5. Ecuador, Peru and Northern Boliva
Start with an alternative intro to Ecuador in urban Guayaquil (1), then journey north to Otavalo’s (2) famous Saturday market – the ultimate place to purchase a hammock or woodcarving keepsake.
Base yourself in the old town of Quito (3) before hiking the volcanic crater lake of the Quilotoa loop (4). Cruise through the Andes on the glorious Nariz del Diablo (5) train ride, nurture your soul in spiritual Vilcabamba (6), cross the border and head to Peru’s lively city and trekking hotspot Huaraz (7).
Don’t miss Lima (8) on your way to the the Trails to Machu Picchu (9) – a less expensive and less crowded alternative Inca trails deep in the jungle. Wander the plazas of Cusco (10), then set course towards Bolivia for the awe-inspiring altitude of sacred Lake Titicaca (11).
Situated high in a canyon, the energy of La Paz (12) will be tough to wrench yourself away from, but if you have to wrap your trip up, finish in the beautifully maintained colonial architectures of Sucre (13).
6. Colombia and Venezuela
Begin in Bogotá (1), Colombia’s densely packed cosmopolitan capital, then visit the mountain landscapes and monolithic statues of San Agustin (2). Continue to fun and freewheeling Cali (3), and further up to modern Medellín (4) in Colombia's coffee country. Cartagena (5) is a must-see jewel on the Caribbean coast before exploring the pristine beaches, pre-Colombian ruins and lush flora in Parque Nacional Tayrona (6). Go south to San Gil (7), Colombia’s best spot for adventure sports (paragliding included), then to Villa de Leyva (8) and the wildlife-rich regions of chilled-out Mérida (9). Ciudad Bolívar (10) is Venezuela’s most lovely colonial town, and your gateway to the towering Angel Falls (11). Don’t miss the mind-blowing jungles of the Orinoco Delta (12) before you end this itinerary in conveniently located Parque Nacional Henri Pittier (13) – close well connected Caracas.
7. Northern Brazil and the Amazon
Commence in Brazil's canyon-filled Chapada Diamantina (1) national park, and onward to quality surf, diving and beaching in Salvador (2).
You’ll be pressed to find a prettier city than Olinda (3) anywhere in the north, but won’t regret having left it once you’re browsing the stalls of Fortaleza’s (4) central market. The world-class restaurants and bars of Belém (5) are worth writing home about, as is the fine street food in bustling Manaus (6).
Then set course for the Amazon (7), where a river trip down the Rio Negro will be an experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. If you can’t bring yourself to leave, consider floating all the way to Iquitos in Peru.
Top image © Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock