In today’s world a truly undiscovered destination is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Where once Latin America was scarcely trodden by tourists – and we can tell you, having been amongst the first in the UK travel industry to set foot there, it doesn’t feel like so long ago! – it is now an accessible, stable and comfortable, indeed often luxurious, place to travel. So if you still really want to blaze a trail you’ll have to look further afield. Head with us down the road less travelled as we venture to the region’s most unexplored corners, where the attractions are on a huge scale but the crowds are anything but.
Since it gives its name to the Darién Gap – the skinny dividing line between Panama and Colombia, missing link in the Pan-American Highway, and, most infamously, haunt of FARC guerrillas – you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole Darién region was a virtual no man’s land. Not so: it’s a huge territory, and without ever getting anywhere near the Gap you can safely enjoy stunning natural attractions and the crowd-free benefits of the region’s undeserved notoriety! It’s also populated, home to a mix of cultures whose geographical isolation has sheltered them from the modern world. In the jungles and mountains, native Kuna and Embera communities thrive alongside the abundant wildlife, and you will see both on our unique Eastern Panama trip, which includes exploration by boat (we were followed by dolphins) and dug-out canoe.
With one of the great wonders of the world famously perched on a Peruvian mountaintop, Peru’s gems might seem anything but hidden. However, the reality is that with a bit of time and effort, you can still explore whole swathes of this extraordinary land in which tourists can be measured on fingers rather than in thousands: deepest, darkest Peru as it were! Just ask Rosemary Morlin – who has been to Peru with us no less than seven times and has a definite penchant for the country’s remoter reaches: read her fascinating accounts of trekking between isolated highland villages and joining local celebrations in the Cotahuasi Canyon for a taste of what’s possible. If you want to follow Rosemary’s lead and stray from the beaten path, just heading north of Lima is a good start: Peru’s northern treasures draw few crowds but are amongst the world’s most intriguing archaeological finds. Our Living Archaeology of the North holiday can be adapted to incorporate the incredible ruined fortress of Kuelap (pictured).
3. Overland Through the Amazon
The colossal scale and inaccessibility of South America’s rainforest interior means that there’s barely a beaten path to get off in this vast wilderness. However if the usual option of a few days at a far-flung jungle lodge isn’t for you, there’s one adventurous option you might consider – our Crossing Through the Remote Heartland group tour, which takes a newly opened overland route across Peru and Brazil’s Amazonian frontier. It’s a long but rewarding journey by public bus through rainforest scenery, past sleepy jungle villages and wide, muddy rivers towards the border town of Rio Branco. It’s also possible to drive your own hire car into the jungle from several points: inevitably a thrilling journey of intense contrasts as you descend from the freshness of the Andes into the dense tropical heat of the Amazon.
Ask anyone to name the countries of South America and you can be sure Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana will be the last three they’re likely to remember. Yet this polyglot block of countries perched incongruously on the continent’s northeast corner are the stuff of unforgettable travels – truly remote, isolated and relentlessly alien. There’s pristine rainforest in Guyana, punctuated by the spectacular falls of Kaieteur, and fascinating clapboard capitals in the form of Guyana’s Georgetown and Suriname’s Paramaribo. In French Guiana, a jungly country still idiosyncratically classed as a département of France, visit the international space station at Kourou and the notorious former penal colony of Devil’s Island where prison buildings have been reclaimed by the giant roots of trees. For the remotest of the remote, you can even visit Surinamese Maroon communities, where the descendents of escaped slaves live a life little removed from that of west African villages.
All three of the Guianas can be visited on a tailor-made basis or on our trail-blazing group tour, modelled on the original style of Journey Latin America trips back when we started in 1980.
Look no further than the Aisén for the quintessential dream of Patagonia: wild scenery, scarcely interrupted by the smallest human settlement; a weaving road slicing through endless glacial landscapes. That road is the Carretera Austral or ‘Southern Highway’, which provides a lifeline to a wild region where even the fresh mountain air seems infused with adventure. As you head south, thick, undisturbed temperate rainforest gives way to clear glacial lakes and rivers. This, according to our foremost Southern Cone experts David and Sarah, is the most beautiful part of all Patagonia, something neither would say lightly! Go now before recently approved major hydro-electric projects change the area’s pristine valleys forever.