Few countries in South America boast such contrast and variety. Diverse habitats such as Patagonia’s bleak steppe, soaring Andean snowcaps, lush rainforest around Iguazu Falls, steamy marshlands of Iberá, and grasslands of the Pampas support an astonishing range of fauna – from penguins, whales and seals to condors, armadillos and guanacos.
Brazil is dominated by the Amazon basin and its swathe of rainforest. However numerous national parks contain varied habitats ranging from coastal forest, savannah and mountain to the world’s largest wetland – the Pantanal – that house the greatest biodiversity on the planet. Attractions include imposing Iguaçu Falls and dazzling Atlantic beaches.
Squeezed between the high Andes and cold Pacific Ocean, Chile is a country of immense natural beauty. From the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, to the cold southern steppe of Patagonia, topped by immense glaciers and fringed with stunning fjords, a mosaic of ecosystems and microclimates is populated by a diverse range of flora and fauna.
Costa Rica’s world-class protected areas offer exceptional biodiversity and enshrine a proud conservation heritage. The varied topography guarantees a wide range of wildlife and scenery. Highlights include egg-laying turtles, the call of howler monkeys resounding through the jungle, brightly-coloured toucans and parrots, plus exquisite tree frogs.
Each year between January and April, the largest gathering of North Atlantic humpback whales on the planet occurs at the Silver Bank, in the Caribbean Sea north of the Dominican Republic. Over this period as many as 3,000 of these remarkable creatures gather to court, mate and give birth.
Straddling the equator, this land of startling contrasts extends from Amazon jungle across the desert-like páramo and snow-capped Andean volcanoes to the Pacific coastline. Wildlife enthusiasts can see a staggering number of species, many of which are endemic – there are 1,650 bird species alone.
This remote South Atlantic archipelago consists of two main islands, plus another 776 smaller ones, mostly populated. The beaches are home to seals and sealions – a delight for nature lovers and photographers –and well over 200 bird species include black-browed albatross and giant petrel, plus there are five species of penguin.
Straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean, submarine volcanic activity caused this archipelago to rise from the seabed. Millions of years of isolation allowed species to evolve through natural selection to create a unique biological identity. With no predators, the animals know no fear, allowing close encounters.
Historically, Guiana consisted of the region north of the Amazon and east of the Orinoco – the "Land of many waters". Colonised by the Dutch, it became a British colony – British Guiana – for over 200 years until becoming independent in 1966. Guyana is the only South American nation with English as its language.
Lying between the United States and the Central American isthmus, Mexico has Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, separated by extensions of the Rocky Mountains. The volcanic Sierra Nevada runs east-west with peaks reaching over 5,000 metres. This contorted topography explains the region’s remarkable biodiversity.
Peru habitat is divided into three key regions. The Andes Mountains run parallel to the Pacific Ocean. The costa (coast), to the west, a narrow plain, largely arid except for valleys created by seasonal rivers. The third region is the selva (jungle), a wide expanse of flat terrain covered by the Amazon rainforest that extends east.
The two main islands of Trinidad and Tobago, the most southerly nation in the Caribbean, are distinctly different. Tobago is a premier ecotourism destination with ancient rainforest and spectacular coral reefs. Trinidad is considered to be more “ordinary”, though its coasts and interior conceal numerous wildlife experiences.