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Travel: As World Cup begins, who are the top scorers in South America?

Undated Handout Photo of the Chaxas Lagoon, Chile. See PA Feature TRAVEL South America. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Renato Granieri. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Handout.

Undated Handout Photo of the Chaxas Lagoon, Chile. See PA Feature TRAVEL South America. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Renato Granieri. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Handout.

TEAM: PERU

Star players: Hotel B and Central restaurant, Lima

Winning streak: Food.

The South American food scene has exploded in recent years, with Peru leading the way. In a country where there are more than 3,000 varieties of potato and 55 different types of corn, chefs certainly have a lot to experiment with in the kitchen. Some of the best restaurants can be found in coastal capital city Lima.For a whirlwind taste of the diversity Peru has to offer - from ocean, jungle and rainforest - visit boundary-bending Central (www.centralrestaurante.com.pe), run by husband and wife team Pia Leon and Virgilio Martinez (who owns the Michelin-starred restaurant Lima in London).

Peru is also home to the Pisco Sour, and some of the best low-key bars can be found in bohemian district Barranco, where Lima’s first boutique hotel, Hotel B, opened last year.

The former Belle Epoque mansion, used as a seaside retreat in the 1920s, has been fully restored, and now dynamic works of art and brightly coloured sculptures decorate rooms with original Italian marble terraces and fine wooden floors.

lDoubles at Hotel B from £270 per night (B&B). Visit www.hotelb.pe

TEAM: CHILE

Star player: Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa

Winning streak: Adventure.

Considered to be one of the driest places on earth, the Atacama desert will appeal to those who like to tackle extremes. One oasis in the 105,000 square kilometre stretch of sand, wind-beaten rocks and gnarled escarpments is San Pedro de Atacama, once a hang out for new age hippies but now a busy tourist hub.

Set a little way back in the Catarpe Valley, the Alto Atacama hotel melts inconspicuously into the terracotta-tinged mountains. Plunge pools provide relief from the dry, dusty heat, while at night, an on-site observatory can be used to study the brilliantly clear sky.

Few creatures can survive in the region, but a hardy exception are flamingoes. Drive in a 4x4 past dormant volcanoes and salt flats to the Chaxas lagoon, where the birds gather at sunset, the pink of their feathers apparently reflected in the blushing sky.

lDoubles from £167pp, per night (half board). Visit www.altoatacama.com

TEAM: BOLIVIA

Star player: Hotel Tayka de Sal

Winning streak: Scenery.

Compared to other South American squads, Bolivia lag woefully behind on the football pitch, but they do have one secret weapon at their disposal: the glorious Altiplano (high plains). In fact, playing at a dizzying height of 3,600m did enable the national team to beat Argentina back in 2009. But it’s the scenery found in these altitudes that really puts Bolivia in the lead.

Stretching as far as the eye can see, the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat on earth, can be classed as one of the world’s greatest wonders.

During the dry season, May to September, tourists travel in 4x4s across a thick salt crust left behind from the evaporation of prehistoric lakes. And during the rest of the year, when it rains, the flats become a giant mirror, where clouds float across sky and land.

In a quiet corner, beneath the Tunupa volcano, is the rustic but charming Tayka de Sal hotel. When temperatures drop at night, guests can warm up in front of a blazing fire, where excellent food is served at simple wooden tables draped with embroidered blankets.

lDoubles from £70 per night (B&B). Visit www.taykahoteles.com

TEAM: ECUADOR

Star player: Mashpi Lodge

Winning streak: Wildlife.

It may be one of the smallest countries in South America, but Ecuador is also one of the most biodiverse, spreading across the Andes and Amazon Basin. A comfortable introduction to the jungle is the eco-friendly Mashpi Lodge, a 2.5 hour drive from Quito, perched on a high plateau in the cloud forest. Blending discreetly into its surroundings, the lodge offers guests an opportunity to experience remarkably close encounters with the local wildlife. Five hundred species of bird can be seen swooping through the forest canopy, while peccaries and even puma pass below.

But even from inside the glass-fronted lodge, guests have a window onto the forest, so there’s plenty of time to admire the wildlife while relaxing with creature comforts of their own.

lA three day all-inclusive package costs £820pp. Visit www.mashpilodge.com

TEAM: ARGENTINA

Star player: La Bamba de Areco, Pampas

Winning streak: Activity.

Football is a religion in Argentina, with a Church of Maradona allegedly open for worship in the star player’s humble birth place, Villa Fiorito, a shanty town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

But step outside the capital city, and people play a very different sport. Argentina’s cowboys, the gauchos, can be found rounding up cattle on horseback or competing in rodeos in the grasslands of the Pampas.

Bringing this age-old equestrian tradition into the modern world is the luxurious La Bamba de Areco, one of the oldest estancias in the area now converted into a boutique 11-room hotel. Guests are welcomed into a family home, where they share meals together in a grand dining room, or outdoors on long wooden benches beneath the shade of plane trees.

French owner Jean-Francois Decaux originally bought the property to indulge his passion for polo, and the estancia has its own international team who often practise here. lDoubles from £385 per night (full board). Visit www.labambadeareco.com.

 

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