Photo: Jeff Cremer
The Amazon Jungle is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. In fact, it’s so expansive that if it were a country, it’d be the ninth largest. Ten percent of the life on this planet live within the confines of the Amazon Rainforest. When you think about it – that one in 10 of all of the world’s flora and fauna inhabit nine countries in South America – it’s pretty impressive.
The task of choosing some of my favorites was a difficult one, so I enlisted the help of Rainforest Expeditions wildlife photographer, Jeff Cremer to help me narrow down the list of thousands of potential candidates, to eight of the greats (in no particular order).
With long white sand beaches, and a tranquil vibe throughout most of the year, La Serena is one of Northern Chile’s most popular beach vacation spots. For Santiaguinos and foreigners alike, the city’s location on a long beach with swimmable warm waters makes it ideal for a couple of days’ stop on a longer trip, or as a destination unto itself.
Once visitors have seen the sights in town, which include the beach, the local market and the lighthouse, many choose to head out of town to do some exploration. In nearby Coquimbo are both the Cruz del Tercer Milenio, a monument in the form of a giant cross (visible from La Serena, and you can go inside for great views over the bay) and the mosque. There is also a very lively fish market. But there’s no reason to limit oneself to Coquimbo, either. The area is full of day trip possibilities, some of which are detailed below, so when you find yourself traveling through Chile, check them out.
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: Frank_am_Main and Olaf
While it’s called “the poor man’s Galapagos,” las Islas Ballestas are full of rich natural treasures. The magnificent islands, comprised of jagged rocks that the sea has eroded away and turned into caves, caverns and arches, jut out of the Pacific Ocean. It is here that dozens of sea life species seek refuge.
Located in the largest island of the Galapagos, Isabela, this small, rustic, remote town has only really been home to real-life humans like you and me for about 80 years. While humanity was busy becoming civilized, the island of Isabela was busy being completely ignored. And even while humans colonized other corners of the Galapagos archipelago, Puerto Villamil was only a handful of houses and a dreadful penal colony some 50 years ago.
Photo: Bridget Gleeson
The first time I saw a penguin in his natural habitat was right here in Argentina. I was with a marine biologist on a speedboat, both of us bundled up against the cold, gliding through the still bay off the coast of Puerto San Julián. As we approached the rocky coast of a small island, I spotted a small group of black and white birds emerging from the water, their plumage sleek and glossy, waddling one by one along the beach in a comical parade. I grew up with Mary Poppins and trips to the zoo – seeing penguins on the beach, and getting out of the boat to walk around their little colony, was an experience I’ll never forget.
Photo: Phillip Capper
Eleanor Roosevelt said it best – upon seeing Iguazu Falls for the first time, the First Lady of the United States reportedly exclaimed, ‘Poor Niagara! This makes Niagara look like a kitchen faucet.’ Indeed, the famous Cataratas de Iguazú, straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, are one of the most spectacular natural sights in all of South America – and spring is the perfect time to visit.
Photo: Nestor Carrasco
Wildlife lovers visiting La Serena, one of Chile’s favorite northern coastal cities, should make time for Chile’s National Humboldt Penguin Reserve. The reserve is part of the Chilean national parks (CONAF) system, and is a favorite among locals and visitors to the area. There’s something for everyone, with a boat trip out to the reserve, plentiful wild life sightings, desert plants and flowers, and white sand beaches which make this park one of the highlights of the Norte Chico, the northern part of Chile that is closest to Santiago.
Photo: Peter Meier
For many, birding is a numbers game. All serious birders keep a list, referred to as the Life List, which is the complete list of bird species seen (and documented) during a lifetime. Realistically, how many birds can you see before you die? Assuming you never left your own country, Ecuadorians could probably see twice as many as U.S. citizens.
Photo: Phil Whitehouse
At 269 feet high, 490 feet wide, and 2,300 feet long, the horseshoe-shaped Devil’s Throat waterfall provides an undeniably impressive spectacle. But what really makes this cascade worth visiting is what’s nearby. For in Iguazu Falls National Park, in northeastern Argentina,
Devil’s Throat is just one of more than 260 waterfalls visitors can see. Every one of the waterfalls is cloaked in palm trees and thick jungle, with resident toucans, capuchin monkeys, and a rainbow-spectrum of butterflies.
Photo: Lance Brashear
When people think of visiting the rain forest in Ecuador, images of jungle lodges along the Amazon River tributaries come to mind.
The Amazon begins at the base of the Eastern Cordilleras of the Andes, but what sits on the other side of the mountains along the slopes of the Western Cordillera or mountain range? Many tourists have actually discovered some wonderful destinations in the tropical and cloud forests just a couple hours west of the capital city of Quito.
Photo: Geoff Gallice
Peru is considered one of the most- biodiverse countries in the world with some unbeatable records such as number one in diversity of butterflies and number two on birds species. If you are a nature lover, Peru offers not only lively culture but unique experiences in diverse ecosytems.
Photo: Dallas Krentzel
Every year 100,000 tourists visit the Galapagos Islands National Park, with 70% of them staying on cruise ships, boats, or yachts. They tour the islands by day and sleep on the vessels by night. Though they see a lot, it is often a hurried itinerary, packed with activities and constant transfers from the boat, to the dingy, to the island, and back. Then it is off to the next island to do it all over again.
Few people outside of Ecuador realize how popular the coastal region is, not just for nationals who like to escape to the beach – particularly those who live in the Andes – but another entire population invades the coastal waters from June to September—whales! They come from Chile, Argentina, and even points further south.