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7 Surprising Reasons South America is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Looking for a better way to spend your winter instead of staying inside all season long binge-watching Netflix? No offense to the binge-watchers out there—it certainly has its time and place! But after awhile, don’t you crave something a little more… adventurous?

Sure, you could travel to the beaches of the Caribbean, along with every other coworker in your office. Who wants to lay out on a cramped beach or wait in a long line for a cocktail?

Traveling just a little further south—south of the equator, in fact, takes you to a continent basking in the warm, golden rays of the sun, but also filled with many natural phenomena just waiting to be explored. This place is full of magnificent mountains, wondrous waterfalls, and amusing animals. Don’t believe it? Here are seven reasons why South America is the ultimate winter destination:  

1. Escape from the bitter cold to a continent with both tropical and temperate climates.

climateWhile those wallowing in winter in the Northern Hemisphere are freezing, South Americans at or below the equator are enjoying warm weather conditions.

Ecuador, while partially in the Northern Hemisphere, straddles the equator, giving the whole country a tropical climate year-round. It’s particularly pleasurable January through May, most of which are cool months for Europe and North America.

Just below Ecuador is Peru, known for its mountains, lakes, and Machu Picchu. November through April is considered the “wet season,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to visit. On the contrary, during these months the trails are much quieter—better to enjoy your scenic surroundings. Conservation work takes place on the Inca Trail during the month of February, but it is still possible to reach Machu Picchu and explore the magic of the ancient site.

Patagonia (made up of Argentina and Chile) is at the base of South America. Here the climate is more temperate during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months, perfect for hiking Chile’s Andes Mountains or kayaking across Argentina’s many lakes and rivers. Peak traveling season for Patagonia is January-March, but if you want to avoid the crowds while still escaping the cold, consider visiting during November or December.  

2. While everyone back home is skiing, snorkel off the shores of the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos IslandsYou’ve heard of the Galapagos Islands, right? They make up an archipelago just off the coast of Ecuador famous for century-old tortoises and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

But these islands are more than just pieces of land in the Pacific Ocean—they are teeming with life, both flora and fauna. Want to know an amazing way to see all that these islands have to offer? Climb on a bike! Starting at the top of San Cristobal’s highest point, cycle your way down from the highland cloud forest that covers the top of the island to La Loberia, a beach home to a large sea lion colony and nursery.

Ready to get up close and personal with the cute and cuddly creatures as well as other marine life? Snorkel or scuba dive around Isla Lobos and watch the sea lions catch a meal. Afterwards, cruise to Kicker Rock to swim some more with turtles, tropical fish, and maybe even some sharks at the remains of an underwater volcano.

Want to see a volcano on land? Try hiking Sierra Negra Volcano, which rises nearly a mile above the ocean. As you ascend, the vegetation changes before your eyes from full flora to a barren lunar-like landscape. Its caldera is one of the largest in the world—seven miles wide! Bird enthusiasts will appreciate the opportunity to see Galapagos hawks, short-eared owls, finches, and flycatchers in this region.

These are just some highlights of the many ways to explore the Galapagos Islands. Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trip island-hopping, something that only a handful of people will ever have the chance to do.  

3. Explore beautiful mountain ranges without all of the ice and snow.

mountainSure, you will see some snow-capped mountains while hiking in Peru, but thankfully the snow stops at approximately 4,500 meters in mountain ranges close to the equator, allowing for exceptional exploration! Start your journey in the ancient Incan city of Cuzco (not to be confused with a certain grooving emperor) in the Andes Mountains. Make your way to Sacsayhuamán (meaning House of the Sun) fortress, an awe-inspiring archaeological site that represents a set of jaguar’s teeth. Each massive “tooth” is perfectly fitted and can weight up to 130 tons.

If the idea of exploring Sacsayhuamán is enticing, just wait until you hike to Machu Picchu. This centuries-old Incan city is mind-blowingly advanced for its age. How and why did they build the tall walls and carve the magnificent terraces and ramps? It’s a mystery we’ll probably never know the answer to, but part of the fun when exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lake TiticacaCan’t imagine going all the way to South America without seeing the Amazon rainforest? Well, forest fans—rejoice! The Amazon Jungle extends into Peru, providing perfect wildlife viewing for any adventurer. Motorized canoes glide you down the Tambopata River, one of the many headwaters of the Amazon, into the forest basin. Tropical birds like the macaw fly overhead through the canopy as howler monkeys fill the air with their call. The diverse flora includes many medicinal plants. There truly is no place like it anywhere else on earth.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a visit to Peru without kayaking on Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest in the world that is still navigable. The lake’s colour is a deep blue unlike any water you’ll have ever seen. Make your way across the immense body of water to Capachica Peninsula, then hug the shore line, grazed by sheep and shadowed by ancient remnant agricultural terraces. For those seeking a more thrilling vacation, consider all that Peru has to offer.  

4. You don’t have to travel to Antarctica (or be freezing!) to hang with penguins.

penguinsAt the bottom of South America lies a completely different land than that of Ecuador or Peru. This is Patagonia, a vast area of land that starts in the plains of Argentina and moves to the mountains of Chile, finally reaching the edge of the world.

What’s a better way to start your trip than with a visit to Magdalena Island, home not to humans, but to Magellanic penguins. Hike across the island, exploring all the nooks and crannies. Cameras are essential for this hike—you don’t want to miss out on capturing the tuxedo-wearing bird and other wildlife!

Hiking continues for a special trek, the legendary four-day “W” hike! This journey inside Torres del Paine National Park takes you across granite peaks, snow-clad mountains, glacial lakes, and the thick Magellanic forest. On the first day of your hike, you’ll come across the stunning Torres del Paine (that’s ‘Towers of Blue’)—three monstrous mountain peaks rising to a height of 3,000 feet and thought to be the highest natural cliff faces in the world. These natural wonders are breathtaking.

After completing the “W” trek, give your legs a rest and let your arms do some work. Kayak across Grey Lake, known for its grand glaciers and immense icebergs.

If cycling is more your speed, you’re in luck, Argentina’s landscape provides a better terrain for bikes. Ride through the valley basin of River de las Vueltas, viewing river vistas and waterfalls along the way.  

5. Even kiddos need to “get away” sometimes!

Family Hiking These days, it’s more important than ever to get kids outdoors and spend time with their families. With all of the distractions in our lives—from technology to school work to work projects—it can be hard to find enough time to bond with our loved ones.

Want the chance to get away as a family? Embark on a family-friendly adventure to Peru! Together you’ll journey through the Amazon rainforest with some incredible wildlife viewing opportunities. You might spot a capybara, or macaws perched atop the river banks or hear the howls of troops of howler monkeys from the tropical forest canopies above. Hike to Las Salineras and learn about salt production, and explore the ancient Incan cities of Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

What could be better than a vacation that gets the kids active, and also educates them? Not to mention, it’s a ton of fun!  

6. Heat things up while visiting Ecuador’s volcanoes and hot springs.

volcanoesMaybe you like the idea of adding some rest and relaxation into your adventurous trip? Ecuador is the place for you.

Begin your trip at a ranch on Cotopaxi, learning about Ecuadorian farm life. Try your hand at milking cows, take in the serene scenery surrounding the ranch, or just curl up with a good book that you’ve been meaning to read.

The next day, pick up the pace as you cycle down Cotopaxi, which, by the way, happens to also be a volcano. The views on your way down are unparalleled—the Valley of Volcanoes provides vistas unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Waterfall Hike EcuadorReady for a hike? After traveling into the heart of Ecuador’s rainforest, you’ll find yourself hiking through waterfalls, making your way to the Papallacta highlands and cooling yourself off at the same time. At the end of your day, soak in a steaming hot spring that is right outside your lodging for the night.

At the end of your trip, fly out of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. But before you leave, consider enjoying some free time in this historical mountain city.  

7. Biking is way more fun when you’re under the golden sun!

bikingWant the best of both Peru and Ecuador? You got it! Enjoy seeing highlights from both countries as well as island-hopping around the Galapagos Islands.

Trip of a Lifetime Just Like We Expected!

“We had high expectations for this trip that we've been dreaming about for decades. The time finally came for us to plan and execute. We are so happy to have found Active Adventures through a recommendation from a friend who did a different trip but said we won't be disappointed. Every detail was thought of in the complex moving parts of each day which was filled with multiple activities. Reading our itinerary before leaving, I was excited to see all the things we would do just before lunch! For an active family like ours, there was never a dull moment. Our guides in both Peru and Galapagos were certainly the highlights. Equally bright, knowledgeable, caring and full of smiles. They were like encyclopedias - I've never seen my 2 young adult sons so engaged in learning. The Iguana Trip offered a combination that was absolutely worth getting the most from 2 amazing and very different parts of the world.”
Colorado, United States
Iguana, July 2018
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An important part of any trip abroad is to take in the culture around you. One of the best ways to get up close and personal with the locals is via bike. While in Peru, cycle through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the once great civilization of the Andes Mountains before they were conquered by the Spanish. Speaking of the Andes, did you know they stretch all the way from Venezuela to Chile, making them the longest mountain chain on land?

Group of Active Adventures bikersOn your cycling excursion, ride through breathtaking scenery, dotted with local villages and surrounded by the massive, green slopes of the Andes. Finish your ride at the small town of Pisac, a typical Peruvian village. A must-see is the colorful mercado artesanal, a fresh market full of local fruits and vegetables.

Finish your time in Peru with visits to Machu Picchu and Cuzco before departing for Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands are just a plane ride away and will enthrall you with their lush vegetation, diverse marine life, and peculiar land animals.  

Quiero visitar América del Sur? Want to visit South America?

  • Jaguar Ultimate Peru Adventure

    • 10 Days
    • Peru
    • US$3999

    4.50 out of 5 (from 1964 reviews)

    Jaguar

    The ‘Jaguar’ is our most action-packed multi-activity trip in Peru. It captures everything this beautiful country has to offer, from the towering peaks of the Andes down to the steamy depths of the Amazon jungle. You’ll have a blast in this land of geographical and cultural extremes! We start our trip in the heart of the Inca empire where we explore fortresses and surrounding valleys, hike over stunning mountain passes to Machu Picchu, cycle into the Sacred Valley of the Incas and view Amazon wildlife up close. The variety of activities and landscapes on this trip will give you a Peruvian adventure like no other – and an experience you’ll never forget!

    For a great way to see Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian salt flats too, combine this trip with our Titicaca and Bolivia 'Chinchilla' - chat to our team to learn how! 

  • Chinchilla Titicaca and Bolivia Adventure

    • 10 Days
    • Peru
    • US$3999

    4.56 out of 5 (from 18 reviews)

    Chinchilla

    The ‘Chinchilla’ is an adventure packed with cultural richness. The vivid colours of the traditional Andean costumes are in stark contrast to the muted highlands, where Peruvian and Bolivian communities etch their existence. Make no mistakes though, these are among some of the most content people you’ll meet, happy in their way of life largely unspoilt by first world influence.

    On this trip you’ll tick off the world’s highest navigable lake, the higest city and the largest salt flat. In true 'Active’ style you’ll experience it all with a mixture of hikes, a stint on the bike and of course, with a kayak paddle in hand. We’ve designed the ‘Chinchilla’ to work in seemlessly with our other Peru adventures, so chat to us if you’re interested in a combination trip option.

    For a great way to see Machu Picchu and the Amazon Jungle as well, combine this trip with our Ultimate Peru Adventure 'Jaguar' - chat to our team to learn how!

  • Puma Northern Patagonia Explorer

    • 14 Days
    • Patagonia
    • US$5999

    4.63 out of 5 (from 8 reviews)

    Puma

    Like its southern counterpart, Northern Patagonia is rich in wild landscapes, where nature rules the roost. Exploring Northern Patagonia, you'll develop a new-found respect for the pioneers, who found passages over the immense Andes Mountains, across fiords and through huge temperate rainforests. Luckily, these days, nestled in the renownded parks and reserves, there's comfortable lodgings - making for the perfect combination of adventure by day and relaxation by night. For the ultimate Patagonia experience, combine this trip with our 14-day 'Condor' (10 and 8-day options available).

  • Condor 14-16 Patagonia Hiking Adventure

    • 14 Days
    • Patagonia
    • US$5699

    4.52 out of 5 (from 892 reviews)

    On the 'Condor', you’ll visit truly some of the most amazing places on Earth, by foot, kayak, bike and boat. Patagonia, for hikers, is always near the top of the bucket list. You’ll enjoy incredible views as you hike in the Fitz Roy area of Argentina, trek in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, cycle Milodon Caves and sea kayak amongst icebergs on Grey Lake. Immense craggy mountain ranges erupt straight up from colossal boulder fields, vast rivers of ice calve into deep blue lakes, and its intricate coastline is strewn with uncharted fiords and inlets. It’s the type of scenery that leaves an indelible impression in your memory – one that photos will never quite manage to replicate. If you have a passion for the outdoors, the 'Condor' is the trip for you!

    Please note, all 'Condor' trips heading out after November 1st 2016 will finish in El Calafate and not Punta Arenas.

  • Tortuga Galapagos Land and Sea Adventure

    • 10 Days
    • Galapagos And Ecuador
    • From US$4999

    4.55 out of 5 (from 1325 reviews)

    Tortuga

    The 'Tortuga' is a fantastic way to discover several of the Galapagos Islands, especially for landlubbers. In a relaxed and active manner, you’ll snorkel, dive, hike and cycle, and cruise between the multitude of stunning islands in our comfortable dive boat, the ‘Pacific’ while staying on dry land each night. Starting with a short flight to San Cristobal Island, highlights of this incredible trip include snorkelling with turtles, rays and tame reef sharks, kayaking in a beautiful calm bay and hiking up an island volcano with one of the largest active calderas in the world. You’ll get up close to some of the most intriguing and docile wildlife on the planet, with visits to tortoise breeding grounds and iguana colonies, and even sharing the beach with inquisitive sea lions. We explore amazing lava tunnels, cycle through local townships and learn the mysterious history of Floreana Island.

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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