As we did with Asia, Africa and Europe, we asked some of our favorite travelers for their top picks for adventure travel destinations in North America and South America. Read on for some fabulous suggestions and inspiration to start planning an adventure of your own., we asked some of our favorite travelers for their top picks for adventure travel destinations in North America and South America. Read on for some fabulous suggestions and inspiration to start planning an adventure of your own.
The vast geographical region of North, Central and South America is an exciting playground for those looking for active and adventure travel destinations. The diversity of climate, landscape and topography plus an abundance of unspoiled nature allows for endless activities on land and sea.
If water is your passion you can dive into the warm Caribbean and explore the vast undersea world, or stay above water and take a raft down the rapids or kayak on a pristine glacial lake. Prefer to stay on solid ground? Take a challenging multi-day hike and camp in the Rocky Mountains or trek through the lush rain forests and jungles that abound throughout the continents of North and South America. You can even take to the air by zipline, hang-glider or bungee cord.
Travelers Choice for Adventure Travel Destinations in North America and South America
If we are looking for an active getaway in Mexico our go to place is always Tulum in Quintanaroo. Mostly known for its beautiful beaches and stunning Mayan ruins, Tulum is also one of the best destinations for one of our favourite adventure activities – scuba diving. And not just any scuba diving…Cenote diving!
Cenotes are stunning natural sink holes found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, they are also great for swimming and snorkeling, but some go as deep as 50 metres+ which make them ideal for scuba diving. The stunning natural beauty, the insane visibility and the fascinating stalactites and stalagmites are just a few of the reasons that we love cenote diving in Tulum. Plus there are cenotes for every level from beginner to advanced so everyone can feel like they are finding a new exciting adventure beneath the depths of these beautiful sink holes.
Want to try your hand at diving for the first time – we recommend Cassa Cenote for its natural beauty and shallower waters. Looking for a real adventure? Then check out Angelita Cenote which has its own layer of hydrogen sulphide which makes you feel like you are descending into an eerie cloud 35 metres underwater. Not for the faint hearted that’s for sure! But whatever your skill level, Tulum has the perfect diving experience just for you!
We just love Guatemala and one of the reasons why is the array of fun, nature based activities. In the one month we spent in this country we checked some amazing adventures off our bucketlist. Two of our favorite experiences were climbing an active volcano and exploring an immense labyrinth of caves like something out of the Goonies.
Not far from the beautiful city of Antigua is Pacaya Volcano. It is actually one of four volcanoes visible from Antigua but Pacaya is the most easily accessible. You can hike to the top of the volcano by foot or on horse back where you will be rewarded with incredible views and streams of red hot lava to roast marshmallows on.
Semuc Champey sits in the mountains of central Guatemala and is a bit of an arduous journey to get to but one that is well worth the effort. Here you will find beautiful stepped turquoise pools with natural waterslides to play in, a hike with a most stunning vista and the movie-like KAN’BA caves for a thrilling adventure.
And this is just a couple of the exciting things to do in Gautemala!
Atacama Desert Chile
The Atacama Desert is unlike any place you’ve likely ever seen before, unless you’ve been to the Moon. Spanning across four South American countries of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina – though Chile claims the largest part – the Atacama is the world’s driest non-polar desert and an adventure lovers paradise.
Hiking is incredible here, from the altiplano lagoons at 14,000 feet to the parched nooks and crannies in the Valle de la Luna. Bring a swimsuit and float in the Laguna Cejar, a volcanic lagoon so salty it’s impossible to sink, and the salt crust left behind on your skin is a natural spa treatment. Take a dip in the thermal hot springs after the geysers at El Tatio die down in the early morning. The high desert dunes in Death Valley are perfect for sandboarding. And at the end of the day, the brilliant night sky in the Atacama is your reward for such great adventures.
Whether you want to hike, explore caves, go zip lining, try out kayaking, climb ruins, admire waterfalls, go horseback riding, or try out just about any other adventure activity you can think of… Chiapas, Mexico has you covered.
This little-known state in southern Mexico is a hotbed of adventure activities, and they are not only enormously fun, they are incredibly affordable. All-day, multi-stop tours can easily run only $20-$25 USD, and our of afternoon horseback riding cost only $10/person–you can’t get much more affordable than that!
Base yourself in the colorful city of San Cristobal de las Casas for plenty of options on places to stay, things to eat, and tour operators to work with–but be prepared to get outside the city almost every day. If you plan to stay for one week, one month, or even one year, there are simply too many adventures to be had in Chiapas to consider taking it easy while there.
The Canadian Rocky Mountains has everything an outdoor enthusiast could ask for: beautiful mountains to hike and explore, endless lakes to paddle, hot springs and interesting wildlife. The Banff area offers lots of back country experiences for those that want to explore independently, but also has some great guided tours. Banff, Jasper and Kootenay National Parks offer pristine hiking opportunities with lots of day hike trails. Bears are a real danger in the Rockies, so you do want to be bear safe: hike in groups of 4+, carry bear spray, make noise on the trail and read the posted trail warnings.
The lakes of the Rockies are breathtaking with their out-of-this-world colours. They can be explored by canoe, kayak, SUP or by white water rafting the rivers for those willing to brave the icy cold waters. In addition to hiking and water sports, there are endless bike trails and climbing routes to explore in the Rockies. Banff has so many wonderful things to do in the summer, but the winter offers every winter sport imaginable from skiing to snow-shoeing to dog sledding.
Bonaire offers action and adventure in a perfect little sun-drenched package. The Dutch protectorate is located in the southern Caribbean, next door to Aruba. Its landmass is just 115 square miles (300 sq/km) which means that you are never more than 35 minutes from something fun to do on the island.
Bonaire is best known for its diving, but its rocky shore also provides excellent access for snorkelers. There are 91 marked snorkeling/diving spots that dot the western shores of the island so you can easily pull over your rental car and splash in.
The windward eastern shore of Bonaire has a large bay perfect for windsurfing and there is also a nearby protected wetland area for kayaking. A five day itinerary in Bonaire gives you plenty of time for multiple snorkels per day–plus windsurfing, kayaking, flamingos and donkeys. Then, at the end of the day, you can sip a cocktail and watch the green flash as the sun sets into the western Caribbean.
The Pacific Northwest is made up of the American states of Washington and Oregon and the Canadian province of British Columbia and it is one of the best areas in the world for bountiful nature and exciting outdoor activites. While many visitors go for the sights, nightlife and great food in the vibrant cities of Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, many more get out of the urban centers and into what makes the PNW truly spectacular.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an outdoor activity that you can’t do in the northwest region of North America as it is full of majestic mountains, pristine lakes and rivers and lush green forests. In the summer there is hiking, cycling, climbing, camping and multiple water-sports for all levels and in the winter you have some of the best skiing, snowboarding, skating, sledding and ice climbing in the world.
After traveling all over the world I can honestly say there is no better place than the Pacific Northwest when it come to natural beauty and options for adventure.
La Huasteca Potosina, Mexico
There is a region in the north-central part of Mexico that due to it’s lack of accessibility few people know about it but inside of it you will find landscapes that will take your breath away and all sort of activities that will keep you entertained for weeks.
La Huasteca Potosina cover several states of Mexico but the main section is in the State of San Luis Potosí. The region is full with rivers, waterfalls and swimming holes, and most of them look like they have been photo-shopped.
Besides the natural beauty of this place here you will find other attractions and activities like: The surreal gardens and castle of Sir Edward James, the limestone sinkholes know as Sotano de las Golondrinas (Swallows’ Cave or Basement) and Sótano de las Huahuas , where millions of white-collared swifts nest, you can see them every day flying out of the cave or dive-bomb into the abyss on their return.
If you are looking for more adventurer activities, you can do some waterfall jumping, White river rafting on a Class III river, also one of the most scenic rivers in all of Mexico or some rappelling on the Swallows Cave or some waterfalls.
So, in case you are planning a trip to Mexico I highly recommend that you consider visiting the Huasteca Potosina, I assure you that you will be able to see a part of Mexico that few know about.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It’s not surprising that locals call Rio de Janeiro “Cidade Maravilhosa” or Wonderful City. Not only is it one of the most vibrant cities in the world, it is also the ultimate city for adventure lovers to visit in Brazil.
Located in an extraordinarily beautiful setting, with an amazing skyline, pristine beaches and the world’s largest urban forest, Rio offers a wide variety of activities to keep every traveler buzzing with adrenaline. From hangliding and paragliding at Pedra Bonita to jogging around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas; kayaking off Copacabana Beach to surfing at Arpoador; trekking in Floresta da Tijuca to rock climbing the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain; and my particular favourite, hiking Pedra da Gávea or Morro Dois Irmãos.
The city can be visited all year-round, but be aware that it tends to get quite crowded and expensive during New Year and for the Carnival in February. Enjoy Rio and don’t take too much caipirinha though.
Patagonia is a mountainous region of southern Chile and Argentina and one of the most popular destinations for active travelers in the world. Patagonia covers over 1 million square kilometres. That’s twice the size of the whole Thailand or Spain!
As you can imagine, there’s plenty to do. I actually think there is nothing you can’t do in Patagonia. Whatever outdoor activity or sport you dream about, you can do in Chilean Patagonia. The best thing is, no matter your age or fitness level, Patagonia is for everyone. Families can enjoy whale watching, penguin walks and day hikes, others like sea kayaking or rafting.
My personal favourites are trekking in Torres del Paine, hiking on the glacier and visiting Puerto Williams – the southernmost city in the world. One of the most popular things to do in Chile for locals and travelers alike is hitchhiking across Patagonia on a beautiful scenic road Carretera Austral. This part of the world is full of glaciers, waterfalls, alpine lakes and snow peaked mountains.
Moab, Utah is a city made for outdoor adventure. This small town is surrounded by recreational options. Moab sits near two national parks and is surrounded by other public lands. Hiking and backpacking are popular activities in Arches and Canyonlands National Park. Trails range for less than a mile to week long treks. For the adventurous 4×4 driver, Canyonlands and Sand Flats Recreation Area have challenging roads to drive and explore. The Colorado River provides whitewater rafting and kayaking in Westwater and Cataract Canyon.
In a state known for rock climbing, Moab is the crème de la crème. The calmer Green Rive offers more peaceful canoeing and kayaking trips. The surrounding lands provide climbers of all skills years of challenges. The public lands offer hundreds of miles of challenging mountain biking. Moab even hosts the largest mountain unicycling event in the world. For the intrepid BASE jumper, there are dozens of legal jump points in the surrounding area. Master slackliner/highlining have been seen walking above the many canyons.
Baños de Agua Santa, commonly known as Baños or “the getaway to the Amazon,” is the adventure capital of Ecuador. The city is located at the foot of the majestic Tungurahua volcano, and it’s the starting point to explore the mountains and national parks of the region.
Surrounded by impressive waterfalls, deep canyons and powerful rivers, Baños offers a wide variety of activities, such as hiking, rafting, ziplining, mountain biking, horseback riding and more. The most adventurous won’t want to miss taking a one-kilometer zipline over a huge valley, bungee jumping from a 35-meter bridge or taking a ride on the “swing at the end of the world,” a crazy swing that dangles you off the edge of a cliff.
Hiking lovers should take the trail up to Tunguarhua volcano for impressive views of the surrounding valleys. Keep in mind that it’s a very active volcano (the last eruption was in 2014), so always ask about the current situation before attempting the trek, and get a good guide.
San Gil, Colombia
San Gil, Colombia, enjoys the advantageous geographical position of being between plunging canyons, twisting mountain roads, and deep ravines that house rivers gushing white water. Located in the state of Santander, it is well-known as the adventure capital of Colombia.
Various agencies offer activities that include white water rafting, bungee jumping, canyoning, and paragliding in two different locations. The town straddles the River Fonce, which is the main location for beginner level white water rafting. A further journey away, the River Suarez provides rapids up to Class 5 for the more intermediate or advanced rafter.
I paraglided in the nearby Chicamocha Canyon, where you can soar high over rolling hills marbled with brown and green. Accompanied by a trained pilot, you begin your flight by running as fast as you can off the edge of the cliff, and then sit back and relax while your pilot takes control. The pilots mostly only speak Spanish, but the language of adrenaline and appreciation for the landscape is universal.
Of course this is just a tiny snippet of what’s on offer for adventure in North and South America taken from suggestions of our traveling friends. We’d love to hear about your favorite active destination, maybe we will write another article of our readers favorites! Also, head over to the following articles if you’re looking for adventure in Europe or adventure travel destinations in Asia and Africa.
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.