Long romanticised as the continent of superlatives, South America is a wild landscape that is home to the world’s biggest rainforests, the highest mountain range outside of Asia, huge deserts, icy landscapes, high altitude lakes, and plenty of other breathtaking natural attractions. In addition, the region has seen some of the most incredible marks left by man in the form of ancient civilisations – like Machu Picchu – and indigenous villages that are only accessible via some of the oldest, most formidable mountain trails in the world. In South America, nowhere is more scenic, or diverse than the Andean spine stretching across Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile.
Known as the Red Lagoon, it’s a shallow salt lake in the southwest of the Altiplano of Bolivia. Located at an altitude of 4,200m within Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and close to the border with Chile, it is one of many lagoons that are famous for their bright colours thanks to the presence of minerals in the water. Laguna Verde is emerald green, while Laguna Colorada is the only red lagoon in the reserve. At less than 3 feet deep and dotted with white islands of massive borax deposits, the plankton-rich lake of Colorada attracts a large number of endangered James flamingos.
Route 7 from Mendoza to Aconcagua
Aconcagua (6,960m) is the tallest mountain in the Americas and is popular with trekkers year-round. Located near the Argentinian town of Mendoza, the scenic Route 7 (part of the Pan-American Highway) takes you from urban architecture to rolling vineyards and eventually mountain peaks as you near Aconcagua Provincial Park 185km away. Along the way are villages like Las Cuevas, Poterillos and Puente del Inca – a rock bridge over the Vacas River where Charles Darwin once visited.
The 15th-century site of Choquequirao is an Incan city located 3,000m above sea level in the Cusco region and is often compared to Machu Picchu since they both have similar structure and architecture. The trek to Choquequirao is far quieter, and while it doesn’t require a permit or guide like the Inca Trail, it is challenging yet incredibly scenic. Most treks start from Cachora and take 2-3 days to reach Choquequirao, with grandiose views of Rio Apurimac below.
Torres del Paine
The Patagonian steppe is home to ancient forests, glaciers, lakes, rivers, fjords, and the soaring 2,000m-high granite pillars of Torres del Paine. Once a huge estancia, today the Torres del Paine National Park is home to the hugely popular W Trek, which navigates up and down the mountain valleys that are home to guanacos, foxes, pumas, and birds like the rhea and Andean condor. The typical ‘W’ takes 5-7 days, with 5-8 hours of hiking per day, boasting a lot of the park’s must-see attractions: Los Torres, Los Cuernos, Valle Frances, Paine Grande, and Glacier Grey. The well-established infrastructure here means that the trek can be done in a variety of ways, from rugged camping to full room-and-board in refugios.