Travel review: South America

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World Cup fever is starting to take hold, putting South America firmly in the spotlight. But beyond Brazil, there are other countries who deserve the traveller’s attention.

The South American food scene has exploded in recent years, with Peru leading the way. In a country where there are more than 3,000 varieties of potato and 55 different types of corn, chefs certainly have a lot to experiment with in the kitchen.

Some of the best restaurants can be found in coastal capital city Lima, where ancient temples, colonial houses and republican palaces sit alongside sophisticated apartment blocks and five-star hotels.

For a whirlwind taste of the diversity Peru has to offer - from ocean, jungle and rainforest - visit boundary-bending Central (www.centralrestaurante.com.pe), run by husband and wife team Pia Leon and Virgilio Martinez (who owns the Michelin-starred restaurant Lima in London).

Extraordinary dishes are inspired by Peru’s different altitudes, where climate and soil can vary dramatically, with herbs, roots and fruits foraged from heights of up to 4,500m. Frozen potato, a puree made from algae, and dried roots sprinkled with mud may sound challenging, but for true gourmands, the menu is a real adventure.

Peru is also home to the Pisco Sour, and some of the best low-key bars can be found in bohemian district Barranco, where Lima’s first boutique hotel, Hotel B, opened last year.

The former Belle Epoque mansion, used as a seaside retreat in the 1920s, has been fully restored, and now dynamic works of art and brightly coloured sculptures decorate rooms with original Italian marble terraces and fine wooden floors.

Also close by is the MATE gallery, featuring a permanent collection of works by internationally acclaimed fashion and celebrity photographer, Mario Testino, who grew up in Lima.

Doubles at Hotel B from £270 per night (B&B). Visit www.hotelb.pe

Football is a religion in Argentina, with a Church of Maradona allegedly open for worship in the star player’s humble birth place, Villa Fiorito, a shanty town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

But step outside the capital city, and people play a very different sport. Argentina’s cowboys, the gauchos, can be found rounding up cattle on horseback or competing in rodeos in the grasslands of the Pampas.

Bringing this age-old equestrian tradition into the modern world is the luxurious La Bamba de Areco, one of the oldest estancias in the area now converted into a boutique 11-room hotel. Guests are welcomed into a family home, where they share meals together in a grand dining room, or outdoors on long wooden benches beneath the shade of plane trees.

French owner Jean-Francois Decaux originally bought the property to indulge his passion for polo, and the estancia has it’s own international team who often practise here. But those who want to travel on horseback at a more leisurely pace can saddle up on one of La Bamba’s steeds and tour the grounds and stables.

Doubles from £385 per night (full board). Visit www.labambadeareco.com

Ecuador may be one of the smallest countries in South America, but Ecuador is also one of the most biodiverse, spreading across the Andes and Amazon Basin.

A comfortable introduction to the jungle is the eco-friendly Mashpi Lodge, a 2.5 hour drive from Quito, perched on a high plateau in the cloud forest.

Five hundred species of bird can be seen swooping through the forest canopy, while peccaries and even puma pass below.

Climb the observation tower at sunrise to see toucans, parrots and raptors, or ride tandem on a sky bike across a gorge. Get acquainted with the 200 species of butterfly at the nearby Life Centre, and discover the orchids, bromeliads and passion flowers that thrive here in abundance.

But even from inside the glass-fronted lodge, guests have a window onto the forest, so there’s plenty of time to admire the wildlife while relaxing with creature comforts of their own.

A three day all-inclusive package costs £820pp. Visit www.mashpilodge.com

Considered to be one of the driest places on earth, the Atacama desert in Chile will appeal to those who like to tackle extremes. One oasis in the 105,000 square kilometre stretch of sand, wind-beaten rocks and gnarled escarpments is San Pedro de Atacama, once a hang out for new age hippies but now a busy tourist hub.

Set a little way back in the Catarpe Valley, the Alto Atacama hotel melts inconspicuously into the terracotta-tinged mountains.Plunge pools provide relief from the dry, dusty heat, while at night, an on-site observatory can be used to study the brilliantly clear sky.

Twice a day, guests can take part in excursions, exploring other-worldly landscapes. Hike through the Valley of the Moon, where sand and stone have been carved into surreal shapes and dry lakes are frosted with salt; or rise early to see powerful jets of steam spout from the Tatio geysers in the world’s highest geothermal field, 4,300m above sea level.

But every adventure deserves relaxation, something guests can expect when they too come home to roost.

Doubles from £167pp, per night (half board). Visit www.altoatacama.com

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