Nature places in South America
Beagle Channel cruise
If you visit Ushuaia, it is a definite must to cruise the Beagle Channel, and there are plenty of agencies at the port which offer sailing trips. It is beautiful to see the town from the sea flanked by snowcapped mountains / glaciers, and the many small islands inhabited by sea lions, penguins and lots of different bird species. You can also go ashore on several of the small islands and observe nature and wildlife up close. In the middle of one of the other small islands, Faro del Fin del Mundo is located. It is a famous lighthouse, that sailors throughout time have used to navigate by in the surrounding dangerous waters of Drake Passage and the Magellan Strait. Besides enjoying the area's rawness and beauty, it is a very special feeling to sail at world's end - literally.
Isla Martillo near Ushuaia
Approximately a half hour’s drive from Ushuaia, you can sail out from the small village of Estancia Harberton to the protected penguin colony Isla Martillo. There are two different species on the island - small black and white Magellan penguins and Gentoo penguins, that have orange beaks and feet. Here, you are lucky to get unusually close (maybe too close) to both penguins on the beach, and while they nest their eggs. Magellan penguins nest their eggs in small caves, while Gentoo penguins lie on open nests. If you are at Estancia Harberton anyway, you can visit the small and old-fashioned naval museum with different mammal skeletons - both inside and outside the building.
Chapada dos Veiadeiros
Only a few hours away from the capital Brasilia, in the state of Goias, is the Chapada dos Veiadeiros. A National Park great for hiking with plenty of waterfalls where you can cool down and swim.
The Vale da Lua (valley of the moon) is part of the National Park. This is where a river runs through a landscape of boulders smoothened by the river making is seem a bit like a moonscape. It is fun to follow the river jumping from boulder to boulder and eventually jump in the water.
Both towns nearby - Alta Paraiso and São Jorge - are quiet and typical towns of the interior of Brazil. At night you can chill at a local bar and with some luck the locals will start playing music and start singing Brazilian country songs.
Cowboys and Wildlife
These wetlands in the South West of the country, in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, is one of the the best places in the country for seeing wildlife. You'll have to take a tour for a few days or stay at one of the Fazendas (farms) who organize trips in the countryside.
Of course, as with all wildlife viewing, you'll need some luck but with a decent local guide you have a good chance of seeing capybara, tapir, anteater, armadillo and anaconda. For sure you’ll see cayman and many parrots and you can go horseback riding and pirana fishing. The Pantanal also has many jaguars but don't count on seeing those.
The Pantanal is not just a tourist area but also a cattle breeding area so you'll probably bump into some real cowboys.
Otway Sound Near Punta Arenas
Approximately one hour by car from the town of Punta Arenas, you find Otway Sound penguin colony. It is the result of a successful project, that has expanded the number of the once endangered penguin species. The area is protected and you must remain on the marked trails - but from there is great opportunity to see the small black-white Magellan penguins both on the beach and in the green areas. You can also spot hares, ostriches, flamingos and many other bird species from the specially-built lookout towers. As in most parts of Patagonia, the landscape here is also cold and windy - even in summertime.
Tayrona National Park
35 km from Santa Marta
This national park is famed for its beautiful beaches. Stretches of sand that slopes into turquoise water and surrounded by soft boulders and dense jungle. There are no roads, only trails leading you from one bay to the next. Small eateries and simple accommodation (hammocks and cabanas) make out the development on this stretch of else wild coast. Tayrona Indians are still inhabiting the forest and you might catch a glance of them while looking for birds and howler monkeys. The park is understandably very popular with locals, but it is not hard to find your own patch of Caribbean paradise under the palms.
1000 km out in the Pacific Ocean
Galapagos Islands are famous for their unique wildlife, which was the inspiration source for Darwin. But what will strike you the most are not the differences between the species on each island, but the fearless attitude the animals have. Due to the lack of serious predators the animals will hardly lift an eyebrow when visitors go ashore. You will get really close to iguanas, sea lions, tortoises and birds, though the crabs seem a bit shy. If not careful, you can easily end up stepping on the wildlife. All the islands offer different wildlife experiences, but a visit to islands like Santa Cruz (main island), Espanola, Floreana (both part of the southern loop) and North Seymour (part of the northern loop) will give you a good taste of this truly unique place. Though any visit to the Galapagos Islands will be pricey, it will be totally worth it.
While visiting Cacao you should definitely not miss this museum called Le Planeur Bleu. It is mainly specialised in butterflies and spiders with live and dead species. The owner is extremely passionate about his bugs and gives an animated tour of his extended collection of butterflies in all colours and sizes, gets past other creepy and less creepy creatures to eventually end with his beautiful collection of tarantulas. Unfortunately, due to European laws, he can’t have these big, hairy eight-legged creatures walk on your hand anymore but he is more happy to get them out of their cages and show them to you from close-by. For many people seeing these beauties from a distance is already enough to take. Better not be arachnophobic!
These islands, which are part of the Paracas National Reserve, are called the Galapagos of the poor. If you already have visited the Galapagos islands you could be disappointed when you go on a boat trip to the Ballestas islands.
If you enjoy boat trips anyhow and you like to observe marine animals and birds you may find the Ballestas islands a well-worth trip. You’ll definitely see tons of sea lions, penguins and birds and most likely at least one person in your boat will be hit by bird poo....
You’ll also see "El Candelabro", a Nazca line style image in one of the dunes when you just sail out, only to be observed from the water.
Lake Maracaibo near Puerto Concha
An impressive natural phenomenon where lightning strikes for hours non-stop, mostly soundless without thunder. It occurs about 150 nights a year and lake Maracaibo is the only place in the world where this is happening. Though the lightnings can be seen hundreds of kilometres away, they are best viewed from the lake. Here there are three main viewing areas: Chamita, popular viewing platforms but furthest away from the lightning, and the two stilt villagers, Congo Mirador and Ologa, on the lake which both are much closer to the action. All of them can be reached by motorboat from Puerto Concha, but the boat trip is more river safari than transport, with a good opportunity for some serious bird watching (toucans, eagles, and loris, to name a few). So if you are at the right place at the right time, be prepared for a spectacular night.