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The Best Tours Around the World series highlights one-of-a-kind tour adventures told through the experiences of world travelers.
Are you an adventurer? Perhaps a coffee connoisseur? Do you love intense hikes, where you’re fully immersed in the landscape and wildlife? This list of top tours in South America is sure to have an experience that catches your interest.
I asked travel bloggers to reminisce on their absolute favorite South America group tours and was not disappointed. From snorkeling with sea lions to visiting a volcano, they recommended some authentic one-of-a-kind experiences throughout South America.
- Tour Company: Old Town Outfitters
- Location: Antigua City, Guatemala
- Experience shared by Maartje & Sebastiaan from The Orange Backpack
One of the highlights of any visit to Guatemala is a hiking tour at the Acatenango volcano with Old Town Outfitters. This two-day South America group tours you to the top of the volcano for the best sunrise you’ll ever see. You’ll have two other volcanoes, one of which is still active and erupts every 15 minutes, in front of you while the rising sun is slowly painting the sky with its red, pink, orange, and yellow colors.
But it’s not just the sunrise. The hike up leads you through diverse ecosystems with farmland, cloud forest, and pine forest. Once you reach the last ecosystem, the even bigger Agua volcano is right in front of you. You’ll spend the night at your tour company’s camp right in front of one more volcano: the erupting Fuego volcano. The Fuego is the most spectacular at night, as you can only see the bright red lava after sunset. The next morning – or night? – you’ll wake up early to hike to the top for sunrise.
Multiple tour companies are offering the Acatenango hike, but Old Town Outfitters is the best. You can use a lot of their gear, so you don’t have to bring it yourself, including tents, backpacks, and tracking poles. The food is fantastic, and the location of their camp is perfect. The company brings enough guides with their small groups to make sure you can complete the hike at your own pace, one guide in front and one in the back.
The costs are 125 USD, including transportation, food, gear, and guides. We’d recommend you to spend another 25 USD to hire a porter to bring your tent, sleeping bag, and extras, up. It’s much easier to bring it all down yourself, but for another 25 USD, the porter will do that as well.
Organic Coffee and Forest Tour
- Tour Company: Reserva Sacha Mama
- Location: Salento, Colombia
- Experience shared by Adam McConnaughhay from Cartagena Explorer
Colombia is, of course, world-famous for its coffee. The country’s coffee region has two rainy seasons, and therefore two harvest seasons. The small, pretty town of Salento is one of the neatest destinations in Colombia’s coffee region. There are a lot of coffee tours on plantations around town or elsewhere in the region.
However, probably the coolest coffee tour, and, in general, the best tour I’ve ever done is the one at Reserva Sacha Mama. While it’s not actually a true coffee farm, the place’s owner Pedro bought the land as a reforestation project. Many former coffee farms in the region had been converted to cattle ranches, and lots of trees cut down, and Pedro’s hope was to reverse that.
However, the ranch he bought also had a few old coffee plants still growing. Pedro has since used them to do a bean-to-cup tour, as well as sell the coffee to help fund his preservation work.
First, you get an excellent explanation of the importance of different plants to the forest, in addition to a complete breakdown of the coffee process. We even roasted and sealed the bags of coffee beans we took home!
You also get to do some great bird watching from the little deck at Pedro’s house, and we got a tasty pasta lunch with vegetables fresh from his garden. It is a unique tour that is as good as any other coffee tour but gives you the double bonus of supporting a great project and learning more about the nature of the region too!
Comuna 13 Street Tour
- Tour Company: Medellin Graffiti Tour
- Location: Medellin, Colombia
- Experience told by Marco Sison from Nomadic Fire
Cocaine. Violence. Narcos. Pablo Escobar. There are the usual terms that come to mind when people think of Medellin. Before retiring to Colombia, I had the same impression. After moving to Medellin, I found a city transformed. Medellin is now considered one of the top cities in the world to retire. The city has been ranked in top publications like the New York Times, Forbes, and CNBC. The transformation is most evident when touring Comuna 13.
Comuna 13 was once considered the most dangerous place in the world (a murder rate of 380 per 100,000 people). The location of the neighborhood, with easy access to the highway, and difficult to navigate streets with plenty of hiding spots, made it the battleground for police, drug dealers, military, and guerillas. Now Comuna 13 represents the revival of the city and a break from its violent past.
These South America group tours that go through the neighborhood are all run by residents. They are people who grew up in the violence and decided to make a change. Changes include the largest system of outdoor escalators in the world. Prior to the installation of the escalators, roughly 160,000 residents had to walk up 28 flights of stairs. The difficulty in access contributed to the crime in the area. Now, 384 meters of escalators whisk residents up and down the hill and reduce their commute to mere minutes.
Wandering the streets, you will be surrounded by amazing murals by some of Colombia’s most celebrated street artists. The guide will give you the background of the artists and what the images represent. Along the way, you will have opportunities to try some Colombian street food: empanadas, arepas, patacones, and jugos. Our guide even stopped at his abuela’s (grandmother’s) house and served everyone a homemade mango and salt popsicle.
At the end of the tour, you will be blessed with an amazing view of the Medellin skyline. In contrast, the guide will also show you where mass graves of hundreds of bodies are still being excavated. That is a summary of Medellin, a beautiful city, shaking off the shackles of its brutal past.
The $25 tour by Medellin Graffiti Tour financially supports education and arts programs in the community.
Read the Rest of the Series:
- Top Tours in North America
- Top Tours in Europe
- Top Tours in Africa
- Top Tours in Asia
- Top Tours in Oceania
- Tour Company: Columbus Travel Ecuador & Peru
- Location: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
- Experience shared by Rachel Day from Children of Wanderlust
A destination high on the bucket list of intrepid travelers with a love of nature and wildlife, and the next stop on our Top Tours in South America list, are the Galapagos Islands.
The islands’ unique and isolated development, with an absence of large, natural predators on land, has created a treasure trove of intriguing and often endemic species. Each evolved to have best adapted to their own individual environments.
The islands are famous for being at the centerpiece of Charles Darwin’s work on natural selection theories and evolution. Their most iconic residents on land are arguably the giant tortoises, while under the surface of the water, the seas are teeming with marine life.
The best way to visit the Galapagos Islands is to fly in from Quito, in Ecuador, and then take a tour on one of the many boats cruising circuits. Cruises vary in length, offering different itineraries, islands to visit, and animals to see.
All food and activities are usually included on this South America group tours. The boats also vary in standard, size, and cost. Most boat travel is done at night, leaving the days free to explore the islands. For anyone flexible on dates, discount tours can often be secured locally last-minute, as captains look to fill any remaining spaces on their boats before departure.
We booked our tour in advance through the operator, Columbus Travel Ecuador, who arranged an unforgettable multi-day cruise for us to several unusual and diverse islands. Stand out highlights included walking amongst nesting albatrosses, snorkeling with playful sea lions and watching humpback whales from the deck of our boat, as they leaped from the sea.
My only hope is that the expected growth in tourism can be balanced in a sustainable way against the needs of the local wildlife. For anyone lucky enough to visit, the Galapagos Islands are places that’ll be sure to stay with you forever.
Floresta Nacional de Tapajós
- Tour Company: Mae Natureza
- Location: Alter do Chao, Brazil
- Experience shared by Mario from Rest and Recuperation
When I think back to my recent trip to Brazil, I immediately remember the first stop of my two months itinerary: the Amazon rainforest. I had dreamed of visiting it since I discovered that the Amazon River is one of the longest in the world.
Some (many!) years later, I finally manage to explore this area of the world. Although traveling by boat and sleeping on a hammock for three days was a great experience, my favorite tour in the Amazon was the guided tour in the FLONA, the Floresta Nacional de Tapajós near Alter do Chao.
While not being in the heart of the Amazon, this national park is made of primary rainforest and has thousands or more species of trees and animals. I chose Mae Natureza for this trip because these Argentinians moved to Alter do Chao some decades ago, and their love for nature and the area shine in every word they speak.
For approximately 60 USD per person, they take you for a one-hour boat ride through the national park. Here, you can start your first hike in the primary rainforest, seeing giant trees and swimming in green-water streams. Once back to the village, a huge and well-cooked fish is waiting to restore your energy.
In the afternoon, before coming back to Alter do Chao, you can go on a pirogue in the calm swamp where only birds make some noise, while caymans stay silently underwater. If you have the same dream as I had, go for Alter do Chao and the FLONA, you will love it! It really is one of the top tours in South America.
3-Day Uyuni Salt Flats Tour
- Tour Company: Salty Desert Aventours
- Location: Uyuni, Bolivia
- Experience shared by Marta Polizzi from Temporal Globe
The Uyuni Salt Flats, or Salar, is the largest in the world and extends for hundreds of kilometers, creating a truly breathtaking landscape in Bolivia. It is, without any doubt, one of the most incredible things I have ever seen in my life.
The best way to visit the Salar is by taking a local tour on a 4×4. The classic tour lasts 3 days and will give you a 360 degrees overview of the salt flats and the nearby natural wonders.
On the first day, you’ll head out to the train cemetery in Uyuni. Here you’ll be able to see abandoned trains from decades ago and admire the coolest of street arts. You’ll then head towards the Dakar Monument and the Salt Flats. As soon as you get there, you will be blinded by a sheet of seemingly eternal whiteness. This is where all the fun happens. Make sure you take the epic perspective pictures you’ve always dreamed of and try to keep your jaw attached to your face when you look back at them!
The second day is full of magical experiences. Watch the sunrise while walking through steaming geysers, bathe in the most relaxing hot springs, and check out the desert that inspired the great Salvador Dalí. You’ll also have the chance to visit Laguna Colorada, where hundreds of flamingos will blatantly ignore your calls for attention. Finally, on the last day, you’ll be taken to the Anaconda Canyon and out for some lunch to round out one of the top tours in South America.
I toured with Salty Desert Aventours and couldn’t recommend them enough. Their guide, Oscar, was very knowledgeable and friendly. He explained a great deal about how the salt flats came into place and how useful they are for the Bolivian economy. The price of the tour ranges between 100-150 USD depending on the season. This was one of the most incredible South America group tours I’ve ever taken!
These guys were extremely professional and well organized. Their equipment was safe, and the tour genuinely unforgettable.
Which of these top tours in South America will you be adding to your bucket list?
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