My 7 Reasons to visit South America
South America has been on my wander list since the early start of this millennium. When I was going through my old notes, I found a piece of paper with fees for Spanish language course in Bolivia going back to 2004! Needless to say, South America needed to be crossed off my travel bucket list and I’m super excited it will finally happen soon! I share with you my 7 Reasons to visit South America and why you will want to travel to South America too!
Why I’ll visit South America
More than 12 years, this vast continent has been in my dreams. The vast variety of nature, cultures, and foods combined with its epic-scale appeals to me greatly. When I daydream of quitting my job and becoming a digital nomad and roam around the world, it is never in South East Asia, no, the journey always starts in South America.
Now, many people know South-East Asia from the back of their hand. They know what to do in Vietnam, the best beaches in Thailand or what to eat in Laos.
South America is not so famous among backpackers and tourists in my knack of the woods. When I tell people where I’ll be going next, they soon zoom out when I dish up my intended itinerary for 1 month in South America.
That’s when I decided to visualize things a bit for you all. Here are my 7 Reasons to Visit South America and why you will want to go there too!
#1 Arequipa Peru- the White City
First thing I learned about Arequipa is that’s a laid back town with a calm atmosphere. I do not like bustling cities and I’m only flying into Lima to depart the next day for Lima.
This city is built with white rocks and hence called the White City. The Santa Catalina Monastery is one of the top things to see and I intend to have my first “cuy” (guinea pig) at the Plaza de Armas here.
#2 Colca Canyon Peru- the World’s Largest Canyon
Well, the largest Canyon in the world is under argument, but let’s say it’s large. Ancient Inca terrasses are build against the rims of the canyon and condors are supposed to be seen on a daily basis.
I plan on going hiking in the canyon and hopefully, if I’m lucky, see the searing birds of prey: the Condors of the Colca Canyon.
#3 Atacama desert Chile – the driest desert in the world
South America is known for its superlatives, but the Atacama desert is truly one of the world’s driest places. You can go visit the Tatio Geyers and walk around the desert as if you’re on Mars.
The most desirable thing on my wander list is stargazing over the desert. You can go to one of the planetariums and star gaze the night away.
Because of its dry arid nature, there is not light pollution in the sky and you can see the whole milky way. I even aligned my stay there with the right moon phase to enhance my chances of having a good experience.
#4 Salar de Uyuni Bolivia- World’s Largest Salt Plane
Another world’s largest. The salt planes of Uyuni must be phenomenal! Who doesn’t remember those crazy pictures of tour groups battling a dinosaur or walking in and out of a crisp can? Due to the fact all perspective drops at such a vast plane of white, you can get some pretty impressive pictures that play tricks on you.
To me, it seems like a grand adventure with green lagunas, pink lakes, cacti islands and a salt hotel. I must see and experience this for myself and it is one of my biggest reasons to visit South America.
#5 Sucre- Bolivia’s Sweetest City
Ok, I made that up. I do not know if Sucre is super sweet, but when I look at the pictures I see white buildings, parks, and indigenous people. I look forward to recuperating after visiting de Salar de Uyuni and just soak up the Bolivian atmosphere and culture. Maybe after 12 years, I’ll finally be able to visit this city and speak some Spanish.
# 6 Lake Titicaca- the World’s Highest Lake
Lake Titicaca is South America’s largest lake and the world highest navigable body of water. I plan on visiting Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of the border. Or maybe I’ll also visit the Uros Islands with the Uros people who build their whole community on the reed. Small reed islands with houses made of reed, boats, schools.. everything.
Have you ever been to the Uros Islands or Isla del Sol? What were your experiences on the lake?
#7 Cusco and Machu Picchu- one of the 7 wonders of the world
I’ll save the best for last. Cracking Cusco where there will be loads to explore in the Sacred Valley and in and around town.
But Machu Picchu is the cherry on top of my South American Sundae. This lost city of the Incas is one of the most obvious reasons to visit South America and it certainly is for me!
Due to my lack of fitness, I will not be going there on the ancient Inca Trail. But there is another cool way of getting there: by train! And as you all know, I love travelling by train, so I imagine that won’t be a bad thing.
Did you go to Machu Picchu? How did you arrive at Machu Picchu? Please share your experiences.
Reasons to visit South America
Have you enjoyed the pictures? This will be the backbone of my South America itinerary. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but these are my 7 Reasons to visit South America! And I know you will want to travel to South America too!
Read more about the importance of having a travel wishlist, like Stephanie from history fan girl.
- Read more about my adventures in South America here.
- Catch up on your reading before you go with this Lonely Planet South America travel guide.
Do you have any plans to go to South America? What inspired you to travel to the continent? Please share your stories below. I’d love to hear them.
Naomi is a Travel Blogger from the Netherlands. She’s infatuated with Roman Ruins, Road Trips, and Railway Journeys and she’s crackers about cheese! Learn more about Naomi by reading her full story here.
Interesting reasons and places to visit in South America. This continent is always in my list. Now, I am very curious how long and how much did you spent during the whole duration of your travel there.
Thanks Naomi. Thanks also for the follow in IG. I love your photos there.
Best regards from Bayern!
Ah! That is still a post I intent to write but more or less at the end. In short, I was in South America for 4.5 weeks and spend exactly what I planned (3k) but splurged (a lot!) so it could have been (wayyyy) cheaper.
Thanks for the infos. I hope to visit it next year. I am still in the process of planning. Cheers!
Did you happen to use the Peru hop or Bolivia bus line?
No I didn’t use them. I found buses in South America very easy to use and straightforward. They got me everywhere I wanted to go without a problem.
Lovely list…though personally speaking i’d rather extend it into 70..or maybe 700 reasons to visit SA. Personally speaking, South America is the most versatile continent of them all. there is basically nothing you can’t experience there and…asides from Rio and Machu Picchu, there are hardly any tourists (compared to Europe that is :P).
Agree there is sooo much beauty to explore in South America, 7 is way to little
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21 Best Places to Visit in South America
South America is a continent of superlatives: the highest, the driest, the largest, the deepest, the rarest … Well, you get the picture. Superlatives galore can be found from Caracas to Tierra del Fuego, helping ensure every traveler finds something to interest them.
Environmentalists will enjoy the well-conserved Pantanal in Brazil, while shoppers can choose between upscale boutiques in big cities like Rio de Janeiro or the colorful markets of Andean villages. You can explore lost cities of ancient civilizations, feast your eyes on stunning scenery almost everywhere you go or you can feast your taste buds on the cuisine.
It’s your choice, and South America gives you lots of them. An overview of the best places to visit in South America:
21. Cartagena (Colombia) [SEE MAP]
Cartagena is a major city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It was founded by the Spanish in 1533, who named it after Cartagena, Spain. During Spain’s domination in South America, the city was the center of politics and the economy.
Cartagena is a quite modern city today, but you’ll find walled historic center and the fortress, deemed the largest fortifications in South America, that defended it. Cartagena has a rich cultural scene, with festivals throughout the year; museums and art galleries.
20. Salvador (Brazil) [SEE MAP]
Salvador da Bahia, also known as just Salvador, has several things going for it. The Portuguese founded it in 1548, so it’s one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. You’ll see its rich past in Pelourinho, the historic center named for the whipping post where slaves were beaten.
Brazil’s third largest city was also the first slave port in the Americas; traces of this African heritage can be found in the local culture today, especially the cuisine. Salvador also is a party town, hosting the world’s largest party: its annual Carnival celebration.
19. Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina) [SEE MAP]
They don’t do things in a small way in Los Glaciares National Park. Not only is the park the largest national park in Argentina, it is home to the largest ice cap outside of Greenland and Antarctica – an ice cap that feeds 47 large glaciers. The most famous of these is the Perito Moreno glacier; unique among glaciers because it is advancing while others are receding.
The park also is home to Lake Argentino, the largest in the country. The park also is known for its ecology and biodiversity with the well-conserved Magellan Subpolar forest and Patagonian Steppe.
18. Pantanal (Brazil) [SEE MAP]
miquitos / Flickr
The Pantanal can be difficult to get to – access is mostly by plane or boat – but once you get there…Oh! The Pantanal, located mostly in Brazil (some is in Bolivia and Paraguay), is the world’s largest tropical wetland, encompassing an area the size of Washington State.
While not as famous as its sister wetlands in the Amazon, the Pantanal is the best place in South America to see wildlife, ranging from jaguars to capybaras.
17. Ushuaia (Argentina) [SEE MAP]
If you like to visit remote places, then put Ushuaia on your bucket list. The capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is considered the southernmost city in the world. Indeed, the train to the End of the World ends here.
Nestled among the mountains along a bay, Ushuaia is very picturesque when it’s not cloudy or windy, which is much of the time. The former penal colony has a museum and it’s a good place to see penguins, orca whales and seals.
16. Tayrona National Park (Colombia) [SEE MAP]
When protecting the environment and its inhabitants while enjoying stunning views is on your top list, you’re sure to enjoy Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
The country’s second most visited national park, Tayrona is a protected marine reserve that takes in both land and sea. You’ll find great biodiversity in the flora and fauna here. Wildlife includes 300 species of birds, more than 100 different mammals and 70 kinds of bats.
Tayrona is probably best known for its spectacular beaches, which are set in deep bays, backed by mountains and shaded by coconut palms. Because of strong current however most beaches are not suitable for swimming.
15. Quito (Ecuador) [SEE MAP]
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is unique among world capitals. It is the highest capital in the world (La Paz is higher but isn’t Bolivia’s legal capital) and also closest to the equator. Founded by the Spanish in 1534, Quito’s colorful old town is one of the best-preserved, least changed and largest in all the Americas.
Located in Ecuador’s northern highlands, the city is surrounded by volcanoes that can be seen on a clear day. Quito is the only world capital that is threatened by active volcanoes.
14. Colca Canyon (Peru) [SEE MAP]
There’s a reason Colca Canyon is the third most visited tourist destination in Peru: stunning views. The canyon is one of the deepest in the world, but not the deepest in Peru, though it is more than twice as deep as the U.S. Grand Canyon.
If you get tired of scenic views, you can feast your eyes on the sky where you may see Andean condors and the biggest hummingbirds you’ve ever seen. Villages are a good place to buy local handcrafts.
13. Atacama Desert (Chile) [SEE MAP]
The Atacama Desert is unique: It’s the driest non-polar desert in the world, maybe only raining once every four years. It stretches about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) along the coast of Chile, situated between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.
The soil is comparable to that found on Mars; portions stood in for Mars in the movie, Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets. Vast salt flats, active geysers and intense blue lagoons are just a few of the extraordinary features of this region.
12. Angel Falls (Venezuela) [SEE MAP]
Angel Falls is most definitely a scene stealer in Venezuela’s Guayana Highlands. It is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world – 15 times higher than Niagara Falls, which is shared by Canada and the United States. Water cascades more than 950 meters (3,200 feet) down Auyantepu Mountain into the Rio Kerepacupai Meru.
The waterfall is named for American Jimmy Angel who, in 1937, became the first pilot to fly over the falls. Getting there is an adventure involving plane and river boat rides.
11. Cusco (Peru) [SEE MAP]
Cusco has a colorful historic past Located at 3,400 meters (11,000 feet) in elevation in the Andes Mountains, Cusco was once the capital of the mighty Inca Empire. Then, in the 16th century, it was conquered by the Spanish, who pretty much decimated the Incas.
Though not the national capital, Peru’s constitution names it the historical capital of the country. Remains of many Inca sites can be found in the surrounding area while the Spanish colonial heritage can be found in the Old Town.
10. Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) [SEE MAP]
Situated in the Andes nearly 3,700 meters (12,000 feet) above sea level, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. Located in southwest Peru, the salt flat is covered by a thick crust, which provides salt and covers a brine.
The salt flat is as flat as you can get and with the harsh terrain looks otherwordly, especially after rain when the Salar turns into a giant mirror. One of the most unusual places to visit in South America, it’s also a major breeding ground for flamingos.
9. Lake Titicaca (Peru & Bolivia) [SEE MAP]
Lake Titicaca, South America’s largest lake, straddles the border of Bolivia and Peru. At an elevation of just over 3,800 meters (12,500 feet), it is considered the highest navigable lake in the world, though there are smaller lakes higher than this one.
Many of its 41 islands are inhabited, including the floating islands the natives make with heavy reeds. About 500 species of aquatic life live in the lake, which has a large population of water birds. Local belief says the sun was born at Lake Titicaca.
8. Easter Island (Chile) [SEE MAP]
Getting to Easter Island can be time-consuming, since it is the most remote inhabited island in the world. The nearest inhabitants are almost 1,300 miles away. But it’s not its remoteness this Chilean territory is noted for. It’s what you’ll see when you get there: almost 900 primitive statues carved by early Polynesian inhabitants.
These awesome statues, called moai, may have been carved about 1,000 years ago. Most statues were carved from solidified volcanic ash, with obsidian being used for the black eyes.
7. Amazon Rainforest [SEE MAP]
CIAT / Flickr
If you lived long enough to count that high, you could count 390 billion trees in the Amazon rainforest. This statistic is mind-boggling, to be sure, but then the Amazon rainforest is one awesome piece of real estate, covering about ¾ of the Amazon River basin.
It is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Sixty percent of the rainforest is located in Brazil with sizeable chunks in Peru and Columbia; bordering countries have small shares. For sure, the rainforest is loaded with unique flora and fauna.
6. Torres del Paine National Park (Chile) [SEE MAP]
It may be located in remote Chilean Patagonia, but Torres del Paine National Park is one of Chile’s largest and most visited parks. Why? Well, the scenery is pretty spectacular.
The Torres del Paine (Paine means blue in the local indigenous language) is just one awesome sight you’ll see. The three peaks dominate the landscape in the Paine Mountains. Besides mountains, the park is dotted with glaciers, rivers, forests and steppe, making it a hit with outdoors enthusiasts. The park also is home to an endangered species of deer.
5. Buenos Aires (Argentina) [SEE MAP]
With 17 million people, Buenos Aires has the fourth largest population in the Americas. Located on the Rio de la Plata on the Argentinian coast, the city is noted for its cosmopolitan flair.
Because of its architecture and rich cultural life, Buenos Aires is the most visited city in South America. A must-see here is the Recoleta, a residential neighborhood known for its history. The Recoleta Cemetery is the district’s most famous attraction; it’s where Eva Peron is buried.
4. Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) [SEE MAP]
Scott Ableman / Flickr
If you want to get a glimpse of what prehistoric animals may have looked like, head to the Galapagos Islands. The animals are like no other place on earth, and include giant tortoises and scary-looking iguanas.
They were the impetus for Charles Darwin’s controversial 19th century book, On the Origin of Species. This archipelago of 18 major islands, about 900 km (550 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, was formed – and are still being formed – by volcanic action.
3. Iguazu Falls (Brazil & Argentina) [SEE MAP]
One of the best places to visit in South America, Iguazu Falls have to be seen to be appreciated as mere words cannot do them justice. They truly live up to their name, which translates as “big water:” They’re the world’s largest waterfalls system, with 275 waterfalls of various sizes – Devil’s Throat is the biggest.
For much of its journey to the ocean, the Iguazu River flows through Brazil, but, seemingly in a spirit of international cooperation, most of the falls are in Argentina.
2. Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) [SEE MAP]
When you visit Rio de Janeiro you simply must take a samba lesson; even The Girl from Ipanema does the samba, Rio’s most popular dance. Besides the samba, this cosmopolitan city is known for its Carnival, the bossa nova, and Copacabana Beach.
Its most famous landmark may be the Christ the Redeemer statue that sits atop Corcovado Mountain. Rio hosted the 2016 Summer Olympics, though its residents overwhelmingly prefer soccer: Maracana Stadium is one of the largest soccer stadiums in the world.
1. Machu Picchu (Peru) [SEE MAP]
Machu Picchu is a magnificent representation of the Inca civilization before the Spanish came. Nestled in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu served as a palace for the emperor, a fortress and as a site for religious ceremonies where human sacrifices were made to appease the gods.
Untouched by the Spanish, the site was abandoned after the conquest, only to be “discovered” by an American professor in the early 1900s. Built from polished stones, Machu Picchu is a fascinating example of classical Inca architecture. With its spectacular views, Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited tourist attraction.
30 Best Places to Visit in South America (2022)
Filled with otherworldly landscapes, incredible weather and, bustling cultures, the colourful continent of South America has brought me back time and time again. Whether you’re looking for inspiration on where to go in South America or are already planning a trip, make sure you don’t miss out on this categorised list of the best places to visit in South America!
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Best Cities to Visit in South America
The South American continent is filled with diverse cities, most are bustling and filled with colourful colonial architecture, making them a must see vacation spot in South America.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The lively city of Rio de Janeiro is a must see in South America.
With epic views from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro is like no other city.
However if you want a unique birds eye view, make sure you try hand gliding over Rio!
Other than the views, the city is home to a number of South American tourist attractions such as Ipanema and Copacabana beach as well as the mosaic covered steps of Selarón in Lapa and the Rio Carnival in February.
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Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
The coastal city of Salvador, is the capital of Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia.
It is known for its Portuguese colonial architecture, Afro-Brazilian culture and a tropical coastline.
The Pelourinho neighbourhood is its historic heart, with cobblestone alleys opening onto large squares, colourful buildings and baroque churches such as São Francisco, featuring gilt woodwork.
This city is a must if you are wondering where to visit in South America!
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Cartagena de Indias is one of the best cities to visit in South America, with its Caribbean climate, colourful walled city and nearby white sand beaches, it’s no wonder so many tourists flock to the ‘Jewel of the Indies’.
My favourite neighbourhood is Getsemani, an edgy quarter filled with street art, that wonderfully contrasts the old city.
There are plenty of things to do in Cartagena including trying their famous from food stalls, fresh juices and fresh seafood.
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Buenos Aires, Argentina
The combination of South American flair and European elegance make Buenos Aires, a one of a kind destination in South America.
Famous things to do in the instagrammable city of Buenos Aires, include visiting the iconic presidential palace, Casa Rosada, and the grand opera house, Teatro Colón, as well as the colourful area of La Boca.
No trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without trying their tasty empanadas, and some Dulce de Leche ice cream.
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La Paz, Bolivia
The highest capital city in the world, La Paz rests on the Andes’ Altiplano plateau at more than 3600m above sea level.
The best places to visit in La Paz are Valle de la Luna, Death road, the Witches market and the lofty viewpoints of La Paz.
Bolivia’s capital is also connected to the rest of the country, so it’s easy to get a bus to Salar de Uyuni, Lake Titicaca or to the Bolivian Amazon jungle.
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The ‘City of Eternal Spring’, Medellin was once one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but is now a haven for tourists and digital nomads.
Known for its nightlife, Medellin is a great place to spend a few days exploring and understanding quickly why it was named the most Innovative City in the World back in 2013.
The modern buildings of Medellin are surrounded by the green hills, which are perfect for paragliding off.
This was one of my favourite activities in South America, and a tandem paraglide in Medellin is a fraction of the cost anywhere else in the world.
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The colourful and bohemian UNESCO World Heritage town of Valparaiso, is only an hour and a half from Santiago in Chile, making it perfect for a weekend break or even a day trip if you are short on time.
Valparaiso is full of unique buildings, endless staircases, narrow streets and funicular elevators.
I highly recommend searching out some of the lofty lookout points to get a panoramic view of Valparaiso, and it’s rainbow coloured buildings.
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Best Places to Visit in South America on a Budget
As a whole the continent of South America is budget friendly however the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island and the countries of Chile and Argentina (especially Patagonia) are a lot more expensive.
The coolest places to visit in South America on a budget, include some of my favourites spots on the continent, including Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Quito in Ecuador and Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sixteen thousand years ago, this area in the south of Bolivia was a high altitude salt lake.
The water has since evaporated, leaving a unique and unforgettable landscape of flat white salt as far as the eye can see.
Dotted somewhere in the middle of the twelve thousand square metres of salt, lies Incahuasi – a rock island covered in hundreds of flowering cacti, an unmissable spot on a trip to Bolivia.
Strangely unique, there’s not many places I could visit over and over again (the world is far too big for that!) but I’d happily return to Salar de Uyuni during the rainy season to capture the mirror image reflections on these salt flats.
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and best visited on the popular three day tour from Uyuni or San Pedro de Atacama.
During the multi day trip you will visit several lakes including one of the best places to visit in Latin America, Laguna Colorada.
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The capital city of Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage site), is the gateway to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Pacific coast, Andes and the Amazon rainforest.
Quito has everything from bustling cafes to volcano peaks, and there are plenty of things to do in Quito to keep you busy for at least three days.
The must visit places in Quito and the old town are La Ronda – the cities cultural hub, and La Mitad del Mundo – the Equator line.
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Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Lake Titicaca is a stunning and inspiring place to relax for a night or two on the border between Peru and Bolivia.
Serene, sacred and steeped in rich cultures past and present, the beautiful Lake Titicaca is easily one of South America’s most alluring destinations.
Over forty islands are sprinkled throughout, the largest of which is Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), which has over 180 ancient Incan ruins.
Spend a day hiking across the island and spend the evening relax in a hot tub at this amazing hotel.
Best places to visit in South America in April – Sunrise over Copacabana in Bolivia – most beautiful places in south america
Iguazu falls, Argentina and Brazil
Iguazú Falls are one of the best places to travel in South America, due to the sheer size of the waterfalls.
Located on the border between Brazil and Argentina in a large expanse of national park, the falls are surrounded by unique flora and fauna.
Visiting on the Argentinean side is recommended as you can hike along the waterfalls, but remember to bring a waterproof jacket as you will get wet!
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Best Places to go Hiking in South America
If you are wondering where to travel in South America to go hiking, look no further.
Here are a collection of a few of best hikes in South America ranging from one day to multi day hikes in some of the best South American countries to visit.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu has been voted one of the new seven Wonders of the World and is a must visit for all travellers in South America.
These majestic ruins were built by the Inca Empire and are located in the scenic Andes mountain range, surrounded by beautiful cloud forests and mountain scenery.
Machu Picchu is only accessible from the city of Cusco, which you can reach by bus or air travel.
It’s worth staying a few days to enjoy all the things to do in Cusco before heading off to Machu Picchu.
Whilst the ruins are impressive, I actually enjoyed the four day Inca Trail hike more than the final destination, due to the beautiful scenery and sereneness of the Inca trail.
Best places to visit in South America in May – Looking over Machu Picchu after the iconic Inca trail – latin america tourist attractions
Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Ancient forests, towering granite peaks, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and pampas, Torres del Paine National Park is the gem of Patagonia.
Named after the three iconic granite spires that rise out of the heart of the Paine Massif, Torres del Paine is located in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica region of southern Chile.
The hiking trails in Torres del Paine, like the W Trek draw in more than 250,000 visitors a year from Chile and abroad.
The park was founded in 1959 and became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978 to protect the fragile landscapes, plants, and wildlife that call this place home.
Torres del Paine National Park is popular for its hiking trails, but there are plenty of other activities to be enjoyed like wildlife viewing, kayaking, boating, and cycling, making it one of the best places to visit South America.
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San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Active geysers, coloured lagoons and breathtaking salt flats make up the landscape surrounding San Pedro de Atacama.
It is one of the best adventure travel destinations in South America, especially if you enjoy mountain biking or sand boarding down the dunes.
You can also relax in one of the natural hot springs and visit the Atacama desert at night to experience the endless stargazing in the driest desert in the world.
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Easter Island, Chile
As one of the world’s most remote islands, Easter Island is on many people’s bucket lists.
This island has 887 mythic moai stone statues, strewn across the 63 square-mile land constructed around 1200 to 1600 A.D.
However the island is also full of volcanic craters, preserved stone villages, beaches, fantastic seafood and world-class diving.
Rapa Nui, the native name of the Easter Island is a Chile-governed territory, but is 2,200 miles away from South America’s mainland.
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El Calafate, Patagonia
El Calafate is just a short bus ride away from one of the continent’s last advancing glaciers, Perito Moreno Glacier.
It is best to view the glacier from the walkways, and via boat before heading onto the ice for a memorable trekking adventure.
I highly recommend doing the Big Ice experience, which involves walking through ice caves, and seeing the striking blue colour of the lagoons up close.
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Colca Canyon, Peru
Peru has plenty of places to visit other than Machu Picchu, such as Colca Canyon.
Located four hours from the city of Arequipa, it is the second deepest canyon in the world and one of the best places to visit in South America to see the Andean Condor.
With a weight up to 12 kg and a wingspan of over three metres, they are an impressive bird to see up close.
Colca Canyon is also one of the most popular destinations for trekking in South America.
I did the overnight hike into the canyon, and spent the night in one of the villages at the base before hiking 1100 metres up to the ridge.
It is a tough hike so for those looking to relax a bit more and take it slower you can do the three day version instead of the two day trip.
Either way it’s easy to see why Colca Canyon is in the top South America places to visit.
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Rainbow Mountain, Peru
A day trip from Cusco, the Rainbow Mountain takes only a few hours to climb.
This site – which is also known as Vinicunca, Winikunka, Montaña de Siete Colores, and Montaña de Colores – was covered in thick snow and ice until the end of 2015, when the striped colours have now become visible.
The summit is at 5200m so make sure you are acclimated to the altitude in Cusco before setting off on this trek.
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Best Places to Visit in South America for Wildlife
South America is filled with diverse wildlife from penguins and crocodiles to whales and flamingos, making it a great hotspot for nature lovers.
Before embarking on your trip make sure you research wildlife photography tips so you can make the most of it.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
One of the most spectacular places to visit in South America has to be the Galapagos Islands.
Although the islands aren’t the cheapest or the most accessible place in the world to visit, they still attract an extraordinary number of visitors.
This number is however restricted, so a trip to these famed islands needs to be planned well in advance.
Don’t let this put you off visiting one of the most diverse and unique places on the planet, as a visit to the Galapagos Islands are a chance to experience pristine beaches, incomparable wildlife, and volcanic landscapes like no other.
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Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Bolivia is home to one of the most surreal landscapes in South America.
Located 4300m above sea level lies a distinct lake covered in a sheet of pink algae and white borax islands.
Laguna Colorada is home to hundreds of rare flamingos that flock there to feed on the algae, which in turn helps the flamingos earn their unmistakable colour.
As the wind blows, the algae is affected and the lake seems to change colour in front of your eyes from pink to red to a deep orange.
A unique place to add to your South America bucket list.
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Magdalena Island, Chile
Thousands of playful penguins can be found in their natural habitat on a tour of Magdalena Island from Punta Arenas.
Cruise past stunning seaside scenery as you venture to a picturesque and protected nature reserve to observe the incredible creatures.
Gain insight into the penguins physiology and behaviour with a knowledgeable guide and embark on a hike to a legendary lighthouse.
Weather permitting, you can also sail to the shores of Isla Marta to witness sea lions and elephant seals splashing in the sea.
It’s easy to see why Magdalena Island is one of the best vacation spots in South America.
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Brazil’s best kept secret is the Pantanal. Located in the heart of South America and as the world’s largest tropical wetland area, it should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The Pantanal stretches across the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul and also spills into Bolivia and Paraguay.
While the Amazon gets more credit, the best opportunities for wildlife spotting are in the Pantanal so be sure to carve out a few days to visit.
If you want to do some jaguar spotting, visit the Mato Grosso along the Cuiabá River from July to September.
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Ballestas Islands, Peru
The Ballestas Islands are a group of rocky islands located off the Pacific coast of Peru near the town of Paracas, three hours south of Lima.
Nicknamed “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”, the islands are a must see for all wildlife lovers as they are home to thousands of birds and mammals including penguins, sea lions, pelicans and dolphins.
The islands, locally known as Las Islas Ballestas, are protected, meaning you cannot swim with the animals or walk on the islands themselves, but you can get very close to them on a boat tour.
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Underrated Places to Visit in South America
Here are a list of the best hidden gems in South America, from jungles and deserts to mountains and beaches, as well as the most underrated city in South America!
Ciudad Perdida, Colombia
Located deep in the Colombian jungle lies Ciudad Perdida or “The Lost City”, it is one of the most underrated places to visit in South America.
An archaeological site that was undiscovered for centuries until 1972.
Ciudad Perdida is around 650 years older than Machu Picchu, however only around 10% of the site has been uncovered.
Despite being accessible to tourists for the past 10+ years, the ruins are still surprisingly quiet, but well worth visiting for an authentic experience.
The ruins can be reached by hiking 4 – 6 days (46 km round trip) through the lush green humid jungles of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
River crossings, steep hills, and tropical heat make this trek a gruelling one.
Compared to the infamous Inca trail, this adventurous trek involves sleeping in hammocks, swimming in crystal clear pools, visiting local indigenous communities and if you’re lucky, spotting a rare toucan.
Visiting this part of Colombia, during dry season is advised (December to March) when the river crossings are knee height as opposed to chest height during wet season!
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Located four hours south of Lima, close to the city of Ica. Huacachina is South America’s ONLY natural desert oasis and is home to the largest sand dunes in the continent.
Huacachina is perfect for a two night stay, and a visit has to include exploring the sand dunes on foot at sunset or sunrise.
Another great way to experience the desert is by joining a dune buggy tour and trying your hand at sand boarding.
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Mount Roraima, Venezuela
Straddling on the border of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil, the table top mountain of Mount Roraima is located 2810 meters above sea level.
Mount Roraima is the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateaus in South America.
Few places on earth conjure up the feeling of a truly alien landscape, but Mount Roraima, with its lakes, strange shaped rocks and extraordinary panoramic views, perfectly encapsulates the “Lost World” of Victorian literature.
The summit can be reached via a six day trek from Santa Elena, and the best time to visit Mount Roraima is between December and April when the weather is drier.
The views from the top are why it’s one of the best South American destinations.
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Tatacoa Desert, Colombia
The second largest arid zone, the Tatacoa Desert, in Colombia occupies more than 330 square kilometers.
The landscape is covered in rocky canyons rather than sand.
As the desert is located close to the Equator its possible to view both the Northern and Southern skies, coupled with no light population, this makes Tatacoa Desert one of the best places to stargaze in the world.
Though small, there is an observatory with a team of knowledgeable astronomers who open the observatory doors each night to teach visitors, about constellations and use the telescopes to get a closer look.
The easiest way to reach Tatacoa Desert is by getting a bus from the closest town Neiva to Villavieja.
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Ilha Grande, Brazil
Ilha Grande, remains one of my all time favourite beach destinations in South America.
Set in a National Park, Ilha Grande has gotten more popular over the years due to its proximity to Rio de Janeiro, but if you want to get away from the crowds make sure you visit the hidden gem of Lopes Mendes.
This beach is as secluded as it gets, there are no toilets, no restaurants, and likely no other tourists, as it takes two hours to hike to the beach, but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s worth it.
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The best day trip from Medellin, is the full day tour to Guatape.
The trip includes walking 740 steps to the top of El Peñol for the panoramic views of the surrounding islands, (this sounds like a lot but it actually only takes about ten minutes at a medium pace).
After the climb you should visit the colourful facades of Pueblo de Zócalos and see El Peñol from afar.
Guatape is around two hours away from Medellin and the day tours include a boat ride through the emerald green waterways and past the home of Pablo Escobar, making it one of the great South America vacation spots.
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A hidden gem and one of the most beautiful places to visit in South America is the laidback capital of Uruguay.
Considered one of the safest cities on the continent, Montevideo is great for culture vultures.
The pedestrian-only walkways of Ciudad Vieja are filled with colourful boutiques, cafes and markets, and the beaches of Montevideo are great for kite surfers.
If you want to learn to dance the tango, the city is a great place to take lessons, and if you want to relax with a good glass of wine, make sure you don’t miss out on a tour to one of the cities wineries.
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Has this list of the best tourist destinations in South America by category inspired you to visit the continent? Let me know in the comments and if you love hiking, check out the 15 best hikes in South America.
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