travelling to South America is always an adventure. The magic of the countryside, picturesque towns, food is always a challenge, and the warm of the people, makes it worthwhile.
Lucy Woods, 21, from Dorset
There is more to ancient Peru than the Incas. After graduating with a degree in archaeology and anthropology from Bristol I attended several archaeological digs on the north coast of Peru, exploring the ancient world of the Moche population. Head up the north coast to Trujillo and explore the incredible Temple of the Moon (Huaca de la Luna), a place of ritual used by the Moche, with fantastic friezes, many of which still have their original colours. Marvel at the depictions of human sacrifice, war and terrifying deities, as well as sacred animals and daily activities.
I would also recommend playing a game of football at high altitude, in Cusco for example. It is incredible how much more tiring it is to play sport at this altitude. But it is a lot of fun and very rewarding, and is also an excellent way to fight the hangover from the previous night, often caused by overconsumption of pisco and cocktails. You have to have a pisco sour, the drink of Peru, made with pisco, egg whites, ice, lime and sugar. As strange as it sounds, it is one of the most delicious cocktails I have ever tasted. If you are feeling really adventurous, in the Colca Canyon near Arequipa you can try their version, with the addition of cactus fruit, which come from cacti that grow along the edge of the canyon.
I would also suggest spending a day as an organic farmer. In Cusco, I would recommend you sign up (available in most of the hostels) to spend a day working on an Inca farm. Not only do you learn what it is like to farm without the use of fertilisers and heavy machinery, but the farmers also have a fantastic knowledge of the medicinal values of different plants. There is a delicious lunch to reward you for your hard work.
Erin McNeaney and Simon Fairbairn, both 31, from Manchester
In 2010, we sold everything we owned to travel the world indefinitely, working as digital nomads through South America, Central America, the US, Canada and Asia. A small town called Jardín, in the hills a few hours from Medellín, was our favourite place in Colombia, and surprisingly you won't find it in many guidebooks. We loved the colourful colonial buildings, the backdrop of lush green hills, the sociable plaza lined with cafes, and the horses and carts that roam the streets. On Saturday nights locals ride their horses to the main square and parade around, showing off and stopping outside one of the bars for a drink and a chat.
From there we enjoyed a treacherous but exciting mountainside horse ride to La Cueva del Esplendor, to visit a waterfall within a cave and take a teleférico (cable car) trip for views over the town and the surrounding green mountains and coffee and banana plantations.
Leah Hoelscher, 25, from Kansas, US
I'm currently in Ecuador, near the beginning of a 100-day journey through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. My latest discovery was the "swing at the end of the world" in Ecuador. Baños is well known for its outdoor activities, but I've only met one other backpacker who knew about the swing. By hiking up the path to Bellavista from the edge of Baños, you reach a viewpoint and a seismic monitoring station named La Casa del Árbol, a treehouse on the edge of a cliff, with a swing hanging right over the precipice. It's a ton of fun to swing over the open space.
I also enjoyed Chocol Arte Cafe in Mindo (chocolartemindo.com), a small town north of Quito in lush cloud forest, a great destination for hiking, birdwatching or ziplining but with a blossoming cafe culture. The cafe was founded by a German woman who also owns a chocolate farm in Mindo. I spent hours in there, enjoying the coffee, hot chocolate, brownies and other treats, chatting with locals, expats and travellers alike. It has a fun Swiss Family Robinson look to it as well.
Ollie Roberts, 27, from Tasmania, Australia
I've been travelling through Latin America since last June with my girlfriend, Bronnie. We would have missed out on some special experiences if we'd followed advice from fellow travellers and locals, so my biggest tip to anyone would be to just venture out and do it. Don't listen to those who say something or somewhere is bad or dangerous. You never know if you never go.
Some favourites include Bucaramanga, a city about eight hours north of Bogotá in Colombia, which was very chilled and easygoing. We caught up with a local there whom we'd met in Lima earlier in the trip. He showed us the nightlife, which was buzzing. We also chilled out on a hill watching all the paragliders. There aren't many tourists here, so you aren't hassled as you might be elsewhere.
Another great experience was relaxing in the sleepy hillside village of Coroico in Bolivia, near the end of the infamous "Death Road". We spent Christmas at a tranquil place called Bonita Villa, run by a lovely family. We spent six nights here – a long time for us as we are surfers and tend to become fidgety staying somewhere without surf for long.
I don't really want to give away any surf spots that we found, but I'll share one, called Puémape, in Peru. It's in front of a tiny fishing village about 30 minutes' drive south of Pacasmayo. Get there before the wind picks up and you'll most likely have it to yourself. It breaks left in front and over rocks, and can be really fun, with lots of sections.
Audrey Scott, 37, from Virginia, US, and Daniel Noll, 41, from Pennsylvania
Over the past five years, we've travelled together through more than 77 countries after leaving our jobs in Prague. Bolivia is one of the most visually stunning places in South America, from Lake Titicaca in the north to the salt flats in the south. Many people start their salt flats tour in Uyuni, but we'd recommend taking the train all the way to Tupiza and taking a salt flats tour from there that ends in Uyuni. You get an additional day or two travelling through red rocks and landscapes that are beautiful, but different than what you see around Uyuni. In addition, the quality of the tours is often higher because there is not as much competition as in Uyuni. We went with Tupiza Tours and had a great experience.
Another place that we really liked and hardly gets any tourists is Tarija, close to the border with Argentina. It's like a little vacation from Bolivia with a focus on wine tasting, good food and has a super-friendly, relaxed feel. One of our favourite places to eat was Bufalo on the main plaza, where you could order tapas or plates of cheese and meats while watching local life go by. One of the best lunch menus on the main square was at Club Social Tarija – Argentine meat and beautifully cooked meals with great service for $3.50.
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