The 'gringo trail' is a term for the route most tourists and backpackers typically take while in South America. Machu Picchu, Bolivia's Salt Flat and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro come to mind. While those places are certainly worth visiting, there are so many other amazing places on this nature-blessed and history-rich continent. Here are some of my favorite off-the-beaten path places to visit in South America.
Ischigualasto & Talampaya National Park, Argentina. Ischigualasto Provincial Park and Talampaya National Park are two contiguous parks, extending over 275,300 ha in the desert region of Northwest Argentina. Ischigualasto Park is known for its otherworldly rock formations, white crumbly ground and different hues of mineral and sediment striations, giving it a lunar-like landscape and earning it the title of 'Moon Valley'. The Talampaya Park, on the other hand, is defined by its majestic red canyons that are 150m high. Different shades of red paint the walls of the canyons, almost in a parallel fashion, like an artistic masterpiece. Both parks have giant geo-forms shaped like mushrooms and submarines. These formations were sculpted by wind, water and lots of time.
Quebrada Las Gachas, Colombia. Quebrada Las Gachas is one of those secret spots you don't want to share. Like an alien formation, Las Gachas is a red, shallow river with numerous plunge pools that you can belly-slide into, or simply soak in like a natural jacuzzi. It is a more accessible and way cheaper alternative to the famous Cano Cristales, and unlike the latter, its appearance remains the same all year round. It is a 1-hour hike from the small town of Guadalupe in the Santander province of Colombia. The hike is easy and you'd hardly see anybody on the way. Most people at the river are locals from the region. Like one of them exclaimed when I found my way there: "Welcome to Paradise!"
Choquequirao, Peru. The Choquequirao site is often compared to Machu Picchu; they have a very similar structure and architecture, they served as huge religious, political and economic centers of the Inca empire and both cities escaped the Spanish conquistadors. However, unlike Machu Picchu, Choquequirao receives fewer than 50 visitors per day. The reason is due to the remote location of the site.
To get to Choquequirao, you must trek 2 days across and down a canyon, up the other side and then return for another 2 days. The trek is hot in the day and cold at night, uneventful and extremely steep, but the scenic views of the canyon and rivers make up for it. You’ll definitely feel a sense of accomplishment as you step onto the ruins of this former glorious city. Choquequirao is said to be bigger than Machu Picchu, but only 30% of it has been excavated. Cloud-covered and a challenge to reach, Choquequirao is the real ‘Lost City of the Inca’.