Adventure Ideas South American Style
At the Olympic handover this summer, the world’s attention shifted from London to Rio as the Brazilian capital prepares to host the next Games. But Brazil is just one of many incredible options in South America for great active family adventures. In this edition of Adventure Ideas I’m going to pick out a few ideas from the west of South America, where the volcanoes are!
A honeymoon adventure
In the millennium year Stuart and I set out on a six month South American adventure. It was a long and winding road, and an exhilarating bike journey of an unfamiliar continent. And it was something of an experiment in gap year travel for us. It was also our honeymoon. Despite the grit of rough Ecuadorian roads, the wilderness of the Chilean Carreterra Austral and the battering winds of Argentina’s infamous Ruta Quarente (Route 40), I am happy to report we had a blast.
We bonded. With each other and with South America. It is, to this day, one of our best cycle tours. Now you might not fancy stretching yourself and your family to the limit by biking along the length of The Andes. You might prefer the chill out and carnival atmosphere of a city like Rio. Or a quick tango through Buenos Aires. But whatever grabs you in terms of adventure; it’s probably available in South America. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking.
An Argentinian adventure
In one of our recent Adventure Ideas I picked out Argentina’s Cerro Catedral region as one of the most exciting places in the world to ski. You can mix and match your resorts, pistes cater for all abilities, and you can even ski in July and August. But Argentina is great for a city break too. Buenos Aires is party city; the young sleep by day and come alive at night and it’s a great place to learn to dance. Los Glaciares National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site hosting the extraordinary Perito Moreno glacier. It’s one of the most captivating places I’ve ever visited (although it may have melted significantly by now!) with chunks of glacier falling into the lake in front of your eyes. If you don’t have your own transport there are plenty of tourist buses departing daily from El Calafate.
If you fancy striking out on your own like we did and going as far south as you can, then Ushuaia is an unassuming town with a gobsmacking view of the edge of the world. Or you can stay on a working cattle ranch (known as estancia) and ride with the gauchos of Patagonia. Food wise, make sure you try the all-meat barbecue called an Asado in the restaurants of the small towns. Argentinian steaks are to die for.
Or you can take a luxury family tour that focuses on the landscape and wildlife. The UK based tour company Exsus Travel Tonic offers luxury holidays in Argentina and include family adventure holidays which start in Buenos Aires. They’ll show you the nightlife then swap it for the sea life with time in The Valdes Peninsular. Have you ever met a sea lion or a penguin outside the zoo? You will now. You’ll venture under the Iguazu Falls before heading off to the Iberá wetlands where you’ll make even more friends including monkeys and turtles. Sound like your cup of tea? (You might not have time for one of those!) Exsus can tailor the tour to your family’s needs.
A nature adventure in The Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are one of those bucket list locations that you’ll remember for life. Staying with Excus, they offer an island hopping adventure there. But we’re not talking about lying with a cocktail on a beach with a million sunbathers. You’ll be sharing your beach with sea lions, snorkelling with iguanas and getting up close and personal with the characterful blue footed booby.
If you prefer to be on the water, there are plenty of companies who can help you out with expedition cruise ships, yacht charters, kayak tours and National Geographic guides. The choice is endless if you have the right budget.
A biking adventure in Ecuador
We liked Ecuador and not just for the amazing juices, freshly squeezed from a variety of fruit. It felt very different to Europe and our money went a long way. It’s not a mainstream destination in the way Argentina, Brazil or Chile are but it’s all the more charming and adventurous for that.
It has some great adventure cycling options too. We spent two weeks cycling a loop North from the capital Quito in a bid to cycle across the equator and back. Riding the backroads up to the market town of Otavalo proved some of the toughest riding we’ve done, at altitude on rough mountain tracks, tough enough to make me kiss the tarmac in Otavalo when I finally saw it. But it was fantastic adventurous cycling.
Heading south from Quito on the Pan American things are a little easier. There’s lots to explore on the incredible Avenue of Volcanoes. You can even bike down a volcano in the Cotopaxi National Park. But for me the real beauty of Ecuador lies in its farming villages, in undiscovered places and market days in little Andean villages. Why not make a slow crossing from the avenue of volcanoes across the Andes to the coast. OK, so it’s a hard climb, but at least you’re starting at 3000m. But just remember you will be rewarded with a 4000m+ descent. The Pacific coastline is great to explore too, when the road isn’t washed away. It’s wild in character but broken up with quirky coastal resorts that are charming in a very simple Ecuadorian way.
A sailing adventure to Chilean Patagonia
You can’t travel far on the western side of South America without encountering volcanoes. If you don’t want to bike them or ski them you can sail amongst them. One of my favourite parts of Chile was sailing down the fjords south of Puerto Montt amongst the many incredible National Parks of Chilean Patagonia. We hooked up with a boat looking for crew in Puerto Montt and joined them for a week of sailing and family fun. If you hooked up with the right crew and had the time and money, maybe you could sail all the way down the coast, popping in and out of the fjords until you reached Torres Del Paine, one of the most famous Chilean National Parks and another favourite spot of mine.
Torres Del Paine is a treasure. You have probably seen the photos. Sitting on the edge of the South Patagonian Ice Cap it is one of Patagonia’s big destinations for adventurous travellers. But there’s much more to it than the iconic peaks on the postcards so however you get there, allow time to stay in the park so you can explore and experience it more fully than the many day visitors do.
You could spend a week there exploring the trails, with a base at a central camp that means you can wake each morning and look up at the iconic peaks (weather permitting of course!). If a tent is too much effort you can hire a yurt in a luxury camp on the shores of Lake Torro. Or if you are feeling rich you could stay in style at one of the fine (and somewhat controversial) luxury hotels in the park. With everything from day hikes to week long treks, and options to explore on foot, by kayak or on horse, it really is an incredible place to visit if you’re looking for adventure in a very special and dramatic setting.
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you thanks to support from Exsus. The views, experience, research and opinions expressed remain, as ever, entirely our own.