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The Big 5 South America Tours

  |   Amazon Tours

South America Tours may include the planet’s largest rainforest and most spectacular waterfall system, its greatest archaeological wonders, most exhilarating cities and highest concentrations of biodiversity. In short, it’s a traveler's paradise that really does have it all. At Rainforest Cruises, our cruises and tour extensions are designed to encompass many of the continent’s most rewarding highlights, including such legendary destinations as the Amazon, Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls and Galapagos.

Top 5 South America Tours

Galapagos Tours

1. The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos islands are truly one of the planet’s most unique and outstanding destinations, home to spectacular landscapes and an incredible diversity of fascinating flora and fauna, much of it endemic to the archipelago. It’s a must-visit for any wildlife-loving or adventurous traveller, and can be a truly life-changing experience.

Almost nowhere else can you be guaranteed to encounter an ecosystem still so unspoilt and largely untouched by human influences. From marine iguanas to giant tortoises, penguins to sea turtles, blue-footed boobies to huge seal colonies, you can expect plenty of personal encounters with the wildlife, countless amazing photo opportunities and memories to last a lifetime. 

The best way to experience the sheer magnitude and diversity on offer, is to take a multi-day cruise around the islands. Between ocean cruises, you’ll make stops at each island, disembarking to observe the wildlife and explore the beautiful and varied terrain, traversing everything from dense forests to eerie lava fields, dazzling white sand beaches to rugged rocky shoreline.

We have a selection of numerous fantastic Galapagos cruises to choose from, each designed to suit specific interests, preferences and budgets. Each cruise provides all the facilities and services for travelling in comfort and style, along with a rewarding schedule of excursions and activities, whether it be hiking volcanic peaks or snorkelling with sea lions. For those wanting more freedom and flexibility, independent travel in the Galapagos is another possibility, offering the chance to explore the port towns in greater depth and to participate in activities outside of a cruise schedule, such as scuba diving.

Amazon RIver Tour

2. The Amazon River

There’s simply no place on earth like the Amazon rainforest. Endless expanses of trees and luscious vegetation, the largest concentration and diversity of wildlife to be found anywhere, and of course the mighty Amazon river itself. All of this and more combine to make it a world-class destination just begging to be explored.

The forest spans a vast area, covering almost 40% of the entire South American landmass, extending into no less than nine countries. The best way to explore this remarkable destination is by taking a river cruise down the Amazon, its tributaries and various interconnecting waterways. Two of the most popular destinations for Amazon river cruising activity, especially for first-timers, are Manaus in Brazil and Iquitos in Peru. We offer various cruise options in both countries, each offering varying blends of luxury, comfort and adventure to suit every taste and budget. Whatever your choice, you’ll be treated to an incredible array of landscapes and wildlife, along with thrilling adventure activities, memorable cultural encounters, delicious cuisine and impeccable facilities and services.  

What’s more, visiting the Amazon isn’t just about river cruising. For an immersive jungle experience, stay a few nights in a charming rainforest lodge.

Dive into countless thrilling outdoor activities, whether it be canoeing through a flooded forest, swimming with pink river dolphins or getting a bird’s eye perspective from a float plane. Add to this a fascinating indigenous culture and mouth-watering regional cuisine, and you have one impressive destination on your hands with memories that will last a lifetime.

Big 8 South America Tours

3. Machu Picchu

The awe-inspiring ancient Incan settlement of Machu Picchu, renowned as one of the greatest archaeological and cultural treasures of the world, naturally tops countless lists of South America’s most coveted destinations. Virtually undiscovered up until the early 20th century, Machu Picchu now draws visitors in their droves, all eager to witness the remarkable stonework, terraced ruins, stunning backdrop and undeniable mystical aura that makes this site so famous. 

The Incan citadel is situated high in the Peruvian Andes and the most memorable way to reach it is by embarking on an epic three-day trek along the spectacular Inca Trail, traversing rainforests, raging rivers and high passes along the way. Catching your first glimpse of the ancient settlement surrounded by lush vegetation and towering mist-shrouded mountains, is a moment you won’t forget in a hurry. If you’re short on time, there are fast and convenient train services that will transport you swiftly up into the high peaks. Machu Picchu can be visited from the beautiful historic city of Cusco and combined with numerous other archaeological and natural attractions in Peru’s spectacular Sacred Valley. Feeling adventurous? Why not trek Huayna Picchu, the famous peak in the back of every iconic Machu Picchu photo, for more unbelievable views.

iguazu falls

4. Iguazu Falls

Straddling the borders between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, Iguazu Falls are quite simply the most impressive waterfall system in the world, making it a must-visit on any South American tour. The falls comprise a chain of over 250 cascades stretching nearly 3km in diameter, with some reaching 82m in height and with no less than 450,000 cubic feet of water surging over the cliff edge every second. To best appreciate Iguazu Falls, take a walk along the numerous trails and observation platforms and prepare to be blown away by the sheer beauty, power and noise of this natural spectacle. For those after an even more visceral experience, there are plenty of adventure activities on offer, ranging from (very wet) boat trips into the falls themselves, to floatplane rides, bungee jumps and more. An added bonus, the falls themselves are surrounded by a large expanse of lush untamed rainforest home to an incredible diversity of plant and wildlife. You can expect to encounter parrots, howler monkeys and dazzling butterflies, and even much rarer species such as jaguar, anteater and harpy eagle. Numerous tours, from hiking excursions to birdwatching, enable you to make the very most of the national park. With so much on offer, you could easily spend a couple of days or more taking in the awe-inspiring falls and making the most of the various side trips and adventure activities.

rio brazil

5. Rio de Janeiro

With all the remarkable natural wonders that South America has to offer, it can be easy to forget that the continent is also home to some of the world’s most vibrant and dynamic cities.

Topping the list is surely Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, with its golden beaches, friendly locals, exuberant nightlife and spectacular natural setting. This busting megacity has an endless array of attractions to keep any visitor absorbed and entertained for weeks. Be sure to take a ride up Sugarloaf and Corcovado Mountains to admire staggering views over Rio and its surrounding landscape. Explore the city’s world-class shopping, sporting and cultural highlights, and be sure to stop by Copacabana and Ipanema beaches to swim, play or simply unwind and watch the world go by. Then round off the day by diving into the city’s exuberant nightlife and party scene.

Of course, there’s no better time to visit Rio than during the explosive Carnaval celebration, held every year in February. Rainforest Cruises offers a fantastic tour package that seamlessly combines a Brazilian Amazon river cruise with five fun-filled days in Rio in time for the carnival.

You’ll be in the Sambadrone, right in the heart of the action and perfectly positioned to admire the dazzling floats, flamboyant costumes and unrivalled exhibitionism. 

Recommended Itinerary: Wonders of the World Tour

Fancy combining all of South America’s Big 5 attractions into one epic adventure? Look no further, as we’ve come up with a sample itinerary detailing several ways to seamlessly link all these fantastic experiences into one big trip. 

First up, is making the choice between an Amazon river cruise in either Brazil or Peru (although you could always do both!). This is no easy task, as both countries have so much to offer in terms of wildlife, landscapes, cuisine and unique cultural experiences. We’ve provided some advice contrasting the two to help you make the best decision according to your own specific needs and preferences. Just remember whichever you ultimately pick, you’re unlikely to regret your choice!

If you opt for Peru, this is the perfect opportunity to combine a river cruise with Machu Picchu. We recommend taking an international flight to Lima from your home country, before taking an additional domestic flight to Cusco, Peru’s ancient Incan capital. 

Following the Machu Picchu leg of the trip, take another internal flight from Cusco to the jungle city of Iquitos in time for your Amazon cruise.

Meanwhile, if you’re planning to embark on a cruise in the Brazilian Amazon, this can easily be combined with trips to Rio de Janeiro, as well as to Iguazu falls. Manaus is well connected both internationally and regionally and following an Amazon cruise you can take a flight of about 5 hours to Rio de Janeiro. Spend a few days soaking in Rio’s delights before catching a flight to Iguazu to visit the Brazilian side of the falls. You can also hop over to the Argentinian side, before returning to Rio and continuing your onward journey.

If you’re looking to take things to the next level, to create a truly once-in-a-lifetime trip, then why not add a Galapagos cruise extension to round things off? From cities in both Peru and Brazil, you can take a regional flight to Guayaquil in Ecuador. From here, you’ll be able to connect with a short flight to the Galapagos for the start of an unforgettable cruise through the islands. 

For more information about booking the Big 5 South America Tours, please contact us or call 1-888-215-355.

About Rainforest Cruises

Rainforest Cruises is a boutique travel company specializing in Amazon river cruises, Galapagos Islands tours, and Southeast Asia cruises. We provide you with the finest collection of cruises in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Panama and Southeast Asia. As travel experts we have all the advice you need to help you find and book your dream cruise and an unforgettable adventure.