Embark on the ultimate adventure. You’re going to explore some of the best places to visit in South America. This continent is home to dramatic landscapes, vibrant culture, archaeological wonders, and the largest collection of plant and animal species on the planet. Everywhere you turn presents a jaw-dropping awe factor.
With all of these options to choose from, you’re probably going to need some help. Lucky for you, we’ve done some of the research for you and narrowed down our list to the top spots. Without further ado, here is our roundup list of the best places to visit in South America.
Here Are the Best Places to Visit In South America
Tour mysterious Inca ruins in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, snap some Nat Geo-worthy pics of the indigenous monkeys and toucan birds, hike past topaz alpine lakes, and climb snow-covered peaks in the Andes Mountain range. Spanning thirteen different countries and a myriad of cultures, there is so much to explore here.
1. Hike Along the Andes Mountains Trails
These massive peaks form the world’s longest continental range. Stretching for nearly 800 km from Venezuela all the way to southern Patagonia, they certainly are a sight to behold. If you want to take a trek, there are fantastic local towns where you can rent gear for your journey. Gateway cities like Huaraz, Peru, and Bariloche, Argentina are great places to start. For those of you who would rather explore indigenous villages among the picturesque scenery, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia offer endless enchanting options.
2. Visit the Architectural Feat of Machu Picchu
While the Inca trail to Machu Picchu is now closed, you can still see Machu Picchu via a day trip from Cusco or you can stay in one of the local towns and walk up to the famous ruins.
Before the Spanish arrival, the Andes Mountains were once home to some of the region’s most advanced civilizations. In 1911, the area gained international attention when the American explorer (and later U.S. Senator) Hiram Bingham III visited. If you want to see the ‘Lost City’ for yourself, check online to purchase entrance tickets. Planning ahead is key in this tourist hot spot.
3. See Where Darwin Gained His Inspiration At the Galapagos Islands
Go see where Charles Darwin formulated his opinions in On the Origin of Species. This chain of islands lies around 1000 km west of Ecuador. On its shores is an abundance of diverse life. From giant tortoises to blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and marine iguanas, it’s clear to see why these animals provided Darwin with so much inspiration.
While travel here is pricier than anywhere else on the continent, it is definitely worth a visit. Make sure you have a good amount of time set aside to enjoy all the islands have to offer. The only pragmatic way to see them is by taking a cruise vessel for a five to ten-day jaunt. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and one of the best places to visit in South America.
4. Take A Boat Tour Through the Amazon Rainforest
Okay, you just have to see the Amazon Rainforest. As the largest rainforest on the planet, it is home to a stunning diversity of flora and fauna. Side note: Did you know that there is a newly discovered indigenous tribe in Brazil that have no knowledge of history and have never seen contact with the outside world? We’ll just leave this here. You can look for yourself.
Moving on. Watch the lush greenery as you slowly glide from the comfort of a riverboat. Don’t worry about the snakes, piranhas, and black caiman. Your guides are trained to navigate you through these treacherous (but truly exciting) waters.
A popular entryway is Manaus in Brazil, where dozens of local agencies offer private tours. A bevy of nearby jungle lodges also offers a wealth of information for adventure seekers. Some of the other good entry points to the Amazon Rainforest include the Cuyabeno Reserve in Ecuador, Leticia, Columbia, and Iquitos, Perú. This is truly one of the best places to visit in South America. You can’t make a trip all the way there without experiencing it.
5. Viti the Lesser Known Pantanal Wetland
While it’s less famous than the Amazon, it’s still pretty spectacular. The Pantanal is a vast (and fairly unknown) wetland spreading across parts of Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The wildlife is vastly diverse, with over 650 species of bird species and 80 species of mammals calling it home. Capybara (the world’s largest rodent), giant otters, and playful monkeys are just a few of the faces you’ll see around these parts. In fact, due to the dense concentration of indigenous species in the Pantanal, your chances of seeing animals here might actually be better than in the Amazon.
The best time to visit is the dry season, running from April to September. Take it from us, you don’t want to spend a day under the torrential downpour of a jungle rain. Tourists typically stay in local lodges (spanning from cozy to swanky) and take their day trips by horseback, boat or foot in search of the wildlife. If you’re looking for a place to enter the Pantanal, Cuiabá and Campo Grande in Brazil are two excellent places to start.
6. Get Wet At Iguazu Falls
Deep in the heart of the jungle, lies a massive thundering waterfall. Straddling the line between Argentina and Brazil makes for a convenient way to explore both countries within a shorter period of time. Travelers walk through diverse ecosystems and feel the mist on their cheeks from the powerful Iguazu roar.
If you’re looking for the best spot to post up and soak in the sights, head to the Brazilian side. Just know, you’ll need to get a visa in advance of your visit. Sorry, Argentina. If you’re looking for more of the adventure, Argentina offers that. Take a very fun and very wet speedboat to the base of the powerful falls. To beat the crowds (yes, they’re here too) and see the wildlife, go as early as you possibly can.
Related Article: Cuy: A Must-Try Andean Dish When in South America
7. Go Stargazing In Pisac, Peru
Gaze under the stars in the most spectacular display of the Milky Way Galaxy you’ve ever laid your eyes on. Surprisingly, when people visit the neighboring site of Machu Picchu, this indigenous town in the Sacred Valley doesn’t make their list. A lot of people don’t even know it exists. But that just means fewer crowds and more authenticity for you. With a fascinating local market and plenty of Incan ruins to explore, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t want to add this to your list. If you ask us, it’s one of the best places to visit in South America.
Oh, we almost forgot. There’s one more must-do thing while you’re there. Explore Urubamba Valley. The citadel, burial sites, and hilltop ruins are breathtaking enough to rival the glorious architectural feat that is Machu Picchu.
Related Article: Explore Kuélap, the Hidden Gem of Peru
8. Soak Up A Little Local Color At Ipanema Beach, Brazil
Tall and tan and young and lovely… You know the rest. This trendsetting beach has a reputation for showing chic style to the rest of the world. It’s famous for a packed line of eager beachgoers clad in neon colored thong suits and equally bright speedos.
The name Ipanema also refers to the local neighborhoods, a fun mix of ritzy shops, vibrant nightlife spots, and world-class restaurants. If you’re a first-time visitor, we highly recommend taking a stroll down Rua Vinícius de Morais – a strip packed with lively bars, quirky shops, and cozy cafes. Make sure you grab a drink at the famous Garota de Ipanema Bar, this is where the lyrics to the famous “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Every Saturday, the hippie fare offers a delightful mix of goods from local artisans. When the sun goes down, the young folks head out to Rio’s Baixo Farme. Getting there is a fairly easy jaunt from the International Antonio Carlos Jobim Airport. The beach is only about 19 miles away, so you can expect a good 30-minute drive on a slow day with no traffic.
9. Spend A Day At the Beach In Carilo, Argentina
You probably haven’t heard of this beach before either. We love to help you find awesome places off the radar. So why did this beach make our list of the best places to see in South America? We’ll tell you. Consider this beach to be Malibu’s sexier South American cousin. The shores are dotted with prime real estate, lush pine tree forests, and grass paths leading right up to the sand. The days are warm, the water is clear, and the nights are lively. It’s all we could ask for and more. If you’re looking to grab some drinks and go dancing, the little neighborhood of Pinamar is just the place to be.
10. Go Diving In the Clear Waters of Baia do Sancho
Why did this little spot make our list? I mean come, on. Just look at it. There’s a reason why it was named the world’s best beach in TripAdvisor’s yearly Traveler’s Choice Awards. Baia de Sancho also has over 4,000 travelers reviews and a flawless five-star rating. The pristine white sand and vibrant blue water are enough to draw some. Others, however, are captivated by the seemingly endless opportunities for recreational diving with stretches of visibility for over 150 feet and plenty of sea turtles. Yet for others, the beach offers the perfect element of exclusivity.
The government limits how many tourists can visit each day. After all, this 21-island paradise is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; needless to say, they’re pretty serious about protecting it. Here’s a pro tip. Plan your visit ahead.
11. See the World’s Largest Mirror At the Bolivian Salt Flats
Experience one of the most remarkable vistas on earth at the Bolivian Salt Flats. They seriously look like something straight out of a dream. This is one of the best places to visit in South America. Spanning more than 4,050 square miles, it is the largest salt flat on the earth, the prehistoric remains of lakes that evaporated long ago. Here, a thick crust of salt runs all the way into the horizon, reflecting the azure blue sky and puffy white clouds.
Make sure you time your trip just right. At certain times of the year, nearby lakes spill over, leaking a thin layer of water onto the salt flats. This is what causes the stunning reflections. This beautiful terrain also serves as a pretty lucrative for extracting salt (obviously) and lithium – the element responsible for powering most of your electronics.
This stunning landscape is also home to the world’s first salt hotel, traversed by backpackers from all over the globe. Make sure you do your research before you make the trek out here but if you time it right, it’s certainly worth your while.
12. Make Sure to See Cerro Fitz Roy In Patagonia
Whether you’ve come to reach the summit of its lauded peak or do a more leisurely hike at its base, you can’t miss seeing Fitz Roy in Patagonia. These rugged mountains have become iconic symbols of the region, hosting some of the best hikes in the entire region. While the longer hikes in the region require a commitment of at least three or four days, there are some shorter ones you can do too. Either way, you’re making epic memories and gathering amazing travel photos.
13. Prepare For Your Jaw to Drop At Lake Titicaca
Come and see the shimmering topaz waters of Lake Titicaca. Set amongst traditional Aymara villages and the glacier-capped peaks of Cordillera Real, everything else seems to fade into the background. It’s easy to see why Inca legends came to credit Lake Titicaca with the origins of their civilization.
Set between Peru and Bolivia, this lake offers enough activities to keep you busy for a week or two. There are many awesome day trips you can take from going on scenic hikes, exploring lost coves and floating islands, to joining in the local party scene at the tourist hub Copacabana. Whatever you do, this region offers so much. It’s one of the best places to visit in South America.
Go Explore the Best Places to Visit In South America
There are plenty of places to explore on this amazing continent. From snow-capped mountains to dense rainforests and expansive deserts, you will be left in awe by the beauty that these three countries have to offer. Now, it’s time to go see the best places to visit in South America. We hope we helped to inspire you on your travels and trigger a spark of excitement in you to see more of the world. Do you have any questions or comments for us? We would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave us a message in the comment section below. We’ll be sure to get back with you shortly.