COOLEST PLACES OFF THE BEATEN PATH
COOLEST PLACES OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN SOUTH AMERICA
Whether you’ve visited South America previously or not, you’re probably familiar with the “Gringo Trail”.
This is the term referring to the route that most tourists and backpackers take while in South America.
It includes sights like Machu Picchu, the Bolivia Salt Flats, and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Yet, while South America has these incredible sights you undoubtedly want to see, there are plenty more off the beaten path destinations that you must add to your itinerary.
Seeking the best places to see in South America off the beaten path?
We’ve compiled the four top locations that you can’t miss.
Let’s get started.
Rainbow Mountain Near Cusco, Peru
Starting off, we’ve got Rainbow Mountain located near Cusco.
It’s also known as Vinicunca, Winikunka, Montaña de Siete Colores, and Montaña de Colores if you encounter different names while researching.
Rainbow Mountain – as its name suggests – is a multi-colored mountain that has only become a popular attraction since 2015.
In fact, it’s on its way to becoming the second most visited attraction in Peru after Machu Picchu.
Get there before it becomes common knowledge.
For centuries, Rainbow Mountain’s colorful stripes of red, yellow, and orange had been hidden under layers of Andean snow and ice.
The snow and ice then melted away (likely due to climate change) to reveal the stunning masterpiece.
The first guided tours to Rainbow Mountain began in January 2016.
The best way to get there is with a tour from Cusco, which involves an early morning bus ride (pick up as early as 4 a.m.!).
It’s a roughly 3.5 to 4-hour drive to the Rainbow Mountain car park along with a 30 to 45-minute breakfast stop depending on the tour.
From there, you’ll walk along the hiking trail to the viewpoint which takes roughly 1.5 to 2 hours.
After a stop at the viewpoint, the hiking trail will take about 1 hour to walk back down.
Then there’s a 1.5-hour drive until there’s a stop for lunch, and finally, you head back to Cusco.
If you’re a planner, keep in mind that this probably isn’t a tour you want to book ahead of time.
Trusted tour providers like GetYourGuide and Viator typically charge between $40 to $100 to book a tour in advance.
However, you can find local tours in Cusco that charge only $15 to $18.
This is quite the difference, and as long as you’re getting meals and transportation included (as well as going with a guide recommended by a friend or an accommodation) then it doesn’t make sense to pay five times as much just to book in advance.
If you’re not a big tour person and you happen to have a rental car, it is possible to do Rainbow Mountain independently.
However, if you do not have a car, then it’s worth noting that the transportation connections are few and unreliable along the way.
Book a tour so you know you’ll make it there.
One other note, if you have flexibility when selecting the day you’ll visit Rainbow Mountain, check the weather forecast before you go.
The mountain doesn’t look as stunning on grey and wet days.
If you don’t want to waste a bunch of time driving for a disappointing view, then it’s best to go when it isn’t rainy season (November to April).
This isn’t a hard or fast rule – just something to keep in mind!
Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil
This attraction in Brazil qualifies as off the beaten path South America because of the sheer size of this national park.
For those who are looking for a place you can spend days exploring, you’ve found it.
Chapada Diamantina National Park is located in the state of Bahia, Brazil.
The terrain is rugged and covered by the flora of the Caatinga biome.
There’s no shortage of valleys, mountain plateaus, and enchanting caves for you to experience.
Here’s what you should know about a trip to Chapada Diamantina National Park:
- Get a guide. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore in this national park, but they’re unmarked or unclear. Having an experienced guide with you can help you avoid getting lost without cell service. This is recommended even if you speak the local language (Portuguese) or are an avid, experienced hiker. If you’re planning an overnight trek, this is doubly important. Your guide can find you suitable campsites or arrange homestays with locals if you’re not up for camping. Your accommodation (hotel or hostel) can help connect you with a reputable guide if you’re having trouble finding one.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. In much of South America, negotiating is the norm. A private guide is often more affordable than an agency, because there’s no commission fee. You can negotiate prices as long as you’re respectful and firm while doing it.
- Understand the size. Chapada Diamantina National Park is larger than some European countries. For an off the beaten path South America destination, you’ll need to take in the vastness before visiting so you can properly plan your itinerary. This often isn’t the best venture to undertake as a single traveler. Going with friends or taking advantage of a group tour can help to offset the costs associated with this national park. And even then, know you won’t see everything. With the largest number of caves and waterfalls in all of Brazil, it can be an intimidating sight to try and see. Go into the experience knowing you probably won’t see it all and that’s okay.
The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador
When you hear the “Galapagos Islands”, you probably think of the massive turtles the islands are known for.
These islands are located roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and have remained an off the beaten path South American destination for millions of years.
Its most famous early visitor was Charles Darwin who spent 19 days studying its unique flora and fauna.
In 1978, the Galapagos became a UNESCO World Heritage site and more than 275,000 people visit the islands as an off the beaten path South American spot each year.
This location is perfect for anyone who loves animals and plants and wants to explore them on an exciting vacation.
You’ll need to ask yourself a few questions before heading to the Galapagos…
- Do you want to stay on one of the three inhabited islands and explore by boat? Or do you want to explore by live-aboard boat (your accommodation) and travel from island to island on that boat?
- How much are you willing to spend? While land-based experiences tend to be less expensive, they also require more time and limit the access you to have to certain islands. Thus, you need to understand the time you’re working with and the budget you have on hand.
Find out more official information on the Galapagos Islands here.
Bahía Solano, Colombia
Bahía Solano is an off the beaten path South America attraction in Colombia.
It’s considered up-and-coming, which means tourism hasn’t yet hit this destination, and you can feel confident that you’re picking a destination that’s still unknown to much of the traveling population.
Follow the steps below to plan your perfect trip to off the beaten path South America.
- Pick an area in Bahía Solano. While you can visit multiple locations, keep in mind that it is time-consuming, expensive, and hot to move around, so you’ll want to limit that movement as much as possible. Here are some ideas on spots to visit:
- Playa Huina
- Playa Mecana
- Bahía Solano Town
- Playa El Almejal
- El Valle
- Playa Cuevita
- Utría National Park
- Understand the accommodation style available. While Bahía Solano can accommodate for budget, non-budget, Spanish speaking, and non-Spanish speaking travelers alike, it’s not known for super high-end accommodations with high-speed internet, fancy cocktails, and fluent English-speaking staff. Come here if you’re ready for an off the beaten path South America adventure.
- Book your flights. To get to Bahía Solano, you’ll need to take a quick flight on either ADA, Satena, or San Germán. It’s only about 40 minutes before you arrive! You can also take a boat that leaves from Nuquí and arrives at El Valle every Monday and Friday at 6 AM and return around 11 AM.
Unique Things to Do in South America
Now that you know more about the places to see in South America, it’s time to talk about some of the more unique things you can do and experience while you are there.
Below is a list we have compiled of some of the unique things you can do in gorgeous South America:
Chase Waterfalls – South America is home to some of the most stunning, and famous waterfalls globally. While you are visiting, you have to scale a waterfall. This is an experience unlike anything you will live through anywhere else. Not only will you capture some gorgeous pictures as you climb and explore, but you will also have an adventurous story to tell when you get home.
Explore Ancient Ruins – Some of the most unusual and unique things to do in South America is to explore some of the ancient Incan ruins. The Inca Empire was known as the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. Their civilization emerged in the early 13th century, and their ruins remain to this day. You don’t have to be a history buff to truly appreciate how monumental it is to be able to explore the ruins and view what the Incan Empire left behind.
Go for an Amazon Tour – Not many people can say they’ve been able to explore the Amazon. If you’re traveling to South America, a rainforest tour is something you have to add to your itinerary. The Amazon Rainforest covers most of Brazil, extending into Colombia, and it is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. There is no question that one of the most incredible places to see in South America is the Amazon Rainforest. You can select a variety of different guided tours, from foot hikes to boat tours. Whichever trip you select, you will be among a small group of people who can say they have done something as unique as exploring the Amazon. Talk about bragging rights with friends!
Hike Around Patagonia – For many, Patagonia is only known for being a famous outdoor apparel brand. If you’re traveling South America, you’re going to want to make Patagonia a stop along your journey. This is arguably one of the most unique places in South America. It is a region that spreads across South America’s southernmost tip shared by Chile and Argentina, divided by the Andes Mountains. What makes Patagonia so unique? On one side of the region, you can hike and explore deserts and grasslands, while the other side features glaciers and temperate rainforests. With so many exciting hiking options to choose from, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience as you explore all that the Patagonia region has to offer.
Go for a Daring Volcano Tour – One of the best places to visit in South America is the Sierra Negra Volcano, located on Isabela Island. You will have the opportunity to explore one of the most active Galapagos volcanoes. There are hiking day trips to the volcano available to tourists for a small fee. How many people do you know can say that they hiked to a volcano? This is undoubtedly one of the most unique places in South America!
As with any of the South American destinations and excursions, it is important to do your research and find the right information or tour guide available.
South America has some of the best destinations for those looking for unheard of or unseen spots.
It’s always nice to gain access to a place that isn’t hounded by tourists or booked out for months.
Looking to plan your South America trip itinerary today?
There’s so much to see and do!
Read The Perfect South America Trip Itinerary to get started.
Off the beaten path South America is ready for you!
Do you have any recommendations to add to off the beaten path South America? If you do, comment below!
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to help you plan your trip to South America, check out The Ultimate Guide to Trip Planning.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or simply do not have the time to plan your trip to South America, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!