Top 10 photo galleries from South America
At the northern edge of the Salar de Uyuni towers the Tunupa Volcano above the salt lake. On a day trip it is possible to hike to the crater rim at about 5,000 m or even further direction the top of the mountain. The base for the hike is in the tiny village of Coquesa, where there is not much more than a few houses and a hostel. From there you can start hiking but it makes it definitely a little easier to be driven some hundreds of meters uphill close to some caves with mummies at about 4,000 m. The hike from here is quite strenuous, especially approaching the edge of the crater where the terrain is sandy with small stones. The views are amazing though and worth the effort. When you stand about 1,500 meters above the salar you quickly forget the tough climb.
The south-west corner of Bolivia, straddling the border to Chile, is a unique area on this planet. It is protected as a national park but the beauty of this region reaches way beyond the borders of the park. The arid altiplano landscape is dotted with volcanoes such as the active Ollagüe (5863 m) where you can see smoke rise from its side, and the perfectly symmetrically shaped Licancabur volcano (5920 m) on the border with Chile.
The park and region is however mostly known for its many lakes that all have different colours from white to blue, green and red. The most famous ones are the Laguna Verde, at the Licancabur volcano and the Laguna Colorado. The colours of these mainly salty lakes come from different algae and plankton. It is this algae that attracts the three different species of flamingos that are present in high numbers at most of the lakes. This area keeps surprising because there is still much more to see. There are geysers and bubbling mud pools at Sol de Mañana, there are hot springs to warm up on a chilly morning, rock formations such as the Arbol de Piedra and there is the rabbit with a long tail called viscacha.
Giant stone statues are the stars on Easter Island (also called Rapa Nui). The Moai, as they are called, were carved out of the side of volcano craters and moved somehow to the shore, where they were lined up to stare over the tiny island. It is a mystery today how they were transported, in some cases to the other side of the island over rugged terrain. The history of Easter Island is full of ancient legends, controversies and guesses – though Thor Heyerdahl's wild speculations about how the island got populated by South Americans is today put to shame by genetic evidence which tells that they came from Polynesia. Due to local warfare, most statues have been knocked over, where some still remain today. Besides the stone faces, the civilisation also left behind petroglyphs (rock drawings), ceremonial villages (more rocks) and a curly alphabet that nobody today can read. Even if old rocks and mad history is not your cup of tea, the Easter Island is still worth a visit just for the sheer fact that it is the most isolated place on earth, being 1900 km from the nearest populated landmass, the Pitcairn.
The largest lake in Colombia, located at the semi-high elevation of 3000 m. It is an enchanting place, where clouds come rolling in from the surrounding hills to lie low over the cold water. Any road to here is winding and takes you through tough farmland and rough villages (like Cuitiva, Iza and Tota). The local farmers all sport ponchos, wide brim hats and sunburned cheeks. There even is a "Playa Blanca" at the shore of the lake with sand and space for camping under the pine and eucalyptus trees.
Every Tuesday, the small village of Silvia holds its weekly market. Buses loaded with Guambiano Indians and sacks of potatoes in every colour and shape arrive early to return equally loaded in the afternoon. The Indians are dressed in their finest, which just happens to be the same for all. Ankle boots, deep blue scarf, bowler hat and wraparound skirt, and that includes the men too. It is a great mix of trading and get together at the plaza for catching up on the latest gossip. It is just one of those lovely places that Colombia is so full of, but again not many visitors come here (luckily).
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.
Every Thursday the town of Saquisilí turn into one giant market. Actually it is several markets that are spread over the town. Indigenous people from remote villages in the surrounding hills come in to sell their goods, whether it is a goat, old shoes or a bag full of guinea pigs... and they are not sold as pets. The people are covered under colorful ponchos and felt hats sporting a fashionable peacock feather. It is a wonderful messy and rowdy affair, that starts early and phase out around midday. While Otavalo market is for tourists, this is the real deal.
This piece of road is the hidden gem of road trips in Ecuador. From the soft rolling hills surrounding Riobamba, it will lead you up into the mountains, through patched farmland and rugged villages. When the peaks turn hard and pointy, the road will cling to the mountainside, while winding its way to the pristine alpine lakes of Atillo at 3,500 m. From here it rolls down to the Amazon basin through the lush Sangay National Park, with spectacular views over the forest canopy and with waterfalls in the distance. This is the "real shit", so if you thought the touristy trip from Baños to Puyo was pretty, this rough journey will knock your socks off.
A trip there is more than just viewing the tallest waterfall in the world (1002 m), it is an amazing journey through one of the most spectacular landscapes on the globe. A tour will normally start with a flight into the small indigenous village of Canaima about 50 km from the falls. The surprisingly nice setting will for sure impress you (think lake, waterfalls and palms in the most cliche way). From here the trip goes upstream in a canoe zigzagging through small rapids and escaping big boulders. The sheer sides of the ever present huge tepuis (tabel mountain) of "God of Evil" will be leading the way into the Devil's Canyon, where the Angel Falls are plunging over the edge at the very top. Even with a trek up to the base of the falls, it is hard to grasp their gigantic size. Don't consider the narrow belt of water as the highlight, but merely a grand finale of a great trip.
Mt. Roraima is a table mountain (so-called tepuis or tepuy) and the highest in Venezuela (2810 m). This flat-top mountain with free-dropping edges is an amazing trek into another world. The top has been cut off from the rest of the world for millions of years, which means plant and animal life has developed independently. It is a strenuous multi-days trek up to a lost world of strange rock formations surrounded by clouds. A walk to the edge offers spectacular views to other table mountains like neighbouring Kukenan. A brave peek over the edges will get anyone dizzy for the drop is more than 400 meters. Some locals believe that Roraima and Kukenan have supernatural powers and that they are centres for metaphysical phenomena like crystal energy and UFO activities, which just adds to the mystery of the place. This is truly a unique experience, which should not be missed.