When we think of South America, it is easy for Brazil to dominate the conversation, as it is the largest country. In many ways, it is also the most powerful in the region. No doubt, it has its place for anyone who wants to travel to the continent, but it would be a shame to ignore the rest of South America as a result.
While Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese, most of the rest of South America fell under Spanish rule. This is evident in some of the influences on the region. However, the marks of the indigenous civilizations are still visible in South America's main tourist spots. Indeed, they are a major reason you may want to travel there.
It may occur to some that as most of the continent was taken under Spanish control that those countries would all be alike. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Although they share a common language, they are differentiated in so many ways. And look at it this way - you'll only need to learn one language before traveling. None, if you still remember most of the Spanish you learned at school.
To see just how diverse a continent South America is, it's worth taking a look at a few of its countries. They can be visited one at a time, or as part of a longer tour or cruise. Either way, they make for a fascinating part of the world. One well worth experiencing in all its glory.
Holidaying in Peru is in many ways the ultimate way of leaving the stresses and strains of the everyday world behind. Years of Spanish influence do not seem to have dented the Incan influence on this country. It is sometimes said that the essentially peaceful nature of the Incas was what made Peru so easy to conquer. However, this does not seem a concern today. The country is every bit as relaxed and serene.
If you're thinking that sounds boring, think again. As a rainforest nation, Peru is the ideal holiday for someone who enjoys hiking. The most famous hiking tour in the country is the world-renowned Inca Trail. Taking in sites like the essential Macchu Pichu, as well as Cusco, you'll get a real Incan flavor from your break.
If you find yourself longing for a little bit of bustling city action, then the capital, Lima, will provide. There is also no shortage of history to see there. The Plaza Mayor manages to balance architectural beauty with a modern city square. Meanwhile, the gorgeous Baroque monastery of San Francisco is unmissable.
There's plenty here for the foodies, too. The best way to indulge is the street food, and aficionados swear that Cusco is the place to experience it. Lomo Saltado, a steak dish often served with rice and roast potatoes, is a particular highlight.
If we must talk of the Spanish cultural influence on South America, then it seems only fair to mention the man who broke the Spanish stranglehold. Simon Bolivar was pivotal in establishing independence in Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Peru and Ecuador. And yes, in case you hadn't guessed, Bolivia.
The country that bears his name is a tourist wonderland, assuming you are prepared for your travel to be challenging in places. That is not a criticism, incidentally, as those challenges make travel to Bolivia quite unique.
For example, one of the great tourist experiences anywhere in the world is to see the unparalleled Lake Titicaca. The highest navigable lake anywhere in the world is home to more than 80 ancient Incan ruins. And to call it "breathtaking" is accurate in more ways than one.
At great height, you'll need to pace yourself because the air here is thin. But it is so worth it - mere words do not do justice to the beauty found here.
The popular UK TV show Top Gear visited Bolivia for a special a few years back. One of their driving expeditions had to be curtailed due to the challenge presented by the thin air. This did not stop the show's presenters from commenting on the unforgettable scenery, though - even struggling to breathe, the landscape is undeniable.
Few countries in the world can compete with the diversity of landscape you will find in Chile. It is easy to think of South America and picture hot sun everywhere, with most holidays taking place by the beach. In Chile, the beach is a possibility for sure, but so is the rainforest. And even if neither of those grabs you, you could just keep heading south to a point where Chile is anything but sweltering.
Aguila Island and Cape Horn are in fact the southernmost point in the world before you get to Antarctica. A tour of the country over the course of just a week will allow you to experience a diversity of climate and landscape you just won't get elsewhere. You may need to pack more than one bag - one for summer clothes and one for winter.
If you're not feeling up for donning the heavy coats and sturdy boots needed for the Southern area of the country, what about desert? Chile is home to much of the Atacama desert and is notable for one of the most unique hotels anywhere in South America. The Awasi, built from local natural materials, is an architectural wonder. You may be in the desert, but you'll be in outrageous comfort while there.
A trip to the capital Santiago is also more than worth it. Here all of Chile's diverse cultural influences come together and make for an experience that exercises all the senses. Particularly taste - if you visit, you must stop by a food truck to try their delicious empanadas. What you have must depend on your own taste, but the Pino come very highly recommended.
That's just three countries on a continent with many more to see. Each is different in their own unique ways - but a South American break will give you all the reason in the world to want to come back.