Latin America's top three

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Latin America's top three

THE AMAZON

The phrase "Amazonian proportions" exists for good reason - the Amazon river basin spans nine countries in South America: Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Guyana and French Guiana, Suriname, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. This basin is the combination of the Amazon rainforest and the Amazon River and its tributaries, which feed the rainforest - itself covering around 7,050,000 square kilometres.

The largest rainforest in the world, it's often referred to as The Lungs of the Planet because it absorbs very large amounts of carbon dioxide and turns it into oxygen. Over 500 mammals, 175 lizards, over 300 other reptile species, one third of the world's birds and about 30 million insect types are believed to live in the Amazon Rainforest. Among the creatures that reside here are the anaconda, harpy eagle, howler monkey and kinkajou (also known as the honey bear).

The Amazon river is the second longest river in the world and it's estimated that one-fifth of all fresh  water carried into the ocean is supplied by it. Many species of animals depend on the river and those that live in it include the river dolphin and a giant air-breathing fish called the piraracu.

PATAGONIA

It doesn't get much more remote than this - the southernmost portion of South America known as Patagonia, which occupies a 673,000 square kilometre expanse of southern Argentina and Chile.
The Chilean part of Patagonia includes the southern section of the region of Los Lagos, and the regions of Aisen and Magallanes. Highlights are the Torres del Paine National Park, Cape Horn and Tierra del Fuego National Park. Torres Del Paine is characterised by jagged peaks, glaciers, icebergs and a variety of wildlife.

The Argentine portion of Patagonia includes the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut and Santa Cruz, as well as the eastern portion of Tierra del Fuego archipelago. For the most part, this is a region of steppe-like plains, rising in a succession of 13 abrupt terraces, while in the lower regions of the plains ponds or lakes of fresh and brackish water can be found.

THE PANTANAL

While the Amazon rainforest may be South America's most famous natural attraction when it comes to ecological diversity, the lesser known Pantanal is certainly no poor cousin when it comes to its eco-credentials. The world's largest wetland area, covering 150,000 square kilometres, it extends through central-western Brazil, eastern Bolivia and eastern Paraguay.

One of the largest, most pristine and biologically rich environments on the planet, the Pantanal contains a greatly concentrated and diverse range of flora and fauna. Hundreds of species of birds, thousands of varieties of butterflies and a multitude of fish species call this place home.

The tucan, jaguar, giant river otter and caiman (the most common species of crocodile) are some of the more familiar sounding creatures found here, while some of the more exotic include the tapir (a medium-sized mammal with a flexible snout) and the capybara , which is the world's largest rodent.