Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
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Once a giant prehistoric lake, this 11,000-square-kilometre desert is now the planet’s largest salt flat. Take a 4WD tour across its glittering white expanse, marvelling at the beauty of this unique ecosystem that is home to not much except giant cacti and pink flamingos. In autumn, rain transforms the flats into a vast puddle that reflects the sky, making it impossible to tell where land ends and the heavens begin.
Machu Picchu, Peru
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The beautiful 15th-century ruins of this ancient Incan citadel are a highlight of any trip to Peru and many visitors choose to walk the original road, the Inca Trail, on a one- to five-day journey. Machu Picchu was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911 and its enigma lies in the fact that no-one knows why it was built or why it was abandoned 100 years later.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
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On the southern edge of Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park, among icy islands and glacial lakes, witness the majestic blue-tinged peaks of its most famous glacier. Perito Moreno is steadily growing, which results in eerie cracking noises and occasional tremendous icefalls. In the closest town, El Calafate, plan and book your trip to hike the pathways or traverse the lagoons by tour boat.
Moai, Rapa Nui National Park, Chile
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The 900 or so iconic Easter Island “heads” are actually full bodies, many of which are partially buried. Ranging from two metres to 20 metres high, these brooding monoliths were carved from volcanic rock by Polynesian settlers, it’s believed, although theories that extraterrestrials had a hand in it perpetuate. You can fly in from the Chilean capital, Santiago, and see most of the island by minibus, bicycle or horse.
Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
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At the pointy end of the Andes, this national park is one of the most impressive – and uncontaminated – sights in the Southern Hemisphere. Featuring spectacular trekking routes past lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers and ancient forests, it’s a haven for walkers, thrillseekers (of the sporting variety) and wildlife enthusiasts. Self-guide the trails and camping grounds or take a tour suited to your budget and energy levels.
Coffee Plantations, Colombia
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Coffee may not be its most famous export but Colombia’s picturesque coffee-growing zone produces the majority of the world’s arabica beans. The country’s improving stability – and the world’s obsession with all things caffeine – means the region is opening up to “coffee tourism” where you can see production in action on a plantation tour. A good base is Salento, the colonial market town at the coffee zone’s heart.
Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil
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For the fit and adventurous there’s a network of hiking trails around this granite mountain that rises abruptly from Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. However, most visitors take the bubble-shaped cable car to the summit, which offers breathtaking views of Copacabana Beach and the city below. Take a trip at sunset for a truly magical filter.
Archipiélago Los Roques, Venezuela
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This group of about 300 picture-book islands dotted throughout pristine turquoise waters lies 160 kilometres north of Caracas and is a sparkling antidote to the unrelenting bustle of Venezuela’s cities. Archipelago-hopping is all done from the main island of Gran Roque. We won’t tackle the clichés; suffice to say, if you’re a beach person, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
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Located 965 kilometres off Ecuador’s coast, Charles Darwin’s “enchanted isles” are a truly extraordinary place to visit. They are probably best known for the animals that are found nowhere else in the world, such as the giant tortoise, marine iguana and flightless cormorant. Tourism is regulated with military precision and most people fly in and get around by cruise boat, although there are land-based hotel options, too.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
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Heralded as one of the most jaw-dropping experiences you can have on planet Earth, the almighty Iguazu is made up of 275 or so waterfalls and is twice as tall and three times as wide as Niagara Falls. From the Brazilian side the views are incredible; from the Argentinian side you can get right up to the action of the “Devil’s Throat” in a tour boat. Prepare to be giddy with emotion… and wet.
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Your oasis awaits: this tiny village in the Peruvian desert is built around a natural lake. It’s a popular spot for sandboarding, riding dune buggies or simply having a real-life mirage moment.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
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Lake Titicaca, high up in the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes, isn’t just the largest lake in South America and the world’s highest navigable body of water – it is a sacred place that the local Incans consider to be the point of origin of the earth and universe. Isla del Sol, the largest of 41 islands dotted around the lake, is revered as the home of the Ican Sun God, Inti, and is a perfect spot to experience the local culture and landscape – visit indigenous communities, hike with views of the Andes and the lake, or see one of the many ruins sites.
Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina
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The impassioned stares, the seductive body movements, the mind-blowingly rapid, flicking feet – watching an electric tango here is a thrilling experience and an absolute must if you’re in Buenos Aires. Esquina Homero Manzi is considered to be one of the more authentic, low-key places to experience the Argentine tango, but there are many places you can catch a good show, often with dinner, around the city.
Patagonia, Argentina and Chile
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South America’s southern tip, shared by Argentina and Chile, is one of the most diverse and breathtaking geographical regions in the world: mountains, desert, glaciers, fjords and lakes, as well as opportunities to spot whales, penguins and more in their natural habitat. The read to go with it? Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia”.
Catedral de Sal, Colombia
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Also known as the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, this is literally a full cathedral structure carved out of salt 200 metres underground in an active salt mine. It’s one of only two such cathedrals in the world, the other being just outside Kraków, Poland.
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You can’t miss the rows of colourful and intricately painted houses that line Guatapé’s historical centre. You *really* can’t miss the 200-metre El Peñón de Guatapé, a monolithic rock formation that shoots up out of the ground surrounding the area and can be climbed via an almost braid-like staircase.
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This city in southern Brazil, spilt between the mainland and Santa Catarina Island, is where you’ll find some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.