A classic South America bucket list trip in Ecuador and Peru visits the Galapagos Islands, continues to Machu Picchu, and leaves some time to explore the wilds of the jungle. Other places in Brazil, Chile, and Colombia keep things lively, showing a wide swath of natural and cultural wonders. Keep reading for details of what you can see and do while visiting.
Happy Gringo Travel can help to arrange trips which make exploring South America a journey of destiny. We strive for excellence and don’t get discouraged-making us one of the few to excel when it comes to helping our clients find the perfect fit for their trip.
We can help you walk, bike, or fly across the continent- find surfing trips, watch you summit volcanoes, or give recommendations for restaurants while you are unwinding amid like-minded travelers.
The quintessential combination of Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, and the jungle moves between natural and culture treasures- diving into dense jungle regions where the people of the Amazon are hosts that show you the traditions of their culture, and finds you on the shores that have drawn people to a small island chain in the tropics for centuries.
The Happy Gringo Galapagos and Machu Picchu tour is a 13 day jaunt to the archipelago and Peru that is split into five days under the sun in the islands and five days based in Cusco going on insider day tours to the Sacred Valley of the Inca, with a private guide in Machu Picchu, and discovering the rich history of Cusco-the capital city of the Inca Empire.
Jungle trips in Ecuador before or after the trip, let you experience the unspoiled wilderness of the lungs of the planet-home to a dizzying variety of animals that leap from the trees, fly overhead, and swim underneath while exploring by canoe.
The Galapagos Islands’ romance and adventure give way to five days of standing in the same spots as Darwin, explorers like Alexander von Humboldt-who surveyed the islands during his time in Latin America between 1799 and 1804, and modern day pioneers like Céline Cousteau. The granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, Céline is passionate about exploring the world’s oceans and protecting their creatures.
During the time spent Galapagos Island hopping on Happy Gringo’s Galapagos and Machu Picchu trip, you will explore uninhabited islands, snorkel with sea lions, rays, and turtles- summit an active volcano, and meet giant tortoises in reserves where they roam free. So this is a definitive must visit in your South America bucket list
Based on the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabela, this part of the adventure gives you time to discover the nightlife and dining of the towns of Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil in the evening after big days spent amid blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, reef sharks, and penguins. Depending on the time of the year, there might be whale sightings off the coast of Isabela. No matter when you visit, animals appear at almost every angle-making the trip a journey that reconnects you with nature and gives you a sense of place that stays with you long after the trip is over.
Lost cities are the stuff of legend in South America. For centuries, explorers have combed the mountains and valleys of the continent searching for temples of gold, last holdouts of ancient civilizations, and secret burial chambers of long lost leaders.
Enter Hiram Bingham, an explorer, and professor who discovered the citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911while looking for the city of Vilcabamba-the stronghold of the Inca after the Spanish landed on South American soil.
Today, discovering the Inca mountain top retreat is on the South American Bucket list of intrepid travelers from all walks of life. The complex is a masterwork of artistry, engineering, and skill where temples, terraces, and irrigation aqueducts open up the doors to a culture and empire that stretched out over 770,000 square miles about the size of the Western Roman Empire.
Cusco was the capital of the state, and Machu Picchu was built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, an Emperor that expanded the Inca reach. The peaceful solace was a retreat for the royals away from the city, where they entertained visiting dignitaries while managing their affairs from a distance.
Surrounded by towering mountain peaks considered sacred by the Inca, the well-preserved buildings include temples to the sun, moon, condor, and the Room of Three Windows-a structure that stands at the exact location of the sunrise during certain times of the year. Nearby, in the center of the main sacred plaza is the Intihuatana stone, a part of an astral system that was used to signal the equinoxes-and lines up with the nearby mountain peaks.
In 2012, a team of archeologists using laser scanners and radar discovered a hidden chamber that they believe is the tomb of the Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, and further investigations are being planned based around avoiding damage to any of the surrounding structures.
Exploring the site captures the imagination, inspiring while presenting mysteries about how it was built and where the people went after it was abandoned. Happy Gringo Travel arranges custom made tours here in combination with the Galapagos Islands, Cusco, Lake Titicaca and its floating islands or any other places on your South American Bucket list.
South American explorers weren’t limited to men. Harriet Chalmers Adams, an American journalist, and photographer, and her husband spent three years in South America, including Ecuador, traveling 40,000 miles through the Andes, along with the coast, and in the jungle. Stories of her remarkable journey and her photographs were published in National Geographic, and she was an early president of the Society of Woman Geographers- an organization which is still active 90 years later. Harriet’s goal was to foster respect for all people on earth and the natural resources of the land through the written and spoken word.
Today, the Ecuadorian jungle is a South America bucket list destination-a place where time stands still and trips through the dense forest are adventures that bring the natural wealth, the incredible wildlife, and the traditions of the Amazon people who live here.
Four and five-day excursions to La Selva Lodge deep in the primary forest are active endeavors that combine comfort with exploration. Guides give you options for activities daily based on the time of year, weather, and the seasonal wildlife calendar. These can include observation towers high in the canopy, visiting an indigenous community, and night canoe trip in search of nocturnal animals.
The lodge has plush suites and family cabins with overstuffed beds, rainforest showers, and private balconies overlooking the jungle. The restaurant and bar serve an appetizing selection of international and local cuisine using fresh ingredients from nearby communities. There is also a spa complex where treatments including hot stone massages, Amazon baths, and yucca masks are splurges that release the tension of travel and restore your energy for the next day’s adventures.
Shorter South American bucket list trips to the Napo Cultural Center, inside the Yasuni National Park, are whirlwind jungle tours where you witness an ancestral ritual of the Anangu Kichwa community, try some of the traditional delicacies of the jungle, and learn about local folklore while riding down the Napo River at night on a catamaran. Visits to nearby a nearby observation tower, canoe trips to spot wildlife, hiking with local guides, and traveling to nearby parrot licks can also be included, depending on the itinerary.
4) Iguazu Falls
The Iguaçu National Park in Brazil is home to the Iguazu Falls, one of the most picturesque sites in South America. 62,000 cubic feet of water cascade down from heights of 260 feet in the air every second, twice the amount of Victoria Falls in Africa from a hundred feet higher than Niagara Falls. Discovered in 1941, the falls have been the backdrop for an Indiana Jones movie and featured in the Mission starring Robert De Nero. More than 270 waterfalls create a breathtaking scene, making a trip here high up on the bucket list of those who make the trip.
5) Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert in Chile contrasts Iguazu Falls in the fact that this 41,000 square miles of land that is the driest on Earth. Early morning visits are the best to see the desert’s geysers while evenings from April to September are the best time to witness the stars of the Milky Way from a vantage point unlike anywhere else on Earth.
Mountain biking through rugged terrain, different zones in the Los Flamencos National Reserve leads to flamingos feeding at peaceful lagoons, and surfing down sand dunes where NASA tested its Lunar rover is a surreal experience. This is also a must visit in your South America bucket list.
6) Easter Island
Chile’s Easter Island has astounded explorers since its discovery in 1722. Mammoth statues dating back to 13th century are buried up to their necks, 300 huge heads protruding from green landscapes. Experts have discovered that each figure was created by a different community by the Rapa Nui culture that has long since passed into history.
7) The San Blas Islands
Traveling by boat from Colombia through the San Blas Islands to Panama is an adventure that takes you to islands under tropical skies that puts the romance back in travel.
Three hundred small islands can be explored by speed or sailboat, spending time on shore for fun in the sun and on the water en route to visit indigenous communities. Trips usually last four days, and those who make the journey are seldom silent about their time exploring.
For more information about planning a South America bucket list trip, contact a member of our team. If you are interested in creating a custom-made tour that gives you the flexibility to plan an unique itinerary based around your interests and favorite way to travel, use this form to tell us as much as you can about where you want to go and what you want to do and someone will be in touch to discuss the details as soon as possible.