7 Beaten Path Destination in South America
7. Coyhaique, Chile
Coyhaique is in a bit of a no man’s land for visitors to Chile, as it’s just too north of tourist favorite Torres del Paine to make it a viable option for visitors with limited time. However, ditching those plans for a few days or a week in Coyhaique and the surrounding area is a gorgeous alternative. From the town center, bike ride to the nearby national park or rent a car to do away with the reliance on guided tours. Along the drive to Capillas de Marmol, stopping will be a frequent occurrence to photograph the stunning scenery, and it only gets better. Capillas de Marmol is a natural marble structure in a glacial lake, which has been smoothed out by the waves, and boats can navigate through the shallow caves. Get back on the road to see a dead forest rising out of a lake, typical southern Chile cemeteries and a receding glacier, all while enjoying the peace and quiet of an undiscovered place.
6. Montevideo, Uruguay
Carnival is synonymous with Brazil, but it’s actually Montevideo that has the world’s longest Carnival celebration. The 40-day long festivity of course includes fabulous women in headdresses and little else, and also integrates traditional Uruguayan culture. The most famous element is llamadas, the iconic drum parades. In Uruguay, drum groups dress up as magicians, old women or medicine men, and play candombe beats, keeping alive a tradition started with black slaves. The other local custom are muras, or political satires, and judges travel the country to see the performances before crowning the winning troupe at the final parade. Rio’s Carnival may be the biggest, but Montevideo’s is the longest, and since it’s lesser-known, it’s slightly easier to get in on the action.
5. Cordillera Real, Bolivia
Stock up on coca leaves to alleviate the altitude sickness, because the Cordillera Real waits for no complaints of dizziness. Southeast of tourist favorite Lake Titicaca, the sometimes excruciating but always worth it Cordillera is a test of strength, with seven peaks measuring in at above 6,000 meters. Intrepid trekkers will need to hire a guide and bring good equipment. One of the main advantages is the ability to travel at your own pace, soaking in the oversized mountains and glaciers and occasional Quechua villages until you catch your breath, only to have it stolen away again around the next bend.
4. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Tiny Guyana is often overlooked and vastly underrated, but the lack of infrastructure and a tourist sector puts Guyana squarely on the off the beaten path list. One of the country’s crowning jewels is Kaieteur Falls, an impressive 822-foot high cascade and highest single drop waterfall in the world, in the middle of Kaieteur National Park. Make it a truly memorable and muscle-building experience by taking a week-long trek through the Amazon up to the falls.
3. Panantal Wetlands, Brazil
Split between Paraguay, Bolivia and two Brazilian states, the world’s largest wetland is rich in diverse wildlife and practically untouched by visitors. The immense marsh, which is 80% flooded in the rainy season, hosts rare jaguars, howler monkeys, anacondas and an incredible array of butterflies and birds. With no access roads and no towns, most travel by small airplane and motorboats. Burgeoning cooperation between environmental organizations and cattle ranchers is slowly bringing awareness to the need to preserve this special, absolutely out-of-the-way place.
2. Chuao, Venezuela
Home to some of the world’s best cacao, Chuao overloads the senses with chocolatey smooth finesse. The town is best accessed by boat, as it sits between a mountain and the Caribbean. From the boat it’s an hour’s walk into town, where piles of cacao beans dry in the sun in the main square, and the scent of the finished product wafts from storefronts. The town itself has been widely known for its premium chocolate for centuries, but it still retains a sleepy small-town feel. After playing on the empty beaches, visitors can work off all that sweet tooth indulgence with a two-hour hike in Henri Pittier National Park to the El Chorreron waterfalls.
1. Uribia, Guajira, Colombia
Held from August 16-18 every year in the northeast Caribbean state of Guajira, the Wayúu Cultural Festival showcases the tribe’s rich cultural rituals, folklore, music, food and more. The matriarchal society in has hosted the festival since 1985 and allows visitors to feast on traditional dishes like goat, check out wrestling, horse racing and stone-throwing matches, and see up close how women make their hammocks. Wayúu children also perform their traditions, including weddings, wakes and spiritual celebrations. This is the place to soak up culture with nary another foreigner in sight.