With the world’s biggest sporting event just around the corner, anticipation is reaching a crescendo.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a sports aficionado, it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement every time the Olympics come around. And this year they’re set to be even more of a spectacle than usual, with the captivating cityscape of Rio de Janeiro as a backdrop.
But while the spotlight’s been thrown on Brazil, Rio 2016 provides the perfect excuse to explore the myriad sports travel treats the rest of the continent has to offer. With an incredibly diverse and dramatic landscape, South America is a dream destination for outdoorsy and active holidays.
So Booking.com compiled a list to help you stage your alternative Olympiad. Using endorsements left by South American travellers, Booking.com’s data analysts calculated the best South American sports travel destinations for four categories – water, adventure, winter and spectator sports. Read on to discover the most highly recommended local sporty hot spots.
Praia de Araçatiba
The island of Ilha Grande off the coast of Rio owes its island paradise status to the fact it managed to fend off development for so long, serving as a leper colony and then a prison until the early nineties. So having only been open to tourism for twenty years, it remains a car-free haven of natural wonder. The azure waters surrounding this rainforest reserve are prime snorkeling territory, while the blissful coves of Júlia and Crena are popular kayaking and paddle-boarding hubs. Swimming on Ihla Grande is seventh heaven with secluded beaches, sparkling blue lagoons and unspoiled coastline peppered with dainty fishermen’s houses.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
While Galápagos is most celebrated for its eponymous group of volcanic islands and their remarkable biodiversity, its reputation as a stellar surfing destination is now on the rise. And its capital, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, is an ideal springboard to visit the various coastal surfing spots. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘capital’ though – it’s actually a peaceful, laid-back little town. Surfing conditions are best from December to February, when the waves are great and the water warm.
Even on a continent so rich in dramatic scenery, the Patagonian wilderness is known as some of South America’s most stunning. Jagged, snowy mountain peaks are reflected on glassy lakes and vast plains give way to epic glaciers. Ice trekking on El Chaltén’s Viedma glacier, a World Heritage Site, will delight adventure-lovers. The area is mainly known for rock climbing, hiking and trekking. But there’s also plenty of opportunity to explore the rugged landscape by bike, kayak or on horseback.
Though traditionally a coffee town, Brotas has recently risen to the tourism challenge by specializing as an adventure travel destination. Making use of the Jacaré-Pepira River, rafting and canoeing are the most popular but you can also dabble in canyoning or go one step further with a night rafting expedition. And all of these activities can easily be tailored to you depending on who you’re travelling with. So families, couples or solo travellers of all ages will be able to make the most of the activities on offer.
Farellones was Chile’s very first ski resort and is the go-to for South American snow sports, being perfectly placed to access all of the pistes in the surrounding Tres Valles area. And it’s a great summer destination with hiking and horseback riding if you can’t make it for the southern hemisphere’s ski season (June to October). Farellones stands out for being charmingly laid-back, with the option of staying for just a couple of nights as opposed to the obligatory full week at many neighbouring resorts. But best of all is its Chilean feel – low-key and authentic, complete with old timber architecture.
Forget Whistler and Mont Blanc, the Andes are an underrated winter sports utopia. Las Trancas is a mountain town at the base of the Nevados de Chillan Mountain Resort, where skiiers and snowboarders will find deep snow and sublime terrain from June to October. The resort gets an average annual snowfall of more than 10 metres (a lot) and you’ll get to ski down active volcanoes, explore waterfalls, hot springs and enjoy sensational views to boot.
Spectator sport in Brazil is far from confined to the Olympics. The buzzing southern Brazilian metropolis of Porto Alegre was one of the host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and it comes highly recommended for spectating all manner of sports. It is known for its friendly vibes having earned the nickname ‘Cidade Sorriso’, meaning ‘Smile City’. With sport an integral part of the culture here, there’s ample opportunity to catch live events. But if you don’t happen to have tickets, the tree-lined streets are full of sporting festivity and you can join the welcoming locals watching the game in a lively bar.
Visitors to Buenos Aires will be spoilt for choice when it comes to spectator sports. The city has varied selection of world-class venues, many historically significant as well as impressive. The Luna Park, a former boxing stadium with a 15,000 capacity, is the very place where Eva Duarte met Juan Peron. Whichever you visit, the vibrant spirit of the city tends to spill over into the stadium, making sport spectating in Buenos Aires a vivid cultural experience. A day at the races at the glitzy Hipódromo Argentino, for example, offers unrivalled people-watching and a unique experience – even if you know next to nothing about horse-racing.
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