South America teems with plenty of natural parks and reserves, boasting everything from World Heritage sites comprising unique fauna and flora to stunning landscapes and majestic scenery including lush rainforests, infinite steppes, waterfalls and dominant mountain ranges.
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To infuse you with some inspiration for your next escapade on this faraway yet mysterious continent, Quotient recommends a collection of national parks where you can reconnect with nature and wildlife.
Galápagos National Park, Ecuador
This beautiful isolated archipelago comprising a slew of islands, rocks and islets, is home to an astonishing array of endemic species such as the giant tortoise, the sea iguana and the blue-footed booby. As 97% of the archipelago is considered a national park and hence uninhabited, this corner of the world is really a natural wonder, which will easily make you understand why English naturalist Charles Darwin spent a year here, and why he defined the locale as “a little world within itself”.
Prepare yourself mentally and physically for a nature escapade as this UNESCO World Heritage Site will delight you with a good dose of beauty and unique wildlife. For the intrepid at heart, there are also many thrilling activities you can pursue such as swimming with dolphins, snorkelling among sharks, and diving with manta rays.
Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
At 5,897 metres high, Ecuador’s majestic volcano is, perhaps, the first site travellers will observe in the beautiful national park which spans Cotopaxi, Pichincha and Napo provinces. As one of Ecuador’s most popular national parks, Cotopaxi melds the best of hiking, climbing and trekking as well as sightseeing; it also boasts a wide variety of wildlife such as wolves, pumas, bears, condors, wild horses and foxes.
Other than pursuing outdoor activities, travellers can also check out Cotopaxi Museum and explore the nearby interpretive trail, visit the archaeological ruins and enjoy birdwatching at Laguna Limpiopungo.
Torres del Paine, Chile
At the southern tip of the Andes mountains in Chile lies Torres del Paine National Park, which is considered one of the most impressive national parks in the Southern Hemisphere as it is home to some of the world’s most beautiful trekking routes and awe-inspiring landscapes.
Here, you will be impressed by ancient forests, imposing mountain peaks, roaring glaciers, crystal-clear lakes, rivers and fjords, and rich fauna including guanacos, foxes, pumas and a diverse variety of birds.
Tayrona Natural National Park, Colombia
Located one hour away from the town of Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast, Tayrona is a protected area which boasts everything from mangrove swamps to pristine beaches to lush jungle. For history lovers, there are also village ruins from the Tayrona indigenous people who lived there before the Spanish conquest.
Visit the national park if you want to experience activities such as hiking, swimming and getting up-close and personal with wildlife; there are more than 100 mammals here as well around 1,000 marine species.
Iguazú National Park, Argentina and Brazil
Iguazú National Park is shared by both Argentina and Brazil and is known for the highest waterfall in the world. The Iguazú Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has also been voted one of the “7 natural wonders of the world” for its natural beauty. As you immerse in these subtropical rainforests, you will discover a host of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna such as rapirs, jaguars, toucans and anteaters.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
This national park whose name literally translates as “the bedsheets of Maranhão” is no mirage; as one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, it offers perfectly-shaped white sand dunes brimming with crystal-clear fresh water; the area seems an infinite surreal expanse like no other place on the planet.
Although it really gives the impression that it is from another world, the sparse area can be accessed by foot; you can even explore the dunes and make your way from one pool to the other. For a different perceptive, you can also take a scenic flight to maximise your experience here. Note that the nearby village is called Atins, and there is also a small town about 20 kilometres upriver from Atins called Barreirinhas.
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
Located on the eastern Andean slopes, Los Glaciares National Park seems depicted out of a painting; this is the place where Magellanic forests are interspersed with vast pristine lakes, frigid rivers and creaking glaciers.
At the core of this natural wonder lies the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Perito Moreno Glacier, located around 77 kilometres from the town of El Calafate and regarded as one of the great marvels of Patagonia. Holding the world’s third-largest reserve of fresh water, the glacier is said to be growing rather than retreating.
The starting points to exploring the park are the villages of El Calafate at the shore of Lake Argentina and El Chaltén in the northern part of the park, at the foot of Mount Fitzroy. Other than taking a hearty visual dose of sightseeing, travellers can also experience horseback riding, hiking, fishing, rafting and cycling.