5 Best Places to Visit in South America
South America is a traveller’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. Here are the 5 places we think should top the list of any South American adventure.
Best Places to Visit in South America
1 . Machu Picchu
The awe-inspiring Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, widely regarded as one of the greatest archaeological wonders of the world, tops countless lists of the continent’s must-visit destinations. Remaining virtually undiscovered until the early twentieth century, it now draws visitors in their droves, all of them eager to witness the remarkably well-preserved ruins and undeniable mystical aura that makes this site so famous. Of course, it’s not just the ancient architecture that makes this destination so special, but its breath-taking backdrop as well. The site is hidden high in the Peruvian Andes and the most memorable way to reach to access it is through an epic three-day trek along the spectacular 33km Inca Trail. Catching your first glimpse of stone ruins, terraces and plazas, all surrounded by lush vegetation and mist-shrouded mountains, is a moment you won’t forget in a hurry. If you’re short on time, there are also comfortable and convenient train services that will transport you swiftly up into the high peaks. Machu Picchu can be visited from the beautiful historic city of Cusco and combined with numerous other archaeological and natural attractions in Peru’s mesmerizing Sacred Valley.
2. The Amazon
The Amazon rainforest is the most biodiverse area on Earth, home to an astounding array of flora, mammals, birdlife, invertebrates and marine species, much of it entirely endemic to the region. The forest spans a vast area, covering almost 40% of the entire South American landmass, extending into no less than nine countries and boasting the world’s largest river system. As a result, there are certainly no shortage of places to visit to sample its biodiverse splendors. For first-time visitors looking to sample the very best of the region, we recommend heading to one of two Amazonian hotspots.
The area’s largest city, Manaus in Brazil, is a great place to embark on a cruise down the legendary Amazon River, taking in towering trees, expansive vistas and a wide range of fantastic wildlife. Alternatively, Iquitos in Peru is another thriving hub of Amazon river cruise activity, where you’ll have the opportunity to visit the stunning, pristine Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. And visiting the Amazon isn’t just about river cruising. For an immersive jungle experience, stay a few nights in a charming treehouse lodge or dive into countless thrilling adventure activities, whether it be canoeing through a flooded forest, swimming with pink river dolphins or getting a bird’s eye perspective via a floatplane flight. Add to this a fascinating indigenous culture and mouth-watering regional cuisine, and you have one impressive destination on your hands.
3. The Galapagos Islands
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. Highlights of any trip include spotting giant tortoises and marine iguanas, admiring huge seal colonies and fantastic birdlife, as well as swimming with turtles, penguins and even sharks. The diversity of the landscapes is also something to be marveled at, from volcanic peaks, desolate lava fields and verdant forests, to rugged coastlines, blinding white sand beaches and deep blue seas.
Multi-day Galapagos cruises enable you to witness the stark beauty, teeming wildlife and distinctive features of each island, with a wide range of itineraries and styles to suit all budgets, preferences and interests. Independent travel on the Galapagos is also possible through staying in the port towns and hopping between islands using public or private boats. Many of the islands’ settlements are more developed than is often assumed, notably Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. With tourism thriving, there are countless adventure activities that will immerse you in the very best this one-of-a-kind destination has to offer.
4. Iguazu Falls
One of the world’s greatest natural treasures, these jaw-dropping falls are a sight to behold, comprising a chain of more than 250 cascades stretching nearly 3 km. The falls are accessible from both the Argentine and Brazilian sides, as well as from nearby Paraguay. Wherever you are, you’ll find yourself swept away by the sheer beauty, power and noise of the cascading water. Explore the area on foot along the myriad walking paths, stopping to take in the views and admire the plentiful wildlife. For an even more visceral experience, where you’ll have to be prepared to get drenched, take a boat ride and get up close and personal with the falls. Devil’s Throat is particularly memorable, boasting 14 waterfalls, often accompanied by rainbows in sunny weather, and a huge torrent of water swirling down through a deep river gorge. What’s more, the falls themselves are surrounded by a large expanse of tropical rainforest teeming with parrots, howler monkeys, jaguars, butterflies and many more incredible species. In sum, Iguazu falls is a powerhouse display of the force and beauty of nature, and a destination simply not to be missed on any tour of South America.
5. Rio de Janiero
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 Brazil’s Rio de Janiero, with its golden beaches, friendly locals, intoxicating nightlife 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. Stroll around the city’s tropical parks, browse high-end boutiques and inspiring art collections, or join the cheering crowds for a football match at the Maracana stadium.
Last but not least, Rio is famed the world over for its night-time revelry and party-loving culture, much of it centered around music, whether it be hip-hop, funk, bossa nova, or the infectious beats of Samba, which are particularly prevalent in the lively bars and clubs of the trendy Lapa area. The city is arguably the carnival capital of the world, holding numerous street parties, parades and festivities throughout the year. And of course, there’s the explosive Carnaval, the world’s largest and liveliest carnival attracting party goers from across the globe with its colourful floats, flamboyant costumes and exuberant samba dancers.
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