Photograph by Heiko Meyer, laif/Redux

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Participants in an REI Adventures tour in Patagonia's Torres del Paine National Park soak up the spectacular setting and team up with park rangers to help repair trails.

Photograph by Heiko Meyer, laif/Redux

Best Tours in Central and South America

From Traveler Magazine's 2012 Tours of a Lifetime

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Uruguay: Sip and Surf

Uruguay has edged up on many a bucket list in recent years as word gets out about its unspoiled beaches and wine country. This casual cycling excur­sion pairs the best of both worlds, starting from the back roads of Carmelo, where you’ll sample the country’s benchmark Tannat wines—an intense red varietal—to the chic beach town of José Ignacio and the village of El Garzón for a feast at the restaurant of renowned Argentine chef and grill master Francis Mallmann. DuVine Adventures: “Uruguay: Coast and Vineyards,” 7 days; from $4,195.

Argentina: Canyon Country

With a reputation for revealing destinations through the eyes of locals (such as craftspeople, home cooks, and market vendors), the outfitter homes in on the northwest Argentine provinces of Salta and Jujuy, land of gaucho culture, sloping vineyards, verdant Andes foothills, and spectacularly striated canyons punctuated by towering cardón cactuses. Culture Xplorers: “Argentina True North,” 10 days; $3,590.

Brazil: Paddling the Green Coast

Sheltered from open seas by Ilha Grande, or “big island,” and fringed with sandy beaches and fishing villages, the swath of coastal rain forest Brazilians call Costa Verde is a sea kayaker’s dream. Launch from the colo­nial city of Paraty, a UNESCO World Heritage site, after joining the festa in Rio with a classic churrascaria (Brazilian barbecue) and more. Tofino Expeditions: “Sea Kayaking the Costa Verde,” 10 days; $4,190.

Costa Rica: Quest for the Best

Based on an episode of the PBS series Adventures With Purpose, this limited-edition itinerary has you hitting the high notes in Costa Rica, from the cloud forest garden at Nectandra to the back creeks of Tortuguero National Park, with company founder Michael Kaye and adventure travel godfather Richard Bangs to discover the country’s pura vida. Costa Rica Expeditions: “Quest for Pura Vida, Limited Edition,” 8 days; $9,900.

Peru: Second Time Around

You’ve done Machu Picchu; now check out the archaeological treasures of northern Peru’s Amazonas region, home to the Chachapoya, or Warriors of the Clouds, who built the massive complex of Kuélap around the ninth century—all at 9,800 feet above the Utcubamba Valley. Adventure Associates: “Journey to Chachapoyas,” 5 days; $1,989.

Chile: Trail Fix

With its famous granite spires, jaw-dropping glaciers, and vivid alpine lakes, Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park is a huge draw for hikers. But after years of use, the trails could use some love. Team up with park rangers to shore up the eroded sections while soaking up the spectacular setting. REI Adventures: “Torres del Paine Volunteer Vacation,” 13 days; $2,950.

Colombia: Back on the Map

The country is back on itineraries again after the U.S. State Department acknow­ledged significant improvements in security last year. This three-week adventure takes you from Bogotá to Medellín to Cartagena, stopping at such spots as the underground salt cathedral at Zipaquira, the coffee region of Armenia, and the northerly spine of the Andes in Los Nevados National Park. Wild Frontiers: “Colombia Explorer,” 22 days; $6,390.

These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2012 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.