Are you looking for the absolute best thrill-seeking activities in South America? From the vertiginous peaks of the Andes where glaciers feed thousands of untamable torrents that flow into the lush Amazon and through the rugged landscapes of Patagonia, South America is a giant playground offering tons of opportunities for fearless explorers. You will find below the ultimate South American places where to get your adrenaline rush.
If like us, you find it hard to turn down an exciting challenge when you see one, it might feel intimidating to look for the perfect adventure on a 7-million square mile piece of land. To make it easier to pick the challenge that suits you, we have divided activities according to elements, so you can choose where your journey will take you: air, earth, water, or snow (yes, that’s not really an element but we could not resist adding it).
If you cannot resist the call of adventure and, let’s be honest, you do not mind the extra bit of crazy in your life, then read about the places you ought to visit in South America if your idea of a fun trip implies hanging 300 feet in the air with a carabiner as your most trusted ally.
Unless specified, all the adventures listed below only require good physical condition and regular travel insurance, so they are available to most.
ZIP LINING IN THE VALLEYS │ Peru, Bolivia
Just shy of 7,000 feet, ‘The Eye of the Jaguar’ zip line is the perfect way to inject some adrenaline into your Peruvian holiday. Only one long cable to ride to experience the thrill of soaring above the gorgeous landscape of the Sacred Valley of the Inca at speeds topping 60 miles per hour. Another equally thrilling adventure can be found in the neighboring country of Bolivia, where more ziplining routes were recently opened over the beautiful Yungas valley offering a choice between length, speed and scenery.
HANG-GLIDING IN RIO DE JANEIRO │ Brazil
The lush tropical forest covering the hills in the background of Rio de Janeiro’s idyllic beaches makes for a perfect launching site for a hang-gliding flight over Brazil’s festive city. Hang-gliding is a smooth and stimulating way to bridge the jungle and the beach in a short time with fantastic views over the city and the coast. From the take-off ramp located in the Tijuca National Park, operators offer the thrill of a 15-minute flight that lands in São Conrado beach, close to Ipanema and Copacabana. With near-perfect weather conditions all year round, Rio has become the city with the highest number of tandem flights in the world so look for someone registered with the Brazilian Hang Gliding Association (ABVL) on your next visit to Brazil.
PARAGLIDING IN LIMA │ Peru
An exciting way to discover the stunning Pacific coastline of the capital of Peru is to launch yourself off the cliffs of Lima with a paraglider. From a platform built 250 feet above sea level, you can choose to fly with a motorized paraglider or opt for a regular tandem flight. A thrilling 15-minute adventure that will take you as high as 600 feet to give you the best views of Lima’s modern waterfront and beyond. Available any day of the year, with operators offering services in various neighborhoods along the coastline it is an experience not to be missed on your visit to Lima.
RAPPELLING/ABSEILING IN LA PAZ │ Bolivia
As if strolling the streets of the highest capital in the world was not enough of a challenge, some crazy daredevils in Bolivia have come up with a unique way to discover the urban environment city of La Paz. Using an Australian rappelling technique that allows you to ‘walk’ and leap off the side of a 17-story building FACE DOWN, the whole stunt looks like something out of an action movie. The semi-assisted 160-foot descent may be short, but the adrenaline rush is extremely intense. See La Paz from a different angle with Urban Rush on your next trip to Bolivia.
FLYING OVER THE NAZCA LINES │ Peru
It might not be the craziest thing in the world but flying on a small 8-seater plane over the Nazca lines is an exhilarating experience that is not for the faint-hearted. Being up in the air is the only way to understand the magnitude of the work of this ancient Peruvian civilization and the pilots will put you through a series of aerobatics to give all passengers the best views of the giant drawings on the desert below. A must-do for anyone passing through Nazca on their trip to Peru and a serious adrenaline rush any time of the day.
SKYDIVING OVER IGUAZU FALLS │ Brazil
The most impressive waterfall system in the world deserves to be seen from many angles. While the gigantism of the falls is best seen from the ground on a tour like this that takes you to both the Brazilian and the Argentinean sides of the Iguaçu falls, another way to measure the magnitude of this natural wonder is to simply fly over it, so why not take the next step and jump from a plane to get unrestricted views. Tandem skydiving is a very accessible activity with extreme adrenaline rushes guaranteed. Allow half the day for an adventure that includes a 20-minute flight, an insane 30-second free fall, and 8 minutes of leisurely flying once your parachute opens, unveiling majestic views of the falls and the surrounding environment. (Tandem skydiving is usually covered by regular travel insurance but we encourage you to check)
SANDBOARDING GIANT DUNES │ Chile, Peru
The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is one of the most extreme places in the world and probably the driest. Near the small town of San Pedro de Atacama is a sandy valley known as the 'Death Valley'. The place has become an attraction for thrill-seekers looking to slide down the giant dunes on repurposed snowboards that have been adapted for this unusual practice. A short 4*4 ride will take you to the top of massive sand formations and once equipped with the right gear, your instructors will get you ready to slide down the slopes of the Death Valley.
Further north, just south of the capital of Peru lies the world’s highest sand dunes right by South America’s only natural oasis. In a region famous for producing Pisco, Huacachina is a charming small desert town that is famous for being a sandboarding mecca. Equipped with fast dune buggies, a typical sandboarding tour starts with flying over large humps in this never-ending desert of sand. The sandboarding itself takes the thrill to another level as you get to slide down the slopes of 300-foot tall dunes. Just imagine the speed… and the fall... Contrary to snowboarding, gliding on really hot desert sand means that the prospect of a fall is never a pleasant one. A must-do for any adventurer on their trip to Chile or Peru, ask us about our tours and how to best get there.
DOWNHILL MOUNTAIN BIKING │ Bolivia, Peru
The Yungas Road in Bolivia is a high-altitude route better known as the Death Road, a fearsome 40 miles (60 km) stretch between La Paz and Coroico. Riding your bike on the 12000-foot descent from La Cumbre Pass to Coroico is not for the faint-hearted as most of the Death Road is carved on the side of a steep cliff. With an alternative commercial route in place, the vehicle traffic on the Death Road has now reduced significantly and it has become a popular mountain biking trail. While no exceptional riding skills are required, the thrill factor is second to none because of the frightening yet stunning location.
For real MTB addicts, another, more challenging route can be found close to the mesmerizing Rainbow Mountain in the Sacred Valley of Peru. For experienced riders only, the full-day, 21-mile ride begins with a hike to the top of Rainbow Mountain. With the help of horses, you will carry your bikes to the starting point of your downhill ride at 16,400 feet. Incredible views abound along this technical ride where inquisitive vicunas stand as your only spectators. For MTB aficionados, we offer tours to Bolivia and Peru that will take you to both the Death Road and the Rainbow Mountain.
CANOEING IN PACAYA SAMIRIA NATIONAL PARK │ Peru
The thought of canoeing might conjure up images of calm waters and slow pace paddling but a canoe trip in the depth of the Amazon jungle can take a whole other meaning. The most biodiverse environment on the planet is a giant maze where one can easily get lost in the natural habitat of some of the deadliest creatures on Earth. Luckily, the guided canoeing tours on the meanders of the Pacaya Samiria National park in Peru are totally safe. Paddling from 2 to 15 days in between the Uyucali and the Marañon River is an experience like no other and the deeper you go, the bigger the creatures get. Encounter howler monkeys, sloths, caimans, giant anacondas and jaguars, and many other scary residents while fishing for your meals from your boat. An intense experience that needs a bit of preparation so check our tours if you are thinking of a trip to the Peruvian Amazon.
RAFTING IN THE LAND OF THE GAUCHOS │ Argentina
White water rafting in Argentina is as varied as the country itself. The Rio Juramento offers accessible adrenaline journeys for anyone visiting the province of Salta in the north of the country. The canyon is an impressive wonder of nature with high walls enclosing the river. With ten class 3 rapids and five class 2 rapids, the 8-mile rafting journey on the warm waters of the Juramento river is always a bumpy and exciting ride. 2000 miles south, the freezing cold waters of Patagonia also offer excellent rafting opportunities. A 4-hour drive from El Calafate, El Chalten, the trekking capital of Argentina, is a small village on the banks of the Rio de Las Vueltas, a river in the shadow of the steep Fitz Roy mountain. Equipped with a much-needed drysuit, boots, and life jackets this is a rafting experience of another kind that is bound to leave you screaming for more. So if you are planning your visit to Patagonia on one of our excellent tours, remember to test your adventurous spirit while rafting El Chalten.
KAYAKING THE PETROHUE RIVER │ Chile
Kayaking on a river known for its class 3 rapids is sure to bring a challenge. Just north of Patagonia, the Petrohué River in the Lagos Region of Chile is a great place to put your paddling skills to the test with a great choice of routes for all levels. This is an experience opened to beginners thanks to modern open-top kayaks. The more seasoned kayakers will revel in the hardest sections of the river, tackling some really technical rapids. And if you changed your mind in a brief moment of lucidity, remember that the river also offers plenty of options for whitewater rafting. Whichever way you go about it, you will get wet on your visit to the lakes region of Chile so call us to organize your tour and we promise to keep you dry for the rest of the trip.
SCUBA DIVING IN PUERTO MADRYN │ Argentina
Scuba diving is an exciting activity that requires certification when unsupervised. Luckily, on the coast of northern Patagonia in the town of Puerto Madryn, various operators offer outings for beginners and experienced divers. So why not spend a couple of days in Argentina’s second-largest port while traveling on one of our adventures through Patagonia and take a PADI™ certification course in a privileged environment with unique marine mammals to encounter and many sunken ships to explore. The sea lion pups of the Valdes Peninsula are known to be approachable and inquisitive creatures, so every dive there is a magical experience. Add some Commerson’s dolphins and genuine Argentinean hospitality to the mix and we promise this is an adventure you will remember forever.
CANYONING IN BAÑOS │ Ecuador
Along the aptly-named Route of the Waterfalls, there are dozens of excellent spots to give canyoning a go. Whether you are new to this exciting activity or you are a rappelling pro, Baños and the surrounding areas will offer a decent challenge for you. Rio Blanco and San Jorge in the LLanganates National Park, Chamana and Chamanapamba in the Sangay National Park, Cashaurco and the canyons of el Diablo and Piedra Blanca are some of the many places where you can take day trips from the town of Baños for a thrilling adventure. Most sites are only a short drive from town and while canyoning is a reasonably accessible activity, you will need to choose an experienced team with great equipment to tackle the rugged terrain and rappel down waterfalls from 10 to 330 feet high (3 to 100 meters). Luckily the water close to the Amazon never gets colder than 65°F (18°C).
SNOW HIKING IN CAJÓN DEL MAIPO │ Chile
An experience like no other for those passing through Santiago in winter. Do not resist the tempting cordillera nearby and the magic of hiking through the snow. A trip to the Cajon del Maipo is a full-day adventure to experience the sublime of the humbling Chilean peaks. An incredible snowshoeing journey, accessible to anyone with a good physical condition. Challenge yourself with a 5-mile hike in the snow to the base of the glacier, only a few hours from Santiago. Expeditions include transport, gear and lunch, and awesome inspiring views. If you are staying in the Chilean capital before starting one of our comprehensive tours of Chile you should definitely give the canyon a go.
ICE CLIMBING HUAYNA POTOSI, CORDILLERA REAL │ Bolivia
A 3-day adventure accessible to most, only 15 miles north of La Paz in the Cordillera Real mountain range where the Huayna Potosí lower glacier begins. The first 2 days are needed to train and acclimatize before your 1 am start for your big ascent on day 3. After climbing a 100-foot wall of ice and jump over many crevasses, the ultimate 700-foot steep climb on a 45-degree angle slope will take you to the coveted Huayna Potosí peak sitting at 19,974 feet. With 360-degree views of La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and the Altiplano this is an extreme adventure like no other that will leave you with an incredible feeling of achievement. Operators for this tour look after your transport, your meals, and all equipment: climbing boots, mountain jacket, and pants, so all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other. (Check with your insurance if you are covered for this activity)
CLIMBING THE RUMIÑAHUI AND COTOPAXI VOLCANOES│ Ecuador
Leaving Quito, this is another 3-day expedition that requires a good physical form. A training climb of the 15,489-foot Rumiñahui volcano is required to acclimatize before the steep ascent of the 19,347-foot Cotopaxi. The exciting adventure on the final day takes 5 to 6 hours to complete. A genuine alpine glacier hike surrounded by beautiful mountains and the lights of the Ecuadorian capital in the background. In order to catch the sunrise from the summit you have to start your hike at midnight and with the altitude, you often feel your whole body and your senses buzzing from the energy of this spectacular place. Check our tours to Ecuador and contact us to arrange your ultimate climbing adventure. (Check with your insurance if you are covered for this activity)
Maybe you already knew that South America was an exciting place, but did you really realize how much there was on offer for all of us thrill-seekers? Remember that this list is only the tip of an iceberg of activities that we will be more than happy to book for you if you choose to visit the giant continent with Latin Discoveries, your South America Travel Expert. We even offer special Adventure Tours that cover some of the activities mentioned above and we can customize any itinerary to quench your thirst for adventure, no matter how crazy.