We know South America, but National Geographic knows the world. This iconic magazine and brand has introduced readers to far-flung destinations beyond most of our wildest imaginations. Their name and products are respected globally, so when National Geographic released its picks for Best Trips of 2013, we took notice. Out of the 20 trips selected by the editors of this renowned magazine, two were in South America, and both make great add-ons to our most popular South America travel packages. Learn about them below.
It’s good to know we’re on the same page. In October, we wrote about how often overlooked Quito is a must see on the way to the Galapagos, and even worth a visit as a standalone destination. It seems NatGeo agrees, writing that: “For too long, travelers have neglected Ecuador’s capital city en route to the nation’s marquee attraction, the Galápagos Islands.”
So just what is there to see in Quito? For starters, it has the best preserved historic center in South America. In the past decade, roughly $500 million went toward renovations and improvements in the Central Historical District, which was one of the first city centers to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A leafy plaza with palms and other greenery is surrounded by whitewashed and pastel colored buildings, including the Presidential Palace. On nearby streets there are dozens of ornate churches, many of which have been meticulously restored by trained artisans from local villages.
Quito also has a vibrant nightlife. Plaza Foch is full of quirky bars and nightclubs, as well as some standard sport bars serving international cuisine. Calle Ronda, a narrow pedestrian street with quaint balconies nearly touching each other across the way, also comes alive at night with live music and libations.
In addition to culture and nightlife, Quito also has some interesting attractions for geography buffs. The equator passes nearby and there are two museums with hands-on activities to recognize it; Ecuador is named after this midline. Because Ecuador has the highest and lowest places the equator runs through, it’s a common pick for scientists to set up camp. To experience the altitude yourself, ride the teleferiQo (an aerial tram) up to 13,300 feet above sea level.
Colors and character burst from the hills in Valparaíso, a port town just an hour and half from Santiago. A mix of port yard grit and charm from old hillside mansions with million dollar views give Valparaíso its bohemian vibe that visitors either love or hate. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site just 10 years ago, Valparaíso had adjusted slightly to accommodate a new influx of visitors, with rundown mansions restored and gourmet restaurants introduced.
With a maze of narrow streets and bright buildings teetering on the cerros (hills), the city has an allure of forbidden romance. The funiculars (inclined trams) take travelers from the business center below up to where the real attractions are, in the hills above. The tram system dates back to the late 1880s and are based off 16th century designs. Its close location to Santiago along with Chile’s outstanding transportation systems makes Valparaíso an easy and quirky addition to most Chile vacations.