South American nature holidays – take a walk on the wild side

We find holidays in South America where you can explore nature in all its diversity.

Atacama mountains
“Sky-poking volcanoes” in Chile’s Atacama Desert
(Image credit: Habitas Atacama/Kleinjan Groenewald)

An oasis of calm in the Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is “an oasis amid the Atacama Desert of northern Chile”, says Mark Johanson for Bloomberg Pursuits. Here, visitors will find “glittering salt flats, sky-poking volcanoes, teal lagoons painted pink with flamingos” and the resort town’s most recent hotel opening – the 51-room Our Habitas Atacama, which opened in September. The hotel makes a virtue out of allowing guests to explore the desert by themselves, whether on horseback or by quad bike, and it is well worth it. “By night, the Atacama sky – studied by astronomers the world over due to its almost complete lack of cloud cover, moisture or light pollution – offers a priceless spectacle.”

The hotel has been designed so that guests feel like they are “entering a traditional Atacama home”. The thick clay walls are made of “temperature-controlling adobe” and the grass roofs are lined in brea, a native flowering plant, while the pottery and tapestries have been created by local indigenous artisans. “A highlight at the Atacama property is the clay sweat lodge, or temazcal.” Guests “set forth their intentions” for the treatment as a trained local guide “pours herb-infused water atop fiery volcanic stones, heating the dome-like lodge with increasing levels of steam. The idea is to detoxify your body and remove stress in your mind.”

Our Habitas Atacama from $300 a night

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A giant anteater

(Image credit: Alamy)

Giant anteaters in Guyana

Guyana was known as British Guiana until it gained independence in 1966 and it is, today, the only English-speaking, cricket-playing country on mainland South America, says Simon Barnes in the Daily Mail

Flying south from the capital Georgetown, “you see a lot of green below – unbroken expanses of rainforest that look like the world’s biggest collection of broccoli”. Where the north savannah grassland, swamp and flood forest meet on the river Rupununi, you will find Karanambu Lodge – a one-time family cattle ranch and now a “thrilling eco-tourism destination”. From here, “we set out in pursuit of… one of the [world’s] unlikeliest animals”, the giant anteater. Eventually, one is spotted. It emerged from a bush with a face “so narrow it was almost a tube” and a “massive” bushy tail. “I would cross the world for a wild sight that lasts a couple of seconds – this anteater was far more generous than that.”

Later, while taking a “gentle boat ride” on the Rupununi, “we travelled sweetly on, past kingfishers and hummingbirds, along waterways walled and in places roofed by the dense riverine forest”, says Barnes. Kaieteur Falls, the world’s tallest single-drop waterfall, is a must-see along the way.

The nine-day Guyana in Living Colour tour with Wilderness Explorers costs from £3,088 per person.

A toucan sitting on a branch

(Image credit: Alamy)

Birding heaven in Colombia

“Colombia is birding heaven,” says Adam H. Graham in The Wall Street Journal. Not only does it have more bird species than any other nation, at 1,958 and counting, but of those, 80 are only found in this country. Over the past quarter of a century, Colombia has swapped its reputation for drug-related crime for a “thriving environmentally focused and indigenous-led tourism industry”. “Birders and biologists have replaced guerrillas and narcotraffickers” in the quiet corners of the country. One such tranquil spot is Barú – a mangrove-fringed peninsula situated a 25-minute speedboat ride from the city of Cartagena.

Here, the Sofitel Barú Calablanca Beach Resort is a “splashy” new hotel and a good base from which to start looking for birds. Serious twitchers may scoff, but Barú’s National Aviary of Colombia, an 18.5-acre refuge for birds caught up in South America’s illegal animal trade, is a good place to start. Otherwise, engage in a spot of “lazy birding”, beginning with a cocktail from the Sofitel beach bar. “I [then] walked a coastal mangrove trail in my flip-flops, where ripples from the lagoon lapped over white sand [and] spied a roll call of delightfully named birds,” including streaked flycatchers, brown-throated parakeets and bananaquits – “[all] without even really trying”.

Sofitel Barú Calablanca Beach Resort, from around £400 a night.

A maned wolf

(Image credit: Alamy)

The elusive maned wolf in Brazil

“In Brazil, the cerrado is the country’s vacant heart, a grassland of long horizons and huge skies,” says Stanley Stewart in the Financial Times. It is here, in South America’s second-biggest biome after the Amazon, that the elusive maned wolf lives. “It is a supermodel of the animal kingdom, the most beautiful of canids, shy, slender, fine-boned, with a golden coat and long legs. It would make a leopard look clumsy.” But the wolf’s habitat is under threat from vast tracts of land being turned over to large-scale agriculture, in particular, that of soybeans. Conservation efforts focus on wildlife breeding, small-scale sustainable ranching and low-impact tourism.

Pousada Trijunção is an “old-fashioned ranch house” and an “elegant rustic lodge – all salvaged wood and rich South American fabrics”. The kitchen produces “hearty meals” and the small bar has “excellent” caipirinhas. There is also a swimming pool, “where you can pass long afternoons dreaming of wolves”. After three hours spent tracking a maned wolf, suddenly there she was, “as we came round the bend – trotting across the track as elegantly as a ballerina crossing a stage”. “Then, she was gone, the tip of her tail disappearing into the long grass.” 

Double rooms at Pousada Trijunção from about £575 per night with Niarra.

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Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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