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South America’s 6 Unmissable Experiences

Sparkling salt flats, lofty mountains, ancient ruins, unadulterated jungle and rainbow-embellished waterfalls are just a handful of the sights that make South America such an appealing continent to visit. Here are six unmissable experiences from this magical location.

6. Rock sliding at Cachoeira do Tobogã in Brazil

Just outside the pretty village of Paraty, Brazil, is Cachoeira do Tobogã – a wide, flat, and extremely smooth rock covered in a thin layer of cascading water. It forms a natural slip and slide, allowing brave individuals to shoot across the rockface, gaining speed as they descend, then plunging over the waterfall’s lip into a deep green pool. Even if you don’t feel up to the challenge, watching local kids surf the rock and make bold acrobatic jumps is entertainment enough.

5. Cross the last Inca rope bridge in Peru

Maintaining the Q’iswa Chaka, a rope bridge near Cusco in Peru, is a time-honored tradition for residents of the Apurímac Canyon region. Every June the bridge is repaired and rewoven using ancient Inca techniques that would form part of mit’a – a mandatory act of public service common during the Inca Empire. Spanning 148 feet from one side of the river to the other and dangling 60 feet above the water, traversing this woven masterpiece is a thrill you won’t forget.

Queswachaca Bridge is rebuilt during a three-day event which involves taking down the old Queswachaca Bridge and making a new one © Media Drum World / Alamy Stock Photo

4. Stay at the Montaña Mágica in Chile

Offering total immersion in nature, Montaña Mágica (“Magic Mountain”) in southern Chile is designed to blend seamlessly into its jungle surroundings – a biological reserve called Huilo Huilo. Shaped like a volcano, the hotel has water erupting from its peak and gushing to the rainforest floor below. Montaña Mágica is at least two hours from the nearest small airfield but the experience of staying in a cozy wood-paneled room that’s reminiscent of a hobbit hole is worth the journey.

3. Explore the salt flats in Bolivia

Situated 3,000 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes is Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat on Earth. This 11,000-sq km expanse of blindingly-white salt beds was once a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving a surreal and empty desert landscape that feels otherworldly. Visit during the rainy season of January to April when the water creates a mirror-like effect, reflecting the endless blue sky and dramatic cloud formations above.

The landscape of Salar de Uyuni looks almost post-apocalyptic

2. Swim in a rainbow-hued river in Colombia

Between the months of June and November, the Caño Cristales river in Meta, Colombia, undergoes a kaleidoscopic transformation. When the water level is just right and sunlight can reach the riverbed, an aquatic plant called Macarenia clavigera blooms crimson and yellow, earning the river the nickname “liquid rainbow.” Caño Cristales is remote; visitors must fly to a small airport at La Macarena, make the journey to Serranía de la Macarena national park and from there proceed on horseback to the river. If you want to swim, skip the sunscreen, which can harm these delicate, vibrant plants.

La Macarena, an isolated town in Colombia's Meta region, is famous for Caño Cristales, the River of Five Colors © John Seagle / Alamy Stock Photo

1. Try sandboarding in Peru

In the Peruvian desert lies Huacachina, a small oasis town built around a palm tree-fringed lagoon with water that’s said to have therapeutic properties. The main reason people come here, though, is to experience sandboarding. Take a 4×4 out to the dunes and careen across the apricot sand. Then grab a pisco sour, Peru’s national drink, at a bar by the lagoon and watch the sun sink.

Enjoy sandboarding on the sand dunes in Huacachina © Julia Chan / Alamy Stock Photo