Off the Beaten Track in South America 0 Visitors to South America can be relied upon to return home enthusing about its beautiful landscapes, its fascinating cultures and its varied wildlife. But if you want your South American experience to include some of the lesser-known highlights and to venture off the beaten track, a small group tour using local guides could be a great option for you. Here’s a taste of what you can expect. Ecuador From the colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca to the laidback beaches of surfie heaven, Montañita: from sampling the produce at a traditional cacao hacienda to hiking and wildlife spotting in Machalilla National Park: what Ecuador lacks in size compared with its neighbouring South American nations, it more than makes up for in variety of landscape and experience. It’s also the gateway to the Galápagos Islands, but if time or budget prohibit a visit, a day trip to Isla del Plata should keep you very happy – there’s even a colony of blue-footed boobies (marine birds) in residence. Peru Discover the legacy of the Incas as past and present cultures combine to create a destination that’s utterly unique. No visit to Peru is complete without travelling by train through the stunning landscape of the Sacred Valley and exploring the breath-taking ruins of Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo, but joining a small group tour with local guides means you’ll also be introduced you to their favourite markets, where fresh produce and locally-produced weaving and pottery make for fabulous shopping. Chile Explore the different neighbourhoods of Santiago, take a day trip to a family-run winery or to the beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage-listed port town of Valparaiso, try local delicacies like empanadas at the city’s Central Markets and finish at a local bar for a Terremoto (Earthquake), made with pineapple ice cream, white wine and pisco. In the adventure-sport mecca of Pucón, you can spend your time hiking through the lakeside landscape or white-water rafting before unwinding in the nearby natural thermal pools. Argentina In quaint, lakeside Bariloche you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve arrived in a central European alpine village, thanks to its unique architecture and setting (be sure to try the artisan chocolate), but you can also spend a day in Patagonian cowboy country at a genuine gaucho ranch. Buenos Aires also has a strong European influence, but if you want to soak in an atmosphere that’s purely Argentinian, explore the districts of La Boca, Recolefa and San Telmo and spend an evening in one of Buenos Aires’ many famous tango clubs. Brazil Whether you view them from the Brazilian or Argentinian side, the Iguazú (or Iguaçu) Falls are one of South America’s great natural wonders, and a speedboat ride is a great (and wet) way to truly appreciate their scale. For scenic beauty of a different variety, the largely undeveloped Ilha Grande, offers unspoilt beaches, rugged but lushly forested landscapes and rich biodiversity: turtles, whales, orcas, penguins, parrots, monkeys and sloths all make their home on and around this relatively small island paradise.