When it comes to thrill-seeking adventure and heart-pumping activities, nothing can compare to South America’s legendary outdoor excursions. I spent most seven months backpacking throughout South America, in search of thrills and one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences; and I’m happy to say that I did not leave disappointed!
Whether you’re zip-lining high above a jungle expanse, sandboarding at break-neck speed down massive sand dunes, mountain biking down the world’s most notorious (and deadly) road, white water rafting on rushing rivers at tremendous speed, hang gliding across the sky amid a pristine tropic backdrop, rock climbing through rough mountain terrain and snow-covered peaks – adrenaline junkies need not look further than South America for their next adventure.
Here are my top five outdoor activities for the outdoor adventurist in you!
1. Whitewater Rafting
Photo: Jerry Leon
Futaleufú River, located in the heart of Chile’s Patagonia region, is perhaps one of the world’s most famous white water rapids. The waters of this famed river are sourced from the glaciered lakes of the massive Andean mountain range above, and set among a superb natural setting of indescribable beauty. Futaleufú River is perfect for all experience levels, from beginners to experts, and features up to Grade V rapids for the truly daring.
2. Mountain Biking
Photo: Jerry Leon
One of the most unforgettable, and favorite, experiences of my South American trip occurred on Bolivia’s Death Road. Located just outside of the capital city of La Paz, Death Road, also known as the World’s Most Dangerous Road, is a 64km (40mi) bike ride along rough and rugged terrain, furiously fast descents, and perilous turns, all the while negotiating roadways that are less than 3.2m (10.5ft) in width! Did I mention there’s a drop of 600m (1,969ft) to the valley below if you misjudge a turn?
I highly recommend booking a tour with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, which is the company I booked my tour with. Though it is dangerous to undertake the ride, no one has ever died while on tour with Gravity and its reputation speaks for itself with its impeccable safety record and highly professional guides. I seriously wouldn’t hesitate to take the ride again, as long as I booked with Gravity. Trust me, its well worth the ride!
If you’ve never gone hang-gliding, then don’t miss your opportunity to do it in one of South America’s most beautiful and iconic cities, Rio de Janeiro! The amazing 510m (1,673ft) jump off point from Pedro Bonita offers beautiful panoramic views of forest-covered hills the color of emerald and a beachside view unlike any other you’ll find in the city; hang-gliding just may be the most mesmerizing flight you’ll ever take in your life!
For only R$250 (USD$75), which includes the price of the hang glide and transportation, be sure to book your tandem jump with Just Fly for that unforgettable view of Rio!
Facebook/Sandboard San Pedro
Not a fan of surfing the ocean waves? Then why not take your talents to the desert instead! Sandboarding is honestly one of the most fun and exhilarating activities that you could do. I tried my hand at sandboarding for the first time, just outside of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, and I really enjoyed it! You can easily rent boards and equipment in the town, and then either rent a bicycle or a car for the day and venture to Valle de la Muerte, an area just outside of town that’s very popular for sandboarding.
I went with a few friends of mine and we spent the entire day climbing to the top of 150m (492ft) sand dunes, just to cruise our way down the dunes at break-neck speed! I loved every moment and I would highly recommend bringing a nice DSLR camera so your friends can capture all the action.
Sandboard San Pedro is top pick for adrenaline junkies looking to rent boards or for beginners eager to try their hand at. A normal trip with this company will cost around USD$24 and runs for half a day. Be sure to ask about their sandboarding parties, which features a festive atmosphere and DJs playing music all night long!
5. Mountain climbing
There are so many places to go for mountain climbing in South America that’s its way to difficult to pick just one location. But an extremely popular climbing excursion for serious climbers would be Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador. This 5,897m (19,347ft) high mountain is a mammoth undertaking even for the most experienced climber. It’s strongly advised to go on an organized tour with professional guides, because you will need hiking gear, including crampons for your feet, and canisters of oxygen as the air can be quite thin at that altitude. In fact, you’re technically not allowed to enter the national park without a guide.
What’s your favorite adventure in South America? Share with us in the comments.