In a continent as vast as South America, outdoor thrill-seekers will find plenty to explore. Sure, there are nice day hikes, and the surfing can be quite good, but some activities defy the norm and take you outside your comfort zone. Here are five of the most unique outdoor adventure tours in South America. I recommend treating yourself to at least one.
#1 Death Road – Outdoor Adventure Tours
Not far from La Paz, Bolivia, winds one of the world’s most dangerous roads. The Yungas Road, also known as the “Death Road”, was built in the 30’s by Paraguayan prisoners of war to connect the capital with northern Bolivia. Hundreds of people died building it, and many perish every year descending the more dangerous stretches of narrow rock and dirt.
Despite the obvious risks, the Death Road attracts travelers who enjoy spectacular views with an adrenaline rush. As a day trip, you can rent a full suspension mountain bike and start descending from 15,000ft in the high, snow-capped Andes. After the high plateau, riders continue to descend through cloud forests and eventually arrive in the sub-tropical jungle town of Coroico located at less than 4,000ft. Lunch awaits the survivors.
#2. Standup Paddleboarding in Antarctica – Outdoor Adventure Tours
Many cruises, such as Quark and Oceanwide, offer comfortable cabins with educational talks on board as well as outdoor activities upon arrival in Antarctica. These may include hiking, cross-country skiing, camping, snowshoeing, sea kayaking and, more recently, stand-up paddle boarding. This is an offshoot of surfing, geared towards a slower more controlled ride. The adrenaline doesn’t come so much from the activity itself as from the environment surrounding you.
Imagine floating by an iceberg the size of a city and the shade of sapphire. Penguins rocket beneath you, and as you paddle by the white coast you hear a leopard seal calling from an ice floe. Alone and at sea level is the best way to encounter the grandeur of Antarctica.
3. Salkantay Trek – Outdoor Adventure Tours
The popularity of Machu Picchu has brought nearly equal fame to the Inca Trail, a multi-day trek through the Incan ruins of the Sacred Valley. While this popular trek is definitely worthwhile, only 200 trekkers are allowed on the trail each day which means travelers must book many months in advance.
The five-day Salkantay Trek provides a convenient alternative, as well as a much more challenging adventure. With fewer tourists along the way, the focus turns naturally to the spectacular views. This is a high-altitude trek one can feel proud having accomplished, and the reward on that final day is your sunrise view at the stone citadel of Machu Picchu.
4. Bungee Jump in Action Valley – Outdoor Adventure Tours
Modern bungee jumping is a relatively recent activity, beginning in the late 70’s. It is often said that bungee jumping is more of an adrenaline thrill than skydiving because the reference point of the ground is always visible.
In South America, there are several locations where you can bungee jump, but the best is just outside of Cuzco at a place called Action Valley. There you will step into a small cage with your instructor, who will harness you up as the cage is lifted 400ft above the ground. You have a few moments suspended up there on wires attached to the surrounding hills before they count you down from 3…2…1…and then you take the dive of your life. This is the highest bungee jump in the continent. There is also a climbing wall, and it is possible to do paintballing, there is a bungee slingshot, and paragliding can be arranged as well.
5. Puenting in Baños – Outdoor Adventure Tours
Unlike bungee jumping, puenting is arguably more terrifying. The cord is attached to one’s waist rather than their feet, while the other end is fastened to the opposite side of the bridge from where one jumps. The person puenting therefore falls like a pendulum rather than diving and bouncing like a bungee jumper.
Baños can be reached in several hours from Quito, Ecuador. It’s a lush, gorgeous little town surrounded by volcanoes and waterfalls and has established itself as the adventure capital of the country. Along with canyoning, river rafting and visiting hot springs, those looking to go puenting may jump several times per visit. The bridge sits over 300ft above the Pastaza River. Jumping face first was more of a thrill for me, but leaping backwards takes a lot of trust as well!
Get started planning your outdoor adventure tour today!