Below are some of the major travel highlights for Across the Southern Cone. For more in-depth attractions of each country on this route, click on the country names below or select a route to see the highlights on this section of the journey. Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
|In-depth highlights: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay|
Chile's capital is a vast and busy city located underneath the Andes mountains. Its historic buildings of note include the Presidential Palace, the historic main square Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, the monastery of San Francisco and the Palacio de la Real Audiencia, which houses the National History Museum. On a clear day, the views from Cerro San Cristobal in Parque Metropolitano are excellent - where the Andes peaks tower over the city. The bohemian Bellavista district is a popular spot with many restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as the unusual house of the Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda.
The historic port city of Valparaiso is Chile's cultural capital, as well as being the seat of the National Assembly and a major military base. Valparaiso reached the height of its prosperity in the 19th century but declined with the opening of the Panama Canal. Today it has a rough and faded charm but retains its romantic and atmospheric character and its cultural importance. The city is located in a natural amphitheatre setting with the bay encircled by a narrow coastal plain and a series of steep hills. Valparaiso is famous for its series of 19th century funicular elevators known as ascensors which link the steep hills with the downtown streets. The hillsides are dotted with numerous churches and colourfully painted houses and mansions, including 'La Sebastiana', the former house of the Chilean writer and Nobel Prize Winner, Pablo Neruda. The neighbourhoods of Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre are some of Valparaiso's most charming areas, with wonderful architecture and great views of the hillsides and bay.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso
Puerto Varas is a town located on the shores on Lake Llanquihue which is a good base for exploring the beautiful landscapes of the Chilean Lake District. Known as the 'City of the Roses', the views along the shoreline of the lake in Puerto Varas are beautiful with the snow-capped cones of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes in the background. Trekking on the lava fields of the Osorno Volcano provides excellent views of the region towards the Pacific on one side and the emerald Lago Todos Los Santos on the other. The Valdivian rainforest surrounding Osorno also provides an excellent hiking destination with lush green landscapes and a variety of wildlife. Lava from Osorno has formed an impressive series of waterfalls and rapids for the icy blue glacier water at the Saltos de Petrohue, complete with the volcanic cone as an impressive backdrop.
|Crossing the Andes|
The lake districts of Chile and Argentina are beautiful regions with mountain lakes, national parks and the peaks of the Andes mountains contributing to make it an area of outstanding natural beauty. One of the great ways of experiencing this is to take the trip from Bariloche in Argentina to Puerto Varas in Chile across the Andes. This journey comprises boat trips across three lakes and four road journeys connecting them and the destinations. From Bariloche, the first boat is boarded at Puerto Panuelo to sail along Lake Nahuel Huapi to Puerto Blest. A short drive takes you to Puerto Alegre for a short cruise on Lake Frias to Puerto Frias. Here you pass through Argentine customs and drive through the beautiful Perez Rosales National Park to Peulla, officially crossing the border en route. From Peulla, the final boat ride across Lake Todos los Santos takes you to Petrohue, where you drive to the destination of Puerto Varas on the shores of the stunning Lake Llanquihue. The trip also runs in reverse from Puerto Varas to Bariloche along the same route.
Bariloche is located on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi and surrounded by the mountains, lakes and national parks of the Lake District. The landscape attracted many Swiss and German settlers, whose legacy is most notable in the huge number of chocolate factories and shops in the town. There are numerous hills near the town, which can be climbed on foot or chairlift, which offer spectacular views of the mountains and lakes of the area, in particular Cerro Campanario, 17km out of town. The national parks offer a range of outdoor activities, ranging from skiing (in season) to trekking, biking and kayaking while the town itself is a wonderful and picturesque spot to relax for a few days, with some great bars and restaurants.
Mendoza is one of Argentina's most popular cities for travellers, who are attracted to its laid back atmosphere, wide leafy avenues and lively cafe and bar-laden plazas. The Mendoza region produces 70% of the wine made in Argentina and it's a great place to tour some of the major wineries and do wine tasting, particularly of the Malbec grape unique to Argentina. The spectacular mountainous landscapes around Mendoza are also ideal for trekking and horse riding.
Cordoba is Argentina's second largest city and a university town with a strong colonial history, dating back to its founding in 1573. The Jesuit Block in Cordoba is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprising the university built around a central open space with a colonnaded courtyard, the huge domed church of the Society of Jesus with its richly decorated interior and the college. These buildings demonstrate the fusion of European and indigenous culture from this key period in Argentine history. The World Heritage Site also includes the Jesuit estancias of Jesus María and Santa Catalina outside the city. Cordoba's large student population (there are seven universities here) mean the city has a vibrant atmosphere and great nightlife. Just outside Cordoba lies Alta Gracia, where the young Ernesto Guevara lived - his former house has been converted into a museum focusing on his early life.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Jesuit Block and Estancias of Córdoba
Salta is Argentina's colonial gem, a 16th century city with some magnificent historical buildings and set in a beautiful region that offers the chance to indulge in many activities. Salta's highlights include the 18th century Cabildo Historico (old town hall) and the 19th century cathedral, both on the main plaza, as well as the 16th century San Bernardo Convent and the gaudy facade of the Iglesia San Francisco with its huge spire. The cable car up to San Bernardo Hill affords superb views over the city and its surrounds. Salta also has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, particularly in the Balcarce quarter. From Salta, many activities can be arranged in the surrounding area, including white-water rafting, abseiling, bungee jumping, paragliding and horse riding.
|Quebrada de Humahuaca|
The Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Gorge) is located in northern Argentina along the valley of the Rio Grande from its source in the High Andes to its confluence with the Rio Leone 150km to the south. It has been a major cultural and trade route for thousands of years, known as the Camino Inca, and was used for 200 years to transport the silver mined at Potosi back to Spain. The valley features traces of several historical periods, from prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities, to the Inca Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries and the fight for independence in the 19th and 20th centuries. The scenery is this region is spectacular and the villages of Purmamarca, Humahuaca and Uquia are picturesque settlements in beautiful mountainous settings.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Quebrada de Humahuaca
Buenos Aires is one of the great cities of South America - a vibrant, cosmopolitan and culturally fascinating metropolis. It has a strong European influence borne from large scale immigration from Spain, Italy and France and some excellent and grandiose 19th century architecture along its wide avenues. Buenos Aires has several distinctive neighbourhoods. San Telmo is the artists quarter with some great restaurants and bars and a wonderful Sunday market. The Italian barrio of La Boca is famous for its colourfully painted buildings, street tango shows and the passion and spectacle of the football games of the Boca Juniors team. Palermo and Recoleta are the fashionable districts, the latter famous for the grandiose tombs at La Recoleta Cemetery, resting place of Eva Peron. Back in the city centre, Plaza de Mayo is surrounded by important historical buildings including the presidential palace, site of the mass demonstrations in support of Peron in 1945. It is at night when Buenos Aires comes alive though, with the bars, tango shows and nightclubs keeping the city pulsating until the early hours.
|Colonia del Sacramento|
Colonia del Sacramento was founded by the Portuguese in 1680 on the west side of a peninsula by the Rio de la Plata. Colonia was an important centre in Portugal's American colonies and used as a smuggling base for goods to Buenos Aires. The city was razed to the ground by the Spanish during the war of 1704-05, rebuilt by the Portuguese but captured by the Spanish after a siege in 1777. The historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, nearest the edge of the peninsula, has been exceptionally well preserved. There are numerous examples of buildings from the 17th to 19th centuries which illustrate the successful fusion of the Portuguese, Spanish and post-colonial styles as well as large squares, cobbled lanes, the lighthouse and the remains of the fortified wall with a restored gateway. It is one of the most charming and evocative colonial towns in South America, seemingly frozen in a time gone by. Colonia is easily reached by ferry from Buenos Aires and it's worth spending at least one night in the town to view the sunset over the Rio Plate and experience the wonderfully atmospheric bar and restaurant culture at night.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento
|Jesuit Mission of San Ignacio Mini|
Five Jesuit missions were built in the land of the Guarani Indians in the 17th and 18th centuries, four of these are in present day Argentina and one in Brazil. The ruins at San Ignacio Mini are the best preserved of these. The missions were all laid out in the same pattern with a large open square surrounded by the church, residence of the Fathers and houses of the Indians. The Jesuits purpose was to educate the natives and convert them to Christianity and they also sought to protect them from capture and abuse from Spanish and Portuguese colonists.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: San Ignacio Mini, Santa Ana, Nuestra Señora de Loreto and Santa Maria Mayor (Argentina), Ruins of Sao Miguel das Missoes (Brazil)
Iguazu Falls can lay reasonable claim to being the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. Certainly, the sheer breadth of them, 275 distinct waterfalls across 2.5km, is without parallel while they are higher than Niagara Falls with heights of up to 80 metres. Located at the confluence of the Rio Iguazu and the Rio Alto Parana, the Falls can be viewed from both the Argentine and Brazilian side of the border - the Brazilian side gives great panoramic views, especially of the Devil's Throat area, with the Argentine side allowing you to get closer to the waters from above and below. The single most impressive waterfall is the Devil's Throat, reached on the Green Train or by a hike through the park. After walking across several bridges, you reach a platform right beside the spectacular and deafening cascade of water. Back towards the centre of the park, there are two circuits (Upper and Lower) that allow you to get very close to some of the other falls (Salto Bossetti is a particularly impressive and dampening experience) as well as giving some fantastic panoramic views. Depending on water levels, you can take a boat to Isla San Martin for a different perspective or a speedboat ride right up to the Falls themselves to get properly soaked. Iguazu is truly one of the must-see sights in the world and warrants extensive exploration of the National Park.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Iguazu National Park
|Iguaçu National Park|
Iguazu Falls can lay reasonable claim to being the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. Certainly, the sheer breadth of them, 275 distinct waterfalls across 2.5km, is without parallel while they are higher than Niagara Falls with heights of up to 80 metres. Located at the confluence of the Rio Iguazu and the Rio Alto Parana, the Falls can be viewed from both the Argentine and Brazilian side of the border - the Brazilian side gives great panoramic views, especially of the Devil's Throat area, with the Argentine side allowing you to get closer to the waters from above and below. A short helicopter ride over the waterfalls offers a different and spectacular vista. Close to the national park is the Parque das Aves which contains many examples of Brazil's subtropical birds as well as mammals and reptiles. There is also the option to visit the Itaipu Dam, one of the engineering wonders of the world and second only in size to the Three Gorges Dam in China. With a dam 8km long and 65 storeys high and a reservoir that covers 1400 km², Itaipu supplies 80& of Paraguay's electricity and 25% of Brazil's.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Iguaçu National Park
Paraty was an important port town during the height of the Brazilian gold rush and today is a beautifully preserved Portuguese colonial town. Its town centre is filled with colonial whitewashed buildings and pedestrianised cobbled streets, some of which are partly covered with seawater at high tide. There are four impressive colonial churches, the most imposing of which is the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. As well as exploring the atmospheric town, its bay has islands with excellent beaches and inland the town is surrounded by mountainous national parks filled with trails and wildlife.
Ihla Grande is an island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro renowned for its beautiful beaches, rich vegetation and rocky landscapes. With no cars on the island, it's the perfect spot for relaxation and exploration on foot or by boat. The entire island is a protected area with an abundance of endangered wildlife that can be viewed on the 150km of trails through the pristine rainforest. The animal species here include red-browed Amazon parrot, broad-snouted caiman, maned sloth and brown howler monkey. Elsewhere the 6-7 hour hike to the Pico do Papagaio at 982 metres offers superb views of the island and surrounding waters while Antigo Presídio has the ruins of a once infamous prison for political prisoners.
|Rio de Janeiro|
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world. Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City), its setting is almost unparalleled - crammed between stunning white beaches and soaring mountains with the peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain and the Corcovado guarding its bay. The 1,300-metre long cable car ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain gives you spectacular views across the city and Guanabara Bay, which are matched by those on Corcovado on top of which lies the magnificent statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Back in the city, Rio's famous beaches (Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon) are filled with sun worshippers, the colonial part of the city has many historic buildings and museums and the picturesque barrio of Santa Teresa is known as 'The Montmartre of Rio'. Its at night when Rio really comes alive though, with the samba bars of Lapa and the bars and restaurants of Ipanema and Copacabana filled with live music, energy and people having fun. The whole city goes wild with parades and parties in the week leading up to the Mardi Gras Carnival every year in February. The contrast between the opulent downtown and the poverty in the hillside favelas can be seen on a tour of Rocinha (the largest in South America). Another must-see attraction is a football game at the world famous 95,000 seat Maracena Stadium to experience the unique Brazilian football atmosphere. For quiet time away from the city's bustle, the beautiful Botanical Gardens or tropical rainforest of Tijuca National Park provides a welcome break from the concrete jungle.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea