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Dig into the archaeological wonders of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. Incan majesty and Andean Baroque exist side by side in the Peruvian city's stone streets, epitomized by the Qoriacancha palace and the church of Santo Domingo flanking the Plaza de Armas. Just outside the city are the imposing walls of the Sacsayhuaman fortress. In this high-altitude melting pot of Amerindian and mestizo culture, makers of extraordinary textiles and vibrant summer festivals add to its natural charms.
From its bustling beaches to the outrageous February festival, Rio de Janeiro is a city that knows how to entertain, day or night. Travel through Tijuca National Park to Corcovado Mountain's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Take the cable car up the Sugar Loaf for more views. Explore Brazilian history at the Municipal Theatre, PraÃ§a Quinze and former presidential residence, Catete Palace. Try hang gliding or surfing, or see a match at Maracana Soccer Stadium. Or just chill with a caipirinha on the sand.
The birthplace of the tango is, like the dance itself, captivating, seductive and bustling with excited energy. Atmospheric old neighbourhoods are rife with romantic restaurants and thumping nightlife, and Buenos Aires' European heritage is evident in its architecture, boulevards and parks. Cafe Tortoni, the city's oldest bar, will transport you back to 1858, and the spectacular Teatro Colon impresses just as it did in 1908. Latin America's shopping capital offers the promise of premium retail therapy along its grand, wide boulevards.
Cartagena, a gorgeous fishing village on Colombia's Caribbean coast, has excellent beaches, a historic old town (that's entirely walkable) and beautiful colonial architecture. It's also one of the safest places in the country, so it's no wonder it's a popular port of call for cruise ships. Need a break from exploring the cobblestone streets? Stop at an outdoor cafe for excellent pastries and people-watching.
The small Brazilian village of Gramado is a quaint and woodsy respite that boasts some delightful surprises. After you’ve fully enjoyed the paddleboats and surrounding Black Forest pines of Lago Negro, pay a visit to Snowland, a unique indoor snow park. Kids will love a visit to Mini Mundo, a miniature park that features tiny replicas of famous landmarks.
Porto Seguro is as vibrant as any part of Brazil. A schooner will take you from the bank of the city's Buranhem River 15 miles out to the Recife de Fora Marine Park for an exploration at sea. A city stairway will guide you up to the Cidade Historica to take it all in from above, alongside Capoeira demonstrations. And the Passarela Do Alcool, a street fair filled with craft baskets, restaurants and enthusiastic performers will invite you to participate in Brazil's cultural tradition.
Santiago is one of those metropolitan joys where the more you look, the more you find. Funky cafes and dance clubs dot Bellavista, Forest Park art collections range from pre-Columbian to contemporary, and architecture runs the gamut from the 16th-century San Francisco Church to mirrored office towers. Shop with the locals at Mall Panora¡mico and give your palate meals to remember with hearty Chilean fare.
Lima, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, is a fascinating city and a treasure trove of history. Explore ancient Incan archaeological sites, or stroll through the elegant cathedrals and opulent palaces dating from Spanish colonial times. Downtown Lima is crowded, but you'll enjoy exploring the city's neighbourhoods—especially the beachfront areas, which have great shopping and dining and fabulous hotels.
Ten million people call vibrant, passionate, sprawling Bogota home. A city of startling contrasts, with affluent areas, slums and everything in between, it's best discovered on foot - with a trustworthy guide. La Candelaria is a historic walking neighbourhood. North Side offers upmarket shopping. Attractions aren't thin on the ground, although air is: the city sits at an altitude of 8660 feet. Cathedral de Sal, Museo de Arte Colonial and Museo de Oro are rich reminders of Columbia's history.
The largest city in South America, Sao Paulo’s cuisine and art is as multinational as its diverse population of 10 million. With the restaurants of the Jardins district serving every food imaginable to diners from around the world, you wouldn’t be out of place going to Sao Paulo just for the dining. But you’d be missing out on world-class museums, diverse and vibrant neighbourhood tours, and crazy-good shopping.
Known best for its wine, Mendoza is a bustling city to the east of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Although it draws its share of adventure travellers, lured by the climbing, skiing, hiking and rafting opportunities within an easy drive of downtown, the area’s more than 1,000 vineyards bring oenophiles in even greater numbers.
A capital of the Inca empire, Quito has a rich pre-Colombian history. Ecuador's capital was founded on the ruins of the Inca city and remains the least-altered historic centre in Latin America. A UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the city's important sites include the Baroque gems San Francisco and Santo Domingo monasteries, as well as La Compañía church and college. Central Bank Museum, The Equatorial Monument and El Panecillo observation point are other highlights. Drive or take a taxi to see the city.
NNipping at the ankles of the Andes, San Carlos is a world-renowned ski destination, set in a landscape offering all the natural wonders of Argentina. Visitors can experience snow, lakes and peaceful beaches, along with vibrant nightclubs and gourmet cuisine. Throughout the year, the area hosts several music festivals, art exhibitions, expositions and conventions.
Just its location—in the Sacred Valley of the Incas—makes Urubamba sound like a mystical, magical place. The snow covered Ch'iqun mountain stands proudly in the background of this Peruvian town that serves as a base for people who want to visit the famous ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Zip lines and horseback rides let you experience this valley in the Andes in wildly different ways.
Once infamous for dangerous gangs and drug activity, Medellin has been transformed. It’s now a vibrant destination for travelers seeking a culturally rich vacation. Medellin rises proudly from the belly of the Aburrá Valley, and its natural beauty makes a perfect setting for hiking, zip lining and horseback riding. Travel through lush jungle to Piedra de Penol, then climb the 740 steps to the top—a journey within a journey that rewards you with unforgettable views.
Giant anteaters, howler monkeys, ocelots, endangered jaguars and clouds of butterflies are among the attractions at this World Heritage-designated park that marks the border between Brazil and Argentina. By foot or by raft, explorers can view one of the world's most stunning waterfalls, Iguazu Falls. Among the park's 270 waterfalls, spectacular Devil's Throat combines 14 falls and generates a "perpetual rainbow" in good weather.
In the ancient language of the Incas, Machu Picchu means "old peak", which only scratches the surface of Peru's top tourist draw. High in the cloud forest, the ruins of this former centre of worship and royal retreat sprawl across the landscape, an awesome display of staircases, carved tombs and sacred temples. Natural beauty abounds in the tropical forest setting in the eastern Andes. Get to the "Lost City" via train from Cuzco, or take a multi-day hiking trail if you're feeling adventurous.
Looking for an unusual and beautiful landscape? Sandstone canyons, flamingo-dotted salt flats, steaming geysers, hot springs, volcanic peaks and alien-looking rock formations are on offer all around San Pedro de Atacama. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are the preferred means of exploration. Death Valley here is surprisingly great for picnics.
Uruguay's capital and largest city offers a variety of indoor shopping possibilities (like downtown's appropriately named Montevideo Shopping Centre), but is perhaps more cherished for its informal markets like Mercado del Puerto, Villa Biarritz Fair (Saturdays only) and Tristan Narvaja (Sundays only).
Perched at the Triple Frontier, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, Puerto Iguazu is linked to Brazil by the Tancredo Neves bridge. It is home to the Museum of Images of the Jungle, the Mborore Museum, a bird rehabilitation center and the famed Iguazu National Park. The National Park is home to 275 waterfalls, including the world-renowned Iguazu Falls, which plunges 270 feet. A subtropical climate means it's warm in winter and hot in summer, with temperatures soaring up to 104°F.
The oldest city in Colombia, romantic Santa Marta is fringed by beautiful beaches and the stunning mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range. Ancient ruins take cover in the lush mangrove forests of Tayrona National Park, the perfect spot for a day hike. Snorkel along vibrant reefs, then make your way to a café for a multicultural meal that incorporates the flavors of Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. When the sun goes down, the nightlife kicks up its heels in the bars and discos of the Parque de Los Novios.
Punta del Este is known as the St. Tropez of Uruguay, thanks to its beautiful beaches, upscale resorts and swanky nightclubs. The Vegas-style Conrad Casino adds to the lively entertainment scene. For a break from surf and sand, saddle up with a local gaucho and ride horseback through the wild plains surrounding the city.