Spotlight on the National Parks of Latin America
Latin America is a continent with a rich natural diversity - from tropical rainforests to dry deserts, and from wildlife-filled islands to snow-mantled mountains. We highlight some of its most extraordinary national parks:
The granite pillars of Torres del Paine dominate the Chilean landscape in southern Patagonia where there is a great diversity of terrain to explore, from wind-battered grasslands to sheltered glacial valleys, and from torrential rivers surging with ice to emerald forests. Animals that call Torres del Paine National Park home range from geese to guanaco. Condors and puma may be spotted as well, especially in the low winter season from April to October. Popular activities in the national park include day walks, the ‘W’ Trek and boat trips to the glaciers.
Visit Torres del Paine National Park on our Signature Patagonia: Highlights of Patagonia holiday or on our Lapwing: Patagonian Odyssey group tour. View all of our holidays to Torres del Paine National Park here.
The inviting oases of the Lençois Maranhenses National Park in far north-eastern Brazil don’t disappoint. Every visitor will have a different experience depending on the time of the year, with water usually present in the pools between May and September. Views are most spectacular after sunset, when a range of shadows come into play. Discover this wonderland of sand dunes and lagoons in a 4x4 jeep, with the opportunity to swim in the beautifully clear aquamarine pools.
Visit Lençóis Maranhenses National Park on our Off the beaten track Brazil: Dunes and lagoons of Lencois Maranhenses holiday.
The Galápagos Islands sit in isolation off mainland Ecuador adrift in the Pacific Ocean. The archipelago became a national park in 1959 and is born from volcanoes, the lava creating the land that’s home to an abundance of wildlife. Visitors can go wildlife spotting and come eye to eye with tortoises, penguins, sea lions and sharks. The islands are excellent to be explored on foot or by canoe, there’s the Charles Darwin Research Station to visit or simply relax on one of the white sand beaches.
The Iguazú Falls (spelt Iguaçú in Brazil) straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil and are often seen as one of the most popular highlights in Latin America. The 275 separate cascades can be viewed from walkways in both countries and open boat trips take you up to Devil’s Throat. There’s also the opportunity to go on a subtropical jungle safari, where you’ll be able to see toucans, parrots, monkeys and other frequently sighted exotic creatures.
Hidden behind the steep hillsides of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta lies the beautiful Tayrona National Park. Untouched Caribbean beaches backed by lush jungle can be found here, once home to the indigenous Tayrona Indians. It’s possible to follow the tree-covered trails in the park, where monkeys are swinging overhead, or enjoy a lunch at one of the local restaurants and bars. In certain areas of the park visitors are allowed to swim or to discover the unforgettable coral reefs during a snorkelling session.
Visit Tayrona National Park on our Weaverbird: Spirit of Colombia holiday.
Manuel Antonio is a small national park on the Pacific Coast, boasting lush jungle, picture-perfect beaches and a wealth of wildlife. In the park you’re able to catch a glance of mischievous monkeys, dangling sloths and a great variety of birdlife. Hike the trails or join a kayaking tour to explore the area. For real daredevils there’s also the option to enjoy an exhilarating zipline ride across the jungle.
Visit Manuel Antonio National Park on our Family Costa Rica: Jungle walks and turtle spotting holiday. View all our holidays to the Pacific Coast here.
Cotopaxi National Park makes a great day trip from Quito, and its namesake volcano - the centrepiece of the park - can be seen from miles around. The route from the capital to Cotopaxi National Park takes you through the Avenue of the Volcanoes. The scenic route is flanked by eight dizzyingly-high-snow-mantled mountains striding south of Quito down the Andean spine. The park is excellent for hiking and wildlife spotting, featuring a great variety of bird life, and a number of mammals including deer, rabbits, foxes and the elusive puma.
Visit Cotopaxi National Park on our Signature Ecuador: Volcanoes to the ocean holiday or our Albatross: Ecuador’s Highlands and Galápagos escorted group tour. View all our holidays to Cotopaxi National Park here.
8. Manú National Park – Peru
Manú is one of the most biodiverse rainforest areas on the planet and is for the most part an unexplored area in the Peruvian Amazon. Visitors can stay at the Manú Learning Centre: the first totally sustainable, carbon-neutral lodge in the region. Guests have the opportunity to observe wildlife around the lodge and along the extensive trail system. Monkeys, hummingbirds, macaws and caiman are frequently sighted among a myriad of other exotic tropical creatures. It’s even possible to observe community projects and assist in the scientific research undertaken here.
You can visit Manú National Park on our Peru birdlife: Machu Picchu to pristine Amazon holiday.
Los Glaciares National Park is divided into a northern and southern geographical region. El Chaltén is the gateway town to the northern side of the park, and El Calafate is the gateway town to the southern section. The vast ice fields in the national park are a primeval wilderness from which flow 13 huge glaciers in the lakes Viedma and Argentino. El Calafate is the base for visits to the Perito Moreno, Upsala and Onelli glaciers. The park is also famous for its excellent ice trekking and boat ride opportunities.
Visit El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park on our Self-drive Patagonia: The open road to Torres del Paine or on our Lapwing: Patagonian Odyssey escorted group tour. View all our holidays to El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park here.
Soberanía National Park borders Lake Gatún alongside the Panama Canal and is blanketed with a dripping rainforest which features an impressive amount of wildlife, especially tropical birds – over 500 different species of birds are found here. Monkeys, sloths, iguanas and crocodiles are just a few of the other animals that you may see in their natural surroundings. Activities to undertake here are hiking, kayaking and visits to an authentic Indian village. Visitors can also explore the Las Cruces Trail, an historical trail that was used in the 16th century by the Spanish to transport gold.
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Real Latin America Experts
Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Consultant
Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.
Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant
After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.
Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant
Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.
Carrie Gallagher - Travel Consultant
A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Escorted Groups team.
Evie Oswald - Travel Consultant
It’s hard to believe that Evie has had time to cram so much in to her life so far. Having lived as a child in the Americas and Europe she found herself immediately attracted to Latin America.
Lina Fuller - Travel Consultant
Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.