What if you could combine two of South America’s major attractions into one tropical paradise? Then you’d be in Alter do Chão, a small village in the state of Pará, in the northern part of Brazil. Located on the Tapajós river, just a few miles upstream from where it merges with the Amazon, it has access to some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches on the continent. The weather is mild and tropical the year round, making it a good destination for the whole year (though between April and December, the river rises and the beaches are significantly smaller).
The Amazon rainforest really needs no introduction. Hundreds of thousands of tourists each year go to visit. It has the title of biggest in a lot of things: biggest river, biggest rainforest, biggest wildlife diversity, and biggest piranhas. (Though that’s not a high bar, since all piranhas are in the Amazon). It’s also home to some of the very few remaining areas in the world which have been untouched by human intervention.
Up on the top right corner of South America (northwest for those cartographly inclined) are three sections of land: two countries and a territory that seem curiously out of place. Not geographically, as they clearly are part of the continent, but that only makes it more odd that they typically are associated with the Caribbean. These would be the Guianas, or Guyanas, depending on your spell checker.
Who hasn’t heard of the romantic tales surrounding the Spanish Main? And the Pirates that plied the waters of the Caribbean, swashbuckling and riding the high seas? Of course part of the mysticism of pirate lore is that the Caribbean is a tropical paradise. Sparkling crystal water of soft white sands, warm tranquil weather and nature just a few steps away. Who wouldn’t be entranced?
Nowadays, Venezuela is becoming most known because of its eccentric and news-generating President, Hugo Chavez. But there is much more to this Caribbean nation than one man, of course. On the crossroads between the romanticized Spanish Main and the impenetrable vastness of the Amazon, there is a feast of activities and sites to see throughout Venezuela.
There are several well-known romantic vacation spots, such as Maracaibo and Curaçao (the latter being the namesake of a special spirit that is popular throughout South America). Most of the Venezuelan attractions are along the Atlantic coast, which is part of the Caribbean, and they are almost all stunning white beaches with palms waving in the breeze, hammocks swaying lazily with a travel snoozing under a straw hat. Across a small stretch of water are the Carabbean islands, with Trinidad and Tobago being the closest.
Surinam is one of the “top three”, three countries in the extreme north of South America, previously known as the Guianas, and somewhat separated from the rest of the continent in history. Unlike the rest of South America which was colonized by the Iberian countries, and provided something of a shared heritage among them, Surinam was colonized by Dutch settlers. There is a broad mix of languages among its people, but Dutch is the most common, and as a consequence, Surinam is not part of Latin America.
Perú has always an important role in the history and development of South America. Starting with the rise of the Inca Empire with its capital in Cuzco, later the Spanish established the seat of the Viceroy for South America in Lima. The port of Callao was the most important on the continent, and the principal link of communication with Spain. It was from here that the Conquistadores landed and then traveled to what would later be Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador.
Sandwiched between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, Paraguay could often go unnoticed if it weren’t for one very large and spectacular thing: The Iguazú Falls, or Foz do Iguaçu in Portuguese. Comparing them to the Niagra falls is to fall sort on the description; they are much bigger and spectacular than that.
But gushing about the falls aside, Paraguay has plenty of interesting places and activities that make it worth a visit. By South American standards, it’s a relative small country –barely the size of Germany- which is located predominantly in an arm of the Amazon basin called the Chaco valley.
Guyana has managed to stay out of the well-beaten South America travel trail, and it’s hard to see why. There is a wonderful array of attractions and reasons to visit this country, yet it has slipped the mind of most tourists. This makes it ideal for anyone looking to have a pristine look at one of the undiscovered treasures of Latin America. But hurry! After this article, it might be too late…
Ecuador not surprisingly gets its name from the Equator which passes just a few miles north of its capital Quito. It’s a very interesting place to visit, and a must-see if you are in Ecuador, but there are plenty of other reasons to go there.
Let’s start with the beaches, with warm ocean water to swim in and fairly unpopulated in comparison to others. They are located along the Pacific, so there are lots of places where you can go surfing. Of course if you are on vacation you might want to just chill out on the beach withough worrying about being disturbed by hoards of people.