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Five alternatives to South America’s top destinations (Page 2)

Nesting Boobies on the Ballestas Islands © Craig Fast3. Forget the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, go to the Ballestas Islands, Peru

The extraordinary abundance of fearless wildlife of the Galapagos Islands is what makes the Galapagos one of the world’s top nature destinations. Unfortunately, the island’s popularity is reflected in the cost of visiting: expect to pay a minimum of US$600 for an economy cruise. Lying further south along South America’s Pacific coast are the little-known Ballestas Islands, Peru’s budget alternative to the Galapagos. Although you can’t swim with the sea lions and there are no iguanas, the Ballestas teem with Humboldt Penguins, Peruvian Pelicans, Chilean Flamingos, Neotropic, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Turkey Vultures, Blue-footed Boobies, Snowy Egrets and gulls. Sea lions laze and roar beneath the islands’ cathedral-like eroded arches. All this for a fraction of the price: US$10 for a two-hour boat trip. Take a hat; the number of birds flying above means you will get shat on!

Best time to visit: Year round. Many birds are migratory so the types of species change throughout the year but there are always enough to make your jawdrop

Related feature: Boat trip to the Ballestas Islands: the poor man's Galapagos

Machu Picchu © Craig Fast4. Forget the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru, trek to the Lost City (Cuidad Perdida), Colombia

One of the world’s most famous treks, the Inca Trail takes four days to lead breathless and sweaty tourists to the Incan city of Machu Picchu (variations on this are available). It’s an expensive (budget at least US$400) and crowded but unforgettable experience. The Lost City, like Machu Picchu, was lost to civilisation when the Spanish wiped out the Tayronas. It’s one of the largest known pre-Colombian towns in South America. There the similarities end. The Lost City can only be reached by a hardcore, five-to-six day return trek through thick, mountainous jungle. At under US$200, it costs a fraction of the price of the Inca Trail, and has a smug, off-the-beaten-track reputation guaranteed to impress friends at home.

Best time to visit: The driest time to trek is from late December to February but tours run year round. You’re going to get wet and muddy whatever time of year you go.

Related feature: Responsible travel on the Inca Trail

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Top ten pages on OT
1. Five alternatives to South America's top destinations

2. Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro

3. Responsible travel on the Inca Trail

4. The Ten Commandments for night bus travellers

5. Touring the Pantanal with the world's most hardcore guide

6. The two month slump: Colca Canyon, Peru

7. Images: South America roundup

8. Images: Panama - San Blas Islands (Kuna Ayala)

9. Video: giant otter eating a caiman

10. Traveller Fishbowl: England

Overland Traveller copyright © Emma Field 2010