South America: Discovering Another America

South America is the land of the gaucho, the samba and the tango, and of fine food and finely fashioned handicrafts. Its sophisticated capitals and captivating colonial towns vie with nature reserves and the awesome outposts of the Inca Empire for the visitor's attention.

For the active traveler, the continent offers world-class skiing, cruises in Amazonia and adventures to Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands.

Country by country, here's a capsulized roundup of top sights to know when planning and selling travel to South America's 12 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.


  • Buenos Aires. Sightseeing in the capital includes historic buildings, parks, the Colon Opera House, the colorful, artsy district of La Boca, the historic San Telmo quarter and its Sunday market. Away from Buenos Aires, travelers can take a river-delta cruise or spend a day at a country estancia (ranch), with a gaucho fiesta and barbecue lunch.
  • Iguazu Falls. Iguazu is the Spanish spelling for one of the world's mightiest set of waterfalls. (See the Iguacu listing under Brazil.)
  • Bariloche. The gateway to the Lake District is superbly situated on Lake Nahuel Huapi. This Andean resort is Swiss in style, complete with alpine vistas, winter skiing and lots of chocolates.
  • Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Spectacles include Lago Argentino and the icebergs and glaciers of Los Glaciares National Park. And don't forget Ushuaia, the last stop before Antarctica.

  • La Paz. After catching their breath in this sky-high city, visitors should see the Colonial and Popular Art Museum, San Francisco Church and the exotic Sagarnaga market, where they can shop for alpaca sweaters.
  • Lake Titicaca. Clients can stop at the mysterious Tiahuanaco ruins en route to the highest navigable lake in the world. They can also stay overnight and cruise to the Suriqui Islands and the sacred Sun and Moon islands, then perhaps cross the lake to Puno, Peru.
  • Sucre. This colonial capital is full of churches, convents and museums with colonial arts. Forty miles away is the Sunday market at Tarabuco.
  • Potosi. An overland drive from Sucre, the town shows off elegant buildings from its glory days of silver mining. The traveler should see the Museum of the Royal Mint and tour the Cerro Rico mine.
  • San Ignacio. Travelers can tour from here along a route of well-preserved Jesuit missions, such as San Ignacio itself, plus Santa Ana, San Rafael and San Miguel.

  • Rio de Janeiro. World-famous sights include Sugar Loaf, Corcovado and Tijuca forest. Worth any visitor's while are excursions to Petropolis and Teresopolis in the mountains.
  • Iguacu Falls. These wondrous falls, higher and wider than Niagara, are a don't-miss spectacle at the place where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. Visitors can hike in the surrounding nature reserve.
  • Bahia. The colonial quarter of Brazil's first capital is restored and full of churches, markets and galleries, restaurants serving native dishes and folklore entertainment.
  • Manaus. The city sits beside Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon, and its markets and opera house are picture-perfect. Visitors can stay at jungle lodges along waterways outside Manaus and take day excursions by boat or week-long ecological cruises.
  • Sao Paulo. Beneath the towering skyscrapers of Brazil's "Big Apple" are residential districts, the Butanta Institute with thousands of snakes and other reptiles and contemporary art museums.
  • Recife. This city is known as the Venice of Brazil. Along with Olinda next door, it offers churches, markets, museums and galleries.

  • Santiago. The capital has churches, museums, craft markets and plenty of good food and wine.
  • Puerto Montt. A gateway to the Lake District, its sparkling lakes reflect mountains and volcanos, waterfalls and Alpine-style hotels. Boats cross from Puerto Montt to Bariloche in Argentina, and cruises depart from here on the inland passage through fjord country.
  • Torres del Paine Park. Located south of Punta Arenas, this scenic park has mountain peaks, glacier fields, lakes, hiking trails and wildlife.
  • Easter Island. Located 2,300 miles out in the Pacific is this open-air museum of huge stone heads and petroglyphs on rocks and caves. It also has beaches and guest houses.
  • Atacama Desert. The attractions in the driest desert on earth include human remains dating back 20,000 years, found at San Pedro de Atacama. Here also are volcanoes, lava fields, moon valleys, salt lakes and colonial villages.

  • Bogota. The capital's famous Gold Museum leads attractions, but there are other good museums, colonial plazas and buildings and a fine city view from Monserrate mountain. Outside town is the Zipaquira Salt Mine with its underground cathedral.
  • Boyaca. The province bordering Bogota is full of well-preserved colonial towns and interesting weekly markets.
  • Cartagena. This walled city, a leading port on the Spanish Main, has the best-preserved fortifications in the Caribbean, and its old city has been wondrously restored.
  • San Agustin. This fascinating national park is dotted with great stone monoliths in the forms of humans, birds and animals.

  • Quito. The city is full of colonial churches with golden interiors, museums, craft boutiques and Andean mountain horizons. The Equatorial Monument is a favorite out-of-city excursion.
  • Otavalo. This is the best known of the weekly Indian markets found along the Pan American highway. Otavalo, north of Quito, holds its market on Saturdays; Riobamba, far south, also has a Saturday market day.
  • Galapagos Islands. Some 600 miles out into the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos are a superstar wildlife attraction that served as both inspiration and laboratory for Darwin. They can be visited aboard deluxe ship and yacht cruises from Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands.
  • Cuenca. This colonial gem is the craft capital of the country. It is about an hour's flight from the capital. The Inca ruins of Ingapirca are visited from here, as are the craft villages of Gualaceo and Chordeleg.
  • Amazonia. Visitors can take jungle excursions on foot or by small boats from lodges and camps along the Amazon headwaters in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Or they can take jungle cruises aboard the Flotel on the Rio Aguarico.

  • Georgetown. Designed by the Dutch, Georgetown is situated on the right bank of the estuary of the Demerara River. The capital has many wonderful Gothic-Victorian wooden buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries: the 105-year-old St. George's Cathedral, at 182 feet, the world's tallest free-standing wooden building; the fret-worked City Hall, resembling a wedding cake. The Stabroek Market shows off the country's cultural blend of East Indian, Amerindian, Chinese and African, while the musical beat is Caribbean reggae and calypso.
  • Kaieteur Falls. The falls are Guyana's best-known attraction. An hour by small aircraft from the capital, the 400-foot wide Potaro River plunges over the edge of the Pakaraima Plateau in a stunning 741-foot single drop -- nearly five times the height of Niagara Falls, and one of the longest sheer drops in the world. Optimum viewing comes when the water discharge is highest: late January or late August.
  • Orinkuik. A miniature Niagara on the Ireng River at the Guyana-Brazil border.

  • Asuncion. A city tour of this flowering riverside capital will include the Government Palace, the cathedral and the open-air market. Outside town are Itagua, home of the lace makers, and the colonial church at Yaguaron.
  • Jesuit Mission Trail. The trail south leads to colonial missions built by Jesuits and Guarani Indians at Trinidad.
  • The Chaco. North of Asuncion is Mennonite farm country. Several special interests can be satisfied here, including hunting, fishing, river expeditions and birding.
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  • Lima. Travelers must see the capital's historic center, Plaza de Armas; visit churches such as La Merced, San Agustin and San Francisco, and tour museums rich in pre-Columbian and colonial treasures. The archaeological ruins closest to town are Cajamarquilla and Pachacamac.
  • Nazca and Ica. Southwest from Lima lie the mysterious lines (giant pictographs discernible only from the air) of Nazca; the town of Ica, and the Paracas peninsula with its offshore marine birds' reserve.
  • Cusco and Machu Picchu. Cusco, capital of the Inca culture, and the ancient city of Machu Picchu are tucked away in the folds of the Andes. Outside Cusco, visit the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, and shop at the Pisac and Chincero markets on Sundays.
  • Iquitos. A fascinating riverport in itself, Iquitos is also the departure point for river trips to lodges offering comfortable accommodations and guided jungle walks. Several vessels offer explorations deeper into the rain forest for a day or a week.
  • Arequipa. This city lies below three towering volcanos. Travelers should see La Compania Church and Santa Catalina Convent. They also might want to take a longer trip by Jeep to Colca Canyon, one of the world's deepest.
  • Sipan. Peru's most important recent archaeological find includes the tomb of the Lord of Sipan and the nearby Bruning Museum, which houses his treasures. Travelers can tour the enormous ancient site of Tucume and, in the north, can visit Trujillo and the ancient adobe city of Chan Chan.

  • Paramaribo. A mosaic of races and cultures (African, Indonesian, Indian, Creole, Dutch) presents an exotic world in minature here in Suriname's capital. Among the quaint Dutch colonial buildings are modern hotels and Hindu temples; along one street stands the main mosque, side by side with the synagogue. The Central Market is bright with tempting foods and crafts, and the 17th-century Fort Zeelandia has been well restored.
  • Nature reserves. Full of birds and wildlife, these reserves are a major attraction and require organized arrangements; the one closest to the capital is in the mountain rain forest of Natuurpark Brownsburg, two hours from Paramaribo.

  • Montevideo. A visit to the capital by the Rio de la Plata should include parks, palaces, the Solis Theater, Government Palace, Natural History Museum and the Mercado del Puerto, housed in the old train station. Fiestas Gauchas are arranged at country estancias for a bit of rodeo, barbecue and folklore.
  • Punta del Este. This seaside playground is one of South America's most famous beach resorts, and is jam-packed in season (December to March). On shore are fine restaurants and casinos; offshore are the Lobos Islands, a nature reserve for sea lions. Other beach towns include Atlantida, La Paloma, Piriapolis and Coronilla.
  • Colonia del Sacramento. Known simply as Colonia, this is the first stop for visitors arriving by hydrofoil from Buenos Aires. The town's colonial quarter, founded by Portuguese settlers from Brazil in 1680, is a highlight.

  • Caracas. In this cultural center of the country, visitors should see the Casa Natal, the Bolivar Museum and San Francisco Church. Cultural attractions include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Museo de Bellas Artes and the Teresa Carreno Center for the Performing Arts.
  • Margarita Island. With its infrastructure of resort hotels, this is the country's fun-in-the-sun destination.
  • Canaima. On a clear day, the view coming in of Angel Falls (the highest on earth) is unbeatable. The visitor lands in Canaima National Park, which offers bungalow accommodations, jungle walks and riverboat excursions.
  • Merida. This town sits at the foot of the highest peak in Venezuela, Pico Bolivar. The ride to the top is on the world's highest cable car. Visitors also should take a drive into the Sierra Nevada National Park.
  • Morrocoy and Los Roques national parks. Morrocoy is a marine park of lagoon and coral keys. Los Roques is a coral archipelago protected by a barrier reef. Both appeal to birdwatchers, anglers and divers.
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    For More Information

    The South and Central American Travel Association, headquartered in Miami, consists of private tourism companies -- airlines, hotels, tour operators -- and representatives of the tourist offices of Argentina and Uruguay.

    While all members are based in the Southeast, SATA has taken its travel agent educational seminars on the road from Orlando, Fla., to San Francisco to New York, and points in between.

    For further information, call or fax (305) 555-7038.

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