These are the best places to visit in South America, with highlights including the Inca Trail and learning about queer tango.
South America is a destination that will make you fall in love with life. The Latino soul is addictive, with music and dance so deeply ingrained at the heart of everything. We sure did! We got engaged on this trip when Stefan proposed to me in a restaurant in Cartagena…
After our big trip to Asia, we spent a further 15 months traveling in South America as a gay couple and absolutely loved it. Most countries are extremely gay friendly, with places like Bogota in Colombia home to the largest club we've ever seen – Theatron; and Sao Paolo Pride attracting over 3 million people making it the largest and one of the best gay pride events in the world.
As foodies, we loved the culinary scene of Argentina of Lima, Peru. For culture, indigenous traditions can be seen everywhere, particularly among the Incas in Bolivia/Peru, as well as the Mapuche Indians in Chile. And finally, for trekking adventures, Patagonia is a must. These are our 10 favorite places to visit and things to do in South America following our big trip around the continent.
Advice for LGBTQ travelers in South America
South America is a bit of a rock star when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Places like Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Ecuador are paving the way forward, having implemented gay marriage laws. Other impressive feats include Sao Paolo Pride is the largest Pride in the world and Theatron in Bogota – one of the largest in the world (certainly the largest we've been to). However, in large parts of South America, homosexuality is still very much a taboo and care should be taken, especially in Venezuela, Guyana, North Brazil, and rural parts of Bolivia/Peru/Chile.
The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
The Galapagos is an archipelago of volcanic islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, around 600 miles (1,000km) from Ecuador’s coast. This is one of the few places in the world where you can get incredibly close to wildlife. There's also a rich underwater world to discover – we saw sharks, rays, turtles, and many tropical fish each time we went snorkeling.
The islands here also have some very dramatic landscapes, which are crying out for a space in your Instagram gallery. We loved the Galapagos Islands so much, that we visited twice during our big South America trip, even leading a Galapagos gay cruise. Check out our video from our trip here:
Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Peru)
For us, our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was a definite highlight of our trip in South America. It's one of those places we visited we will always look back on with fond memories of throughout our relationship. It's a tough 4-day trek through the Sacred Valley, reaching altitudes of up to 4,215m (13,828 ft).
The Inca Trail is one of the most famous treks in the world. It is 27 miles (44km) long and was initially part of a highly advanced network of around 40,000 trails built by the Incas to connect the distant corners of their kingdom. It also had religious and ceremonial importance to the Incas as it was part of their route of pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.
The real highlight, of course, is on the final day when you finally reach Machu Picchu.
Hike the Inca Trail on a gay tour
Lace-up those hiking boots and prepare for your own Andean expedition, because you're invited to join our friends at Out Adventures on their annual all-gay Inca Trail hike. By joining their sweaty scamper you'll be automatically guaranteed an Inca Trail pass, a local LGBTQ-welcoming host, and a veto-ed team of guides and porters. The tour includes time in Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley.
Learning tango in Buenos Aires and Montevideo (Argentina/Uruguay)
Learning to dance tango in Buenos Aires was one of our favorite memories. It's very romantic!
At its inception in the 1880s, the tango was danced between 2 men. It was particularly popular amongst the Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and in Montevideo (Uruguay). The tango is also a UNESCO-listed Cultural Heritage following a successful joint application by Argentina and Uruguay in 2009.
There are many milongas places (tango halls) in both cities, which are a must for any visitor. Most offer classes in the evening, which are then followed by a show. There are also numerous milongas offering same-sex tango classes, which we strongly advise gay travelers to try. Check out our gay guide to Buenos Aires and Montevideo for more, and watch our video from our gay tango class at the Solis Theatre in Montevideo:
Trekking in Patagonia (Argentina/Chile)
Patagonia is synonymous with adventure and mountaineering. If you love trekking, this should be high up on your bucket list of places to visit in South America. Patagonia has two trekking highlights: Torres del Paine in Chile and El Chaltén in Argentina.
Torres del Paine in Chile is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was also voted one of the 8 Wonders of the World by VirtualTourist.com in 2013. The most iconic part is the base of the Paine towers, which has a volcanic lake just in front of it.
El Chaltén lies in the Santa Cruz region of Argentina, close to the Chilean border. There are many trails around El Chalten of varying levels of difficulty. Our favorite was the intense full-day trek to Laguna de Los Tres. The climax point is when you reach the lake and you have this phenomenal view of the Fitz Roy mountain in the background:
Gorgeous landscapes of San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)
The San Pedro de Atacama desert in northern Chile has some of the most stunning landscapes we've ever seen. Our favorite place in the region was the Capur Salt Flats, which has a mix of colors all merging into one perfect portrait, with flamingoes adding their unique splash of pink into the background.
Another pretty landscape here worth visiting is the Moon Valley (El Valle de la Luna), which also has the Cordillera de la Sal mountain range. Walking in the Moon Valley was unique and quite surreal – it felt like we were exploring the surface of the moon. We based ourselves at the luxurious and super gay friendly, Alto Atacama hotel, which has terrific, passionate guides who took us to each setting in San Pedro de Atacama.
Foodie discoveries in Peru
Peru is well regarded as being the culinary capital of the continent. There are many highly rated restaurants in the city, including 3 from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: Central in 4th place, Maido in 13th, and Astrid y Gastón in 30th. In addition, according to the World Travel Awards, Peru was voted the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for 2016, and has won the award every year since 2012.
There are many culinary highlights in Peru you need to try. Some of our favorites include ceviche, pisco sour cocktails, grilled alpaca meat, chaufa (Chinese/Peruvian fusion food), anticucho (chewy cow's hearts), and tacu tacu (Creole-inspired rice and beans).
Peru has also given us one of the hottest chefs ever to walk this Earth. If you don't know him, check out Franco Noriega showing off his, er, chia pudding recipe…
Hiking across Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina)
Have you ever hiked across a massive glacier before? Nope – neither had we, until we visited the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate in Argentina. This is another must place to visit in South America, which you can mix in with your trip to Patagonia.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is huge: 35km (22 miles) in length, with a depth of up to 180m (590ft). We hiked across it as part of a tour, which definitely ranks as one of the most unique things we’ve ever done. What could top this? Finishing the tour with a glass of whiskey, with fresh ice from the big giant glacier of course!
Getting up close to the magnificent Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil)
The Iguazu Falls are a bucket list destination for all travelers visiting South America. It was voted as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World by a poll in November 2011. It's a mesmerizing experience. You can stand here for hours just marveling at this sheer force of nature, whilst getting completely soaked from the powerful spray.
The Iguazu Falls are located in Northeast Argentina in the Misiones province, straddling the Brazilian border. Most visitors to Argentina make this their main destination after Buenos Aires. We visited Iguazu Falls as part of our road trip in Northeast Argentina and definitely ranked as one of the most romantic moments of our trip. Read more in our gay guide to Iguazu.
Falling in love with red wine in Mendoza and Santiago (Argentina/Chile)
Argentina and Chile are in our opinion the best places for a wine vacation in South America. Red wine discoveries were one particular souvenir from our big South America trip, especially Argentinian Malbec and Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Now back home in Europe, we pay more attention to the South American section of the red wine shelf in supermarkets.
We did many wine tours in Mendoza and Santiago, visiting bodegas and learning more about each grape. Our favorite experience was staying at the luxurious Entre Cielos wine hotel in Mendoza, located in the middle of a large vineyard. We also recommend checking out the Vendimia grape harvesting festival in February/March, which also includes a gay segment called Vendimia Para Todos (meaning “Vendimia for everyone”). For more, check out our gay guide to Mendoza and also why we think Argentina is one of the most gay friendly destinations.
Partying in Bogota (Colombia)
Theatron in Bogota, Colombia is the largest gay club in South America. It's also the largest gay club we've ever been to!
Theatron is a former theatre hall turned into a gay boy’s playground. On Saturday evenings, up to 5,000 come here to party into the early hours. It is split into 13 mini clubs, which are spread over 5 floors. Each one has its own theme, for example, one room is devoted to 1980s hits, another to salsa music, there’s one which is men only, one just for women, and many more.
We would return to Bogota simply to come and party here again. It was our favorite night out on our trip to South America. For more, read about our experience partying at Theatron and check out our gay guide to Bogota.
Explore Colombia on a gay tour
Out Adventures' brand new Colombia tour is hotter than Maluma! Beginning in Bogotá, the carefree escape will have you shaking your arepa at the largest LGBTQ club in the Americas, hiking humid jungles in Tayrona National Park, and soaking up the country's sand, sun, and sea in coastal Cartagena. The optional gay salsa class, food tour, and snorkeling excursion make this adventure muy caliente!
For more inspiration:
- Make sure you also check out our gay country guide to Colombia
- If you're in the area these are also the best gay pride events in Latin America
- We also have a gay country guide to Uruguay
- If you're into traveling by boat, these are the best gay cruises departing worldwide
- Check out the best gay bars in Buenos Aires
- As well as these gay bars to hit in Bogota before Theatron
- If you're going to Argentina for the wine, check out these great gay hotels in Mendoza
- For more gay accommodation here are some awesome gay guesthouses in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- And here are some great gay bars and clubs in Fort Lauderdale too
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Happy travels are safe travels