Jacana Camp

Welcome to the other side of Africa, away from the dusty savannahs and endless plains dotted by baobab trees. The Okavango Delta is a floodplain, alive with wildlife of the sort usually observed as part of a David Attenborough documentary. Not only do you have the opportunity to experience this delta; you can stay here, at Jacana Camp.

Jacana’s five tents and its main lodge, with elevated dining platform, lounge area and plunge pool, are situated on an island in the delta. Surprisingly, you don’t need to stray far to get an eyeful of the amazing animals that live in the neighbourhood. Elephants and hippos play in the water below the camp, wildebeest and deer graze on the lush growth, and the birdlife – from long- legged waterbirds to rare species like Pel’s fishing owl – is ridiculously abundant.

During the day, glide silently through the water in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe) or check out far-flung channels in one of Jacana’s motorboats. Land safaris take place in sturdy, open-sided 4WDs, and there’s even some basic fishing gear if you fancy throwing in a line.

Cruise for Jaguars

There aren’t many animals that can render a caiman lifeless with one crushing bite that punctures the brain and pulverises bones. Jaguars can. Distinguished by their rosette-shaped black spots, these fierce yet graceful predators of the jungle are the third-largest of the big cats, after lions and tigers. Once found roaming across large swathes of the Americas, today jaguars are an almost threatened species.

If you want to see these majestic beasts in the wild, one of the best places is Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland and home to one of the densest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. July is the dry season in these parts, when the jaguar’s prey clusters around shrinking waterways, luring the cats close. During a boat safari through the Meeting of the Waters State Park, also known as the Jaguar Zone, you’ll get within a whisker of these water-happy felines. If you’re lucky, you might even witness these killer cats in action as they lunge at deer, caiman and tapir.

New Year’s Eve in Ipanema

A NYE party in Rio is a no-brainer, but head out to the beach for a bit of calm and to pay homage to Iemanja, the Macumba deity of the sea. As the sun sets, crowds gather at the shore to leave flowers and cast off small boats filled with offerings to the goddess, in the hope that she’ll fulfil their wishes for the coming year. But make sure the tides are in your favour – if the waves bring back your gift, it’s believed that Iemanja has rejected your wish.

Learn polo in Argentina

If you thought polo was reserved for the British aristocracy, think again. Argentina is the planet’s polo powerhouse, producing more champions than every other nation combined. At Estancia El Venado, about two hours’ drive south of Buenos Aires, you can get in the saddle and have a go at whacking a ball with a mallet at a polo school located on a working cattle ranch. Be trained by the pros, take to the field for a game and learn about the ranch’s horse-breeding program.

You don’t need any prior riding experience to participate, but if thundering down the field chasing a ball on horseback rattles your nerves, there are plenty of tamer activities on hand. Take part in a cattle muster with a real-life gaucho (cowboy), swing under the treetops in a hammock, kayak the Salado River, or just soak up the surroundings of the ranch, which has been kept in the family for four generations.

Spot thousands of flamingos at Laguna Colorada

Welcome to a natural landscape that appears positively extraterrestrial. Laguna Colorada, meaning red lake, is a shallow salt lake in Bolivia’s Altiplano (high plains), more than 4,260 metres above sea level. The lake is less than a metre deep and owes its unusual colour to red minerals and algae, which lure flocks of rare species of flamingo.

The name is no exaggeration – the water ranges from hues of salmon pink to blood red, which, when contrasted with the white borax islands, snow-capped Andes in the distance and vivid blue sky, creates a magical effect. Come here for a close-up look at the distinctive landscape and to snap brag-worthy photographs. No filter required.

Climb the colossal Mount Roraima

A colossal tabletop mountain that broke through the earth’s crust two billion years ago, Mount Roraima looks like something from an Avatar set. With a 2,810-metre summit surrounded by 400-metre sheer cliffs, Roraima forms one of South America’s most striking landscapes. And you can climb it. The mountain crosses the borders of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana, but is most often tackled from the north-west in Venezuela.

The trek begins in Pareitepuy, where you traverse open savannah landscape, crossing rivers and fields of orchids, before climbing through a cloud forest and ascending a natural staircase up the cliff face. Once on the plateau, pray for a clear view (the summit is usually cloaked in cloud), but don’t be dismayed if it’s a whiteout as there’s plenty more to see. Explore curious rock formations, caves, gorges and waterfalls, and keep your eyes peeled for black frogs and carnivorous plants.

Lençóis Maranhenses: Brazil’s sweeping dunes

After a day in the sun, you could be forgiven for thinking this magical expanse of sand and water is a mirage. Stretching across 1500 square kilometres of Brazil’s tropical north-east coast, Lençóis Maranhenses comprises a series of blue-green pools that ripple through crescent-shaped dunes like strokes of ink on parchment. Known as the ‘bedsheets of Maranhão’ (named after the state of the same name), the beach is a sight to behold.

When it rains (from January to June) water fills the valleys and crevices up to three metres deep, held fast by watertight rock beneath the sand. The lagoons are at their peak between July and September and tours run regularly from São Luís, the capital of Maranhão, and from Barreirinhas, just outside the national park. Bring your togs and prepare for a memorable swim.

Brazil’s colossal Inhotim Art gallery

Where can you find outdoor sculptures, art pavilions and more than 4000 plant species all in one place? At Inhotim. Sprawled across more than 140 hectares of botanical gardens in south-eastern Brazil, this colossal open-air art gallery and contemporary museum is a world unto itself. Pick up a map, choose your route and lose yourself in an aesthetic wonderland.

The gallery features notable artists from Brazil and around the world, with each installation showcasing a unique perspective of the relationship between art and nature. Many of the pieces are interactive, and you’ll find yourself wandering through interpretive forests, lakes and valleys. The gallery’s size almost guarantees a second visit, since it’s impossible to see everything in one day (multi-day passes are available). Explore on foot, join a tour or, for about AU$10, cruise around in a chauffeur-driven golf cart.

La Paz’s Witches’ Market

Love, money, luck: everything you could possibly want can be summoned at La Paz’s bustling Mercado de las Brujas – for a price. Take a stroll down the cobbled streets of the Old Quarter for a fascinating insight into Aymara religious traditions that remain alive and well in Bolivia today, in the form of love potions, spiritual readings and spells.

Just a word of advice – eat lunch well in advance. Along with soapstone amulets, ceramic figurines and penis candles, black-hatted yatiri (witch doctors) also purvey dried snakes, turtles, armadillos and llama foetuses. It’s an urban shopping adventure that’s definitely not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.

Ride an ATV up a Volcano

Bicol’s Mount Mayon Volcano is about as picturesque a volcano as you can imagine. Perfectly conical, it is the Philippines’ most active volcano, having erupted five times in the past 25 years. Needless to say the ATV ride towards its base is a thrilling one.

You can take one of several routes, depending on your budget and experience, but make sure you see the lava front from the 2006 eruption. There you can climb the still-steaming lava wall and look back down the valley you’ve just ridden up. Crossing rivers and accelerating up steep climbs, this is a ride for confident drivers.

From the lava front you’ll then cruise through local villages and the dense green countryside, all the while keeping an eye on the image of menacing Mount Mayon in your rearview mirror.