Top 10 South American Thrills

24 November 2014

South America. There's something about this continent that inspires tales of adventure. Who doesn't feel like a famous adventurer, fictitious or otherwise (Indiana?), while hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or discovering unique nature on the Galapagos Islands.

Get on the go and enjoy the continent’s active adventures, writes Shaney Hudson.

 South America awaits to nurture your adventurous spirit (Photo Credit: Shaney Hudson)

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1. Swim with pink dolphins in the Peruvian Amazon

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The mighty Amazon River, filled with piranha and caiman, isn’t the kind of place you’d imagine taking a leisurely swim. However, there are some tributaries of the Amazon in Peru where you can swim in the water accompanied by an escort of pink river dolphins. With the aid of a local guide, there are numerous spots close to Iquitos where the dolphins are known to cluster. Endemic to the amazon, local legend has it the dolphins shape-shift into men at night, seducing local women before returning to the river and their dolphin shape.
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2. Learn to Tango in Buenos Aires

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The dance of love has bewitched many a visitor to Buenos Aires. The tango, a passionate dance with its roots in the Argentine working class, still thrives throughout the city and was recently included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List for Mankind. While there are plenty of spectacular tango-themed dinner shows and impromptu street performances aimed at tourists, those wanting to master the dance should seek out lessons or a dance night at one of the the dozen or so milongas, the steamy tango dance halls that operate nightly throughout the city.
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3. Go Hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a mixture of mountains and jungle and and humanity crammed against the fringes of the ocean and overseen by the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer. It’s also considered one of the best places in the world to go tandem hang-gliding, with thrill-seekers departing a purpose-built platform in the deep green of the Tijuca Forest National Park to soaring birdlike over the city. Adventurers spend ten to thirty minutes circling the city with a pilot before landing on the beach below.

 Walking along the W trail in Torres del Paine (Photo Credit: Shaney Hudson)

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4. Bike the Death Road near La Paz

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Biking the world-famous Death Road near La Paz, Bolivia has been the stuff of South American legend since the road was closed to major traffic in 2007. Starting at a dizzying altitude of 4700m in the Andes, cyclists on mountain bikes whip down the narrow road, descending almost 3600m and travelling a distance of 64 kilometres. However, bikers need nerves of steel to make it as they encounter thousand-metre sheer drops on the edge of the road, hairpin turns and just for fun, inclement weather to test your bike brakes.
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5. Walk on glaciers in Argentina.

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Anchored for centuries in the wilds of Argentine Patagonia, the Perito Moreno Glacier is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What makes the glacier one of the highlights of any visit to Patagonia is the continual crash of huge house-sized chunks of ice calving from the face of the glacier. Even more thrilling, however, is to walk on foot across the glacier. Visitors wear cramp-ons to hike across the rugged terrain of the glacier, avoiding sinkholes, crossing deep crevices and navigating their way around crystal blue glacial pools that also provide ample drinking water.
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6. Sandboarding in the Atacama Desert, Chile

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San Pedro de Atacama remains one of Chile’s most charming destinations. The bubbling geysers, stunning rock formations and lunar landscapes have made it a favourite with visitors, but it’s the massive sand dunes in Death Valley that get the most attention from young (and young-at-heart) visitors keen to try sandboarding: using a snowboard to slide down the incredibly steep red-sand dunes in the desert. There’s just one catch however, with no chairlift, barefoot sand boarders have to trudge all the way back to the top of the sand dune-with board in tow.
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7. Climb Wayna Picchu, Peru

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The Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu is world famous, but it is the lesser know day hike to Wayna Picchu that offers the most breathtaking views of the ancient citadel. Only 400 people can climb Wayna Picchu daily, with one group departing each morning and one in the early afternoon. The climb only takes an hour but is steep and on uneven challenging terrain. If you’re feeling sure-footed it is worth securing a spot on the walk, just to be able to take in a bird’s eye view of the historic site and surrounding valleys.

 Glacier hiking in Argentine Patagonia (Photo Credit: Shaney Hudson)

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8. Hike the W trail, Torres del Paine

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One of the best ways to explore Patagonia is by hiking through the Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. Visitors have the option of camping at designated sites or staying in the (relative) luxury of refugios during the summer hiking season. The best known trail, the “W” (named for the alphabet shape it makes through the landscape) is a 60km, four-to-five day trek that skirts the hem of thousand year old mountains and takes hikers through forest, past glaciers, and past the three iconic granite ridges that define the landscape.
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9. Swim with penguins, sharks and turtles in the Galapagos

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The Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, remain a conservationist and wildlife lover’s dream. The unique biodiversity hotspot is home to numerous endemic species unfazed by the presence of man. While there is an incredible range of bird and wildlife occupying the 18 main islands in the archipelago (including the incredibly-odd Blue-footed boobie), it is the underwater world of the Galapagos that enthrals. Visitors are able to snorkel with sharks, turtles, sea lions, manta rays, marine iguanas and even curious penguins in pristine waters teeming with life.
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10. Learn Capoeira in Brazil

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Long admired in Australia, the mixture of martial arts, dance and acrobatic movement can be seen in action in any public space in Brazil. However, if you want to get to the heart of capoeira and learn for yourself, head to Salvador de Bahia, where capoeira developed. Salvador is home to numerous serious capoeira academies as well as a number of schools catering to tourists (capoeira lessons are often offered in tandem with intensive Portuguese language classes). Lessons cumulate with students taking part in the traditional roda, or fighting circle, where there is music and sparring.

 Sandboarding in Chile (Photo Credit: Shaney Hudson)

Shaney Hudson

Shaney Hudson is an Australian travel writer, photographer and world traveller based in Sydney. Specialising in adventure travel, she believes that travel is the best education.@shaneyhudson (Twitter)@sweetescapephotos (Instagram) Shaneyhudson.com