• 1 September 2020

There is no shortage of amazing things to see and do on a trip to South America! To make sure you don’t miss out, we have put together a list of 19 incredible day trips that should definitely be on your South American bucket list! Cloud forests, ancient ruins, waterfalls, cowboys, volcano hikes and so much more!

Each trip offers a unique look into life on this vibrant continent. Let’s get started… 

1. Visit a gaucho ranch for a real Argentinian cowboy experience

Forget Texas, Argentina is the hotspot for cowboys! During a visit to Buenos Aires, take a trip out to stunning cowboy country. Visit a traditional estancia (ranch) on the pampas (plains) to see how genuine gauchos (Argentine cowboys) live! The locals love sharing their culture with visitors. From watching the cowboys riding horses and swinging lassos, to folk dances and a traditional barbecue, you’ll get a true taste of the gaucho lifestyle. Olé!

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Get the full cowboy experience in Estancia just outside of Buenos Aires
Get the full cowboy experience in Estancia just outside of Buenos Aires
2. Visit Paraguay in the heart of the continent

A trip to South America is more than likely going to take you to multiple amazing countries. Add another one to your list with a day trip to Paraguay! This tiny country, nestled in between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, offers authentic South American experiences. Venture from Brazil, across the Friendship Bridge to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Join a local guide as they take you to two popular spots. First is the Itaipu Dam on the Paraná River – a huge hydroelectric structure which is the largest in the world and produces 90% of Paraguay’s electricity! Ciudad del Este is next on the list – it’s the perfect spot to stroll through markets and pick up some souvenirs and keepsakes. Please note that you may require a visa to enter Paraguay, depending on your country of origin.

Did you know? There are so many unique handcrafts you can pick up from Paraguay as a keepsake. Look out for lace and cotton garments, or a guampa which is a cup used to drink terere the national drink of Paraguay.

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Friendship bridge over the Parana river in Paraguay
Friendship bridge over the Parana river in Paraguay
3. Witness the mighty Iguazu Falls from the Argentinian side

The Iguazu Falls flow along the border of Argentina and Brazil. Make the most of your trip to the falls by getting another perspective – from the Argentinian side! Cross the border, meet up with a local guide and venture into Argentina’s Iguazú National Park. Visit the viewpoints and wander the walkways and the upper and lower trails – keep an eye out for wildlife along the way. Don’t miss out on the Devil’s Throat section of the falls where you can enjoy a close-up view of the mighty waterfalls! 

Did you know? More than 275 separate falls make up Iguazu Falls. The ominously named Devil’s Throat is the most scenic of all of these. The curved cataract features 14 falls dropping an astounding 100 meters!

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina - ExpatExplore
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
4. Cruise around Iguazu Falls on an adventure boat tour

Looking for a truly unique perspective of the Iguazu Falls? We have just the thing! Combine a day trip to the Iguazú National Park in Argentina with an adventure boat trip. Meander through the trails and walkways before hopping onto a 4×4 truck to journey through the jungle to Puerto Macuco. Jump onto a boat and cruise into the heart of the majestic falls for an unforgettable experience. Navigate small rapids (and prepare to get a bit wet!) as you make your way to the base of the impressive San Martin waterfall. Take care as this is quite a rigorous trip with stairs to climb and a hike to complete – determine your fitness level before embarking on the adventure.

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The Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls
The Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls
5. See the local’s top spots in Rio

There is no better way to see a foreign city than from a local’s perspective. See Rio de Janeiro’s best attractions that locals love! Free your mind at the Museum of Tomorrow and pay visits to the breathtaking Sao Bento Monastery and La Candelaria. Admire the world’s largest mural created by Kobra. Get insider tips on the best places to eat and enjoy a tasty local lunch. Tick Rio’s opera house and the National Library off of your must-see lists. To round off a jam-packed day, head to Sugarloaf Mountain. The adorably named landmark offers incredible views of the city. From here you can see Rio’s famous beaches plus get an eyeful of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue standing above the city. 

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Tourists at the Christ the Redeemer statue
Tourists at the Christ the Redeemer statue
6. Explore the mysteries of Machu Picchu 

The mysterious Machu Picchu found high up on the slopes of the Andes mountains draw travellers from across the world. Little is known about the origins of the Incan ruins. Some myths say that the city could have been a sacred site or even an astrological observatory! While we may never know the true origins, we can visit and explore the temples and ruins today. 

A visit to Machu Picchu is a special experience. Explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site with a knowledgeable local guide and hear all about the discovery and research into its history. This trip will include all transport, transfers and permits. It is good to note that making it to Machu Picchu is quite a journey – it involves travel by bus, train and on foot. There will be a fair amount of walking in areas of high altitude so make sure you wear comfortable shoes and clothing.

Did you know? Machu Picchu only issues a limited amount of permits a day to ensure the site stays in top condition. This makes it super important to book your day trip as far in advance as possible.

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Machu Picchu ruins voted as one of the new 7 wonders of the world
Machu Picchu ruins voted as one of the new 7 wonders of the world
7. Sail around the Ballestas Islands and see the famous Nazca Lines from the sky

Take to the water and to the sky on this exciting day trip! Start the day with a two-hour boat trip around the beautiful Ballestas Islands. Located just off the coast of Peru, the islands are naturally stunning and amazing for marine-life viewing. See if you can spot Humboldt penguins and even sea-lions! After your time in the islands, you’ll head back to dry land for a flight over the Nazca Desert. This spot in southern Peru is home to a top South American attraction – the Nazca Lines. This famous site is made up of over 70 mysterious geoglyphs that have been carved and etched into the desert ground. Shapes like monkeys, hummingbirds and huge spiders adorn the landscape and they are a sight to behold as you fly over them. The origin of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not certain. We think the mystery adds to the appeal! 

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Nazca lines in Peru
Nazca lines in Peru
8. Travel back in time at the Tiwanaku ruins

Tiwanaku is an ancient site in Bolivia pre-dating the Incas! Ruins are all that is left of what was once a prosperous city dating back to 1200 BC. An expert local guide will take you on a tour of the complex. Learn about the history, culture and customs of Tiwanaku as you explore the grounds. You’ll see highlights such as the Akapana pyramids, the Temple of Kalasasaya and the Pumapunku Stone.  Stop at the Gateway of the Sun to hear all about its mysterious symbols. Two museum structures onsite offer insight into the ancient civilisation. This is one for the history buffs! 

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Tiwanaku archaeological site
Tiwanaku archaeological site
9. Get closer to nature in the Cocora Valley

Cocora Valley is one of the most popular outdoor excursions for travellers to Colombia. This region is part of the Los Nevados National Park and is home to spectacular natural scenery so exploring the area on foot is a must! Cocora Valley is incredibly biodiverse with captivating flora and fauna at every turn. Keep an eye out for the impressive Wax Palms – they are hard to miss, reaching head-spinning heights of 60 meters/200 feet! From April to May and from October to December, you might even get the chance to see coffee harvests in action. Spend your time here surrounded by the beauty of nature and enjoy a traditional local meal at lunchtime. 

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Tour the Cocora Calley
Tour the Cocora Calley
10. See Guatapé Lake from a dizzying height

Looking for incredible views from a unique perspective? A visit to the Piedra del Peñol is perfect! Also known as ‘The Rock of Guatapé’ this natural monolith rises 200m high and offers magnificent views of the region, from the glistening blue waters of the lake to the rolling green hills that surround it. Climb the nearly 700 steps to reach the top to take in the scenery! 

During this day trip, you’ll also visit a few of the towns dotted along the lakeside. See the old town of El Peñol which is a replica of a nearby Colombian village that was completely flooded during the 1970s. Travel to colourful Guatapé to explore the charming streets and you’ll also get to tuck into a traditional lunch – a completely local experience! 

Did you know? There is a fierce rivalry between the towns of Guatapé and Peñol over which town the impressive stone belongs to. Thanks to this contention, the rock is also known as El Peñon de Guatapé.

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Guatape Lake from the rock of Guatape
Guatape Lake from the rock of Guatape
11. Soak up the sun on the Rosario Islands 

White sand beaches, cool blue waters and palm trees swaying in the wind – the Rosario Islands are a Caribbean paradise! Found just off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, a visit to the islands is the perfect day trip for anyone looking to relax away from the city. Catch a one-hour boat ride to the island archipelago and spend the day living your ultimate island dream! Take a dip in the ocean, relax on the beach and soak up the sun. You can also venture along the surrounding beaches and into the jungle. Enjoy a typical Caribbean lunch – including things like line fish, coconut-infused rice and exotic Colombian fruit! Laze the day away and enjoy the laid-back island atmosphere – it’s the perfect peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. 

 Available on these future Expat Explore tours:

An aerial view of the Rosario Islands
An aerial view of the Rosario Islands
12. Learn about Medellin’s transformation from drug capital to Colombia’s hippest city

Take a trip from past to present and learn all about the remarkable rejuvenation the city of Medellin has undergone since the days of Pablo Escobar. Once known as one of the deadliest cities in the world, today Medellin is friendly, colourful and welcomes tourists with open arms! Hit the streets of the Comuna 13 neighbourhood with your tour guide and retrace the steps of one of the most notorious drug lords in history! The scenes today are completely transformed with positivity and optimism palpable in the air. See amazing street art, treat yourself to lunch at a local restaurant and finish off your tour with a ride on the Cable Car Metro.

Did you know? Shaking off the remnants of its turbulent past,  Medellin is now known as the “City of Eternal Spring” thanks to its temperate climate and is fast becoming a modern, travel hot spot well-loved for its trendy bars, fine dining and delicious coffee! 

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New escalators built in Comuna 13
New escalators built in Comuna 13
13. Visit one of Colombia’s longest surviving indigenous groups 

This is a truly unique cultural experience! The Kogi people have been cultivating the earth for thousands of years. They are one of Colombia’s most secluded and longest surviving indigenous groups, having existed since the pre-Colombian era! Travel to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region and join a host Kogi family as a guest. Enjoy an intimate look into Kogi culture, customs and everyday life. The Kogi believe that they exist to care for the world and that humans have a responsibility to protect life on earth and promote environmental awareness. This visit will leave you more attuned to nature and the Kogi people will teach you to embrace the environment.

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14. Explore the idyllic San Blas Islands

A visit to the San Blas Islands seems like it is straight out of a daydream! From the turquoise waters to the long stretches of white sand beaches and untouched natural beauty, this is an idyllic destination just off the coast of Panama. This archipelago is made up of 365 islands with only a small few being inhabited. Taking a day trip to the San Blas islands is the ultimate island day trip. Be ready for an early start, jump on a boat and get ready to explore a few of the islands. Lunch will be fresh catch-of-the-day. The rest of the day is yours to embrace the full island lifestyle! Swim, snorkel or simply relax under the sun

 Available on these future Expat Explore tours:

The islands of San Blas
The islands of San Blas
15. Hike around Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano

This one is for the nature lovers! Travel to Arenal Volcano National Park and see Costa Rica’s most well-known volcano. Join a guide for a half-day hike along the area’s old lava flows and volcano skirts. Arenal stands at an impressive 1,657 meters tall! In the past century, it has been known as one of the world’s most active volcanoes! While you explore the area on your hike, learn more about the volcano and its history. Arenal Volcano National Park is home to wonderful flora and fauna – see if you can spot sloths, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, a variety of beautiful bird species and even anteaters during your trek.

 Available on these future Expat Explore tours:

Arenal vulcano hike
Arenal volcano hike
16. Explore the Costa Rican rainforest from above

Take to the treetops to get a unique perspective of the rainforest in Costa Rica. With the Arenal Volcano providing a backdrop, follow an expert local guide and cross a number of hanging bridges and venture deep into the rainforest. This is definitely a day trip for adventurers! The bridges are 5 – 10 meters (5 – 350 feet) high and wind through the trees of the forest. Listen as your guide shares insights and the history of this beautiful and unique ecosystem. The bird’s eye view allows you to see so much more of the rich diversity of animals, birds, insects and plants that call this area home! 

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Arenal Volcano hanging bridge
Arenal Volcano hanging bridge
17. Take a dip in the hot springs of Baldi

What’s the best way to kick back and relax after a day filled with adventure in the Costa Rican rainforest? With a long soak in the rejuvenating hot springs of Baldi! There are hot springs found in the area surrounding the base of the Arenal Volcano, with the volcano naturally heating the thermal water. Visit the Baldi springs for the ultimate evening of relaxation! Take a dip in the waters and feel the rejuvenating effects or even book a massage! Afterwards, sit down for a delicious buffet dinner. Enjoy your meal with amazing views of the Arenal volcano.  

Did you know? Hot springs and thermal waters are said to be therapeutic. This is thanks to the high level of minerals concentrated in the water. You’ll have to take a dip to see if it’s true! 

 Available on these future Expat Explore tours:

Arenal hot springs
Arenal hot springs
18. Marvel at the wildlife and scenery Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

For unrivalled animal sightings and stunning natural scenery – visit Costa Rica’s picturesque Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. This tiny national park – Costa Rica’s smallest at 16 square kilometres – is one of its best! Here, you will find rugged rainforests meeting pristine beaches. Wildlife enthusiasts won’t know where to look! The area is home to capuchin monkeys, iguanas, armadillos, sloths, dolphins, whales and the Grey-crowned squirrel monkey which is native to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. During your visit, enjoy the views as well as an informative tour of the park under the guidance of a local expert!

 Available on these future Expat Explore tours:

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park
19. Visit Bocas del Toro’s famous beaches

Take full advantage of being in a tropical paradise! Bocas del Toro is an island archipelago paradise on Panama’s Caribbean coast. Cruise around the crystal clear waters on a catamaran and see the area’s top spots! Visit the incredible Bastimentos Island and Bird Island. Not to forget two of the most famous beaches: Starfish Beach and Red Frog Beach said to be some of the most beautiful in all of Panama. While you explore the islands at a leisurely pace, take a dip in the ocean, go snorkelling and wander across the beaches in this tropical paradise. Keep an eye out for sloths, capuchin monkeys, dolphins and turtles! To complete your Panamanian island experience, chat with the locals while you enjoy some of the local cuisines! 

Did you know? During the 17th century, the islands used to be a haven for pirates! They stopped here to repair and build new ships. Legend has it that they buried treasure on a number of the islands but nothing has been found yet!

 Available on these future Expat Explore tours:

View some starfish on Bird island
View some starfish on Bird island

A trip to South America is sure to be amazing thanks to the continent’s beautiful natural scenery, its ancient sites and the vibrant culture. Any of these 19 incredible day trips will make your South American adventure even more unforgettable! Has this list sparked your adventurous spirit? Contact us to start adding these optional excursions to your future Expat Explore South America tour!

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