9 NEW HOT SPOTS
Emerging highlights beyond South America’s traditional tourist trail
1 KUELAP, PERU
The ancient walled city of Kuelap, billed as “the Machu Picchu of the north”, is three times as old as Peru’s more famous ancient city. Yet Kuelap has largely remained off the tourist trail – until now. Dating back to 6AD, the site encompasses the ruins of more than 400 buildings perched 3000m above sea level. Thanks to a new cable car opened last year, the mountainous site is now easily accessible, with tourism tipped to take off. Be quick if you want to experience the site while it’s still relatively quiet.
2 SANTIAGO, CHILE
With a population of seven million, Santiago is one of South America’s biggest cities, but for years it’s been overshadowed by its betterknown neighbours. Not anymore. With Chile named Lonely Planet’s No. 1 destination to visit in 2018 and National Geographic listing Santiago, the underrated city has hit the spotlight. It now rivals Buenos Aires as the destination of choice for discerning travellers, with a thriving foodie and arts scene. The city’s ripe for sightseeing, with its spectacular backdrop of the Andes and a recently relaunched cable car providing easy
access to its most scenic point, Cerro San Cristobal – which, with its 14m Virgin Mary statue, is billed as Santiago’s answer to Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer.
3 CANO CRISTALES, COLOMBIA
One of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, Cano Cristales is also known as the five coloured river, thanks to a unique plant that transforms the river into a brilliant, changing rainbow of colour between June and December. For years, the stunning site was off-limits as Colombia struggled with conflict. In recent years, however, the river has reopened to tourists – and as the country puts its troubled past behind it, Colombia is becoming a tourist hot spot, with international travel up 20 per cent last year. Still, Cano Cristales’ remote location (access is from La Macarena, a flight away from Bogota) means it’s unlikely to be overrun with tourists any time soon.
4 TRANCOSO, BRAZIL
It’s hardly news that Brazil’s beaches are its top attraction, but these days savvy travellers are exploring more than Rio’s tourist haunts of Copacabana and Ipanema. Northeastern Brazil’s beautiful Bahia
region was named as one of Lonely Planet’s top regions to visit in 2018. And perhaps Bahia’s hottest spot is Trancoso, a beach town with a hippie vibe that has seen it dubbed Brazil’s best undiscovered beach town. In recent years, the town’s most stylish hotel, Uxua – owned by fashion designer Wilbert Das – has been luring the world’s beautiful people, and last year its latest swish new villa saw it hot-listed by New York Times.
5 JUJUY, ARGENTINA
This striking mountain region in northwest Argentina has been largely overlooked by travellers, until now. National Geographic ranks it among the best trips to take in 2018, while Rough Guides describes the provincial capital, San Salvador de Jujuy, as “up-and-coming”. The region’s most dramatic sight is Cerro de los Siete Colores (hill of seven colours), a geological marvel formed over millions of years. Argentinian travel is all the more enticing this year, with the exchange rate moving in Aussie travellers’ favour.
6 KAIETEUR FALLS, GUYANA
When it comes to South American waterfalls, Iguazu hogs the limelight. But, if you prefer your
natural wonders without the tourist hordes, then Kaieteur Falls is a powerful contender. This is no smalltime waterfall – it’s considered the world’s largest single drop waterfall by volume, and is four times the height of Niagara Falls, so perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that it has kept such a low profile. But with Guyana listed on several emerging destination hot lists in recent years, that looks set to change. Deep in the rainforest, Kaieteur Falls is accessible via a five-day boat and hiking tour or by fly-in day tour.
7 ISLA DE LA PLATA, ECUADOR
The Galapagos Islands are as renowned for being expensive to tour as they are for their extraordinary wildlife. But few have even heard of the remote island group’s more accessible, far less expensive rival – Isla de La Plata. Just off mainland Ecuador, the uninhabited island attracts many of the same birds, such as blue-footed boobies and Galapagos albatross, and is surrounded by coral reef that attracts manta rays, tropical fish and turtles. Time it right and you’ll also see migrating whales. A day trip to the island costs about $50, compared to the thousands you’d spend on a Galapagos adventure.
8 HUACACHINA, PERU
Appearing like a mirage from the desert, Huacachina is the literal embodiment of an “emerging destination”. The stunning oasis, five hours south of Lima, is a must-visit for adventure travellers and rates among the world’s top up-and-coming destinations. Popular among wealthy Peruvians in the 1940s, with its lagoon thought to have healing powers, the oasis was abandoned for years before being “rediscovered” in the 1990s. Not surprisingly, with all that sand around, Huacachina’s main attractions are sandboarding and dune buggy rides.
9 MOON VALLEY, BOLIVIA
Bolivia is perhaps best known for its eerily beautiful salt flats, Salar de Uyuni, but visitors don’t have to venture far beyond the city of La Paz to find another lesser-known otherworldly attraction. Moon Valley – a series of dramatic lunar-esque rock formations that are the result of erosion – is 10km from downtown La Paz. The city, one of South America’s rising stars, was named one of the best value destinations in the world this year. At less than $3 to visit, Moon Valley is a prime example of its budget-friendly delights.