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South America - Destination South America

We all know that South Americans celebrate at the drop of a hat. We've seen the Brazilians when the World Cup soccer is on and we know most of the subcontinent, especially Rio de Janeiro, goes off for Carnaval in February. There's not a city or village that does not have a patron saint, a hispanic ritual or commemorative day to celebrate. Or it may just be a local futebol (soccer) match. Whatever the event they really let their hair down! Bonfires, dancing, drinking, eating and usual hedonism are what you can expect - not things backpacker's need advice about!

In between the fiesta's we recommend a bit of travel. There are tropical beaches, waterfalls, the cloud forests of
Costa Rica, the birds and animals of Belize, Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle and the jagged spires of the Andes Mountains... if that's not wetting your appetite take a look at the most visited places in South America.

Amazonia: The dense Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest in the world incorporating six countries and 70 per cent of all plant and animal species call it home including the Nocturnal Jaguar and the chilling Boa Constrictor. You can camp, kayak, speedboat, tree-climb and repel from adventures centres like Manaus,
Brazil.

Machu Picchu, Peru: Multitudes of visitors converge here annually to see the spectacular Lost City of the Incas. At 2,400m it is a hike but the fascinating palaces, temples, plazas, dwellings, steps and terraces have a mystical ambience, combined with the mist hanging on the peaks nearby. The 34-40km trek takes 2-4 days. New regulations require walkers to have a guide and register 15 days in advance.


Angel Falls (Salto Angel), Venezuela: At 979m these are the highest uninterrupted falls in the world, 16 times the height of Niagara Falls. They are located in Canaima National Park and best viewed from the air.

Nazca Lines, Peru: These lines on the rocky Peruvuan Pampa San Jose near Nazca, were originally thought to be the remains of irrigation lines. But from the air they were recognizable as figures: trapezoids, triangles and lines, plus marine, animal and bird figures. They range in size up to 300m across and are about 2000 years old.

Santiago, Chile: is a cosmopolitan capital and the financial, cultural and political centre of Chile. It has great restaurants, bars, hotels, shopping, art galleries, museums, theaters, opera, ballet, lively nightlife, plus parks, tree-lined streets and distinct neighborhoods. And it's close to ski resorts, beach resorts and other excursions through Chile.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: The capital synonymous with the girl from Ipanema, the dramatic Pão d'Açucar (Sugarloaf) Mountain, and the outrageous Carnaval (Carnival) celebrations, needs little introduction. It has stunning architecture, good museums, and marvelous food.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: The sprawling capital of Argentina is the ninth largest city in the world stretching 200 square km. More than one-third of the country's 39 million inhabitants live here making it the political, economic and cultural centre of Argentina. It's very cosmopolitan and yet retains a neighborhood feel in its 48 barrios each with its own character and history. Nightlife, including tango, is a must.

Easter Island, Chile: is the most isolated inhabited island in the world 3200 km from Chile and Tahiti. The Dutch who landed in 1772 found unusual statues or moai carved from the volcanic rock. They stand five metres tall, weigh many tons and are possibly a god or mythical creature.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil: lie on the Argentina-Brazil border and are a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Two thirds of the falls lie on the
Argentinean side of the river where you can also tour Iguazú National Park's jungle trails and bird hikes. From the Brazilian side you get an amazing panoramic view via helicopter rides from Foz do Iguaçu.

Patagonia, Argentina: is located in southern South America embracing Argentina and Chile. It features semi-arid plateaus, deep valleys, canyons, glaciers, lakes, volcanoes and forests. It covers an area of 777,000 sq. km and is sparsely populated with approximately 1.5 people per sq. km.

Pantanal, Brazil: is a vast alluvial plain in the west of Brazil but it also reaches Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. Its size is equivalent to Austria, Belgium, Hungary and Portugal altogether or 200,000km2 when it floods. The huge plain of marshy areas, rivers, bays and lakes drains between April and June when the temperature is nice and wildlife abundant. Fishing is best between August and October.

Galapapos Archipelago, Ecuador: was made famous by Charles Darwin. It is both a province and a national park of Ecuador, 1000 km west of the mainland. The 22 main islands are a premiere wildlife observation, protection and research center. Scuba diving is also popular as it's one of the few places in the world free of commercial fishing.

Lake Titicaca, Peru: is the largest lake on the continent and the highest navigable lake in the world (3810m above sea level). It extends from southeastern Peru to western
Bolivia, is 196km long and 56km wide. It is so large it has waves but it's too cold for swimming! The blue waters contrast beautifully with the parched altiplano.

Tierra del Fuego, Argentina: This national park is the southernmost example of the Andean - Patagonian forest and was created in 1960 and has a surface of 63.000 hectares. It is the only national park that possesses maritime coasts. You can take boat trips, do a bit of beaver watching or walk to the Glaciar Martial above Ushuaia.

TOURISM RISING IN COLOMBIA

Colombia is enjoying an upturn in visitors and now attracts more foreigners than its neighbour Equador. This is mostly thanks to improved tourist infrastructure and a growing awareness among holidaymakers of the attractions it has to offer including the capital Bogotá, Tayrona National Park, Cartagena and Santa Marta. Tourist arrivals in Colombia have grown by 65 per cent since 2002, rising to 925,000.


TOP TRAIN RIDE

Nariz del Diablo train, also known as the 'most difficult train in the world' is one of Ecuador's most famous attractions. The ride from Riobamba to Alausi connects the Andes with the coast following steep slopes, river valleys and a wall of rock called Nariz del Diablo, the Devil's Nose.


MID YEAR FESTIVITIES

July 25 - Guayaquil, Ecuador celebrates its foundation with boisterous activities including beauty pageants, fireworks and parades that combine with the previous day's national holiday (the birthday of Simón Bolívar).
Early September - Otavalo, Ecuador celebrates the Fiesta del Yamor.
September 23-24 - Venezuela's most famous fiesta, La Fiesta de la Mamá Negra in Latacunga, involves men dressing up as women and blackening their faces.

LATIN AMERICAN DANCING TIPS

You may well need to learn tango, lambada or samba moves. In Rio you can join a samba school to prime you for Carnaval but here's some dancing tips in the meantime if you find yourself in the middle of a dancing fiesta:
- copy the person in front of you!
- wriggle your hips and bum as much as possible!
- wave your arms and smile so no one notices your feet!
- let the party spirit take you away!