Top 25 Things to Do in Central & South America: 2014 Viator Travel Awards

January 9, 2014 by

Places to Go, Press & Publicity, South & Central America, Viator Travel Awards

Bienvenidos (and Bem-vindo) to our Top 25 Things to Do in Central & South America!

Bienvenidos (and Bem-vindo) to our Top 25 Things to Do in Central & South America!

Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.

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Welcome to the 2014 Viator Travel Awards: Central and South America Edition! We’ve read hundreds of traveler reviews and pored over data from our most popular tours to bring you a list of experiences you won’t want to miss out on if you’re planning to travel to Central and South America in 2014.

The activities listed are as varied as the landscapes you encounter when you travel to Central and South America, from spending a long, lazy afternoon on a Brazilian beach to more active pursuits, like hiking to the ruins of Machu Picchu. But it’s not all about how active you are in your excursions across Central and South America. We also highlight activities that will give you a good glimpse into the culture, as well as a real taste of some of their culinary delights, like a cooking class in Guatemala or a wine tour in Mendoza.

So without further ado, here are the Top 25 Things to Do in Central and South America!

1. Climb Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro

Christ the Redeemer Statue

Christ the Redeemer Statue

Take a random postcard in any gift shop in Rio de Janeiro, and nine times out of ten you’ll spot the Corcovado Mountain with its landmark statue of Christ the Redeemer. Religious preferences aside, the climb up to Rio’s much-loved symbol is an absolute must, not only for the chance to see the statue up close, but also because you’ll get an unparalleled view of the city and the Tijuca rainforest below. The best way to get there? Take a Corcovado Mountain and Christ Redeemer Statue Half-Day Tour, which includes the cog train ride through the Tijuca rainforest right up to the mountain top. Once you’re there, you’ll probably also be tempted to take the cable car to Rio’s other famous mountain, with a Sugar Loaf Mountain Half-Day Tour. Or better yet, combine both experiences for a full day of sightseeing with a Corcovado Mountain, Christ Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain Day Tour.

2. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Few destinations in Latin America have captured our imagination like Peru’s Machu Picchu. The trek up the mountains to the ancient Lost City of the Incas is a legendary pilgrimage that tops any list of things you must do before you die. First-time visitors who are short on time, however, may take the Machu Picchu Day Trip from Cusco and spend the day soaking in the gorgeous views and the rich history of the famous ruins. The more adventurous may wish to take a 5-Day Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu Tour from Cusco, a great scenic alternative to the more crowded Inca Trail trek. For a more complete experience of Peruvian culture, try a 7-Day Lima and Cusco Tour with Overnight at Machu Picchu, where you’ll get complete city tours of these two cities, plus the trip through the forest to the famous citadel of the Incas.

3. See the power of Iguassu Falls

Iguassu Falls

Iguassu Falls

Named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Iguassu Falls are unrivaled when it comes to sheer beauty and variety in wildlife. Second only to Niagara Falls in terms of average annual flow, Iguassu Falls may be visited from the either of the two countries they straddle. On the Brazilian side, take an Iguassu Falls Sightseeing Tour from Foz do Iguaçu or a Day Trip to the Argentinian Side of Iguassu Falls from Foz do Iguaçu. Multi-day excursions are also great opportunities too see the Falls from different vantage points, whether it’s a 3-Day Iguassu Falls Sightseeing Tour or the 4-Day Iguassu Falls Tour.

4. Follow in the footsteps of Eva Peron in Buenos Aires

Few historical figures of Argentina’s past are as revered as Eva Peron. The former First Lady died at the young age of 33, but not before touching the hearts of millions with her charisma and dedication to social welfare. Take a Recoleta Afternoon Walking Tour and visit Evita’s tomb in Recoleta Cemetery. Or take a Buenos Aires Bike Tour through the Recoleta and Palermo Districts. But there is one other stop you must make when following the footsteps of Eva Peron and that is the Casa Rosada, the official House of Government, where Evita gave her famous “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” speech. Take a Private Buenos Aires Sightseeing Tour with Entrance to the Casa Rosada and walk the very same hallways that Evita once used.

5. Explore the Caribbean city of Cartagena

With its colonial charm and balmy Caribbean climate, Cartagena is one of the most popular destinations in Colombia. Whether you choose to explore its historic district with a Small-Group City Sightseeing Segway Tour or a Cartagena Old Town Architecture Walking Tour, you can rest assured you’ll see some of the best preserved samples of colonial architecture in Latin America. Visit several of Cartagena’s most famous landmarks, like the Castle of San Felipe and the San Pedro Claver Church with a Cartagena City Tour of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and learn about the city’s rich culture and history.

6. Soak up the sun and fun in the “Marvelous City” of Rio

Samba show in Rio

Samba show in Rio

Within minutes of setting foot in Rio de Janeiro, you find out why it’s known as the “Cidade Maravilhosa”. Surrounded by untamed natural beauty and glorious beaches, Rio beckons with its warm climate and chilled caipirinhas. Join in Brazil’s signature dance in the popular Rio de Janeiro Shore Excursion: Plataforma Samba Show or enjoy Brazilians’ other passion while you watch a Rio de Janeiro Soccer Match. Get a glimpse into Rio’s history and past with a Rio de Janeiro Half-Day Walking Tour. Brave enough to face Rio’s more somber side? The sobering Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro allows visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the city’s poor and the challenges they face.

7. Taste the flavors of Central and South America

Sample the local cuisine

Sample the local cuisine

Diehard foodies rejoice! Central and South America offers a veritable feast for all palates. Learn how to make some of the classics of Guatemalan cuisine in the Experience Guatemala: Small-Group Cooking Class in Antigua. Wine lovers head to Argentina and its biggest wine-producing region to sample its world-famous Malbec in a Mendoza Wine Tour with Optional Lunch or a Maipú Luxury Wine-Tasting Tour from Mendoza Including Trapiche Wine. The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, also has plenty of culinary experiences, from a Buenos Aires Small-Group Wine Tasting to the full Buenos Aires Dining Experience: Empanada Making, Steak, Wine, Alfajores and Mate. On the other side of the Andes, immerse yourself in Chilean culture and experience Santiago like a true local with the Private Walking Tour with Coffee, Markets, Street Food and San Cristobal Hill.

8. Take an Amazon adventure by land or water

Representing more than half of the world’s remaining rainforests, the Amazon Jungle is famous for its sheer size and astounding biodiversity. Do you think you have what it takes to brave the jungle? Learn how to find sources of clean water, and gather fruits and nuts in an Amazon Rainforest Survival Tour from Manaus; or go all-inclusive, but be just as adventurous, with a 3-Day Iquitos Jungle Adventure at Muyuna Lodge or a 3-Day Amazon Jungle Tour at Sinchicuy Lodge. Sail to the exact spot where the Rio Negro meets the Amazon River in a swirl of different colored waters with a Rio Negro Cruise from Manaus to the Amazon River.

9. Go to the ends of the Earth in Patagonia

Go to the ends of the Earth in Patagonia

Go to the ends of the Earth in Patagonia

Shared by Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is a land of wide, open plains flanked on the west by the rugged peaks of the Andes Mountains. Take in the majestic wonder of one of the world’s most beautiful glaciers on a Full Day Tour to the Perito Moreno Glacier. Drive across the Chilean border to gaze upon crystalline lakes and jaw-dropping views on a Full Day Tour to the Torres del Paine National Park. Or cruise along Lake Argentino for some up close views of the Upsala, Spegazzini and Onelli glaciers on the El Calafate Glaciers Sightseeing Cruise.

10. Take a step back in time in Colonia, Uruguay

The historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento seems to be frozen in time. The narrow cobblestones streets are lined on either side with buildings dating back to the 17th or 18th centuries, some clearly Portuguese in terms of influence and style, others distinctly Spanish, as the town changed hands from one country to the other for 150 years. Visitors typically take a Day Trip to Colonia from Montevideo or a Day Trip to Colonia from Buenos Aires to enjoy its colonial charm.

11. Relax on the beautiful beaches of Central and South America

Relax on the beautiful Rosario Islands

Relax on the beautiful Rosario Islands

When the need to relax is topmost on your mind, nothing beats a beach vacation, and Central and South America have a variety to choose from along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Brazil alone has over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of beaches, which basically guarantees you’ll find a quiet spot to sip your caipirinha. Take a day trip to the small and quaint Pipa Beach from Natal or sign up for a Rio de Janeiro Full Day Tropical Islands Tour and Sepetiba Bay Cruise, where you’ll have the chance to swim in spots that are only accessible by boat. For some of the best Chilean beaches, take a Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso Day Trip from Santiago. Or visit one of the biggest coral reefs of the Colombian Caribbean coast on a Rosario Islands Day Trip from Cartagena.

12. Ride with the gauchos in Argentina

Argentina’s version of the cowboy is the gaucho, but these cowboys are unlike any you’ve ever seen before. Join them for a fiesta gaucha or ‘gaucho party’ where they show off their horseback riding skills on a Gaucho Day Trip from Buenos Aires: Santa Susana Ranch or a Gaucho Day Trip from Buenos Aires: Don Silvano Ranch – a great opportunity to sit back and enjoy a glass of wine and some authentic Argentine asado in the quiet countryside.

13. Uncover the mysteries of the Nazca Lines

A monkey, a spider and a dog sit in the Nazca Desert, just a few of the many geoglyphs that comprise the fascinating mystery known as the Nazca Lines. Created between 500 BC and 500 AD, the lines were etched into the plain to create geometric and zoomorphic shapes that have baffled scientists for decades, mainly due to their enormous size and the fact that they can only be seen from miles above ground. Hop on a small Cesna aircraft with a Nazca Lines Air Tour and Ballestas Islands Full-Day Trip from Lima and see the Nazca Lines for yourself.

14. Browse the markets of South America

Browse the markets of South America

Browse the markets of South America

Unlike the big, modern shopping malls of most cosmopolitan cities, street markets can tell you a lot about the local culture. Apart from being great places to buy souvenirs, they’re also wonderful opportunities for visitors to support local craftsmen and food vendors. Get a taste of Peruvian cuisine on a Cusco Markets and Ruins Small Group Tour or a Lima Market Tour and Pisco Sour Lesson. For some mouthwatering samples of Chilean specialties, take the Small-Group Santiago Food and Market Tour Including Mercado Central. Or take a day trip from Quito to the Otavalo Marketplace with Optional Lunch for the Ecuadorian market experience.

15. Live like a porteño in Buenos Aires

About a century ago, Buenos Aires was not the urban sprawl we know today, but rather a small, bustling port town. This is when the city’s inhabitants started being called porteños. Buenos Aires witnessed the birth of the tango, and there’s no better way to get a taste of it than with a Buenos Aires Dinner and Tango Show. Want to get the real scoop on where and what porteños like to eat? A Small-Group Insider Food Tour of Buenos Aires will show you just that. And because porteños are so passionate about soccer, you simply can’t miss out on the experience of seeing a Soccer Match in Buenos Aires.

16. Explore the jungles of Central and South America

Ziplining through the jungle!

Ziplining through the jungle!

Nothing says ‘adventure’ like the word ‘jungle’, and in the jungles of Central and South America, there are plenty of adventures to be had. Be on the lookout for a variety of monkeys, toucans and all kinds of wildlife on a Gatun Lake and Monkey Island Sightseeing Cruise from Panama City. Zip through a dense rainforest canopy with a Private Belize City Adventure: Zipline Tour at Jaguar Paw and Crystal Cave Tubing or hike to ancient Mayan ruins in a Lamanai and the New River Safari in Belize. In Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park, visit the nesting site for the green sea turtle, a species in danger of extinction that is being protected in the park.

17. See the incredible animal life of the Galapagos Islands

Giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands

Giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands

Ecuador has its fair share of tourist attractions, yet none are more spectacular than the Galapagos Islands. Famous for the astounding number of species that are unique to this geographical location, they were studied by Charles Darwin, and the information he gathered there led him to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection. Follow in Darwin’s footsteps and take a 4 or 5-day journey with the Galapagos Islands Explorer Package from Santa Cruz Island. Or take a Tortuga Bay Tour and Yacht Cruise to La Loberia Island to get to know some friendly sea lions.

18. Visit the ancient ruins of Tikal

Ancient Ruins in Tikal

Ancient Ruins in Tikal

Deep within the tropical jungle of northern Guatemala, the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal lay hidden for centuries. Today, it is part of Tikal National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Guatemala’s national treasures. Spend the day touring one of the largest archaeological sites in South America on a Tikal Day Trip by Air from Guatemala City with Lunch or on a Tikal Day Trip by Air from Antigua with Lunch. If your thirst for Mayan history has not been quenched, visit the first capital of Guatemala and take the Iximché Ruins and Antigua City Tour from Guatemala City. Or take a short trip to Honduras and explore more remains of the Mayan civilization with a Copan and Quirigua Overnight Trip from Guatemala City.

19. Cruise the Panama Canal

Among all of the natural wonders we find in Central and South America, there is one manmade marvel that is just as awe-inspiring. Built in the early 20th century as a way to shorten the shipping routes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the 48-mile (77.1-km) canal is a feat of engineering and one definitely worth checking out. Cruise the canal through the fascinating Miraflores Locks on a Panama Canal Partial Transit Sightseeing Cruise or take the more complete Panama City and Canal Sightseeing Tour for a closer look at Panama’s most historic landmarks.

20. Explore the diversity of Chile

Within the long, narrow strip of land that is Chile there is an astounding variety of landscapes and climates. Explore some of the most fascinating desert landscapes and natural wonders of northern Chile with a 4-Day Atacama Desert Tour: Moon Valley, Geysers del Tatio and the Chilean Salt Flats. Or venture south for a change of scenery with the 4-Day Chilean Lakes Region Tour: Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas and Chiloe Island. But it’s not necessary to venture too far from Santiago to enjoy a good share of Chilean attractions. Relax in soothing outdoor thermal pools while you admire the nearby volcano with a Hot Springs Tour from Santiago with Lunch. Or visit two of the most historic wineries in Chile on a Cousino Macul and Concha y Toro Wineries Day Trip from Santiago. And if you seek something a bit more adventurous, ride off the beaten track through the Andes on a Mountain Horseback Riding Tour from Santiago.

21. Go wild in Costa Rica

Toucan in the Costa Rican rainforest

Toucan in the Costa Rican rainforest

With its lush tropical rainforests, astounding variety of flora and fauna, and superb track record for environmental sustainability, Costa Rica is truly green, in both the literal and figurative sense. The popular Central American destination is a mecca for eco adventure and tourism, as the options are as varied as its animal and plant species. Explore the Costa Rican rainforest on an all-terrain vehicle with a Costa Rica ATV Adventure Tour from Arenal. Soar over 11 waterfalls on a Waterfall Canopy Zipline Tour at Adventure Park Costa Rica. View one of the few active volcanoes in the western hemisphere with an Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs Day Trip from San Jose. Or take the Combo Tour – Best of Costa Rica from San Jose for an adrenaline-pumping mountain hike.

22. Explore the colonial cities of Nicaragua

Because of its warm tropical climate, rich biodiversity and fascinating active volcanoes, the Central American nation of Nicaragua has grown as a tourist hotspot. But its picturesque colonial cities are also a big draw. Take a multi-day tour of the most popular sights on a 5-Day Best of Nicaragua Tour: Managua, León and Granada. Or make it a full-day getaway from Guanacaste, Costa Rica with a Nicaragua Day Trip: Catarina, San Juan del Sur and Granada from Guanacaste. Soak in Nicaragua’s rich colonial past and architecture on a Leon Day Trip from Managua or a Granada City Tour from Managua with Boat Ride on Lake Nicaragua.

23. Brave the highest mountains in the Americas

View the tallest mountains in the Americas

View the tallest mountains in the Americas

The Andes, the highest mountain range in the world outside of Asia, spans seven countries and features the tallest peak in the Americas, Mount Aconcagua. On the Argentine side, take a Small-Group Tour: Andes Day Trip from Mendoza Including Aconcagua, Uspallata and Puente del Inca for a good view of these jutting giants. Or hike through the Andes while you enjoy spectacular mountain scenery with an Andes Trekking Tour from Mendoza. For a view of the no less stunning Ecuadorian Andes take the 2-Day Andes Tour from Quito with Avenue of the Volcanoes Train Ride.

24. Travel to the Middle of the World in Quito

Head to the Middle of the World!

Head to the Middle of the World!

Elevated at 9, 350 feet (2,850 meters) above sea level, the city of Quito is the highest capital in the world. It also has the biggest and best-preserved historic quarter in the Americas, which is why it was one of the first World Heritage Sites to be declared by UNESCO. Take in the city’s colonial attractions on a Half Day Quito City Tour or an Old Town Quito Sightseeing and Food Walking Tour. Visit the spot that marks the location of the equator with a Private Tour: Middle of the World Monument from Quito. Take a day trip to National Park of Cotopaxi and Hacienda from Quito and catch a glimpse the Cotopaxi volcano.

25. Experience Peruvian delights in Lima

Lima is famous for its gastronomical delights, dishes with a wide variety of influences, from European to Japanese. Sample some of these offerings on an Experience Lima: An Evening at the Larco Museum with Dinner tour. Take in the full glory of Lima’s Historic Center with a Lima City Sightseeing Tour or a Lima Open-Top Sightseeing Tour with Optional Callao Tour. Venture a short distance from the capital and see an imposing archaeological site with a Temple of Pachacamac Half-Day Tour from Lima or a Road to Pachacamac: Small-Group Bike Tour from Lima.

- Viator Travel Team

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