When you think of Latin America, what springs to mind straight away? The Amazon Jungle, Andes, and mega-cities like Rio de Janeiro perhaps? This vast and varied continent is home to some of the world’s rarest wildlife, most fascinating indigenous cultures, and vibrant lifestyles. From the vibrant Buenos Aires to the grand Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, you are guaranteed to remember your time here. Just understand this though: this is a continent which will change your outlook on life and state of mind. Sounds good? Then get out there for yourself and experience the Latin spirit in all its glory! So following on from out guide to all-inclusive gap-year trips around the world, we now focus on these two regions of breathtaking scenery and unique culture...
Firstly let’s clear up a long overdue misconception. There are 13 countries in South America, and ten in North America (excluding the Caribbean Islands). While most people think of the north as Mexico, USA, and Canada, there are actually seven tiny seven countries below Mexico which are part of the northern continent. This region is better known as Central America, and ranges from the Creole culture of Belize, Mayan temples of Guatemala and vibrant city life of Panama. But the area is best known for its stunning array of jungle too!
Trek America offer a range of Central American escapades, and a brilliant choice is the ‘Costa Rica Panama Trail.’ The 21-day trip starts with a some hiking in the bird-haven of Carara National Park before zip-lining over jungle at Parque Aventura! The next day head to the cloud forest of Montverde, a land of monkeys and mist. Camp out under the stars, climb volcanoes and horse-ride or trek to hidden waterfalls. Relax on the beach in picturesque Samar, and sample unripe mango dipped in salt and lime in capital San Jose. Also try the local cinnamon ice-cream helado de sorbetera: it’s delicious! Take in the calm Caribbean beauty of Panama’s Bocas del Toro, where you can swim with the multi-coloured fish. Then dance the night away with a rum cocktail as you perfect your salsa moves with the locals. Prices start from £1539.
The big one
Let’s face it, South America is huge. With so many countries to visit and so much to take in, it’s difficult to decide where to go and what to do. So why not do it all?! Yes that’s right. Travel specialist giant Intrepid are offering a four-month extravaganza taking in the best of this vast continent. Imagine how jealous your family and friends will be when you brag about how you partied in Rio and haggled for herbal remedies in Bolivia’s capital La Paz? And for the duration, the cost is pretty cheap too. Starting from £3590, the trip includes 63 nights of camping so you can really get to know the environment!
Fly into Rio de Janeiro and relax for the day before heading south to Paraty. Marvel at the centuries old architecture and swim in the crystal-clear water before heading to Brotas. Take in some kayaking or white-water rafting. Camp out in the red soil of the fertile Campo Grande region, and wake up to sights of cattle grazing in the distance. Hike through wetlands, and dive the inland Blue Lake through the gorgeous rock formations. Head to the Argentine border where mighty Iguazu Falls thunder down and take in the enchanting jungle views. Sample the art and architecture in Buenos Aries, meet Argentinean cowboys, and spot penguins and whales on the Valdes Peninsular! After windswept Patagonia head into Chile’s capital Santiago before working your way up to Bolivia’s magical La Paz. Try the dried llama fetus with herbs at the city’s fabled witches market. Sounds terrible, we know, but it’s supposed to bring good luck! Then enter Peru and experience the Inca Trail.
In Ecuador wander the cobblestone streets and admire the red-tiled roofs and flower markets of capital Cuenca. Head to the awe-inspiring moon-scape of Quilatoa Crater Lake and ride through the mountain-paved roads of the Quilatoa Loop. Then rest in an eco-lodge on the slopes of the grand Rio Toachi Canyon. This trip has it all and you’re guaranteed to make many new friends!
One of the world’s great centres of ancient civilization, this magical country on the west side of the continent is a travellers’ dream. Boasting volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, and giant sand-dunes, the country’s capital Cuzco gave birth to the ancient Inca people. So get back to history with a six-day trek with Real Gap through some of their legacy and ruins. Starting off in the capital you‘ll head off the beaten path through remote rural villages with stunning views of the Andes. Mingle with local families, weavers, and llama herders. The trip culminates at the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu. The views are stunning and a guided tour will reveal the secrets of these great people!
If you’re planning a gap year, consider taking a trip to this magical continent for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!