From wildlife-rich rainforests and unique island ecosytems above and below water to parched deserts, fire-spitting volcanoes, snow-covered peaks and immense glaciers, a holiday in this region is an exploration of some of the most distinctive, dramatic and hauntingly-beautiful places on earth.
The countries that make up Central and South America are a kaleidoscope of cultures, too – heavily influenced by European colonisers but with strong echoes and reminders of their pre-colonial past.
Pulsating cities that will have you dancing in the streets to their Latin rhythms, gorgeous beaches fringed by dense jungle and sophisticated resorts, mouth-watering beef from pampas-raised cattle and vineyards dripping with sun-drenched grapes that produce some of the New World’s best wines.
Isn’t it time to see, taste and discover this captivating region for yourself?
MEXICO & CENTRAL AMERICA
They ruled Central America for millennia, carving great cities from jungles in homage to their gods. The legacy of the Mayan people can be found in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula; Chichen Itza and Tulum an easy visit from coastal resorts including lively Cancun.
Mexico City stands on the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, vestiges of which survive in the form of colossal stone pyramids. Mexico’s Pacific coast takes in whale haven the Sea of Cortez and glamorous beach resorts including Acapulco.
A quarter of natural wonderland Costa Rica is protected as conservation areas. Rainforest-cloaked volcanoes and jungle teem with exotic birds, animals and insects while it boasts beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific.
Belize is another paradise of nature, with thick jungle interspersed by its own Mayan ruins, stunning beaches and the world’s second-longest coral reef, crowned with exquisite tiny islands known as cayes.
The meeting point of North and South America, Panama also links the Pacific and Atlantic thanks to engineering marvel, the Panama Canal. Almost one-third of its area is covered by national parks and wildlife preserves, contrasting with the high-rise towers, casinos and nightclubs of capital Panama City.
Incomparable for its biodiversity, some 60% of the Amazon rainforest lies in Brazil. At the heart of the world’s largest intact forest lie the mighty Amazon River and the 19th-century architecture of regional capital Manaus, from where expeditions head out to explore its astonishing flora and fauna.
The sprawling country has other must-see natural treasures, among them the world’s largest tropical wetland, the Pantanal, home to animals such as the jaguar, giant otter and the largest living rodent, the capybara. Not forgetting the thunderous Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, on the border with Argentina.
Get into the samba spirit of Rio de Janeiro, home to the world’s biggest carnival, watch football games on its famous beaches and see the city and its picturesque surroundings from on high with a visit to the colossal Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mount Corcovado.
Brazil has numerous sun-soaked beaches other than Rio’s Copacabana and Ipanema, from its northeast coast down to its southern border below capital Sao Paolo. Between that and Rio, one-time Brazilian Gold Rush port Paraty’s preserved Portuguese colonial buildings date back 300 years and are surrounded by jungle, islands and deserted beaches.
You haven’t truly experienced Spanish-flavoured Buenos Aires until you’ve been tangoed – being mesmerised by the hip-swivelling dancers in city tango shows or impromptu tango dancing in the streets of its colourful La Boca district. Visit the city’s Recoleta Cemetery for the uplifting architecture of its tombs, including that of beloved former president, Eva Peron.
Taste your way down Argentina’s beautiful wine route from the far north Andes slopes around Salta, home to the world’s highest vineyards, to Malbec centre Mendoza, stopping off at estancias (ranches) en route to saddle up and ride with a gaucho and enjoy home-made empanadas cooked in an outside oven or succulent steaks.
See the raw power of nature from the Argentinean side of the Iguazu Falls and in Patagonia, discovering the lake district and high Andes peaks around gateway and adventure capital Bariloche or witnessing towering glaciers near the world’s most southerly city, Ushuaia, the most popular departure point for cruises to Antarctica.
COLOMBIA, ECUADOR & THE GALAPAGOS
Follow in the footsteps of legendary naturalist Charles Darwin with a visit to Ecuador’s isolated Galapagos Islands, home to a remarkable population of giant tortoises and other species of reptiles, birds and plants found nowhere else.
Mainland Ecuador’s visitor draws include its own part of the Amazon rainforest, soaring Andes mountains, brooding volcanoes, colonial cities and timeless towns and villages.
There’s an awful lot of coffee in Colombia, its main growing region covering verdant slopes and valleys with plantations set amidst forests. Founded as a port on the Caribbean coast in 1533, Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of brightly-coloured and well-preserved colonial buildings, with the historic centre of capital Bogota possessing many more architectural gems.
PERU, BOLIVIA & CHILE
Holidays to these Andean nations on the western spine of South America will astound and live long in the memory.
After Peru’s bustling capital, Lima, on the coast, marvel at the continent’s most unspoilt and alluring city, Cusco, set in a mountain valley surrounded by Andes peaks. Step back even further in time to explore the Valley of the Incas and the amazing mountain-top ruins of Machu Picchu and see the enduring tradition of reed boats on Lake Titicaca, which Peru shares with Bolivia.
Browse eclectic street markets in Bolivian capital La Paz where many women still wear bowler hats and multi-hued ponchos and drive across the vast salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni.
Chile’s modern capital Santiago has a colonial centre and is set in a valley surrounded by snow-covered mountains where vineyards thrive on the sunny lower slopes. Its landscapes range from the inhospitable Atacama Desert to the lakes, rivers and mountains of its own Patagonia region.