27 inspirational trips for science lovers in South America

It is time for another edition of my science travel series because the wanderlust is not going away and my frequent search for flights is not keeping me satisfied right now. So, I thought why not do some research for potential future trips and share that with you guys. And this time we are venturing to the beautiful continent of South America. What I have realised from doing this research is that if you are in any way fascinated or inspired by the natural world, then South America is a MUST visit! There are so many places to learn about geology, marine biology, conservation, climate science, glaciers and so on.

My travel pot is still virtually empty so there will be no trips to learn about STEM in the UK, Europe, North America or South America anytime soon. That’s one of the problems with planning a wedding. So instead, take a virtual trip with me in this post and hopefully you will be inspired to take a trip to one or many of these 27 stunning locations to this fascinating continent that I am falling more and more in love with.

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  1. The Beacon of Marcaibo, Catatumbo River, Venezuela

Also known as the most electric place on Earth. Catatumbo lightning  is an atmospheric phenomenon in Venezuela. It occurs only over the mouth of the Catatumbo River where it empties into Lake Maracaibo. Catatumbo lightning is caused and coloured by methane from swamps, which is often cited as a cause and/or a contributing factor for both the Catatumbo thunderstorms and the lightning itself, or ‘the ever-lasting storm’.

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2. The Boiling River, Shanay-Timpishka, Peru

This scalding hot river was thought to be a myth, until one geoscientist made it his quest to study the mystical waters. The steaming turquoise waters that can reach up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit are guided by ivory-coloured stones and guarded by 60-foot walls of lush forest and vegetation. 

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3. Salt Flats, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, amid the Andes in southwest Bolivia, is the world’s largest salt flat. It’s the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desertlike, nearly 11,000-sq.-km. landscape of bright-white salt, rock formations and cacti-studded islands. Its otherworldly expanse can be observed from central Incahuasi Island. Though wildlife is rare in this unique ecosystem, it harbours many pink flamingos.

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4. Cerro Paranal, Atacama Desert, Chile

But for the ultimate stargazing experience, the Atacama desert in northern Chile has the clearest night skies on Earth. It is high, dry – one of the driest places in the world – and unpolluted. Several top-level observatories have set up home here, and tourists are hot on their tail. One of those is the Paranal Observatory. Paranal Observatory is an astronomical observatory operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The Very Large Telescope (VLT), the largest telescope on Paranal, is composed of four separate 8.2 m (320 in) telescopes. Paranal Observatory is an astronomical observatory operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). It is also home to the revolutionary Alma observatory, the world’s largest astronomical project. Alma captures star and planet formations billions of light years away, so you are viewing the dawn of the universe. Using an array of 66 antennae that together make up the equivalent of a 10-mile-long telescope, it can uncover details with at least 10 times more resolution than the Hubble space telescope. As this is a radio telescope, not an optical one, there is no nighttime stargazing at Alma – you come here in dazzling daylight to be wowed by the scale, the site and the cutting-edge science. And don’t expect to get up close and personal with the telescope. Visitors won’t ascend to the Chajnantor plateau at 5,000 metres, where most of the antennae are sited – and for good reason.

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5. Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Los Glaciares National Park is in the Austral Andes of southwest Argentina, near the Chilean border. Its many glaciers include Perito Moreno, best known for the dramatic icefalls from its front wall, into Lake Argentino. In the north, Mount Fitz Roy’s jagged peak rises above the mountain town of El Chaltén and Lake Viedma. The park is home to many birds, such as condors and black-chested buzzard eagles.

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6. Charles Darwin Research Station, Galápagos Islands

The Darwin Station is a centre for research and environmental education where you can learn about issues concerning the islands and have the opportunity to see giant Galápagos tortoises and their smaller offspring as part of the Station’s breeding program. The Station also houses an extensive collection of preserved specimens of Galápagos plant life.

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7. Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador

Travel to the Mitad del Mundo, just north of Quito, to view the world from the equator and stand with a foot in both hemispheres. Maybe a great place to visit after visiting the Prime Meridian line in Greenwich, London.

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8. Angel Falls, Venezuela

Angel Falls is a waterfall in Venezuela. It is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, with a height of 979 metres and a plunge of 807 m. The waterfall drops over the edge of the Auyán-tepui mountain in the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gran Sabana region of Bolívar State. Actually, this surreal site is 14 times taller than Canada’s iconic Niagara Falls. As an added plus, getting to the cascade is quite an adventure in itself as well, featuring plane and river boat rides.

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9. Alcântara, Brazil

In Northeast Brazil, there is the rocket launch site for the Brazilian Space Agency, which also hosts a museum on the site.

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10. Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Peru

With its famous striped colours, vibrant in the sunshine, are largely due to weathering and mineral deposits, Rainbow Mountain is a beautiful place to go hiking but also to learn about all sorts of geology.

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11. Chiloé Island, Chile

From the town of Pargua, take a ferry to sail through the Chacao Channel to the Island of Chiloé. Visit the town of Chacao before heading to Puñihuil. From there, sail to the islets to see the Humboldt and Magallanes penguins in the only place in the world where the species nest together.

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12. Sierra Negra Volcano, Galápagos Islands

Sierra Negra Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the Galápagos with the second largest volcanic crater in the world, measuring 6 miles in diameter and 300 feet deep. Then continue on to nearby Volcan Chico where you can feel the warmth of the ground as proof of the volcano’s activity.

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13. Devil’s Throat, Iguaçu Waterfalls, Argentina

Want to see something really spectacular? Why not head to Iguazu Falls and be awed by its immense size and thunderous cascades. With a whopping total of over 270 waterfalls making up the landscape. Depending on where you go to see Iguazu Falls, you’ll be either in Paraguay, Brazil or Argentina. There is also a walkway to venture out and experience the falls from much closer.

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14. Papallacta Volcanic Hot Springs, Amazon Basin, Ecuador

This extensive series of pools sits in a forest at the foot of a line of Andean mountains. Trees reach out over the water, and bromeliads cling to their branches, drawing in steam. The pools are of varying temperature and depth – from knee-high to neck-high. Water pours from the ground between a bath-like 30C and a scalding 70C, and in the pools it ranges from 36C to 40C, a difference that is more than noticeable as you move between the pools.

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15. Inkaterra Field Station, Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Puerto Maldonado, in the Southern Peruvian rainforest near the Bolivian and Brazilian borders,  is the gateway to one of the world’s most remote and extraordinary tropical environments. Your journey will take you to the heart of the Tambopata National Reserve, where you will experience magnificent beauty in the sounds, scents, colours and solitude of the rainforest. You will find yourself surrounded by a vast environment, connecting with nature in an entirely new way. Transfer to the Biological Station, a research centre for young people interested in conservation and eco-tourism. Hike the trails and search for birds, amphibians and primates.

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16. Isabela Island, Galápagos Islands

Take a visit to Isabela Island and Flamingo Lagoon to learn more about the impact of human tourists on the islands, and what we can do to protect the natural resources.

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17. Guyana Space Centre, Lourou, French Guyana

Kourou hosts the Guyana Space Centre; the primary rocket launch site for the European Space Agency. In 1964, the French government chose this uninhabited territory – close to the equator and protected from tropical storms and earthquakes – as a base from which to send its satellites into the cosmos. Take the highly informative three-hour bus tour of the launch pads and control room where the launching is programmed.

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18. Puno Lake, Peru

Take a trip to Puno Lake and be transported by boat to the floating Islands of Uros. This ancestral society lives on artificial islands made out of totora, a weed that grows in the lake. Homes are built where the reeds are thickest and out door fires are used for cooking. A great trip to inspire those interested in conservation and sustainability.

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19. Las Tintoreras, Galápagos Islands

Go underwater to see the other half of what makes the Galápagos so special on a snorkeling tour at Las Tintoreras. Just beneath the surface is a whole other world filled with tropical fish, sea lions, and sea turtles. It also happens to be the only place in the northern hemisphere that you can see penguins in the wild.

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20. Cocora Valley, Colombia

Cocora Valley is a splendid wildlife sanctuary and a preservation area for the Colombia’s national symbol – the wax palm.

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21. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Up for a mind-blowing and heart-pumping adventure that you’ll cherish until your last breath? Then, pay a visit to Torres Del Paine National Park, deemed as one of the most remarkable places to visit in South America. While getting to this Chilean national park isn’t an easy feat, the views of the crystal blue glaciers and soaring mountains as well as the Blue Lagoon are absolutely worth the adventure. To make things even better, this secluded Chilean Patagonia is home to an endangered species of deer.

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22. Rio Pastaza Canyon, Ecuador

The Pailon del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron, is an aptly-named waterfall on the Rio Pastaza, a tributary of the upper Amazon River Basin.

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23. Puerto Madryn and Valdez Peninsula, Argentina

Argentina is a South American hotspot for commercial whale watching, with the small Patagonian city of Puerto Madryn serving as its hub.  Whales can be seen year-round, but the main whale-spotting season runs from June to mid-December.  Land-based whale watching is possible from Puerto Madryn, but is particularly popular from the nearby Valdez Peninsula nature reserve.  Boats also take tourists out, with many departing from Puerto Pirámides, a small town inside the reserve.  Southern right whales, killer whales and orcas all swim in these waters.  Head to the northern point of the peninsula for the best opportunity to see orcas beaching themselves while trying to catch young sea lions and elephant seals.

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24. Mount Roraima, Venezuela/Brazil/Guyana

The tallest tepui (flat-topped, cliff-edged mountain) in Venezuela’s great plains, Roraima’s fog-covered summit has interesting black rocks, pools, gorges and wildflower gardens to explore.

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25. The Amazon Rainforest

There’s no place on earth quite like the Amazon Rainforest. Known as the world’s largest tropical rainforest and the earth’s last frontier, it’s definitely one awesome, mind-boggling piece of real estate, covering 75 percent of the Amazon River basin and home to 390 billion trees. Moreover, it has a host of fascinating and extraordinary creatures, such as the pink river dolphin, glass frog, capybara, giant otter, black caiman, piranhas, arapaima, anaconda, and spider monkey. Take a hike or river cruise to explore this incredible ecosystem.

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26. Ilha Grande, Brazil

Another beautiful spot in South America where you can go snorkelling and discovering a vibrant array of species bustling under the water’s surface.

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27. Jardín Botánico de Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo’s Botanical Museum and Gardens, in the Prado neighborhood, are extensive. This park has a great collection of beautiful plants from all over the world and serves as a center for education, information and scientific activity. It’s perfect for those who like a bit of natural sightseeing.

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So much science inspiration and simply stunning sites, and not enough time or money to explore them. But hopefully that will change soon.

I hope this has inspired your next trip. If you are looking for even more science trip inspiration then check out my science travel guides to learn about STEM in the UK, Europe and North America.

Where else would you recommend to STEM lovers to visit in South America? Or maybe you have visited one of these places – how did you find it? Share in the comments below.

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