15 BUCKET-LIST DESTINATIONS BELOW THE EQUATOR
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
CAPE TOWN/CAPE OF GOOD HOPE | SOUTH AFRICA
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK | SOUTH AFRICA
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.