National Parks in South America: Our Unique Guide

National Parks in South America: Our Unique Guide, Aracari Travel

At Aracari, we’re no strangers to National Parks in South America; our continent’s most tumultuous and untouched places. We are endlessly well equipped, and our guides are locals who have often grown up in or alongside the native communities that inhabit these regions, but more than that – we know the power of the path less trodden. Routes mapped by villagers, not tour operators, tracing natural phenomena heard of in stories, not found on Chat GPT.  Combine that with our connections to some of the most remote outposts of intimate hotels and lodges – and you soon see why we are the trusted trailblazers of national parks in South America.

This newly published guide to National Parks in South America is our own. A precise mix of Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, and Chile – that won’t be found anywhere else. It is our expertise distilled, resulting in a one-of-a-kind directory – beyond obvious choices and tourist trails. A journey into the last true wildlands of South America; places that reawaken us to the magnitude of nature. Put your boots on, we’re walking.

National Parks in South America: Our Top Six

1. Best for families: Esteros del Ibera National Park, Argentina

Despite being the world’s second-largest freshwater wetlands, Argentina’s Esteros del Ibera remains relatively unknown to international visitors. A complete haven for wildlife enthusiasts, these vast wetlands – an area almost the size of Switzerland – are a sanctuary for rare wildlife and plants. Filled with floating islands of vegetation, you’ll spot capybaras, deers, river otters, and more than 350 species of birds – 40% of all the bird species found in Argentina – inhabiting an incredible network of dense grassland, lakes, and lagoons. There are also species reintroduction programmes operating in the National Park coordinated by the Rewilding Argentina Foundation, which is actively working to reverse the species extinction crisis in Iberá. At Rincón del Socorro, there have been successful projects with species such as Giant Anteater, Pampas Deer, and Collared Peccary, all of which can already be observed during safaris.

Meaning ‘shining waters’, Esteros del Ibera is one of the best National Parks in South America for introducing younger explorers to the wonders of the wild, since there is no climbing as the land is all flat. Instead, with the help of our connections in Argentina, you’ll explore Esteros del Ibera by small boats able to navigate through the flooded grasslands known as malezales, as well as by bike.

When visiting as part of a luxury South America vacation with Aracari, your stay will be hosted by Rincón Del Socorro. Tucked away in one of the best national parks in Argentina, Rincón Del Socorro is a restored cattle ranch manor with all the comforts of a luxury lodge. With just six suites, three independent cabins, and a two-bed cottage, the feeling is incredibly intimate. Pair that with an outdoor pool, nature-rich gardens, and plenty of experiences, and you have a perfect property for those traveling to South America with children.

2. Best for wildlife lovers: Tambopata National Park, Peru

Incredible flora and fauna can be found in abundance in the national parks of South America but the secret to the truly sublime experiences is knowing the hideaways without crowds, in remote corners of the continent. Often these wildlife-filled boltholes are the result of wonderful conservation efforts of local NGOs and ecotourism – and nowhere is that truer than at the remote Tambopata, a national park of Peru.

Located deep in the Amazon rainforest inside the 3.7 million acres of protected jungle, sightings of capybara, caiman, geese, monkeys, and other large species are frequent, including one especially special sighting. On most clear mornings dozens of macaws and hundreds of parrots congregate on the large riverbank in a raucous and colorful spectacle. Discretely located fifty meters from the cliff, Aracari guests recall the green-winged, scarlet, and blue-and-gold macaws as one of their most memorable experiences during a luxury vacation to Peru. In a feeding frenzy, the brightly colored birds descend to ingest the clay – a sight that is only found here, deep in the wild.

Our itinerary An Amazing Andean Adventure features three days here, staying at the world-leading Tambopata Research Center, one of the most remote rainforest lodges in South America and the only to hold a concession in an untouchable part of the park. Surrounded by primary rainforest, this authentic eco-friendly lodge has partnered with Aracari for decades, delighting our guests with its guided forest walks, experiences with local jungle communities, and comfortable spacious lodges hidden away in the canopy.

3. Best for honeymooners: Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil

The gigantic expanse of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is a vast spectacle of sand dunes and crystal-clear lagoons unlike anywhere else on Earth. Dubbed the Sheets of Maranhão (Lençóis Maranhenses) this vast spectacle in the sun-drenched, laidback region of Northeast Brazil, is a field of dunes composed of fine, white sand that stand as high as 40 meters (130 feet), extending across 80 kilometers (50 miles) of coastline and stretching about 25 kilometers (15 miles) inland. From afar and above, the land looks like a gigantic series of white bedsheets billowing in the breeze, hence its namesake.

From May to September, our most recommended time window for this luxury South America tour, rain filters through the sand to form thousands of crystal-clear lagoons in pockets between the dunes. Yet despite its magnificence, this breathtaking National Park is home to more than just viewpoints, especially when you’re following the nose of our experienced partners in Brazil.

Finding Paradise: The Treasure of Brazil features three days here, in one of the best national parks in South America. As well as hikes to the most unmissable vantage points and untouched parts of the park, you’ll meet with local communities upholding a traditional way of life in this remote part of Brazil. Your stay will be hosted by the nature-engulfed eco-camp; Ciamat Camp. An ecological pousada completely immersed in its green surroundings on the shore of Rio Alegre. The camp’s cozy chalets are built with wood and straw to take advantage of the natural ventilation and are scattered across the large garden, to ensure maximum comfort and privacy.

4. Best for beach lovers: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

An hour from the city of Santa Marta, Colombia, you’ll find the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona – one of the best national parks in South America for beach lovers. Here the Sierra Nevada Mountains roll down onto the shoreline, disappearing into the Caribbean Sea, creating one of the most spectacular coastlines on the continent.

A protected area spanning 150 square kilometers, Tayrona National Park has some of the most untouched coastal landscapes in Colombia. Secluded beaches, tropical foothills, and large volcanic rock forms are all to be explored within vast landscape.

Tucked away at the mouth of the Rio Piedra, where it meets the Caribbean Sea, rests Villa Playa Tayrona – a property favored by our Colombian partners as being one of the best hotel boutique experiences surrounding Tayrona National Park. Located just 2 kilometers from the main entrance to the park and only 30km from Santa Marta, Villa Playa Tayrona provides plenty of adventure activities while maintaining a premium and private experience in the hotel itself.

There are just six suites here, each tastefully decorated to blend in with the natural surroundings. Cabanas, our most recommended kind of suite, have their own private terraces completely immersed in the beauty of the landscape, the perfect position from which you can enjoy the relaxing ambiance and stunning views.

5. Best for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: Patagonia National Park Chile

One of the younger national parks in South America, the Patagonia National Park Chile was only officially named in 2004. Formed by the Tompkins family who first visited the Chacabuco Valley in 1995 and recognized then the urgency of restoring this area to its natural state and ensuring its long-term protection.

Found in an area where Nothofagus forests give way to the eastern steppe, Patagonia National Park Chile encompasses land of notable ecological significance, added to with the glacier-fed Baker and Chacabuco Rivers and the expansive Lake Cochrane. In the higher-altitude sectors of the park and along lake-speckled mountain slopes, you’ll find immense forests; true untouched wilderness. A land so uninterrupted by human activity makes Patagonia National Park Chile home to one of the highest levels of biodiversity found in Aysén. All the region’s native species – from Andean condors to pumas to huemul, an iconic and endangered species found on Chile’s national coat of arms – inhabit the park.

Visiting as part of a luxury South America vacation with Aracari means a stay in one of the most remote and untouched regions of the park, home to Explora’s Patagonia outpost in Chile. Having worked with our partners at Explora for many years, their sustainable lodges come with our stringent stamp of approval and nowhere is that truer than here.

Located in the heart of Chile’s Carretera Austral, the property has just 13 rooms, surrounded by majestic mountains, Chile’s fastest-flowing rivers, and turquoise lakes. Reachable via Explora’s private plane which runs from Balmaceda airport, the outdoor spa, gaucho-inspired cuisine, and endless outdoor adventures chosen each evening, equate to a true once-in-a-lifetime wild adventure.

6. Best for culture seekers & connection with remote communities: Madidi National Park, Bolivia

The Bolivian jungle is home to some of the most raw and pristine primary rainforests in the world, the finest of which can be found in Madidi National Park. Created in 1995, this South American National Park is characterized by its exceptional wealth of biological riches, variety of ecosystems, and remote Amazonian communities.

The range of altitude in the Madidi National Park is staggering, crossing from 6,000m at the summit of the Apolobamba mountain to just 200 meters on the Amazon plains of River Hea. Amongst those snow-capped mountains, glaciers, high Andean lagoons, and waterfalls, the national park is home to around 670 families (some 3,500 inhabitants) spread out among 33 Amazonian communities.

There are a handful of ecolodges in Madidi National Park but by far our favorite is Chalalán Ecolodge, on the shores of the magnificent Chalalán Lagoon. This community-run project puts its profits towards sustaining the local indigenous communities, providing Aracari guests with a unique opportunity to learn more about the people who live in the jungle.

Reachable via a narrow trail, a 15-minute walk from the riverbank, the lodge is found on an oxbow lake in the heart of some of the world’s most pristine virgin rainforests. Chalalán Ecolodge belongs to the indigenous people of San Jose de Uchupiamonas. The Quechua – Tacana roots of its people have filled their culture with rich ancestral traditions that have endured the test of time. Besides experiencing an intimate insight into the customers, cuisine, and celebrations of local communities, a stay here also contributes to improving living standards, maintaining a strong cultural identity, and supporting the conservation of the environment.

Visit the National Parks of South America with Aracari

Of course, each of the great wildernesses listed in our unique guide to national parks in South America is made an even more unforgettable experience by being part of a luxury vacation with Aracari, designed by our award-winning travel team.

After a quarter-century in the business, and 14 Conde Nast Travel Specialist Awards later, we pride ourselves in connecting our clients to experiences that go beyond the standardized tourist trail. So, book an appointment with our team today and set your sights on a gloriously wild adventure, whatever your travel taste.

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