South America is arguably the most beautiful continent in the world. It offers so many off the beaten path destinations to visit. Your journey can be filled with towering mountains, jungles, magnificent beaches, vineyards, icebergs, wildlife and more. To top it off, the fantastic food and hospitality may even rival those amazing vistas.
Don’t want to miss any of the places you must visit in South America? No worries! These 15 must-see destinations will give you a good glimpse as to where to start.
1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), this glimmering Brazilian metropolis has certainly earned its title. Resting at the mouth of a bay harbor, the city is lined with white-sand beaches, lush rainforests and surrounded by staggered green mountains. Rio de Janeiro boasts dramatic views from nearly every angle.
2. Angel Falls, Venezuela
Salto Angel, also known as Kerepakupai (the deepest fall) to the Pemón tribe, is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve seen in my life.
It’s located in Canaima National Park and, at 979 meters high, is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world.
If you want to get there, you’ll need to fly to Canaima because there are no accessible roads. I took the overflight to watch it from above and it was a mind-blowing experience!
3. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sticking with the “records” theme, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, at over 10,000 square kilometers.
You will be impressed by the region’s endless white expanses and surreal scenery. It really looked like I had arrived on another planet in which smoky volcanoes, colored lagoons and great deserts create the scenery.
It’s also a great place for watching wild fauna like llamas and pink flamingos all over the lakes.
4. Cartagena, Colombia
Brightly colored buildings, cobblestone streets and stunning beaches all come together in this Colombian city on the Caribbean coast. Old Town is home to sites that date back to the 16th century while the nearby Islas del Rosario are known for their coral reefs.
5. El Calafate, Argentina
El Calafate is a small town in Patagonia and the gateway to the Los Glaciares National Park. The Perito Moreno Glacier is located here, and considered to be the 8th natural wonder of the world. The glacier is only one of 3 glaciers in the world that is continuously growing every year. There are various boardways surrounding the glacier that one can follow allowing a spectacular view. You will be able to see the rupture of giant pieces of iceberg from the glaciers.
6. El Chalten, Argentina
El Chalten is about 3 hrs bus ride from El Calafate is the town that is well known for its unrivalled hikes. This little town is located within the Los Glaciers National Park and is surrounded by the Cerro Fitz Roy Mountain range. There are various hiking trails that differ in various levels of difficulty and length.
7. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are a one-of-a-kind destination, located roughly 575 miles off the coast of Ecuador. This microcosm of evolution offers some of the best up-close-and-personal wildlife encounters on earth, with the chance to snorkel with sea lions and turtles, stroll across desolate lava fields and watch the mating rituals of blue-footed boobies. This is the ultimate nature lover’s paradise, and perhaps one of the last unspoiled places on the planet where the boundaries of Mother Nature continue to be respected. There is really no other place where you can see such a variety of wildlife in their natural state, unafraid of onlookers. As it’s unlikely to last forever, the islands are a must for any traveler’s list.
8. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Iguazu Falls, one of the great natural wonders in the world, is one of the most breathtaking sights on earth, featuring more than 250 waterfalls that are surrounded by the tropical jungle of Argentina and Brazil. In comparison, Niagra Falls seems like just the drip of a faucet tap. The Argentine side is the best to visit, as you can get especially up close and personal with the falls, feeling the mist on your skin. Taking the thrilling boat ride will get you even closer, but be prepared to get drenched. You’ll also be amazed at the brightly colored parrots soaring in the skies above and chatter away in nearby trees.
9. Machu Picchu, Perú
The sacred city of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. Probably the most famous archaeological places in South America, this Incan citadel is famous worldwide for its huge stone walls and mysterious history.
We recommend visiting Machu Picchu early in the morning to watch the sun rising over the green peaks.
10. Colca Canyon, Peru
Access the Colca Canyon from its nearest town of Arequipe. It is the seocnd largest canyon in the world and one of the top South America travel destinations. Arrange for a minivan to pick you up from one of the many agencies in town.
There are a few different trails that you can choose to trek. The one you choose will largely depend on which village you want to spend the night in. We recommend to stay at the popular village at the bottom of the canyon, as the other villages have fewer accommodation options. During the trek down, you can see why the Colca Canyon is the world’s second deepest canyon! It was simply incredible!
11. Eje Cafetero, Colombia
Colombia has some of the best coffee in the world, so I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying a delicious cup right in a coffee plantation! It was great to learn about the history of the coffee, the process and the varieties grown.
The most famous getaways are Salento, Filandia and Pijao – all lovely colonial towns in which it looks like no time has passed.
Moreover, the lush, green mountains offer a wide range of activities like hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, canopying and more. One of the highlights of the visit was taking a hike around Valle del Cocora.
12. Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Located in the remarkable Lago Titicaca, the Island of the Sun is today home to the Quechua and Aymara people, who still preserve their languages and old traditions.
While taking the boat to this small island, you will fell like you was in a sacred place.
The lake is huge; when you look at it, it feels like you are surrounded by an ocean. We recommend walking up to one of the hills to enjoy unforgettable sunrises and sunsets.
13. Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
This conical-shaped stratovolcano has become one of the biggest attractions in Ecuador, and it’s no surprise why.
If you are a hiking lover. you will love this place. Climbing to the top (almost 6,000 meters high) is truly a unique experience.
Keep in mind that it’s a challenging ascension against the darkness, the height and the freezing wind. If you attempt the climb, you’ll need to hire a good guide and bring special gear such as crampons and ice axes.
If you don’t think the climb is such a great idea, you can take a jeep tour to the refuge, which offers amazing views of neighboring volcanoes.
14. Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile
The granite pillars of Torres del Paine, which soar for over 6,500-feet above the Patagonian landscape, dominate the scenery of what’s often been called South America’s finest national park. For those willing to venture to Patagonia, the southernmost region of Chile, you’ll find some of the most astounding hiking opportunities with trails meandering through emerald forests, passing azure lakes, roaring rivers, and even a brilliant, blue glacier. The park is also home to flocks of ostrich-like rhea, Andean condor and flamingo. Guanacos, a relative of the camel, were almost hunted to extinction, but after a decade of effective protection, the large and increasingly growing herds in the area no longer even flinch when a vehicle or human approaches.
15. Amazon, Quito, Ecuador
The Amazon is an enormous region that covers 40 percent of the South American continent, touching many countries, though one of the more popular entryways is in Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. Exploring one of the world’s most unique ecosystems, you’ll have the opportunity to see all types of wildlife, including everything from monkeys, jaguars and brilliant birds to caimans, iguanas and anacondas. There are practically an endless number of tours to choose from. Sacha Lodge, located within a 5000-acre private ecological reserve, offers an accessible yet pristine rainforest sanctuary for enjoying a true jungle adventure in safety and comfort.