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Spectacular National Parks in South America

Lauren Hill

Contributor

South America is a land of majestic contrast. Look up at towering peaks, delve into lush rainforest and come face to face with ancient moai while exploring pockets of the continent’s protected land. Venture to some of South America’s most impressive national parks and seek out the most exceptional places to stay while you’re there.

Iguazu National Park

Iguazu is known for having some of the world’s most spectacular falls. A vertical drop stretching almost three kilometres along the Iguazu River creates cascades that fall from heights of 80 metres. Trails cut through the forest to spectacular viewpoints and boat rides take people closer. You have to come here to really understand their power, size and beauty, and to see that there’s more to this national park than this natural wonder.

This protected area of the Argentinean Misiones province bordering the Brazilian state of Parana encompasses swathes of subtropical rainforest home to coatis, jaguars and toucans. 

Where to Stay

You’ll find Awasi Iguazu around 20 minutes from the famous falls on the banks of the River Iguazu amid Atlantic rainforest. Each of the lodge’s 14 rooms comes with a private guide and 4WD, enabling you to set out on excursions in your own time. Pay a visit to the falls, discover the endemic wildlife on nature trails and learn about the local Guarani tribes.

Awasi Iguazu

Galapagos National Park

The Galapagos Islands are all a part of Galapagos National Park — the first national park to have been established in Ecuador — as well as being listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These rocky volcanic islands and protected waters cover an area of over 8,000 kilometres, all of which is inhabited with a wealth of endemic species. See the Galapagos giant tortoise meander through the Santa Cruz highlands, spot blue-footed boobies along the Eastern Pacific coastline and watch the large yellow Galapagos land iguana in the dry lowlands.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks swim around the northern islands and sea lions sleep on the shores. Hike, snorkel, scuba dive and set out on boat excursions. 

Where to Stay

Many people travel through the islands on a liveaboard but there are also a number of hotels for land-based exploration. The sustainably built Relais & Chateaux property Pikaia Lodge lies within a giant tortoise reserve on an extinct volcanic crater overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Santa Cruz. Its central location in the archipelago makes it the ideal base for daily land and sea excursions.

Pikaia Lodge

Torres del Paine National Park

Soaring mountains, dramatic icebergs, tranquil lakes and golden grassland come together in Torres del Paine. Three granite towers give the park its name and this majestic landscape is home to remarkable wildlife. Guanaco graze on the mountainside, pumas pass through the eastern side of the park and condors swoop overhead.

Make the most of your time here by hiking along trails such as the famously breath-taking French Valley, making your way across the ice fields of Glacier Grey, horse riding through the mountains and kayaking across lakes.

Where to Stay

Explora Patagonia is set within the national park. The scenic lodge sits by Lake Pehoé with spectacular views of the rugged landscape and mountains. Explora’s guides will take you out on foot and horseback to see the park’s most impressive sights and follow its famous trails. The lodge itself comes with outdoor Jacuzzis, saunas, an indoor heated pool, Explorer’s Bar and dining room for hearty food with Chilean wine.

Explora Patagonia

Rapa Nui National Park

Despite being a part of Chile, Easter Island is almost 3,700 kilometres from the mainland’s shores. This makes it one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, which is considered one of the factors in the development of its unique civilisation. Evidence of this ancient civilisation can be seen in Rapa Nui National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the form of its centuries-old stone figures known as moai.

There are thought to be more than 900 of these statues, along with more than 300 ceremonial platforms and many more structures giving insight into ancient Rapa Nui life.

Where to Stay

The ocean-view lodge, Explora Rapa Nui, sits within an expanse of quiet prairie sheltered by trees outside the island’s capital, Hanga Roa. The lodge acts as a base for island exploration, with hikes and cycling excursions to volcanoes, beaches and archaeological remains, and snorkelling and diving in clear waters. On returning to the hotel, you can make use of the pool, spa, restaurant and Explorer’s Bar. 

Easter Island

Los Glaciares National Park

This protected expanse of land is among the most dramatic sights in South America. Located in the Austral Andes of southwest Argentina, it’s a park that’s become known far and wide for its superlative natural beauty. Great chunks of ice fall from Glacier Perito Moreno into Lake Argentino, Mount Fitz Roy rises up to 3,405 metres and the village of El Chalten provides a base for hikers heading into the mountains.

Guanacos, puma and condors are among the wildlife species that inhabit the mountains, woodland and Patagonian steppe.

Where to Stay

EOLO lies within a 10,000-acre estancia amid Patagonia’s lakes, glaciers and mountains. The remote lodge gives you the opportunity to hike, horse ride and mountain bike through this vast landscape and visit Los Glaciares National Park, before cosying up back at this 17-room hotel complete with four living rooms, a restaurant, bar, wine cellar, sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room.

Eolo

Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

The Amazon rainforest covers millions of square kilometres, crossing between Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. This vast expanse of land contains a number of protected areas including national parks.

Among these is the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in northeastern Peru between the Marañón and Ucayali rivers. This area alone covers around 20,800 square kilometres of low hills and seasonally flooded forest with several indigenous communities, extraordinary biodiversity and resident wildlife such as spider monkeys, pink dolphins and an array of birdlife.

Where to Stay

Travel along the park’s waterways on the riverboat by Aqua Expeditions, Aria Amazon, which combines luxury with exploration. Watch the scenery go by from the observation deck and indoor lounge bar, dine on the fine Peruvian cuisine of chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino and set out on excursions with naturalist guides. Aqua Expeditions’ new Amazon riverboat, Aqua Nera, is launching soon.

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