luís and colonial Alcântara.