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Extreme Travel: Adventure Sports in Latin America
From surfing in El Salvador to driving down Death Road in Bolivia, we scouted seven of Latin America’s top high-adrenaline adventure sports. They may sound super-tough—but they’re safe enough for beginners.
Calling all adrenaline junkies: Latin America is waiting for you. If you’re looking for unique and active experiences backed by cheap prices, fascinating cultures, and stunning topography, we’ve found your ultimate extreme sports playground. What are the top brag-worthy adventures and the best destinations to bag them? Check out our favorite ways to get your heart pumping across Peru, Panama, El Salvador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador.
#1. Puenting in Baños, Ecuador
Nestled in the foothills of the active Tungurahua volcano and ringed by more than sixty waterfalls, Baños is ground zero for adventure sports in Ecuador. The most eye-widening of them all is puenting, also known as swing jumping, in which the adrenaline-seeker leaps off a bridge over one of Baños’ deep canyons. While visually similar to bungee jumping, the harness is attached to your waist rather than your feet and rather than bouncing up and down you swing from side to side. But don’t ask too many questions – just jump. Puenting Excursion from $20USD with GeoTours
#2. Scuba Diving in Isla de Coiba, Panama
Billed as “Panama’s Galapagos,” Isla de Coiba is an up and coming dive spot that is as challenging as it is rewarding. Experienced divers willing to endure strong currents and chilly Pacific waters will be treated to sightings of manta rays, turtles, oversized schools of sturgeon, and sharks – lots of sharks. Those sharks were the reason Isla de Coiba once made an outstanding prison colony – prisoners were too terrified to try to escape. With the prison now replaced by a National Park, today divers flock enthusiastically to those same waters. Two-day dive trip from $430USD with Scuba Coiba
#3. Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru
Snowboarding? Snooze! You’ll have a hard time heading back to the original once you try the all-sand version of one of the world’s favorite adventure sports. In the tiny – and we do mean tiny – desert town of Huacachina, along Peru’s southern coast, sandboarding is the adrenaline-spiker of choice. Grab a board and hitch a ride on a buggy to reach the tallest dunes. Locals use candlesticks to add speed to the bottom of their boards before tearing down the sand banks. Two-hour dune buggying and sandboarding trip from 30 Peruvian Soles/$10USD with Banana’s Adventures
#4. Hang Gliding in Rio de Janiero, Brazil
If you’re short on time in Rio de Janiero, we’ve got your sightseeing covered – in a single hang gliding flight you can knock out Corcovado, Sugar Loaf, Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches and the iconic Cristo Redentor. Hang gliding, in which the participant pilots a light and unmotorized aircraft, is an adventure traveler’s tradition when visiting Brazil. More than 10,000 tandem flights take off each year (a passenger strapped to an instructor) and we can see why: the tropical sea breeze in your face and the mountain air in your lungs is a glider’s dream. Flights over Rio from $169 with 10% off for prepayment with Rio Hang Gliding
#5. Surfing in Costa del Sol, El Salvador
With volcanoes looming in the distance and friendly fishing villages lining the shore, El Salvador’s east coast is one Latin America’s best surfing destiniations. Costa del Sol boasts white beaches and gentle surf for both beginners and experienced surfers. Once you have a few surf sessions under your belt, you can move on to the more challenging and world-renown waves of La Libertad, also famed for its black sand beaches. Three-night trips from $377 per person with Wave Hunters
#6. Mountain Biking down Death Road, Bolivia
With a name like “Death Road,” it’s a miracle that mountain biking down this route is one of the top attractions in Bolivia. The moniker was earned when the road was the only link between Bolivia’s capital and its jungle, and the road’s narrow twists and turns were responsible for hundreds of deaths per year. Since the construction of a new road in 2006, traffic on the original section is considerably lighter and bikers descending the 3,400m (11,000 ft) from a high mountain pass near La Paz have the road mostly to themselves. From 750 Bolivianos or $110USD with Gravity Bolivia
#7. White Water Rafting on the Pacuare River, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is rife with white water rafting opportunities, though the Pacuare River still stands out as the premiere place to get wet. Over 19 km (12 miles) of river cut through pristine rainforest, reaching Class III and IV rapids along the way. The river borders the Talamanca mountain range, making sightings of an array of monkeys, sloths, birds and butterflies possible. One word of warning – get there now, before talks of damning the river to build a hydroelectric plant become a reality. Day trip from San Jose from $100USD with Viator
Did we leave out your favorite adventure sport in Latin America? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Alexandra Baackes is a traveling writer, designer, and underwater videographer. She is currently in her third year of living as a full-time nomad -- follow along at alexinwanderland.com!