1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro with its famous beaches remains one of the most seductive cities in the world. Nothing quite prepares you for the Rio experience. It’s landscape is jaw dropping, with a series of granite mountains covered by forest with beautiful sandy beaches met by Atlantic waves. There is much more than the scenery though as the people are the main attraction; charged with energy, character and a positive and fun outlook on life. You can’t help but love Rio.
Odyssey Insider Tip: The best time to visit this vibrant city is on the weekend. This is when they close the road that separates the beach from the city and when the cariocas walk through their city in swimwear to get to the beach and the place comes alive!
2. Tikal, Guatemala
The most famous of all Maya sites, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s an enormous site, in its heyday over 100,000 people lived and worshipped here. The setting is spell binding – encroached by tropical forest with steep pyramid temples that pierce the jungle canopy. Although you can no longer watch the sun set from temple 4, listening to the booming roar of the Howler monkeys as you explore the world of Indian Jones is a magical experience.
Odyssey Insider Tip: The best time to see Tikal is at the very start and end of each day, which means staying close to the ruins so you can literally walk from your hotel. During these times, not only is it the coolest times of the day, but also when there are fewest people around, which means you have this imposing world all to yourselves.
3. Torres del Paine, Chile
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the remotest and most beautiful areas of the world, encompassing mountains, glaciers, multi-coloured lakes and river-rich areas. Located in one of the most southern parts of the world, Chilean Patagonia, it offers some of the best trekking possibilities in Latin America. There is also an impressive array of wild animal species, some of which have been rescued from the brink of extinction (this rare Andean cat was only discovered in March 2011). With beautiful wind-sculpted granite and basalt peaks and some superb lodges, this has to be on everyone’s to do list.
Odyssey Insider Tip: Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a trekking destination, as some of the best walks in the park are not full day treks. Many people make the mistake of doing the full day trek to the ‘Las Torres’, where most of your day is spent without any views of the park. The best walks are around the surrounding lakes, which offer spectacular views of the whole of the massif as well as the best opportunities for seeing a diverse range of flora and fauna.
4. Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
Iguazu Falls are known throughout the world as one of the most beautiful and majestic natural waterfalls man has ever seen. The name of the falls comes from the Guaraní word for ‘great water’ and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It is better than Victoria Falls, Niagara Falls and Angel falls as Iguazu offers such a wide variety of activities and ways of seeing the falls. These activities are not only around the falls themselves, where you can visit the bird park, walk through the surrounding rainforest, take a train ride around the falls or even visit the massive Itaipu Dam, but also below by speedboat and white water rafting, above by helicopter, down the side by abseiling and none of this includes the extensive network of walking trails and bridges that snake around and through the falls themselves.
Odyssey Insider Tip: You never need more than two nights here. We have found that people always think they need three nights here to see the falls, when two is suffice. Within two nights you can see and do everything that the area has to offer without rushing and we think your third night should be spent in another area of Latin America.
5. Machu Picchu, Peru
For many this is the main reason to make the pilgrimage to Peru. Situated on a single mountain high in the Andes (2450m) this archaeological site was never discovered by the Spanish. Situated 120 km northwest of Cuzco it is only accessible by train and foot. As many of our customers say ‘You just can’t believe it until you see it with your own eyes.’ The trip to Machu Picchu can be staged from Cuzco in several different ways with or without walking and we recommend calling us to find out the best way to see it.
Odyssey Insider Tip: Avoiding the crowds! This has become more and more difficult to do as the popularity of this site have risen, especially with its induction to the new wonders of the world list. Timing is everything here, how to arrive, when to arrive, what time to walk the surrounding Inca pathways to the Sungate and Huayna Picchu, when to fit in your 3 hour guided visit and where to stay. In order to find out, you need to get in touch!
6. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Nothing will prepare you for what the Galapagos Islands have to offer. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and lying isolated in the centre of the Pacific Ocean, the ‘enchanted islands’ are a nature lovers’ paradise. One of the biggest draws for us is the lack of fear shown by the wildlife, as this will enable you to get within touching distance of almost any mammal or bird species in the archipelago. In fact, at times, it is difficult to avoid treading on them as they lie on the designated paths, grooming and cleaning themselves. There is a selection of boats on offer, each with varying characteristics and itineraries and they all come with on-board naturalist, which are experts in the islands.
Odyssey Insider Tip: Finding the right boat for you is probably the most important issue, larger vessels are recommended for those who get a little sea sick or smaller for those with good sea legs, however it is also about the amount of people on each boat, too large and you are just another passenger, too small and it can feel like a dinner party each night. When to visit is also important as each month offers something different, whether it is the Garua sea mist, the pupping season or even the rainy season.
7. Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama is the driest place on earth, offering amazing scenery, numerous activities, and year round good weather. The best base for exploring the region is the Adobe town of San Pedro de Atacama, made almost entirely of adobe brick – a mix of local mud and straw. The area is dominated by over 40 volcanoes, all over 5,000 metres high and some over 6,000 metres, making it a destination for those wishing to add a peak to their cap. Surrounding the volcanoes though is a diverse mix of opportunities. The Atacama salt flat is a curious place as are the smaller villages with their local customs and beyond lies strange geological formations protruding from the desert and surrounded by natural hot springs and stunning scenery. The Valley de la Luna has a unique lunar landscape and is transformed at sunset into a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows and orange whilst the pre Inca ruins to the north are best visited by horse and need a little imagination to piece together.
Odyssey Insider Tip: A lot of activities in the region can be arranged by yourself and perhaps this is part of the attraction to the area; discovering things for yourselves. Renting a bike and riding to the valley of the moon, or horse riding through the canyons and ancient ruins to the north. One of the best short day excursions though is the walk to the Puritama hot springs, a walk that takes you through a narrow canyon lined with giant cacti.
8. Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest and highest salt desert sitting at an altitude of 3,650 meters it covers over 4,200 square miles which is about 25 times bigger than the Salt Flats in Utah. The lake is surrounded by high Andean peaks and small Indian settlements that survive off the mining of the salt and tourism. At its centre is Isla Pescado (Fish Island) named because of its shape though it should be named Cactus Island as it is covered in giant cactus, some of which reach over 3 metres tall. The island though also offers an elevated view across the whole area and to stand in the middle of this amazing place is an experience like no other.
Odyssey Insider Tip: The journey here is an adventure unto itself and is best combined with either La Paz or Atacama in northern Chile. This 3 day journey from Atacama to La Paz crosses some of the most inhospitable terrain in South America, but also some of the most stunning. For something completely different visit Uyuni during the rainy season (Jan to Mar) when the entire salt flat is covered in 3 cm of water giving it a reflective coating.
9. The Pantanal, Brazil
The Pantanal is best described as a small window of Africa in the heart of South America. There are unrivalled opportunities to view the abundant wildlife up close, either on foot, by canoe or on horseback. It’s a heaven for bird lovers with over 650 species of birds including 26 types of parrot. It is also one of the last refuges for many threatened South American mammal species such as jaguar, puma, ocelot, maned wolf, giant otter, giant anteater, giant armadillo, marsh deer and tapir. The best time to visit for wildlife observation is the dry season – June through September, a time when the floodplains have receded leaving small pools of water which the animals gather around.
Odyssey Insider Tip: This is the best place in Latin America for any kind of wildlife experience. The Amazonian region contains such dense vegetation that you are always more likely to hear more than you see, whereas the Pantanal has open plains as well as small river systems ideal for spotting game. Allow a minimum of 4 day here as all the lodges are remote and require a drive of over 4 hours from the nearest airport.
10. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
This is Brazil’s best and most exclusive hideaway. Celebrities such as Penelope Cruz come to the island to escape and enjoy some peace in the sun. People glaze over when you mention it: eyeballs tend to roll upwards in that universal gesture of delight. This island collection of 22 beaches has been fabled as an eco-wonderland. It offers a range of attractions that include snorkelling, diving, walking as well as wildlife and its beaches are regularly voted as the best in Brazil. It is a national park island which limits the amount of people on the island at any one time, which will hopefully preserve this pocket of paradise.
Odyssey Insider Tip: Book early! Flights to and from the island are expensive and the earlier you book the cheaper they will be. Accommodation is also expensive, though there are local houses which have been transformed into small pousadas, making it economically viable.