South America is one of the most iconic, diverse, unique and fascinating regions and dream travel destinations in the world. This extensive area that spans from Colombia to the Southern-most tips of Patagonia in Chile and Argentina includes 13 different countries and thousands of amazing destinations and opportunities that will make every tourist´s dreams come true! Huge mountain ranges and snow-capped peaks, impenetrable jungles, tranquil beaches, stunning landscapes, vibrant cities and ancient cultures and civilizations make this the perfect destination for everyone!
Whether you are leaning more towards nature travel or more into exploring big cities and amazing cultures, this region will not disappoint you! For the adventure traveller, South America offers wonderful mountain treks, including the highest peak in America (Aconcagua). Mountain biking experiences (such as the Death Road in Bolivia), canopying, level IV and V rapids for white water rafting in Patagonia, and thousands of underwater opportunities for snorkelling and scuba diving are also right at your fingertips!
Something of particular importance to take note of is the delicious food that comes from this region. South America is a foodie paradise where you´ll sample lots of new flavours, learn from different types of cuisines and taste some of the world-famous dishes and drinks on offer! Colombian arepas, Chilean and Peruvian Ceviche, Argentinean barbecue, wines from Mendoza or the Pisco from Chile and Peru are just a handful you can´t miss out on. Latin America also hosts some of the 50 best restaurants in the world so don´t forget to dive deep into the local cuisine!
But what makes this region truly unique and different than any other place you may have visited before is its people and its vivid Latin culture! We´ve seen hospitality before and friendliness in lots of different countries worldwide, but there´s certainly something different about the friendly, kind and hospitable Latin Americans you can´t find anywhere else. Being able to join your travel experience with the locals and get close to them makes it an even better and more fulfilling experience. No wonder why so many tourists decide not to leave at all and choose to stay for good!
There´s a lot to offer in this country so we’ve decided to help you out and make your trip a bit easier by providing you with a selection of the top 10 best places to visit in South America.
Table of Contents
- 1 Our guide to the best places to travel in South America
- 1.1 Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina
- 1.2 Machu Picchu, Peru
- 1.3 Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
- 1.4 Atacama Desert, Chile
- 1.5 Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
- 1.6 Cartagena, Colombia
- 1.7 Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
- 1.8 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- 1.9 Amazon Jungle, Brazil and Peru
- 1.10 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Our guide to the best places to travel in South America
Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina
The Iguazu Falls, located right at the border between Argentina and Brazil, is not only one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, but also one of the most visited and most imposing natural attractions in the world!
Located right in between two National Parks, this chain of 275 falls over a 3km extension and heights that reach up to 80 meters has the added bonus of being surrounded by rainforest with unique flora and fauna. The sheer power and noise of the water and the beautiful landscape and views you´ll get is something truly unique that certainly deserves to be added to your bucket list.
One of the best things about these beautiful falls is that they can be seen from many different viewpoints allowing you to get the perfect shot! The falls are easily accessible both from the Brazilian and Argentinean side and each of them provide a unique perspective, so we recommend at least one day trip from each country. Brazil provides a much better and unparalleled panoramic view of the 275 falls while Argentina allows you to get in direct contact with the immense power of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Top things to do at the Falls:
- Devil´s Throat: the main attraction and the most monumental waterfall of the system. You´ll reach a balcony that offers a magical and unique experience facing a huge wall of water 80m in height!
- Upper & Lower Walk: sets of walkways that allow you to wander through the jungle and get stunning top-down and intimate close-up views of the falls with plenty of lookout points.
- Ecological Jungle Train: exclusively designed ecological train that takes all passengers throughout the different locations and attractions in the National Park.
- Nautical adventure: boat tour through the Iguazu River that will take you right to the bottom of the falls and it´s the closest you´ll ever get to them! You will get soaking wet, but this is a once in a lifetime experience not to miss out on!
- Walkway to Devil´s Throat: 2 – 4 hours walk from the entrance of the park up to the Devil´s Throat, while having amazing panoramic views of the falls.
- Helicopter Tours: an amazing adventure where you´ll be able to see all 275 falls from above in a jaw-dropping experience
- Macuco Safari: an optional activity that will provide different views of the rainforest and its wildlife.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu is without a doubt not only one of the most popular attractions in South America but also one of the most iconic and dream destinations worldwide! This stunning sacred city and archaeological masterpiece built in the 15th century by the Incas is a World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
This city was rediscovered in 1911 by American Historian Hiram Bingham and it then became a popular destination worldwide. It guards lots of mysteries and it´s also really popular not only due to its architecture, history and secrets but because of the stunning panoramic views it also offers.
This citadel is located about 80km northwest of the city of Cusco, which serves as the starting point of the trip for every tourist looking to visit Machu Picchu. Something to remember and keep in mind is that Cusco is located 3400 meters above sea level and Machu Picchu is 2400 meters high so take your time to acclimatize to the altitude. The best thing to do is to spend at least 3 or 4 days in Cusco first and enjoy all the amazing architecture and attractions this beautiful city has to offer.
From Cusco, there are different ways to reach the citadel of Machu Picchu, the most popular one being the bus ride to Ollantaytambo and then the scenic train ride to Aguas Calientes (the small town that serves as the hub to Machu Picchu). We recommend staying two nights in Aguas Calientes to enjoy beautiful Machu Picchu. For the more adventurous of you, the best way to reach Machu Picchu is by embarking on a 4-day hike along the Inca Trail following the same path the Inca´s used to take centuries ago!
Top things to do in and around Machu Picchu Falls:
- Explore the citadel: wander around and explore the whole citadel including the Intihuatana (a sundial used by the Incas to predict the solstices), the Central Plaza, the Temple of the Three Windows (a building in the Royal Sector made up of larger blocks of rocks), the terraces that drop down the side of the ancient city, and the Temple of the Sun (probably used as an astronomical observatory).
- Inca Trail: for the adventurous ones this is an experience like no other where you’ll hike for 4 days from Ollantaytambo, surrounded by stunning nature, landscapes and ancient ruins, till you reach the Citadel of Machu Picchu
- Inti Punku: this is also called the Sun Gate and the best place to catch the sunrise!
- Climb Huayna Picchu: best place for a bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu!
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The Uyuni Salt Flats or “Salar de Uyuni” is one of Bolivia´s most amazing destinations and one of the highlights for every traveller heading to South America. No matter how much you´ve read about it, how many pictures and videos you´ve seen about this magical wonderland, nothing will prepare you for such an amazing experience and the vastness and hugeness of this never-ending sea of white, and how small you’ll feel in comparison.
This is the world´s largest salt flat covering a surface of over 10,400 square kilometres and it is located over 3600 meters above sea level so please remember to take it easy and acclimatize slowly to the altitude.
Uyuni town is usually the best hub to start your trip to the Salt Flats (you can get there by bus or train as well) but there are some other options from where you can start your trip closer to the border, such as Chile in Tupiza or San Pedro de Atacama in the Northern part of Chile.
The surreal scenery is other-worldly and could be taken straight out of a fantasy movie. There is so much to do in this area. Day tours and 4-day expeditions are available, and the colourful lagoons, resident flamingos, smoking volcanoes and geysers, great deserts and free-roaming llamas are sure to surprise you. In terms of accommodation, you will have a once in a lifetime unique experience, sleeping in a hotel made completely out of salt!
Atacama Desert, Chile
If you’re looking for more surreal places to visit, the Atacama Desert may be a perfect choice! This is the world´s driest desert and a must-see destination, located in the north of Chile.
This incredibly picturesque location offers unparalleled beautiful landscapes and views composed of salt flats, spring waters, geysers, huge volcanoes, stunning rock formations and lagoons!
This is also one of the best places in the world for stargazing and photographing the night sky! There´s even an observatory that operates here which constitutes the largest astronomical project in existence!
The small and beautiful town of San Pedro de Atacama is the perfect hub to chill, relax and explore this incredible area. There you’ll find plenty of accommodation options from backpackers to the more luxurious!
Top things to do in and around the Atacama Desert:
- El Tatio Geysers: this is the highest geothermal field in the world and the best place to see impressive steam fumaroles gushing super-heated water metres into the air every morning.
- Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley): this is the perfect spot to catch the sunset and enjoy spectacular views of the area.
- Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley): amazing rock formations and dunes make this a unique place and it´s especially wonderful for the adventure seekers looking to try some sandboarding.
- Stargazing: you will be able to have clear views of the stunning skies all year round that will allow you to take the best pictures!
- Laguna Cejar: one of the only places in the area where you can get in the cold water and swim on the super-salty water that keeps you buoyant and won’t let you sink!
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
These Ecuadorian Islands in the Pacific Ocean tend to be on every traveller’s bucket list and for good reason! The stunning clear turquoise waters and white sandy beaches combined with the unique biodiversity of the islands make it one of the world’s most sought-after destinations!
Sea lions, giant tortoises, sea and land turtles, manta rays, hammerhead sharks, black marine iguanas, tropical island penguins and more, turn this place into an amazing paradise where you can also explore secluded beaches, lava tunnels and beautiful lakes.
There are 3 inhabited islands (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela) from where you can organize day trips, tours and cruises to visit everything these islands have to offer. Besides the wildlife and beautiful landscapes on these stunning volcanic islands, we must say that it´s also every scuba diver´s dream given the clear waters and amazing marine wildlife you´ll be able to discover!
Cartagena de Indias is famously known for its incredibly well-preserved colonial architecture, combined with beautiful landscapes, the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and vibrant culture!
This city is a jewel of architecture and there’s nothing better than strolling down its narrow stone walkways while gazing up at the beautiful work of art in the city’s balconies and making a few mandatory stops to try the local delicacies. We must highlight that the famous Colombian author and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez was inspired by Cartagena’s beauty, so trust us when we say that this city will not disappoint you!
But to make the trip complete and if you want to try something different besides the amazing culture and history this Colombian tourist hotspot has to offer, you can easily take a short trip to the nearby islands and enjoy stunning Caribbean beaches and just relax.
Top things to do in and around Cartagena:
- Old Town Cartagena: this part of the city inside its old stone walls used to be one of the main Colonial Spanish ports and it’s incredibly well preserved and boasts amazing architecture.
- Old city walls: there are a few places where it’s possible to climb up the old city walls that surround Old Cartagena and walk along the perimeter.
- Castillo de San Felipe: best place to learn about the city’s history while enjoying amazing views!
- Islas del Rosario and Isla Baru: some of the most stunning white sandy beaches and turquoise water can be found very close to Cartagena and are ideal just to chill, dive, snorkel or rest on this paradise.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Without a doubt, one of the biggest highlights of any South American trip is the majestic Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentinean Patagonia. It covers a massive surface area of 250 km² and spans 5 km in width.
There are different ways to explore this huge mass of ice, whether it´s from the different walkways constructed that will get you face to face with it or by taking a boat trip on the lake itself.
One of the most impressive things to do is to catch a glimpse of the ice blocks falling away from the glacier and collapsing into the lake below. Such an unforgettable and unique experience!
Top things to do in and around Perito Moreno Glacier:
- Perito Moreno Glacier catwalks: the best and easiest way of exploring the Glacier is to walk through the designed catwalks that will get you up close and personal to the glacier for an experience like no other.
- Trek the Glacier: If you’re keen for a real adventure you can embark on an Ice Trek that will take you on a walk on top of the Glacier! With your crampons fastened you will head on a 1.5-hour walk across the glacier!
- Boat tour around the glaciers: it’s a great way to sail across the lake and get a close and personal look of the glacier.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you’re looking for sunshine and stunning beaches, a party atmosphere, vibrant culture, beautiful landscapes, top hiking trails, sports and samba, this is the place for you!
Its beautiful beaches located right in the city are one of the main attractions and are used every day both by locals and tourists! They are the perfect spot to relax, go for a dive in the ocean, try the local caipirinhas, or join the locals for a game of volleyball or football/soccer. Don´t be frightened by how good everyone is at beach sports and join in!
But besides this, you can enjoy the famous treks, forests and mountains overlooking the city and of course, the ocean, boasting stunning landscapes!
If you’re keen for a more exhilarating experience, come here either for New Year´s Eve or Carnival for the best parties you have ever seen! You´ll either join hundreds of thousands of people fully dressed in white ready to welcome the New Year on the beach, or the most colourful and vibrant dance party, parade and celebrations for Carnival!
Top things to do in and around Rio de Janeiro:
- Christ the Redeemer: located on top of Mount Corcovado, this is probably the most iconic statue in the world and also the best place for a panoramic view of Rio.
- Sugarloaf Mountain one of the most popular sights that can be reached either by cable car or hiking trails for some stunning views.
- Copacapana beach: the most iconic beach in Rio and probably South America! Ideal for partying, dancing, chilling, beach sports and cocktails!
- Tijuca Forest: the city´s tropical rainforest offers waterfalls and iconic wildlife and thousands of plant species!
- Maracana Stadium there´s no secret in saying that football/soccer is Brazil´s main sport and this stadium is certainly the most popular and majestic one! There´s nothing better than catching a game here but if not possible don´t miss out on the tour that takes you inside it.
Amazon Jungle, Brazil and Peru
The Amazon Rainforest is the largest one on Earth and spans over a 5,5 million square kilometres through 9 different South American countries, Brazil and Peru being the most prominent and accessible ones. It´s also been named one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature of the World” and rightly so!
This region offers untamed wilderness and over 40,000 species of plants, thousands of bird species, over 400 mammals and 2,5 million different insects, which make it the ideal destination for nature lovers.
Iquitos in Peru and Manaos in Brazil are the best starting points for a trip to the Amazon where you can embark on jungle treks and river cruises to discover species such as pink dolphins, iguanas, sloths, monkeys, snakes, tapirs and caimans among others.
To make your trip complete you can also undertake different sports such as paddle boarding, kayaking and fishing, as well as visiting the local communities that live in the area and some world heritage sites! One of the top attractions is to witness the “Meeting of Waters”, where the milky Rio Solimoes (sandy coloured) and the Rio Negro (dark colour) meet to form the huge Amazon River and run alongside each other for about four miles without mixing.
You can´t see this natural phenomenon anywhere else in the world.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Without a doubt, the most European city in South America and quite likely the most cosmopolitan, culturally active, vibrant and lively one in the continent is Buenos Aires. It’s the cradle of tango and its inhabitants are extremely passionate about football (soccer).
Its cultural and recreational portfolio is immense, showcasing hundreds of theatres, craft markets, museums, libraries and art galleries open for 365 days of the year. It’s also known as ‘the city that never sleeps’ and this is a truly accurate nickname: coffee houses, music shows, discos, clubs and restaurants of every kind are spread around the city making it incredibly active at all times of the day and night!
It also boasts lots of parks and green spaces so there are lots of places to chill and relax. There are some amazing outings in the outskirts of the city by the River “Rio de La Plata” and historical cattle ranches where you can try the local and world-famous Argentinean beef in an “asado” (barbecue)
Whether you are looking for adventure, culture, adrenaline, nightlife, amazing food or some leisure time to relax, you can find it here.
Top things to do in and around Buenos Aires:
- La Boca: one of the most visited tourist destinations in town with its cobbled roads, lively ambience, tango dancers and colourful buildings.
- Tango: everyone coming to Buenos Aires should enjoy this beautiful and provocative dance (intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO), whether it´s just strolling through the streets of La Boca, at a tango show for a great night out, or going to a milonga to try the dance steps yourself!
- Football / Soccer: Without a doubt the biggest and most popular sport in the country, and something that awakens the true passions of Argentineans. There are games held every weekend and it´s highly recommended to catch at least one just to witness thousands of followers dressed up in their team colours singing, screaming and clapping in support of their teams.
- Tigre: about an hour away from the city you´ll find this stunning place surrounded by the river and lots of canals which give it a unique and beautiful look.
- Cattle Ranch right on the outskirts of the city you can enjoy a day out in the countryside at an exclusive estancia to enjoy close up views of the pampas, horseback riding, sulky (carriage) rides, folk shows with live music and dancers, demonstrations of “Doma India” (Traditional Argentine horse whispering) and a typical country style barbecue prepared using only the finest quality meats.
We hope this article (10 best places to visit in South America) has enticed you to embark on an incredible adventure in some of the most spectacular tourist hotspots in South America!