Barichara is the kind of town that Hollywood filmmakers dream about. A Spanish colonial town saturated with atmosphere, it boasts cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings with red-tiled roofs that look almost as new as the day they were constructed some 300 years ago. It’s no wonder that many Spanish-language films and telenovelas are shot here.
One of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia, Villa de Leyva is a city frozen in time. Declared a national monument in 1954, the photogenic village has been preserved in its entirety, with cobblestone roads and whitewashed buildings.
Located away from major trade routes in a high altitude valley of semi-desert terrain, and with no mineral deposits nearby to exploit, the town has undergone little development in the last 400 years. As a consequence, it is one of the few towns in Colombia to have preserved much of its original colonial style and architecture: the streets and large central plaza are still paved with cobblestones, and many buildings date from the sixteenth century.
In the centre of the town is the Plaza Mayor, which at 14,000 square meters is the largest square in Colombia and believed to be the largest entirely cobbled square in South America.
Guatapé and it’s surrounding lie in the in northwest of Colombia, east of Medellín. It’s known for its small villages with decorated houses surrounded by the man-made Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir which is home to the Rock of Guatapé (Piedra del Peñol).
Piedra del Peñol
Also known as El Peñon de Guatapé, thanks to the fierce rivalry between the towns it straddles, this 200m-high granite monolith rises from near the edge of the Embalse Guatapé. A brick staircase of 659 steps rises up through a broad fissure in the side of the rock. From the top there are magnificent views of the region, the fingers of the lake sprawling amid a vast expanse of green mountains.
Small little town that could just be the most colourful in the not just Colombia but the world. It is a great base to explore the region.
San Agustín is a town in the Andes Mountains of western Colombia. It’s known for its proximity to the San Agustín Archaeological Park, home to numerous pre-Columbian remains spread over several sites. Carved volcanic stone figures and tombs litter the Forest of Statues, amid native trees and flowers. Nearby, the Lavapatas Spring’s rock bed is scored with ceremonial water channels and reptilian shapes.
The San Agustín Archaeological Park is a UNESCO site located in the Colombian southwestern Andes. The park contains the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in Latin America and is considered the world’s largest necropolis.
Horse Riding around the Archaeological sites and Coffee Farms
One of the best ways to get around the sites and coffee farms is via horse back. There are many trails available and with the hilly terrain, a horse is perfect for the task. Tours can be arranged that visit coffee plantations as well as the Archaeological sites.
La Chaquira is located in a valley with historic 1st-10th century carved figures and views of valleys & the river.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 m. Despite the 1917 earthquake, the city has the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America. The monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía, with their rich interiors, are pure examples of the ‘Baroque school of Quito’, which is a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art. (link)
Isolated for centuries in the cloud forests of northern Peru, mellow Chachapoyas appears to be a town on the cusp of wider discovery. For vintage travelers, the ignition of interest will come as no surprise. Straddling the transitional zone between the high Andes and the Amazon Basin, ‘Chacha’ and its surroundings have long felt like a box of hidden treasure waiting to be dug up.
It’s believed that the Incas gave the Chachapoyas culture its name. The word Chachapoyas comes from the Quechua language and means “cloud forest.” Due to their civilization not keeping written records, their culture, beliefs and general lifestyle is still quite a mystery. The Chachapoyas people were known as fierce warriors and incredible architects.
The Many Chachapoyas Ruins
With only a few ruins that have been fully excavated, this region is just waiting to be explored.
Opened in the year 2000, the museum covers both the Chachapoya and subsequent Inca cultures.
Among its exhibits are over 200 mummies, and accompanying funerary offerings, recovered in 1997 from the Laguna de los Condores (Condor Lake) site.
The Chachapoya used to bury their dead in a crouched position, inside wooden sarcophagi, then wrap the sarcophagus in cloth and sew a human face on the front.
Despite the humidity of the area, and the activities of huaqueros, hundreds of mummies were discovered, with skin and even hair still intact. (link)
Farmers living in remote hamlets north of Chachapoyas knew that the surrounding cloud forests hid the huge Gocta Waterfall, but local legends prevented villagers from visiting or talking about it, and it did not become known to the outside world until 2005.
Then, a German hydro-engineer named Stefan Ziemendorff saw the Falls, and in 2006, made preliminary measurements – an astounding 771m (2,531ft) in height. The third tallest in the world.
Shrouded by mist and surrounded by lush vegetation and steep escarpments, the sprawling Inca citadel of Machu Picchu lives up to every expectation. In a spectacular location, it’s the most famous archaeological site on the continent, a must for all visitors to Peru. Like the Mona Lisa or the pyramids, it has been seared into our collective consciousness, though nothing can diminish the thrill of being here. This awe-inspiring ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and was virtually forgotten until the early part of the 20th century.
The heart of Bahia is occupied by the huge Chapada Diamantina. Approximately 400 km from Salvador, the Chapada displays a scene of towering rock formations and vast plains covered with typical vegetation from the Cerrado biome. The region was once occupied by treasure hunters. Hence the name, in reference to the exploration of diamonds in the region.
In the Park, one of the main attractions is the Morro do Pai Inácio, with a panoramic view of the entire Chapada.
Lençóis is the prettiest of the old diamond-mining towns in the Chapada Diamantina, a mountainous wooded oasis in the dusty sertão (backlands of the Northeast). While the town itself has charming cobbled streets, brightly painted 19th-century buildings, and appealing outdoor cafes and restaurants, the surrounding areas are the real attractions. Caves, waterfalls, idyllic rivers and panoramic plateaus set the stage for some fantastic adventures. (link)
Poço Azul is a cavern where you can swim in the clearest water imaginable.
Salvador is the capital of Bahia State, a place well known for its natural beauties, for the kindness of its people and for the strong influence of the African culture.
The moves of capoeira – a martial art that looks like a dance – the smells and flavors of the delicacies, the religious mix and the cultural diversity are samples of the happiness of a people that knows, maybe for it is surrounded by natural beauties, the true meaning of life. The city is also the location of one of the country’s most vibrant and disputed carnival parties. (link)
…and the rumours are true, the powers of Rio will seduce even the most cynical of travelers with its charms. For starters, Mother Nature halts the march of the city at every turn, from the rainforest that creeps up its rolling hills to the huge lagoa (lagoon) surrounded by the continent’s most expensive real estate and, of course, the most beguiling stretches of urban beach on the planet – Ipanema, Copacabana, Arpoador and Leblon.
Whether it is the statue of Christ perched atop Corcovado mountain or the Sugarloaf cable car, the hoards kite-surfing off Barra beach or dancing to samba on the smooth slopes of Pedra do Sal rock, this is a city and landscape turned playground, where life isn’t taken too seriously and the twists and turns of the daily political and economic soap opera has ingrained a rueful cheeriness and creativity in its people.
Of the 6.237 meters of the cave whose entrance measures approximately 40 meters high, 3.200 meters have already been surveyed, of which only 700 meters are free for tourists. It measures 152 deep from one side of the cave to the other. All this area has a sound system and lighting, walkways, stairs and handrails for safety measures.
Once discovered the cave was then named Caverna da Tapagem, meaning “mysterious place”. Some legends were responsible for the appearance of the most popular pseudonym Devil’s Cave around 1964, for the Indians who inhabited the vicinity of the cave believed that if they were hit by drops of water from the ceiling, they would be then transformed into stone. To them, the strange geological formations which called their attention were in fact people and other animals that had been petrified by the constant dripping in the cave. Those who later inhabited the site, also believed that the noises heard at the entrance of the cave were groans of lost souls who had been punished by the devil.
Iguazú Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River on the border of Argentina and Brazil. Together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the world……. and they are truly breathtaking. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. The Iguazu River rises near the city of Curitiba and even though most of its course flows through Brazil, most of the falls are on the Argentine side.
Falls between two countries
The falls form the boundary / border area between Argentina and Brazil. Access to the falls is possible from both countries and it is definitely worth visiting from both sides as the prospective from each country is totally different and unique. Also the border crossing located near the falls between these two countries is less restrictive becuase of the sheer number of tourists visiting both sides of this amazing place.
The Argentinean side boasts more structured walkways than the Brazil side. You walk along the top of the falls instead of having a front view of the water ‘wall’. The changes through when you get to Devils throat, the prime attraction on the Argentinian side. Here you will see a panoramic view of section further up the river than the Brazilian side. This view point is Mirador Garganta del Diablo.
This side is much easier to access, is better organised and has better landscape views of the ginormous falls.
With stunning, breathtaking scenery the area is full of complex canyons, valleys and forests. 800m high vertical walls are surrounded by lush green tropical & subtropical forests. The park is well signed with heaps of trekking routes and viewpoints.
Portuguese for “beautiful”, bonito is a gem hidden far from any major city and in Amazon basin. This place boasts some of the world ‘best’ eco-tourism in South America. When entering this small and relaxed town, it is not exactly clear what amazing natural sites exist all around this unassuming area.
Gruta do Lago Azul
Between the months of September and February the waters of Gruta do Lago Azul take on an intense blue color. The site is protected and only open to scientists. Fossil bones have been found of large mammals that inhabited the region for more than 12,000 years. Including giant sloths, armadillos and sabre-toothed tigers.
Rio da Prata
Snorkeling in crystal clear waters! The tour down Rio da Prata follows strict sustainability guidelines, meaning the tour groups are small. Gently float down the river whilst enjoying the many fish below and the colorful birds and monkeys in the tree above.
Mysterious Lake (Lagoa Misteriosa)
Lagoa Misteriosa, which translates as “Mysterious Lagoon”, is a lake at the bottom of a sinkhole, a type of geological formation common in limestone regions. This lake of transparent waters impresses visitors for its incredible depth. It is considered one of the deepest submerged caves in Brazil, with more than 220 meters of water column (maximum depth reached by professional cave diver Gilberto Menezes de Oliveira, in 1998), which explains why is called mysterious. Lagoa Misteriosa is a phreatic cave, that is, was formed by the flow of underground water that dissolved the limestone in its passage. These types of caves usually are flooded and do not have fragile mineral deposits, such as speleothems. The first dive at Lagoa Misteriosa was done in September 1992 by Augusto Auler, member of a French-Brazilian Expedition that came to Bonito on the same year. In 2008, a team of specialized divers mapped the cave until the depth of 70 meters. The Mysterious Lagoon was the first cave in Brazil to have a “Speleology Management Plan”, a document that comprehends the environmental diagnosis of the area and the guidelines for its conservation, approved by CECAV – the National Center for Research and Conservation of Caves in 2010.
There are many highlights around Samaipata, these are my favorites.
Samaipata is a small town with numerous colonial buildings and narrow cobbled streets. It is a good mix of locals, expats and global tourists. Though it is not as touristy as the Bolivian sites in the highlands. It is strategically located near several tourist attractions such as El Fuerte de Samaipata, the Amboro National Park, El Codo de los Andes, Cuevas waterfalls, vineyards, rapids and lagoons. The local economy is mainly dedicated to tourism, agriculture (including its many vineyards) and crafts. Local farmers produce organic vegetables such as tomatoes, artichokes, lettuces and green beans. The region is also famous for its production of fruits such as peaches, grapes, plums, chirimoyas, guapurus, strawberries and figs. There is also a significant production of wines, singani, honey, marmalades, cold cuts, herbal infusions, lavender, art pieces and artisan crafts.
Amboro National Park
Amboro National Park is a nature reserve with over 912 species of birds, over 177 mammalian species including puma, ocelot, and the rare spectacled bear. Covering an area of 4,425 km² (1,709 sq mi), it is protected from human settlements, hunting, mining and deforestation, though problems with all these still exist within the park. The Carrasco National Park is placed adjacent to Amboró, and together the two form a larger conservation unit.
Las Cuevas Waterfall
Las Cuevas Waterfalls is close to Samaipata town and it a relaxing area of several pools and waterfalls.
Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) is the world’s largest salt flat, at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It is in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes and is at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above sea level.
The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average elevation variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50% to 70% of the world’s known lithium reserves. The large area, clear skies, and exceptional flatness of the surface make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of Earth observation satellites. Following rain, a thin layer of dead calm water transforms the flat into the world’s largest mirror, 129 kilometres (80 miles) across.
The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano and is a major breeding ground for several species of flamingos.
Its truly one of the most amazing places in South America.
Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Valley), is located in the Jujuy province of Argentina. It is narrow mountain valley that contains many villages in which are the oldest settlements in Argentina. The valley runs north to south and can be easily accessed when travelling to/from Bolivia or Chile.
There are many highlights along the valley, these are my favorites (Some are just outside the valley)
Purmamarca actually is located off the main road in the valley. It is on the road towards Attacama desert in chile via the amazing Paso de Jama. This makes it a great stop on the way to and from Chile. The town is very small and was the most ‘touristy’ town in the area. Best for a day trip, check out the main square which is full of markets stalls. Another site is the Cerro de los Siete Colores (The hill of seven colours). It has a unique color range that is the product of a complex geological history including marine sediments, lake and river movements elevated with the movement of the tectonic plates.
I found Tilcara to be the best place to stay as it has alot of hostel options and great restaurants (more than the other towns). Traces of human habitation in the area date back more than 10,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements of Argentina. There is also an amazing day hike to ‘Devils Throat’, that has great views of the area, waterfalls, and a water aqua-duct.
Humahuaca is widely known for its location at the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a long valley east of the central Andean Altiplano. It is the main town in the valley, located north of Tilcara and Purmamarca. The centre of the town has a lovely square which leads up some amazing stairs to a monument to the heroes of the Independence. (Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia)
Serranía de Hornocal
The Serranía de Hornocal are a range of mountains located 25 kilometers from the city of Humahuaca in the Argentine province of Jujuy. Exposed in the range is the limestone formation called Yacoraite that extends from Salta, Argentina, through the Argentine Quebrada de Humahuaca and then through the Bolivian Altiplano to Peru. When you finally reach the colored mountains, you’ll be at 4761 meters above sea level.
Iruya is small mountain town located in the Salta region of North West Argentina. The town is accessed by a gravel road from Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Valley). So technically it is outside the Quebrada de Humahuaca, but it was my favorite place in Argentina, because of its remoteness. I have a dedicated post on Iruya
Iruya is small mountain town located in the Salta region of North West Argentina. The town is accessed by a gravel road from Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Valley). The road climbs to 4000m before descending to 2600m where Iruya is located.
Elqui Valley is almost hidden away in an area that isn’t on the international tourist trail. Most people will travel up the coast near La Serena (Where the beaches in Chile slowly start becoming warm enough to swim it), but if they venture towards the Andes they will be rewarded by one of Chile’s most important valleys. This is Elqui Valley, famous for pisco-producing and stargazing.
The wooden churches of Chiloe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are a unique architectural phenomenon in the Americas. Unlike classical Spanish colonial architecture, the churches of Chiloé are made entirely in native timber with extensive use of wood shingles. The churches were built from materials to resist the Chiloé Archipelago’s humid and rainy oceanic climate.
Castro is famous for its palafitos, traditional wooden stilt houses which were common in many places in Chiloé. Some of them are preserved in the town district Gamboa in the west of the town in a bay called Fiordo de Castro.