Long before man's arrival, the South American continent was endowed
with the world's highest waterfall (Angel Falls in Venezuela) and
longest river (the Amazon); a string of snowcapped volcanoes on the
equator; fringes of pearly beaches north and south; islands
inhabited by wildlife found no where else in the world, and rain
forests sheltering unique flora and fauna.
Yet it is the monuments of man that provide the most special
attractions along a network of heritage trails, from Inca and
pre-Inca cities such as Tiahuanaco in Bolivia and the mountain
stronghold of Machu Picchu in Peru, to the giant stone men found in
both the San Agustin archaeological zone in Colombia and on Easter
Island in the Pacific Ocean.
In the 16th century, the Spaniards -- and later the Portuguese
-- came to conquer and build their own golden cathedrals,
Andalusian monasteries and Moorish palaces over Indian temples.
Christian met pagan, and a new folklore was born; it lives on today
in dozens of colorful festivals, as well as markets and shops full
of traditional arts and handicrafts.
Consider some of the historic routes that offer clients new
horizons for cultural touring in South America.
Most visitors to Argentina have yet to discover Argentina's
northwest, a two-hour air journey from Buenos Aires to the towns
and provinces of Salta and Jujuy.
In addition to the highland scenery of the Nevadas de Cachi that
rise in glorious colors to more than 22,000 feet, this is a region
of colonial towns, Indian settlements and traditional crafts that
will remind visitors of neighboring Bolivia and more distant
The earliest Spanish settlements in Argentina were established
by the conquistadors in these two provinces, and the visitor to the
area will be vividly aware of the influence of the Spanish and the
flavor of the pre-Columbian cultures.
First stop on this two-province circuit is Jujuy, with its
colonial cathedral, the Mitre Theater and the artisans market. From
town, visitors depart to the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a splendid rift
valley of dramatic polychromatic rock strata and giant cacti.
Visits are also made to noteworthy 17th century churches in the
picturesque villages of Purmamarca and Uquia, as well as Tilcara
ancient fortress of the Omaguaca Indians who defended this land
from the Incas and, later, the Spaniards. The town's historic
museum contains the burial urns of mummies, as well as ancient
jewelry, artifacts and utensils of the Indian civilization.
Salta is quaint, with colorful colonial buildings, the
cathedral, the Convent of San Bernardo, the San Francisco church
and the Archaeological Museum. There is a wide selection of Andean
crafts in the Artesanal Market.
Directly south in the province of Tucaman is the ancient Indian
settlement of Quilmes, dating to about 1000 A.D. It is Argentina's
best restored archaeological site; its massive fortifications
fended off the Incas, but not the Spanish.
A 45-minute flight from La Paz, Sucre is a courtly colonial city
with many of the finest art and architectural treasures on the
continent on display in public places and in Spanish-style
churches. Examples of the later include the San Francisco with its
golden altar and pulpit; the San Lazaro where the pulpit is in
silver, and the San Miguel, the altar of which is a rich blend of
gold and silver.
Sucre is the legal capital (in contrast to La Paz, the
commercial capital of the country), and visitors here can step back
to pre-colonial times for a Sunday excursion to the Tarabuco Indian
market, 40 miles away.
From Sucre, visitors can travel overland two to three hours to
Potosi. Silver mines made this the boom town of the colonial
Americas. Looming above the city at 13,340 feet is Cerro Rico, the
mountain that held the richest silver mine of all, before the
Spaniards abandoned it. While the silver is gone, tin mining goes
on, and visitors may go down into the mine for an eerie tour of its
Potosi's colonial buildings include churches with intricately
carved portals and mansions still bearing their 17th century coats
of arms on the doors. The highlight attraction is the Museum of the
Bolivia offers a rather special historic route to its
well-preserved, highly decorative Jesuit missions, departing from
San Ignacio, and including the San Ignacio mission itself, plus
Santa Ana, San Rafael and San Miguel.
Clients will want to stop at the mysterious Tiahuanaco ruins en
route to the highest navigable lake in the world, Titicaca, site of
the sacred Sun and Moon islands, and legendary birthplace of the
When the Portuguese colonizers arrived in Brazil, they didn't
tarry along the country's beaches, but headed inland south of
Salvador de Bahia where they found what they were looking for:
Riches from this discovery were invested in the Golden Towns, a
circuit that lies beyond Belo Horizonte, an hour by air from Rio.
The central jewel of this route is Ouro Preto, a city of such
historic and architectural importance that it is on the list of
UNESCO world monument sites. Its churches with golden altars defy
description and there are 13 of them, as well as 11 chapels and a
major museum showing off the splendors of the gold rush days.
Mariana lies 10 minutes down the road from Ouro Preto and 68
miles from Belo Horizonte. Here can be found the best religious art
in the state, housed in the Se Basilica, the Praca Joao Pinheiro
and the churches of St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of
The town of Sao Joao del Rey is one of the loveliest in the
state. Among its attractions are colonial mansions, churches,
bridges, fountains and the altars of the Pilar Cathedral. Carnival
and Holy Week are two special times here.
Congonhas is the birthplace of the colonial period's greatest
sculptor, Antonio Francisco Lisboa, known as Aleijadinho, the
little cripple, whose helpers had to fasten mallet and chisel to
his limbs and strap him to the statues he was carving. His greatest
life work -- and probably the most important work of Brazilian
baroque art -- is here, the Basilica do Bom Jesus.
Sabara is the last of the gold circuit towns, one with whole
altars and pillars covered in gold, a Gold Museum and colonial
Almost any time is a good time to go north, to an area famous
for its high-altitude desert landscapes, lava fields, volcanoes,
dunes and ghost towns.
The superstar of this region is the Atacama Desert; the easiest
air gateway is Calama. Remains of man dating back 20,000 years have
been found in the desert. Discoveries from this era are exhibited
and documented in the village of San Pedro de Atacama where
visitors learn all about prehistory at the Father Le Paige
Further north is Arica, where the seashore and colorful harbor
are populated by pelicans awaiting discards from the daily catch of
local fishermen. Outside the city, the hills are dotted with large
figures of ancient geoglyphs. In the Azapa Valley is the San Miguel
Archaeological Museum, with a collection of pre-Columbian artifacts
of the Diaguitas Indians, as well as sand-preserved mummies from
cultures pre-dating those of Egypt. Arica is also the departure
point for a full day tour of the Lauca National Park and a visit to
the geoglyphs of the Lluta Valley.
Visitors can fly from Arica (or Calama or Santiago) to the
seaside resort town of Iquique to visit the Pintados, where immense
glyphic images of animals and stylized figures cover the mountain
Off shore, 2,300 miles out in the Pacific, is Easter Island,
which was settled by Polynesian people and offers a grand outdoor
museum of hundreds of huge carved moai, stone heads that tower as
high as 70 feet and weigh as much as 60 tons. Of additional
interest are the petroglyphs carved on rocks and cave walls.
Located an hour by air from Quito and founded on the ruins of
the ancient Inca town of Tomebamba, Cuenca basks in a 17th-century
Spanish past, the remaining charms of which include blue- and
gold-domed churches, buildings with ornate balconies and cloisters
full of fine religious art. Cobbled streets lead from one
flower-filled plaza to the next and down to the Tomebamba
Ingapirca, Ecuador's most important Inca site, lies two hours
north of Cuenca. Ancient remains include the great stone fortress,
the barracks, the stone Inca face and the various zoomorphic
carvings; there is a museum on site.
The Pacific coast has been a region of major discovery and
remains of the Valdivia culture, close to the oldest in the
Americas, are still being uncovered. Many finds are on display in
museums in Guayaquil.
Salango and Real Alto are two ancient sites reached on a
full-day tour from Guayaquil. Real Alto's antiquity spans an
occupation from 3400 B.C. to 1500 B.C. Exhibits from the
archaeological dig of the area are displayed in the Museum of Real
Alto. Nearby is Santa Elena where the cemetery dates to 5000 B.C.
The village of Salango has the Presley Norton archaeological
museum, with artifacts from local excavations.
In the Pinchincha province, just 15 miles from Quito, the
pre-Inca fortress at Rumicucho has been excavated.
Peru, back in the spotlight of tourist interest, might easily be
called the heartland of pre-Columbian and colonial cultures.
The Cusco-Machu Picchu excursion remains Peru's highlight visit.
Cusco is the archaeological capital of South America, rich in
ancient treasures such as the Koricancha temple and the vast
Sacsayhuaman fortress, as well as colonial treasures of mansions
and churches (the Cathedral, La Merced, La Compania) built on Inca
History also fills the surrounding countryside, from the Inca
village of Piquillacta and the colonial Andahuaylillas church to
the Ollantaytambo fortress and Pisac, with its ancient ruins above
the town and a Sunday Indian market in the village square.
A fascinating three-hour train ride from Cusco leads through the
Urubamba River Valley -- a favorite for adventure river rafters and
take-off point for Inca Trail trekkers -- to Machu Picchu, the
remote mountain fortress to which the last of the Incas fled.
Travelers can continue from Cusco by rail to Puno (also
accessible by air from Lima) on Lake Titicaca, a major folkloric
center of fiestas and markets, and visit the cathedral, the Carlos
Dreyer Museum and the Aymara Indian burial chambers of Sillustani.
Puno is also the stepping-off point for exploring the floating
islands of the Uros people, and Taquile Island, famous for its
skilled weavers, as well as the departure point for crossing the
lake by hydrofoil and then boarding a bus to La Paz.
Three hours by car from Lima on the southern coast lie the Nazca
markings and the nearby Paracas necropolis. From a small plane, one
looks down on gigantic figures etched on the land of the ancient
Nazca peoples; from a boat, visitors may view the cliff carvings
that decorate the coastal ground once occupied by the Paracas
Further north on the coast are more fascinating remnants of
pre-Inca civilizations. North, first by air to Trujillo, is Chan
Chan, an urban complex of the Chimu people who worshiped the moon
and left nine royal compounds spread over 12 square miles. Overland
visitors can continue to Chiclayo (or fly from Lima) to visit
Sipan, Peru's most important recent archaeological find that
includes the tomb of the Lord of Sipan and the nearby Bruning
Museum, which houses its treasures of the Moche culture. Visitors
here can also tour the enormous site of Tucume, distinguished by
pyramid-like funeral mounds.
Flying south to Arequipa, a colonial city that lies below three
towering volcanoes, clients will want to see La Compania church and
the delightful Santa Catalina convent which once sheltered a
community of 400 nuns. They should also consider a day trip or
over-night excursion to Colca Canyon, twice as deep as the Grand
Canyon, which cuts through a region occupied by people whose lives
have changed little since Inca times. The road to Colca runs past
the Aguada Blanca, a national reserve protecting vicunas (relatives
of the llama).