The joys of South America

Sugar Loaf MountainThe joys of South America are best enjoyed on an Escorted Tour.

What a vast continent with an enormously rich and varied culture, not to mention extraordinary scenery and geographical wonders to be seen.  With vibrant cities like Rio de Janiero, the Amazon, the Atacama desert and the Andes, it warrants exploration and the perfect way to do this for many Silver Travellers is to take an escorted, guided tour in small groups with like-minded people.

Brazil is a hugely diverse country, with an enticing array of places to see. The Art Deco statue of Christ the Redeemer dominates Rio de Janiero and is an awe-inspiring standing 30 metres high, with a chapel beneath it for Brazilians to hold christenings and weddings.   Sugar Loaf Mountain, so named after blocks of sugar transported from this area when the sugar trade made this such a commercially important city, can be reached by cable car, which give panoramic views of the surrounding area for miles around.  Understandably, it is a rock climbers’ paradise and they can be seen scaling the great monolith and those close to it. For those who prefer their feet more firmly on the ground, Copacabana beach and trendy Ipanema are enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.  The city has many other delights on offer including the arty, laid back area of Santa Theresa. 

Iguazu FallsIguazu Falls are a stunning sight to behold, straddling both Brazil and Argentina, named as one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature, with walkways out over the water to the dramatic Devil’s Throat from where water cascades 82 metres down to the river below.  The Rainforest Ecological train transports visitors to the Falls, although animals have the right of way over the racks!  UNESCO have designated the National Parks around this area, in both countries as World Heritage Sites. The Amazon River, its tributaries and the flood plain it crosses, are central to vegetation and wildlife across much of northern and central South America, covering around 40% of the continent.  Starting in Iquitos in Peru, it flows across the Andean plain, through Colombia and out to the sea in Brazil.  River cruises make the interior of the rainforest on its banks accessible, with unique plants and animals to be seen in abundance.  The tales of little known tribes still living in the rainforest add to its mystery and uniqueness.  A trek into the forest and a chance to engage with the indigenous people must surely be a highlight of any trip here, made, perhaps, all the more remarkable given the sharp contrast to totally developed city life on the coast. 

Machu-Picchu, PeruNo tour to South America is complete without a visit to some of the Inca sites.  This ancient empire is centred around Cusco in Peru, and stretched into Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador.  The architecture of Cusco, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, gives hints to its Inca past and Sacsayhuaman, a fortress high above the town, with its large dry stone polished walls are a reminder of just what an impressive complex of buildings were once in place here.  Machu Picchu, perhaps the home to an Inca emperor, is both an extraordinary site and feat of this civilisation.  Work still continues there today to restore and discover the buildings that remain.  The sacred area of the estate are particularly worthy of note.  Inca Pisac, full of indications of Inca life, is close to a bustling village where the centuries old agricultural terraces are still worked by farmers today.  Urubamba Valley or the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is the mystical heartland of this region which many of the sites look down upon.

Amazon cruiseLake Titicaca is most certainly an extraordinary place to visit, the largest lake in South America, with steamers, many built in Britain in pieces for assembly in country, offering boat trips around it.  The villages, built on islands of floating reeds have existed for centuries and the islands in the lake, with traditional lifestyles still in operation upon them, are an interesting place to see.  The Amazon and the rainforest that surrounds it, is home to literally thousands of animals (red howler monkeys, giant river otters), reptiles (tree frogs, iridescent beetles)  and birds (parrots, parakeets), as well as plants, some of which are completely unique.  A cruise along the river is fascinating although a short stay at a lodge beside the water, with a jungle hike or two accompanied by naturalists allows the traveller to get a sense of the vastness and mystery of this remote forest which covers of half a million square kilometres.     

Atacama DesertThe driest hot desert on earth, the Atacama, is situated on the western coast of South America, primarily in Chile.  It is considered to be possibly the most inhospitable environment on Earth in which to live.  The exceptionally low rainfall renders plant life very limited, although when higher than normal precipitation occurs, some 200 species come to life from a latent state, to create the flowering desert phenomenon.  The landscape within the desert has been compared to Mars and the Moon, with equipment for trips to these planets being tested here and incredible land formations occur as the result of wind erosion, with unexpected colours.  It also features in films as a location for distant stars and planets too.  The lack of cloud cover, dryness of the air and near zero light pollution makes the Atacama almost perfect for astronomical observation and several large institutions are based here.  It is unlike any other place on Earth and to visit it is to have a unique experience.

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco, PeruVisiting South America as a more mature traveller, you may well be looking for something comfortable, organised and purposeful, there is so much to see and do.  The answer here surely must be an escorted group tour.  Now if the thought of this fills your mind with an image of school trips, frogmarched around worthy sites at speed with questionnaires to complete and a warm box of sandwiches as your only fodder, fear not.  Tours have moved on, indeed moved on a great deal and in a very positive way!  The total joys of escorted touring come into their own on such a diverse continent: your tour manager, think travel PA crossed with a logistics expert, takes care of the whole operation.  Any slight hiccups along the way are dealt with, on your behalf, swiftly and by someone who confidently knows the ropes.  South America can be a touch unpredictable, it is not a domesticated destination like Europe, and offers unique, remarkable experiences that will be even more enjoyable when you are safe in the knowledge that all the travel plans are being handles behind the scenes.  You can concentrate on the journey and all it offers.  

And of course, on each and every tour a local guide is provided too, someone who has a deep, intimate connection to the place you’re visiting, someone who can has in depth knowledge of customs, culture and history.  Your guide is the key to undiscovered culture and history, which is sometimes, mistakenly, overlooked by travellers.  Careful itinerary planning is essential for the success of a tour!  Too many visits can leave you overwhelmed and exhausted, without time to digest all the marvels you are seeing, so many factor this in, with time for relaxation, personal exploration or additional excursions if you have the stamina.    

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Journeys of Distinction for luxury group or private touring in South America and worldwide.

“We have been touring with JoD for a number of years, visiting New Zealand, India, Africa and South America. All the holidays have been special, but our favourite is South America”
Brian & Steph Melling, May 2013 -VIP customers

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