Ecotourism and sustainability are getting more and more attention on the cusp of 2020, making biodiversity and visiting South America huge factors in travel plans.
Maybe we’re suffering from digital overload and need a cure for that cubical cabin fever. Or, maybe it’s time to board the eco train.
So, if nature is the place you want to be, South America is the spot to soak it up. Hurry up before the hordes follow suit!
1. Ecuador: Tiny But Mighty South American Biodiversity
If you like the words “mega,” “biodiverse,” and “eco” anything, you’re going to love Ecuador. It’s number one on the list for South America biodiversity and includes far more than the Galápagos Islands.
Certainly, don’t overlook the mainland, characterized as part of the Neotropics. While it’s really just a fancy world for tropical Latin America, it doesn’t mean everything is sweltering hot. It just means it’s wet. And, in Ecuador, that covers a vast range of elevations and ecosystems which are prime locations for flora and fauna.
Ecuador includes the Andes Mountains and the Ring of Fire, the Amazon Rainforest, almost 1,400 miles of coastline, plus everything in between like grasslands, mangroves, cloud forests, and beyond. It has more plant species than any other South American country, 7% of the world’s land animal species, and a stunning 18% of the birds on our lovely planet (to be exact: 1,655 species).
Plus, it’s the smallest of the touted megadiverse nations and has a great transportation network. This means it’s pretty easy to see it all with everything from marine iguanas to pink dolphins, Andean condors, and macaws. And don’t forget about the spectacled bears, manatees, jaguars, sloths, monkeys, fox, deer, and much more.
2. Peru: Ruins AND Sustainability
It ain’t all about the ruins. Most people flock to Peru for the obvious…Machu Picchu. Although it’s an incredible destination if you’re looking for something a little different, make sure to make time to see more of the beautiful landscapes.
After all, while it might be one of the most historically interesting places on the planet, it’s also one of the most biologically diverse. So, spice up your trip to Peru with a nature-focused itinerary.
You won’t regret setting your sights on ant-eaters and armadillos alongside four famous species of camelids (llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas), countless monkeys, an impressive 300 species of reptiles and amphibians, and lots more.
Just like Ecuador, the country boasts a rich and varied wildlife scene through the Andes, Amazon, and coastal regions. But, those are just a few. Did you know that our green earth has 117 distinct wildlife zones? And a whopping 84 of them are found in Peru!
Thankfully, Peru is also one of the most forward-thinking eco-destinations. The South American country has doubled it’s protected land investments over the past three decades dedicating several million hectares to national parks and reserves.
Plus, something particularly forward-thinking about this fascinating nation is its effort to utilize sustainability practices that give back to the locals. Records estimate that more than half of the $236 million dollars in annual ecotourism revenue goes straight into the pockets of the workers (think people in restaurants and hotels, or transportation, and tour or trekking guides). Now, that’s refreshing!
3. Brazil: Biodiversity Beyond the Amazon
But, if you’re really serious about finding the last remaining slices of wilderness, it’s time to slot a big chunk of time in Brazil. Although it is rather famous for a few bustling metropolia like Rio and Sao Paulo, its untouched landmass is even greater.
It’s the true Texas of South America where everything is bigger and better. Covering almost ½ of South America, its included in the five countries that hold 70% of the last green spaces on the globe.
It’s a veritable biodiversity hotbed that extends far beyond its 1.7 billion acre claim of the Amazon Rainforest. Brazil also has an estimated 4,600 miles of mostly undeveloped coastline and the largest continuous stretch of mangrove in the world (1.3 million acres).
Plus, the Atlantic Forest (basically, it’s a coast rainforest and can be considered the Amazon’s lesser publicized little sister), the Pantanal (similar to the African savanna), and 1,550 km² of dazzling white sand dunes inside the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. And that’s only the beginning!
Brazil also has extensive pampas grasslands, 32 mountain ranges (seriously!), one of the largest waterfalls on earth (Iguassu Falls), and at least half a dozen notable canyons. The list goes on and on.
As far as biodiversity goes, it’s really not too surprising to learn that some experts rank Brazil as one of the top megadiverse countries. It holds as much as 20% of the world’s total biodiversity in addition to around 700 new species discovered every year. Those numbers equate to thousands of mammals with special emphasis on 120,000 invertebrates (say, what?!) plus at least 50,000 plant species.
4. Colombia: Peace & Sustainability in South America
Watch out world, here comes Colombia! This is a country hot on the wheels of this great ecotourism trend, although the secret isn’t fully out yet (until now). Their latest tourism slogan is “Peace Through Tourism” which aims to highlight both the country’s eco-destinations and the under shadowed peacefulness of the nation.
Going several decades without civil war is an important claim for Colombia and this reminder is meant to instill confidence for safe-traveling in the country. The second underlying principle is to capitalize on the country’s inadequately publicized biodiversity.
In all rights, this country should be splashed all over the headlines for its ecotourism potential. Colombia is flanked with a staggering 55 national parks of which environmental experts say are home to at least 10% of the world’s species diversity.
Such profound findings are credited to the wide scope of landscapes found in Colombia including the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes, plus both Pacific and Carribean seas. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Colombia is the number one most diverse country when considering the number of species per square kilometer.
This South American biodiverse country has more fish (both fresh and saltwater), birds (1,921 species), butterflies (3,274 species), and amphibian species (803 combined) than any other place on the planet. Not to mention more than 26,000 varieties of flowering plants, orchids, and palm trees.
5. Venezuela: Biodiversity Conundrum
Coming in last on the list, Venezuela is probably one of the most unexpected countries to see on this list. Due to ongoing political strife, it just might be the least visited of all South American countries at the moment. But, it wasn’t always that way and there is great hope for the future.
Despite all of the civil unrest, Venezuela prides itself on the epic natural environments within its borders. So much so that it comes in as the top country in the world for its percentage of the conservation areas. The proportions are certainly thought-provoking as it lists almost 54% of its territory as protected land. That’s officially more land reserved for nature than for humans.
Although one might initially assume otherwise, Venezuela’s claims for biodiversity are far more than a sensationalist move towards the sustainability clamor. They are confusing, but legit. How can a country that remains the largest exporter of oil and in the top ten for deforestation also be one of the most biodiverse? Somehow it is!
Even if Venezuela’s sustainability efforts don’t appear intact, the country’s biodiversity miraculously hangs on, thanks to 43 national parks and 30 national monuments spread over 27 climate zones.
Included in the eclectic environments are Angel Falls (the tallest waterfall in the world, dropping a mind-boggling 3,200 feet), the Los Roques Archipelago (a collection of over 300 islands), Los Llanos (the South American everglades), and vast cave networks like Kavac and Guacharo.
Within them live over 137,000 animal species and nearly 16,000 plant species; a surprising amount which remains endemic to the nation. It’s one of the world’s 17 megadiverse nations, home to a fascinating array of species from flamingos to jaguars, the Orinoco crocodile, hippos, giant anteaters, numerous monkeys, and both kinds of sloths. Not to mention additional endangered species like opossums, armadillos, several species of bats, manatees, and sperm whales.
What are you waiting for? Start your flight search and see South America’s biodiversity for yourself. 👇