If you've always wanted to experience some of the world's greatest wildlife encounters, then South America is sure to impress. Imagine watching sea lions fan themselves in the sun, a giant tortoise emerging from crystal blue waters, or monkeys swinging from tree to tree.
Being the richest ecological region on our planet, it's by far, one of the best places to see wildlife in the world. At its heart lies the Amazon, home to one of the world's greatest rivers and the world's largest tropical rainforest. So combining an active holiday with wildlife viewing is the perfect recipe for a pretty magical experience. We've compiled the best five places to observe wildlife in its natural habitat to help make choosing where to go a little easier.
1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Few places in the world can rival the Galapagos Islands as a wildlife destination. Situated in the Pacific Ocean, 1,000km from the South American continent, the Galapagos has over 875 species of plants and 289 types of fish. This isolated group of volcanic islands, with its very fragile ecosystem, is home to creatures that can be found nowhere else in the world and is a wildlife lovers dream.
How to see it:
Cruise to the islands accompanied by a naturalist guide, where you can to explore the volcanic and wildlife rich islands. You will have the opportunity to snorkel and swim with wildlife as well as get up close to giant tortoises, fur seals, sea lions, land and sea iguanas and many species of birds. You can take an 8-day cruising adventure or longer expedition that encompasses the highlights of Peru’s rich cultural past with the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. After visiting the ruins of Machu Picchu, kick back and relax on a Galapagos cruise and see a plethora of birdlife, the Giant Galapagos tortoise, sea lions, marine iguanas and Galapagos penguins. Find out more >
2. Peruvian Amazon
Peru really has it all - with its rugged natural beauty, ancient ruins and architecture, rich history and vibrant culture, Peru is an unforgettable destination. The Peruvian Amazon makes up 60% of Peru and is the second largest portion of the Amazon after the Brazilian Amazon. You can cruise, raft and canoe your way through the lush jungles and twisting tributaries of the vast Amazon River basin whilst getting up close and personal to Peru's wildlife.
How to see it:
Head on an all-encompassing trip that takes you to all the best areas – explore the splendour of Cusco with rich cultural heritage, walk to the Sacred Valley to view ancient Inca salt plains, and enjoy a fully supported Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu with dramatic mountain views. Finish your trip in the depths of the Amazon Jungle at Tambopata Reserve, which is home to the world’s greatest concentration of bird and butterflies. Alternatively, add-on a wildlife safari and walking extension to your South America itinerary for an off-the-beaten path Amazon jungle experience where you will spend 3 nights in a jungle lodge. Enjoy rainforest walks looking for monkeys and capybara and spot an array of birdlife including horned screamers, raptors, plovers, terns, macaws, parrots, kingfishers and toucans. Find out more >
The glacier-dotted mountainous interior of Patagonia is part of the great chain of Andean peaks - offering some of the most incredible wilderness trekking on the planet. Patagonia boasts magnificent wildlife including flamingos, sea birds, guanacos, elephant seals and right whales.
How to see it:
Take a unique journey through the National Parks of Patagonia will trekking through some of the most dramatic regions of the world away from the main trails. cross the wildlife rich Valdes Peninsula, the Lakes District of Argentina, the impressive parks of Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares and cruise down the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia. What an adventure!
The opening of a new route linking Chile and Argentina also offers a spectacular traverse of untouched Patagonian National Parks, from the Southern Icecap to the towers of the Paine. Our captivating 9-day trek will give you opportunities to see Patagonian wildlife alongside breathtaking landscapes. Find out more >
4. The Pantanal, Brazil
The Pantanal is the world's largest tropical wetland area and sprawls an area between 140,000 and 195,000 square kilometres. The open marshes of the Pantanal make it a wonderful place for spotting wildlife - even giving the Amazon a run for its money! The marshes are home to an immense variety of wildlife and there is estimated to be around 1000 bird species, 300 mammals and 900 invertebrates.
How to see it:
Discover the extraordinary wildlife in the Pantanal on foot, 4WD, boat or canoe. Pantanal is home to spectacular wildlife including jaguars, pumas, ocelots and tapirs. Find out more >
5. Costa Rica
Technically part of Central America, Costa Rica is such a hot spot for wildlife that we just had to include it on our list! At its smallest point, only 120 kilometres separate the Caribbean Sea from the Pacific Ocean, but it is literally bursting with natural wonders and wild animals. Within its borders are more than a dozen volcanoes, dry savannas, tropical dry and lush rain forests, cool cloud forests, several mountain ranges, countless streams and rivers and over 1,200 kilometres (755 miles) of coastline stretched along two oceans. The nation’s twelve distinct ecological zones are home to a vast array of flora and fauna which includes 4% of all known species on Earth. This includes 850 species of birds, 600 species of butterflies, 1,200 species of orchids and 237 species of mammals, (including three-toed sloths, giant anteaters, coatimundis, peccaries and four species of monkeys).
How to see it:
Cross Costa Rica’s exquisite tropical rainforest by foot, bike, kayak and raft and soak up the rich biodiversity. See exotic wildlife and come across remote indigenous communities on this action-packed adventure. You can also take the whole family along for an active adventure. Experience a suspension bridge treetop walk in Monterverde cloud forest – a place with over 400 species of birds, 2500 species of plants, 120 species of amphibians and 100 species of mammals. This will be a adventure for the family you’ll never forget! Find out more >
What are some memorable wildlife encounters you've experienced? Let us know in the comments below.