If you travel the world to admire its natural beauty and discover rare wildlife, then the Galapagos Islands need to be on your bucket list.
The islands even gave Charles Darwin his inspiration for his Theory of Evolution. While exploring the islands he noticed that many animals were similar, but not exactly the same. His research gave birth to the concept of evolution and natural section that we know today.
Many of these animals still flourish, thanks to the islands’ isolated location and the lack of natural predators. Some of the animals feel so comfortable here that they don’t shy away when humans arrive on shore and you can easily get close enough for a picture. Here are 10 animals that you can expect to meet in Galapagos Island.
Galápagos Sea Lions
When you arrive on these islands, it’s likely these playful creatures will greet you on the beach. Galapagos Sea Lions are very social creatures and often spotted sun-bathing on the sandy shores. They can be found on all the island within the Galapagos archipelago.
Galápagos Giant Tortoise
The giant tortoise family might outlive every other vertebrate on earth, but they are not easy to find: they only exist on the Galapagos Islands and the Indian Ocean Islands.
The Galápagos tortoise is native to all seven Galapagos Islands, but there are variations. On islands with humid highlands, they are larger, with domed shells and short necks. On islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with saddleback shells and long necks. These differences contributed highly to Darwin’s theory of evolution when he visited the islands in 1835.
Iguanas are associated with the Galapagos Islands, and they’re constantly popping up in promotional photos. While you can find Iguanas around the world, the Marine Iguana only exists in the Galapagos Islands. These lizards have the unique ability (among modern lizards) to forage in the sea. They mainly live in colonies on rocky shores.
The Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin you can find in the northern hemisphere. It is also the second smallest specie of penguin, after the small penguin. You’ll spot them on the Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island, though smaller populations can be found across the archipelago.
The Waved Albatross is one of two animals on this list to occasionally leave the islands. They split their time between South America and the Galapagos Islands: the first to hunt, and the second to breed. They fly this long journey thanks to their slender bodies and large wings, which creates a phenomenon known as dynamic soaring. You’ll see them launching off from high coastal cliffs, and effortless fly for miles.
The Galapagos Hawk is one of the world’s rarest raptors, with an estimated population of just 150 breeding pairs. They are mostly seen on the main islands Isabela and Fernandina, but they are extinct on the islands Baltra, Daphne, Floreana, San Cristobal and Seymour.
The Galápagos Mockingbird is one of four mockingbird species endemic to the Galápagos Islands, and all four are thought to share a common ancestor. The Galapagos Mockingbird is the most widespread of all the mockingbirds, and can be found on most of the islands.
Galápagos Green Turtle
The Galapagos Green Turtle is only subpopulation of sea turtles to nest in these islands. They do however migrate on occasion and can be found exploring the Pacific Ocean. It’s actually only the females that ever come in to shore though, in order to hatch their eggs. The males stay submerged in the warm waters for most of their lives.
The blue-footy booby is a marine bird that takes its name from the colour of its feet, and its clumsiness (booby is derived from the Spanish word bobo). They live across the subtropical Pacific Islands, but more than half of all breeding pairs nest on the Galápagos Islands. Young blue-footed boobies do not move very far from where they were born, leading to large congregations in dense colonies.
We can’t talk about the Galapagos Islands without mentioning the animal that gave Charles Darwin his eureka moment. Darwin’s Finches actually refers to 15 different species of small birds, each displaying a similar body type and colouring but with markedly different beaks. It is believed that the beaks evolved over many years as each bird adapted to their own food source – aka Darwin’s theory of Evolution.
Dramatic landscapes, diverse culture, fascinating history and salsa dancing until the early hours. Latin America is a bucket list destination for a reason.
Anyone who has ever visited the continent will recount their tales of exploring ancient ruins, tucking into delicious food, mingling with the friendly locals and admiring the local craft talent in the street markets.
If you’ve not yet made the journey to Latin America, here are 10 reasons why you should.
1. Two ancient world wonders
If your journey includes the beautiful countries of Brazil and Peru, you’ll have the opportunity to tick two World Wonders off your list.
Machu Picchu in Peru has been confusing and fascinating historians in equal measures for many years. Most believe it was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472), though other theories exist. Today it is known as the most familiar icon of Inca civilization and how life was before Latin America was discovered.
Over in Rio de Janeiro, you’ll be greeted by the wide-arms of the Christ the Redeemer statue. Very hard to miss, it is located at the peak of the 2,300 foot Corcovado Mountain and is 20 metres high by 28 metres wide.
2. Ancient culture and history
Machu Picchu isn’t the only captivating ancient ruin. Mexico City now stands in the same location where Tenochititlan once did. Originally the capital of the Aztec empire and the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas, the pyramid of Templo Mayor is one of the best examples of this fascinating time period.
Another important ancient culture in Latin America is the Mayan culture. It is the only ancient culture to have developed its own writing system and is famous amongst historians for its calendars, art, architecture and astronomical system. Chichen Itza, found in the Yucatán State, is one of the best living examples of its existence.
3. The Amazon River and Rainforest
Covering more than 7,000,000 square kilometres that transcends the borders of nine different countries, the Amazon Basin is one of nature’s greatest achievements. It is estimated that 40,000 species of plants and more than 4,500 animal species live within its boundaries along with 200 local tribes.
It’s a great opportunity to get back to nature. If you want to stay in the Amazon Rainforest you can choose between rustic camps and luxury eco lodges.
The Amazon isn’t the only impressive rainforest in Latin America, however. Costa Rica might be a small size, but it is covered in a tropical forest and is home to five percent of the world’s flora and fauna.
4. World-famous waterfalls
The Amazon River isn’t the only mesmerising waterway in Latin America. Hugging the border of Argentina and Brazil lies the famous Iguazu Falls, which is considered one of the most impressive waterfall systems in the world.
Over in Venezuela, you’ll find the Angel Falls – the tallest waterfall in the world standing at a height of 3,212 feet. The waterfall is remotely located and the best way to see it is to fly over on a plane tour.
Kaieteur Falls in Guyana is another waterfall that attracts attention from travellers. It stands at only 700 feet but is considered to be one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls. You’ll see what we mean when you pay it a visit.
5. Beaches for all tastes
Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic: the coastline of Latin America covers a lot of ocean.
Ipanema Beach in Rio is brilliant for beach sports such as football and volleyball. Máncora in Peru is popular with surfers, as is Tamarindo Beach in Costa Rica. Montañita in Ecuador is also popular with watersport fans. Shell Beach in Guyana is fantastic for wildlife spotting and outdoor enthusiasts. Manuel Antonio Beach in Costa Rica is great for adventure types who want a rainforest as a backdrop. Whether you’re looking for a romantic stroll with the perfect sunset or big waves for surfing, you’ll find it in Latin America.
6. The Andes
Make sure you fit a visit to the world’s longest continental mountain range into your trip. Which isn’t hard because The Andes stretch through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.
Many of Latin America’s largest cities are constructed on top of the Andes many plateaus. Quito, Bogotá, Arequipa, Medellín, Sucre, Mérida and La Paz can all be found up in the Andes. Also, the Altiplano plateau is the world's second-highest after the Tibetan plateau.
7. Unbeatable Wildlife
With such amazing landscapes, you can image the wildlife-spotting opportunities are second to none. The Galapagos Islands offer one of the most fascinating ecosystems on the planet. Located off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, their isolated location has lent a hand to the survival of many plant and animal species – including some that are found nowhere else.
Another country to visit if you’re all about the wildlife and scenery is Costa Rica. Nestled into Central America, Costa Rica has become popular with eco-tourists and boats an extensive number of national parks and protected areas. If you want to see a Big Cat in the wild, Costa Rica is one of the best places to do so. Jaguars, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundi, margays, and little spotted cats all live here. There are also over 400 bird species.
8. Modern cities
While Latin America is one of Mother Nature’s most prized possessions, city-lovers won’t be disappointed either. The famous Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires are filled with a lively atmosphere and every night you’ll find a salsa party going on until the early hours.
But if your journey won’t take you anywhere near these two power-houses, don’t fret. The Peru capital of Lima is filled with luxury hotels, nightclubs and a lovely promenade. San José in Costa Rica is also a lively hub with international restaurants. Plus, Brazil’s largest city isn’t even Rio, it’ actually Sao Paulo. The Chilean capital of Santiago is also fast rising as a cosmopolitan hot-spot.
9. Rich gastronomy
Wherever you end up in Latin America, your taste buds will thank you. Up in Mexico, you’ll love the vivid combinations of tomatoes, avocado, chilli peppers, yellow and blue corn. Mexican cuisine was even registered on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010!
Then further down you’ll find Peru, where the capital of Lima is considered one of Latin America’s foodie hubs. If you’re a seafood lover then you’ll adore the famous ceviche: fresh seafood, marinated in lime juice and chili pepper, served with boiled corn, sweet potatoes and cured onions. You’ll have the opportunity to try exotic meats like alpaca, wild boar and Guinea pig!
Make sure you also grab a bottle of Inca Kola – a sweet and fruity fizzy drink that you’ll find everywhere.
10. The friendly people
Latin Americans are warm and welcoming people. If you’re ever stuck for directions, the locals won’t hesitate to help you and the service in local restaurants is second to none.
Whether you are relaxing on a beach in Costa Rica or hiking through the Andes of Bolivia, locals are more than happy to make sure you feel welcome in this beautiful continent.
The Iguazu Falls are one of the world’s most famous waterfalls. A trip to South America is definitely never complete without a day trip to witness them in real life.
Whenever you visit one of the world’s natural wonders, it’s always good to arm yourself with some background knowledge. You’re probably already aware with some key facts anyway, but are you familiar with the following 10 pieces of information about the Iguazu Falls?
1. It has a larger average annual flow than any other waterfall
You probably already knew that the Iguazu Falls is the world’s largest waterfall system. So it’s probably no surprise that it boasts the largest annual water flow of any other waterfall. In the rainy season from November to March, it can reach a whopping 450,000 cubic feet per second.
2. It name means Big Water
Guarani is a native South American language that is still spoken by some indigenous tribes – with Iguazu roughly translating to Big Water.
3. Legend has it a scorned lover created the waterfall
Apparently Mboi, a deity in the form of a serpent, was to marry a beautiful young woman called Naipi. Then she fell in love with a young warrior, Tarobá. When the young woman and her lover tried to escape in a canoe, she split the river in a fit of rage (with his serpent tail) and they fell to their death.
4. But others believe it was a volcanic eruption
Which is probably more likely, but we’ll leave you to decide.
5. It was discovered by Spaniards
Specifically it was the Spanish Conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was the first European to stumble upon the falls. One of the falls on the Argentine side is even named after him.
6. Birds even live inside the falls
You’ll spot some birds plunging into the falls. Don’t be alarmed. The birds you see are Great Dusky Swifts and they nest on the rocks behind the walls.
7. Indiana Jones even stopped by
The Iguazu Falls were used as a backdrop in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. They also featured in Moonraker (1979), The Mission (1986), Mr. Magoo (1997) and Miami Vice (2006).
8. The surrounding rainforest boasts a whopping 2,000 species of plants
It is also home to the opossum, the only marsupial that is found outside Australia.
9. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site
And they were also made a New 7 Wonders of Nature on November 11, 2011.
10. There are three ways to view the falls
You can walk along the viewing platforms, take a boat on the lower stream or jump on a helicopter ride. All are equally beautiful and provide a different view of this beautiful piece of nature.
Like all other South American countries, Argentina is bursting at the seams with amazing natural wonders and cultural experiences. But Argentina also clocks in as one of the biggest countries in the continent and, as a result, has an almost endless list of possible adventures. Ready to go? Here’s our Argentina bucket list with everything you fit into your itinerary.
Party the night away in Buenos Aires (nightclubs stay open throughout the night)
Watch the professionals tango on stage
Start your morning with a cup of mate, a national drink made of chopped yerba mate leaves and hot water
Sign up for your own tango class
Sip fine wines in the vineyards of Mendoza
Eat some of the best steak of your life at one of the many parrillas
Spend a day wandering around the different barrios (neighbourhoods) in Buenos Aires
Have a mooch around the numerous boutique stores of Palermo Soho
Walk the full length of 9 de Julio Avenue
Admire the geographic extremes of the country at the Perito Moreno glacier
Dip your toes into the clear blue waters of the Lake District
Awe in amazement at Argentina’s most precious natural wonder: the Iguazu Falls
Explore the isles of the El Ateneo Bookstore, considered one of the best bookstores in the world
Take pictures of the colourful building sin La Boca
Hike to the base of Mt. Fitz Roy
Visit land’s end at Tierra del Fuego
Soak up some arts in Córdoba, Cultural Capital of the Americas
Admire the roof of the Americas aka Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes
Cheer on a fútbol match at La Bombonera
Arrange a day trip from Buenos Aires to El Tigre
Give yourself a point every time you spot a famous grave in Recoleta Cemetery
Inspect the intricate details of Castillo de Naveira, a neo-gothic castle in the Argentinian countryside
There are some countries that boast more than one stand out destination and encourage you to explore all its corners. Peru is one of these countries. Huddled together on the pacific coast of South America, you can’t just fly into the capital, have a one week break and then fly back home. And why would you want to? Peru is a bucket list destination home to an official Wonder of the World, 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and a distinct melting pot of cultures found nowhere else.
This is a country that requires an itinerary and here are the five cities that you should make sure are included in any Peru itinerary.
Every Peruvian adventure starts in the capital city of Lima. Home to the only international airport in the country, some travellers make the mistake of skipping onwards the next morning without exploring Peru’s main urban playground. Around the city you will uncover the city’s rich history with examples of pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern architecture, as well as a rich foodie scene and lively nightlife. There are also pleasant beaches at the north and south of the city.
We didn’t need to tell you that this should be on your list, did we? This sky-scrapping Inca city is one of the primary reason many people visit Peru, and some head straight here when they land. Evidence of Inca life can be found as you explore homes, temples and inspect the irrigation system. Despite being the most recognisable example of Inca history, historians are baffled by its existence but it is believed to have existed since the 15th Century undetected by Spanish settlers (and only came to mainstream attention in 1911).
When you’re on your way to Machu Picchu from Lima, remember to stop by the culturally energetic city of Cusco. It is one of Peru’s most important tourist destinations with many travellers treating it as their hotel base while they explore Macchu Picchu or the Sacred Valley of the Incas. But the city itself also has much to discover. Cusco was the historic capital of the Incas and features many well-preserved buildings that date back to pre-colonial times and just outside the city is the sacred Inca site of Sacsayhuaman – a large complex built from limestone boulders.
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest is another world wonder that many travellers consider to be a bucket-list item. There are a few ways into the Amazon, and which area you choose to visit will depend on whether you’re looking to raft down along its winding bends or keep an eye out for rare birds. It’s worth noting that it is difficult to explore the Amazon Rainforest without an official guide and self-organised tours will probably encounter a few difficulties. Luckily there are loads of tours groups and guides to choose from.
If you really want to delve deep into Peru’s ancient history, we recommend the large ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert. Believed to date back 500 BCE the designs are a mix of geometric lines, stylised animals (such as monkeys and spiders) and symbols of nature such as trees and flowers. The lines themselves are very shallow but due to a lack of wind on the plateau the lines have remained visible without human intervention. Many tourists choose to hop on a plane to view them, but most of the geoglyphs can be viewed from surrounding foothills.