1. For history: Epecuén, Argentina
Once a bustling resort attracting 25,000 holidaymakers per year, Epecuén has since found infamy as Argentina’s ghost town. In 1985, its main attraction – a therapeutic salt-water lake – overflowed its banks, flooding the town.
Abandoned to a watery grave for almost 25 years, Epecuén reappeared when the water finally began to recede in 2009. You can visit this melancholy relic of lost years by taking a bus to nearby Carhue (seven hours from Buenos Aires), from where you can walk among the ruins and even speak with former residents.
Image by rodoluca88 on Flickr (license)
2. For fascinating culture: Suriname
Suriname’s tourism industry is still in a fledgling state, but don’t let this deter you. Its capital city, Paramaribo, holds UNESCO World Heritage status thanks to its well-preserved colonial wooden buildings, while outside the city you can explore Suriname’s standing as one of South America’s most enigmatic countries with a trip to the communities of the Saramaka Maroons.
Originally groups of plantation slaves who escaped into the jungle in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these communities maintain African traditions and Ghanaian dialects. Controlled tours to the Maroons’ villages are possible with agencies in Paramaribo.
3. For an alternative carnival: Olinda and Recife, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro might draw the most international visitors, but carnival in Olinda and Recife – neighbouring cities in the northeast of Brazil – offers a unique and more traditionally-rooted experience.
For carnival week, the winding, colonial streets of Olinda throng with parades reflecting a mixture of Brazilian folklore and African influences: check out the frevo dancing (clowns dancing with umbrellas) and the maracatu. The latter is a style of drumming originally brought to Brazil by African slaves, and where the players wear lavishly-decorated and extravagant headdresses.
In both Recife and Olinda, submit to the frenetic energy of the carnival blocos: parades of dancing revellers dressed in anything from traditional outfits to Flintstones costumes. Towering above the chaos are the 20ft-tall bonecos de Olinda – enormous, brightly-coloured statues. Don’t miss the most renowned of these blocos in Recife: the Galo da Madrugada. With over 2.5 million dancers, it is the largest globally, and features the giant rooster boneco from which the parade takes its name.
4. For excellent international cuisine: Gustu, La Paz, Bolivia
Bolivia and ‘internationally-renowned cuisine’ rarely appear in the same sentence. However, a food revolution driven by Claus Meyer – world-acclaimed chef and owner of Danish restaurant Noma – is attempting to reinvent Bolivia’s reputation.
Meyer opened Gustu in 2012 with a new take on fine dining, demonstrating what can be achieved with only local, Bolivian ingredients. The restaurant is run entirely by chefs trained in La Paz’s poorest district – El Alto – and acts as a social enterprise providing opportunities for underprivileged youth in the city.
Try a seven course tasting menu with drinks pairings for 640 bolivianos, and watch the magic happen as you dine at the chef’s table.