Uros floating islands, South America

How to Experience the Best of South America

31 May 2017

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Don't you wish there was a treasure map that could lead you to the best of South America? It’s a vast continent packed with mystifying, captivating and completely foreign experiences, and it’s hard to imagine a list that can encompass all of its wonders.

Although the best of South America may mean something different to everyone, these carefully crafted moments from Insight Vacations will help you plunge into some of the world’s most enigmatic cultures.

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Titicaca floating islands, South America
Reeds are continuously added to the top of the floating islands of Uros

Visit the floating islands of Lake Titicaca

Local legend has it that Titicaca was the birthplace of the sun, and a sense of ancient reverence still clings to the shores of this brilliant blue lake. The locals of the Uros islands bundle reeds from the lake to build platforms, houses and canoes, resulting in floating communities of exquisitely woven reeds.

To fully appreciate this unique lifestyle, speak with a local about the daily struggle of literally staying afloat, a way of life adopted by the Uros tribe to escape their more aggressive contemporaries.

Watch a shaman’s ritual in the Sacred Valley

Machu Picchu, Cuzco and the Sacred Valley once made up the heartland of the Inca Empire. Among the isolated weaving villages, rustic market towns and Inca ruins live a people who still honour the ancient traditions as part of daily life.

To understand the significance of the old rituals to the Sacred Valley locals, watch a shaman perform a "Payment to the Earth" ceremony. Dedicated to Mother Earth, or Pachamama, this spine-tingling routine dates back thousands of years. 

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Cuzco markets
From modern toys to handmade goods, the markets of Cuzco are a shopping adventure

Perfect your bartering skills, Cuzco

When it’s done the right way, bartering over the price of goods can be enjoyable for both buyer and seller. If you’re a little intimidated by the buzzing stalls of Cuzco’s markets, let a local be your guide in navigating the etiquette of haggling.

Make it a challenge and buy according to the list provided by an Insight Travel Concierge – all the purchases will be donated to local families.

Learn the secrets of Peruvian coffee, Lima

Connoisseurs claim that once you taste coffee from Peru, you’ll never go back. A mountainous geography enables ideal growing conditions for coffee beans, and Peru has become the world’s leading source of high-quality, organic coffee.

What better way to discover the secrets of Peruvian coffee than by hearing an expert barista spill the beans? Prepare for an afternoon of glorious aromas and fun facts as you learn how to make the perfect café asado in the capital of Peru. 

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Machu Picchu Peru
Some Machu Picchu stonework was joined without mortar, yet they are still too tight to penetrate with a blade

Tour and wander Machu Picchu

Of course Machu Picchu is on any itinerary that includes the best of South America. Whether you’re hiking the Inca Trail or riding to the peak in the Vistadome train, the misty ruins of the ancient Incas will be waiting to snatch your breath away.

A tour with a guide is a must, and a local expert can reveal details of the Temple of the Sun, the Sacred Plaza and the Intihuatana that go far beyond the guide book.

After the tour is over, leave some time to wander the majestic ruins by yourself. Your newfound knowledge will imbue each crumbling wall with new meaning.

Wine tasting in Valparaiso

The World-Heritage listed Valparaiso is known for its colourful, cliff side dwellings, but this Chilean seaside town is easy on the tongue as well as on the eyes.  

Known as one of Chile’s premier wine regions, the Casablanca Valley lies between Santiago and Valparaiso. Taste the robust reds and expressive whites of the region at Kingston Vineyards, a boutique family winery where the art of Chilean winemaking is celebrated through generations of vintners.

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Tango in Buenos Aires
Tango originated in underprivileged areas of Buenos Aires, and was once looked down upon by the wealthy

See the ultimate tango show in Buenos Aires

Tango is the language of Buenos Aires, and it is flaunted to its best advantage at Rojo Tango, Argentina’s number one tango show and among the best of South America. 

Prepare for an evening of delicious food and heart-stopping performances amidst the velvet and gilded interior of the Faene Hotel cabaret room, which holds only 100 lucky guests. 

Enjoy a barbeque, gaucho style

The cowboy lifestyle of The Pampas (plains) of Argentina is still alive and kickin’, as you’ll discover on a visit to San Antonio de Areco, one of the prettiest towns on the plains.

Tuck into an enormous barbeque lunch, or asado, where you can eat world-famous Argentinian steak to your heart’s content and then sit back to watch an equestrian demonstration by local gauchos (cowboys). Be sure to have your andales ready; these cowboys know what they’re doing and are on a mission to wow you.

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Gaucho in Argentina
Originally outlaws, gauchos became respectable after fighting for Argentine freedom with San Martin

View the Iguassu Falls after hours

Set amidst the verdant jungle of Brazil and Argentina, the Iguassu Falls possess a beauty that is guaranteed to sweep you off your feet. This chain of seemingly endless, crystal waterfalls draws thousands of visitors daily, and is a contender for the top spot in a list of the best of South America. 

Seeing this world wonder when the park is closed to tourists is an elusive sight offered from the Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas, the only hotel nestled close to the falls on the Brazilian side of the park. Staying at this hotel means that you will be among the only people on earth witnessing the magical sight of dusk descending on the waterfalls. 

Visit with Christ the Redeemer

What is it that is so enthralling about this mountaintop statue?

Perhaps it’s the sheer scale of the thing; at 38 metres, it looms magnificently over the sprawl of Rio de Janeiro. It may be the setting that makes it such an arresting sight. The sculpture is perched atop the impossible-looking Corcovado Mountain, surrounded by verdant mountains with an outlook over the iconic coastline of Rio.

Whatever the reason, a pilgrimage up to the open arms of Cristo el Redentor is guaranteed to thrill you to your core, no matter how many people you share the experience with.  

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Christ the Redeemer Statue Rio de Janeiro
The statue of Christ the Redeemer is covered in six million tiles of light coloured soapstone


These experiences are all included in Insight Vacation's Grand Tour of South America, although there are plenty more stops along the way! Your local Travel Associates Advisor has the latest specials and details on Insight Vacations, so get in touch today to discover the best of South America.

Emma Lee

Emma is a travel writer and blogger living in Brisbane, Australia. She followed the snow around the world for many years, and still considers Lake Louise her happy place. Emma's other passion is food; a love that has led her down many sketchy looking alleys in Asia, South America and Europe.