Top 10 for 2013: South America

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From the beautiful beaches of Brazil to the extraordinary icescapes of Patagonia, South America is diverse as it is vast. Whether it's hitting Rio before the World Cup and Olympics-led rush, sampling ceviche the way the locals do in Peru, or going penguin-spotting in the Falkland Islands, there is much to see and do both on and off the tourist trail. Read on for the top ten experiences of 2013...

Words: David Whitley

  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    For Rio, 2013 is the calm before the storm. With the World Cup arriving in 2014 and the Olympics coming in 2016, this year is the last chance to visit before the makeover gets too glossy. Up there with Sydney and Cape Town in terms of natural beauty, the standard Gringo route of beaches, bars, cable cars and Sugarloaf Mountain is perfectly enjoyable. But Be A Local offers tours that dig further into the favelas, football mayhem and funk parties.

    Picture credit: Embratur/

  • Salvador, Brazil

    Rio’s Carnival long sold out to the tourist masses (and more than a few pickpockets). The carnival that Brazilians tend to truly love is Salvador’s. With 50km of beaches and seemingly never-ending festivals, it’s a happy kinda place. It’s also the birthplace of Capoeira and arguably the best place to get to learn about Brazil’s African heritage. The secret ingredient, though, is the food – indigenous, Portuguese and African cuisines get fused in Salvador to create something pretty darned special.

    Picture credit: Embratur/

  • Lima, Peru

    South America’s real foodie hotspot of 2013, however, is Peru. With the cebiche (or ceviche) conquest going global, the Peruvian capital is where the very best of the domestic dishes are congregating. Super-chef Gastón Acurio’s Astrid y Gaston restaurant has barged its way into the San Pellegrino best 50 in the world list, while La Rosa Náutica on Miraflores Pier marries the flavour bursts with the crashing Pacific waves. It’s a city that you’ll want to arrive in hungry…

    Picture credit: Restaurante La Rosa Nautica

  • Guyana

    Think South America without having to fret over learning Spanish – Guyana is where Caribbean culture meets Amazonian adventure. Capital Georgetown, with its wooden cathedral and overdose of Victorian buildings, is something of a colonial time warp. But the real fun’s inland, cutting through the jungle on motorised Amerindian dugout canoes in search of rainforest wildlife or gawping at the giant Kaieteur Falls. The bonus? New flights from Gatwick via Trinidad with Caribbean Airlines have made Guyana a lot easier to get to.

    Picture credit: Guyana Tourism Authority

  • Quito, Ecuador

    Quito is getting the sort of refurb that makes teen movie geek-to-chic makeovers look positively realistic. A new airport and better train lines connecting it to the rest of the country are set to make it a much more attractive hub in 2013, while the pretty cobblestones and Spanish colonial buildings of the historic quarter have had millions of beautifying bucks thrown at them. Its also enticing bars and restaurants to take up residence in the old buildings – the good looks and good times are meeting in the right place.

    Picture credit: Theunis Wim/

  • Valparaiso, Chile

    There’s a touch of San Francisco about this Chilean port city. Funiculars climb hills that rise steeply from the water’s edge, buildings are liberally splashed with murals and the architecture has a sense of stuck-in-the-past romance. It’s an arty, soulful city that is developing a pretty impressive food and micro-brewery scene – and one that’s dangerously easy to fall in love with.

    Picture credit: Shaney Hudson

  • Colombia

    Colombia is getting huge hype from the glossy travel magazines this year, and with good reason. The mix of Caribbean beaches, buzzing cosmopolitan cities and spectacular mountains that come right up to the coast is pretty darned special. Cartagena’s the most beautiful option for urbanites, while the coffee region is not just about some of the finest beans in the world. Horse-riding through the panoramic views of the Cocora Valley, flanked by 40m-tall Wax Palms is a great way of using up that extra caffeine energy…

    Picture credit:

  • Bogota, Colombia

    Usually the cheapest of the South American capitals to get flights to, Bogota is more than just a necessary evil that must be tackled on the way to Colombia’s more conventional attractions. Culturally, it’s one of South America’s top cities, with the Museo del Oro’s stunning exploration of gold and why it has been so precious to civilisations across the world being the museum highlight. Bogota has also been garlanded by UNESCO for its creative scene – it’s 2013’s City of Music, and that means a groaningly full calendar of special gigs and events.

    Picture credit:

  • Patagonia

    The Argentina beyond Buenos Aires, malbec and steak may be a little colder, but it sure looks spectacular. The southern chunk of the country offers whale-watching tours along the coast, going gaucho by staying in estancias (ranches kitted out for tourists) and some wild icescape scenery. For the latter, the Petito Moreno Glacier is the most extraordinary. You have to wrap up warm to walk along it, but the views of crashing blue-white icebergs more than make up for that.

    Picture credit: Shaney Hudson

  • Falkland Islands

    Argentine sabre-rattling has put the Falklands back in the news, but there’s more to the islands than political squabbles. Surprisingly good local food is one reason to drop by, but wildlife is the key draw card. Island-hopping around the archipelago can bring you into close contact with seals, albatrosses and hundreds of species of seabirds. The penguins are generally the cutest, however, with five species calling the islands home. Volunteer Point is arguably the best surveillance spot – it’s where the king penguins hang out.

    Picture credit: Nigel McCall


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