Photograph by Eric Lafforgue, Alamy

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Blue skies enhance eye-popping costumes at Peru’s Quyllur Rit’i festival, outside Cusco.

Photograph by Eric Lafforgue, Alamy

Best Tours in Central and South America 2015

From Traveler Magazine's 2015 Tours of a Lifetime

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Argentina: Click and Sip

Andean foothills studded with vineyards and colorful rock formations: Argentina’s northwest corner is a shutterbug’s dream. Bone up on photo skills—lighting, framing—with local photographer Ossian Lindholm. Along the way, sample wines made with the area’s Torrontes grapes. Ciclismo Classico: “Argentina Vision and Vine,” 9 days; $5,300;

Peru: High on the Andes

Stops at World Heritage sites Machu Picchu and Cusco pair with a pilgrimage to Quyllur Rit’i, a festival filled with music, trance dancing, and “spirits” in bear costumes. Aspiring Adventures: “Quyllur Rit’i Trip,” 14 days; $3,675;

Belize: Diving to Make a Difference

Plunge into Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, a World Heritage site of exceptional biodiversity near Ambergris Caye, to monitor its population of invasive lionfish with a U.K.-based conservation group. Participants dive to collect data (advanced diving certification required), study lionfish by dissecting them, and learn all about reef ecology. Blue Ventures Expeditions: “Lionfish Dive,” 7 or 16 days; $943, $2,122;

Costa Rica: Teach While Touring

This teaching gig can span two weeks or 24. Lend a hand with lessons at a local school while brushing up on your español and living the pura vida near Manuel Antonio National Park, a preserve along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Global Vision International: “Volunteer With Children in Costa Rica,” 14 days; $1,790;

Colombia: Town and Country

Experience the remarkable variety of this nation’s natural landscapes while mountain biking from the high Andes to the tropics, stopping in such cultural gems as the colonial town of Barichara and an organic coffee hacienda near Bucaramanga. Colombia Adventure: “Bogotá to Santander Biking Adventure,” 6 days; $3,000;

Brazil: Shore Thing

The overlooked northeast side of Brazil has it all, from the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, a World Heritage site, to colonial architecture in the city of São Luís de Maranhão. Includes a two-day trek in lagoon-filled Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Adventure Life: “Undiscovered Brazil,” 13 days; $3,275;

Ecuador: Naturally Inclined

Single out birdcalls and spot monkeys and tropical frogs as local guides lead you in kayaks through Yasuni National Park, believed to be the most biodiverse place on Earth. Tofino Expeditions: “Amazon Kayaking Trip,” 9 days; $4,390;

Contributing editor Margaret Loftus has reported and written “Tours of a Lifetime” for the past nine years.