Ask any Latin American and they’ll tell you one of the things that define their continent and their own national identities is a burning passion for the competitive spirit of sport. These days the continent’s many historic rivalries are expressed through a healthy sporting spirit, producing world famous spectacles that rank among the top of any South America vacation experience. Even non-avid sports fans can’t help but get swept away in the atmosphere and energy of a major Latin American sporting event.
The Brazilian Grand Prix is just one of many major Latin American sporting events. For followers of other sports, here are five more that you should look out for while making your South America travel plans.
The Best of the Beautiful Game: Copa de Libertadores
Soccer and Latin America are virtually synonymous. The beautiful game is revered everywhere from the buzzing streets of the continent’s cities to the most remote outposts in the distant wilderness.
And of all the soccer tournaments in South America, it is the Copa de Libertadores that draws the most attention and passion. The competition sees old tensions such as those between Brazil and Argentina or Peru and Chile turned into a healthy sporting rivalry, while the stadiums of the continent’s biggest teams are packed with flag waving fans, endless Mexican waves, flaming red flares, songs and chants.
The tournament’s 38 teams are drawn from the top-ranking teams from national competitions, who play a number of preliminary rounds before entering a group stage and then the finals. By the time the final stages begin, virtually everyone in South America has focused their attention on the competition.
The atmosphere of a major South American soccer match is a unique experience and you don’t get much bigger than the finals of the Copa de Libertadores. Before your South America vacation begins check the tournament website for a rundown on upcoming fixtures and don’t miss the chance to see this most Latin American of sporting spectacles.
A Touch of Class: The Argentine Polo Open Championship
For those seeking a less raucous, more elegant spectator sport, look no further than the great polo traditions of Argentina. Polo is an old passion for Anglophile Argentines, and the sport attracts some of the best players and finest horses in the world.
Held every December, the Argentine Polo Open Championship in Buenos Aires is one of the world’s most important club level polo events. Despite the sport’s elegant charm, the game is actually a highly demanding one, requiring great skills in horsemanship as well as effective teamwork in order to drive the small wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using an unwieldy, long-armed mallet.
Argentina is the only South American country in which polo is played professionally and having won three world championships, the country is a world leader in this refined sport. There are three big opportunities to catch a professional polo match during your Argentina vacation, at the Open Championships of the Hurlingham and Tortugas Clubs, or the national Argentine Open Championship.
Riding the Waves: The ISA World Surfing Games
2009 is a special year for a much younger Latin American sporting passion as the ISA World Surfing Games arrive at the blissful sands of Costa Rica’s Jaco beach.
Known as “the biggest surf show on the planet” the games are right at home in the lively, atmospheric and beautiful beachside town of Jaco. The Olympics of Surfing sees over 200 surfers from nearly 30 countries congregate every year to do battle on their boards, with the competition alternating between the world’s best surf spots.
Surfing is a popular activity during many Costa Rica travel experiences and the country has become famous for its great surf and beaches that are world renowned for their quality and cleanliness. Jaco is a must-see destination during your Costa Rica vacation and timing your trip to coincide with the most important surfing event of the year is sure to add a touch of adrenaline to your vacation memories!
Aiming High: The South America Volleyball Championship
Volleyball is one of the few sports in Latin America that is widely popular among female competitors and spectators. The pinnacle of the game’s annual calendar is the South American Volleyball Championship, held biannually since 1951 at alternate locations usually in Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina.
The sport is taken very seriously and demands extreme levels of fitness, agility, coordination and teamwork. Brazil, where the sport has become a passion second only to football, has been the traditional leading country, with occasional challenges from Argentina, Peru and Venezuela.
To catch a game during your South America vacation, check the latest fixtures listings on the South American Confederation of Volleyball website.
Hole in One: Tour De Las Americas
Ironically, it is the ancient sport of golf that is the youngest addition to Latin America’s professional sports scene, having only been established as a permanent international tour in 1999.
The Tour de las Americas (TLA) provides an opportunity for the best national players from Latin America and the Caribbean to compete at an international level and has rapidly developed into a major sporting occasion, involving over 30 events in almost 20 countries and a total prize money of over $3 million.
The rise of golf on the continent has also contributed to a growth in dedicated golf courses, especially in some of the more luxurious Costa Rica hotels.
These days the Tour includes such prestigious events as the Argentine, Brazilian, Venezuelan and Peruvian Opens, plus the TLA Nations Cup. The annual calendar includes events throughout the first half of the year and the 2010 session is due to be announced shortly.
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Latin America for Less is a group of travel experts who live, work, eat, and breathe all things South America. Their inspiration stems from a deep appreciation for the beauty and diversity that make this continent so special.