The Galápagos Islands are a destination that will inevitably stay in your mind long after you visit them, and conversely, can live with you long before you’ve actually booked a visit, thanks to the abundant literature and many nature shows that highlight their wonders. They are certainly the stuff of fantasy. A coveted destination, no doubt, those who become obsessed with this one-and-only archipelago, always want to go deeper, know more about it, dreaming of returning if they’ve been or one day, finally, stand on its shores, admire its wildlife and swim in its seas, if they haven’t.
Photo: Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero
Colombia has 41 official national parks, from the lagoons of the San Andrés archipelago down to the southern border in the midst of the Amazon jungle. The country’s amazing geographic contrasts and biodiversity make every national park a unique visual experience, whether you’re admiring a range of glacier-topped volcanic peaks, towering wax palm trees or gray sand beaches. You could spend a whole year just exploring the parks – but what if you don’t have that time?
Ecuador is proud of Mount Cotopaxi, located just outside of the capital city of Quito. For centuries, it was considered the world’s highest active volcano, at almost 6000 meters (over 19000 feet) above sea level. Vulcanology now considers almost all volcanoes ‘active’, and other active volcanoes in the southern Andes are statistically higher, but few are more picture-perfect.
Photo: Natalie Southwick
Ask your average person to picture Colombia, and it’s highly unlikely that the first image they’ll come up with will be one of arid stretches of sun-baked red clay desert. But though Colombia is better known for misty Caribbean beaches and verdant hills covered in coffee, the whole country isn’t actually jungle – in fact, there are several dry desert regions that sharply contrast the lush vegetation of the coast and western Andes.
Photo: Kevin Raub
Whatever toots your horn: Hiking, biking, diving, mountains, canyons, flora, fauna, dunes, rivers, oceans, caves or prehistoric rock paintings – the list is exhausting, actually! – Brazil has got a reason for you to ditch the Havaianas and get out and about with some sort of nature that doesn’t involve caipirinhas on the beach and sand in your sunga (that’s Portuguese for those Speedo-type bathing suits!).
Over 15% of Brazil is under environmental protection, clocking in at 1.3 million sq km to be exact. Between Atlantic rainforest, tropical rainforest protected wetlands and the most amphibian, bird, mammal, reptile, and vascular plant species on Earth (according to Mongo Bay, one of the world’s most respected environmental science and conservation news sites), Brazil is the world’s most biodiverse country, which leaves a wealth of national parks to explore beyond Ipanema and Copacabana – nearly 70 in total. Here are our five favorites:
Each year, hundreds of humpback whales make the 8,000 km journey from the frigid sea off Chile to the warm waters of Colombia’s Pacific coastline, gathering in bays and coves by the dozens or even hundreds to mate and calve their babies before beginning the long trip back. In recent years, as the security situation in the region has improved, local tour operators have begun to capitalize on this event’s natural appeal, offering guided tours and boat rides to view the gentle visitors. Though it requires a certain level of commitment to reach the remote area, it’s made worthwhile by the payoff upon arrival: hundreds of miles of untouched coastline, jungles filled with some of the world’s most amazing plants and animals, and whales that come so close to shore that, legend has it, you can see them from your hammock on the beach.
There is a certain time of year when from the high-rise buildings overlooking Guayaquil’s teeming and tropical “malecón” (or, riverside promenade) you can catch sight of Mount Chimborazo. Now, Chimborazo is the highest peak in Ecuador, at over 20,000 feet above sea level and it is, technically speaking, the highest point on Earth from the Earth’s core, since it lies on the so-called ‘equatorial bulge’ (never mind the Himalayas; they’ve been cheating all along). Back in Guayaquil, we’re at no feet above sea level at all. The air is warm; it’s heavy. The humidity is sweat inducing. The plants that grow here are deep green and the trees are tall. The city’s main river—Río Guayas—is about to roll into the immense Pacific Ocean.
Photo: Jonathan Hood
Vast Torres del Paine national park, located in Chilean Patagonia, just a few hours from the southern city of Punta Arenas, is one of Chile’s proudest and most-visited national parks, and with good reason.
The park’s 600,000 acres comprise a vast ecosystem of glaciers, forests, steppe, glacial valleys, lakeside camping, a striated massif, and the granite spires of the towers for which the park itself is named.
Photo: Nicolas de Camaret
Fascinating facts about the most isolated island anywhere, courtesy of explora Rapa Nui
An exotic dot in the southern Pacific, Rapa Nui – a.k.a., Easter Island – is nothing if not mysterious. Rising 6,600 feet from the seabed, the island has hosted many over the centuries – from the first settlers from Hawaii to the early Rapa Nui, who dotted its volcanic slopes with silent stone moai; the Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen, who popped by in 1722 while searching for the Great Southern Continent and gave Easter Island its name to the famed British explorer Captain James Cook.
Between June and mid-December, some of the largest mammals in the world, Southern Right whales, gather for breeding season in the Atlantic waters just off the Valdes Peninsula. The wind-whipped coastline in Argentine Patagonia, about 870 miles south of Buenos Aires, is the best place in the country for incredible wildlife-spotting opportunities. Along with whales, you can also see Magellanic penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, and dolphins year-round.
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