South America tours are a traveler’s dream, offering something for everyone, from biodiverse rainforests, endemic wildlife, cascading waterfalls and vast river systems, to archaeological wonders, stunning landscapes and captivating cities.
The world’s fourth largest continent is a veritable treasure trove of travel gems waiting to be unlocked. But just like the best of precious stones, the riches within have many faces – so many faces it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, we’ve put together this list of the best places to visit in South America that we think should top the list of any South American adventure.
Much of the continent is enveloped in a mighty swathe of emerald green jungle, the amazing Amazon Rainforest. Extending into no less than nine countries, the Amazon is the most biodiverse area on Earth, a wildlife haven and fascinating mosaic of ecosystems and communities. Unearth natural wonders and witness its phenomenal biodiversity on a luxury Amazon River cruise through Peru’s Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, or opt for a more rustic stay in a remote jungle lodge in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park, Ecuador’s magical Mindo Cloud Forest, or Peru’s Manu National Park.
Galapagos is undoubtedly one of the world’s most inspiring destinations and a must-visit for all nature and wildlife lovers. Nowhere else on Earth is it possible to witness an ecosystem so unspoilt and largely untouched by human influences. In fact, many visitors are marked not only by the incredible wildlife and dramatic landscapes, but with a new sense of perspective on our place in the world. The wildlife of the Galapagos has achieved an almost legendary status, due to its abundance and unusually fearless attitude in the face of humans. This allows visitors to get up-close-and-personal like nowhere else on Earth.
With all the incredible natural wonders that this continent has to offer, it can be easy to forget that South America is also home to some of the world’s most vibrant, dynamic and exciting cities. Topping the list is surely any tour of Brazil’s Rio de Janiero, with its golden beaches, friendly locals, intoxicating nightlife, infectious beats of Samba and spectacular natural setting. A highlight for many visitors is the cable car ride up to Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado Mountain, where you’ll be met with sweeping views over the city, coastline and surrounding lushly forested mountains. Back down in the city, spend your time soaking in the pleasures of the city’s long golden beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, both perfect spots for swimming, picnicking, ball games, surfing or simply sitting back and watching the scene go by. And of course, there’s the explosive Carnaval, the world’s largest and liveliest carnival attracting party goers from across the globe.
Wetlands are among some of the planet’s most valuable ecosystems, teeming with biodiversity, and offering an amazing scope of wildlife – not to mention wonderful vistas. A tour of the Pantanal, in South America, takes you to the the world’s largest and most pristine, home to some of the continent’s most famous wildlife, from hyacinth macaws, tapirs, capybaras and caimans, to the elusive jaguar itself. Go on a jaguar safari from one of the floating hotels or pousadas (ranches), go fishing, kayaking, horse riding, or simply soak up its majestic sunsets.
Together these two contiguous sister national parks, Iguazú in Argentina and Iguaçu in Brazil, form the largest protected remnant of the ancient Atlantic forest, a subtropical refuge for giant anteaters, tapirs, ocelots, howler monkeys, caimans, and jaguars. They also share their star attraction, the awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls, a waterfall wonderland of chaotic cascades nearly three kilometers in length, and one of the world’s undoubted natural wonders.
South America has its fair share of natural wonders, but let’s not forget that it is also home to some of the most inviting cities in the world. It’s impossible to choose a favorite, but visiting Peru’s capital city of Lima, with its gastronomical genius, architectural charm, and trendy barrios puts it high up the list. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it’s worth remembering however that during the winter months of June to September, a low mist ‘La Garua’ descends on the city.
The Altiplano is an area of high plateau stretching across Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina, a primeval place of stark but beautiful landscapes. It’s a must-visit region because it incorporates so many of the continent’s top destinations, including Bolivia’s de facto capital La Paz, the stunning high-up Lake Titicaca, Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat), and so much more to explore.
The town of San Pedro de Atacama might be small, but it certainly packs a punch. Dating back to around 1450, this town has some wonderful old features, and is surrounded by some of the most magnificent natural landscapes in South America, from lagoons to volcanos, geysers to valleys. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Atacama Desert, a vast expanse that is famous as the driest desert in the world. Don’t miss also the Valley of the Moon, the Laguna Piedras Rojas, and the technicolor Rainbow Valley.
The entire southern tip of South America forms expansive and wild Patagonia, a stretch of sparsely populated terrain belonging to Chile and Argentina, and the site of many jaw-dropping attractions. The Los Glaciares National Park is home to the mighty Perito Moreno Glacier, which grows by up to 2 meters a day. The beautiful Patagonian Steppe is cold, windswept, and inhabited by guanacos and condors, while Torres Del Paine National Park contains some of the planet’s most staggering rock formations in the shape of towering granite pillars and ice fields. This is an adventurer’s paradise.
Located about 30km north of ancient Incan capital of Cusco is Peru’s enchanting Sacred Valley – known to the Incas who lived there around 500 years ago as Vilcamayo. This Andean valley, threaded by the winding river Urubamba, is one of South America’s gleaming jewels, not just for its spectacular scenery, but on historical merit too. The valley cuts through the Andes Mountains, running from the archaeological sites of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, all the way to the magical stone terraces of Machu Picchu itself. Hike the Inca Trail, visit traditional village markets or merely witness the vestiges of the Inca Empire that punctuate its picturesque landscape.
From large expanses of forests to tiny coastal destinations – next stop on our bucket list tour of South America is the small fishing village of Praia do Forte, with its healing waters, humpback whales, and sea turtles. This charming spot is part of the Costa de Camaçari, an area of beautiful white sand beaches on the coast of Brazil, encircled with pools created by coral reefs and environmentally protected marine life.
Much is still a mystery when it comes to visiting Easter Island, one of the world’s remotest inhabited islands, lying 3.5 thousand kilometers from Chile in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Despite its volcanic craters, coral sand beaches and vast diving opportunities, the main attraction here are the extraordinary monolithic vestiges of the Rapa Nui people. Nearly 1000 Moai (the ‘Easter Island Heads’) are scattered throughout the island, a sort of living museum open to explorers and the elements.
Of course, this list merely scratches the surface of the enormity of possible places to visit in South America, but hopefully it gives you a good starting point when it comes to planning your South America vacation.
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