5. Easter Island
Isla de Pascua, Rapa Nui, the naval of the universe and possibly the most magical island in the world, is a ‘South American’ destination never to be forgotten. The history of Easter Island is shrouded in mystery; who were these people, how did they get to the most remote island in the world, how did they survive with such limited resources, and lastly, where did they all go? Easter Island is famed for the over 800 massive Moai statues, carved from a common quarry and curiously moved to various locations around the island. The island itself however, is much more than its history. It hosts some of the most beautiful scenery one can see and has crystal clear blue waters with the occasional sea turtle surprise. There are stunning hikes up to the tops of the creation volcanoes, caves to explore and waves to surf. Easter Island has the reputation of ‘wow’ and deserves it! You may never find a location that feels quite like this.
4. Tierra del Fuego
They call it ‘el Fin del Mundo’ because of its location at the end of the world, or at least it is the furthest point south you can go before you’re chillin on the South Pole with the penguins. Tierra del Fuego belongs jointly by Chile and Argentina and has Darwin’s famed Beagle Channel running through it. The geography is one to be marveled at, from barren flat lands, to glaciers, to ridged snowy peaks rising 2,488meters (8,163ft). Due to its status as the major port to Antarctica, their cities are most international, jammed with history and covered with character. Ushuaia, a city surrounded by mountains on the Southern tip is full of fabulous restaurants, seafood to die for, notable bakeries including a good chocolate shop or two. The national park is easily explored boasting lakes and mountains with scenery that makes every picture look like it came out of a National Geographic Magazine. A lesson here; just because an island is not tropical does not mean it is not worth going out of your way to visit. There is much beauty to be appreciated in colder climates as well.
3. Isla del Sol
Hidden among the high Andes of Bolivia on Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake at 3,812 meters (12,507 ft), is Bolivia’s own little piece of paradise, Isla del Sol. It really is the island of sun as being surrounded by water at such a high altitude makes that sun just a little stronger, so pack sunscreen. The island’s permanent residents are from several traditional indigenous communities with their own special cultures and rituals. There are no vehicles on Isla del Sol keeping it paradisiacal. Fabulous rocky hikes, amazing views and beautiful beaches are available for visitors to enjoy. There are also a few restaurants, Inca ruins and Inca roads ready for you to explore. In such a mountainous part of the country, it is amazing how a few days on Isla del Sol will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into a beach holiday.
2. Chiloe Island
An archipelago of islands north of Chilean Patagonia, dusted in a folklore of magic and witchcraft, and of ghost ships and forest gnomes lies Chiloe Island. Chiloe Island is definitely off the beaten track and processes a distinct culture kept unique by the Chilote people. These islands are home to an independent group of seafarers who make Chiloe feel as if you have crossed the border into a different country. Upon arrival, you will be greeted with a view of lush rolling hills similar to those of England. Enjoy a selection of wild national parks which vary between densely forested to a creepily dead vista, all with a backdrop of the snowcapped high Andes. The architecture in Chiloe is distinctive with Palafito homes (stilt houses over the water) covered with tejuelas (wooden shingles), and the food is some of the best I have had in South America (think seafood and seafood stew). There are over 150 beautiful and inimitable wooden churches spread throughout the archipelago. Some of these are built without the use of nails and so the result of this unusual architecture is what lead UNESCO to protect many of them as heritage buildings. The people of Chiloe have their own culture, style, art, and way of life making the islands not only a beautiful destination, but also one of learning.
1. Galapagos Islands
It is no surprise that Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands should be on everyone’s bucket list. These Islands were the place of Darwin’s famous finch research and remain a location of research for scientists today. The islands have gained recognition for the amount of rare animals who live in harmony with humans. Here you can go swimming amongst a school of sharks, sea turtles, penguins and sea lions without feeling intrusive. You can lay beside a giant Galapagos tortoise, tan with a pack of marine iguanas or giggle with the one and only blue footed booby. The islands themselves are gorgeous with crystal clear water, white sand beaches and a forever changing landscape. You can cruise around the Galapagos visiting a variety of islands or stay in one place and embrace the culture (and night markets). It is easy and not that expensive to take water taxis to different islands. All of the islands offers the opportunity to embrace the different environments that impressed Darwin so much.
If the infamous Galapagos Islands are a little too heavy for your budget, then there are are island’s closer to the mainland of South America where you can take a similar adventure for much cheaper. Try exploring Isla de la Plata as an alternative; the blue footed boobies are waiting for you here as well.