I’ll never forget my first visit to Patagonia. As our flight bumped its way down the great spine of the Andes, south from Santiago to Punta Arenas, I tried to cast visions of the film ‘Alive’ out of my mind It was a clear day, and the enormous mountains gradually seemed to swallow everything the further south we flew – fewer towns and villages or grazing land, just vast peaks and ice fields tumbling down into the Pacific and its countless collection of frigid islands. I’d never seen anything like it, and it was with a little trepidation that I thought about the next few days trekking! The wind. That’s what struck me first of all. Literally. It can rip through the layers you wear here, leave you battling just to remain upright. We got lucky – it pushed us around in Punta Arenas but by the time we reached the trailhead in Torres del Paine National Park we were relieved to find it had settled to a gentle breeze. I’ve trekked in many parts of the world, but there’s nowhere else like Torres del Paine. Camping under the iconic towers and waking up to see them in the dawn light – enormous rose-coloured granite fingers reaching into the sky – was everything that is magical about being outdoors: remote, beautiful surroundings, getting close-ups of watching nature at work. The trails in the park were brilliantly varied, taking us across mountain streams, face-to-face with glaciers, through woodlands and always with views of the mountains, some dark and savage, others lightened with snow and ice. The park’s Grey Glacier was a great sight, but to get a portrait of glaciers at their best Lago Argentino is the place to head to. A boat ride through the icy waters took us up to the face of Perito Moreno Glacier. South America is pretty adept at making you feel small – the endless mountains and Amazon, the mammoth cities and ancient civilisations – but for me Perito Moreno is only rivalled by Iguazu Falls in making you feel really tiny. The enormous sea of ice slides downhill, then rears up and crashes into the lake before you, the calving making groaning noises and sending waves to your boat. It’s such a hypnotic spectacle – you could spend days goggling at it and it wouldn’t be long enough. My perfect South America trip would follow these southern sights with some city exploration, then onto Peru. Cities first, and you can’t really go wrong with either Buenos Aires or Rio. Or better still, check out both! They each have such a distinctive feel and mood, but both are populated by friendly locals who exude the easygoing self-confidence of a people who know they live in a great place and want to share it. Tango lessons in Buenos Aires were a definite highlight. It can be a little nerve-racking taking the plunge and giving something like that a go, but within 30 seconds of being on the dance-floor I was at ease thanks to the teacher and friendly locals. We learnt a few moves then followed up the lesson with a milonga, an evening of tango dancing, that carried on late, late into the night. One thing I’m not sure of is where porteños get their energy from. They’re up late every night, then meeting in bustling coffee-houses early the next morning, full of life and planning the evening’s festivities! Just like Rio, and just like any great city should be, BA is a simply addictive place to spend some time. As is Peru. The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are essential stuff – going to South America and not seeing the ruins is like a trip to Paris without the tower. After four days walking, seeing the ruins wa a tear-shedding moment, but watch out for the sting in the trail’s tail – once we got to Machu Picchu I climbed Huayna Picchu, the peak that rises abruptly above the ruins. Knee-buckling! 400-odd metres above the main ruins, with some slippery steps and steel cables to cling to en route, only 400 people a day are allowed to climb it – you’ve got to be pretty quick to bag a ticket. The views are incredible, but once you get back to Cusco you understand why there are so many places offering therapeutic massages for weary legs! I want to go to the Cordillera Blanca in northern Peru. It’s supposed to be great trekking all around the range, and very quiet on many of the routes. And of course Central America. I went to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico when I was young and have happy memories of amazing snorkelling, enormous ruins and feasting on fish tacos. A trip rediscovering Mexico followed up by Cuba is my ideal next holiday– and a night or two in Havana will no doubt give me the chance to learn some more dance moves!
"All the guides and tour leaders were fantastic, and the staff that took us along the trip and supported us were extremely helpful and pleasant to deal with and made the experience even more memorable. A huge "thank you" to all our guides for everything you did for us, we will never forget it."