It’s hard to cover every nook and cranny when you are travelling to one of the largest continents on the planet, that’s why we’ve put together a list of must see destinations in South America. A vast place with ecosystems ranging from the driest desert in the world, to snow-capped peaks to the might Amazon river.
Must see destinations in South America
There are 12 countries in South America, thousands of ethnic groups call the continent home and it was also witness to some of the greatest civilisations that have graced the planet. This generally leaves a bewildering choice for anyone asking “Where do I go in South America?” – so we have cut to the chase and given you our top 10 destinations in South America for you to visit on your South America tour! Why not explore the Amazon with the kids? Meg Hall, our marketing manager did!
10. Buenos Aires
Once known as the “Paris of the South”, Buenos Aires’ grandeur takes you back to Argentina’s boom days of the mid-19th century, with grand Parisian buildings tree lined avenues and large parklands. Buenos Aires is an important hub for travellers arriving or departing Latin America, and well worth a visit for 2 – 3 days. With some amazing food options, great shopping (in particular designer good and leather), fantastic wines, incredible history and an amazing range of Boutique Hotels (our personal favourite) It is a must stay if looking to spend some city time in South America.
9. The Atacama Desert
The driest place on the planet. Well, technically it is the world’s driest “non polar” desert, but still pretty dry! It occupies a one thousand kilometre stretch of land on the western side of the Chilean Andes. The annual rainfall is 15mm or .6 inches per year. The Atacama is an amazing place full of incredible scenery, and often likened to the surface of mars. It has been used as a testing ground for NASA, and with the clearest skies on the planet coupled with the dry air and altitude it is also home to some pretty amazing observatories – perfect for Star gazing. The Atacama is a must for those who love the outdoors, photography and who have any interest in visiting another planet… well it’s about as close as you can get to Mars, so apologies for the grand statement!
8. The Amazon River
This river is one of the longest in the world, has the widest delta and carries more fresh water than pretty much every other in the world COMBINED! Not to mention being the source to the largest living thing on the planet – The mighty Amazon rainforest. Bordered by 9 nations there are plenty of vantage points to explore this majestic ecosystem. On your tour to South America you can explore by river boat, such as the fantastic Delfin Amazon cruise, stay in a lodge – such as the fantastic Refugio Amazonas in Peru, or Sacha Lodge in Ecuador.. Brazil is the best known place for the Amazon, but we think the accessibility to the river and wildlife opportunities make Peru and Ecuador the best countries to see it!
7. The Nazca Lines
One of the probably lesser known places from the ‘must see destinations in South America’ list are the Ancient Nazca Lines. Whoever made these giant etchings in the coastal desert made them with the intention that they can be seen from the air. It is all a bit of a mystery! The lines must be seen to be believed, they are an incredible site to behold, thousands upon thousands of runway like lines, giant etchings of monkeys, spiders and even a spaceman!. This is one of the greatest prehistoric sites on the planet, and a must see on any trip to Peru. Best way to explore is on a two or three day return trip from Lima – whilst on the way, why not stop over in the desert oasis town of Huacachina?
6. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
It’s pretty much impossible to open up any travel brochure of a Latin American travel company and not see an image of Salar de Uyuni. The world’s largest salt flat, it sits at a tick over 3600m above sea level. Sightseeing here will leave you.. well quite literally – breathless. Uyuni is well known for it’s trick photography, such as the image featured here (INSERT IMAGR) The lake is a transit point into Chile and Argentina, and well worn on the tourist trail – or Gringo trail – the local name for the tourist route.. Accommodation can be quite basic in this remote part of the world, but there is a pretty amazing experience in an airstream camper which may be worth a look! Keep an eye out for Flamingos, they number in their thousands here!
5. Cusco, Peru
“Incredible. “we should have stayed more days” are common comments we hear back from our clients who visit Cusco, Cusco is a destination in itself, and you can pretty easily spend a week there if you have the time! Cusco is the type of city that you WANT to get lost in. Explore the narrow alleys, handicraft markets and check out the incredible fusion of the ancient Inca capital with Spanish colonial architecture built quite literally on top! Cusco is home to galleries, museums, great food, amazing shopping and with so many ancient sites at the door step, it is the cultural and tourist capital of South America. It is also home to our very own Waka Punku Boutique hotel.
4. Iguazu Falls
Iguacu or Iguazu? Whatever you call it, It’s a pretty special location that is well worth a visit when travelling to Argentina or Brazil, and deservedly in our top 10 list. Iguacu falls isn’t actually one waterfall, it is actually 275 waterfalls in one! In wet seasons more water tumbles down into the Parana river than any other waterfall in the world.. and that is what makes it so amazing. The surrounding rainforest is teeming with life. Don’t forget to take the boat right up under the falls to what is known locally as the “Devil’s throat”
3. Galapagos Islands
Home to Darwin’s theory of evolution….. When exploring the Galapagos a common question we often get is whether one should do a cruise or stay on an island. To be honest, both options are pretty amazing. Galapagos is perfect for those who love wildlife, love the water (Diving, snorkelling and frolicking with sea life), Photographers and those who just want to really see Darwin’s theory in action. Killer sunsets, and did we mention the friendly local tortoises?
Sitting at the southern end of the continent, this vast area has one of the lowest population densities on the planet. Spanning Chile and Argentina it is littered with glacial lakes, mountains, Snow-capped peaks, and wildlife such as Vicunas, Pumas and the mighty Andean Condor. Trekking in Patagonia is awesome, really really awesome – and Patagonia is a must if you love to take a hike.. Not sure on which trek to take? Check out our blog on the 5 best treks in Patagonia. Patagonia isn’t just for hikers though. There are some amazing places to stay too – ask us for more details on how to make Patagonia part of your South American tour.
1. Machu Picchu
A bit of a no brainer that Machu Picchu is our top destination to visit on your South America tour. This UNESCO world heritage site really needs to be seen to be believed. The ancient citadel was rediscovered in 1912 by the American academic, Hiram Bingham. Perched on top of the ridge line above a raging Urubamba (or Sacred river in the local Quecha language) this site is something to behold, and deservedly way up there on nearly everyone we meets bucket list!. You can get to this site taking a host of different treks or if looking for the easy route, take the train. When you are there, why not sit down at the top of the ruins and sip on an iconic Peruvian soft drink – Inca Kola and question how on earth, or why on earth the Inca’s built this site. If you can figure it out – get back to us, we are dying to know!
** Please note. Frequent travel to South America may result in addiction. Anyone taking a tour to South America may experience severe excitement! There are quite literally thousands of places to explore, locals to meet and food to try. This list is by no means exhaustive!
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”