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Incan majesty and Andean baroque exist side-by-side in Cusco's stone streets, epitomized by the Qoriacancha palace and the church of Santo Domingo flanking the Plaza de Armas. In this high-altitude melting pot of Amerindian and mestizo culture, you'll find extraordinary textiles, lively summer festivals and archeological wonders.
With its plentiful beaches, dramatic mountains, and backdrop of samba and bossa nova rhythms, it's easy to fall in love with Rio de Janeiro. Made famous in song, Ipanema Beach is still the place to stroll, sunbathe, and be seen. The largest Art Deco statue in the world, Christ the Redeemer, beckons visitors to Corcovado Mountain. Rio’s annual Carnaval celebrations are bacchanalian extravaganzas of feasting, music, dance, and costumed revelry.
The birthplace of the tango is, like the dance itself, captivating, seductive and bustling with excited energy. Atmospheric old neighborhoods are rife with romantic restaurants and thumping nightlife, and Buenos Aires' European heritage is evident in its architecture, boulevards and parks. Cafe Tortoni, the city's oldest bar, will transport you back to 1858, and the spectacular Teatro Colon impresses just as it did in 1908. Latin America's shopping capital offers the promise of premium retail therapy along its grand, wide boulevards.
Cartagena, a gorgeous fishing village on Colombia's Caribbean coast, has excellent beaches, a historic old town (that's entirely walkable) and beautiful colonial architecture. It's also one of the safest places in the country, so it's no wonder it's a popular port of call for cruise ships. Need a break from exploring the cobblestone streets? Stop at an outdoor cafe for excellent pastries and people-watching.
The small Brazilian village of Gramado is a quaint and woodsy respite that boasts some delightful surprises. After you’ve fully enjoyed the paddleboats and surrounding Black Forest pines of Lago Negro, pay a visit to Snowland, a unique indoor snow park. Kids will love a visit to Mini Mundo, a miniature park that features tiny replicas of famous landmarks.
Porto Seguro is as vibrant as any part of Brazil. A schooner will take you from the bank of the city's Buranhem River 15 miles out to the Recife de Fora Marine Park for an exploration at sea. A city stairway will guide you up to the Cidade Historica to take it all in from above, alongside Capoeira demonstrations. And the Passarela Do Alcool, a street fair filled with craft carts, restaurants and enthusiastic performers will invite you to participate in Brazil's cultural tradition.
Santiago is one of those metropolitan joys where the more you look, the more you find. Funky cafes and dance clubs dot Bellavista, Forest Park art collections range from pre-Columbian to contemporary, and architecture runs the gamut from the 16th-century San Francisco Church to mirrored office towers. Shop with the locals at Mall Panora¡mico and give your palate meals to remember with hearty Chilean fare.
Lima, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, is a fascinating city and a treasure trove of history. Explore ancient Incan archeological sites, or stroll through the elegant cathedrals and opulent palaces dating from Spanish colonial times. Downtown Lima is crowded, but you'll enjoy exploring the city's neighborhoods—especially the beachfront areas, which have great shopping and dining and fabulous hotels.
Ten million people call vibrant, passionate, sprawling Bogota home. The energy of this metropolitan heart of Colombia is in part fueled by its hundreds of eclectic and authentic dining hot spots, fantastic wines, and frequent foodie festivals. Ask the locals where they like to eat, then walk off your empanadas and aji with a stroll through the historic district of La Candelaria or during an indulgent shopping adventure on the North Side.
The largest city in South America, Sao Paulo’s cuisine and art is as multinational as its diverse population of 10 million. With the restaurants of the Jardins district serving every food imaginable to diners from around the world, you wouldn’t be out of place going to Sao Paulo just for the dining. But you’d be missing out on world-class museums, diverse and vibrant neighborhood tours, and crazy-good shopping.
Known best for its wine, Mendoza is a bustling city to the east of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Although it draws its share of adventure travelers, lured by the climbing, skiing, hiking and rafting opportunities within an easy drive of downtown, the area’s more than 1,000 vineyards bring oenophiles in even greater numbers.
With a rich pre-Colombian history, Ecuador's capital was founded on the ruins of an Incan city but offers everything a modern traveler might need. It remains the least-altered historic center in Latin America and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito’s important sites include baroque gems like San Francisco and Santo Domingo monasteries, as well as La Compañía church and college. This huge city sprawls across a breathtaking Andean valley surrounded by volcanic peaks.
Nipping at the ankles of the Andes, San Carlos is a world-renowned ski destination, set in a landscape offering all the natural wonders of Argentina. Visitors can experience snow, lakes and peaceful beaches, along with vibrant nightclubs and gourmet cuisine. Throughout the year, the area hosts several music festivals, art exhibitions, expositions and conventions.
Just its location—in the Sacred Valley of the Incas—makes Urubamba sound like a mystical, magical place. The snow covered Ch'iqun mountain stands proudly in the background of this Peruvian town that serves as a base for people who want to visit the famous ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Zip lines and horseback rides let you experience this valley in the Andes in wildly different ways.
Once infamous for dangerous gangs and drug activity, Medellin has been transformed. It’s now a vibrant destination for travelers seeking a culturally rich vacation. Medellin rises proudly from the belly of the Aburrá Valley, and its natural beauty makes a perfect setting for hiking, zip lining and horseback riding. Travel through lush jungle to Piedra de Penol, then climb the 740 steps to the top—a journey within a journey that rewards you with unforgettable views.
Giant anteaters, howler monkeys, ocelots, endangered jaguars and clouds of butterflies are among the attractions at this World Heritage-designated park that marks the border between Brazil and Argentina. By foot or by raft, explorers can view one of the world's most stunning waterfalls, Iguazu Falls. Among the park's 270 waterfalls, spectacular Devil's Throat combines 14 falls and generates a "perpetual rainbow" in good weather.
It's no wonder Machu Picchu is Peru's most-visited site. Dating to the mid-1400s, it's a marvel of mortar-free limestone architecture perched on a high plateau deep in the Amazonian jungle. Get there via train from Cusco or, if you're not faint-hearted, make the trip on foot via a multi-day hiking trail—you'll travel through deep Andean gullies and enjoy stunning views.
Looking for an unusual and beautiful landscape? Sandstone canyons, flamingo-dotted salt flats, steaming geysers, hot springs, volcanic peaks and alien-looking rock formations are on offer all around San Pedro de Atacama. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are the preferred means of exploration. Death Valley here is surprisingly great for picnics.
Montevideo, a port city and the capital of Uruguay, is a perfect destination for travelers looking for a relaxing stroll past colonial era buildings and along beautiful beaches. The Ciudadela Gateway, the only remaining section of the wall that once surrounded the entire city, now serves as the entrance to Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo's oldest neighborhood. Home to churches, museums, and theaters, at night the area comes alive with nightclubs playing Tango and Candombe music for crowds of dancers.
Perched at the Triple Frontier, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, Puerto Iguazu is linked to Brazil by the Tancredo Neves bridge. It is home to the Museum of Images of the Jungle, the Mborore Museum, a bird rehabilitation center and the famed Iguazu National Park. The National Park is home to 275 waterfalls, including the world-renowned Iguazu Falls, which plunges 270 feet. A subtropical climate means it's warm in winter and hot in summer, with temperatures soaring up to 104°F.
The oldest city in Colombia, romantic Santa Marta is fringed by beautiful beaches and the stunning mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range. Ancient ruins take cover in the lush mangrove forests of Tayrona National Park, the perfect spot for a day hike. Snorkel along vibrant reefs, then make your way to a café for a multicultural meal that incorporates the flavors of Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. When the sun goes down, the nightlife kicks up its heels in the bars and discos of the Parque de Los Novios.
Punta del Este is known as the St. Tropez of Uruguay, thanks to its beautiful beaches, upscale resorts and swanky nightclubs. The Vegas-style Conrad Casino adds to the lively entertainment scene. For a break from surf and sand, saddle up with a local gaucho and ride horseback through the wild plains surrounding the city.