We at Goway Central & South America have an ongoing fun rivalry with our Goway Africa colleagues. Obviously both are great regions to visit (*cough* Central & South America *cough*) and deserve every traveller’s attention. But while Africa may have a leg up when it comes to the Big 5 (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard, and buffalo), the Central & South America wildlife is equally amazing, with species that can’t been seen anywhere else on earth.
Our journey through South America wildlife starts with over 4000 species of birds! In the Amazon rainforest and the lush forests of Central America, there are enough species here to keep any ‘twitcher’ satisfied for a lifetime. An awesome variety of feathered friends can be seen from the forests of Belize to the tip of Patagonia, thriving amid some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth. Brazil in particular stands out here. Rich with endemic species, the southeast Atlantic forests are a short jump from Rio, while a birding Eden lies in the heart of the little visited Pantanal.
The Pantanal, an extensive wetland region similar the Okavango Delta in Botswana (yes, the rivalry is real) is also the best place to see wild jaguars. Trek along the trails, go horseback riding, or canoe along the waters to spot kingfishers, macaws, and caiman, all the while searching for the world’s third largest feline. It’s an adventure within the adventure, and there’s a good chance you might spot this elusive cat in the midst of a kill, paralyzing its prey with a bite to the skull. It’s all part of nature.
Of course, the region abounds in ‘creepy crawlies’ such as snakes, spiders, and ants, but don’t let this put you off. These creatures play a valuable role in any environment, and Central & South America has some of the most fascinating and beautiful. Learning about the delicate balance that has evolved between all these species, and the balance that locals have found with them over centuries is one of the most satisfying parts of any wildlife trip.
Of course, it’s not all tropical! South America is home to llamas, alpaca, vicuna, and guanaco. One could almost think of them as miniature giraffes, as they are all members of the even-toed Ungulate family. These herd animals thrive in the Andes from Ecuador all the way to the bottom of Chile and Argentina, with vicuna wool being considered the best (most expensive) wool anywhere in the world.
Patagonia is home to mountain lions, also known as puma, cougar, and catamount. There are capybara, giant anteaters, frogs, armadillos, rhea (like a shrunken ostrich or emu), and Patagonian hares. Meanwhile, sloths, howler monkeys, toucans, macaws, and chirping, colourful frogs are fixtures of the warmer forests. The howler monkeys in the early morning sound more like prehistoric dinosaurs than any primate!
The list of wildlife is as vast as the regions themselves. Ecuador, one of South America’s smallest countries has over 300 species of mammal alone, including the rare Andean spectacled bear. For an even more concentrated offering, Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 species, nearly 5% of the total species estimated worldwide.