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Your trip will not be complete until you indulge in at least one of the following uniquely South American experiences:

  • Get High in Bolivia: With the world's highest capital city, highest commercial airport, and highest navigable lake, Bolivia's air is so thin it will make your head spin. But Bolivia is also home to the infamous coca leaf, a perfectly legal, extremely nutritious source of energy and an antidote to altitude sickness. To learn the complete history of the coca leaf (and for free samples), stop in at the Museo de la Coca in La Paz.
  • Be the Girl (or Boy) from Ipanema: Rio may have other beaches, but Ipanema is still the one with the best people-watching. Grab a spot, and food, drink, and eye candy will come to you.
  • Feel the Beat in Brazil: At night the historic heart of Salvador comes alive with music. Most impressive of all are the Afro blocos, the all-percussion bands that create such an intense rhythm with their drums that it sends shivers down your spine.
  • Soak in Chilean Hot Springs: The volatile Andes not only builds volcanoes; it also produces steaming mineralized water that spouts from fissures, many of which have been developed into hot springs, from rock pools to full-scale luxury resorts. Most hot springs seem to have been magically paired by nature with outdoor adventure spots, making for a thankful way to end a day of activity. The Lake District is a noted "hot spot," especially around Puc√≥n.
  • Enjoy an Orgy of Sights, Sounds, and Smells in Ecuador: The outdoor artisans market in Otavalo is an assault on your senses. The colors and textures of the intricate textiles mix with the sounds of musicians playing reed pipes, as you walk among the scents of herbs and flowers offered up for sale.
  • Feel the Wind Beneath the Condor's Wings in Peru: Colca Canyon is the best place in South America to see giant Andean condors, majestic birds with wingspans of up to 3.5m (11 ft.). From a stunning lookout point nearly 1,200m (4,000 ft.) above the canyon river, you can watch as the condors appear, slowly circle, and gradually gain altitude with each pass, until they soar silently above your head and head off down the river. A truly spine-tingling spectacle, the flight of the big birds may make you feel quite small.
  • Stroke a roughly 4m (13-ft.) Anaconda in Venezuela: There's no guarantee you'll wrangle an anaconda -- many lodges frown on direct contact -- but you can get awfully close. Try a stay at Hato El Cedral; sightings of the large anaconda here are common, particularly in the dry season. If you're lucky, you'll see a "mating ball," several males and one female entwined in a writhing ball of anaconda lust.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.