Quito’s unmissable historic center, or ‘Old Town,' extends over 320 hectares (790 acres) and is the largest historic center in the Americas.
Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, Quito has taken great pride in restoring its colonial buildings and sprucing up its public spaces to ensure that both locals and visitors continue to breath life into the old town.
Life is certainly not lacking in Quito Old Town. The streets and plazas constantly buzz with colorful locals and vendors selling everything from roasted peanuts to giant roasted pigs,. Tourists drink it all in as they shuffle between the overwhelming number of restored churches and chapels, convents and monasteries, mansions and museums.
And of course, there are plenty of bars and restaurants and shady plazas to rest in when sightseeing fatigue kicks in.
Porteños often boast about Avenida 9 De Julio as the world’s widest boulevard, and with a width of 460 feet (140 meters) with 12 lanes of traffic, they might just be right. Construction on the avenue began in 1937, modeled after the Champs Elysees but twice as wide, and built to commemorate Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816. It wasn’t fully completed until 1980.
Neo-classical and Beaux Arts buildings line the monumental street, but it’s most recognizable feature is the iconic Obelisco that towers over a small park at the intersection of Avenida 9 De Julio and Avenida Corrientes.
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares protects Argentina’s wild Patagonian expanses of icy glaciers and mountain lakes. With a massive 47 glaciers, the Andean ice cap is the largest expanse of ice outside Antarctica and Greenland.
Created by millennia of ice flows from the Andean snowfields, the ice feeds huge Lake Argentino, Lake Viedma and the Rio Santa Cruz. The national park’s most famous glacier is the Perito Moreno Glacier, safely viewed via lookout platforms and renowned for its dynamic movement and dramatic ice falls.
Climbers target Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, and fly-fishers praise the trout fishing on Lake Argentino. Wildlife spotters might see condor, guanaco and pumas in the park.
El Calafate is the national park’s main hub, the base for sailing cruises to spot icebergs on the lakes, hiking expeditions and mountain climbing.
Located four miles south from 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 approximately three square miles and is divided into various zones according to marine habitat. The most popular zone is called Hol Chan or “small channel” in Maya -- a 30-foot deep “cut” in the reef where all sorts of marine life have now gathered in one area, making it one giant aquarium. The channel has beautiful live corals and an abundant variety of fish that includes angelfish, turtles, nurse sharks, hog fish, snappers and many other species.
The second most popular zone of the reserve is Shark Ray Alley, a shallower area where nurse sharks and stingrays are plentiful. Grass beds and mangrove areas make up the other zones of the reserve and require a more personalized expert guide -- and while less visited.
Buenos Aires’ largest barrio, the northern district of Palermo encompasses a number of city hotspots, favored by the city’s most cosmopolitan and fashionable residents. The ever-trendy Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood make up the old quarter of Palermo Viejo where grand residential buildings jostle for space with quirky boutiques and some of the city’s finest bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Palermo is also renowned for its parks and there are plenty of idyllic green spaces to choose from. The tree-lined Bosques of Palermo is a hugely popular picnic spot centered around a glistening lake and the family-friendly Zoological Gardens are surrounded by the lush Botanical gardens, Japanese gardens, the Evita Museum and the Galileo Galilei planetarium. Close by, the Palermo Hippodrome is situated next door to the legendary Campo de Polo sports ground, and the iconic Floralis Genérica art installation stands proud over the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas.
While it may seem odd that one of Buenos Aires’ principal tourist attractions is a cemetery, the Recoleta Cemetery is no ordinary graveyard. Encircled by a towering perimeter wall and entered via a striking columned portico, Recoleta Cemetery is one of the world’s most exquisite necropolises; a glorious ‘City of the Dead’ that houses some of the country’s most prominent political, military and artistic icons.
Over 6,400 tombs are found in the Cemetery, laid out in formal tree-lined avenues and punctuated with beautifully sculpted monuments, poignant marble statutes and grand, bronze-cast mausoleums. Notable burial plots include the vivid white stone tomb of newspaper founder José C. Paz, flanked by a pair of dazzling Rubenesque angels; the ostentatious tomb of former Argentine president Carlos Pellegrini, featuring an elaborate statue of the controversial leader atop the coffin; and the evocative statues of crying widows kneeling beside the tomb of Colonel Falcon.
With its stretch of white sand fringed with Tahitian coconut palms, a backdrop of grassy hills and ocean waters that rarely dip below 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) even in the winter months, few places come as close to paradise as Anakena Beach. One of only three beaches on Easter Island, Anakena also plays an important part in the history of the island. It was here that King Ariki Hotu Matu’a first landed on Easter Island and later, the beach became a spiritual center for the Miru tribe–the remnants of which can be seen in the seven beautifully restored moai of Ahu Nau Nau and the single moai of Ahu Ature Huki that overlook the beach.
Aside from its striking setting and dramatically situated moai, the main draw to Anakena Beach is, of course, the ocean and the warm, clear waters make the ideal spot for swimming, surfing and snorkeling.
The eye-catching salmon-pink façade of Argentina’s presidential palace is one of the capital’s most iconic sights, standing proud over the city’s historic Plaza de Mayo public square. The aptly named Casa Rosada, or the ‘Pink House’, is the secondary mansion and office of the Argentine President, housing the government offices and providing the striking backdrop to Buenos Aires’ often-turbulent political history.
Erected in 1862, the Renaissance-style palace was initially to be painted white and theories abound as to hoe it got its rosy makeover, from ox blood being mixed into the paint to the then-President blending the red and white colors of opposing political rallyists. Designated a National Historic Monument of Argentina, the pink palace is perhaps most legendary for its lower balcony, from which the beloved Evita rallied the working class crowds back in 1949 – a moment that was famously recreated by Madonna in the 1996 movie Evita.
Located on the already shopping-centric Florida Street in Buenos Aires, Galerias Pacifico is one of the city’s most historic shopping centers. The Beaux Arts building — it was inspired by the Gallerias Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan — was built during the 1890s as the Argentine headquarters of Le Bon Marche, a Parisian department store. Soon other businesses began renting other parts of the building, including offices of the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway, which lent the building its name.
A range of midrange and upscale international brands now make their home within Galerias Pacifico, including Adidas, Chanel, Swarovski and Tommy Hilfiger. But what sets it apart from similar malls in the capital is the architecture of the building itself. Of particular note are the huge murals painted across the interior dome of the mall, commissioned in 1947 and painted by Argentina’s best artists of the time.
Cusco’s Cathedral of Santo Domingo is a colonial gem, boasting an altar of silver and a magnificently carved choir. The building stands on the site of an Inca palace, and was built from stone blocks removed from the nearby Inca city of Sacsayhuaman by the triumphant conquistadors.
The elaborately decorated cathedral was built from 1559 to 1654 on the city’s main square, Plaza de Armas, and is filled with colonial artworks, artifacts and richly decorated chapels. The most famous artwork is a Last Supper painting by Marcos Zapata featuring a meal of local guinea pig served with an Inca corn beverage. The highly ornamental facade features two domes flanking the chapels and nave, built in a Gothic-Renaissance hybrid style.
The Inca site of Qorikancha forms the foundations of the colonial church of Santo Domingo, creating an unusual combination of monolithic Inca and arched colonial architecture.
Qorikancha means ‘Golden Courtyard’, and in Inca times the temple walls were clad with 700 sheets of solid gold, proving a tempting lure for the conquistadors. The gold sheets and gold and silver statues are gone, melted down and recast by the Spanish, but the impressively hewn curved wall of basalt stonework remains. The temple complex is thought to have been built by the first Inca emperor, Manco Capac, 100 years before the coming of the Spaniards. It was built as an observatory and religious temple to the sun, housing the mummified bodies of the Inca rulers. When you enter the courtyard, imagine the octagonal front clad with solid gold, flanked by temples to the moon and the stars draped in solid silver.
You might want to start your exploration at tiny Plazuela Del Chorro Del Quevedo, where this city was supposedly founded in 1537, by Spanish Conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. (Of course it is much, much older; Jimenez merely renamed the ancient indigenous town of Bacata “Bogota.”) However, this plaza—now the epicenter of Bogota’s hipster scene, with plenty of tattoos, Chucks, handmade jewelry and fire dancers—doesn’t really get going until dusk. Be sure to stop into one of the cool little cafes for the Candelaria’s signature beverage, a traditional Andean canelazo, made with sugarcane liquor, cinnamon and panela sugar, served steaming hot for the chill altitude.
But begin instead at sprawling Plaza Bolivar, surrounded by picturesque streets lined with more tejas-topped adobes, interspersed with the city’s finest museums, coolest casas cultural, and most ornate churches.
The absolutely adorable Spanish pueblito (“little town”) of Paisa, founded in 1978, crowns 80m (262ft) Cerro Nutibara, a natural landmark named for legendary Cacique (Chief) Nuibara. It would worth climbing just for the views. Today it is home to a perfect central plaza, surrounded by colonial adobes rescued from an actual Spanish outpost since flooded by the Penol-Guatape Hydroelectric Project. The beautifully restored buildings, complete with flower-draped wooden balconies and ceramic tejas tiles, is centered on the single cutest Catholic chapel you’ve ever seen.
While originally designed to depict businesses you’d find in a typical rural community—pharmacy, tobacconist, barber—as well as a school and city hall, have been largely replaced with souvenir shops, and the place is populated by a surprising number of mimes and living statues, especially on weekends.
Mists permitting, you’ll be able to see the gleaming white Basílica del Señor de Monserrate high above the city, beckoning from the thickly forested mountains that form Bogota’s spectacular backdrop. Originally built as a monastery in 1657, it is no wonder that this glorious spot has been a site of pilgrimage ever since.
The original stone path marked by statues depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross still leads from the colonial Candelaria district up to the sanctuary. It is a steep climb to a chilly 3152m (10,339ft) still used by pilgrims (and exercise buffs), particularly on weekends and religious holidays. Most tourists take advantage of either the funicular, a steeply pitched train, or teleferico, a cable car system, which both make the trip inexpensively throughout the day. If you do choose to walk, note that there have been muggings, so it might not be the best choice if you’re alone with an expensive camera.
Located in the neighborhood of San Nicolas near the center of Buenos Aires, the Catedral Metrepolitana has a history that’s nearly as long as winding as the capital city itself. The land for the cathedral was set aside beginning in 1580, although over the next two centuries the building would collapse at least a half dozen times. Constant construction and reconstruction seemed to plague the central cathedral, and it wasn’t until the middle of the 1820s that French architects were brought in to design a solid cathedral. When visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral today, you’ll find the cathedral is pieced together by segments of its various eras—a historical tour within itself that tells the city’s story. Structurally, the cathedral involves elements of Spanish design as well as Greek revival, in addition to a mosaic tile floor in classically Venetian style.
The Inca Trail might be the most popular trek in the Peruvian Andes near Cusco, but an arguably equally impressive (and certainly less crowded) trail leads visitors to Ausangate. Nevado Ausangate, the highest mountain in southern Peru, peaks at 20,945 feet (6,384 meters) above sea level. On a clear day, the snow-topped peak can be seen from Cusco.
The Ausangate Trail, named after the peak, takes five to six days, plus travel time to and from Cusco from the trail head. The trail begins in the brown grasslands of the Andean plateau and crosses four high-altitude passes, covering some of the most stunning terrain in the Cusco region. The trail, much of it at altitudes of more than 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) passes high alpine lakes, glacial valleys and small villages where alpacas graze freely and residents still dress in their traditional attire.
Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge, is a footbridge in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. It was designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and modeled after very similar bridges spanning the rivers in Seville, Spain and Redding, California. The prominent feature that all three bridges share is the big steel needle jutting at a sharp angle into the sky. The needle functions as an anchor for the suspension cables and holds up the entire span. According to the creator, the whole structure is supposed to show a couple dancing the tango, with the needle representing the man and the curved body of the bridge embodying the woman being lowered to the ground. Additionally, many of the streets in this Buenos Aires district have women’s names, a fact that Calatrava wanted to honor when he named Puente de la Mujer.
An interesting function of the bridge is its rotating feature to let water traffic pass through.
Located in Rio’s central financial district, Cinelandia is the common name for an attractive Parisian-style square officially named Praça Floriano Peixoto. During the early years of the twentieth century, Rio’s city center was remodeled to make the city more trendy and livable. An eighteenth century convent was torn down to make way for the public plaza, and by the mid twentieth century, Cinelandia was home to a municipal theater, national library and school of fine arts.
In the location of the former convent, several buildings went up that housed some of Rio’s best cinemas, lending the area its modern nickname of Cinelandia, or Cinema Land. While most of the theaters have since closed, the area remains a vibrant district thanks to its cultural attractions and diverse dining options.
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.
While the official name of Flamengo Park is Parque Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, Rio residents know it only as Aterro—a name that translates as “landfill.” Lest you think this beautiful park is built on a festering trash heap, the name is derived from land that was used to fill a portion of the bay. Today, that fill is home to the largest park in Rio de Janeiro, encompassing nearly 300 acres of outdoor urban green space. This is where Rio comes to play as well as work up a sweat. Morning joggers and walkers line the park’s promenade at sunrise, and the action continues throughout the day with soccer, basketball, tennis, and volleyball on the park’s modern facilities. This is also home to the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Modern Art, as well as a sculpture that honors the soldiers who died in WWII. Visit on a weekend and you might find marathoners finishing a race at the park, or cyclists preparing for a long ride through the city’s Zona Sul.