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Things to Do in Central & South America

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Tierra del Fuego National Park
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68 Tours and Activities
Running north from the Beagle Channel, the Tierra del Fuego National Park offers visitors the chance to follow easy walking trails along scenic rivers and bays. The park’s forests of beech are home to coastal birds such as cormorants and albatross. Argentina’s only coastal national park protects the southernmost stretch of Andean-Patagonian forest, ideal for hiking, climbing and outdoor water sports. Bring a kayak to sail from remote beaches, and your binoculars to spot otters, beavers, petrels and condors. Walking trails lead to the park’s beaver dam, a lookout over the stunning coastal scenery of Lapataia Bay, and around Lago Roca. A seaside trail connects Ensenada and Lapataia for more lovely views of the coast. Campers can stay overnight in the park at campsites at Pipo, Ensenada and Lago Roca.
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Maracana Stadium (Estádio do Maracana)
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120 Tours and Activities

The gigantic Maracanã Stadium was built to open the 1950 World Cup. It holds the record for the largest attendance at a World cup final as 199,854 paying spectators crammed into the stadium and many more besides.

If you’re after the intense Brazilian football experience complete with the drums, flares, and chanting, then get to a game; otherwise the sports museum inside the stadium with photographs, cups, and Pele’s famous no. 10 jersey is a more sedate experience (enter at Gate 18).

Its official name is 'Mário Filho Stadium' but it's called 'Maracanã' after the small river that runs alongside. In the 1990s it was modified to become an all-seated stadium and now holds under 100,000.

The four main teams of the city play here and it will host the opening of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies. It is being renovated for these events (scheduled to reopen in 2012) and will finally hold around 103,000 spectators.

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Rincon de la Vieja National Park
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Rincon de La Vieja National Park is one of the country’s most diverse ecological areas. Surrounding two volcanoes, Rincon (active) and Santa Maria (dormant), the park is also home to an extraordinary display of local flora and fauna, while being a part of the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste World Heritage site.

While the plant life is impressive on its own, especially considering the enormous concentration of purple orchids here, it’s the concentration of volcanoes that really wows visitors. The Rincon de La Vieja volcano gave rise to the park’s name and contains nine separate but contiguous craters. It is one of the largest of the five volcanoes in the Guanacaste region and is believed to be over a million years old. Despite being considered active, it has not erupted since the early 1980s. The park does see a lot of volcanic activity, including vents, fumaroles and boiling mud pots and has at least 32 rivers that flow down its sides.

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Copacabana Beach (Praia de Copacabana)
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Copocabana Beach, or Praia de Copacabana, is the Rio de Janeiro of the tourist brochures and deservedly so. It’s a breath-taking 2.5mi (4.5 km) stretch of bright sand that’s filled with people luxuriating in the sun and soaking up the atmosphere.

As night descends the lights go on and football is played until the wee hours. Other groups start singing and dancing and still others are just there to check each other out. The busy sidewalks can get seedy at night so take care.

Behind it rise the Sugarloaf and Morro de Leme and in between is one of the world’s most densely populated residential areas.It is possible to visit Rio and never leave Copacabana, many hotels are situated here and there are plenty of restaurants and bars and some decent shopping.

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Ipanema Beach (Praia de Ipanema)
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Charming and chic, Ipanema Beach (Praia de Ipanema) is the richer and ritzier sister of the also infamous Copacabana beach. Ipanema backs onto a fancy neighbourhood and there are plenty of high-end hotels.

The stunning beach gets divided up depending on the interests of the beachgoers. There is the family section, the gay section, the ageing-intellectual section and so on; you’ll soon find where you feel comfortable.

At night the beach is lit up and families come to the beach with their barbeques and cook dinner while others come down to watch the sunset.

Ipanema means “bad, dangerous waters” in Indian and it is indeed a good idea to only swim in the designated areas where the locals are swimming as the waves can be big and the undertow strong.

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Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
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While zip-line tours that take you swishing through the treetops at squeal-inducing speeds certainly have their charm, there are other ways to appreciate Costa Rica’s wondrous wilderness. Unbeknownst to most tourists, the life of the rain forest largely takes place overhead, in the thick jungle canopy of sunlight and opportunity.

Most of Costa Rica’s birds, monkeys, giant anteaters, sloths, snakes and amphibians spend the better part of their lives in the distant treetops, far from the snapping cameras of junior photographers. The key to seeing these creatures (and getting the best shots) is ascending into the trees yourself.

Hence these 16 elegantly constructed Arenal Hanging Bridges—some suspended high above gorges and others stretching far across jungle floors—that line the winding paths of this epic Costa Rican hike and stretch a total of 2.6 km (1.6 miles) across the steeply pitched landscape.

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Jaco Beach
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Jaco Beach is known for its black sand beaches and close proximity to Costa Rica’s capital city. But it’s also widely recognized for its diverse landscapes, breathtaking beauty and endless options for outdoor fun. The vast shores and crystal blue waters attract as many out of town travelers as they do locals.

Travelers can learn to surf, snorkel and swim in the clear ocean waters off the coast of Jaco. And those who want to experience the diversity of Coast Rica’s ecological landscapes can tour nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, the Carara biological reserve or the Damas Island Estuary. There are rain forest canopy tours, whale watching trips and beach side horseback riding adventures, too. Whether visitors are looking to unwind or eager to explore the shores of Jaco Beach offer the best of both worlds to travelers.

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Christ the Redeemer Statue (Cristo Redentor)
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Keeping a watchful eye over the people of Rio de Janeiro, the Statue of Christ the Redeemer (or Cristo Redentor) sits atop Corcovado 2,300 feet (700 meters) above the city. It was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

The largest art deco statue in the world, it is 130 ft (39 m) tall and the arms measure 98 ft (30 m) across. Made of reinforced concrete and sandstone the statue was unveiled in 1931.

On a clear day the views from the base of the statue are fantastic. At night the statue is lit up and seemingly hovers over the city as the mountain it stands on is dark. If it is cloudy the clouds light up and the effect can be quite spectacular and ethereal.

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Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar)
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You’ll see stunning views of Rio from atop Sugar Loaf Mountain (or Pão de Acúcar) which rises at the point where Guanabara Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Whichever way you look the city is a delight of sweeping beaches, sparkling water and green peaks. If you make the trip up in the late afternoon you can watch Rio as the light disappears and the fairy show of night lights begins. Looking west you’ll have an incredible view of Corcovado with the statue of Christ the Redeemer all lit up. At the summit there are some clearly marked wooded trails where you can view some wildlife and get away from the crowds. The crowds are densest mid-morning and mid-afternoon when the tourist buses arrive.
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Estancia Harberton
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Overlooking the icy waters of the Beagle Channel, Estancia Harberton offers a glimpse into the history and wildlife of Argentina’s far-flung Tierra del Fuego. The oldest estancia (farm) in this part of the world, the still-working property dates back to 1887 and was established by English missionary Thomas Bridges. Bridges founded the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia in 1870.

Today, the estancia remains in the hands of Bridges’ descendants, and it was declared an Argentine National Historical Monument in 1999. A visit reveals the original buildings of wood and corrugated iron, and terraced gardens. The sheep have long gone but the cattle remain. While you’re here you can also walk amongst a penguin colony at the estancia’s Yecapasela Reserve.

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More Things to Do in Central & South America

Acatushun Museum

Acatushun Museum

3 Tours and Activities
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Tamarindo Beach

Tamarindo Beach

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Argentino Lake (Lago Argentino)

Argentino Lake (Lago Argentino)

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If you’re visiting El Calafate, there’s no way to miss the vast Lago Argentino. The city sits on the shore of this massive lake, the largest freshwater source in Argentina. It covers 566 square miles and is a result of glacial meltwater, which causes its milky blue color. The lake is part of Argentina’s Glacier National Park and is home to one of the area’s only advancing glaciers, Perito Moreno, which calves into Lago Argentino.

But Perito Moreno is not the only thing to see at Lago Argentino, and many visitors choose a full day of sightseeing on the lake, starting from El Calafate. Visits up the north arm to Upsala usually give visitors a chance to see calving glaciers up close, and the Spegazzini Glacier is the tallest one in the area, at almost 450 feet. Most visits also include the Onelli Glacier, and visitors are sometimes allowed to disembark along the shores and hike among native beech forest and red-blooming firebush.

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Beagle Channel

Beagle Channel

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The frigid Beagle Channel provides a watery highway for the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia, en route to the icy Antarctic. The strait separates Argentina’s Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, to the north, from remote Chilean islands like Nueva, Picton and Navarino to the south of the channel. Boat cruises cast off from Ushuaia to visit the lighthouse and islands that are home to penguin and sea lion colonies in the strait. In summer, boats sail across the Channel to Puerto Williams in Chile. Intrepid visitors take to the waters in canoes, and cruises sail off for nature walks on the Bridges Islands to spot fur seals and sea lions.
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Cusco Historic Center (Centro Historico de Cusco)

Cusco Historic Center (Centro Historico de Cusco)

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When it comes to history, few cities in South America are more historic than Cusco. This sprawling city was once the capital of the entire Inca Empire, and many will tell you that ancient Cusco was the grandest city in Peru. Even the name “Cusco” translates as “Navel of the Earth” since the Inca believed the city to be the center of the known world. It pulses with an energy unlike elsewhere in Peru, and there is a palpable magic which permeates these streets set high in the foothills of the Andes.

During the 16th Century, when Spanish conquistadors came marching into Cusco, they kept the structure of the city intact but destroyed many of the buildings. Colonial cathedrals and Spanish architecture took the place of Inca temples, and the city became an Andean fusion of Spanish and Inca design. Given the cultural combination and the grandiose scale of the city, UNESCO declared Cusco as a World Heritage Site in 1983.

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Mercado Central de San Pedro

Mercado Central de San Pedro

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There is a certain irony that one of the best sites in Cusco really isn’t a site at all. Rather, the Mercado Central de San Pedro (San Pedro Market) is simply the place in the center of Cusco where most of the locals go for their groceries.

The difference, however, is that grocery shopping in Cusco is a little bit different than shopping at the local market back back home. At the Mercado Central de San Pedro, all of the items are on vibrant display and are fascinatingly set right out in the open. You can wander the stalls past towers of fruit and be greeted by a pig’s head on the very next corner. You can shop for a dozen varieties of potatoes and then watch someone purchase a bag of fried guinea pigs. It’s an authentic look at everyday culture which lies outside the circuit of regular sights. There is also a food court that serves local dishes at a fraction of the cost of most local restaurants.

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Rocinha

Rocinha

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A city within a city, Rocinha is Rio de Janeiro’s largest and most densely populated urban slum, or favela. Pouring down a hillside in the city’s South Zone, Rocinha is home to an estimated 180,000 residents, all crammed into its colorful maze of cement buildings and makeshift shanties.

In the past Rocinha has been difficult and often dangerous to navigate for outsiders, but nowadays local guides lead tours into this fascinating community, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of daily life while experiencing the diversity and warmth of its residents.

While the thought of touring a favela makes some visitors uneasy, many residents of these neighborhoods have expressed pride in the fact that outsiders come to see their neighborhood — that Rocinha is just as much a part of Rio as is Copacabana or Ipanema.

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Tipon

Tipon

56 Tours and Activities

When you hear “Inca ruins” you probably think Machu Picchu, and while the famous 15th century site deserves its bucket list status, Peru is home to other travel-worthy ruins as well. One of them, arguably the best demonstration of the incredible engineering skills of the Incas, is Tipón.

The 500-acre site, located near a natural spring 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Cusco, comprises a network of agricultural terraces so elaborate that archeologists think they may have been used for testing difficult crops rather than for everyday farming. Some of the terraces are still in use and still supplied by the same ancient technology. Since the site was part of an Incan noble’s estate, the elaborate stonemasonry exhibits the same stunning Imperial style as the structures seen at Machu Picchu, but with far fewer visitors to contend with.

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La Leona Petrified Forest

La Leona Petrified Forest

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Before Patagonia was peppered with glaciers and jagged, snow-capped peaks, it was a vast plain of lush forests where dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Granted, that was 100 million years ago, and Patagonia today is vastly different from those early days of its founding. At La Leona Petrified Forest, however, visitors have the chance to literally walk through prehistoric Patagonia. This 2,000-acre depression in the Earth is amazingly frozen in time, where massive trees and dinosaur bones still lie on the dusty Earth. There’s an enveloping silence in the desert plains, and only the wind and crunch of your boots seem to break the eerie silence. Nearby, at La Leona Hotel, even more mystique is added to the visit by viewing a place where legendary outlaws hid to escape the law. The towering peak of Mt. Fitzroy can often be seen in the distance, and from walking past fossilized dinosaur dung to hiking in a lunar landscape, this easy daytrip from El Calafate can seem like another world.

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Plaza Botero

Plaza Botero

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You’ll see his art everywhere around Colombia: large women, round-faced children and wide-eyed animals. It’s the life work of Fernando Botero, the beloved Colombian artist famous in his home country and around the world.

A visit to Medellin, where Botero was born, provides the chance to see these works in larger-than-life surroundings. The appropriately named Botero Plaza, opened in 2002, is an outdoor park that forms an important cultural space in the city. It’s also close to other important museums, like the Museum of Antioquia with art from all over Latin America, and the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture, where exhibitions and concerts are held.

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Metrocable

Metrocable

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The beautiful city of Medellin has an efficient metro system that runs north-south along the valley, but for many years the neighborhoods in the surrounding mountains found it difficult to get to the public transportation routes. It was difficult for buses to get up the steep roads leading up to the barrios in the hills, and it would take residents hours to get down to city to work or study. These transportation difficulties increased social problems in these communities.

But in 2004 a new, ingenuous new cable car system came into use. It is part of the public transportation service from the neighborhoods in the mountains surrounding the city to the metro system in the valley.

This cable car carries tens of thousands of passengers each day in a system that has changed the lives of those who live in these neighborhoods, giving them access to work and study opportunities they didn’t have before. The trip to the city that once took hours now takes just 15 minutes.

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Miraflores

Miraflores

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The swanky beachfront suburb of Miraflores is one of Lima’s most sought-after zip codes.

Miraflores is where you’ll find Lima’s best restaurants, shops and hotels, plus the waterfront mansions and high-rise towers of the city’s movers and shakers. It’s also home to lovely parks and gardens, beaches and promenades.

Some ancient history remains in Miraflores, including the Huaca Pucllana, the remains of a pre-Inca mud-brick temple.

Paragliders come to Miraflores to leap off the area’s rocky cliffs over the sea. The beaches are popular, but the coast tends to be rocky rather than sandy and the better beaches lie further south.

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Leblon Beach (Praia do Leblon)

Leblon Beach (Praia do Leblon)

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Fronting one of Rio’s wealthiest and most exclusive neighborhoods, Leblon Beach is a slightly quieter alternative to its neighbor Ipanema. Separated from Ipanema by a canal, the beach is popular with families with young children, as it offers a play area equipped with beach toys and playground equipment, collectively called Baixo Baby.

While calmer and less crowded than Copacabana and even Ipanema, the sandy stretch still offers beautiful views of the mountains, a string of beach bars serving caiparinhas and all the usual amenities, like chairs, umbrellas, showers and food stalls. While it’s also one of Rio’s safest and cleanest beaches, it’s still a good idea to leave valuables at the hotel and keep an eye on your belongings.

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Barra da Tijuca

Barra da Tijuca

47 Tours and Activities

Barra da Tijuca, often referred to simply as Barra, is one of Rio’s newest neighborhoods — evident by its mega malls and glass-towered condominiums. As one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, it’s also among the safest. Brazilians often refer to the neighborhood as the Brazilian Miami for its wide, palm-lined roads and upscale shopping.

What brings visitors to Barra is the 10-mile (17-kilometer) long stretch of beach fronting the neighborhood. It’s the largest stretch of beach in a city famous for them and a popular place for surfing, kite surfing and body boarding. It’s also a shopping hotspot in the city, thanks to the BarraShopping and its 700 stores and restaurants and about a dozen other shopping malls.

Barra da Tijuca will host several of the venues for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

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