Top 25 destinations to visit in South America
South America is a continent that boasts a plethora of breathtaking travel destinations. From the lush Amazon rainforest to the vibrant cities and ancient ruins, there is something for every type of traveler. Whether you are seeking adventure, cultural immersion, or simply relaxation, South America has it all.
South America offers a plethora of incredible travel destinations, such as the Amazon Rainforest and Machu Picchu. However, there are numerous other captivating places to visit that boast an array of exciting activities.
This article will give you the top 25 destinations to visit in South America.
1. Bolivia, Uyuni Salt Flat
The Uyuni Salt Flat, located in southwestern Bolivia, is the world’s largest salt flat and one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in South America. Spanning over 10,000 square kilometers, the flat is a vast expanse of bright white salt crust that creates a mesmerizing mirror effect when covered with a thin layer of water. The surreal landscape offers a unique and otherworldly experience for visitors.
Key Facts about the Uyuni Salt Flat:
- Formation: The salt flat was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. Today, it is a result of the evaporation of water from the present-day Lake Poopó.
- Salt Reserves: The flat contains an estimated 10 billion tons of salt, making it a significant source of salt extraction for Bolivia.
- Tourism: Uyuni Salt Flat attracts thousands of tourists every year who come to witness its stunning beauty and take perspective-bending photos. It is a popular starting point for tours to explore the nearby colored lagoons, geysers, and volcanic landscapes.
- Wildlife: Despite its harsh conditions, the salt flat is home to unique species of flamingos, as well as other bird species and Andean foxes.
- Train Cemetery: Near the town of Uyuni, visitors can explore the famous train cemetery, where old locomotives and train cars have been abandoned and left to rust, creating an eerie and fascinating sight.
2. Tayrona National Natural Park, Colombia
Tayrona National Natural Park is a breathtaking natural paradise located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Spanning over 58,000 acres, this protected area is renowned for its stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, and rich biodiversity. The park is named after the indigenous Tayrona people who once inhabited the region and is a popular destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
The park offers a diverse range of ecosystems, including lush rainforests, mangroves, and crystal-clear turquoise waters. One of the highlights of Tayrona National Natural Park is its picturesque beaches, such as Cabo San Juan and Playa Cristal, where visitors can relax, swim, and snorkel in the vibrant coral reefs. The park is also home to various wildlife species, including howler monkeys, jaguars, and colorful bird species, making it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.
In addition to its natural beauty, Tayrona National Natural Park is steeped in cultural significance. The park is dotted with ancient archaeological sites, including the ruins of Pueblito Chairama, an ancient Tayrona village. Visitors can explore these sites and learn about the fascinating history and traditions of the indigenous people who once thrived in the area.
Key facts about Tayrona National Natural Park:
- Location: Caribbean coast of Colombia
- Size: Over 58,000 acres
- Ecosystems: Rainforests, mangroves, beaches, coral reefs
- Wildlife: Howler monkeys, jaguars, colorful bird species
- Cultural sites: Ancient Tayrona village ruins
- Activities: Hiking, swimming, snorkeling, wildlife spotting, cultural exploration
3. Los Roques, Venezuela
Los Roques is an archipelago located in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Venezuela. It is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and pristine white sandy beaches. The archipelago consists of more than 300 islands and cays, with the largest island being Gran Roque, which serves as the main hub for tourism in the area.
Key facts about Los Roques:
- Los Roques is a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving due to its abundant marine life and coral reefs. The waters surrounding the islands are home to a diverse range of fish species, making it a paradise for underwater enthusiasts.
- The archipelago is a national park and marine reserve, ensuring the preservation of its unique ecosystem. Visitors can explore the islands’ natural wonders, including mangrove forests, lagoons, and sandbanks.
- Los Roques offers a tranquil and secluded getaway, with limited development and a laid-back atmosphere. It is an ideal destination for those seeking relaxation, water sports, and a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
- The archipelago has a tropical climate, with warm temperatures year-round. The dry season, from December to April, is considered the best time to visit, as the weather is sunny and rainfall is minimal.
Whether you’re looking for a peaceful beach retreat or an exciting adventure in the underwater world, Los Roques offers a slice of paradise that is sure to captivate any traveler.
4. Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, a captivating colonial city, stands as one of the most stunning destinations to discover in South America. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this city offers a wealth of knowledge about the colonization of the continent. Situated on the Caribbean coast, its Old Town was established in the 16th century. Even today, visitors can meander through its charming cobblestone streets, admire the vibrant facades of houses, and marvel at the exquisite colonial architecture. If you long to experience a journey back in time, Cartagena is the perfect place to immerse yourself in.
5. Saltos Del Monday, Paraguay
Saltos Del Monday, located in Paraguay, is a mesmerizing natural wonder that captivates visitors with its breathtaking beauty. This stunning waterfall is situated in the Alto Paraná Department, near the city of Presidente Franco. The name “Saltos Del Monday” translates to “Monday Falls” in English.
The waterfall is formed by the Monday River as it cascades down a series of rocky cliffs, creating a spectacular display of rushing water and mist. With its impressive height of approximately 40 meters (131 feet) and its lush surrounding vegetation, Saltos Del Monday offers a picturesque setting for nature enthusiasts and photographers alike. Visitors can enjoy stunning panoramic views from various viewpoints and walkways, allowing them to fully appreciate the grandeur of the falls.
Key facts about Saltos Del Monday include its accessibility, as it is located just a short distance from Ciudad del Este, one of the largest cities in Paraguay. The site is easily reachable by road, making it a popular day trip destination for both locals and tourists. Additionally, Saltos Del Monday is part of a protected natural area, ensuring the preservation of its unique ecosystem. Visitors can also explore the surrounding trails and forests, offering opportunities for hiking and birdwatching. Overall, Saltos Del Monday is a must-visit destination for those seeking natural beauty and tranquility in Paraguay.
6. Amazon River
The Amazon River is renowned for being one of the world’s longest rivers, and without a doubt, it holds the title of the longest river in South America. There are numerous opportunities to explore the wonders of the Amazon, but embarking on a small cruise to a secluded village offers a fantastic way to truly immerse yourself in this unique environment. By doing so, you can engage with the locals and gain valuable insights into the fascinating lifestyle of the Amazon region.
7. Salvador de Bahía, Brazil
Salvador de Bahía, also known as Salvador, is a vibrant city located in the northeastern part of Brazil. It is the capital of the state of Bahía and is famous for its rich history, cultural heritage, and stunning natural beauty. The city is known for its Afro-Brazilian culture, which is reflected in its music, dance, cuisine, and religious traditions.
One of the key attractions of Salvador de Bahía is its historic center, known as Pelourinho. This UNESCO World Heritage site is filled with colorful colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, and beautiful churches. Visitors can explore the narrow alleys, visit museums, art galleries, and indulge in traditional Bahian cuisine at the local restaurants.
Another highlight of Salvador de Bahía is its beautiful beaches. The city is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, offering visitors a chance to relax on sandy shores, swim in crystal-clear waters, and enjoy water sports such as surfing and snorkeling. Some of the popular beaches in Salvador include Porto da Barra, Farol da Barra, and Praia do Flamengo.
Key facts about Salvador de Bahía:
- It is the third-largest city in Brazil, with a population of over 2.8 million people.
- The city has a tropical climate, with warm temperatures throughout the year.
- Salvador de Bahía is known for its lively carnival celebrations, which attract visitors from all over the world.
- The city has a strong African influence, as it was a major port for the slave trade during the colonial era.
- The cuisine of Salvador de Bahía is diverse and flavorful, with dishes such as acarajé, moqueca, and vatapá being local favorites.
Overall, Salvador de Bahía is a city that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you are interested in exploring its historic sites, enjoying the vibrant music and dance scene, or simply relaxing on its beautiful beaches, Salvador de Bahía has something for everyone.
8. Ecuador, Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands, situated in the beautiful country of Ecuador, are a mesmerizing archipelago comprised of a collection of enchanting volcanic islands. These extraordinary islands have gained global recognition for their extraordinary and unparalleled marine habitats, which host an astonishing variety of species. This makes the Galapagos Islands an absolute paradise for those who are passionate about snorkeling and diving, as they offer an unrivaled opportunity to immerse oneself in the captivating underwater world. It is highly advisable to seize the chance to visit this extraordinary destination, as it undoubtedly ranks among the most extraordinary places to discover and explore in the entire continent of South America. The Galapagos Islands are truly a magical place where one can witness the wonders of nature up close and personal.
9. Machu Picchu, Peru
Located high on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca citadel that dates back to the 15th century. The citadel is designed in the shape of an “L,” featuring a spacious central plaza and two elongated wings extending towards the east and west. Construction of Machu Picchu began in AD 1450 by the Incas, but it was abandoned a mere 50 years later, leaving it incomplete. For centuries, the existence of this remarkable site remained known only to the locals until it was rediscovered by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.
10. La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia is a vibrant and bustling city nestled high in the Andes Mountains. It serves as the administrative capital of Bolivia and is known for its rich cultural heritage, stunning natural landscapes, and unique urban geography. The city is situated in a deep valley, with buildings sprawling up the hillsides, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
One of the key attractions in La Paz is the Witches’ Market, where visitors can find a wide array of traditional herbs, potions, and mystical artifacts. The city is also home to numerous museums and historical sites, such as the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, which showcases Bolivia’s diverse indigenous cultures. For adventure enthusiasts, La Paz is a gateway to exploring the nearby Andes Mountains, with opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and even skiing.
Key facts about La Paz include its high elevation, as it sits at an altitude of around 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) above sea level, making it one of the highest capital cities in the world. The city has a population of over 800,000 people, with a mix of indigenous, mestizo, and European influences. La Paz is also known for its vibrant street markets, where locals sell a variety of goods, including traditional textiles, handicrafts, and delicious street food. The city’s unique blend of ancient traditions and modern urban life makes it a captivating destination for travelers seeking an authentic Bolivian experience.
11. Punta del Este, Uruguay
Punta del Este is a coastal city in Uruguay known for its beautiful beaches, luxury resorts, and lively nightlife. It offers a blend of natural beauty and modern amenities, making it popular with both local and international travelers. The city has pristine beaches like Playa Brava and Playa Mansa, with golden sands and clear waters. Visitors can enjoy sunbathing, swimming, and various water sports. Punta del Este is also famous for landmarks like the La Mano sculpture, a hand emerging from the sand. The city has a vibrant nightlife, with bars, clubs, and casinos offering entertainment options for every taste.
It hosts cultural events and festivals throughout the year. Punta del Este has upscale shopping centers, art galleries, and gourmet restaurants for those seeking a luxurious experience. Visitors can also explore nearby attractions like Casapueblo, a unique white-washed building designed by artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. The city serves as a gateway to other beautiful destinations in Uruguay, such as the town of José Ignacio and the countryside of Maldonado.
Key facts about Punta del Este, Uruguay:
- Located on the southern coast of Uruguay, approximately 130 kilometers east of Montevideo.
- Punta del Este is a popular vacation spot for both locals and international tourists.
- The city experiences a mild climate, with warm summers and mild winters.
- Punta del Este is known for its luxurious resorts, high-end shopping, and gourmet dining options.
- The city offers a variety of recreational activities, including water sports, golfing, and horseback riding.
- Punta del Este is well-connected by air and road, making it easily accessible for travelers.
12. Chile, Torres del Paine
Considered one of the most stunning natural areas worldwide, the Torres del Paine National Park holds significant importance in the country. Established in 1959, its purpose is to safeguard the diverse ecosystems of the Patagonia region and provide a space for leisure and tourism. Nestled in Chilean Patagonia, adjacent to Argentina, the park spans an impressive 7,902 km². It encompasses three distinct zones boasting forested mountains, mountains adorned with glaciers, and picturesque lakes.
13. Easter Island, Chile
Chile’s hidden treasure, Easter Island, is an extraordinary destination that never fails to awe its visitors. This enigmatic island is a true testament to the rich history and culture of the Rapa Nui people. One cannot help but be captivated by the incredible collection of moai statues that are scattered across the island’s vast landscape. These towering stone figures have stood the test of time, silently guarding the secrets of this ancient civilization.
The origins of Easter Island have long been shrouded in mystery, giving rise to numerous myths and legends. Some believe that the island was formed by the tears of a Polynesian god, while others suggest that it was created by a group of ancient extraterrestrial beings. Regardless of its origins, Easter Island continues to fascinate and intrigue all who venture to its remote shores.
Easter Island is a destination like no other. Its mysterious allure, breathtaking landscapes, and rich cultural heritage make it a must-visit for any traveler seeking adventure and enlightenment. Whether you are drawn to its enigmatic past or simply wish to bask in the beauty of its natural wonders, Easter Island is sure to leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul. It is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered, inviting you to unravel its secrets and immerse yourself in its timeless charm.
14. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a vibrant and captivating city known for its stunning natural beauty, lively culture, and iconic landmarks. Nestled between lush mountains and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janeiro offers a unique blend of urban excitement and tropical paradise. With its world-famous Carnival, breathtaking beaches, and vibrant samba music, Rio de Janeiro is a city that never fails to enchant visitors from around the globe.
Key facts about Rio de Janeiro:
- Landmarks: Rio de Janeiro is home to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, which stands atop the Corcovado Mountain and offers panoramic views of the city. The city also boasts the vibrant neighborhood of Copacabana, famous for its beautiful beach and lively atmosphere.
- Carnival: Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is one of the largest and most famous festivals in the world. Held annually, this extravaganza features colorful parades, elaborate costumes, and energetic samba dancing, attracting millions of visitors each year.
- Natural Beauty: The city is blessed with breathtaking natural landscapes, including the Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world. Rio also offers stunning beaches, such as Ipanema and Leblon, where visitors can soak up the sun and enjoy the vibrant beach culture.
Whether you’re exploring the historic neighborhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa, enjoying the panoramic views from Sugarloaf Mountain, or simply relaxing on one of the city’s stunning beaches, Rio de Janeiro promises an unforgettable experience filled with beauty, energy, and warmth.
15. Bariloche, Argentina
Bariloche, Argentina, also known as San Carlos de Bariloche, is a picturesque city located in the province of Río Negro. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and surrounded by stunning lakes, Bariloche is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty. The city is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world who come to explore its stunning landscapes, indulge in outdoor activities, and experience its unique charm.
Key Facts about Bariloche, Argentina:
- Stunning Scenery: Bariloche is famous for its stunning scenery, with snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and lush forests. One of the most iconic landmarks in the area is Lake Nahuel Huapi, a glacial lake that offers breathtaking views and opportunities for water sports and fishing.
- Outdoor Adventure: The region around Bariloche is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities such as hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and kayaking. Cerro Catedral, one of South America’s largest ski resorts, is located just outside the city and offers excellent skiing opportunities during the winter months.
- Swiss Alpine Influence: Bariloche has a unique architectural style that reflects its Swiss Alpine influence. The city is known for its charming chalets, wooden buildings, and delicious chocolate shops. The Swiss settlers who arrived in Bariloche in the early 20th century have left a lasting cultural imprint on the city, making it a unique blend of Argentine and European influences.
Overall, Bariloche, Argentina, offers a perfect combination of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and cultural charm. Whether you are seeking breathtaking landscapes, adrenaline-pumping activities, or a taste of European flair in South America, Bariloche has something to offer for every traveler.
16. Chile, Valparaiso
Located on the picturesque Chilean coast, Valparaiso is a lively and bustling city that proudly resides to the west of the vibrant capital, Santiago. Nestled at the northern tip of the Valparaíso Region, this enchanting city marks the point where the dramatic coastline begins to gracefully curve southward. With a rich history dating back to its establishment in 1536, Valparaíso has long been hailed as Chile’s premier port city, serving as a vital economic and cultural hub. As evidenced by the 2007 census, the population of Valparaiso stands at a remarkable 172,260, further contributing to the city’s vibrant and diverse character.
17. Venezuela, Angel Falls
Venezuela is home to one of nature’s most breathtaking wonders – the magnificent Angel Falls. This incredible waterfall stands tall at an impressive height of 979 meters, making it the largest uninterrupted waterfall on the planet. The sheer beauty and grandeur of this natural wonder have earned it the prestigious title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors who venture to this region are in for a treat as they get to witness the awe-inspiring power and majesty of Angel Falls firsthand. The lush surroundings and pristine landscapes further enhance the overall experience, creating a truly unforgettable journey into the heart of Venezuela’s natural treasures.
18. Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia, located in Argentina, is often referred to as the “End of the World” due to its southernmost location in the world. Nestled between the Beagle Channel and the Martial Mountains, this picturesque city is surrounded by stunning natural beauty. Ushuaia serves as the gateway to Antarctica, making it a popular destination for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts.
Key facts about Ushuaia:
- Ushuaia is the capital city of Tierra del Fuego province in Argentina.
- It is situated on the southern tip of South America, making it the southernmost city in the world.
- The city offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, skiing, sailing, and wildlife watching.
- Ushuaia is home to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, known for its diverse flora and fauna.
- The city’s economy is largely driven by tourism, with visitors coming to explore the stunning landscapes and embark on cruises to Antarctica.
- Ushuaia experiences a subpolar oceanic climate, with cool summers and cold, snowy winters.
Whether you’re fascinated by its unique location or seeking adventure in the great outdoors, Ushuaia offers a memorable experience for travelers looking to explore the beauty of the “End of the World.”
19. Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama Desert, located in South America, is renowned for its arid climate, making it one of the driest regions on Earth. However, despite its reputation for dryness, this unique landscape is far from lacking in vibrant experiences and natural wonders.
One of the notable attractions in the Atacama Desert is the picturesque cactus valley, which offers a captivating escape into a world of towering cacti and mesmerizing rock formations. Exploring this valley allows visitors to immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring beauty of the desert, as they witness the harmonious blending of earthy tones and the striking contrast of the azure sky.
In conclusion, beyond its reputation for aridity, the Atacama Desert holds a wealth of vibrant experiences waiting to be discovered. From the otherworldly cactus valley to the rich tapestry of local cultures and the mesmerizing stargazing opportunities, this extraordinary desert offers a truly immersive and unforgettable journey for those seeking to explore its hidden treasures.
20. Arequipa, Peru
Arequipa is a vibrant city located in southern Peru, surrounded by stunning natural landscapes. Known as the “White City” due to its colonial architecture made of white volcanic stone, Arequipa offers a unique blend of history, culture, and outdoor adventures. The city is nestled at the foot of three towering volcanoes: Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu, providing a breathtaking backdrop. Arequipa is also home to the famous Santa Catalina Monastery, a colorful complex of narrow streets and plazas that dates back to the 16th century.
Key facts about Arequipa:
- Arequipa is Peru’s second most populous city, after Lima, with a population of over one million people.
- The city enjoys a mild and dry climate throughout the year, making it an ideal destination for outdoor activities.
- Arequipa’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring well-preserved colonial buildings and beautiful churches.
- The city is famous for its traditional cuisine, including dishes like rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy pepper) and adobo (marinated meat).
- Arequipa is a gateway to the Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest canyons, where visitors can spot Andean condors soaring above the dramatic landscape.
Whether you’re exploring its architectural wonders, savoring its delicious cuisine, or embarking on an adventure in the nearby natural wonders, Arequipa offers a captivating experience for travelers seeking a taste of Peru’s rich heritage and natural beauty.
21. Iguazu Falls – Argentina and Brazil
The largest waterfall system in the world is known as Iguazu Falls. This stunning natural wonder is situated on the borders of Argentina and Brazil, making it a popular destination for tourists. In addition to its impressive size, Iguazu Falls is also renowned for its diverse wildlife, including monkeys, capybara, and toucans. Visitors have the option to admire the falls from various vantage points, offering both up-close and distant views. To fully appreciate the beauty of Iguazu Falls, tourists can embark on guided tours that provide different perspectives of this magnificent spectacle.
22. Peru, Cusco
Situated in the southern part of Peru, the province of Cusco holds the distinction of being the second most populous region. In the past, it played a significant role in Peru’s economy and served as a stronghold for colonialism and Catholicism. Cusco is home to a population of approximately 1 million people, with a notable presence of indigenous communities. The area’s abundance of gold attracted Spanish settlers, resulting in the construction of numerous colonial buildings that still stand today. In terms of tourism, one of the main draws is the pre-Columbian ruins located just outside the city center. Among these, Sacsayhuaman and Qenko are particularly important, and visitors can find a range of shops and restaurants nearby offering traditional cuisine.
23. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires, an energetic city in Argentina, is famous for its vibrant culinary scene, lively nightlife, and excellent shopping opportunities. Often referred to as the “Paris of South America,” this city is renowned for its historical buildings and stunning art nouveau architecture. Moreover, Buenos Aires boasts a significant number of theaters, concert halls, and art galleries, offering a rich cultural experience. Numerous enjoyable activities await visitors in Buenos Aires, such as exploring art galleries in the Recoleta district or taking tango lessons in La Boca before indulging in a delectable dinner at one of Palermo’s fashionable restaurants.
24. Chile, Santiago
Santiago, the capital of Chile, is frequently overlooked or given just a day to explore as a stopover city. With so many attractions in Chile, it’s easy to see why Santiago may not be a priority. However, if you have the opportunity, it is an ideal place to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of South America before embarking on more adventurous journeys across the continent.
25. Patagonia, Argentina and Chile
La Patagonia is a vast and stunning region located in the southernmost part of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. It is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, ranging from towering mountains and glaciers to expansive grasslands and fjords. This remote and untouched wilderness attracts adventurers and nature enthusiasts from around the world.
Key Facts about La Patagonia:
- Size: La Patagonia covers an area of approximately 1,043,076 square kilometers (402,733 square miles), making it one of the largest regions in South America.
- Biodiversity: The region is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including guanacos, pumas, Andean condors, and the endangered South Andean deer. Marine life is also abundant, with whales, dolphins, and penguins inhabiting the coastal areas.
- National Parks: La Patagonia boasts several national parks, such as Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. These protected areas offer opportunities for hiking, wildlife spotting, and exploring stunning natural wonders like the Perito Moreno Glacier.
Whether you’re trekking through the rugged mountains, sailing through the icy fjords, or marveling at the immense glaciers, La Patagonia promises an unforgettable adventure in one of the world’s most captivating landscapes.
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