South America 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.
The “Big 5” South America Tours
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.
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.
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.
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 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 2017 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.
Petrel Galapagos Cruise
One of our most highly recommended cruise options for touring the spectacular Galapagos is the Petrel Cruise, a catamaran-style boat that offers all the space, comfort and stability characteristic of this type of vessel. The Petrel is the sister-boat to the renowned Ocean Spray and Cormorant. It is known for its sleek and modern design, which it combines with luxurious levels of comfort, quality facilities and first class personalised on-board service.
On the boat, you’ll be met with several attractive social areas, including an open-air bar, spacious sun deck, alfresco dining area, soothing Jacuzzi and dedicated entertainment room. With a limited capacity of 16 passengers, along with a highly attentive 11-person crew, you’ll find this is the perfect way to cruise this world-class destination in ultimate style.
Each of the cabins has their own balcony, equipped with two chairs and a coffee table, a great place to tranquilly start and end each day in one of the most exclusive cruising destinations in the world.
An 8-day cruise is highly recommended for making the most of the Galapagos, and will enable you to experience the beauty and diversity of several islands in full. However, 4, 5 and 6-day itineraries are also available for those short on time.
The 8-day Petrel Galapagos provides a fantastic overview of the archipelago. Starting in Baltra island, you’ll visit Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Bartolome and North Seymour, encountering an astonishing array of landscapes and wildlife along the way. Hike over rugged volcanic terrain, marvel at brilliant white sand beaches and snorkel in marine rich waters. You can expect to see everything from fur seals, sea turtles and flightless cormorants, to penguins, colourful land iguanas, blue-footed boobies and plenty more.
Aria Amazon Cruise
Peru offers some of the very best Amazon luxury cruises around, combining five star service, elegance and comfort with a journey into some of the most unspoilt and fascinating corners of this spectacular rainforest. One of the most memorable, must-visit destinations is Peru’s Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, a pristine biodiverse haven of shimmering waterways and fascinating flora and fauna, from river dolphins to caimans, macaws to monkeys.
Several of our cruises service this enticing corner of the Peruvian Amazon, including the Aria Amazon. This first-class vessel effortlessly blends unmatched comfort and contemporary design with deep immersion in the wild natural surrounds. You can expect handsomely-appointed ensuite cabins complete with sitting areas and panoramic windows, an attractive sun deck with a pool, bar and loungers, as well as dedicated exercise and massage rooms. Throw in access to some of the region’s best naturalist guides, one of the highest crew-to-passenger ratios in the Amazon (almost 1:1), along with an outstanding offering of inspired regional and international cuisine, and you have an experience to remember!
The 4, 5 and 8 day itineraries aboard the Aria are some of our most popular cruise options. Beginning in the jungle city of Iquitos, you’ll journey into the heart of Peru’s “Jungle of Mirrors”, one of the wildest swathes of natural habitat on the planet. Explore the Yacapana islands, swim in Clavero Lake, cruise the calm waters of the Dorodo river at night, admire stunning waterlily-filled lagoons and pay visit to local indigenous tribes. Along the way, you’ll get the chance to take part in a diverse range of activities, including piranha fishing, mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing, along with plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting and water and land-based excursions.