15 Bucket-List Destinations Below the Equator

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Manuel Sulzer/Getty Images

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Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
Manuel Sulzer/Getty Images


When planning your "bucket list" of things you want to see before kicking the proverbial one, so many options reside in the northern hemisphere that it's easy to forget the opportunities on the bottom half of the planet. For instance, stargazers who pack a pair of binoculars will get a good look at southern constellations and the Magellanic Clouds, the Milky Way's satellite galaxies invisible from the northern hemisphere. To get you started, here are 15 must-see attractions found south of the equator.

Coober Pedy, Australia


Known as the "opal capital of the world" due to the amount and quality of multicolored gems found here, most of Coober Pedy's inhabitants live and work underground to escape the scorching heat of the outback desert. You can buy gorgeous opals or try mining some yourself while staying in the 4-star Desert Cave Hotel, whose name describes how it was built: in a cave underneath the desert. There are also plenty of outback tours starting in Coober Pedy, but make sure to bring — and use — plenty of sunblock.

The Great Barrier Reef


The Great Barrier Reef, located off the northeastern coast of Australia, is the largest coral reef in the world and the only living thing on Earth visible from outer space. The Reef offers an abundance of activities for nature lovers, including snorkeling and scuba diving, helicopter or aircraft tours, and viewing trips in glass-bottomed boats or semi-submersible boats.

Galapagos Islands


Home to animal species found nowhere else in the world, these islands are where Charles Darwin famously devised his theory of evolution after noticing how each island had a different species of finch adapted to its particular conditions. The island chain is an Ecuadorean territory, so the easiest way to get there is to go to Ecuador and fly out of the city of Guayaquil. Bring good hiking shoes or boots as the islands are still fairly rugged.

Chimborazo, Ecuador


Not all of Ecuador is in the southern hemisphere; the country is named after the equator it straddles. Visitors can actually stand with a foot in each hemisphere at the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo ("Middle of the World City") monument. Other Ecuadorean attractions appeal to nature-lovers, such as the inactive Chimborazo volcano, the highest in the country. Located about 100 miles south of the equator, Chimborazo is famous for its glaciers and especially popular with hikers. For lovers of human history, there's the beautiful Compania de Jesus in Quito, a gorgeous Baroque church famous for its elaborate gilded interior. Construction on the church started in 1605 and ended in 1765.

Marble Caves, Chile


This long, narrow South American country bordering the Pacific Ocean features one of the longest coastlines in the world. Chilean bucket-list destinations include the famous "Marble Caves" near the Argentine border and the hilly city of Valparaiso, which is so steep that it's filled with outdoor "elevators" — railroad/cable-car hybrids — once used to carry pedestrians up and down throughout the city. Chile is also home to the Atacama Desert, the driest (and possibly oldest) desert in the world. There are weather stations here that have never recorded a single drop of rainfall.

Easter Island


This Polynesian island is best-known for its famous moai "stone-head" sculptures. Most of the sculptures actually have full bodies. However, by the time Europeans learned of the island's existence, many of the statues had been buried up to their necks, leaving only the heads visible. Easter Island is a Chilean territory, so the same visa or passport requirements for a visit to Chile apply.

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina


Argentina is another South American country chockful of bucket-list attractions. The stunning Iguazú Falls was named one of the New7Wonders of Nature in 2011. The Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is full of amazing rock formations and the world's most complete dinosaur fossil record that we know of from the Triassic Period. Los Glaciares National Park is the biggest national park in Argentina and was named a World Heritage Site UNESCO site in 1981. Manmade attractions include the city of Cordoba, famous for its Spanish colonial architecture; the "wine city" of Mendoza, and the Southern Fuegian Railway, which offers rides to the southernmost tip of South America.

Machu Picchu


This Peruvian site is a UNESCO World Heritage Center. Built by the Incan Empire at the height of its power, this long-abandoned citadel rises almost 8,000 feet above sea level and provides stunning views of the tropical rainforest below. Notable sites within Machu Picchu include the Temple of the Moon, built within a shallow cave, and Puyupatamarca, a former bath site including the ruined remnants of what was once a remarkably sophisticated water system.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro has almost too many bucket-list attractions to count, but a few of them include the original Copacabana, Ipanema Beach, cable-car rides to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain, and of course the famous Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the entire city. If you don't mind extra-dense crowds but do like huge parties, visit during the annual Carnival, the Brazilian equivalent of Mardi Gras held each year just before the start of Lent.

Rotorua, New Zealand


"Lord of the Rings" fans will recognize many New Zealand landscapes as the movies were filmed there. If you're not interested in seeing the fantasy trilogy's real-life settings, you'll still want to check out Rotorua on the North Island. Rotorua is New Zealand's equivalent of Yellowstone Park, set over a volcanic caldera and therefore featuring hot springs, erupting geysers, boiling mud pools, and other thermal attractions. It's also home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Centre, featuring a living Maori village.

Cape Town, South Africa


The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa is the southernmost point on the continent. Jutting out near the city of Cape Town, it's known for its fantastic, yet affordable restaurant scene. On a more somber note, in Cape Town's harbor, you can board a boat to visit Robben Island, the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was once held. Overlooking the entire city is the famous Table Mountain, popular with hikers, climbers, and bicyclists. Not far from the city, Table Mountain National Park includes the famous Boulders Beach penguin colony. Visitors must make sure to remain on the designated paths to avoid accidentally trampling penguin nests.

Kruger National Park, South Africa


While Cape Town is in the southeastern most part of South Africa, over 1,000 miles away in the northwestern part of the country is the famous Kruger National Park. It's one of the best places to go on a classic safari and see the "Big 5" safari animals: lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos. Tourist accommodations range from rustic campsites to full-fledged luxury hotels and everything in between.

Pura Luhur Temple, Bali


Indonesia's popular tourist island of Bali is probably best known for its tropical beaches. However, Hindu-history buffs will want to check out the island's spectacular ancient temples. They include Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave), a 9th-century temple carved directly into a cave, and the clifftop Pura Luhur Temple. More adventurous tourists can visit Mount Batur, a still-active volcano popular with climbers and hikers.

Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar


This huge island off the southeastern coast of Africa is home to lemurs and thousands of other animal species found nowhere else on the planet. Nature tourists can also enjoy the island's tropical rainforests and stunning beaches, or drive down "Avenue of the Baobab," a dirt road lined by massive, centuries-old baobab trees. Also worth visiting is Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its surreal rock formations. Most of Madagascar's attractions are on the rugged side, so make sure to have good hiking shoes or boots.



An Antarctic visit is definitely for "adventure" tourists who might enjoy camping, hiking, mountaineering, or skiing rather than those seeking relaxing luxury vacations. Almost all tourists visiting the bottom of the world travel there by cruise ship. The easiest way to get to Antarctica — "easy" being a relative term — is probably to go to Argentina and arrange to take a boat from the port city of Ushuaia. Boats also leave from New Zealand's South Island, but only four times each season. If you're willing to splurge and make plans months or even years in advance, you might be one of the handfuls of people each year who can fly to the South Pole out of Cape Town, South Africa or Punta Arenas, Chile.