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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Central & South America

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Panama Canal
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69 Tours and Activities

The first ships sailed through the Panama Canal in 1914, shaving nearly 9,000 miles off what was otherwise a very long sailing trip around South America. The engineering marvel transformed global trade, and today, 100 years after it was first installed, the canal has once again been expanded with new locks and widened existing ones, modernizing Panama Canal transit by allowing larger ships to pass from Panama City on the Pacific Ocean side to Colon on the Atlantic Ocean side.

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Guatapé (Pueblo de Zócalos)
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85 Tours and Activities

On the shores of the Guatapé Dam and surrounded by lush islands, the 19th-century town of Guatapé is one of Colombia’s most photographed sites. It’s not hard to see why—the town’s brightly painted buildings and serene natural setting make for some stunning shots.

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Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
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The 16 hanging bridges that line the paths of Costa Rica’s Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park stretch a total of 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers) across the steep landscape. See the birds, monkeys, sloths, snakes, and frogs that call the forest canopy home by ascending these spans, suspended above gorges and stretched across jungle floors.

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Machu Picchu
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The lost city of Machu Picchu is the most famous archaeological site in Peru and, arguably, all of South America. The UNESCO World Heritage–listed collection of temples, terraced hills, and plazas was once the mountaintop citadel of the ancient Inca empire. It may now be world famous, but Machu Picchu still hasn't revealed the mysteries behind its construction, function, and eventual demise.

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Pacaya Volcano
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23 Tours and Activities

This 8,373-foot (2,552-meter) smoking peak is one of Guatemala’s most accessible active volcanoes. Its upper reaches feature lava formations formed by recent flows, as well as vents that puff up steaming hot air, while its summit affords spectacular views of nearby volcanoes including Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego.

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San Felipe de Barajas Castle (Castillo San Felipe de Barajas)
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Some historians say that if it weren’t for San Felipe de Barajas Castle (Castillo San Felipe de Barajas), South America would now speak English. The 14th-century fortress protected the coastal city of Cartagena from English invasion, allowing the Spanish to maintain their rule. Besides the role it plays in Colombia’s history, the castle attracts visitors with its panoramic harbor views.

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Jaco Beach
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21 Tours and Activities

Jaco is a lively beach town known for its water sports and party atmosphere. Located on some of Costa Rica’s most developed coastline, within two hours of the capital, it’s a favorite escape for San José residents, as well as backpackers, snowbirds, and North American retirees.

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La Fortuna Waterfall
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La Fortuna Waterfall cascades 200 feet (61 meters) down the sheer cliff face of Cerro Chato, the Arenal Volcano’s dormant and thickly forested twin. One of the most impressive and accessible waterfalls in Costa Rica, La Fortuna is a great place to picnic, swim, and photograph the waterfall’s perpetual mists and nearby exotic vegetation.

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Monkey Island
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Panama’s Monkey Island on Lake Gatun is home to four monkey species—mantled howler, white-faced capuchin, Geoffroy’s tamarin, and lemurine owl monkeys)—as well as crocodiles, toucans, sloths, iguanas, and numerous exotic birds. Riverboat tours to the island offer visitors the chance to observe the monkeys and other wildlife.

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Plaza de Bolivar
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92 Tours and Activities

Bogotá’s main square is built on a grand scale, from a landmark statue of Simón Bolívar to the 16th-century La Catedral Primada. In between is a colorful crowd of vendors, travelers, and downtown workers. A starting point for exploring the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, the Plaza de Bolivar is a key stop for visitors to Bogotá.

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More Things to Do in Central & South America

Old Town Cartagena

Old Town Cartagena

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80 Tours and Activities

With brightly-colored buildings, colonial landmarks, and bougainvillea-covered balconies, Old Town Cartagena is known for its beauty and its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Highlights include the leafy Plaza de Bolivar, the striking Clock Tower (Torre del Reloj), and the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro).

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La Boca

La Boca

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92 Tours and Activities

Few places in Buenos Aires are photographed as frequently as Caminito Street. The main artery of the waterfront La Boca neighborhood is a jumble of old buildings, brightly painted facades, and street-side market stalls, with hawkers, buskers, and tango dancers adding to the atmosphere.

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Amazon River

Amazon River

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33 Tours and Activities

The mighty Amazon River and its enormous, thickly forested basin are the heart of South America and the guardian of 20 percent of the Earth’s fresh water. Visitors from around the globe come to Iquitos to cruise the river’s storied waters and catch a glimpse of diverse fauna both above and below the surface.

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Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)

Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)

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9 Tours and Activities

A postcard-perfect paradise of white-sand beaches, swaying coconut palms, and sapphire-blue water rife with marine life, Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga) is an ideal spot to swim, snorkel, or bask in the sunshine. The island is only accessible from Costa Rica’s main cities via a scenic boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya—an extra perk for your vacation.

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Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

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97 Tours and Activities

Panama City's oldest and hippest neighborhood comprises a Tejas-tiled cluster of pastel colonial buildings at the tip of a heavily fortified peninsula. These ramparts successfully protected the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific Coast; today they make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with plazas, churches, and narrow streets.

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Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

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Around 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) south of the shores of Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the most-visited snorkeling and diving area in Belize. Part of the Belize Barrier Reef, the reserve covers about 3 square miles (7.7 square kilometers) and is divided into zones according to marine habitat.

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Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines

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70 Tours and Activities

The enigmatic Nazca Lines (or Nasca Lines) are second only to Machu Picchu as the most famous archaeological site in Peru. The mysterious geoglyphs at the UNESCO World Heritage Site range from geometric shapes and swirls to a hummingbird and monkey. Theories on their purpose include astronomical markers, irrigation canals, and alien messages—an enigma that has spurred intrigue since their 1927 discovery. The spectacular etchings likely date from 500 BC and 500 AD.

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Mt. Monserrate (Cerro de Monserrate)

Mt. Monserrate (Cerro de Monserrate)

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Towering 10,341 feet (3,152 meters) tall at the edge of Bogotá, forested Mt. Monserrate (Cerro de Monserrate) can be spotted from across the city. Set like a pearl on the summit is the Monserrate Sanctuary, a 17th-century church whose shrine is a major pilgrimage place for Colombian Catholics.

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Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar)

Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar)

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It’s easy to see why Rio de Janeiro was nicknamed the “Marvelous City” when you’re gazing down at it from the heights of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar). From its soaring 1,300-foot (396-meter) summit, the city unfolds around you, with views of the iconic Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, the Tijuca Forest, and the Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue standing tall atop Corcovado Mountain to the west.

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Tierra del Fuego National Park

Tierra del Fuego National Park

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When travelers make their way to the far southern reaches of Argentina, chances are they’re heading into Tierra del Fuego National Park. The country’s only coastal national park protects the Andean-Patagonian forest, a land of peat bogs, beech forests, glistening lakes, remote beaches, and snow-capped peaks ideal for outdoor adventures.

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Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

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Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfalls system in the world, are truly awe-inspiring to behold, spanning the border between Brazil and Argentina. Though Brazil boasts better views of the falls, Argentina is blessed with about 80 percent of this natural marvel’s 275 separate cascades. Paved trails and catwalks wind their way around the falls—sometimes reaching within an arm’s length of the water—and a free train connects the main trailheads.

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West Bay Beach

West Bay Beach

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With a coconut palm-lined stretch of white sand and a colorful coral reef just offshore, West Bay is one of the most popular beaches on Roatan and among the prettiest in all of Honduras. The area around the beach offers a wide range of accommodations as well as restaurants, cocktail bars, and shops.

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Selarón Steps (Escadaria Selarón)

Selarón Steps (Escadaria Selarón)

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Decorated with more than 2,000 brightly colored tiles in the colors of the Brazilian flag, the Selarón Steps (Escadaria Selarón) is one of Rio de Janeiro's most vibrant and striking landmarks, marking the boundary between the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods.

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San Telmo

San Telmo

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The central barrio of San Telmo is one of Buenos Aires’ tango haunts. Formerly an upmarket residential area, the area’s “old mansions and faded glory” vibe set the perfect scene for the artists and musicians who now call this enclave home. The streets here are picturesquely cobbled, and the fascinating little shops are well worth a browse.

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